Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bye-Bye Berkeley, Bye-Bye

It’s been a long week of travelling, watching this blog not getting updated. I like to travel. I’m currently sitting in the San Francisco International airport after having visited with 16 MFA students from St. Mary’s College over the last couple days. I’m reminded of how important it was for me when I was in an MFA program and a poet visited. What I didn’t know then is how important it is to be that poet visiting. Every change of context brims with possibility.

I’ve been reading a book on cognition over the last couple weeks, and, as usual, I’m pretending it was written about poetry. Whatever I read I pretend it was really written about and for poetry. (It makes instruction manuals much more interesting.) I’m going to post on it when things get back to normal and November is upon us. I was struck with the implications for artists and art production when the book was talking about how long-term memory, working-memory, and automatic memory function. Suffice it to say, I’m glad for automatic memory when it comes to driving cars and reading, but not when it comes to the creation of art.

Something I noticed while here was that nothing I ate seemed to have enough salt. I wonder if that has something to do with the bay area or with me. Have I lived in the Midwest too long? Well, since I’m most likely going to be living there a lot longer, I’d better learn to be OK with it. Pass the salt.

I happened to be travelling with Graham Foust’s Necessary Stranger, and since I spoke with several of his students, I’ll end this little airport post with one of my favorite poems of his:

Of What Seems Like My Father

I met him in the candy store.
He turned around and smiled at me—
you get the picture.
Yes, we see.

You get the picture.
If it would all please stop for what seems like forever,
I could walk through spanking dark across
America on car tops.

I could walk through spanking dark among
these pharmacies, canyons, and flags.
It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone.
The moon’s got a fake side tonight, but still—

it’s not unusual to be loved by anyone.
Wanting to hear what I don’t want to hear
is hardly possible. And then? I’ll come
to where it’s said here disappears,

is hardly possible. And then? I’ll come
and from an airplane jump
to open his piss-stained chute.
I am leaping like the pieces of a bomb, do you hear me?

Just to open his piss-stained chute?
I’m precisely the quiet of his blind spot’s eye:
part heartache, part affect; part heartache, part arsenal.
Embroidered with cold—

part heartache, part affect; part heartache, part arsenal—
and to this sudden edge of city not a bird.
A border’s bruised clarity, an ocean an ocean.
Try closing your eyes with your eyes closed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Sum of Every Lost Ship - Allison Titus / Octopus 14

Octopus 14 is up:

This time, the play on 8 is that there are long poems from eight poets. Some poets I’ve been interested in lately are here, Amy King and Jeff Alessandrelli, as well as Several poets new to me.

Also, there’s a review of Allison Titus’s The Sum of Every Lost Ship, a book I've just finished reading this week. It’s a fascinating book, as it weaves through the dislocations of motels and identity (a long section on “Anastasia” or “Anna Anderson”) and letters and instructions. Read the review for more on these. What I found most interesting in the book is how Titus navigates though images that she removes from overt narrative, creating a still-life, enigmatic quality. Here’s an example of what I mean, as she navigates one idea of motel, the idea of VACANCY and dwelling, where one is conditioned by the idea of motel to consider the end of the world:


Except for the taciturn furniture, purposeful and beige and grieving.

The coffee pot is missing, but ice is free in buckets,
and the thin white sheets contain

our viscous longings ever so

From the second floor, the view of the parking lot
is lovely.

So it isn’t long before we quit our day jobs
and move in.

We sleep. We unlock
the door with a plastic key.

O evidence of blood

and eschatology: we choose
what soothes us.

I am already
black strands of hair

on the flat white

fingernail clippings in the sink.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why Do Some People Twist Themselves All Up About Creative Writing Programs?

If this reminds you of the creative writing program you went to, you should have gone somewhere else.

OK, I had to.  Just after I posted that thing yesterday, I came across another anti-creative writing program essay. So here I am. There’s a person writing about poetry and fiction at the Huffington Post. This person writes things that are, at the very least, inflammatory. I’m continually surprised that journals such as Huffington Post and Boulevard will print essays from this person, as they seem, to me, to be meandering and filled with willful misreadings.

