Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More Radiant Signal - Juliana Leslie

More Radiant Signal - Juliana Leslie

Two new books are out from Letter Machine Editions. Here are a couple poems from one of them, Juliana Leslie’s More Radiant Signal.

Department of the Interior

Not between you and the birdbath, but the birdbath and the farmstand is triumphant. A happy confluence, says the dictionary. Between the Pacific Ocean and myself, something similarly transitive and dependent. Between the longitude and the conjunction of where I’ve been, we observe a given and a line passing through, from one side to another, from here to the moment before. This means I promise to join you at precisely half past the hour. I promise this meeting will be an encounter of great magnitude and proportion, expressed as “we,” in the present perfect, “have encountered each other.” Or, have you been smiling for a great duration, earth’s equator, prime meridian?

A Little Sound in the Middle of Simone

Sound of her in the x of you. Sound of p in paper human beings. Sound of salt in salty water and transitive verb swim, the sum total of wind and wind-bearing objects in the distance. A sound in Simone saying, shall I? Not the same as saying I shall or the sound of sh inside of Simone saying shall. Not sound of silent e in Simone or the sound of e in something unlike Simone. Sound of the windfall of s in wingspan or wisp of air. Sound of l in the middle distance of Gala apple. Unknowable things in the middle of Simone, in the style of Simone’s voice and locution, in the size of Simone’s tone and presentation. Sound of irregular Simone. In the hope of Simone if s is not an actual Simone saying yes, I am Simone. Sound of Simone unfolding in a secret language of color and texture. Sound of Simone in piano key for p next to a for the animal in her surface. Simone descending a staircase. Something to fall in love with: sound of s in Simone saying yes, the sound of s is something.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Presentation Is Metaphor (?)

Because language is a pendulum you need a ticket to ride, the further the distance from the world an art object can be, while maintaining a communion with the world, the greater its possibility for achieving the future. Or perhaps the closer to the world an art object can be, while maintaining its distance?

Words, however, come with their own forced marches. While you blink, they make fun of you. Still, they remain useful.

What might it mean to “achieve the future”? Simile? Metaphor? Analogy? Simile is clever, it’s an association. What about metaphor? Where is the line it crosses to become analogy? Parable?

It’s why they liked Pee Wee Herman and Ronald Reagan, in one life, and “realism” in the next. Realism is always comedy. Comedy though, is never realism.

That poetry is made of “words” and not “ideas” makes for a good line, but it misses the point. That a poem is made of words puts too much emphasis on getting the “best words” in the “best order.” That’s only part of the case. It makes people want to create apt similes. This spoon is just like my mother. When I look into it, I see myself reflected back upside down. And on and on.

Where is the line realism crosses into surrealism, when we allow for desire? And then we call it Psychological Realism, or perhaps Hypnagogic Realism. Where is the line that separates art from hypnology?

Poems are just as much—or I would argue, more—a project of getting, or setting, the messier parts of language and/or thinking in an arrangement, or sequence, that holds. It’s the sequence of words, not the best word that interests me.

Because of this, maybe, I have a difficult time defining metaphor for myself, beyond the easy denotation. Simile seems weak. Metaphor strong . . . but where does metaphor end and “direct presentation of the thing” begin? That feels best.  A place to get to.  And how does one make that jump? 

What are the Leaping Poetry of Robert Bly and The New Sentence of Ron Silliman if not ways to enact enigmatic forms of metaphor? Isn’t juxtaposition a form of comparison? The reader must compare and contrast constantly while reading to make meaning.

(These examples are chosen through the use of an Ouija board.)

All things written are concepts. There’s great error in pretending otherwise. And great error in taking an easy walk with a faulty gait. We compare things to get at how things are. Which is how we are. We experience the difference and the similarity of things to bring ourselves into context. Someone else would say “focus.”

Classifying poets as either simile-loyal or metaphor-loyal can be a fun party game, but it ignores the necessary metaphorical underpinnings of the art act itself. Which can lead to fame and fortune, but what does it profit you if you lose your soul?

I could say these things, but I’d have to wear the blood suit, and I fear blood.

How negative can capability get? How capable can negativity get? (As a series of guesses.)

I love you because you are a metaphor for me.

Can’t we get away from ourselves? Shouldn’t we want to?

Does metaphor help more than simile does? Or is metaphor a smoke screen, a misty version of direct presentation?

We sing as a form of toweling off. We run out of our houses and into the streets to dance.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Meanwhile, Tan Lin . . .

Some out-of-context quotes for the travel weekend that were sent to me in a pair of emails this morning:

(His new book, Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking: Airport Novel is on my to-do list.)

Instead of a photograph, A, that merely repeats something, a souvenir or keepsake, I wanted this to resemble nothing but itself, and thus to capture the blankness and non-theatrical spaces of the world ‘out there.’ The least repetitive photographs are the photographs that make us forget the things that we love. That is why most landscapes are so boring to look at. A beautiful landscape is like a beautiful photograph is like a beautiful landscape is like a beautiful photograph. Such photographs erase people, relatives, household objects, other photographs, and landscapes at a steady velocity. That is why it is normally so difficult to fall in love with the same person twice.

In paintings, all emotions become the symbols of things that they are not.

Everything that is beautiful waits to be forgotten completely by what it is not.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Molly Brodak / Samuel Amadon

Molly Brodak

A Little Middle of the Night

Underneath (Side Effects)

We play the Make This Shape into Something game and he says
you always make the same shape. It grows worse, like a body.

Similarly, I like “heaven forbid” but it means nothing to me. That doesn’t mean
there is nothing underneath. That doesn’t mean the underneath is full of me.

A small part of what I’ve seen has lead me to believe this.
Including the fake things. Mostly I believe there is no me. So, listen,

I’m afraid of where I’ll go under the anesthesia. Don’t think
belief is uninterruptible. There is a reason, then there is murder, forgetfulness.

Normal and not normal. In my dream, Mom brings me a tassel of robin’s feet.
I have an owl in a cage exactly the size of its body. It escapes just moments later.

