Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Nation's Poets Speak Out

Clouds are dealt with, and a promise of wisdom by July (hopefully).

So there we are:


Heather Christle - What Is Amazing

Heather Christle

The Small Husband

If you want to talk to your husband
and your husband is very small
you lie down on the floor
and the floor is cold
but you warm it
and you look at the wall
where it meets the floor
You are five to eight inches
from the wall
and there are no other noises
Traffic everywhere has stopped
for the holiday
but the parade does not come by
for another couple of hours
and you are neither hungry
nor too full
and your body is a long silk bag
full of lightweight batteries
arranged on the floor
so it touches the floor
in the maximum number of places
and math has real-world value
it turns out
which is not all that surprising
and there are weekends and desires
gestating in your throat
pink and hairless
like mammals
and you close your eyes
and say things to your husband
but he is small
no make him even smaller

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Heidegger on Poetry

A few thoughts from Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art” on poetry:

Few are experienced enough in the difference between an object of scholarship and a matter of thought.

Discourse cheers us to companionable reflection. Such reflection neither parades polemical opinions nor does it tolerate complaisant agreement. The sail of thinking keeps trimmed hard to the wind of the matter.

One who thinks greatly must err greatly.

Thinking’s saying would be stilled in its being only by becoming unable to say that which must remain unspoken.

Such inability would bring thinking face to face with its matter.

What is spoken is never, and in no language, what is said.

The unpretentious thing evades thought most stubbornly.

Art is truth setting itself to work.

It is precisely in great art . . . that the artist remains inconsequential as compared with the work, almost like a passageway that destroys itself in the creative process for the work to emerge.

The work lets the earth be an earth.

[T]he poet also uses the word—not, however, like ordinary speakers and writers who have to use them up, but rather in such a way that the word only now becomes and remains truly a word.

There is much in being that one cannot master. There is but little that comes to be known. What is known remains inexact, what is mastered, insecure.

Earth juts through the world and world grounds itself on the earth only so far as truth happens as the primal conflict between clearing and concealing. But how does truth happen? We answer: it happens in a few essential ways. One of these ways in which truth happens is the work-being of the work. Setting up a world and setting forth the earth, the work is the fighting of the battle in which the unconcealedness of beings as a whole, or truth, is won.

The more essentially the work opens itself, the more luminous becomes the uniqueness of the fact that it is rather than it is not.

Each answer remains in force as an answer only as long as it is rooted in questioning.

Poetry is the saying of the unconcealedness of what is.

The truth that discloses itself in the work can never be proved or derived from what went before. What went before is refuted in its exclusive reality by the work.

. . .

And is there any greater fear today than that of thinking?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Claude Royet-Journoud Pt 2

Some thoughts from Claude Royet-Journoud (trans Keith Waldrop) on poetry:

The whole of poetry is preposition.

All writing is built on entropy. The only question is the one of sense, and that is insoluble. Sense has to be caught the moment it develops, while it remains still undetermined.

The trick is to be literal (not metaphorical).

The book “turns” on certain unsettled terms—where the word is searching for definition by the reader.

To found a real on the metaphorical! I prefer surface, the flat, and, frankly, the platitude, since it alone forces the world to answer.

What is written is mute.

Displacing the world, not by changing the world, but by repeating it.

We only “verify” commonplaces.

Form as excess of emotion.

Jack Spicer: Metaphors are not for humans.

“Because they know all the words, they think they know all the verities.” (Joseph Joubert.)

“In fact, to say that beginning is the act by which we begin, is giving a pretty lame explanation.” (Kierkegaard.)

The only “truth,” movement. Movement, not rhythm.

“The real and the true are two different things.” (Robert Bresson.)

“Now it is not the case that everything we say is said with the point entirely clear; more often our mouth speaks by itself.” (Wittgenstein.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

I’m enjoying greatly Claude Royet-Journoud’s the whole of poetry is preposition, translated by Keith Waldrop. I have a lot to say about it and with it, but as I only started reading it today, I’m not wanting to jump in quite yet.