But they are getting lots of hits and comments, which makes these essays difficult to ignore. This person says that the point of writing these essays is to get a conversation going, but the tone of the essays themselves seems that it’s more of a flame war that is the goal.

So here’s the major point from the last salvo. What I want to know is am I wrong in thinking that this, even if you kind of agree with the stance (that creative writing programs are bad things [which he calls literary writing guilds]), which I don’t, is flat wrong?

“Again, the most important thing about this discussion is the socially conservative writing that results from the socially conservative organization of the literary writing guild.”

Question: Do you think that poetry and fiction written by everyone who graduates from any creative writing program is socially conservative? It seems an absurd generalization to me. But even if you agree that literary writing in general is socially conservative these days, can you separate out those who graduated from creative writing programs and those who didn’t? And then there’s the time issue. This is an argument that this is a new development that started in earnest in the 1980s. So do you agree that writing now is more socially conservative that it was, say, before 1980?

Ah, such were the joys.

The point goes on, continuing what I think is an absurd analogy between creative writing programs and the medieval guild system:

“In thinking of an analogy for the medieval guildmen as they related to the Counter-Reformation, we might think of the rise of the creative writing programs at precisely the time of the Reagan ascendancy, when liberalism with a commitment to even the mildest redistributionist philosophy went into permanent retreat. A new kind of conservative writing—Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, Amy Hemphill, Mary Robison—became ascendant at the time. “

It’s quite a statement to think of Raymond Carver as a major figure in a socially conservative movement. But if these writers are socially conservative, and they somehow became that way through some sort of creative writing guild, who were the ones before them who were, by analogy, not socially conservative? I don’t know the history of fiction writers well enough to track this, but I do know the history of poets, and I’m having difficulty in tracking 1980 (or even 1960, as is also mentioned in this essay) as some key point in some conservative turn in literature. For every Allen Ginsburg there’s an Archibald MacLeish. These days we have someone like Dana Gioia, who seems pretty socially conservative to me (though I could be wrong), and then we have someone like Rae Armantrout, whose poetry seems to me a critique of social conservative positions. Dana Gioia doesn’t teach in an MFA program and Rae Armantrout does. This just doesn’t seem a very helpful way of thinking of contemporary literature. Not only that, but it actually seems harmful, as it posits a whole host of dissimilar things (creative writing programs are wildly different places from each other, depending on the philosophy behind their administration) as one thing. That kind of reductive thinking smears over the real problems that one might investigate when thinking of the avenues to literary awards and prestige. Here’s the rest of the paragraph:

“A continuous Inquisition has been in place in American cultural life, and certainly in the writing guild, ever since then, and the writing product is shaped by that. In essence, the writing guild makes it possible for apprentices to internalize the principles of the Inquisition. One is made to feel guilty and ashamed if writing compels one to move toward areas forbidden by the Inquisition. Workshop humiliation is very much part of this enforcement of Inquisition rules; it is astonishing to notice—even at the undergraduate, non-guild level—how quickly students acquire these principles of writerly conduct, and rake their fellows over the coals for the minutest transgressions (“You switched point of view in the story, you're not allowed to do that!”). One quickly becomes invested in the Inquisition; the advice manuals written by the masters convey these gently, in the guise of techniques of writing, but the social principle behind them is manifest.”

Is this what happens in creative writing classes? And if so, is something like the example above of a point of view shift indicative of a socially conservative point of view? It reminds me T.S. Eliot. How he was quite adept at all sorts of shifts and point of view changes . . . and how he was, without dispute, socially conservative.

I feel like I’m wasting my time this morning, reading this piece and writing about it. And I know if Jordan sees it, he’ll say what he’s said before, that I’m just feeding a troll . . . but you know, people do read this stuff. A lot of people, apparently. And when I see a sentence like this:

“Talent, in the modern writing guild, has been discounted; it is craft that counts.”