Samuel Amadon
Like a Sea

Each H (V)

Something to be said for how long
what has been growing
along the road, has been growing

along a road, must change how
it grows. Louder then,
when you see the sign GUNS

has an actual white picket fence
around it. Around where
the little blue houses start

everywhere with what they collect
the position between
arbitrary and how long has it been

since you were assigned some-
thing? Look, they have
a harbor, and where the dock is

gone someone left the poles in.
Something to
edges rests, settled

between poles, one feels this
like being still doesn’t worry

us, this is what we have
chosen, to value this
looks like we have chosen before.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Martha Ronk - In a Landscape of Having to Repeat

I’m going back and rereading my favorite books of poetry these days, or at least I think I’m going to. So far, I’m rereading Martha Ronk’s In a Landscape of Having to Repeat. And then what will be next.

In a Landscape of Having to Repeat

In a landscape of having to repeat.
Noticing that she does, that he does and so on.
The underlying cause is as absent as rain.
Yet one remembers rain even in its absence and an attendant quiet.
If illusion descends or the very word you’ve been looking for.
He remembers looking at the photograph,
green and gray squares, undefined.
How perfectly ordinary someone says looking at the same thing or
I’d like to get to the bottom of that one.

When it is raining it is raining for all time and then it isn’t
and when she looked at him, as he remembers it, the landscape moved closer
than ever and she did and now he can hardly remember what it was like.

The Approximate Form of Beauty

The approximate form of beauty was where we stood looking out
at the beautiful view.
Backing off is the only way.
But I like it too much one of them said.
The approximate time is 11:42 and your time is up.
The relative motion of two objects moved.
Proximity is neither like nor not like.
A camellia in a glass bowl like the one yesterday.
Who’s to say this is like that or I like it or taking it in.
I write to you as an approximation of intimacy.
Doesn’t one want to move out over the edge.
You taste like grass, he said.
It was precisely 2:45.
A quarter of an hour becomes an arc, a repeated habit, the fixity of fixed ideas.
How odd to have had the thought, I’m going to have a splendid time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Whatever happened to The New Sincerity?

It all ties together because here it is.

What could be more sincere than one's past?

Robert Peak, missing the point in 2006:

“The beats, and the ensuing flurry of postmodernism and decentralization has had the unfortunate effect of demoting some poetry to wordplay. I have found that some of the most common criticism of poems in intermediate writers’ workshops (besides overuse of adjectives or abstract language) is that it is sentimental. Yet rarely, despite the deluge of clever but ultimately unimportant poetry being produced today, does anyone say, “yes–that’s interesting–but what’s the point? What does it meant to you and make you feel?” That such a risk is, in fact, a risk, we owe to a relatively short period of artistic agnosticism in which we currently reside; remarkably short, in fact, relative to the centuries of writers who have wholeheartedly, unabashedly and sincerely endeavored to say something that matters.

Perhaps, with the very existence of a new sincerity movement, we are seeing glimpses of the end of an age.”

[From Wikipedia] The New Sincerity movement was associated with the poets Reb Livingston, Joseph Massey, Andrew Mister, Anthony Robinson, David Berman, Catherine Wagner, Dean Young, Matt Hart, Tao Lin, Frederick Seidel, Arielle Greenberg, and Karyna McGlynn.

It never did catch on, but it continues to be mentioned now and then, mostly thinking of it as a counterpoint to irony, though most conceptions of the term itself include a healthy dose of ironic self-awareness. But even so, do sincerity and irony need to be a binary? What if I mean my irony sincerely, right? Does postmodernism have to be insincere? Does decentralization? Does wordplay? Of course not, and that was, and continues to be, the problem.

Back to Wikipedia:

“Sincerity is the virtue of one who speaks and acts truly about his or her own feelings, thoughts, and desires. . . .

Sincerity has not been consistently regarded as a virtue in Western culture. First discussed by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, it resurfaced to become an ideal (virtue) in Europe and North America in the 17th century; and it gained considerable momentum during the Romantic movement, when sincerity was first celebrated as an artistic and social ideal. Indeed, in middle to late nineteenth century America, sincerity was an idea reflected in mannerisms, hairstyles, women's dress, and the literature of the time.

More recently, sincerity has been under assault by several modern developments such as psychoanalysis and postmodern developments such as deconstruction. Some scholars view sincerity as a construct rather than a moral virtue—although any virtue can be construed as a ‘mere construct’ rather than an actual phenomenon.

Literary critic Lionel Trilling dealt with the subject of sincerity, its roots, its evolution, its moral quotient, and its relationship to authenticity in a series of lectures published under the title Sincerity and Authenticity.”

All that just goes to say that it’s awfully difficult to pinpoint the presence or absence of sincerity in a poem, try as one might, or believe as one might want to. But The New Sincerity was different that either “being sincere” or “being ironic,” as Jesse Thorn’s manifesto explains:

“What is The New Sincerity? Think of it as irony and sincerity combined like Voltron, to form a new movement of astonishing power. Or think of it as the absence of irony and sincerity, where less is (obviously) more. If those strain the brain, just think of Evel Knievel. Let's be frank. There's no way to appreciate Evel Knievel literally. Evel is the kind of man who defies even fiction, because the reality is too over the top. Here is a man in a red-white-and-blue leather jumpsuit, driving some kind of rocket car. A man who achieved fame and fortune jumping over things. Here is a real man who feels at home as Spidey on the cover of a comic book. Simply put, Evel Knievel boggles the mind. But by the same token, he isn't to be taken ironically, either. The fact of the matter is that Evel is, in a word, awesome. . . . Our greeting: a double thumbs-up. Our credo: ‘Be More Awesome.’ Our lifestyle: ‘Maximum Fun.’ Throw caution to the wind, friend, and live The New Sincerity.”