So here’s a short interview I found online, to hold us:

Shearsman No 2 - 1981

Mathieu Bénézet
Claude Royet-Journoud Interviewed


1972 : Gallimard publishes a 96 page book by Claude Royet-Journoud entitled “Le Renversement” (Reversal). In “Le Figaro”, Maurice Chapelan goes wild. Under the title “So much white, so much white”, he writes “That much white would certainly inspire dreams. Why not of a first communion procession in a snowy field ?” “Can you then be surprised that our contemporaries don’t seem to give a damn about poetry or poets! The latter - or their publishers - need only stop taking them for idiots.”

1978 : Gallimard publishes a 112 page book by Claude Royet-Journoud entitled “La notion d’obstacle” (The notion of obstacle). Lionel Ray writes in “L’Humanité” “ Arranging ten lines (the first of which repeats the title, vois ci ) on six pages does not strike me as such a feat; nor does placing one word, “fragility”, all alone in the middle of a page. It’s as if the last century’s Mallarméan enterprise had degenerated into an intellectualism which is naive and, in the last analysis, without perspectives.

What provoked this outburst which borders on an infringement of creative freedom ? Accusations such as intellectual naivete or scorn for the public deny literature its rightful activity, and are closer to denunciation than critical discussion. The review, in fact, goes against the current of literary history, seriously misunderstanding the notion of space represented by the book, which is the object of Royet-Journoud’s work, and that of many others. As can be seen in the following interview, more than the publication of these two books is at stake. The problem is ideological, political, since we are unable to reflect upon the a priori or unspoken assumptions underlying this “critique”.

And then - there is so much beauty and rigor in Claude Royet-Journoud’s writing. I use these words intentionally to express the fact that with his rigor, he exposes a language within language. What’s emotion if not a similar kind of apparition? Read…

it should be blue
the literary color
when we hold wake over a new form of obscurity

(tr. Keith Waldrop. From The Image-Maker)



Mathieu Bénézet : Your texts can be found in poetry anthologies and you are often called a “poet”, but the genre is never indicated on your books. Why?

Claude Royet-Journoud : My books consist only of a single text, the genre of which cannot be defined. It’s as much a question of narration as fable or poem. It’s a book that I write, and I feel that the notion of genre obscures the book as such. If I don’t want a genre to be indicated, it’s because the book, always assuming that one considers oneself to have written a book, is undefinable. In fact, I think “theatre” is the most exact description of my books, in that they are concerned with characters - a bit like a detective story. I might add, quoting Klossowski : “The words assume postures.”

M.B. : How do you interpret the attacks on you?

C.R-J. : I’d prefer to say that reading, like writing, is necessarily “ideological”. If I investigate the motives behind the “paternalistic” review in L’Humanité”, I must admit, with sadness, that it strikes me as reactionary. Not because I am attacked! But because of its assumptions. In effect, the poem is considered as a hermetic object on the page, the book as something finished, completed ; whereas “modernity”, I think, has born witness to the fact that books are open-ended. To structure a book is to seek a disequilibrium where it is necessarily incomplete. You can understand that the ideology underlying this kind of review, the assumption that a book is completed, absolute, , the refusal to consider a book as its very volume, creates a non-existant dichotomy between blank space and text and denies the existence of a mental space which is, moreover, never free of violence.

M.B. : “The notion of obstacle” . . . the title might seem enigmatic.

C.R-J. : What interested me was the etymology of the word “obstacle” to stand before - my position with respect to my work table, the world in a kind of tragic flatness from which a scene begins to emerge, where evrything is represented, imitated: a miniature theatre, if you like . . . which explains why this word haunts me. I must also confess that the etymological relation between “obstacle” and “scandale” pleases me . . . The title should, then, be seen in relation to “Le renversement”, with which it is linked and from which it is separated: It is, in fact, between these two books that a “blank space” can be found, if one insists on it!

M.B. : The blank space which constitutes the effort to write and which is within the text . . .

C.R-J. : Yes . . . In the same sense that it constitutes thought. In order to become act, thought must first be arrested.

M.B. : You spoke about narrative. This is perhaps not evident to the reader.

