Sunday, January 29, 2012

The “Elusive” Poem

Round and round we go.

Sooner or later everyone loves a work of art that is in some way elusive. And, in love, one wants to tell others. But how does one talk about something that is elusive?

For me, the best art contains something elusive, and, therefore, will be difficult to explain, or, in some instances, to talk about much at all. This is especially true when I’m talking with a skeptical or hostile audience.

If one is interested in the ways of theory, one can take a theoretical approach and have the interstices of parataxis to circumlocute, but that will only go so far as well. Theory helps one say what Language writing was doing in the culture in general, how it was holding up language to foreground something or other, and that this was political, etc, but it can’t help explain one’s enjoyment of Language writing on a poem by poem basis.

So, if you’re either not of that sort of a theoretical bent, or if you want to simply say why you love a particular poem that is considered elusive, experimental, innovative, or somesuch, what do you talk about other than “I sure get a charge out of this”?

This has been a problem of mine for years, the desire to talk about a book or poem that resists prose paraphrase. Prose paraphrase and description of a poem’s form are the common coin we’re given to talk about poetry. Why? Because that feels less subjective.

Without much to really support it, I blame The New Criticism, with the pseudo-scientific approach they took to poetry, as if it were something that could be dissected into revealing its spirit. Well, one does find things out that way, and they are often helpful things, but a poem doesn’t reveal its spirit to that approach.

So how does one talk about the elusive stuff, the stuff that really pulls you in, in a poem? This is a problem when talking about all poetry really, but it is especially difficult with poetry that doesn’t reveal much to prose paraphrase and formal inquiry, because it’s through those two steps that people usually base their leap into love. The truth of the matter (in art as in life) is that the love comes first in my experience, and then comes a rationalization of that love. It’s the gut first, right? And then we go back and figure things out, praise the poet’s formal ingenuity and/or subtle and incisive argument.

This is the dilemma Frederick Smock finds himself in with David Shapiro’s Lateness in the current issue of APR.

Here’s a link to buy it:

“Right away I could see that his poems are a wonder. But they also confounded me deeply. They also made no sense in the usual way . . .” he writes. This is the problem in a nutshell. He wants to talk about something that resists being “talked” about.

Sense is a convention. It’s a social act. And it could be another way. Some other way of making sense could have been our conventional way of making sense. One of the things I think art does very well is to explore these alternate sense-making avenues. Often, over time, these alternate sense-making avenues also become conventional. I take this as a truth, but it doesn’t help talk about the specific poem at hand, because the poem at hand is not conventional, not socially agreed upon.

But we try, and in the trying, we often come to new ways of understanding. Not always, though. Some things that are inscrutable remain so. That is something artists take with them into their terra incognita.

As Smock quotes John Ashbery on David Shapiro's poetry: “Like so much recent art, it renders criticism obsolete.” It renders received criticism mute to its full presence.

But still, we have to attempt to talk about it. There are the usual ways one can go about this. What it reminds you of. How it makes you feel. How it operates upon you (or not). What possible psychological and/or social (historical, allusive) states it tours or inhabits. What it allows one to contemplate and what it takes one away from contemplating. In short, all the things we ask of poetry once we’ve dispatched with prose paraphrase.

Here’s Smock’s confession:

“Most good poems of whatever kind carry within them instructions for the reader, but I could not pick up on the instructions here. I realized that I did not know how to read ‘Shapiro.’ I am not sure that I know now, though some things have come into focus during my meditations upon his poems across the years.”

This, I would expect, is what artists hope for, someone to simply live with the experience of their work. If Shapiro’s work were less elusive, would Smock have lived with it? I don’t know, but having a committed reader, one who will live into one’s work, that’s a precious thing.

Because life continues to do these things to us.

A couple other things of note.

William Carlos Williams on his aims in Paterson: “the longer I lived in my place, among the details of my life, I realized that these isolated observations and experiences needed pulling together to gain profundity.”

W.D. Snodgrass on poetry: “A poet’s business is to say something interesting.”

I’ll end with a short poem by David Shapiro.


In extreme pain
Q meets T
They walk into a house
And later a double exposure is sent to S

Somewhere behind the curtains
Uncertainty is laughing
As you ask the yes or no questions
I am moving towards you by analogy

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Soundtrack: New Neil Young & Crazy Horse Studio Tour?

Very cool:

Neil Young’s recording with Crazy Horse after a very long hiatus (the last full NY & CH album was 1996). It appears they’re streaming some of it, along with a fly-eye studio tour.

Reports are that NY & CH have recorded a full album already, and have started on a second. But you know how reports go, especially in relation to the mercurial Neil Young.