So the idea of The New Sincerity wasn’t “be more sincere” but to become one with the post-postmodern condition. Ironic detachment is out and post-ironic attachment is in. “One last prom just for me and you” as the band Gayngs would have it. Which is part of why I’m thinking about this today. Listening to their album, Relayted, these questions remain open (See their videos below if you’re interested in following this up).

And then the other reason I’m thinking of this today. When I was nine I watched Evel Knievel’s attempt to jump Snake River Canyon on September 8, 1974. I had an Evel Knievel action figure and stunt cycle. He was rubber with wire in his arms and legs. He died at the age of 69, on November 30th, 2007. I remember hearing the news of his death. They called him the last gladiator. Or maybe he called himself that.

So anyway, the term The New Sincerity, and any idea of a group, is over now, I guess, but dealing with the times using the terms set by the times isn’t going away because it can’t. And it will change, constructed, as all things must be.

Watch him jump the three foot ditch. Loop the loop and he’s not through yet.

As there are many forms of grieving. And many reasons to grieve.

Gayngs Are Way More Cool Than You Are

Dissertation on hipster irony?

The Gaudy Side of Town

Yes, that’s Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) back there on the Auto-tune. They’re having fun and playing it straight.

You can download the song for free today at the Amazon.com mp3 store. Just sayin.

Faded High (Live on City of Music)

On the album they do a version of Godley and Creme's "Cry."  They also do a version of Godley and Creme's video for it. Whew. And with an appearance of either Godley or Creme, I never knew which was which.


Godley & Creme

Yes, it's supposed to be Godley & CREME. People are alwasy spelling it wrong. Alas.

That's what I've been upto this morning. How about you?

Here's a bit more on the album (heh heh, he just said "Moron"):

Paste: Has the response to the album been what you expected? Critics seem divided as to whether the album is intended to be taken seriously or as a joke.

Olson: It’s interesting that people have any opinion on it. It’s not a Weird Al album. It’s not a joke. If critics want to use the album to write a dissertation on hipster irony, though, they can go to town. It’s pointless for me to tell them any more plainly than the album itself what it’s about. It is interesting to see how people get fired up about it, though. I think some people are afraid that the album is an inside joke that they’re not in on. Like, if you like it, you’re being made fun of. That’s not the intention. There are definitely some quasi-guilty pleasures on the album, but we’re referencing them for a reason.

Coulter: People can read into the album however they want. With the last song on the album, there’s definitely some humor there—we can’t deny that. But the lyrics are serious, and the songs I wrote are just as deep as the songs I write for other projects. It was fun to make, and we were definitely having a great time and joking around record it, but when it comes down to it, all the music that was being played, and all the music that was written was definitely serious—at least my stuff was, I shouldn’t speak for everybody else. If people want to take it as a humorous project, that’s fine, but I think people can take a lot away from it as serious music.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lincoln Juggling the Top 15 Albums of 2010 (The November Guess)

 Because I got tired of always putting the High Violet cover art on these posts: Choo choo. All aboard the meat train.

I decided rather than try to rank these albums once again by which ones I thought were the best, I decided to rank them by how much I’ve played them over time. Or how much I continue to play them and put them on playlists. It caused things to change a bit.

1. The National – High Violet

2. Bad Books – Bad Books

3. Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett

4. Menomena – Mines

5. Phosphorescent – Here's to Taking it Easy

6. Azure Ray – Drawing Down the Moon

7. Bobby Bare Jr. – A Storm – A Tree – My Mother’s Head

8. Freelance Whales – Weathervanes

9. Broken Bells – Broken Bells

10. Mimicking Birds – Mimicking Birds

11. Clem Snide – The Meat of Life

12. Eels – Tomorrow Morning

13. Cowboy Junkies – Renmin Park

14. Les Savy Fav – Root for Ruin

15. Autolux – Transit Transit

It’s an interesting question. What we intellectually consider the best and what we actually want to listen to.

And now, to be able to say I’ve posted something we can all agree is artistic today, here’s Lincoln juggling some meat. Is it an allegory for Contemporary American poetry?

Mark Ryden, The Ringmaster

Lincoln continues to watch out and care for us.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What We Find Interesting . . .

 Is it novel?

(In the first part of this post I’m going to be using a lot of stuff from Daniel T. Willingham’s book Why Don’t Students Like School. I’m working from notes, so there might be times I quote from the book without quotes.)

I’m thinking about artistic reception, specifically the reception of poetry, and why some people react the way they do to some art.

Take this as a given: “We evaluate situations as interesting if they are novel, complex, and comprehensible.”

Admit this: “When we can get away with it [consciously or unconsciously], we don’t think. Instead we rely on memory.” Background knowledge then, is key. Context, then, is key.

To be more specific about memory: “Our memory . . . stores strategies to guide what we should do.” This also guides our reaction to artistic situations. We rely on what we remember of previous artistic encounters (and/or previous encounters in general) when encountering art.

We like to solve problems (there is pleasure in solving problems) and we want to be curious (there is pleasure in curiosity). And in this, the term “problems” refers to “any cognitive work that succeeds.” For some SUDOKU is pleasurable. Or crosswords. Etc.

In regard to problems: “It’s notable too that the pleasure is in the solving of the problem.” Which is: “We like to think if we judge that the mental work will pay off with the pleasurable feeling we get when we solve a problem.” And if we look at something and judge that the mental work will not pay off, we quickly bail out.

Being interested in something, however, is at least partially separable from content. There are numerous examples each of us could think of regarding times we’ve been interested in things that, as content, held little prior interest to us, and conversely, things in which we’re highly interested can be presented in ways that do not interest us. So saying “I like poems about birds” might be true, but that doesn’t mean birds alone will thrill you. Or saying “I like formal poetry” will not indicate whether you like the next formal poem you read.

Is it complex?

