Monday, April 30, 2012

Marjorie Perloff on Dominance

Interesting article by Marjorie Perloff riffing off of Jed Rasula in The Boston Review:

It’s another of those “It was not always thus” articles by someone fairly late in their career (it even says at one point “It was not always thus”), which always makes me wary that it’s going to be infected by a false nostalgia of their own youth. So, with that in mind, I find she (and Rasula as well) misses the point as often as she hits it, but even so, it’s an interesting read.

First, the number of people involved in teaching creative writing at all levels in academia, they say, is 20,000. Then they say that research is the most important aspect of the continued employment of these 20,000. Then they say that this is causing a narrowing the aesthetic diversity of poets, which is this:

1) irregular lines of free verse, with little or no emphasis on the construction of the line itself or on what the Russian Formalists called 'the word as such';

2) prose syntax with lots of prepositional and parenthetical phrases, laced with graphic imagery or even extravagant metaphor (the sign of 'poeticity');

3) the expression of a profound thought or small epiphany, usually based on a particular memory, designating the lyric speaker as a particularly sensitive person who really feels the pain, whether of our imperialist wars in the Middle East or of late capitalism or of some personal tragedy such as the death of a loved one.

There is a point to this, but it’s not the point Perloff is making. The point I see is that there is a tendency, or a gravity, around aesthetic positions. It’s a contextual thing that gets reinforced by journals and universities and awards. It’s not the poet’s fault, though. It’s the journals and awards and universities. There are other poets doing other things, they’re just not valued by those journals, etc.

If Tony Hoagland is wrong in saying, using a very similar argument about journals and awards and universities, the dominant poetry of our time is skittery, this does not mean that Perloff is right, that it’s a homogenous totality of neo-autobiographical-light epiphany poetry. If either of them has a point, then both of them are wrong.

These are simplistic arguments that tend to fall apart, as Perloff’s does. First, I agree that it is true that most people who write poetry are involved in academia, but they are involved in various ways, and with various expectations of them. There are many, many poets who have won no awards, nor ever expect that they might. They also have never published in any of the journals Perloff and Rasula mention as the goal of contemporary American poets. Even with these two major strikes against them, they’re getting by just fine. Of course, many of them have academic positions that are at little-known universities off Perloff’s radar, but the fact remains that these poets don’t have to publish in the kinds of places she’s thinking of, and they don’t have to win the kinds of awards she’s thinking of. They can write absolutely however they feel like writing. And they do. I, for one, feel zero pressure from the small regional university I teach at to conform to the career she describes.

My guess, as with most writers, Rasula and Perloff and Hoagland see only what is around them. They see the winners of the big prizes and the people who teach at the most prestigious schools, and they extrapolate from there (though selectively so, as I’ll get to in a minute). The rest of us can see it quite differently.

True, there is a much more narrow aesthetic represented in the major awards than in the whole of contemporary American poetry. I do wish it were different, but awards are political things, not aesthetic things. It’s important to keep that in mind. (And sometimes those political economies end up choosing a poet I admire, as it has with Rae Armantrout, Mary Jo Bang, John Ashbery, among others). It will always be so.

Here’s a bit that struck me as especially disconnected:

“It was not always thus. The poetry wars of the 1960s—raw versus cooked, open versus closed, Donald Allen’s New American Poetry (1960) versus Donald Hall and Robert Pack’s anthology New Poets of England and America (1962)—produced lively and engaging debates about the nature of poetry and poetics. What made a lineated text a poem? Did poems require some sort of closure, a circular structure with beginning, middle, and end? Should the poet speak in his or her own person, divulging intimate autobiographical details? And so on.”

One must be pretty distant from the ground not to think that sort of thing is no longer going on. It doesn’t take much research to find that there are a lot of debates going on about the form, content, and function of poetry, a lot of it in places such as The Boston Review, in which her essay appears.