C.R-J. : I think that there is a narrative, as I said - a plot as in a detective story - in the sense that there is always a search for a missing body, an absent entity, in my books. To state it concisely, there is an accident which permits legibility. How can I explain it? It’s rather like the restoration of a painting when a crack in the surface reveals another image underneath. At this point the real investigation begins. In order to find out what the nature or state of the hidden image is, the restorer scratches the surface in various places, provoking himself those accidents which permit the image to be deciphered. He needs to know if the covered painting is complete in order to proceed…Should he efface or restore the surface image, uncover or blot out the second image. It is not, in fact, a question of choosing between a real but imperfect surface image and a second image which is virtual but solicited. What counts is the “passage” from the surface accident to the virtual image; as the accident changes position, the investigation becomes integrated into the surface, which as a consequence becomes self-narrating. It is not surface and depth - old and new image, which defines my work, but this mobility constituted into the book.

M.B. : You concentrate oh certain words which seem to be the “real” characters in your books . . .

C.R-J. : Yes . . .but only some words (he, she, they, image, sentence, hand, voice sleep, cold, etc.) . . . I work, construct my texts, from the common-place. The fact that I try to narrate with ordinary language is criticised and, at the same time, misunderstood. Let me add that this “investigation” is not a chore, but an activity which excludes neither passion nor emotion. And I don’t mean this metaphorically. It’s exactly this investigation that eliminates the metaphors from my texts.

M.B. : Can you explain how you work, how you arrive at a finished book . . .

C.R-J. : Each of my books is composed of a number of sequences, five to ten pages in length. Each sequence starts out as four to five hundred pages of prose. That’s why it takes me about six years to produce a book! All of this is contained in large notebooks. I write prose texts on the right-hand pages from which I later extract certain elements. These are noted on the left-hand pages. The object of this effort is enter into the mental space proper to the act of writing. This stage can last a long time, until it “gels”. When the text finally takes form, it is distributed over several pages. It is essential to the narrative that the text circulates across facing pages as well as recto-verso; even the volume of the book itself is important. If you will, I always write from within the book, from the very start. Later, when I already have a few pages of text, a sketch, I begin to work on the language, neutralising the text. How? By tracking down and suppressing metaphor, assonance, alliteration - to see what narrative emerges -what appears, embodying this language within a language.

M.B. : A language which is flat, flattened . . .

C.R-J. : Of course. Moreover, it’s this “platitude” which seems to me to incite violence, which is certainly problematic and for which I am criticised unwittingly. The problem resides in literalness (not in metaphor) , the need to to measure language by its “minimal” units of meaning. For me, Eluard’s verse “The earth is blue like an orange” can be exhausted, it annihilates itself in an excess of meaning. Whereas Marcelin Pleynet’s “the far wall is a whitewashed wall” is and remains, by its very exactness, and evidently within its context, paradoxically indeterminate as to meaning and so will always “vehiculate” narrative. This might be experienced painfully.

Translated by Merle Ruberg

And a poem:

Claude Royet-Journoud
The Narrative of Lars Fredrickson

                                          draft one

                                          she crosses over

                                          from one border to another


                                          in that named space

                                         of the neutral

                                         on the pressing spread

                                         where interrogation and rest

                                         figure in


                                         ...near the muscle

                                         an infinitive pain

                                          draft two

relay:                               the dejected sense
                                       that a sheaf beats
                                       and spreads
                                       over the interval, the sum

relay:                               ...OF A FIGURE DISPERSING VERTICALITY

relay:                               simulacrum of a body
                                       the perishing of a scene

relay:                              “my words in your mouth”
                                       that a resemblance disseminates

trans. Joseph Simas

How to Survive in NYC: Two Young Gay Poet Versions

Anne Sexton is back and ready for her close-up.

I find this conversation, which is mostly taking place on various facebook pages, to be oddly interesting. I’m neither amused nor irritated by it. Or maybe I’m amused and irritated by it. Anyway, I don’t have a position, besides thinking it one of those "so that's what's going on in the big city" things that - at least for a moment - makes me very happy to be very far away.