Thinking of the cognitive economy, then:

Can people be taught to “get” say, John Ashbery or Rae Armantrout (here their names are standing in for a host of poets deemed “difficult” or “experimental”)? Absolutely. Of course they can. But how? By and large, schools that teach poetry, that teach what poetry is (especially in High School, but also at most colleges and universities) do not teach ways to approach a John Ashbery poem. They usually (are there any exceptions to this? If so, I’d love to hear of them) teach ways to get at the sort of poem typified by, say, Robert Frost, where there is something of a “problem” that is encountered at the content level that is then turned by Frost in such a way that a clever general reader, through reflection on the rhetoric, images, and form, is able to come to in a pleasurable way. But even in that, there is usually a crack left open to variant readings that can continue to turn people back to the poem, for example, the final image in “The Road Not Taken.”

A person brought into poetry through the lens I just described (or, in a different way, a “gettable” Stevens poem such as “The Snow Man” or “The Emperor of Ice Cream” or “Anecdote of the Jar”) is going to want to read Ashbery or Armantrout as a poetic argument. In Armantrout that reader will have only limited success, not enough to sustain interest, most likely. And in Ashbery, that reader will be nearly completely, and almost instantly, frustrated.

What we need is a different way to talk about “complexity” and “comprehensibility,” one that includes the sort of complexity one finds in Ashbery (etc). The sort of complexity one finds in Frost (Etc) is all well and good. I’m not saying we should dump those conceptions of poetry. They are a valuable and valid way into many poems, perhaps even the majority of poems. But what I’m saying is that there are other ways into poetry than just this way, but this is usually the preliminary way into a poem, the main focus of exegesis, explication, and prose reading. Some people come by this naturally.

I was never much interested in poetry, or much in school at all. I was a competent, though completely undistinguished student. And then something changed. In my junior year of High School, I took the only honors course of my life: Honors English. In it, we read T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, H.D., Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. For me, the poetry that I had read up to that time had been boring, that is, it didn’t feel novel or comprehensible. I had resisted and not paid much attention to the poetry of Shakespeare or Wordsworth or Dickinson or Whitman. I didn’t want to read them. Now, with the Modernists, I found something interesting. Why? I ask myself. Is it simply context? That I don’t see the world as giving the kind of answers those earlier poets gave? That the questions of (mostly) the Modernists felt more like how I saw the world? Maybe we’re predisposed to a certain type of art?

That sounds obvious to me, looking at it. But I do think one can be taught, or that one can learn, how to experience contemporary poetry such as Ashbery, even if one is predisposed not to care for it, in much the way that I’ve been taught to appreciate Frost and Dickinson, and to a degree Whitman and contemporary poets such as Kay Ryan. I will never love them, or even like them much, but I see why others do, and I find some pleasure in reading some of their poems.

Is it comprehensible?

Understanding how a poem operates (what its contract with the reader is) is one thing. People often ask how Ashbery’s poetry is working, and there are many explanations. They are usually quite good, general explanations, but they don’t ever seem to answer the question to the satisfaction of the people asking. No matter what they are, they’re not good enough, because a reader who doesn’t find Ashbery’s poetry interesting isn’t going to be convinced to find it interesting. Explanations don’t help. What then often happens is a renewed wall against Ashbery’s (etc.) poetry with a renewed belief that it’s somehow a fraud.

Poetic reception reveals a cultural difference, as it always has. It’s just that now the cultural turn is more pronounced and the sides further apart (and they seem more hostile, but I don’t really know how hostile they were in the past—I mean, there aren’t riots or anything like there were at the premier of The Rite of Spring). Lovers of Ashbery’s poetry tend to be critical of Billy Collins’s poetry (I’m fishing for a name here) because of a lack of complexity whereas lovers of Collins’s poety (again, his name, as Ashbery’s, is a placeholder) are critical of Ashbery’s poetry due to its perceived lack of comprehensibility. Ashbery’s poetry (Armantrout’s poetry [Hejinian, Ronk, Swensen . . . ) asks people to approach what poetry is for differently than Frost’s poetry does (or that contemporary poetry that adheres to the straightforward presentation of pseudo-autobiography that, while it differs from the poetry of Frost, it uses ideas of what is complex and comprehensible in ways most readers are already familiar—W.S. Merwin, perhaps, would be a current high-profile poet in this idiom, but there are legions).

Stephen Burt talks about this in both his essay for Wilkinson’s Poets on Teaching anthology and his book Close Calls with Nonsense. For him, it’s a version of transference. One must have a contextual readiness for a new experience of art. How William Carlos Williams helps prepare one for Rae Armantrout, say. Or how Pop Art helps prepare one for John Ashbery. I agree. But, even so, the trio of NOVEL, COMPLEX, and COMPREHENSIBLE is going to be different for different people. This is not a new thought, but it is, I think, one worth repeating. One can be aware of Pop Art (or Abstract Expressionism [or a combination of the two?]), and even like it quite a bit, and not transfer, or see the connection, to Ashbery’s poetry (C.D. Wright, Mary Jo Bang, Timothy Donnelly, etc).

At AWP in D.C. in February there will be an opportunity to see this in action. On Thursday, Rae Armantout will be the focus of a reading and conversation, and on Saturday, Kay Ryan will be the focus of a reading and conversation.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Is this the Golden Age of Collaboration?

Well, that’s a pretty large claim, but it does seem that over the past few years I’ve come across more and more collaborative books, chapbooks, and other projects. Collaborative artworks have been around as long as art, so yes, I know this is not new. And I can name several that I’ve read over the years. Books mostly.

Even with all sorts of caveats (Lyrical Ballads, etc), though, it does seem we’re in a time of renewed interested in collaborative works, and this does seem to be across aesthetics, as well. Is something up? Is something going on? If so, what?

Here’s the most recent project I’ve come across, from At Length:



I'd like to have a list of the collaborations that are out there. It's fascinating to see their various approaches to authorship, from The Rejection Group's hoods and shadows to something like the above, with names on the work itself, where it's less collaboration than, well, like they describe: telephone.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rae Armantrout - Veil

A few Rae Armantrout suggestions, from VEIL – New and Selected Poems (2001):


How many constants should there be?

The slick wall of teeth?

The white stucco
at the corner,

flag on its perch
loosely snapping?


