Monday, June 27, 2011

The Midwest Chapbook Series - Deadline Extended

Please help get the word out. We're going to be gone from the offices for most of the month of July, so we've extended the deadline to AUGUST 1st, 2011. (Because of budget cuts, we've put all our money into production costs, and we've had to zero out our advertizing budget.)

The Midwest Chapbook Series
GreenTower Press/The Laurel Review

Final Judge: Dana Levin

The contest is open to anyone who is living in, from, or closely associated with the Midwest, excluding close friends and former students of the editors or contest judge, as well as employees and students of Northwest Missouri State University.


20-30 pages (typed, single-sided, one poem per page).

Individual poems may have been previously published. You may include an acknowledgements page if you wish, though one is not required.

Include two cover pages: one with title only, the other with name, address, email address, manuscript title, and a short note establishing your connection to the Midwest.

Your name should ONLY appear on the cover page, which the staff will keep on file. Manuscripts will be read blind.

Reading period opens February 1 and ends August 1, 2011. Late entries will be returned unread.

$10.00 reading fee. Please make checks payable to GreenTower Press. Reading fee gets you a one-year subscription to The Laurel Review, starting with the summer issue.

The winning chapbook will be published in an edition of 300 copies. Winner will receive one hundred copies. Additional copies offered at 40% off the list price ($7.00) plus shipping and handling.

Winner also will be invited to give a reading at Northwest Missouri State University’s Visiting Writers series, which includes travel expenses paid and an honorarium of $250.00

All entries will be considered for publication in The Laurel Review.

Winner will be notified by email or telephone, and will be announced on our website ( ) in September, 2011.

If you’d like an acknowledgement of receipt send a SASP; please do not send a SASE.

Send entries to:

GreenTower Press
Midwest Chapbook Series
Northwest Missouri State University
Maryville, MO 64468

Questions may be addressed to the editors of The Laurel Review at:

Recent chapbooks available from GreenTower Press:

BLOOM, Rob Schlegel

Show Me Yours, Hadara bar-Nadav

Off the Fire Road, Greg Wrenn

Instructions for a Painting, Molly Brodak

ITINERARY, Reginald Shepherd

Anatomy of a Ghost, Rumit Pancholi

Grenade, Rebecca Hoogs

The BirdGirl Handbook, Amy Newman

Saturday, June 25, 2011

EMA / Language Poetry / Sincerity / Spirituality / Meaning It

A couple things I’ve noticed around this week (leading to Rae Armantrout and Mary Jo Bang by way of EMA and shopping carts)

One person would exclaim, "You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!" and the other would exclaim, "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!"

First, an interview with EMA (Erika M. Anderson):

This is the part that interested me the most, as it rhymes with something I’ve been hearing from some in the experimental poetry community lately:

Altered Zones: Why do you think lyrical songwriting is so uncommon these days in experimental music?

Erika M. Anderson: I don’t know. I feel like the pendulum has to swing back at some point. I’ve always really liked lyrics, and I’ve always really liked vocal stuff, and playing a lot and going to noise shows, I’ve felt in some ways unwelcome. There’s this unwritten rule saying, "You can’t use lyrics that people will understand." I thought there were supposed to be no rules. [Noise] turns into the most codified, regimented form of music, which is not what it should be at all. When Gowns first started off, some people didn’t know how to take us. They were like, "This band might be cool if they didn’t sing."

I wonder if it's something about the idea of masculine, abstract sound experiments, and not allowing a range of emotions to come through. For a lot of people who are doing experimental music, at some point it becomes like, "I built this Max patch that does this." It's about the experiment, and the set of parameters. You’re supposed to be tuning out everything but your ears.

I did make a record before I made Past Life Martyred Saints that was a conceptual record. It was about deconstructing American folk music-- departing from the premise that a lot of folk music is being made on a computer right now, and seeing how this technology intersects with the idea of folk music. I spent a lot of time sending this off to people, and I really felt the two worlds collide. I would drop it off with noisers, and they would be like, "Yeah, but you sing. I like the feedback, but what’s with this vocal harmony?"

I would bring it to more folk-oriented labels and they would be like, "We love 'Kind Heart,' but can you make a five-minute version?" I really felt the rules on both sides. In pop, people aren’t necessarily used to listening to long-duration pieces, or to feedback, so I could understand why that was challenging. But I do get shocked sometimes when people reject experimental music because it has elements of tonality, or because it has elements of humanness.
. . .
I fought the law and the law won.

This is remarkably similar to what I heard around the publication of Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy, and then again around Rae Armantrout’s Versed. It’s people working through a different way to treat content.

And why can’t one have it all? We can be noisers and we can have lyrics that are about things. Because really, when I’ve talked with experimental poets who are going through their version of this process, what they say is that they’ve always talked about things. Rae Armantrout’s always talked about things. Mary Jo Bang. We’ve always meant it. It isn’t simply hollow language games.

It’s an interesting time. I feel we’re in the midst of an artistic realignment. From what to what, though, my auguries fail me. In the end, I’m still thinking about these new ways of approaching sincerity and spirituality that is my ongoing summer topic.