And a possible track listing of what they're working on:

Oh Susanna
Love + Wall
This Land Is Your Land
She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain
Gallows Tree (Gallows Pole)
Oh My Darling, Clementine
I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger
Gotta Travel On

And maybe Oh, Susanna will sound something like this?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Life, Friends . . .

John Berryman

Dream Song 51

Our wounds to time, from all the other times,
sea-times slow, the times of galaxies
fleeing, the dwarfs' dead times,
lessen so little that if here in his crude rimes
Henry them mentions, do not hold it, please,
for a putting of man down.

Ol' Marster, being bound you do your best
versus we coons, spare now a cagey John
a whilom bits that whip:
who'll tell your fortune, when you have confessed
whose & whose woundings—against the innocent stars
& remorseless seas—

—Are you radioactive, pal? —Pal, radioactive.
—Has you the night sweats & the day sweats, pal?
—Pal, I do.
—Did your gal leave you? —What do you think, pal?
—Is that thing on the front of your head what it seems to be, pal?
—Yes, pal.

Dream Song 14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) "Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no

Inner Resources." I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

Where They Feed Their Children to Kings

Poem Video Friday!

Where They Feed Their Children to Kings

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Boston Review: All Together Now (Siobhan Phillips on Four New Books)

This is an interesting bit from one of our most interesting journals, one that thankfully still takes poetry seriously:

All Together Now
How Description Fosters Connection
Siobhan Phillips

It’s a review of four books of poetry, but one of the things that interests me, is where it gets general.  Here’s how it opens:


What kinds of connection can poetry make?  It’s an unexpected question, perhaps, because verse has often been thought of as the genre of isolation or wholeness: a well-wrought urn stood in timeless completion, an overheard speaker murmuring of himself to himself.

But much of today’s most arresting poetry spurns the dream of self-sufficiency for the drama of relation. Scan even the titles of the works under consideration here—The Network, The Bigger World, Sarah—Of Fragments and Lines, Shoulder Season—which speak of webs, expansions, pieces, and interstices.  These books live in transition, they manifest its links and gaps.  Their art seeks on-leading ends rather than in-looking bounds, shunning causality and sublimity alike as they instead associate among words, thoughts, people, political agents.  Managing connection, for these writers, is at once a formal task and a thematic statement.


Indeed, the first question is a version of the “what is poetry for” question that comes up now and then.  Has poetry been thought of as the genre of “isolation or wholeness”?  I’m unsure what Phillips is specifically referring to here, but I agree that, though either /or divides are reductive, there are many people out there who fall roughly into the camps of “a well-wrought urn stood in timeless completion” vs “an overheard speaker murmuring of” him/herself to him/herself.  Isolation or wholeness.  It’s an interesting parlor game.  Where do you fit? 

And then, in a turn to four books that mess with this economy, Phillips gives examples of the “drama of relation,” where “[m]anaging connection, for these writers, is at once a formal task and a thematic statement.”  Such assertions can be easily backed up by cherry-picking examples (there are thousands of books of poetry published every year), but still, the question intrigues me.  Might there be a wave of books, a zeitgeist, that is less interested in either the urn or the cry of the isolato, and more interested in something more interactive? 

Well, interactive texts have a lineage as well, which “show how contingency unravels even the best plans or explanations.”  It’s not a brand new movement, but it might be a new focus, and any new focus can bring about a new alignment.  If this were to become The New New Thing, for instance, we might start talking about projects like WCW’s Paterson again, or Jorie Graham’s Materialism, or Anne Carson’s Glass, Irony, and God, in perhaps new, helpful ways.

I’m a good audience for this idea, as I like when people highlight relations, which is one of the things I’ve always looked for (listened for) in poetry, and the examples in this review sound intriguing.  Here are a few of the ways Phillips describes these books: “lively anxiety” “stricken care” “unexpected connection can complicate our most intimate roles” “connections begin and end with language” “description can foster the very associations it would report” “the metaphoric echoes in what we say can emphasize the ethical affiliations in what we do” “The depth of a word might be the breadth of a world.”

A lot of poetry could be described in these ways, true, but these are ways of being in the world that are well worth attending to.  So are other things, but that doesn’t make these less important.