She has a point when she starts talking about the ageism of art:

“…poets are always being displaced by younger poets. Whenever I sort out the hundreds of poetry books that come across my desk and rearrange my bookcases, I notice a curious phenomenon. Poet X has produced two or three successful books and keeps on writing in the same vein, but somehow the fourth book, no better or worse than the previous ones, gets much less attention for the simple reason that, in the interim, so many new poets have come on the scene. The newcomers are not necessarily better than their elders, nor do they write in an appreciably different mode, but the spotlight is now on them. Ezra Pound’s “Make it New” has come to refer not to a set of poems, but to the poet who is known to have written them.”

This is a major problem in contemporary poetry. The young are not reading the older living poets as much as they should, but it’s also obvious to me that the older poets are also not reading the young.

After this, Perloff leaves her point almost entirely as she gets bogged down in a discussion of American Hybrid and Rita Dove’s Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry. Even though, she does have a point when she writes that “In the current climate, with thousands of poets jostling for their place in the sun, a tepid tolerance rules.” There are a lot, a powerful lot, of bad poems out there, and there is a large majority of poets who’ve decided to play nice about it. In fact, if I were to accuse academia and prizes for something it would be for this, much more than the work itself that poets produce. So we by and large nod our heads and smile at each other while jabbing ourselves in the leg with a pen to keep from screaming. Call it the Poetry Party Game.

And then, after these universals and generalizations, Perloff takes an unexpected (or maybe an expected) turn:

“So far I have been talking about the dominant poetry culture of our time—the culture of prizes, professorships, and political correctness. To dislodge the dominant paradigm is never easy, but in recent years we have witnessed a lively reaction from a growing group of poets who are rejecting the status quo.”

What bothers me in such a turn, is that she first says contemporary American poetry is this unified beast of boring, lazy, unmusical, etc, poetry that doesn’t have any productive tension, then she says there’s this rising reaction from a growing group. She wants to have it both ways. To say it’s monolithic and then to say it’s crumbling. And who becomes her model for the possible? John Cage. I like John Cage a lot, but he’s been dead for 25 years. She then introduces another example, Susan Howe, who again, has been around a very long time. If the general poem of our time is under siege from Susan Howe she’s very patient. Perloff does a bit better by bringing in Srikanth Reddy, but bringing him in poses another problem for her. He is a product of, and now teaches at, just the sort of prestigious institution she says ruins innovation in poetry. So, what is she saying the problem is again?

Bah. I give up. It’s a useless argument. We’ve all been here before. The lines are memorized. It’s this little dance we do because we think dancing is what art’s all about.

Fill it in with whatever you want:



Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Next Step

It is the next step up toward the ultimate view of the world, where we make everything symmetric and beautiful.  —Michael Peskin

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lyn Hejinian - The Book of a Thousand Eyes

One of the things Lyn Hejinian does well is to hang her work right at the line where the philosophical meets the daily. It’s an argument of sorts, with thesis and supporting examples. It’s where I like her work the most, as it slips, and where I find the most to go back to. Here are a few fairly random pages from her new book that illustrate what I’m fumbling at:

from The Book of a Thousand Eyes (pg 148-150)


I am not fatalistic
I recognize addition and in addition I recognize things as different from one moment to the next in no fixed sequence as a peanut from a plummet of the sun
I cannot help but go out


Sometimes dogs eat melon rinds and apple leaves but though I know this there has never until now in the dark been an occasion on which I could “happen” to say so unless I were willing to interject the information into conversation as a non sequitur and I’m not since that would contribute nothing to the general good. Talk among us, perhaps at L’s or K’s or perhaps here at home, no matter the degree of animation, no matter the force of our agreements or disagreements, is all intended for the general good. There was talk the other night about forests. B so strongly disagreed with A’s opinion that the adaptation of birds to blighted environments can be regarded as progress that I thought she was going to cry. Then M interjected that his friend T considered vinyl superior to CD’s, and R cracked, “Hurray for crackle.” That was an unpleasant moment, R’s tricks can sometimes be harmful, though I am never able to tell in retrospect whether R has been malicious or clumsy and I certainly never see things coming. Things in my particular experience don’t make ordinary approaches.