A second, similar thought, goes along with the first. All musicians have noise elements (sound). All musicians who make vocal music have content, if they’re using words. Where people fall on the spectrum of each puts them into categories. What EMA is working through—and what Mary Jo Bang presaged for experimental poetry in Elegy—is how to move the levers to a place where one is still using all the “experimental” moves, doing the things with language that play and investigate the borders of what language can do . . . to have the content of the poem be “about” that border, while at the same time have that not be ALL the poem is about, to also have a THERE there, as we’re so fond of saying these days (Thank you, Gertrude Stein).

This is an important aspect of both the new (bah, I hate this name) new sincerity and the new spirituality. Or just, as it’s descriptive, the new way people are working with sincerity (meaning it), and the new way people are working with spirituality (meaning it). Meaning what they say, even as how they say it interrogates spirituality and sincerity. Aesthetic affiliations are under pressure in this economy, which will bring all sorts of detractors to the fore. But I’ve long thought of aesthetic affiliations as largely brand loyalty anyway, more than being reflective of any real criteria of inclusion / exclusion.

A good case in point is calling Rae Armantrout a Language Poet. If Rae Armantrout is a Language Poet in some outwardly identifiable sense, then “language poetry” doesn’t describe much. I think she’s a brilliant poet, by the way. What I’m saying here is not a value argument. Language Poetry, much like Surrealism, Deep Image, Objectivism, and on, is a historical category, not a method. Right? Or mostly? Or after the first couple years?

Likewise, a lot of what passes for the content of art, or, rather the interpretation of that content (kitsch, irony), can quickly become spirituality and sincerity. “Sincerity,” over time, becomes sincerity. What’s key is that the work itself need not change—it’s how we read it that (might be what) changes.

Rae Armantrout is a Language Poet because we read her that way. And then Dan Chiasson or Stephen Burt comes along to read her differently and so then we read her differently. We read backwards, as well, and so suddenly she’s always been something else. Who knew?

This is why I think it’s important to continue to talk about poetry, because what we say about it changes it (for a time, until some new thing comes along, to, ahem, change it). How many different poets has Emily Dickinson been, for instance?

Look, a note! And so rustic! Let's call it something.

It’s always about access and pre-conceived notions (and unexamined prejudices, yes). If Rae Armantrout has always written this way, which is something some reviewers have said, then why didn’t she win the Pulitzer 20 years ago? Because the right people weren’t on board yet. (The same argument could be made for other poets as well, Kay Ryan, for example, but I’ll leave that for others to make or not.) This is one more reason what is published where matters, and why what we call it matters. It’s not just about awards. (Pfui on awards.) It’s also about audience, who will be allowed to be seen where. And who will be seen becomes what is seen. What is available is what is. Examining what we’re saying and doing and believing is fundamentally important.

Here’s what EMA does with her version of "in the midst:"



Thursday, June 23, 2011

...the unexamined prejudices that undergird our expectations of art and literature...

I’m always intrigued by the unexamined prejudices that undergird our expectations of art and literature: deep down, what we want is poems that do X, paintings that do Y—but we won’t say so, in public or even in private; we don’t want to view our aesthetics as intentionally reductive. This is part of what contributes to the problem of a magazine like The New Yorker (etc.) claiming it speaks for Poetry, or for The Best Poetry—it’s not, I think, so much a conscious matter of considering and dismissing more innovative poetry; it’s not wanting to even think about more innovative poetry—not wanting to even imagine it exists—because if we allowed that, then we might have to think a little more about how and why we’re making choices (in this case, about what other people should read). The veneer of authority or universality makes up for having to pay attention, to read or think.
. . .

The above is part of an email I received today. Responses?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Max Jacob

I hear they jabber all night long.

I keep being surprised when poets I consider aesthetically conservative (like Hayden Carruth) admire poets I consider aesthetically wild (like Max Jacob). This shouldn’t surprise me, especially when the admiration crosses generations, as it does in my Carruth/Jacob example. As is well known (I think Silliman talked about this at one time as well), the mainstream of one age looks back to the fringes of an earlier age for inspiration. So what happens to the mainstream in the future? I suppose it also influences the future. That would seem logical, but I’m a little weak on examples.

I get all confused about what the mainstream and the fringes of any age are, anyway. I suppose Byron was the mainstream? I seem to recall he was popular. And Yeats? We certainly still talk about them. But do we talk about them as influential on the way people write now? How about Auden?

Plath was mainstream, I imagine, and she’s still tagged as influential on the way some poets write.

The last 20 years has seen an uptick in conversation about Stevens as influential, or a mix of Stevens and Stein, perhaps? How major was Stevens during his lifetime? I’m pretty sure Stein was on the fringes. Certainly Jacob was, which leads me back to say Max Jacob is a poet to whom I keep returning. It’s a good place to which to return. His version of Cubist Absurdist Surrealism (something like that) would seem to mirror a lot of what’s going on in contemporary American poetry. I wonder if poets are reading him, or if it’s just something in the air.

The Key (Wm Kulik, trans.)
Max Jacob

When Milord Framboisy got back from the war, his wife scolded him royally in church, so he said: “Madame, here’s the key to my entire fortune. I’m leaving forever.” Out of a sense of delicacy, the lady let the key fall to the stone floor of the church. Over in a corner, a nun was praying because she’d lost her key, the one to the convent, and nobody could get in. “See if this will fit your lock.” But the key was no longer there. It was already in the Cluny Museum: a huge key shaped like a tree trunk.

Looks like someone dropped the key to the Cluny! Right beside some lovers! Oh, Paris . . .