If you don’t know about it yet, here’s a primer: Eduardo C. Corral said this:

“Beauty is on my mind these days. The queer poetry community in New York City is full of beautiful people, which makes me an outsider. I’m not beautiful. I’m overweight. I’m unfashionable. I live in the wrong neighborhood. But let me add: I’m happy. I love myself. I love my life in New York City.

I’m disappointed in many of my queer peers. So many of them want to be part of the hipster crowd. So many of them value looks over talent. The cool kids form clubs, become gatekeepers. So many of my peers are clamoring to be let in. I don’t want in. I want to write poems, I want to read, I want to support others. I believe in community, but I’m hesitant to reach out to some of my peers because I’ve already been spurned by a few. One young man told me, “You don’t look like the rest of us.” But I’m not going to let narrow minds ruin my time in the city. I will continue to show up at readings, at poetry events. I’m here. I’m queer. I’m big. Get used to it!”

One young man told him “You don’t look like the rest of us”? I mean, really, where did this movie get its script? This, I’m guessing, was said to Corral by a real live poet in NYC?

So anyway, it ends there right? We say to ourselves that this sort of After School Special outtake folds under the rug and Corral finds a better group of friends. That’s what I thought would happen. Eduardo C. Corral needs better friends.

But then I just, through facebook, came across this essay at Lambda Literary. It’s all about Anne Sexton’s beauty, and her selling her beauty as part of the Anne Sexton Experience ("Are you experienced?"):

“Sexton was a star, her readings famously standing room only and her fee among the highest of any working poet. ‘An actress in an autobiographical play’ (as she once described her public persona), she had succeeded in a calculated move to market herself as the mad housewife turned poet, never forgetting the fact of her beauty, or how essential it was to her self-performance.”

And then:

“Recently I’ve been thinking about her a lot, as there’s a conversation about beauty happening today in the world of gay poetry. Mostly it’s a whispered conversation, conducted behind backs, reflecting a discomfort with a shifting landscape in which a gay poet’s self-presentation seems as important to his success as do his poems.”

OK, so this is going to support Corral in some way, right? Make a claim against this kind of theater? Well, no. Instead, it goes here:

“Though I’m impressed by Corral’s candor, and lament his experience of exclusion because of his appearance, I bristled when I read this. I found myself worrying that this sort of attitude, taken a bit further, could lead to the devaluation of something important to me—namely, fashion and beauty. Moreover, I’m afraid such an attitude sets up a false dichotomy: looks or talent, style or substance. I refuse to settle for one or the other. Silly as it might sound, I want to be beautiful and I want to write beautiful poems.

I’m not, of course, arguing poets need (or should) be good-looking, nor do I advocate exclusion within the gay poetry community on any basis. I’m certainly not claiming the hunger for celebrity I share with Sexton is noble. But this is the truth of my life: I’ve wanted to be famous longer than I’ve wanted to be a poet. And I’m apprehensive about what happens when we privilege one experience of the world over any other. I may be young, I may be an aesthete—I may one day recall my great longing to be desired as frivolous—but I don’t believe that makes my experience any less worthy of artistic representation.”

So, go here for the full essay:

It’s a window. Or maybe it’s a door. But I’ll stick with window:

Those fifteen minutes as a model have finally paid off!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Any Given Wednesday

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

I’ve been having an interesting time reading the new issue of the literary journal Fifth Wednesday, as it came in while I was thinking more about Marjorie Perloff’s complaint in Boston Review, which got me back to thinking about very different takes and complaints by Tony Hoagland, etc.

And so here is a journal with several of the poets I think of as “the general aesthetic” of our contemporary version of American poetry: Kim Addonizio, Bob Hicok, Tony Hoagland, and Dean Young. They are not “Pulitzer prize winner” popular (though any of them could be at any moment), but they are the ones I often see on the marquee of AWP advertizing and other festivals and PBS News Hour emails. So here are four “A-listers” together in a journal with new poems. The issue has many other poets as well, not quite as well known, but also part of what I would think of as the general middle of the zeitgeist: Allison Joseph, J. Allyn Rosser, James Harms, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, and Mark Halliday. And then there’s Donald Revell, certainly well-known, though I’m not sure how “popular” he is.

