Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Anis Shivani on BAP 2009 and the poetry of the interchangeable

Anis Shivani is thinking about the 2009 Best American Poetry, and finding the poetry lacking. He’s joining the conversation. What do you say in return?

The title is enough to give you the gist: “David Lehman's Incestuous Coterie: Why the New 'Best American Poetry' Sucks Even More Than Its Twenty-One Predecessors”

One minor part that intrigued me is his bit on Mark Bibbins. I like Bibbins’s poetry quite a bit. And here’s what Shivani has to say about it:


Here's some of Mark Bibbins's "Concerning the Land to the South of Our Neighbors to the North": "West Virginia was made overseas and brought to us, chunk by chunk, / aboard container ships." Later, he goes on: "Scientists predict that Colorado will soon be an archipelago, / though not in our lifetime, and Florida shall turn dusty / as the Necco Wafers scattered nightly across Massachusetts."

This is gibberish pretending to be poetry. What on earth does any of it mean? This is what I mean by poetry generating itself from itself, without relevance to the empirical world or any sense of reality. All right, I'll say weird stuff about the fifty states, just meaningless stuff, and string it all together, thinks Bibbins's clogged brain one fall morning at the New School. How hard can it be? Which is precisely the point, because everything in this anthology screams: Poetry is not hard at all! Anyone can do it! You don't need to know any actual art or music or politics or philosophy or history or geography or biology or physics or even other poetry to do it. The subjects and predicates in the above poem are completely interchangeable. It could have been "Colorado" rather than "West Virginia" that was brought over "chunk by chunk." And what does it mean anyway? In his explanation, Bibbins remarks, "I realized after writing the poem that it's a sort of gawky distant cousin of John Ashbery's 'Into the Dusk-Charged Air,' to which the former tips its star-spattered hat."


I'm skipping most of what he said about Bibbins to concentrate on one bit that, to me, has a larger scope: I submit that nearly any poem is just as unstuck in “The subjects and predicates in the above poem are completely interchangeable” way as the Bibbins poem appears to be. That’s an accusation hurled a lot at younger poets (and Ashbery): that it’s all just random, that it could be shuffled and no one would notice.

So I did a little experiment. Here’s a poem from a poet I would consider the antithesis of Bibbins, William Logan, as logical and straight-forward as I could find, from the new issue of Pleiades:

Midges in Material Form

I cannot look at paint and not see death.
Unshaven sixty stares me in the face.
Painting is still the material form of desire.
They licked the brush and there, they drew a tree,
a smudge the eye agreed to call a birch.
The early artists of wash, of body color,
stole the cold secrets of transparency.
The speared wisteria, stiff, Japanese,
holds off the light, uneven in this season—
blunted, familiar, valedictory.
That is the cost of refusal. A cloud
of midges blurs the wicker fence,
a stain where thistles starve the summer air,
the lilac shavings dropping as if burned
onto the stone.

Does this poem seem inevitable? As if it had to be written this way? Well, if it doesn’t, Shivani wins, but if you think it does, then I win, as I just typed it out backwards. And one could imagine another formulation:

Midges in Material Form

The early artists of wash, of body color,
stole the cold secrets of transparency.
They licked the brush and there, they drew a tree,
a smudge the eye agreed to call a birch.
Painting is still the material form of desire.
The speared wisteria, stiff, Japanese,
holds off the light, uneven in this season—
blunted, familiar, valedictory.
A cloud of midges blurs the wicker fence,
a stain where thistles starve the summer air,
the lilac shavings dropping as if burned
onto the stone.
I cannot look at paint and not see death.
Unshaven sixty stares me in the face.
That is the cost of refusal.

One could do this all day, and never resolve the possibilities, and each version heightens a different aspect of the feeling, but none to me feel like the one final logic. I think that idea of inevitability that people say they see in poems is a trick of their reading habits. We want to feel like we’re being lead when we’re really not. A poet is just trying to get down the page. To get the feeling that randomness is happening is just as much a construction as getting the feeling that logic is happening. There is no regular conversation logic in anything other than play. It’s art production.

But anyway, that’s a minor part. Here’s the link to the article again:

What do you think?


At 6/17/2010 5:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do not win because the foundation of your argument fails you before you erect the evidence. I know this is a blog and not a peer-reviewed journal; however, you might as well be playing a Radiohead lp in reverse after a night of PBRs. I have no doubt that you are bright, but if you cannot recognize the logical fallacy you've constructed, then I fear even more for the future of your students who will, no doubt while under your mentorship, suffer from the same ignorance. If I were your colleague, I would be embarrassed and would question your position as a professor in my department. Perhaps you should sit on your ideas a little longer before you post them to the world.