Friday, June 17, 2011

“Avant-Garde” Is a Marketing Strategy

I think, yes, I think we've discovered a new poem!

Or, rather, the theory of the majority is the problem, really, as vanguardism is a self-proclaimed status: we are ahead of the majority; we are advancing into new, hostile territory; we are going where the more timid rest of you will follow in the future, once we’ve staked out the territory.

The problem with this notion, in recent years, is how easy of a time the avant-garde has it out there in the wilds. Academia, journals, awards, and audience (well, in the landscape of poetry, I’m tempted to write “audience”) have all been quite ready to be friendly and hospitable to the avant-garde. In poetry, the group that would be called avant-garde is also, often, called the representative art of our time. Such a thing should not be possible.

So instead, to soften it, we call the art that would be called “avant-garde,” “experimental.” This is just as difficult a word to hold onto, because once the experiment is successful, it’s no longer an experiment. The type of poetry that might at one point have been highly experimental (LANGUAGE poetry, say, in 1981) now is routine. A routine experiment is an exercise.

In an age marked by the pastiche of the post-modern, it makes sense that such distinctions fail to be distinct. Combination and recombination are the norm. In this situation, avant-garde and experimental become honorifics, not descriptions.

Yes, but where does she keep the chicken?

You see this most obviously in music. Lady Gaga is, in many respects, avant-garde (in much the way Madonna was 25 years ago). Her look, her style, her travelling egg, all feel avant-gardy, while her actual music is conventional and, to say the least, popular (this year she’s sold about as many albums as the rest of the music industry combined). The Avant-gardy is in vogue in the arts.

Reminder: Art's been weird since art began.

It’s certainly in vogue in children’s television: the fractured narratives, discordant logic, and breaks of continuity, have a lot in common with The Love of Zero. But comedy (Charlie Chaplin!), and animation (Looney-Tunes!) have always been sites for the absurd, the surreal. It’s the culturally sanctioned space for such things. Failing to get the message, for the past 50 years, artists have been bringing these tendencies into what would be called high art, if we still talked about things as high and low art. It doesn’t take much to link TV shows like Courage the Cowardly Dog, Spongebob Squarepants, and the Teletubbies, to literary theory. So why should Jeff Koons then surprise anyone? Or, to be more specific to poetry, why should Tao Lin then surprise anyone? Flarf, etc., seems to make perfect sense in this economy, no matter what flarfists said about their intentions. And then now, the way some poets are investigating and using spirituality, and this type of “New Sincerity” seems to be perfectly in line with the arc of thinking.

Love minus zero / no limit = Courage, little doggie.

So the distinctions between labels blurs. So then what? Is it going to be “whatever, dude?” Is it going to be “Why worry about it? Like what you like?” Sure, but people are pushing things at us. It’s easy to find the most popular. It’s difficult to avoid. But “most popular” does not mean “best.” And therein rests the problem. Market forces will quickly tell what is the most popular. But what tells what is best? Because best matters. At least it matters to us individually. I like this. This is my favorite. This is the best, to me. And our reasons for saying such things wobble between subjective criteria all the way through market justification.

Lady Gaga is far and away the most popular, but I’ve yet to see Born This Way on the top of anyone’s Best of the Year list. Sure, she might well win a shelf of Grammys, but that’s beside the point. And why is it beside the point? Because people go to art for different things.

Most people go to art without a lot of critical apparatus. They want something playing in the background. They want to escape somewhere for a bit. They want to disengage from problems. Or they want a quick, uncritical comfort or support for their ideas, thoughts, beliefs. Lady Gaga has fans who call themselves Little Monsters. She tells them in her music to put their paws into the air. It feels good to have your paws in the air as one, uncritically. Low art, this was called, right?

Other people go to art to engage. It’s always going to be a minority of the population, because who wants to engage all the time? It sounds dreary. But not if you like to engage. Which has been the hallmark of high art.

Your lens or mine?

But this is further complicated by content. To what do you like to engage? To what do you like to disengage? What happens when high art is all mixed up with low art? When these distinctions are not distinct? And avant-garde is meaningless? There’s no longer a concept for “Keeping Things Straight” in art. We have no RAW and COOKED charts. And we’re aware that every style of art, every genre, every method, will have limitations. My own favorite poets, like John Ashbery and Rae Armantrout, are not without limitations. One cannot be “experimenting” on all things at once. One cannot be engaging all things at once. One cannot disengage from all things at once (and remain alive).

How will the future sort us out? Who knows. How we make art, and what art we’re making, is how we know ourselves, and how the future will know us. We can say these distinctions and categories are meaningless, but the work itself isn’t. It’s vitally important. And it’s necessary we continue to discuss and take care of what’s important to us.

I like the phrase from Rolfe Humphries I posted yesterday: “Editors have little to worry about if they print it.” What is that true of these days? It seems as true to say that editors have something to worry about no matter what they print, as it is to say they have little to worry about no matter what they print. It all depends on who they’re listening to, and what market segment they’re engaging. Which crowd around which bonfire, meaning us to us:

John Ashbery

Ages passed slowly, like a load of hay,
As the flowers recited their lines
And pike stirred at the bottom of the pond.
The pen was cool to the touch.
The staircase swept upward
Through fragmented garlands, keeping the melancholy
Already distilled in letters of the alphabet.