It astounds me. Wasn’t I just reading a condemnation of creative writing programs a few weeks ago that was saying the thing wrong with them is not enough attention to craft, and too much talk of inspiration and genius?

More interesting to me is why these arguments?  Why now?  Why is the idea that there are people out there sitting around talking about writing stories and poems so irritating to people? I don’t teach in an MFA or Ph.D. program, but I did attend a couple.  I find the idea that there was some sort of humiliation economy going on to be counter to my experience.  There were moments that were difficult, but shouldn’t conversations about what one is doing, if one is taking it seriously, at times be difficult?  There were other moments where someone would do the unexpected and we all felt the air shift.  My teachers lived for those moments, and I still do. 

That's a well-endowed chair you've got yourself there . . .

Heads Up: The National

The National
Terrible Love (Alternate Version)

Around Thanksgiving The National are going to put out an expanded edition of High Violet, with a few new songs, a few live songs, and this alternate version of “Terrible Love.”

My favorite album of the year just got a little more favorite.

From what I gather, these will be the extra tracks:

‘Terrible Love (Alternate Version)’
‘Wake Up You Saints’
‘You Were A Kindness’
‘Walk Off’ ‘
‘Bloodbuzz Ohio (Live On KCMP)’
‘Anyone’s Ghost (Live At BAM)’
‘England (Live At BAM)’

I was hoping there was going to be an alternate version or live version of 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks' included, as I've heard a couple live recordings of this where there's some electric guitar at the end. It's a very good song, and adding a walk away solo just makes it that much more textured. Oh well. I wish these people would consut me first, you know?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Is it a Job or an Honor? Or Are They the Same Thing?

Alas poor career, I knew him well.

I’m not going to address whether creative writing should be taught in higher education. That is an old debate, and I don’t want to jump back into it. Instead, what I’m thinking about is how those who do teach conceive of their teaching.

More specifically, how do people who teach creative writing (poetry is what I’m thinking about mostly, though the genre probably doesn’t matter [or perhaps it does?]) define their relationship to what they do. And if those conceptions change much about the way they conduct their classes.

What got me thinking (or thinking again) about this is reading Julie Carr’s “Teaching: An Improvisation” in Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook, ed. by Joshua Marie Wilkinson. Yes, I’m posting once again on this book. And yes, I will post several more times on this book. It contains 99 micro essays, most all of which bring up some issue worth thinking and talking about. Like this one. Carr writes this:

“People often say that teaching is an honor. I agree with this, and I add that it is also a way of honoring other people. Teaching provides opportunities for a kind of abstract affection, circumscribed by precise rituals, thriving within very particular walls. When I am teaching I do not imagine that I am turning nonwriters into writers. Rather, I am attempting to look through whatever obstructions present themselves in order to discover the expertise of any person in the room. This requires a constant humility: For if I cannot see what the person is doing, or what the poem is doing, then it is not the fault of the writer, but of myself. If I am rushing, or too absorbed by my own preoccupations, I will miss it. And that will be my loss. I will be the one who has, in failing to recognize another’s perfection, failed to create something meaningful out of the time available.”

This is why I’m asking myself if our different way of conceptualizing what we do manifests itself in the classroom in some large way or not. Because, well, my thoughts about teaching and the texts we produce in a creative writing class is about as different from Carr’s as it can be. First, I don’t feel honored to be a teacher. It’s a career that I mostly like, but I imagine there would have been others I would have also liked. I’m happy with it, but honor is a word that would never occur to me to say in regards to it. Thinking of myself as feeling honored by teaching is as alien to me as if I were to try to think of myself as honored by any other job I’ve had. I like teaching, and feel that it’s a rewarding career, but I don’t feel this sense of honor that others often talk about feeling. Am I in the minority?

It seems to me a healthy mindset, to feel honored to have the job you have. I can see how teachers could feel that way. Librarians. Police officers. Lawyers. It’s just that I guess I find my feelings of honor other places. Or perhaps I’m missing something.