Delbert Mashburn

At 6/17/2010 6:08 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Mr. Mashburn,

Thank you for not beating around the bush, but what's the fallacy? I was trying to respond to the criticism that Shivani has of Bibbins (and, by extension) many others, that the parts of their poems are interchangeable, unlike, by inference, what good poems do.

Looking back I can only find that he was talking more about the parts of sentences, and in my attempt at a counter example, I used whole sentences. But I think the idea holds.

I'm guessing I could have done something like this, that would have been more specific to his example:

"Unshaven sixty dropping
as if burned onto the stone."

At 6/17/2010 6:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That mash-up line you just made from the Logan poem is better than anything he's ever written. He is very boring.

At 6/17/2010 6:49 AM, Blogger Matthew Thorburn said...

Very tangentially -- that's an interesting approach for revision: to try reversing or rearranging the entire poem. I guess I do some of that here and there, but to intentionally alter an entire poem that way seems very interesting...

At 6/17/2010 6:55 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


A revision assignment! Good idea! That might get me back in the good graces of those collegaues of mine who question my position as a professor in the department.

It's all one road.

At 6/17/2010 9:01 AM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

Shivani's initial argument is bogus anyway: Bibbins' choices aren't arbitrary simply because Shivani decides they are for the sake of his screed. Colorado becomes an archipelago because it's an inland mountain state, flip the reasoning for why Florida was chosen in that bit, etc. Shivani's entire argument here, boiled down, is "I didn't bother to analyze why this poem (/these poems) might be this way, therefore there's no possible reasonable explanation for it."

I find it really funny, though, that he attacks such easy-to-digest targets as Jane "Avant-Garde" Hirshfield and Mark Bibbins. Good God, what would happen if he read someone actually difficult or disjunctive?

At 6/17/2010 9:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I got myself caught up in the compositional question, but indeed, I would agree that his critical frame is not as complete as it needs to be to dismiss Bibbins’s poetry as not poetry. He might not like the way it works, but to say it’s arbitrary is, well, a form of arbitrariness itself. I was trying to illustrate that with the Logan, from the opposite side, that things people think ARE strictly causal can, at the very least, be recombined in ways that also seem causal.

There is something different about Logan and Bibbins, however, and I understand that someone might like one and not the other (or neither, or, I suppose, both), but to make an argument about something not being poetry because of its interchangeable-ness, one is going to have to work against the whole notion of art as combination. Good luck with that.

At 6/17/2010 9:29 AM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

P.S. I don't buy the BAP and I typically find a majority of the poems in it dull, so I'm not defending it in general, but Shivani's argument is just too self-aggrandizing and intellectually scattershot.

At 6/17/2010 10:14 AM, Blogger Elisa Gabbert said...

That Logan poem is an interesting example in that it seems to work about the same forwards or backwards. I'm not sure that's true of any random poem you pick out of a hat. What if that James Wright poem began with the line "I have wasted my life"? That would be a total fail. I kind of prefer the Logan line as the first line though.

However, I tend to agree that we grant published poems by well-known authors a final authority, as though the poem had to be that way when it easily might not have.

At 6/17/2010 4:15 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Elisa! Yes, a poem of complete image-logic. Everything leads directly to that last line, right, so it must keep that last line. But what of the others? Is this the best order?:

A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
I have wasted my life.

At 6/17/2010 4:21 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

And SDS:

Indeed, I don't have BAP 2009 either, though I did read the Bibbins poem from it, and a couple/few others.

It might, indeed be a poor selection of poems. To be certain, I don't hold much faith in a lot of the poets represented in it to come up with good work, from David Wagoner, as editor (something that should be stressed, as Lehman is the series editor, not the final editor of each volume) to Sharon Olds and etc.

At 6/18/2010 4:07 AM, Blogger Kathleen said...

I always feel like asking people like Shivani, Where has the kind of "logic" you're asking for in poems gotten us? Look at the world -- the direct result of the kind of rationality he claims to want (e.g., It doesn't "make sense" to put in a relief well when there's so little likelihood of anything going wrong...)

Why not give the logic of the imagination a chance for a while?

At 6/18/2010 4:31 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I’d be interested in seeing Shivani respond, as I suspect he might agree with you.