The full text of Ange Mlinko’s poem “Squill” is linked to, so I’ll post it here in full, to give an example of what Phillips is highlighting, in various ways:


Half asleep, I heard a pin drop.
The quality of light was strong,
it was changing weekly, but on top
of every new change was a lung-
like cloud with a violet
or oysterish froth burnished to pearl
by an untucked ray. Sleep debt
would only let me half-unfurl
from what I could not be prised from.
At the far end of the hall, behind a door,
I heard a pin drop. In another room
on the unpolyurethaned wooden floor
where gaps were growing between slats—
I could distinguish the sound from
that of a screw. I knew it from a thumbtack.
What was that dream,
that brain candy cottoned to, the flight
from a battalion, a mane slipping my grip
—as my ear divined a button’s bakelite
from a Lego—leaving page-worn fingertips,
the vita nuova every night rejuvenated
and dashed to bits by a baby’s complaint,
my aural monitoring of his lonely play syncopated
with forays back into the dreamscape?
From its no-backstory,
to my daylit past in waking, to recordless
and unknown history,
back again to what I knew: the sound of a dangerous
small object falling from his pincer grip
to the floor. I knew a crayon from a ballpoint pen.
A ballpoint pen from a felt-tip.
I knew the sound of his noggin
hitting the floor from the rattle
of a coffee mug. Jewelbox, toolbox,
my ears’ spindles chimed and tattled
out of dreamland, the dice in their cups
little movie screens on each side
playing different scenarios. A joke,
the child too quiet. What it belied
was that he might choke,
but I could hear what his digits dallied
and knew he was still gambling.
This is what it means to rally
for the future, as my father lambing
on all fours with him madly
termed “answering the call of life”
never knowing whence I came
or what dirt was made flesh on my behalf.
I grew the ears of a cat, tuft-flames.
I could have heard a seed growing.
A seed growing in their mirroring labyrinths.
Twin vegetal wombs in Eustachian tubes sown
with squill, which when the moss is absinthe-
green in the brownscape, is alone
the smallest simplest flower in the cold.
First flower of the year, Easterish
and yet it could be a bold
spy device, an earpiece.
Its cells assembled from history
outside my own window, as the light
stepped up—threw down—in mystery.
And though you say it is right
that no one descended from Uralic
language speakers
has Uralic
language structures
pre-determining the cast of thought until
badly retrofitted in English,
I could not see this Siberian squill,
this earpiece, Easterish,
and not think of the cells of a language
in my sleep, growing out of the frost,
assembled from history, a burned bridge,
as the first division, from which I was lost.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kudos and a Sadness

Well, maybe that’s a little over the top.  But, maybe not.  But kudos to The New Yorker for publishing Leonard Cohen’s “Going Home.” 

The album, Old Ideas, is streaming here:

Why kudos?  Well, I’ve been a fan of Leonard Cohen’s for about 30 years now.  It’s great that he’s coming out with a new album, and it’s even better that the new album is good.  Dear Heather, his last, was not among my favorites.  So here I am, cruising through The New Yorker, and there he is.  Nice. 

Now for the sadness.  First, it’s a song lyric.  For that, it’s an excellent song lyric. 

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

It’s a clever approach, and, when it’s surrounded by the light treatment of the song, it’s quite effective.  But here, as simply the lyrics, I feel myself wanting to sing it, not speak it.  I look at it imagining the music, and without the music, it deflates.  Still and all, I’m happy to see it. 

The sadness is that there are only two poems in this issue, and one of them is a song lyric.  So this is what poetry has come to.  Publications like The New Yorker bring poetry to people who might well have this as their only poetry contact.  Leonard Cohen, as few albums as he will probably sell, and as worthy of wider notice as he is, no matter how few albums he sells, he will sell many times as many albums as the most widely distributed book of poetry.

We have these conversations now and then, about song lyrics and poetry, and I’m not interested in starting that conversation back up.  What I’m interested in is a wider readership for poetry, and publishing Leonard Cohen (whom I admire very much) in the place of a poem that needs the readership much more, saddens me. 

This is what I wish.  I wish The New Yorker had published the lyrics to “Going Home” as an extra, a plus, to the regular poems.  There are so few opportunities out there for poetry to get in the hands of a wider audience, that to lose even one is a pretty heavy loss. 

That said, I also want to say that I’m pleased that publications like The New Yorker continue to publish poetry at all, and I’m doubly pleased to see that there is a new spirit of inclusiveness these days. 

So there we are. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Somebody That I Used to Know

OK, so as viral things go, this is still pretty cool. A cover of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know."

I was the 33,478,459th person to watch it.

Gotye's album comes out January 31st. This band doing the cover is called "Walk off the Earth." 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Are we the Richard Hugo generation?