It takes all kinds / It takes the kinds that fit.

But, to move to my second reaction: I also don’t think of my classes anything like the way Carr does here. Talking of “abstract affection” and that I might be at fault when not finding something in the work in front of me places me in a relationship to the students that I don’t want to have. With affection comes a closeness and sense of responsibility, and this idea of personal failure makes me feel I’d probably be feeling guilty all the time, knowing me. Rather, I think of creative writing students as people I talk with about art, people who are also artists, and we all owe each other the attention of the class, and a commitment to be there and to bring our attention with us.

This is why I’m asking if such conceptions as Carr’s might manifest differently in the class than my conceptions. If they do, which they very well might, that makes me want to investigate in what way they do. What I’m hoping is that such differences in conceptions are mostly semantic, and though they infuse one’s beliefs about the act of teaching, that they have little effect on what goes on in the classroom itself. That these conceptions are how one sees the class, and that students would see it however they see it. I ask this, because when thinking about actual things to do in class, the ways of talking into and about and from the work at hand, what Carr is saying in her essay sounds fascinating, and perhaps like things I am doing or trying to do.

In other words, does it matter how we see what we’re doing?

When Carr writes, “…when I’m teaching, I assume the poem in front of me is already masterful. It is my job to support its mastery. Sometimes that mastery is hidden,” perhaps that’s not so very different than when I’m teaching, though I’m teaching I’m assuming that the poem in front of us doesn’t matter much at all, instead, what matters is the possibilities in the poem in front of us, the possibilities of further texts, or alternate shades.

This is my thought for myself this week. I don’t think I’ll come up with an answer.
If you could spend all day hitting the bull's eye, would you?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Burt: What you find difficult depends on what you already find easy

Complex and difficult are often conflated.

I’m finding Poets on Teaching: a Sourcebook, edited by Joshua Marie Wilkinson to be continually useful, both in the classroom and in my own thinking about poems. Some conceptualizations I agree with, some I disagree with, but so far all have been interesting and worth the candle. This week I’m thinking along with Stephen Burt’s “How To Teach ‘Difficult’ Poetry and Why it Might Not be so Difficult After All.” I’ve long felt that presenting the history of poetry chronologically, especially in an introduction to literature course, to be less interesting, and less successful, than starting with the very recent present and working roughly backwards in a hopscotch fashion.

But what might this also mean in talking about the writing of poetry in a creative writing workshop? One doesn’t want to simply rehearse the present, but one must start there, as, well, obviously the students are writing their poems in the present.

It’s all about context. What context the students come from and what context they make together. That can be a problem as well as a benefit, depending on what that context allows or disallows for experience. But managing that context is part of the job of the mediator.

Anyway, I found Burt’s piece to be interesting as it raises several questions as it makes it’s major point: “What you find difficult depends on what you already find easy.”

It's difficult to imagine what others will find difficult.

So here are a few paragraphs snipped from his essay (These are pulled bits, as I didn't want to post the whole thing. Now you have something to look forward to when you get the book.):


The appreciation of any art, the ability to get inside it and see how the work is put together, what it is trying to do, comes in part from our experience of prior, related— maybe distantly related— art, related art with which we feel more comfortable, art we think we in part understand.

What you find difficult depends on what you already find easy; what you find comprehensible or enjoyable depends on what you already know. Randall Jarrell used to say that when he taught in Austria, his students found “The Waste Land” easy and Frost hard because they were used to Eliot’s moves, having encountered them in other languages, other art forms (e.g., modern painting), or in daily life: Europe as rubble, the world as disillusioned collage, the poet as Tiresias, helpless latecomer to history. Frost’s people, Frost’s world, and even Frost’s kinds of poetry (American eclogues, dramatic monologues, and neo-pastoral lyrics) were not what the Austrians thought modern poems could be. The most difficult poets for moderately well-prepared undergraduates to appreciate are not contemporary poets of any sort: they are the poets from before 1800 who fit neither modernist, nor Romantic, nor “confessional,” nor avant-garde, frame-breaking, shock-the-audience modes. Among all the poets who have exerted a great deal of influence over the course of the English language, the hardest to teach now is almost surely John Dryden.