“Get to the point!”

as if before dark—

as if to some bench
near a four-way stop.


At what point does
dead reckoning’s

replace the nest

and the body
of a parent?


The apparent

Here eucalyptus
leaves dandle,
redundant but syncopated.


The secret is
you can’t get to sleep
with a quiet mind;
you need to follow a sentence,
inward or downward,
as it becomes circuitous,
path-like, with tenuously credible
foliage on either side of it—
but you’re still not sleeping.
You’re conscious of the metaphoric
contraption; it’s too jerky,
too equivocal to suspend you

And Nature was the girl who could spin
babies out of dustballs
until that little man
who said he had a name showed up
and wanted them
or wanted to be one
or a cast of cartoon
characters assigned to manage
the Garden
so even Adam and Eve discovered
they somehow knew the punchline:
the snake would swallow
the red bomb

Why is sleep’s border guarded?
On the monitors
professional false selves
make self-disparaging remarks.
There’s a sexy bored housewife,
very Natalie Wood-like,
sighing, “Men should win”—
but the only thing that matters
is the pace of substitution.
You feel like trying to escape
from her straight-arrow husband
and her biker boyfriend

You can’t believe
you’re on Penelope’s Secret.
A suitor waits
for ages
to be hypnotized
on stage.


The very flatness
of portraits
makes for nostalgia
in the connoisseur.

Here’s the latest
little lip of wave
to flatten
and spread thin.

Let’s say
it shows our recklessness,

our fast gun,

our self-consciousness
which was really

our infatuation
with our own fame,

our escapes,

the easy way
we’d blend in

with the peasantry,

our loyalty
to our old gang

from among whom
it was our nature

to be singled out

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Merrill Gilfillan - The Bark of the Dog - Flood Editions

A brand new book, suggested by G.C. Waldrep:

Merrill Gilfillan

The Bark of the Dog


Sprigs for sunrise,
sprigs for Taos, and soldiers
on the steep blue sea.

The slopes of Taos,
true south, building, firing
to the aspen smoulder-golden—
sage for the cello in its breeze.

Sprigs for small things
rousted, on the run, Septembered.
Flocks of longspurs slipping down
the continent by night. Sage for them,
moving through the mesh
of the dangerous starlight.


Darwin's deep-set monkey eyes
sad as sand. A woman,
then a man, go door to door
through Quercus City, all
the thousand oak jokes
falling off the bone. Blackstrap:
a pack of curs
the kind we like: rounds
of beer: to the death of a seer—

      Word from
      the bobolink think tank
      left at the gates
      of the town.


I. Piano Practice

I used to dream
          of men like deer,
painted yellow,
          painted green,
one leg green, spotted
          like a frog,
the other yellow
          flecked with black
or red (hail, small suns,
          or eagle-bees), maybe
a slice of dentalium
          through the ear.
It made it difficult
          to focus on the keys.


Who wants
to walk around as if

there were no dawn, no noon,
no Tallahassee?

No driving in to Tallahassee
from the sticks?


The blue jays have a call
in late September
jibes with both extortion
and remember.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Rejection Group - Welcome Back

Another poem suggestion from the comment stream:

The Rejection Group

Welcome Back

          “You are an interesting species.”
          --Alien addressing Jodie Foster, through a holograph of her character’s dead father, toward end of the movie ‘Contact.’

          “Poets, hi.”
          --Bhanu Kapil


Poets, hi.

The whole gymnasium is encrusted in sweat: the stationary bikes, the bolted rowers, the track that comes back to its start, the dead weights. The apparatus Donne hung from like a milk-pale bat, the medicine ball Dickinson rolled for measureless black--dross, these, in lichen and scum, for all your encrusted sweat.

We’ve had it with your strutting and grovel, your refusals to wipe the habiliments after use; we’ve grown weary of your wet seductive wear, your affected grunts and awful smells, not to mention all the wedding parties in chunks on the passes of the Kush--they never quite made it into your experiments, it seems. That is why we are closing the whole area for cleaning and remodeling. Sometimes one just has to start from scratch.

Come back in fourteen billion years.

Don’t tell us you can’t.

Good luck. It won’t seem long.


Poets, greetings.

The whole classroom is encrusted in tears: the maps and the globes, the desks and the gowns, the gradebooks and the paddle. The dunce hat Lorca wore on his crown, serene and glowing in the falangist armoire, the chalkboard where Akhmatova dug sonnets with her nails--clumps, these, of goop and mold, for all your encrusted tears.

We’ve grown hound-tired of your infant treading, your little gasps just above the fluid line; we’ve had it with your teacher-pet cries, your conniving praises and calculated slights, not to mention all the children of the Congo, waving their little shoulder stumps in puzzled hurt--they never quite made it into your experiments, it seems. That is why we are closing the whole area for suction and purification. Sometimes one just has to start from scratch.

Come back in seven million reincarnations.

Don’t tell us you can’t.

Good luck. You won’t even notice you’ve been gone.


Poets, yo.

The whole convention hive is encrusted in gob: the programs and IDs, the Power Point remotes, the cash bars in predestined cells, the infinite exhibit of secreted wares, which extends for miles underground. The car of contents Creeley careened down the long, formal dark, the bluish enfants Césaire swathed in cotton wrap--glutinous, these, in glop and crud, for all your encrusted gob.

We’ve burst our coop of hens and hogs with all your clucks and squeals, midst your habits of feigning nonchalance; we’ve sprung a gush in the seabed sump of our sufferance for your googling and oh-so-tip-toe wont, not to mention all the circumcised little girls cowering in those nice post-colonial spots, they never quite made it into your experiments, it seems. That is why we’re boarding up the whole area until it’s choked with vines thick as twenty minotaur thighs. Sometimes one just has to start from scratch.

Come back when half of all the sentient beings in all the universes have been saved.

Don’t tell us you can’t.

Good luck. Just lie back and enjoy it.


Poets, howdy.