This comes after a feeling of vigorous apathy, the joy of being
immobilized, bound, an object
of striking surprise, an object of fact even
a creature observing illusions in the surf
and a group of persons eating peaches
in its reflections, torpid bodies
with active upcast minds, their random thoughts
vindicated by the inevitable meanings adhering
even to nonsense. Then comes the sad loosening
of the bonds, the attachments
having seemed so logical slip.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tick Tick Tick

Tick tick tick

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Boulevard Symposium on The Canon

The new issue of Boulevard is out now with an interesting symposium on “Flaws in the Canon,” where writers were invited to “Name and discuss a literary work generally considered to be part of our ‘Canon’ that because of a serious literary flaw, or flaws, doesn’t deserve to be part of the canon, or, alternatively, name and discuss a work which in spite of a serious flaw has such compensating virtues that it still deserves canonic stature.”

Wayne Miller, Kevin Prufer, Mary Y. Hallab, G.C. Waldrep, William Hastings, Ange Mlinko, and Eric Miles Williamson weigh in on all sorts of things, including Rilke, Kate Chopin, Henry James, Plath, Christopher Marlowe, Byron. The symposium ends with Williamson’s attack on who is creating the canon and how he sees them doing it.

It’s worth your time to find. My piece is on e.e. cummings, in general (the directions clearly stated “work” but I’m not good at reading directions.) Here it is:

It’s illustrative to look at the 1972 volume of essays on e.e. cummings in the Twentieth Century Views series, edited by Norman Friedman. The idea behind the series was to have, in one volume, essays on the contemporary masters, so it’s a pretty safe bet to say these would be essays very friendly to cummings, and though they are, each, in its way, spends much, if not most, of its time on concessions to his faults, and marginally successful attempts to downplay those faults. What one comes away from this volume with is the feeling that even in friendly company, cummings is defined by his many shortcomings (“shortcummings,” I’m tempted to pun). And even to a casual reader, those shortcomings are soon apparent: the simplistic vision, the sophomoric emotional range. His is a world of easy dualities and easy unities, where “mankind” is “manunkind,” and love is erotic love, and, along with spring, brings quick transcendence of this world where war is bad and groups of people can be spoken about with universal condemnation.

Perhaps the best summation of his weaknesses comes from R.P. Blackmur, one of the era’s most influential critics. Blackmur considers himself an admirer of cummings, and, as such, writes, “There is, for the poet, no discipline like the justified reservations of his admirers.” He then goes on to enumerate three of those reservations, writing, “First, there is the big reservation that, contrary to the general belief and contrary to what apparently he thinks himself, Mr. Cummings is not—in his meters, in the shapes of his lines, in the typographical cast of his poems on the page—an experimental poet at all.” Blackmur describes cummings’s formal style as a series of attempts, often failed, at heightening sound down the page, and the reason for the large number of failures is that cummings doesn’t have a standard from which to conduct experiments. The second reservation Blackmur has of cummings’s poetry is that cummings’s vocabulary, in Blackmur’s words, “at many crucial points [is] so vastly over-generalized as to prevent any effective mastery over the connotations they are meant to set up as the substance of his poems.” And, lastly for Blackmur, there is cummings’s tendency to come off as “the small boy writing privy inscriptions on the wall” that neither reach the level of gesture or disgust, but rather tend to sound coprophiliac.

Blackmur’s critique, on top of teaching me the word “coprophiliac,” sets up one half of the hurdle cummings’s work faces in the canon. The other half is the way critics like to have canonical poets to have a great long poem and to have a poet’s work evolve over time. Cummings has done neither. Not only does he not have a great long poem, he doesn’t have a long poem at all. And, likewise, though his supporters take great pains to point out that there is development in cummings’s vision, this development seems to be a distinction without much of a difference. For example, the development of his love poetry over time was to soften the erotic for the transcendent, while retaining the position of love as the easy opposite to this world. Likewise, his forays into painting and playwriting tend to be cases of “the less said the better,” even among his admirers. In all cases, he set up a style early, and stayed there. The one thing critics have to hold up as revealing cummings’s greatness as a large thinker are his prose accounts The Enormous Room and Eimi, which, though retaining something of their spark, are now fairly dated accounts of individualism in the face of state power.