But that’s in the abstract. On street level, I do think he has a different feeling toward the way logic works in poetry, and it does seem that he’s talking about a categorical difference, as in, he wants poetry of a different sort than what he sees in BAP and then the First 100 Days of Obama anthology, not simply a quality difference.

I think at least some of this has to do with content, as well. He seems to be calling for the kind of thing that Biespiel is calling for, but I’m not certain. He might disagree with this assumption, so I’m making it tentatively. What I’d be interested in finding is an article in which he praises a poet or some poets, to see what he is missing in the rest (in form and content).

At 6/18/2010 6:07 AM, Blogger Elisa Gabbert said...

John, yes, the order of the other lines doesn't seem to matter so much (and the images could have been different, even, is my feeling), but the last line has to be the last line.

At 6/18/2010 6:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I agree.

That was actually a criticism of this poem when it was first published, that it was arbitrary, mostly, with a thesis-like last line that could have gone after any random images, when real poetry must arise inevitably and with causality. (Or something like that.) Which was also a criticism of Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." And now, it seems no one much says that anymore.

It's an interesting back and forth, isn't it? And it's been going on in different ways and to different extents for a long time, the whole causality (or logic) vs randomness (or interchangeability), if taken with several grains of salt.

At 6/18/2010 6:25 AM, Blogger Elisa Gabbert said...

Oh really? How funny/strange. It seems like an obvious fallacy that "real" poems are "inevitable." It's *always* arbitrary! I mean, some poems *feel* more arbitrary than others, but at a basic level the poet is always choosing what to put in the poem and what to leave out.

Part of the point of the Wright poem is the arbitrariness of the images, I'd say. In the world of the poem, that just happens to be what's going on when the speaker has this revelation. Another mind could have been in that scene and concluded, "Summer rules!"

At 6/18/2010 6:30 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

That would be a very fun parody. Why hasn't someone done that?

And what you could do with Lowell, too: "I myself, am swell!"

(though that's not a last line)

At 6/18/2010 7:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another tired poetry argument, on both sides. We've heard all this before time and time again.


At 6/18/2010 8:31 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Just about every argument I’ve come across about poetry could be described as “another tired poetry argument.” In fact the same thing could also be said about the other arts, as well as politics and philosophy. The examples change, but the division is always the same. So what should we do? Stop talking? That’s silly, as we can’t stop talking because we can’t stop doing.

So here’s my challenge to you: What should we be talking about? What argument/conversation should we be having regarding poetry? I’d be happy to have it.

At 6/18/2010 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, with great respect, I disagree with Elisa & John, in regards to the order of the images in Wright's poem. They are very carefully ordered and deployed. Wright begins with the subtle injection of life/death (butterflies don't sleep, not even green ones), then mooooves to the cows moving off, away from the narrator, then we have the narrator's realization that all that glimmers is shit (from last year's horses) and finally, the arrival of the chicken hawk, the angel of death (or, in "real life" the thief of other birds homes).

At 6/18/2010 1:37 PM, Blogger Elisa Gabbert said...

But, anon, if they were other images, you might easily find meaning and order in those. The point is not that Wright's images are not careful or do not have meaning, but that they could have been other images

At 6/18/2010 4:14 PM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

Having read Shivani's full article now, I think his treatment of the Terrance Hayes and Tina Kelley poems is even worse than what he has to say about Bibbins. In the Hayes there's a deliberate unwillingness to understand what are fairly basic (and definitely connected) metaphors combined with a bizarre straw man suggestion of paternalistic white guilt. In the Kelley, he first faults Kelley for using a trope that's been used before, then faults her for doing something different with it (admittedly, he doesn't state it quite as such, but there it is anyway).

By the way, did you read his naming of some poetry books he likes in the comments? Seems like an odd grouping for someone who purports to dislike what he does.

At 6/18/2010 5:27 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Thank you for directing me at the comment stream. It helps me understand Shivani's point of view. Here's what he writes in response to one commentor:

"The problem, as you point out, is not the BAP or any anthology or award-giving mechanism in isolation, but that these are reflections of the underlying problem, which has ruined writing in this country: the proliferation of MFA writing programs, and the creation of tens of thousands of underemployed, marginally talented graduates, who are part of a vast guild system that does its best to keep out real talent. The guild functions at every level, from contests to residencies, to keep out unwelcome outsiders. The flood of bad writing drowns out the good. Therefore, as you point out, it's almost impossible to discover who the really good writers of today are--which in fact is very much the intention of the exclusive guild. "

At 6/18/2010 5:42 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

And the part of his comment I find most amusing is his view of the "marginally talented graduates, who are part of a vast guild system that does its best to keep out real talent."