The whole writing retreat is encrusted in cum: the porch and the cane chairs, the four-posted beds and the lamps, the deer on the grounds, the moleskin and the cup. The garret stairs Celan climbed, trailing his Heidegger cocoon, the oven where Plath baked her glowworm scones--encased, these, in glaciers of slime, for all your encrusted cum.

We’ve lost our patience with your masturbatory élan, your wild and ecstatic bleats; we’ve had it to the scalp with your self-regarding blab, your recycled tricks and your gossip-fueled ways, not to mention all the people self-tearing their throats in Gaza with gurgling despair--they never quite made it into your experiments, it seems. That is why we are closing the whole area for scrubbing and quarantine. Sometimes one just has to start from scratch.

Come back after ten thousand great extinctions, not counting the next asteroid.

Don’t tell us you can’t.

Good luck. It will seem like a nap.


Poets, wake up.

The whole Field is encrusted in time: the golden towns and the holograph böökes, the hovering raiment and the flowering drinks, the wormhole forms and the five-dimensioned bidets. The black chips pressed to your ears look super, it makes us recall that ancient shot of Spicer listening to the incunabulum, do you recall it now. The point is that quark and lepton are massed anew, melodically, in your skulls; look at you here, sheathed in dimensionless edge of Wave, forward and back, in Dream of Category of Mind, which is leading edge of aforesaid unfathomable Wave, you are quite the catch. One day we hope you will write of this, puzzling how it is you got back to where you are (though you really never left), not forgetting vast Humor and Pain is much the engine of it. We have waited for your tiny spots of light to wink and blink, for the faint beep of your incandescent phones and morphs, for the shy sign of your repentance. We foretold your weeping and yearning, the nub of your esoteric drive, and your hair extended back to glistening points three feet behind your heads; we foresaw your new modes of lyric wreathed to the cusp of nameless Being, modes inside Being bearing you forth, or whatever, we’re getting carried away. Forgive us our enthusiasms, but it’s true. We mean we saw you poised so patiently for redemption there. Sometimes one just has to start all over again. That is why we are reopening the whole Field for repopulation by your obsidian desire.

Welcome back after all these eons; bring the radiating language of your ridiculous, miraculous brains back tomorrow, too.

Don’t tell us you can’t; this is probably your last chance.

You are an interesting species. Chase the hornéd horse with all of your might into the sun.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lawrence Joseph - The Game Changed

Another poem suggestion from the comment stream:

Lawrence Joseph
The Game Changed

The phantasmic imperium is set in a chronic
state of hypnotic fixity. I have absolutely
no idea what the fuck you’re talking about
was his reply, and he wasn’t laughing,
either, one of the most repellent human beings
I’ve ever known, his presence a gross and slippery
lie, a piece of chemically pure evil. A lawyer—
although the type’s not exclusive to lawyers.
A lot of different minds touch, and have touched,
the blood money in the dummy account
in an offshore bank, washed clean, free to be
transferred into a hedge fund or a foreign
brokerage account, at least half a trillion
ending up in the United States, with more to come.
I believe I told you I’m a lawyer. Which has had
little or no effect on a certain respect
I have for occurrences that suggest laws
of necessity. I too am thinking of it
as a journey—the journey with conversations
otherwise known as the Divina Commedia
is how Osip Mandelstam characterized Dante’s poem.
Lebanon? I hear the Maronite Patriarch
dares the Syrians to kill him, no word
from my grandfather’s side of the family
in the Shouf. “There are circles here”—
to quote the professor of international
relations and anthropology—“Vietnam, Lebanon,
and Iraq . . . Hanoi, Beirut, and Baghdad.”
The beggar in Rome is the beggar in Istanbul,
the blind beggar is playing saxophone,
his legs covered with a zebra-striped blanket,
the woman beside him holding an aluminum cup,
beside them, out of a shopping bag, the eyes
of a small, sick dog. I’m no pseudoaesthete.
It’s a physical thing. An enthusiasm,
a transport. The melancholy is ancient.
The intent is to make a large, serious
portrait of my time. The sun on the market
near Bowling Green, something red, something
purple, bunches of roses and lilacs. A local
issue for those of us in the neighborhood.
Not to know what it is you’re breathing
in a week when Black Hawk helicopters resume
patrolling the harbor. Two young men
blow themselves up attaching explosives
on the back of a cat. An insurgency:
commandos are employed, capital is manipulated
to secure the oil of the Asian Republics.
I was walking in the Forties when I saw it—
a billboard with a background of brilliant
blue sky, with writing on it in soft-edged,
irregularly spaced, airy-white letters
already drifting off into the air, as if they’d
been sky-written—“The World Really Does
Revolve Around You.” The taxi driver rushes
to reach his family before the camp is closed—
“There is no way I will leave, there is no way—
they will have to kill us, and, even if
they kill every one of us, we won’t leave.” Sweat
dripping from her brow, she picks up the shattered,
charred bones. She works for the Commission
on Missing Persons. “First they kill them,”
she says, “then they burn them, then they cover them
with dead babies . . .” Neither impenetrable opacity
nor absolute transparency. I know what I’m after.
The entire poem is finished in my head. No,
I mean the entire poem. The color, the graphic
parts, the placement of solid bodies in space,
gradations of light and dark, the arrangements
of pictorial elements on a single plane
without a loss of depth . . . This habit of wishing—
as if one’s mother and father lay in one’s heart,
and wished as they had always wished—that voice,
one of the great voices, worth listening to.
A continuity in which everything is transition.
To repeat it because it’s worth repeating. Immanence—
an immanence and a happiness. Yes, exquisite—
an exquisite dream. The mind on fire
possessed by what is desired—the game changed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"It is the living who cannot" - Hilda Morley

Here's another poem suggestion from the comment stream:

Hilda Morley
"It is the living who cannot"

It is the living who cannot
live without the dead,
                                 who wish them
         who need their presences,
their hands,
                  as Orpheus
held her hand, Eurydice’s,
to lead her
back to earth out of
the gulf of Hades,
                           as I
need yours
                  It is not so much
the dead
               who need us
        (as we think they do)
                                          & that reconciliation
we long for, that knowledge
of each other to the uttermost,
which could assuage us,
                                     they are
one step beyond it & suffer us
to long for them.
                          If they could
return, it would be out of
patience with us merely: their need to
console us. For somehow an indifference
possesses them, for all their tenderness
& they see beyond us,
                                   even if
what they see seems to us

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


Here’s one of the poems that was suggested from the comment stream from the last blog post. As I get and find others, I’ll post them as I can.