With all this baggage (and there is more, by the way; I’ve just scratched the surface here) floating around his work, why cummings is read or talked about at all, might seem a more apt question than whether or not his work overcomes its flaws. And if all one does is read the criticism, one might be forgiven for thinking this. But then, when one reads the poems, one comes across lines such as these:

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

and one is undoubtedly in the presence of something particular and special, and all (or nearly all) is forgiven. The fact is, cummings simply wrote some absolutely magnificent poems, at least a couple dozen of them, from heightened prose to sonnets. And, in these poems, it’s in his turns of phrase that he is most memorable. As important as vision, experiment, and development are, it is more important, in the final analysis, to simply write well, and cummings simply wrote well. From the early “in Just /spring when the world is mud- / luscious” to the late “i’ll sing // while at us very deftly a most stares /colossal hoax of clocks and calendars,” he didn’t necessarily do it consistently or with subtlety or precision, but he often did it beautifully.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Word

I've decided to stop making or thinking about art, but to go ahead and continue anyway.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tax Poems in the Times

April 14, 2012

Look! April is National Poetry Month and also Tax Time! Coincidence? Well, yes, actually. But it does offer a theme for people to ask for from poets. So cue The New York Times. . .

The results turned out pretty well, I think, for the most part. So is thiss the period style, then?  Here it is if you didn’t catch it:

Tax BreakThe deadline for filing tax returns is Tuesday. Elbow-deep in the language of gross income, of capital gains and losses, of 1098, 1099 and W-2, we asked six writers: Is there any room for poetry?



Catch us up
to where we are
today —

these pants!
this hair!


It’s been a good year
for unique, differentiated products.


I’m more interested
in quarks:

up and down,
bottom and top,

simple units
of meaning.


If self-love
were a mirage,

it would decorate

shimmer over
others’ eyes,

on contact

The author of Money Shot


Somewhere nearby there was a party going on in which a fat man began to jump up and down. “I am a fat man,” he announced, “and I jump up and down whenever I can. Hearing the clink of loose change in my pocket and feeling the rubbery bounce of my body at the same time is bliss.” “I see,” said one of the onlookers, “but all that clinking and bouncing must tax you.” “Being taxed is never a problem,” said the fat man, running his hands over the spread of his body, “I’m too big for that sort of thing.” “So, what will you do when the party is over?” asked the onlooker. “I shall ride my horse,” said the fat man, “to the edge of the empire where I’ll consider my holdings; and of course I’ll eat something. I always eat something.”

The author, most recently, of Almost Invisible


That was the year in which
we had to pay
the tax on love, which

was grief, of course. Of
course, it was
more than we
could ever afford. They’d

heard that story before.

Don’t answer the phone.

But now we know:
If you don’t answer the phone,
they come to the door.

Our only deduction
was our only hope:
The expensive coat

she’d never worn. Not
once. Not a single
stroll along the lake.
Not one snowstorm.

But life went on
and would go on, and
there were atomic
stockpiles to pay for.
The schools
were failing.
The dogs
howled alongside
the coyotes every night.
For which, some personal
responsibility we bore.

But the days were
blinding, as
always, in April. All
that white paper. Such

light, like April. Like
the light that a child, lost
in a cathedral for weeks,
might finally need to eat.

The petals of the lilies
and the communion wafers
and the emptiness peeled
from the bottom
of the empty collection plate.

For instance, she died
with an eye
still open, and
in the pupil —

Yes, I hate to say it:

Of course.
In which a tiny agent
at a tiny desk
with a gleaming
pinprick for a pen

crunched her numbers,
pored over her forms.