All poetry is difficult if you don’t have a way in, a sense of what’s represented how (which allows you to ask why); all poetry can be enjoyable, if not easy, if a teacher can make clear that way. I have seen West Coast poets with impeccable “experimental” pedigrees declare with some pride that it’s easier to teach beginners how to read Stein, or Williams, or Armantrout, than to teach the more advanced students schooled, or deformed, by reading (say) Heaney or Frost: the poets who say such things think that they are making a point against older forms of poetry, older modes of education, but really they are just demonstrating that teachers give students (among other things) expectations, and that students, in our culture, pick up few expectations about poetry outside of class.

That means that the analogies most useful in teaching many contemporary poets are not analogies linking one poet to others, one kind of page-based poetry to another kind, but analogies between a kind of poetry, a book of poems, and some other kind of art form—kinds of pop songs, kinds of non-song-based pop music, kinds of prose (love letters, op-eds, satire a la The Onion, blogs), kinds of film, or kinds of scenes in films. You shouldn’t stop with those analogies, since all good poems use tools specific to poetry, but they can make the best places to start.

In the end, difficulty is a personal issue.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My October Version of the Best Albums of the Year (so far)

My top 20 albums of 2010 (so far)

1. The National – High Violet. It's been my favorite for several months now. I doubt anything will come along (maybe Radiohead?) to dislodge it. 

2. Freelance Whales – Weathervanes: They came out of nowhere (for me at least) with a completely charming and fascinating album. A cross between The Postal Service and middle period Sufjan Stevens.

3. Broken Bells – Broken Bells: It started the year as my favorite album, but I'm not going back to listen to it much these days. It might fall further by the end of the year.

4. Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett: I'm liking this more and more as the year goes on. It's going to overtake the number three spot any second.

5. Menomena – Mines: It took awhile for this to grow on me, and now I can't figure out why.

6. Eels – Tomorrow Morning: E's back! The last two were good but uneven. This one's also uneven, but it's great and uneven.

7. Phosphorescent – Here's to Taking it Easy

8. Wolf Parade – Expo 86: Simply a great rock record like I remember rock records from when I was a teenager.

9. Bobby Bare Jr. – A Storm – A Tree – My Mother’s Head: Several of my favorite songs of the year, and a few real clunkers too. Bobby Bare Jr is unafraid of writing a really dumb song.

10. Mimicking Birds – Mimicking Birds: I was bored with this at first, and now I listen to it almost every night. That sounds like a sideways compliment, but it really is a great album to listen to at night. 

11. The Morning Benders – Big Echo: This one has bounced around between about number 20 and about number five. Today, it's at 11. Who knows where it'll be by the first of the year. 

12. Clem Snide – The Meat of Life: I wish this one were in my top ten.

13. Cowboy Junkies – Renmin Park: Strong weird album.

14. Les Savy Fav – Root for Ruin: I've had this one on constant repeat for two days. It's dumb in all the right ways, with a sound that seems a mixture of Public Image LTD and Modest Mouse. Or something like that. I listened to it very loud while digging a grave for our cat that just died this morning. It helped. Post-punk always helps in such situations.

15. Autolux – Transit Transit: This one started out in my lower third, and has suddenly found itself in my upper third. Huh.

16. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night: This one was much higher on my list at one time.

17. Band of Horses – Infinite Arms: Like Autolux, this one started out in my lower third. Go figure. Maybe I'm just feeling more lush or something now. The soft-focus seems less bothersome.

18. Dr. Dog – Shame, Shame: When it first came out, I thought it was going to be the album of the year, but somethign about it doesn't hold up to these others in my upper third.

19. Azure Ray – Drawing Down the Moon: Simply the best voices on this list. I could listen to them sing the telephone book.

20. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record: Again, I thought this was going to be the album of the year when it first came out. Now it's dropping fast.

Other albums that are quite good, but have several tracks I’ve taken off my 2010 playlist:

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today

Beach House – Teen Dream

Belle & Sebastian – Belle & Sebastian Write About Love

The Bird and the Bee – Interpreting the Maters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall & John Oates

Breathe Owl Breathe – Magic Central

Carissa’s Weird – They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave (retrospective)

Eels – End Times

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Hawk

Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away

Laura Veirs – July Flame

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

Neil Young – Le Noise

Sharon Van Etten – Epic

The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt / Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird

Teenage Fanclub – Shadows

The Walkmen – Lisbon

The rest of the albums this year that caught my attention for a bit, but didn’t stick, though many have a song or two that is quite excellent (Teenage Fanclub, for instance. It’s a fairly weak album, but the song “Sometimes I Don’t Need to Believe in Anything” is one fo my favorites for the year.):

Adam Green – Minor Love
Altar Eagle – Mechanical Gardens
Angus & Julia Stone – Down the Way
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Avey Tare – Down There
Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo

Beach Fossils – Beach Fossils
Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore – Dear Companion
Best Coast – Crazy for You
Bill Callahan – Rough Travel for a Rare Thing
The Black Angels – Phosphene Dream
Black Mountain – Wilderness Heart
Blitzen Trapper – Destroyer of the Void
Blue Giant – Blue Giant
The Books – This Way Out

Caribou – Swim
The Clientele – Minotaur
Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
Crocodiles – Sleep Forever

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Horse Power EP
Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
The Drums – The Drums

Eddy Current Supression Ring – Rush to Relax
Elf Power – Elf Power
Everest – On Approach

The Flaming Lips – The Dark Side of the Moon
Foals – Total Life Forever

The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
Goldfrapp – Head First

The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever
Holy Fuck – Latin

Interpol – Interpol

Jay Bennett – Kicking at the Perfumed Air
Jen Wood – Finds You in Love
Jesca Hoop – Hunting My Dress
Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me
John Lennon – Double Fantasy Stripped Down
Jónsi – Go
Junip – Fields / Rope and Summit EP

The Like – Release Me
The Living Sisters – Love to Live
Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
Lucky Soul – A Coming of Age

Marching Band – Pop Cycle
Mates of State – Crushes (The Covers Mixtape)
MGMT – Congratulations
Miniature Tigers – FORTRESS
Mountain & The Trees – I Made This for You
Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band – Where the Messengers Meet
Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

The New Pornographers – Together

Of Montreal – False Priest
Owen Pallett – Heartland

Panda Bear – Tomboy
Philip Selway – Familial
Plants and Animals – La La Land
Portugal. The Man. – American Ghetto

Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard
The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme
Rogue Wave – Permalight

S. Carey – As We Grow
Sarah Jaffe – Suburban Nature
School of Seven Bells – Disconnect from Desire
She & Him – Volume Two
Shout Out Louds – Work
Sleigh Bells – Treats
Spoon – Transference
Strand of oaks – Pope Kildragon
Suckers – Wild Smile
Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz / All Delighted People
Suzanne Vega – Close-Up Vol 1, Love Songs

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

The Vaselines – Sex with an X

Wavves – King of the Beach
We Are Trees – Boyfriend
Wild Nothing – Gemini
Woods – At Echo Lake
Wye Oak – My Neighbor/My Creator

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Denver Quarterly / J. Mae Barizo / Noah Eli Gordon / The Morning Benders


My life has gotten too busy, how about yours? And money’s tight, of course. So here I sit, constantly seeing things I’d love to spend more time with and unable to.

Now I understand why poets are always talking about retreats and colonies and such. One of these days I’m going to apply for one of those things. I’ll put that on my to-do list. Oh look, that makes it number 14,827 . . .

On the bright side, the new Denver Quarterly has arrived. I always look forward to it, as I know I’ll find something of value. Usually many things.