I can be convinced that there is a LOT of writing out there, and that there's a good chance worthwhile things can get snowed under now and then, but the level of conspiracy he posits is rather absurd.

I can see how this point of view would make one want to ramp up the argument against things like The Best American Poetry, and how it can cause one to be way over-negative and willful.

At 6/19/2010 8:19 AM, Blogger knott said...

re the Wright poem, the "images" are one aspect—

the sounds—echoing through the lines—are also significant:






you can rejigger the nouns, but the sounds?

i guess one could reshuffle them too ...


anyway in a couple decades if the Singularists are right you'll be able to upload the entire
corpus of anglo/amer verse into your brain (or what used to be your brain) via a plug at the back of your skull (or your forefinger will ingest it) and you can tell the cerebcells to recombine every line and every word from Caedmon to Bibbins et al in an endless flowing rearrangement of constant intertextual delight, no version of which will ever be final or preferable once your terminal has entered it—

At 6/19/2010 9:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Well, I hope not to be around in that future... Just to say that something could be different, doesn't mean it must be all different, all the time.

And there are preferable versions, of course. All I was getting at, is that it's always a series of decisions, and that the combinations of sentences have a relationship outside of direct causal logic, which seems a very basic idea.

I'm always surprised when people act like poems are little logic machines, and that poems that play a bit with the "logic" of construction are suddenly so alien. ("They're not poems at all!" some shout) All poems, to some degree, play with that logic of construction, and all things COULD be otherwise. Not that they should.

At 6/19/2010 12:00 PM, Blogger Kathleen said...

I just noticed: His title would lead you to think he's going to make the usual argument about BAP's nepotism, but then he actually has quite another fish to fry. He must have been having a snark attack and didn't really care what form it took. Some days arelike that.

At 6/19/2010 1:41 PM, Blogger Don Share said...

John, does your response to Will then also apply to Biespiel?? Not trying to be a smart alec!

At 6/19/2010 2:44 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Don,

Good question, not a smart Alec thing to ask at all. (And even if it was, I kind of like smart Alecs).

Well, Will said that this was all two more sides to a tired poetry argument, to which I replied:

"Just about every argument I’ve come across about poetry could be described as “another tired poetry argument.” In fact the same thing could also be said about the other arts, as well as politics and philosophy. The examples change, but the division is always the same. So what should we do? Stop talking? That’s silly, as we can’t stop talking because we can’t stop doing.

So here’s my challenge to you: What should we be talking about? What argument/conversation should we be having regarding poetry? I’d be happy to have it."

So to ask if it applies to Biespiel, I'm guessing you mean, do I think it's OK or good to keep having the conversation he's having? Sure, I think it great to have the conversation about the arts intersecting politics, etc. I don't think I was advocating silencing him, and I hope no one would take that from what I wrote.

I just wish that, with the huge readership (by poetry standards) he was able to command through Poetry Mag and Huffington, etc, that his argument wouldn't have painted with such broad strokes, essentializing so many unlike poets and aesthetics.

I disagree with him on several levels, as I feel we all should. But responding to him is part of the conversation, and I support the continuing conversation. We must have it, even if our disagreement over the years starts to seem a bit worn.

At 6/19/2010 3:00 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I didn't do as good a job just then as I wanted to. So here it is again:

I think it's great that people are having the convesations about the worth of anthologies (Shivani) and the role of the poet in society (Biespiel), but I also reserve the right to disagree with what they say.

There! Much more directly to the point!

At 6/19/2010 5:42 PM, Blogger Don Share said...

Well put, and thank you. When we ran the piece Chris and I had our own responses to it, of course, and Biespiel's views are his own. But precisely because it is an argument that's often made we wanted people to respond to it to give it more dimension - as indeed they have, and B was open to that himself. There are lots of reactions on the web version of the piece, and Terrance Hayes, Steve Burt, and others reply in the letters section of the summer issue. I never tire of discussion myself, and appreciate that your blog is one of the best venues there is for us all to debate things. Back now to the actual subject at hand!

At 6/20/2010 11:24 AM, Anonymous RS said...

RE: the tired arguments

I think I mostly agree here, and while we shouldn't / cannot, obviously, ever 'stop talking', I'm not sure re-hashing old arguments because we can't think up any new ones is productive on any admirable level, either.