The author of Space, in Chains


Generally, there are two problems
With money: 1. Getting it and 2. What
To do with it. Certainly the food bank
Needs your help. The bristled ant.
Girls’ volleyball and these days even
The water supply, even the sky.
As you may surmise by my raiment,
Drapings really, and the primitive
Medium of this message, I have little
To recommend re: 1. Whereas 2.:
Start small. Make a stack of quarters
Then knock them down like an affordable
Coup d’état. Pennies are mostly zinc
So there’s your source of zinc,
An excellent sunblock. If you crumple
A crisp, uncirculated bill then
Uncrumple it incompletely,
It’ll appear to have shrunk as vivid
Visual aid to the recession. Blame
The president. Blame Congress. Blame
Mexico. For dramatic effect
Abbie Hoffman dropped a few hundred ones
On the New York Stock Exchange floor,
The ensuing pandemonium shutting down
The world economy for a couple hours.
Vermeer-owning industrialists
Stared into the nothing-mist. Oil
Magnates and hotel highnesses stared
Into the mist. Squeak, squeak — tiny, pink
Rat-feet on the wheel. My father worked nights
Most his life then died young but we never
Lacked electricity or clothes. I hate
To suppose money makes everyone its slave
But nearly everyone I know is sleep-
Deprived and wants to send a robot-clone
Into work for them. Squeak, squeak. Often
Money, like gin, can bring out the worst
Although once, after a couple stiff ones,
My mother gave you her mother’s diamond ring.
Maybe she won’t remember a thing, we thought
But she wrote it off as a gift on her taxes.

The author of Fall Higher


I put my words in a book tallying what, if
any, accumulated effect the labor will produce.
I use a No. 2 pencil with a rubbed
down eraser. There are scratched
through parts on the paper where I can see
that nothing, really, has come of it.
Nevertheless, it’s a big day.
Someone’s got to give. So I lick
my newspaper print fingers
and ante up. #DimeSucker.
Don’t think you’re hiding in the black
and white. Not the buildings. I don’t mind helping.
I don’t know your neighbors all that well but shoot, sam.
Why you gotta be like that?

The author of (made)


A person speaking
pauses, lets in
a little silence-portion with the words.
It is like an hour.
Any hour. This one.
Something happens, much does not.
Or as always, everything happens:
the standing walls keep
standing with their whole attention.
A noisy crow call lowers and lifts its branch,
the crow scent enters the leaves, enters the bark,
like stirred-in honey gone into the tea.
How rarely I have stopped to thank
the steady effort of the world to stay the world.
To thank the furnish of green
and abandon of yellow. The ancient Sumerians
called the beloved “Honey,” as we do.
Said also, “Borrowed bread is not returned.”
Like them, we pay love’s tax to bees,
we go on arranging the old notes in different orders.
Desire inside A C A G G A T.
Forgiveness in G T A C T T.
In a world of space and time, arrangement matters.
An hour has no front or back,
except to those whose eyes face forward,
whose tears blur thought and stars.
Five genes, in a certain arrangement,
will spend this life unrooted, grazing.
It has to do with how the animal body comes into being,
the same whether ant or camel.
What then does such unfolded code understand,
if it finds in its mouth the word important
the thing that can be carried, or the thing that cannot,
or the way they keep trading places,
grief and gladness, the comic, the glum, the dead, the living.
Last night, the big Sumerian moon
clambered into the house empty-handed
and left empty-handed,
not thief, not lover, not tortoise, just looking around,
shuffling its soft, blind slippers over the floor.
This felt, to me, important, and so I looked back with both hands
open, palms unblinking.
What caused the fire, we ask, meaning, lightning, wiring, matches.
How precisely and unbidden
oxygen slips itself into, between those thick words.

The author of Come, Thief

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thom Yorke on Neil Young and Making Art

If you’re interested in either Yorke or Young, then this is a must watch, all thirty minutes. But it’s still interesting, and at times riveting, even without that, for, as Thom Yorke talks about Neil Young, he's talking about what he values in art in general, in helpful ways. 