That’s a question I’ve never heard anyone ask, but I feel it could well be asked. The generation of poets who grew up with The Triggering Town as an early influence, who are now in their early 50s or so and younger, who constitute most of the poets often referred to as “skittery” or what-have-you might well have Richard Hugo to thank as much or more than Lyn Hejinian or John Ashbery. Here’s a snippet of what I mean:


A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject, which starts the poem or "causes" the poem to be written, and the real or generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean, and which is generated or discovered in the poem during the writing. That's not quite right because it suggests that the poet recognizes the real subject. The poet may not be aware of what the real subject is but only have some instinctive feeling that the poem is done.

Young poets find it difficult to free themselves from the initiating subject. The poet puts down the title: "Autumn Rain." He finds two or three good lines about Autumn Rain. Then things start to break down. He cannot find anything more to say about Autumn Rain so he starts making up things, he strains, he goes abstract, he starts telling us the meaning of what he has already said. The mistake he is making, of course, is that he feels obligated to go on talking about Autumn Rain, because that, he feels, is the subject. Well, it isn't the subject. You don't know what the subject is, and the moment you run out of things to say about Autumn Rain start talking about something else. In fact, it's a good idea to talk about something else before you run out of things to say about Autumn Rain.

Don't be afraid to jump ahead. There are a few people who become more interesting the longer they stay on a single subject. But most people are like me, I find. The longer they talk about one subject, the duller they get. Make the subject of the next sentence different from the subject of the sentence you just put down. Depend on rhythm, tonality, and the music of language to hold things together. It is impossible to write meaningless sequences. In a sense the next thing always belongs. In the world of imagination, all things belong. If you take that on faith, you may be foolish, but foolish like a trout.

Never worry about the reader, what the reader can understand. When you are writing, glance over your shoulder, and you'll find there is no reader. Just you and the page. Feel lonely? Good. Assuming you can write clear English sentences, give up all worry about communication. If you want to communicate, use the telephone.

To write a poem you must have a streak of arrogance, not in real life I hope. In real life try to be nice. It will save you a hell of a lot of trouble and give you more time to write. By arrogance I mean that when you are writing you must assume that the next thing you put down belongs not for reasons of logic, good sense, or narrative development, but because you put it there. You, the same person who said that, also said this. The adhesive force is your way of writing, not sensible connection.

The question is: how to get off the subject, I mean the triggering subject. One way is to use words for the sake of their sounds. Later, I'll demonstrate this idea. The initiating subject should trigger the imagination as well as the poem. If it doesn't, it may not be a valid subject but only something you feel you should write a poem about. Never write a poem about anything that ought to have a poem written about it, a wise man once told me. Not bad advice but not quite right. The point is, the triggering subject should not carry with it moral or social obligations to feel or claim you feel certain ways. If you feel pressure to say what you know others want to hear and don't have enough devil in you to surprise them, shut up. But the advice is still well taken. Subjects that ought to have poems have a bad habit of wanting lots of other things at the same time. And you provide those things at the expense of your imagination.


A lot of people have been thinking about poetic “hybridity” or third way or whatever phrase is current for the poetry written over the last decade or so, and when talking about it, they usually talk about it as something like the melding of language writing with the more conservative poetry of post-confessional, pseudo-autobiographical, mainstream poetry (again, or whatever terms you want for these general tendencies). But I think that Hugo’s general thesis in The Triggering Town, that poets should allow themselves to “get off the subject,” to leave the “triggering” image for the more allusive ground of emotional and irrational sympathy has had at least as much impact as language writing, or any other single force, in causing the “post-avant” tendency to occur. Even for those poets who didn't have the direct influence of reading The Triggering Town, the idea, the idea of the trigger and jump (which was around already a long time, yes), Hugo's version, helped set the stage for acceptance of wilder associations. The Triggering Town was a way in and a way out.

I say this because it is The Triggering Town that became the book that otherwise “conservative” creative writing teachers assigned to their creative writing classes, and, because it quickly became popular, it was also the book that people not in creative writing classes might pick up. This book was the foot in the door that allowed the examples of poets like Michael Palmer, Lyn Hejinian, and others to suddenly “make sense” as examples.

To tell the truth, I’m not sure if I’m right about this or not, but back in the mid-1980s this book performed that function for me. After reading it, the poetry of John Ashbery and others didn’t seem so daunting, it was no longer foreign. True, his poetry was (and remains) elusive, but that elusiveness became part of how to read it as a form of moving away from a triggering idea, phrase, or image.

I’m certain, from the examples in the book, that Richard Hugo didn’t foresee how far his point could be taken. This is probably why it’s not talked about as much as I feel it should. It’s not cool. Certainly it’s not as cool as rediscovering Gertrude Stein, but what it was (and still is in many ways) is an important part of the shift in contemporary poetry away from the way metaphor and scene and subject were conceived by a majority of poets in the 60s and 70s to what a lot of poets are doing today. We talk a lot about the move of innovative poetry (everyone wants to claim that) into their work, but the move from mainstream poetry through The Triggering Town, I believe, was (and is) just as strong.