Terrance Hayes

1. Sooner or later I'm going to have to talk about the white house and how the men there don't seem to like big butt women.

2. There will also be a praise poem for the smartest, strongest, and/or fastest human alive should he or she live in a region with no reporters, printing presses, indoor plumbing etc.

3. And further additional efforts to demonstrate the ways my undoubtedly brilliant mind transforms day to day happenings into stuff. (parts 1-30)

4. A poem by someone named Lester Sea. Someone named Lenore. Headline sonnets maybe. Titles ripped from the annuls of jazz bebop, no doubt.

5. Written in seat 9A between Chicago and Traverse City. Little shacks with stoves on the big iced lake. (Fish cakes in the stoves.)

6. Four long titled poems transcribing recipes into poems using color, shape-senses, and the pronoun I where ever there is a the.

7. An "I love big" button somewhere. ("I love you, Portly, don't let em take me...")

8. Part I "Viscous circus"; Part II "Victory Circle"; Part III "Vicious Service" and if there be a Part IV "Very Surly"

9. "Dwell," "Furl," maybe. Girlish laughter in the pipes. (Keep talking, we know the same people.)

10. "The Short Age" followed by "The Us Age" followed by "The Bond Age" followed by "The Volt (or Re-volt) Age" followed by "Dose Ages," "Mile Ages" and "Out Ages." (See appendix)

11. Definitions of Divine Imaging, Speed Lightening, and Gerimantic Racial Demography. (Pronunciations of logistic as lowgetstick; stroll as scroll)

12. Half a dozen one hundred line attempts at resolving the poem: "I come from a long line of..."

13. A stanza rhyming bric-a-brac, brick-a-black, and papa bag.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Who Would You Put in the Canon?

It’s a question poetry readers like to ask each other. If you were the king of Parnassus, who would you invite to the anthology table? Or, to be a little less bombastic about it, if you were putting together the next big contemporary anthology, what poets would you include? Who are the best poets writing today?

And, more precisely, who are the poets who haven’t already been recognized by large anthology inclusion and awards, who you feel should?

Rae Armantrout has, for years, been my first answer to such questions, and while she still hasn’t been included in most of the major contemporary poetry anthologies (so she still technically counts as an answer), she has now gotten enough attention and awards, that I feel that argument’s been made.

So, who’s next at bat? What poets and books and single poems are the reading list for the last ten years? (In the way that I've argued [as have others] that Michael Palmer's "Notes for Echo Lake 4" is one of the key poems of the end of the 20th Century.) Matthew Zapruder's "American Linden"? Kay Ryan's "The Niagara River"?

And I’m not looking for the cynical answer, the kind of insider-trading answer people often fall into. I’m really interested in what poets you feel should be our common currency. Who would you think everyone who reads poetry should read and appreciate? And if not appreciate, as that would be too much to ask, how about deal with. In the way that no matter what people think of John Ashbery, one has to deal with the fact that he's there, in the way that no matter what one thinks of T.S. Eliot, he looms. 

When mentioning a poet, if you have a few titles of poems to offer, that would also be nice. Thank you very much.

People have been making cases for Dean Young and Cole Swensen over the past few years. Mary Jo Bang is often talked about as well. And Mary Ruefle. Matthew Zapruder has been mentioned to me a lot recently. And of course, there’s been a big push for Kay Ryan for several years, so much so, that although she hasn’t yet won the biggest awards (I’m sure she’ll win the Pulitzer soon), I have seen her included in a couple of the big anthologies. That seems a done deal. Again, who would you vote for?

Here’s a vote from me: Ron Padgett.


Remember, you can respond anonymously. I promise it will be a civil comment stream. You’re just a click away:

Addendum 1:

I was thinking about United States poetry when I posted this, as the anthologies I've been looking at all bill themselves as some version of Introduction to American Poetry or Contemporary American Poetry and are used primarily in college courses on American literature, but, as you'll see from the comment stream, Kent Johnson is all over my case about that assumption. So, when thinking about this question, you can think of U.S. poets as well as any version of "UK, NZ, Australia, Canada, Carribean nations, African nations" poets writing in any version of World English you choose.

Whew. I hope that covers it.

Addendum 2:

It didn't even come close to covering it.

Just saying.

Friday, November 05, 2010

So with what does one fill those 10,000 hours or ten years or twenty years or the instant karma of genius?

I like, I mean I really like, to read short takes on what poets think about writing poems. A book like the recent Poets on Teaching, then, is pretty much tailor made for me. It’s the perfect bedside book. Something to dip in and out of. I’ve read through it, and now I’m making a second pass, taking notes. I thought I might as well start putting some of them up on the blog.

I like the conception of the creative writing class as less interested in “writing poems” as a definition for what’s going on, and more toward what Eleni Sikelianos describes as “establishing a collective, collaborative space in which we can explore some of the edges of our interior conditions . . . as well as engage in documentary . . . experiments, and to test those edges against what previous poets have done.”

Definition is important. Sikelianos’s above description might sound to some like “writing poems,” and I’m sure what comes out of the class most often looks like poems, but the openness in defining the endeavor is foundationally important. What language one uses in describing what the class is up to becomes the language the class lives and works by / with / through.

Do anything long enough and there's a tradition.

She goes on: “What I want to steer them away from is ‘product’; what I want to steer them toward is an exploration of consciousness (whatever that term may mean).”