It would be time for winter now, its spun-sugar
Palaces and also lines of care
At the mouth, pink smudges on the forehead and cheeks,
The color once known as “ashes of roses.”
How many snakes and lizards shed their skins
For time to be passing on like this,
Sinking deeper in the sand as it wound toward
The conclusion. It had all been working so well and now,
Well, it just kind of came apart in the hand
As a change is voiced, sharp
As a fishhook in the throat, and decorative tears flowed
Past us into a basin called infinity.

There was no charge for anything, the gates
Had been left open intentionally.
Don’t follow, you can have whatever it is.
And in some room someone examines his youth,
Finds it dry and hollow, porous to the touch.
O keep me with you, unless the outdoors
Embraces both of us, unites us, unless
The birdcatchers put away their twigs,
The fishermen haul in their sleek empty nets
And others become part of the immense crowd
Around this bonfire, a situation
That has come to mean us to us, and the crying
In the leaves is saved, the last silver drops.

One day in Poetryland, the poets decided to have a party.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Playing the Revolution Backwards

Yes, this is a theme with me, but I will keep at it because I keep finding wonderful examples. And also, it amuses me to watch the arguments of the past unfold. We will join them, remember. We're already half way there, even.

Thesis: Number one, anthologies are arguments. Number two, the argument that poets have just recently started writing poorly and willfully obtuse poetry is not true (they always have / they always haven’t). One version of the argument has been: Poets are obscure and write only for other poets. If poets would just write clearly and for the common reader, then poetry would be popular. The truth is, yes, many poets do write in a way that could be described as obscure. Yes, some poets do write mainly for other poets. But it’s also true that the great majority of poets have written “clearly” for the “common reader” and for all of their work, neither they nor poetry in general has gotten any more popular.

Just sayin’.

Today’s example, the introduction a front piece from New Poems by American Poets #2, Ed. Rolfe Humphries. 1957.

From the front matter:

The editor, Rolfe Humphries, himself a poet and translator of high reputation, has again exercised his function without obligation to any style or school. His guiding idea, as before, has been simply that in spite of the current belief that modern verse is obscure and defeatist, there are good poets in this country speaking out clearly and affirmatively. Again he demonstrates the truth of this.

Among the better-known poets herein, are Theodore Roethke, W.H. Auden, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Richard Wilbur, Louise Bogan, John Holmes, Mark Van Doren, Phyllis McGinley, Langston Hughes, May Sarton, and Louis Simpson. Among the new voices are many that will be better and better known in the coming years.


Take it away, Rolfe:

[A]s they say at the race track, tab the following as among those likely to get the job done [to win the major awards of the future]—Robert Bagg, Jan Burroway, David Ferry, George Garrett, Kim Kurt, Herbert Morris, Lisel Mueller, Anthony Ostroff, Charles David Webb.

This book makes no pretense to being a definitive selection; it is a random sampling, rather, of what goes on in American poetry today.


I sympathize with Humphries here. One wants to claim the future for the poets one selects for an anthology, as he does above, but one also wants to downplay the inherent argument aspect of anthologies by claiming something like “random sampling” as he also does. The fact that these two impulses make for a convoluted introduction is the ticket to ride.

Humphries continues into a more direct argument:


What does go on? Having been exposed to this quantity of material, an editor should presumably be qualified to proclaim Certain Significant Trends. I doubt that the evidence is really sufficient for sound conclusions, but will nevertheless venture a few remarks. For one thing, the obscure and the minatory, which E.M. Forster, less than a decade ago, considered the characteristic stigmata of modern poetry, seem to be disappearing. . . . For another thing, we have considerable return to form, not always, to be sure, fully realized; blank verse, the beat of iambic pentameter, takes over from the Amy Lowell type of free verse. And I have seen, this time, scores of sestinas and villanelles.

In his introduction to the recent Faber & Faber anthology of modern American poetry, Mr. W. H. Auden, after announcing boldly that Americans differ much more inter se than do the British, corrects himself in a footnote and notes what he calls the beginning of a disturbing tendency for everybody to write alike. I do not think this is necessarily a bad sign[.] . . . The poems he speaks of, (or the kind of poetry he means,) use a common idiom, rather consciously literary, very competently turned, showing considerable evidence of serious study of technique (thought the application may sometimes be grievously faulty), interested in observation almost to the point of catalogue, and withal rather noncommittal in spirit, not very reckless, just a bit chill, as if hedged with a cold war play-it-pretty-safe-brother kind of injunction.

This is the kind of verse that more than any other finds fashionable acceptance. Editors have little to worry about if they print it. Yet more than this goes on; if we are, on the surface, developing a common manner, underneath that surface we are also preparing, and practicing, the break-through, the antithesis of that thesis. The voice of the individual, however isolated, however unpaid, speaks out in its own manner; there are people, still, who are not afraid of being themselves. (There are also those who are too damn proud of it, but that is another story.) We have some of them in this book; their range geographically is from coast to coast, chronologically from septuagenarians to those barely out of their teens. We are grateful to them, happy to present them to you; we how you will like them, and tell them so.