[You can read the full text of two of the essays from The Triggering Town here:]

Here's a poem of Hugo's, to close, that hopefully also illustrates a bit of what I mean.

In Your Bad Dream

Morning at nine, seven ultra-masculine men
explain the bars of your cage are silver
in honor of our emperor. They finger the bars
and hum. Two animals, too far to name,
are fighting. One, you are certain, is destined
to win, the yellow one, the one who from here
seems shaped like a man. Your breakfast
is snake but the guard insists eel. You say hell
I've done nothing. Surely that's not a crime.
You say it and say it. When men leave, their him
hangs thick in the air as scorn. Your car's
locked in reverse and running. The ignition
is frozen, accelerator stuck, brake shot.
You go faster and faster back. You wait for the crash.
On a bleak beach you find a piano the tide
has stranded. You hit it with a hatchet.
You crack it. You hit it again and music
rolls dissonant over the sand. You hit it
and hit it driving the weird music from it.
A dolphin is romping. He doesn't approve.
On a clean street you join the parade. Women
line the streets and applaud, but only the band.
You ask to borrow a horn and join in.
The bandmaster says we know you can't play.
You are embarrassed. You pound your chest
and yell meat. The women weave into the dark
that is forming, each to her home. You know
they don't hear your sobbing crawling the street
of this medieval town. You promise money
if they'll fire the king. You scream a last promise—
Anything. Anything. Ridicule my arm.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The internet goes on strike

On strike.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kathleen Edwards / The Flaming Lips

Just in case you were asking yourself, “Self, what is John Gallaher watching this afternoon?”

It’s a very nicely done series of eight videos on the creation of The Flaming Lips’s great album The Soft Bulletin, which is one of my favorite things in teh universe.  It says there’s an embed option, but I can’t get it to work.  You should go there than watch it right now.  The Flaming Lips are an unusually forthcoming crowd.  You never know what they’ll say next, but you can be certain it’ll be interesting. Like what Wayne Coyne has to say about "meaning things" and where he found the image for the cover. (Not to mention the true spiderbite story.)

And then this, from Paste, on Kathleen Edwards, on her excellent new album out today:

Edwards is suggesting that there are two kinds of premeditated change: change that repudiates a mistaken past and change that breaks from a successful past before it curdles. She was looking for the second kind of change but wasn’t sure how to go about it.

. . .

If narrative songs rely on the forward movement of time—first this happened, then that happened—reinforced by the forward movement of rhythm, metaphoric songs deemphasize time. The latter approach tries to capture one particular moment or feeling by encircling the target with layers of images and similes—and also with layers of harmony. So it’s not surprising that her two co-writes with Roderick replaced the twangy, clippety-clop canter of her early songs with more atmospheric resonance.


So today it’s The Flaming Lips and Kathleen Edwards.  What an interesting painting.

I meant to write "pairing" above, but sometimes you just have to go with the typo.

And as long as I’m just talking, here are a few more things I’ve come across today:

D.A. Powell is judging The Four Way Books Intro Prize in Poetry.  Submissions accepted January 1 - March 31

Territory Ahead is telling me to “Remember What You're Best At‏.”  Yikes.  Well, whatever sells shirts, I guess. 

And then there’s this:

Poets & Writers is telling me that there are “Over 770 Literary Magazines Looking for Your Work‏.”  That sounds like an obscene number of literary magazines.  Could the English-speaking poetry world really be large enough for that?  And really, I hate the visual of that many literary magazines out there looking for my work.  Double yikes.  Yikes yikes.  Seriously. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Teicher's 2012 Poetry Preview

This looks helpful:

Not Your Parents' Poems: A 2012 Poetry Preview
by Craig Morgan Teicher

Here’s his list of some promising upcoming titles:

Lucille Clifton - The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton

D. A. Powell – Useless Landscape, or a Guide for Boys

Jorie Graham – Place / New Poems

Dante Alighieri, Mary Jo Bang and Henrik Drescher – Inferno / A New Translation

Jack Gilbert - Collected Poems

Lyn Hejinian - The Book of a Thousand Eyes

James Tate – The Eternal Ones of the Dream: Selected Poems 1990 - 2010

Lucia Perillo – On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths

Oni Buchanan – Must A Violence

Cathy Park Hong – Engine Empire

Paisley Rekdal – Animal Eye

Hayden Carruth – Last Poems

I like lists. And what I like especially about this list is that it’s one of the more aesthetically inclusive lists I’ve seen. From Clifton to Powell to Hejinian to Perillo and Carruth. I wish all of our lists (mine included) were so wide-ranging. And the fact that this appears on the NPR website is a healthy sign for poetry.