RE: the question 'what arguments should we be having?', I'm still in the camp of 'argue less, write more'. What ones should you be having? I'm still not convinced any are worthwhile. It feels like sitting on a beach in Hawaii arguing about the pros and cons of surfing as a physical activity; how about if you like surfing you go surf, and if you don't go back to the hotel and take a nap?

At 6/20/2010 11:41 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Good analogy. I agree that while on the beach, surfing is what we should be doing. But there are so many hours in a day.

What about later, over dinner? Surfing is no longer an option... so why not talk about it. As luck would have it I HAVE been to dinner with sports types many times. They argue a lot about the very same things!

At 6/20/2010 11:44 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Anis Shivani has asked me to post this for him:

If I may join this helpful conversation stream, I'd like to pose the question: What is it that we expect of a poem today? Are there any criteria at all? What are the standards we expect a poem to meet before we can call it a good poem?

The poems I mentioned--and I could have done the operation for almost any of the poems in the BAP anthology--seem to me to fail to meet any standards. They are reflections of the verbal adaptability of certain masters: look what I can do with words, I can play with them. And that's fine, too, as a standard, but then it needs to be something truly impressive, and not duplicable with a blindfold over one's eyes, if it is to amount to something. Should a poem be beautiful? If so, how? Should it have political meaning? If not, what else must it do to be a good poem? Should a poem elicit certain emotions in the reader? If the answer is no, no emotional reaction is necessary, then what other criteria make the poem a good one? It's a pretty basic question, and I think the BAP, year after year, fails on this primary level.

I think these poems represent an extreme state of decadence in American poetry. If decadence is the standard, that's fine too, I have no problem with that, but I think the majority of the defense mounted in favor of such poetry does not acknowledge the decadence, it posits other criteria. Such as that Jorie Graham's poetry is politically astute (she, along with Glick and Olds, is one of the worst poets today, or at any time in any place). Or that Olds's poetry is feminist (no, it's positively medieval in its reductionism of the female to the female body). Or that Philip Levine's poetry dignifies the working man (I don't think he knows the first thing about the working man--he has memories of memories of having been a working-class man for a short period of time some sixty years ago).

So if this is supposed to be the BAP, what are some of these poets doing that would make us proud to hold them in comparison with some of the acknowledged greats of the past? Can we say that this poetry is some sort of advance over Bishop, Lowell, Berryman, Merrill? If so, in what way? Is it a retreat? That's justifiable too, but then let's articulate it that way.

I'm open to further discussion, using any of the BAP poems as examples. What is good about the Bibbins poem, to take one example? Is it beautiful? Does it make me think? Does it evoke some feeling (what feeling)? I'd like to hear the defenders' standards for this poem.

At 6/20/2010 12:41 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


That's the best use of criticism, to have it begin things rather than shut them down. Blogs can be a help in that (or a hindrance!).


You're asking a very fun question here. I think I'll probably post it as a regular post tonight or tomorrow. I bet you will get probably close to zero consensus.

At 6/20/2010 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that a good poem is a beautiful poem, that its elements should be "beautiful": the sounds should be lush (appropriately employing internal rhyme, assonance, consonance, homonym, etc) while also being mindful of the poem's time rather than disregardful of it; similarly, the images and phrases should be fresh--and thereby they will be interesting to the reader. While I feel artistry should have priority over message, it's also nice to find, via the artistry, some sort of interesting message as well.

At 6/20/2010 7:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS: I meant to sign my post above. -- CJ ( not "Anonymous.")

At 6/21/2010 1:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Mr. Shivani stop slandering, and start his own anthology? BAP isn't the freakin' bible--or even a Pulitzer. It's a book edited by a man (who thunk up the idea, I guess) published by a company. Of course, it's a lot easier to whine then read a billion poems a year. Edit your own book, sir: THE MOST BEAUTIFUL POEMS OF 2010 SELECTED BY ME--ANIS SHIVANI--GENIUS!!!!!

At 6/21/2010 5:24 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Well, I don't agree with most of Shivani's assertions, but I also wouldn't call them slander. A little fast and loose here and there, though. Certainly that.

At 6/21/2010 5:47 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I've now posted Shivani's question as a new post, here:

If you care to engage him on this, it would be best if you do it there, as this comment stream is, well, long now.

At 6/27/2010 4:28 AM, Anonymous Julie Ali said...