On artistic obstinacy:  “In order to survive and stay true to what you’re doing you have to be completely obstinate and you also have to be fiercely protective of whatever the force is that makes you write. It’s not something you can buy.  It’s something that’s fairly intimate and unexplainable.”

He’s also very good on the topic of being lost in the moment, where the whole becomes more than its parts:  “I once watched him [Neil Young] play ‘Cortez the Killer’ with the Pearl Jam band  . . . and there was probably the most sustained wind—I can’t think of another way of putting it—but this wind was coming off the stage as he was playing his solo and it just did not stop, it was just like this force of nature coming off the stage.  It was extraordinary, because if you sat down and analyzed or listened to the bits, you know, there was nothing sort of special necessarily in the elements, but something happens and it all comes together: boom. The idea is to be a channel of what is going on.  And that’s what you should be doing.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rusty Morrison - After Urgency

The type of writing often called “experimental” is especially good at accessing personal crisis.  Why this is, I’m not sure. What I’ve heard from some people is that they don’t know what to do with these poets usually, that they can’t figure out what they’re writing about, what the necessary moment is. 

I’m talking about books like Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy and Rae Armantrout’s Next Life.  These are books that place their question, the artistic question, out front in a way that some people say their other books don’t.  This allows people who wouldn’t usually be drawn to the work of these poets a “way in.”  Once in, the “experimental” nature of their poetry, the fragments, ellipses, and all, are seen not as exclusionary or off-putting as they had been called in the past, but, rather, helpful, meaning-laden. 

It’s an interesting question about what and how the poet frames the art, and how this framing is then perceived.  What’s especially interesting to me is that neither Bang nor Armantrout actually changed their art, or the way they make it.  It’s just that this content, this subject matter, more people can hold onto. 

I’m thinking about this as I’m reading Rusty Morrison’s excellent After Urgency.  It’s also a book of a person in crisis, a book on mourning, beautifully rendered. 

Here are a couple poems:

from Nowhere to say “daughter”
7 In-severing

“My father and mother,” I say.  As if words were a promontory.

What is it that I want to see from them?  How far down,
to the end of memory?

I will bury two urns of ashes.  But not to distinguish gods

from objects, objects from gods. 

The answerer, who stands behind my grief, signals archly. 

A linen to morning’s lingering, which I hasten to call morning light. 
As the bundled grays

of gravel gather to become nothing more than pure distance
ahead of me on the road.

What disrupts even the most obstinately ordinal; fallen twigs
on the earth nearly but never re-fashion themselves

into what was once an abandoned nest. 

Small opossum carcass at roadside. 

Too simple to call that death—a something more solid than flesh. 

Today, the tinsel flicker of saying anyone’s name aloud cuts
quick and sharp. 

How long before I achieve the calloused fingers that can strum
the saying dexterously. 

After Urgency

There is no end to waiting, no mind outside the mind
traveling its gravel path, stroking its strewn flowers,

startled by even a seabird’s wing-extended shadow,
in deepest quiet a thrumming like bare feet running up

wooden stairs, a dark odor as though the clouds were
pouring smoke, tree branches sprouting rag-cloth,

the sky a whitewashed plaster that fractures and falls away
under a finger’s touch, and there is no end to tossing

pebbles and shells that are not the ocean
into the ocean of pebbles and shells. 

Monday, April 09, 2012

Samantha Brick as the Apotheosis of The New Sincerity

And her husband has a rifle! Watch out!

Or a case of too much self esteem?
Or a test case in guerrilla satire?

In any case a fascinating case. Or a depressing case. And if a depressing case, still, a fascinating case.

The femme-fatale! Of course the husband has a rifle!

Millions of hits! Tweets upon tweets! Oh me oh my.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


So what isn't a game?

Genius continues to fascinate me.  What it might mean, or if it has any meaning at all beyond mastery.  Is genius simply an honorific, or does it have a real descriptive value? 

What I like about the term is its “guiding spirit” aspect.  “She sang beyond the genius of the sea” kind of genius. 