Of these poets, a couple notes from me:

I’ve seen bits of the Mary Jo Bang translation, and I’m as excited about seeing the whole thing as I’ve ever been to see a new book. It’s going to have some people very upset. It’s going to be condemned in some circles for its “looseness,” but from what I’ve seen so far (three cantos, one of which I’m publishing in The Laurel Review with the accompanying illustration from Henrik Drescher), I’m going to like it a lot.

Lucille Clifton – I didn’t pay all that much attention to her work until after her death. All I was aware of was her most accessible, or popular work, but after her death I heard a poem of hers read that I liked, so I looked her work up to find there was more to find in it than I previously had found.

Powell and Hejinian and Buchanan are always interesting, so I’m looking forward to them.

Graham and Tate. I used to read them and talk about them as much as any other poetry, but I’ve gone back to their new books less often than their older ones (The Rolling Stones Syndrome, it’s called). I’m always hopeful that this will be the book where Graham gets it back, so I’m going to buy it, as I’ve bought all the others. And Tate. Mostly what I’ve thought and heard is that Tate just needed to edit his collections (and story-poems) down. As a selected, this should do the first. Maybe that will be enough to make this the definitive collection of his recent work.

Side note:

One of the issues that came up several times last year on this blog (and other places) is the issue of trying to describe the “period style.” I’m continually interested in what people see as our common currency. Here’s how Teicher describes it, or a part of it:

“Today's average poem (if there is such a thing) takes us to the frontiers of language, borrowing from Twitter memes to overheard conversation, from the classics to bad movies.”

I’m more of the opinion that there isn’t such a thing as “today’s average poem,” but this bit from Teicher does nod to a kind of jumpy (SKITTERY!) attitude that a lot of poems share. It’s true, a lot of poems are more interested in juxtaposition to create meaning than they are direct, focused meditation, from more centrist poets like Albert Goldbarth and Bob Hicok to the innovative or experimental poets like Hejinian, but again, that’s not a complete, across the board, description. It’s interesting to note, though, as we’re all wanting glimpses of how the future will describe us, because if we can imagine how the future will describe us, that means the future will remember us, and it’s comforting to imagine we’ll be remembered.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Few January (Mostly) Music Releases

Albert Goldbarth's new collection out this month, Everyday People, has a perfect cover. I'm looking forward to it.

I’m pretty sure with the way my life is going so far (very busy; very, very busy), I’ll most likely not stay on top of new music releases as well as I was in 2011. [Final tally: 2011 – 272 hours of music on my windows media player]

Be that as it may, there are a few upcoming (late January) releases that I’m interested in checking out:

Damien Jurado – Maraqopa: He’s going for a fuller band this time around, it seems, from the only song from it I’ve heard so far. The drawback, on this song at least, is that the vocals sound buried to me, and vocals have been his strength in the past. We’ll see.

Dr. Dog – I’ve missed the title on this one. I could look it up, but that would take effort. Sounds, so far, pretty much in line with their previous work.

Kathleen Edwards – Voyageur: Another fine, well-crafted album to add to her list of fine, well-crafted albums. I like it. And there’s Bon Iver in the background, which is nice. She has a light touch, even on her more aggressive songs. It makes her work both refreshing and easy to miss.

Lana Del Rey – Born to Die: I don’t know what to make of Lana Del Rey. She said (I’m paraphrasing) that she wants to be the Nancy Sinatra of the Hip Hop generation, and that’s kind of what she sounds like. There are moments of something quite interesting (“Video Games”), interspersed with moments of easy melodrama (“Baby we were born to die!”).

Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas: His first record since the uneven Dear Heather in the early 2000s (2003? 05? I forget). I’ve heard two songs so far, and they’re both right down the middle Leonard Cohen. The band sounds a bit more like it’s real people this time around, and the background singers are a little less overbearing. I’m crossing my fingers.

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp: Neither of the two songs I’ve heard from this so far can live up to Epic, her first release, so I’m crossing my fingers.

I’m a sucker for time-lapse photography. What can I say.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Who Were We? What Did We Want? Where Were We Going?