New York City
June, 1957


A lot of what follows is boring, conservative, and harmless, alas (though he gave it the aggressive sell, and I admire that). But there are quite a number of poems that exhibit a cleverness and irony that describe well, I feel, the tendencies of the upwardly mobile, middleclass (or upper middleclass), white 1950s. Here are a few examples that I thought witty:

The Rider
Leah Bodine Drake

It is the East we dream of: there
We’d find the answer to despair,
The waters sweet, the women fair.

Seekers of truth ride through our land.
They scorn our commonplace and wend
Eastward. This we can understand.

There came a rider reined his beast
beside our fountain, cried “At last
I’ve reached the waters of the East!”

The East our shabby countryside
And nothing more? “You lie!” we cried,
And so we stoned him till he died.

The Ailing Parent
Lora Dunetz

Pity this man who, slave to an affliction,
Enslaves his drifting world beyond love’s premise,
Fastens a chain, ties a multiple noose;
No son escapes beyond his door.
                                                    He weaves
His self-destruction, not his self-protection,
For, crying
Each day: My end! each evening: I am dying!
he lives forever, while his children perish.

Basic Communication
Thomas Hornsby Ferril

Such dubious nomenclatures crowding in
Around, above, below direct intent:
You said I said you said I said begin
Again with what I meant you meant I meant.

We speak by muscling of after-rote,
The lust in us deserves and earns the quarrel,
The waggle tongue is captain of the throat,
No victory, no grace, no sprig of laurel.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Top Ten Albums of the Year So Far (Alphabetical order)

There’s a poll going on right now at NPR for your favorite albums of the year so far:

So here were my votes (East River Pipe was a write-in, as they didn’t have it listed as a vote option)

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Cults, Cults

Destroyer, Kaputt

DeVotcvhKa, 100 Lovers

East River Pipe, We Live in Rented Rooms

EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints

R.E.M. Collapse Into Now

Radiohead, The King of Limbs (with the plus two songs)

Thurston Moore, Demolished Thoughts

Wye Oak, Civilian

NPR had to be broad in their top 25 list:

June 14, 2011
NPR Music's 25 Favorite Albums Of 2011 (So Far)

Adele, 21

Alexander Tharaud, Scarlatti: Sonatas

Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal, Chamber Music

Ben Allison, Action-Refraction

Big K.R.I.T., Return Of 4eva

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Bright Eyes, The People's Key

Colin Stetson, New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges

Demdike Stare, Tryptych

Diego Garcia, Laura

Dominik Eulberg, Diorama

Donnacha Dennehy, Grá agus Bás

E-40, Revenue Retrievin': Overtime Shift

Ebène Quartet, Fiction

Frank Ocean, Nostalgia, ULTRA

F——- Up, David Comes To Life

Gretchen Parlato, The Lost And Found

James Blake, James Blake

Jill Scott, The Light Of The Sun

Julianna Barwick, The Magic Place

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Diamond Mine

Krallice, Diotima

Tommy Guerrero, Lifeboats And Follies

tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l

Wye Oak, Civilian

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Julia Cohen & Jeremy Schmall – Talkin’ About My Generation

Two Takes

Julia Cohen:

“I was born into a generation that hasn’t happened what hasn’t
happened is fascinating death & our own ashes”

Jeremy Schmall:

“Ends have stopped their charity
of flipping into new beginnings
& you know what that means for my generation.”

A bag, a cute outfit, a fan. A glimpse of something approaching.

Jeremy Schmall
Jeremy Schmall & the Cult of Comfort

On the Same Day the Government Sends

you a check a neighborhood kid
rings your bell just to call you “dick face.”
Go cry to your mentor.
There’s worse things than functioning
genitalia out of context unquote
is going to be the committee’s
official position on this.
You eat romaine lettuce everyday for seven years
& suddenly realize what you’re eating
comes out of dirt.
Stop sobbing & finish your story.
Whose wake is this again?
I was promised a chandelier.
I was promised 100% RAW SUGAR.
The crime is the punishment or vice versa.
You punch the whale
then you’re dead on a tennis court
in your tennis whites.
Nobody is laughing.
Or they’re all laughing
at the magazine your daughter discovered
in your sock drawer.
Ends have stopped their charity
of flipping into new beginnings
& you know what that means for my generation.
We don’t even understand enough French
to be mired in a moral crisis.
Try a crisis of company morale.
A crisis of inefficient organization.
You put an empty wheelbarrow in an art gallery
& you expect us to criticize you?
The vacuity is real, but the people are just drunk.
I want a sandwich.
I want a sandwich.
A smoked turkey sandwich on rye.

Julia Cohen
Triggermoon Triggermoon

The Ride That Is More Music Than Ash

Scramble over the runway to camp on water where the eels are lucid
I camp on the lost acre where nothing is skin though I’m told I alternate

Where can I echo-surface the metronome into animal blur
To camp on the diagnosis that is this finger with algae underneath

More than the biographical dinner

I was born into a generation that hasn’t happened what hasn’t
happened is fascinating death & our own ashes

Walls where I am not bounce behind me
I peddle to the pond & watch kids masturbate each other into the ride
they may or may not be ready for

Strange ash our own human attractive
A method of foreign invitation with music in the head

My only guarantee is what I am deficient in I will make up to you in another way

Forgone dignity of the third button
I’m dropping grapefruits on the grass I’ve got bruises that bleed through the sheets

I’ve moved my camp away from where my excuse is ‘it was easier to say yes’

Avoid an exclusive change on paper
I want to see the convergence on the most certain process an actual declaration

Our tonal age as strokes of the bow on a dead stage
A practical justification other than warmth

A rooftop, a bow, a present. (To the left, already in the past.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sincerity Once Again

Jeff Koons - Cut-Out
So, was he being sincere when he (maybe) made this?