The problem with poems is that you can’t always control the way they want to be said; some poems are obedient children and will regulate their behavior according to your dictum. Other poems just are wild, free creatures that won’t let you near them. The poem you end up with sometimes seems to be utterly foreign to you sometimes, as if it evaporated off one plate (the mind) and materialized on another plate (the page) and in the process –transformed into this mutant. This has been my experience as someone who is trying to make poems and not succeeding.
I do find that “real” poets do spend a great deal of time talking about poetry, what are poems, the market for poems and the fact that no one seems to buy poetry books. I understand that people naturally like to talk about subjects they are passionate about. But usually –at least-this is what I’ve found by reading such conversations (in order to avoid writing)--- these conversations are circular and the metabolic cycle eventually winds down as substrate gets depleted. As for fretting about the buying public, I feel there is no point asking the public to read poems if they don’t want to. I mean, I don’t expect them to read hard science or do molecular biology so why would I expect them to read poetry which is the equivalent of hard language?
I feel that it is far better to spend our time, discussing interesting poems, writing books that teach beginning poets the life of a poet as Kim Stafford has done in his very useful book “Early Morning: Remembering My Father: William Stafford,” and reading everything meaty and wonderful in the world of literature. There are so many books. I think you can learn at least one or two useful things from difficult texts such as “The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau,” and from the collected works of poets you simply have an affinity for.
It may be that you never “succeed” as a poet. But I think good writing in any form attracts avid attention. I have just found the poems of Joanna Kink; I’m going to be buying her poetry books. Why? There is a intellect there similar to that of Anne Carson, she makes music when she writes, and she isn’t afraid to try to break language. All indicate a person in love with words and able to use them fluently.
What is a good poem? A good poem, to me, has to have feelings in it and if this makes it sentimental—so what? If it has no feeling in it, then it is a dead poem. Then it has to have some sort of vividness that pulls me into its machinery and chops me up, leaving me a blenderized milkshake at the end. A good poem transforms a person, just as a plasmid transforms a bacterial cell. A good poem lasts. A good poem feeds the soul.

At 6/27/2010 4:44 AM, Anonymous Julie Ali said...

Sorry, that should have said:
Joanna Klink. The books I'm going to be buying are Circadian and Raptus.

At 6/27/2010 5:16 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You write:

"As for fretting about the buying public, I feel there is no point asking the public to read poems if they don’t want to."

You're right, of course, but some of the conversation about poetry (and the other arts) around the reading, attending, viewing public, is centered around growing that interest, allowing people in in such a way that they want to participate.

It's my contention that most poetry called "experimental" or "difficult" could be at least twice as popular if it were talked about and as available in inexpensive editions as MP3 albums or trade paperbacks. There are a lot of people out there who want to read poetry. They just don't know it yet.


At 6/27/2010 9:26 AM, Anonymous Julie Ali said...

It is interesting that we need to "grow" an interest in something. I love words. You don't have to sell me on the value of them or the amazing ways poets mangle and unmangle them to make interesting constructs that may or may not have meaning.

I read blogs to find new poets who are making fresh discoveries in the field of language. I mean that may be a form of marketing and getting the world out and may be an effective way to grow interest, but again, I'm motivated to find these poets. I don't believe the general reading public is motivated. This is specialized work. As such, only a small group of readers will adhere to the material with any avidity.
With some poets such as Tim Lilburn who I really like, I haven't the foggiest idea for the most part what he is talking about but I like his devastations in poems. I like that he is willing to give himself up to the flow of his own current. As for Anne Carson, again, she's using a toolbox that I'm not familiar with but I still appreciate her breaking the DNA sequence of language. However, again I'm motivated. I want to learn how to make poems.
I don't think you'd push through this foreign territory without such desire, no matter how you market it. And I don't think poetry needs marketing. I think it needs muscular writing that does not shut out the reader who wants to know it.

At 6/27/2010 9:42 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I've no argument with anything you're saying. I'm thinking about "marketing" and such a little differently. In the American school system (I don't know about other systems) poetry tends to be taught from a standpoint of fear, and that tachers try to hurry past it asap, especially anything even remotely contemporary. And when they talk about it at all, they tend to talk about it toward some testable answer, rather than as an experience, or even the "appreciation of" way that music and visual art are often taught. Therefore there are people out there, I believe - maybe not a lot of people - who would enjoy (some) poetry as you do, but don't know it yet, as their previous associations have not been interesting experiences. It's about access. Many have just not come into contact with what they would like because many types of poetry are simply hard to find . . . or rather, they're easy to find, but you have to already know specifically what you're looking for.


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