From Wikipedia (because why not?):

In ancient Rome, the genius (plural genii) was the guiding spirit or tutelary deity of a person, family (gens), or place (genius loci).  The noun is related to the Latin verb gigno, genui, genitus, "to bring into being, create, produce." Because the achievements of exceptional individuals seemed to indicate the presence of a particularly powerful genius, by the time of Augustus the word began to acquire its secondary meaning of "inspiration, talent."

And then, to kind of blend talent back to the Roman, I think of a genius as a person who functions as a guiding spirit of an age, and that gives me a category within which I can place individuals.  Not just emblematic of a time, but guides to and of a time. 

But what of the unrecognized genius?  Could that person still be a genius?  Or does genius need an observer, a time to guide?  A writer such as Emily Dickinson would be a good example.  She isn’t a genius in 1880, but she is in 1980. 

Monday, April 02, 2012

It Is Not

It is not the artist's job to make sense. It is the artist's job to make art.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

It's Spring, I'm Happy. I'm Spending Time With the Kids, On the Porch

Good luck indeed.

I’m not writing poetry. I suppose I’m still thinking about poetry, but I can’t for the life of me think of anything to post on this blog about it.

I’m happy not to be writing poetry. Specifically, that’s it. It’s not that I’m happy and I’m also not writing poetry. I’m specifically happy not to be writing poetry.

Something happened at AWP this year. I’ve mentioned it to a few people. I mentioned it in passing on the blog. I’ve nothing more to say about it than that. Something happened and I decided to write no more poems. It wasn’t a big thing. No one did or said anything specific that made me say “I’m out of here.” In fact, I’m not out of here. I’m still reading poetry. I haven’t turned my back on art or anything. I just, well, I’ve been to 15 or so AWP conferences now. I’ve seen so many people walking around the bookfair. I’ve read a lot of books of poetry.

But something did happen. Something must have happened, for I arrived home without any desire to write a poem. I didn’t weep over the keyboard or nail a list of grievances to a door. I just arrived home. It might have something to do with the amount of unpublished poetry I have in a drawer: four manuscripts and a box of scraps. Why should I add more? I’ve gotten to an endpoint.

AWP is a whirlwind, and I’ve never really much liked whirlwinds. Maybe that’s part of it too. I had this image of the conflagration of all our poems, all the pages we’ve all written rising above us in a grand mass. And there we are with the piles of our unread art. I can’t keep up. I can’t keep up with all these books that keep appearing. We’re supposed to read them, right? And how many books do any of us read? And how many books are there we could or should read?

I was thinking about this as I was unpacking my many boxes of poetry at the new house. I came across books that I loved from ten, fifteen, twenty years ago.  Whatever happend to some of these people?  These first books of what I was sure were going to be amazing careers. What happened to them? 

I keep missing things. I miss whole people sometimes. And then suddenly here are new books by Bin Ramke, Lyn Hejinian, D.A. Powell, Rusty Morrison. These are people I admire. Books I want to read.  To live with.  And then a new book from Heather Christle, and then a book I completely missed from 2007 from Johannes Göransson. They don’t just pile up, they deluge.

It’s an old problem. We’ve all talked about it many times. The inability to keep up. So for now my resolution is to add no more paper to my drawer. It’s full. It’s a mess. “It’s April Fools Day” they all call out, laughing. And who is the joke on? And who’s making the joke?

In fact, it’s such a mess that I’ve lost Heather Christle’s new book in it somewhere. The book is called What Is Amazing, and the irony is that what is amazing is that it disappeared and I can’t find it anywhere. So I will be halfway though it for a long time, I guess. I started to write a song from it while I still had it, and then it scurried away.

I want one of those lives where things don’t continually get lost. Does anyone have one of those lives? That’s something to aspire to.

This is equally true for new music. Last year I really tried to stay on top of what was happening in music, and found it impossible. This year I’m going to wait for chance operations. Maybe Christle’s book will reappear.

So here’s my way of saying something about What Is Amazing:

And also A New Quarantine Will Take My Place, by Johannes Göransson:

Maybe that can be a kind of participation for a while.