Describing movements and artistic tendencies is always going to fail in the face of examples, due to overriding differences in temperament among the authors in the movement, so I’ll stick with just this question of sincerity and leave the other half of the movement that questions and works with spirituality (and myth and Necessary Fiction, etc.) off for now, but I’m still thinking about them as part of the same general tendency. And once again, because I listen to a lot of music, I’ll start with a couple bands for the soundtrack (look them up on YouTube, if you don't know them well. It'll be worth your time, promise):

Destroyer – Kaputt
Bon Iver – Bon Iver

You can tell immediately the gestural, non-linear lyrics, the use of cliché or kitschy arrangements that sound like they’ve been appropriated whole measure from a 1986 Pat Metheny recording session.

“You’ve got to be kidding me” is one reaction this work risks.
“Is this hollow irony? Is it satire? Is it serious?”
“Is it making fun of me for listening to it/reading it?”

Moments of incongruity abound in this art (music, poetry, visual art). Syntax that twists, breaks, stutters, or otherwise risks incomprehension. Methods that utilize outdated, or kitsch, or tonally “inappropriate” material. Earnest, non-winking delivery. Playing it straight: Just because we’re scared of death doesn’t mean the poem is.

This poetry will usually have surreal elements, and/or elements from the rhetoric and imagery of fairy tales. There will often be something in it that someone will call “inappropriate.” It’s usually playful, which can contribute to a feeling of inappropriateness, depending on the content. Is it serious? Does this poet mean it? This is why the question of sincerity rises.



Heather Christle: What I actually said was “Bewilderment is the new New Sincerity,” which was a very funny joke.

I try not to aim for bewilderment too often, because I find I get more excited about making confident statements, ones that are frequently misguided. I like a poem to steer me wrong. I like an authoritative gasp of the absurd. I don’t want to be a sad little adorable poet in a big confusing world. I want my poems to be the big confusing world.

That said, there are moments when my poems and speakers do get into that bewildered state. It happens. It’s okay.

Good, wholesome fun? Comment on society and gender? And what does the ASPCA think?

What some have called “The New Sincerity” (which started as a joke, but maybe caught on, and then is maybe furthered by Christle as a joke, but which seems to be catching on), isn’t about sincerity, it isn’t proclaiming itself as sincere, and it isn’t using direct autobiography. What it does is it raises the question of sincerity in much the same way that Jeff Koons does in his art. Examples, along with the poetry of Heather Christle: Zachary Schomburg, Julie Doxsee, Mathias Svalina, and Julia Cohen, to name just a few (off the top of my head). There are many more. I’m being kind of Octopus-centric in my thinking right now.

Here’s a poem at random from Heather Christle, from Boston Review:

Acorn Duly Crushed

Dear stupid forest.
Dear patently retarded forest.
Dear beautiful ugly stupid forest
full of nightingales
why won’t you shut up.
What do you want from me.
A train is too expensive.
A clerk will fall asleep.
Dear bitchy stupendous forest.
Trade seats with me.
Now it is your birthday.
Someone will probably slap you
about the face and ears.
Indulgent municipal forest.
Forest of scarves and of beards.
Dear rapid bloodless forest
you are talking all the time.
You are not pithy.
You are like 8,000 swans.
I cannot fit you in my mouth.
Dear nasty pregnant forest.
You are so hot!
You are environmentally significant.
Men love to hang themselves
from your standard old growth trees.
Don’t look at me.
You are the one with
the ancient noble terror.
Bad forest. Forest with
important gangs of leaves.
Dear naïve forest,
what won’t you be admitting!
Blunt international forest.
Forest of bees and of hair.
You should come back to my house.
We can bag drugs all night.
You can tell me
about your new windows.
How they are just now
beginning to sprout.

Some of this sounds like the Gurlesque, some of this sounds like Elliptical Poetry. Some people will say it’s nothing new. Some will say it’s wild and uninhibited.

This review of the new album by the Cults describes this tendency well:

“Madeline Follin’s voice is high and extremely girlish, Brian Oblivion’s arrangements are perky, bright and obviously indebted to a more innocent era of pop. Their first album as Cults can get extremely twee, sometimes aggravatingly precious. What makes the record work is that the two find ways to subvert their youthful sound, or at least add a touch of darkness to songs that would be little more than adorably melodramatic in lesser hand. 'Bad Things,' my favorite song from the album, really creeps me out. It’s very catchy and sounds sweet, but when I hear it, I just expect something incredibly bad to happen to its protagonist. There’s something very portentous about this track — that I can’t quite piece together a narrative but feel sure of the subtext only intensifies my feeling of ‘ahhhh, no!’ when I hear Follin’s tiny voice sing ‘I’m gonna run away and never come back.’”


Thursday, June 09, 2011

The New “New” Sincerity (Part Infinity Minus One)

"Bewilderment is the new New Sincerity" - Heather Christle

Forget what the intentions were or weren’t behind the first positing of The New Sincerity several years ago, there is something in the air now that IS sincere and new and does things that many have been steeping in irony in the past.