I’m not very far into it yet, but I’ve already come across a poem (from the back cover, the DQ spot of honor) that is just the sort of poem I wish there were more of:

J. Mae Barizo
Love poem in the shape of a cochlear mechanism

The human ear a plastic thing.
When the boy returned to Kansas City
the ringing where the girl was told him
that America was ruthless and full

of silly coins. There was, inside the
memory, the rumour of a dollhouse;
all the furniture in immaculate order.
When the sound panel exploded a hand

was put forward once, then withdrawn.
The country splintering into a thousand
pieces. What an unruly thing an ear was.
Her voice as well, with its uncertain music.


I find that simply lovely in its execution and both private and social in its thinking. It’s a busy little space that still finds a way to make room for emptiness.

Also in this issue is a fascinating piece I skipped to by Noah Eli Gordon, who’s always fascinating. Here’s how it opens:

There is no refuge from listening to your own silence in the academy, in the pulpit, or in the safety of institutional bureaus and boards. Inflated verbiage ordains one as both braggart and virtuoso. Like the swift flight of a lone sparrow through the banqueting-hall, our art has no comment pivot. It coughs, says a few words, coughs some more, and then returns and leaves us an audience happy to listen elsewhere.


That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. The rest of the issue promises much, as well. The only question is if I’ll get to it or not.


The Morning Benders, Big Echo

It’s excellent and playing in the background as I type.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Monkey & the Wrench: First Look

The Monkey & the Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics
Mary Biddinger and John Gallaher, editors

Super secret first peek!

Monkey see, monkey do. Throw a monkey wrench in the works. Monkey mind. Don’t monkey with it. Hundredth monkey effect. Infinite monkey theorem. No more monkeys jumping on the bed. A barrel full of monkeys. Etc. And then what happens?

Coming in January 2011:

Robert Archambeau, “The Discursive Situation of Poetry”

Stephen Burt, “Cornucopia, or, Contemporary American Rhyme”

Michael Dumanis, “An Aesthetics of Accumulation: On the Contemporary Litany”

Elisa Gabbert, “The Moves: Common Maneuvers in Contemporary Poetry”

Joy Katz, “Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye; Notes on the Ends of Poems”

David Kirby, “A Wilderness of Monkeys”

Benjamin Paloff, “I Am One of an Infinite Number of Monkeys Named Shakespeare, or: Why I Don’t Own this Language”

Elizabeth Robinson, “Persona and the Mystical Poem”

Cole Swensen, “Response to ‘Hybrid Aesthetics and its Discontents’”

Michael Theune; Arielle Greenberg; Craig Santos Perez; Megan Volpert; Mark Wallace; “Hybrid Aesthetics and its Discontents”

Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

We All Shine On

John Lennon
Instant Karma

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Questions about Poetry in Middle School, High School, and Beyond

A few weeks ago I received this as an email. It came when I was just getting snowed under with work and I never responded. I feel bad about that, as it’s an important topic.

Here’s the text of the email [I edited it a bit to make it anonymous]:

I’m a high school English literature and writing teacher. I am needing your help, and am hoping you will take a moment of your time to read this email in its entirety...

Throughout my teaching career, I have quickly realized that Middle School and High School teachers generally fall into three categories when it comes to teaching poetry: they either respect it but do not know how to teach it, they do not find it to be relevant to the state standards and therefore avoid it all together, or they teach it grossly incorrectly (i.e. encouraging students to crack the poetry code). The English teachers at [snip] High School where I currently teach, find it very relevant, but are at a loss when it comes to teaching poetry. I recently had a co-worker of mine ask me if [the teacher’s spouse, who is a poet] would come in to teach poetry to her 11th grade students because she said she knew “nothing about teaching poetry.” As the wife of a poet and a lover of poetry, I found this response to be all too common and a growing trend amongst Middle School and High School educators. I have taught many contemporary poems in my classroom: from Paul Hoover, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Cole Swensen, Dean Young, and so forth. My students end up loving them. They always say: “We wish we knew what the poet was thinking.”