What she also stresses, in the midst of this consciousness exploration, is reading “what previous poets have done,” as she continues: “I also want to steer them toward as least a rough grasp of twentieth century poetry . . . with some indication of writers from other parts of the world, and I want them to know where to go to continue their readings.”

It seems that’s one thing that links nearly every conception of a creative writing class or education: reading. And usually reading a lot (hence all these 10,000 hours and ten-year admonitions). It gets me to wondering how much and what sort of outside poetry people bring into creative writing classes. I, like Sikelianos, have a fondness for anthologies more like the Norton Anthology of Post-Modern Poets over more “canonical” anthologies such as the Norton anthology Modern Poems, for instance. I just find that students usually have a rough grasp of Stevens, Eliot, WCW, Frost, up through Plath, Lowell, Sexton and more recent poets such as Olds, Dove, Strand, and etcetera when they arrive. I feel I can do the most help be bringing in an alternate tradition. But, again like Sikelianos, I’m concerned mainly with the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries. Starting roughly with 1911, for me. Even narrowing it down to that, I find that there’s not a whole lot of depth I can approach, as I want to spend most of our time talking about their writing processes and what other poets are doing right now. The call of the right now is loud, and for good reason, as the right now is where we are, what we’re joining. But the right now is transitory and is comes out of and is tied to a just then that is also very important. Such things bother me, and why I’m sympathetic to conceptions of art production that are heavy on reading what came before, even as my classes do little of it.

Given that, how far back should or could a creative writing class reach for examples? It’s important, in the abstract, for poets to read as much as is possible, from all eras and locations, but any real attempt at completeness fails in the face of time. Silliman, in a rather antic move, writes that “you need to be able to trace the history of this landscape backward at least two hundred years . . . . I’d argue that you need to know enough Middle English to reach Chaucer in the original . . . . If you can’t, you haven’t read enough, written enough, thought hard enough.”

I will therefore admit that I haven’t read enough, written enough, or thought hard enough. I, like most of us, have a long way to go.

I like Bin Ramke’s take on the issue:

“The process of teaching writing is a process of introducing the student to him or herself, to her own concerns and intentions, and then of challenging the student to confront what these concerns and intentions might mean in a larger (social, cultural, aesthetic) context, and how those concerns and intentions fit into some sort of artistic continuum—a tradition, if you wish.”

I like the “introduction” quality of it, and the generality of “artistic continuum,” where genre (among other things) is downplayed.

Now I’ve got to go. As they say: “In hel ne purgatoré non other plase!”

Tradition is like a plant. Most of it is underground.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

How Did You Spend Your 10,000 Hours?

10,000 hours is a long time on a skateboard.

From Wikipedia:

“A common theme that appears throughout Outliers is the "10,000-Hour Rule", based on a study by Anders Ericsson. [Malcolm] Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of The Beatles' musical talents and Gates' computer savvy as examples. The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time The Beatles spent performing shaped their talent, “so by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, ‘they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.’” Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.”

Ron Silliman, in his short essay in Poets on Teaching: A sourcebook, mentions Gladwell:

“The second task, the extended reading, takes far longer. There are people—Bruce Andrews was one, Rae Armantrout another—who are writing in their mature style very early on, but in both cases you will find that were voracious readers also. This is where I think that Malcolm Gladwell’s gimmicky ten thousand hours of work to become good at any one thing, whether or not it’s writing, comes into play. You need to understand the range of poetry that you are seeking to become part of…”

Daniel T. Willingham, in Why Don’t Students Like School? has a different take on it, from the 10,000-Hour-Rule to the Ten-Year Rule:

“Another implication of the importance of practice is that we can’t be experts until we put in the hours. A number of researchers have endorsed what has become known as the “ten-year rule”: one can’t become an expert in any field in less than ten years, be it physics, chess, golf, or mathematics. This rule has been applied to fields as diverse as musical composition, mathematics, poetry, competitive swimming, and car sales. It has been argued that prodigies such as Mozart, who began composing as age five, are not exceptions to the ten-year rule, because their early output is usually imitative and is not recognized by their peers as exceptional. Even if we were to allow for a few prodigies every century, the ten-year rule holds up pretty well.”

These ten years are not empty, however. Willingham writes that those “in training often know as much (or nearly as much) as experts.” The ten years are needed to transition one from knowledge acquisition to knowledge synthesis.

Willingham then goes on to what I consider to be the second most important point in his book:

“And study and practice do not end once one achieves expert status. The work must continue if the status is to be maintained.”

That last bit goes well with his major point, which is, in a nutshell, that one’s intelligence is not fixed, it is to a large degree, changeable over time. The implications of that are huge. Willingham writes:

“Students who believe that intelligence can be improved with hard work get higher grades than students who believe that intelligence is an immutable trait.” I’ve seen this many times in the arts. It’s not the seemingly most talented student or the most intelligent student who in the end succeeds, it’s the student who keeps at it. It’s about the art one makes, not the promise of the student.

We see this sort of rise into mastery in the arts constantly. And then we also see the plateau and the waning of ability just about as constantly. One must continue to put in the practice. How often does one hear of a senior musician or an author say something along the lines of “I no longer listen to new music (or read in my genre).” And then how often does it seem paired with a lessening of their ability?

What composes those 10,000 hours leading to ten years is important. These things become the practiced moves, the long-term memory (that can also become part of one’s automatic memory) that one will draw on for years. But just like anything else, once something gets too solid in memory, especially automatic memory, what feels like the mastery of hitting one’s groove can overnight turn into the realization of being in a rut. The point on the other side of the ten year rule is the rule of continued practice, which is the continued practice of new things.

Yikes. That makes it sound like a lot of work. But, you know, if you’re doing something you like, continuing to be engaged shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. The test of students that professors meet them with: “Name ten living poets” should be met with a counter question by students to those teachers: “Name ten poets under the age of forty (who aren’t your former students).”

It starts to look like a Coke commercial after awhile.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Two People on Election Day

I found a website where one can make a movie from text and I had fifteen minutes to kill. So here you go, for election day.

The Trouble with the Way Things Are


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