There are many examples in poetry (I was writing back and forth with Nick Sturm about Heather Christle in this regard), but that would be my word (sincere) against someone else’s (cleverly ironic [Nick and I were in agreement on Heather Christle by the way, that whatever you want to call this, it IS aware of itself as sincere . . . she means it), so I’ll use an example from music.

Justin Vernon was part of the band Gayngs last year making uber-cool, possibly ironically cheesy, prom music for the end of time. Now, he’s back to his usual gig as most of the band Bon Iver (yes, the band name is a play on the French).

The band’s new self-titled album will be out next week, and it’s streaming on the NPR First Listen series right now. The best example of what I’m talking about is the song “Beth/Rest.” To hear it, select Hear Tracks from the Album and then scroll to the bottom. It’s the closing track.

Sincerity is the new New Bewilderment

The review that goes along with the tracks by Stephen Thompson speaks directly to the topic of sincerity:

First Listen: Bon Iver, 'Bon Iver'
by Stephen Thompson

June 9, 2011 "Beth/Rest," the closing song on Bon Iver, is an absolutely diabolical bit of provocation. A plodding tangle of electric keyboards and guitar solos, the track seems at first as if its title ought to include the parenthetical, "Love Theme From Tequila Sunrise 2." Bon Iver singer-songwriter Justin Vernon has compared "Beth/Rest" to the best-known work of Bruce Hornsby, and his appreciation is utterly sincere: The very opposite of an ironist, he boldly opts to close his massively anticipated new album with sounds 25 years out of style.

Jarring as it is, "Beth/Rest" is like the plucky runt of this litter; the song you may well find yourself embracing with the expectation that it'll be unloved by everyone else. Whatever it is, it's not safe. Vernon understands that the most fearless musical expression is raw, naked emotionalism — that a wink is a pose, a pose is a mask, and a mask is a forgery, so why bother with any of that? When he belted out Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon a few weeks back, the last thing Vernon was doing was kidding. For five minutes, warmth had become the new cool.

Bon Iver is a grand, chance-taking record: It sheds the raw nerviness of 2008's perfect For Emma, Forever Ago and replaces it with arrangements so lush and vivid, it can be hard to make out much of what Vernon sings. Out June 21, the whole record dares to be dreamy, and to let Bon Iver's ever-growing backing band paint pictures while Vernon's words dissipate into the ether. Most of these 10 songs induce gasps at one point or another, for any number of reasons: from the forceful jolt of an orchestral boomlet, the delicate shhhhhinnnnng of finger cymbals, or an impeccable bit of vocal phrasing by Vernon, who can still make seemingly slight inflections hit like punches.

Still, an overarching purpose here — the specific messages to these songs — can be oblique and hard to locate. Even the titles mostly signify and evoke places rather than feelings: "Calgary." "Minnesota, WI. " "Hinnom, TX." "Lisbon, OH." Listen to Bon Iver 50 times, and you may still struggle to remember which title matches which song, and why. But the journey to familiarity with the record is circuitous to the point of impossibility. For all its emphasis on place, it beckons you to come get lost.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

What’s a poet to do after ten or so books?

Norma Desmond: I am big. It's the pictures that got small.

Dean Young is one example and Michael Palmer is another. For Dean Young, the younger of the two, the plan is to just keep doing what he’s doing, with little variation (a bit of rhyme adds to the mix, but other than that it’s poetry business as usual). For Michael Palmer, the plan is to continue to work away from his pivotal work from the 1980s. The results, for both poets, is mixed, but that’s not my point right now. What I’m thinking of is the relationship I have (we have) with artists as they move through their later careers.

Picasso is the genius of change.

It is common for poets to have their most lasting aesthetic breakthrough in or around the age of 40 (Charles Wright, Jorie Graham, Wallace Stevens, to give a feel for it). For some, like William Wordsworth, and James Tate it was closer to 30. I guess this is what is meant by the “mature style,” and poets seldom, once they’ve moved into it, move back out again (so far that’s been the case for Charles Wright, as example). Some do, though. There are several cases of poets such as Yeats and Stevens, where a late turn comes in to color the work. It’s more pronounced in Yeats, but it gets talked about in Stevens quite a bit as well.

Michael Palmer is in this category, with Notes for Echo Lake, First Figure, and Sun all being published in his 40s (or close enough), and the transitional book, At Passages, in his 50s. He’s now 68, and Thread (New Directions, 2011) is the third of what can be seen as the inverse trilogy to his 80s work, where what to do and where to go seems to be to follow the trajectory of the late moves of Wallace Stevens (and bits of e.e. cummings-style wordplay, and WCW flatness). The mansion of Sun has become a minor house. Even so, there are reasons to visit and things to find there. He’s making set pieces in Thread. How these miniatures and series differ from his earlier work is their lack of interior fragmentation. Just as Stevens, in the poems in The Rock, went small and direct, so too has Palmer. Liking or loving his early work doesn’t mean you’re going to be interested in his later work and vice versa.

e.e. cummings didn’t change much at all. Ashbery, Armantrout, and Kay Ryan have all changed over the years, but relatively slightly.