So the 20th Century is firmly behind us now, and I’m interested in what it will turn out we’ll say it was, over time.  I thought a good place to start would be the Academy of American Poets, as I just came across the anthology Fifty Years of American Poetry a couple weeks ago.  I was thinking it would be something of a baseline of the popular poets of the time.  That might be something to work with.  What I came up with was a radically different view of the 20th Century than the one I would write.  I wasn’t surprised, really, but it’s interesting to see just how many of the names I don’t recognize, even as the dates get more contemporary.  And, of course, the sometimes glaring names that do not appear (The Beat poets? Black Mountain poets? The Objectivists? for example).  And when the names appear, it’s interesting to see which young poets (award winners, usually, which make up the majority of names I don't recognize) are directly brought in and which poets only appear late in their careers.

The introduction to the volume is from Robert Penn Warren, and what interests me most in it is how he goes to great pains to stress the diversity of aesthetic positions represented in the anthology of “the Chancellors, Fellows, and Award Winners since 1934.”  He writes:

“A glance at the table of contents will show that no one school, bailiwick, method, or category of poetry has dominated the interest of the Academy.  The Academy has been interested in poetry, not in cults of schools, in helping, as best it could, though no doubt with some human failing, serious poets of whatever persuasion.” 

It’s all very interesting to see, as I would now characterize this list as a mostly very like-minded group.  Funny how time does that, making what at one point seems divergent into a unity. And then to see the next ten years after the 1984 edition, how the Academy navigated its way into the 90s.  Was there a next edition after that one?  I can’t seem to locate it.  Maybe I used bad search terms.  Maybe they stopped making anthologies.

But, whatever the future holds, this is how The Academy of American Poets remembers the 20th Century.  From a quick glance, it seems we loved our children, and that time rolls along, even if no one remembers us.

Fifty Years of American Poetry
Anniversary Volume for
The Academy of American Poets (1984)
Wood engravings by Barry Moser
Introduction by Robert Penn Warren

 (1910) / E. A. Robinson
 (1915) / Edgar Lee Masters
 (1915) / Ezra Pound
 (1916) / Padraic Colum
 (1917) / Witter Bynner
 (1918) / Conrad Aiken
 (1924) / Joseph Auslander
 (1924) / John Crowe Ransom
 (1927) / William Rose Benet
 (1928) / Robinson Jeffers
 (1928) / Edna St. Vincent Millay
 (1929) / Oliver St. John Gogarty
 (1930) / Archibald MacLeish
 (1932) / Allen Tate
 (1932) / Edwin Markham
 (1934) / Audrey Wurdemann
 (1935) / Marianne Moore
 (1935) / Muriel Rukeyser
 (1936) / Carl Sandburg
 (1937) / Dudley Fitts
 (1938-40) / Percy MacKaye
 (1939) / Leonora Speyer
 (1940) / E. E. Cummings
 (1940) / Max Eastman
 (1941) / John Neihardt
 (1941) / Ridgely Torrence
 (1942) / Robert Frost
 (1942) / Randall Jarrell
 (1943) / Leonard Bacon
 (1944) / Richard Eberhart
 (1944) / Kenneth Rexroth
 (1944) / Jesse Stuart
 (1944) / Mark Van Doren
 (1948) / W. H. Auden
 (1949) / Rolfe Humphries
 (1950) / Robert Francis
 (1950) / Robert Nathan
 (1953) / Louise Bogan
 (1953) / Louise Townsend Nicholl
 (1954) / Leonie Adams
 (1954) / William Carlos Williams
 (1956) / Robert Fitzgerald
 (1957) / Daniel Berrigan
 (1957) / Babette Deutsch
 (1957) / Robert Hillyer
 (1959) / Ned O'Gorman
 (1959) / Richard Wilbur
 (1961) / X. J. Kennedy
 (1961) / John Hall Wheelock
 (1963) / John Updike
 (1964) / John Berryman
 (1964) / Robert Lowell
 (1964) / Adrien Stoutenberg
 (1966) / David Wagoner
 (1967) / Donald Justice
 (1967) / May Swenson
 (1968) / James Wright
 (1969) / James Schuyler
 (1970) / John Ashbery
 (1970) / Robert Hayden
 (1971) / Sylvia Plath
 (1971) / Stanley Kunitz
 (1972) / Peter Everwine
 (1972) / Richmond Lattimore
 (1973) / Constance Carrier
 (1974) / John Balaban
 (1974) / Josephine Miles
 (1975) / Richard Hugo
 (1975) / Stan Rice
 (1976) / Elizabeth Bishop
 (1976) / Philip Booth
 (1976) / Horace Gregory
 (1976) / James Merrill
 (1977) / Jane Cooper
 (1977) / Laura Gilpin
 (1977) / Robert Mezey
 (1978) / Edward Field
 (1978) / Donald Hall
 (1978) / Robert Penn Warren
 (1979) / Ai
 (1979) / W. D. Snodgrass
 (1980) / Galway Kinnell
 (1980) / Jared Carter
 (1980) / Stephen Dobyns
 (1980) / Anthony Hecht
 (1980) / Howard Nemerov
 (1980) / Marilyn Hacker
 (1980) / William Meredith
 (1980) / Mark Strand
 (1981) / Marvin, Bell
 (1981) / Christopher Gilbert
 (1981) / Edward Hirsch
 (1981) / Philip Levine
 (1981) / Larry Levis
 (1981) / Gerald Stern
 (1981) / Michael Van Walleghen
 (1982) / Peter Davison
 (1982) / Carolyn Forche
 (1982) / Brad Leithauser
 (1982) / Margaret Gibson
 (1982) / William Harmon
 (1982) / Lisel Mueller
 (1982) / John Frederick Nims
 (1982) / Lauren Shakely
 (1982) / Alberto Rios
 (1982) / Gjertrud Schnackenberg
 (1982) / Charles Simic
 (1982) / George Starbuck
 (1982) / Mona Van Duyn
 (1983) / David Bottoms
 (1983) / Henri Coulette
 (1983) / Louis Coxe
 (1983) / J. V. Cunningham
 (1983) / Kenneth O. Hanson
 (1983) / Rika Lesser
 (1983) / Anthony Petrosky
 (1983) / J. D. MacClatchy
 (1983) / W. S. Merwin
 (1983) / Reg Saner
 (1983) / Sharon Olds
 (1983) / James Scully
 (1983) / Karen Snow
 (1983) / Frederick Seidel
 (1984) / Charles Wright