I need your help! I am forever asking [my spouse] for feedback regarding poetry that I can share with my co-workers and students. I now need a variety of opinions that represent many aspects and voices within the poetry world. [My spouse] has shared your email addresses with me in the hopes that all you will take a moment to respond to the below questions. I feel that is it is undoubtedly critical to teach poetry not only correctly but with an enthusiasm that aides in eliminating people's common misconceptions about poetry. I feel certain that it is at the Middle School and High School level that poetry can become an essential part of how an individual can come to understand themselves, communicate their ideas, and connect with a larger social group. If we can help them to embrace poetry AND have a solid foundation of poetics, one can only hope that poetry will be a tradition valued and respected for many generations to come. I want students and teachers to find access to poetry and poets. I am hoping that you will help me attempt to better the way poetry is taught and communicated at the post-secondary level.

I sent this query out last year, and only got a handful of responses... Hoping you can add to them...

Here are the questions:

1. What do you think are the most essential aspects of poetry that teachers should ensure young students are taught and made aware of?

2. What do you think is the greatest misconception about poetry and how can educators help to dismantle these misconceptions?

3. What words of wisdom or advice would you offer high school English teachers attempting to teach poetry/creative writing when they themselves admit to not writing prose or poetry?

4. Are there any exercises or lessons that you have found to be successful with students who've had little exposure to poetry OR with students who've had bad experiences with poetry in the past? If so, please share.

5. The question you most hear from students and teachers is: "I don't get it." Teachers then typically teach poems that they themselves can "crack." How do you get both students and teachers to enjoy negative capability, innovative writing, and innovations of style and/or form?

6. Open-- any extra comments you may want to add or share.

I know that many of you are very busy, especially with school beginning soon. I would appreciate any response you can offer, even if it is brief. If you know of any poets who would be willing to take a moment to answer these questions for me, please forward this on.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Neil Young - Le Noise (full album video stream)

Neil Young delivers Le Noise to U TUBE

Neil Young
Le Noise (Le Film)

The first few seconds of “Rumblin’,” the last song on Le Noise, are unlike anything else on any Neil Young album. That's really something to say about an artist this many years into a career (and yes, you can say that a lot of it is due to Daniel Lanois, who produced the album, but still, it's a Neil Young album). Le Noise is a sonic assault, at times brilliant, at times frustrating. The lyrics, on the other hand, and the rather easy sentiments in many of the songs, keep this album from being the triumph that many are claiming it is.

“Walk with Me,” “Hitchhiker” (the electric version on Le Noise, I like, by and large, better than the acoustic version I heard from the early 90s), and “Rumblin’”, are excellent, and “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” (even as it lyrically feels like a mash up of a bunch of songs he’s done a million times: “War of Man,” “It’s a Dream,” “Ordinary People,” etc), “Angry World” and “Love and War” are sticking around, as average, latter-day Neil Young songs. And “Sign of Love” is OK enough, though it might fall off my playlist at some point.

So far, only "Someone's Gonna Rescue You" has fallen off my portable media player (which is NOT an ipod, by the way). I wonder how differently that song might have turned out if NY had had the thought that, no, in fact, sometimes no one's gonna rescue you, and had written THAT song instead. How much more complex his thinking might have been. He's just such a positive guy these days (when he’s not angry about mother earth or world governments or the fact that war kills people). And his hope often sounds rather easy. Same with parts of “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” . . . maybe there’s no one who’s going to save the world. Maybe there never is. Maybe we just sort of muddle along.

As for the production, the electric guitar sounds like something they dredged from a swamp. In other words: excellent. The effects on the vocals are mostly not overbearing, and at times helpful in filling out his rather thin, wobbly delivery. My only real problem with the production is with what’s not there. A band. A band would be nice. But more than that, some sort of percussion would have really filled most of these songs (especially the weaker ones) out.

Listening to Le Noise, my strongest reaction is that I hope Neil Young works with Daniel Lanois again, and that he brings a band with him next time. I vote for Crazy Horse.