Dean Young is in this category. The book titles, and the order of the poems, and what he’s going to say next doesn’t seem in any way causally connected to what came before or what’s to come next. As I’m fond of quoting, Neil Young said once from the stage, while recording the live album Year of the Horse, “They all sound the same. It’s all one song.” In Dean Young’s case, the song is entitled “Whoosh,” and it seems to have a life of its own, churning away. In other words, if you like one of Dean Young’s books, the chances are high that you’ll like any of the others about as much (with minor deviances for how often he’s “on”).

So what do we do with the late career of artists (poets, painters, musicians, etc)? Is saying that in Fall Higher (Copper Canyon, 2011) Dean Young is writing more Dean Young poems unfair? It’s certainly true, but it comes with a dose of dismissiveness, just as some people dismiss Ashbery or cummings for much the same thing. (It’s interesting as a side note that both Armantrout and Kay Ryan have largely been spared this dismissiveness, probably because they were ignored for most of their careers—which is an interesting comment on the nature of consistency over time.)

I have seen the great minds of my age . . .

Sometime in the late 80s, I remember someone (another musician, I believe) talking about the bad press Bob Dylan was receiving for his then recent wayward, inconsistent albums (oh, Empire Burlesque . . .). That musician said that if a new artist were making these albums rather than BOB DYLAN (as a brand name by that time), they would be touted as The Next Bob Dylan. I’ve been thinking about that for over 20 years now.

Is it true? Wishful thinking?

What if Fall Higher or Thread (or any number of new books by Brand Name poets) were instead a first book by some new poet? What would we be saying? Would Fall Higher be considered derivative of Dean Young, or an advance on the Dean Young aesthetic? Would Thread be considered a kind of talking back to the later modernists (or maybe something like John Beer’s The Waste Land and Other Poems) and/or the sort of language as subject of Palmer’s earlier books, or a kind of pastiche of their moves?

Maybe that’s a hollow game. In other words, then:

James Dickey, remember him? Once he was all the rage . . .

I was travelling last week, and listened to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports while in an airport. Oh me.

The role of the artist is not decorative.

Does art have a stopping point? A method or subject? Should Charles Wright have shifted? Should Michael Palmer not have shifted?

Michael Palmer was once called the first poet of the new poetry. But he’s now, 20 years later, seeming to have more in common with the old poetry, where nearly any phrase from Wallace Stevens’s The Rock could fit neatly into any poem in Thread.

As if we were the ones this movie is about, where the singing woman sings to the trains and suddenly night and silence.

The difficulty about talking about poetry is the difficulty of maps. Art is the guided tour where the point is to get lost.

The risk in art—to risk, as a writer, getting to a place where you might be failing and not know it.

The great artists achieve a kind of timelessness that can’t be seen in their time.

We can only guess. (Why do we want to guess?)

A different sort of importance falls on those who typify their time. We don’t study Emily Dickinson as an example of what the typical poem of the time was like. That’s what Tennyson is for.

Who is this attractive young man? Let's see what he has to say!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

American Pie - Grand Rapids

This pretty much sums it up.

Bye-bye Miss American Pie . . .

American Pie
Grand Rapids

VA Naipaul Is a Fool

OK, so anyway, there’s really nothing that needs to be said about the following article. Naipaul seems to be able to indict himself well enough.

I would suggest everyone send him a book by a female writer of their choice, but it would do no good. He seems to be one of those types of people who need to manufacture the worst kind of reductionism. Talent is not distributed by gender or race. But we know that. I hope that someone pours a drink over his head at the next mucky-muck Nobel soirée.

Anyway, just in case you didn’t see it:

VS Naipaul finds no woman writer his literary match – not even Jane Austen
Nobel laureate says there is no female author whom he considers his equal

Amy Fallon The Guardian, Thursday 2 June 2011

VS Naipaul, no stranger to controversy, has lashed out at female authors, singling out Jane Austen for particular criticism. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

VS Naipaul, no stranger to literary spats and rows, has done it again. This time, the winner of the Nobel prize for literature has lashed out at female authors, saying there is no woman writer whom he considers his equal – and singling out Jane Austen for particular criticism.

In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul, who has been described as the "greatest living writer of English prose", was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: "I don't think so." Of Austen he said he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world".

He felt that women writers were "quite different". He said: "I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me."

The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women's "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world". "And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too," he said.

He added: "My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don't mean this in any unkind way."

The criticism from the author is unsurprising. Naipaul is no stranger to criticism. In the past Naipaul has criticised India's top female authors for their "banality" on the topic he is best known for writing about, the legacy of British colonialism.

He also had a long-running feud with US travel writer and author Paul Theroux.

Their 30-year friendship came to a sudden end, after Theroux discovered that a book he gave Naipaul had been put on sale for £916. The comments were dismissed by the Writers Guild of Great Britain, which said it would not "waste its breath on them". Literary journalist Alex Clark said: "Is he really saying that writers such as Hilary Mantel, AS Byatt, Iris Murdoch are sentimental or write feminine tosh?"

Literary critic Helen Brown described them as "arrogant, attention-seeking".He should heed the words of George Eliot – a female writer – whose works have had a far more profound impact on world culture than his."

Four Way Books Open Reading period

2011 Four Way Books

June Open Reading Period

Submissions accepted June 1-30.

Four Way Books editors make selections.

Open to all poets and fiction writers.

Book-length poetry collections, story collections and novellas.

We do not publish novels, translations, or non fiction.

Submission guidelines are available at

Four Way Books
P.O. Box 535 Village Station
New York, New York 10014