Poems added for the 60th anniversary edition
Introduction by Richard Wilbur

 (1976) / Howard Moss
 (1981) / Josephine Jacobsen
 (1983) / David Ferry
 (1983) / Vicki Hearne
 (1984) / Stephen Mitchell
 (1985) / Norman Williams
 (1986) / Mark Anderson
 (1986) / William Arrowsmith
 (1986) / Cornelius Eady
 (1986) / Peter Hargitai
 (1986) / Li-Young Lee
 (1986) / Jane Shore
 (1987) / Michael Blumenthal
 (1987) / Melissa Green
 (1987) / Rosmarie Waldrop
 (1988) / Judith Baumel
 (1988) / John Hollander
 (1988) / Garrett Hongo
 (1988) / Richard Lyons
 (1988) / Katha Pollitt
 (1989) / Thomas Bolt
 (1989) / Maxine Kumin
 (1989) / Christopher Merrill
 (1989) / Minnie Bruce Pratt
 (1989) / Peter Schmitt
 (1990) / John Duval
 (1990) / Robert Fagles
 (1990) / Martha Hollander
 (1991) / Diane Ackerman
 (1991) / Allen Grossman
 (1991) / Eric Pankey
 (1991) / Elaine Terranova
 (1991) / Susan Wood
 (1992) / Kathryn Stripling Byer
 (1992) / Nicholas Christopher
 (1992) / Greg Glazner
 (1992) / Jeffrey Harrison
 (1992) / Daniel Hoffman
 (1992) / William Logan
 (1992) / J. Allyn Rosser
 (1993) / April Bernard
 (1993) / Chris Llewellyn
 (1993) / Barton Sutter
 (1993) / Rosanna Warren
 (1993) / Cynthia Zarin
 (1994) / Cyrus Cassells
 (1994) / Amy Clampitt
 (1994) / David Clewell
 (1994) / Alison Deming
 (1994) / Irving Feldman
 (1994) / Peter Gizzi
 (1994) / Richard Howard
 (1994) / Marie Howe
 (1994) / Carolyn Kizer
 (1994) / Mary Jo Salter
 (1994) / Timothy Steele
 (1995) / Christianne Balk
 (1995) / Rita Dove
 (1995) / Brigit Pegeen Kelly
 (1995) / Cleopatra Mathis
 (1995) / Naomi Shihab Nye
 (1995) / Adrienne Rich
 (1995) / Jan Richman
 (1995) / Andrew Schelling
 (1995) / Edward Snow
 (1995) / John Yau
 (1996) / George Bradley
 (1996) / Alfred Corn
 (1996) / Michael Cuddihy
 (1996) / Jon Davis
 (1996) / Jorie Graham
 (1996) / Martin Greenberg
 (1996) / Debora Greger
 (1996) / Rodney Jones
 (1996) / Richard Kenney
 (1996) / Philip Schultz
 (1996) / Stephen Yenser

Box? What box? There are no boxes here!