If I’m right in categorizing these poets as representative of where mainstream poetry is at, then finding similarities in their work would describe the tendencies of mainstream poetry.

(Disclaimer: I also have work in this issue of Fifth Wednesday, but I’m going to ignore it.)

The poems I read by these poets do seem to indicate a (maybe slight, but still readily apparent) turn away from the description of poetry that many have been using to describe Post-confessional, pseudo autobiographical poetry for the past decade or three, namely, a poetry of small domestic measures, that through vaguely heightened language and heavy use of simile, bring the reader to an elevated epiphany, some general statement on the union of souls, or somesuch. At least that’s a version of the negative description I’ve heard of the tendency, and it seems to be the one Perloff is still working from in her Boston Review essay. Contrary to that, Hoagland, in several essays over the last few years, has postulated a “skittery poem of our time” in which all things were shifty and provisional, ironic, and aphasic. At least that’s my version of the negative extreme of his position.

This is mostly a waste of time, this chasing a description of a period, but people keep doing it. So here I am sitting here with this journal, looking at these poems. In many ways it’s a random journal of a random group of poets, but, in a way, maybe that’s a better way to take the temperature of the times.

In this issue, Kim Addonizio has two poems. The first, titled “Divine,” is addressed to a “you” who could easily be an “I,” described as in the “middle of your life,” who then meets a man and then has a bad go of it and finally is left alone again. It’s a love/loss poem, but what makes this different is that Addonizio has decided, rather than to use autobiographical-sounding language, to use more dreamlike and self-aware language, so the you, after outrunning all the werewolves of youth, ends up in a field:

There was one man standing in it.
He held out his arms.
Ping went your iHeart
so you took off all your clothes.

After a time, the relationship sours. Or, for the poem’s purposes, it must sour:

Something bad had to happen
because no trouble, no story, so
Fuck you, fine, whatever,
here come more black trees
hung with sleeping bats
like ugly Christmas ornaments.

What’s interesting to me in this and the other poems in this issue is the way Addonizio is incorporating what would be described as the methods of Skittery poetry to write a very Not-Skittery poem. Why this is interesting is because it changes the way people tend to want to describe contemporary poetry. “One type of poetry writes this way while another writes a different way.” That sort of thing. When really the consideration is different. Addonizio is using imagery more akin to the poetry of those skittery younger poets like Heather Christle or Zachary Schomburg (as my two super easy examples), but to retain her desire for the reader to always know exactly what she’s saying.

What we should and could be talking about is less the methods and strategies of poetry writing and more the values the poems exhibit. Addonizio and Hoagland and Young and Hicok all share the value of communication. They, even as they’re playing with image and association, are not trying to dislocate the reader, but to bring the reader to stay on track to the inevitability of the poem’s conclusion. This is not, in strategy, the way Perloff is describing the mainstream poetry of our time, but it is in value.

That’s one example, but the poetry of most of the other people above fits generally in that same description. Hoagland has a poem titled “Warning for Shoppers” where he addresses a “you” in a life that’s a version of a fantastic supermarket, full of real things such as “wasp spray that smells like fresh citrus” as well as more metaphorical things such as “a capsule that eliminates / ambivalence,” but what you can’t get is a way to keep the “hope and disappointment / of being human / from rising and rolling / / off you in waves.”

Method-wise this poem, as well as Addonizio’s, is working in the role of the imagination to advance the poem, while value-wise, its wanting to transfer a common experience back to the reader, relocating the reader where the reader already was: You can’t buy happiness.

It’s poetry such as this that defies the easy categories, when talking about modes and strategies. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Songs from Books of Poetry

It looks like I’ve stopped making song versions of books of poetry. I was hoping to get to ten, but I only got to five. Maybe I’ll go back to it. But, either way, it was fun. So here’s my EP then. If you want, you can download them. Freebies!

“Next Life”
Derived from Rae Armantrout’s book of the same name.

“A Joke I Keep Telling Myself”
Derived from Johannes Goransson's A New Quarantine Will Take My Place.

“What’s Amazing”
Derived from Heather Christle’s book of the same name.

“Your Father on the Train of Ghosts”
Derived from the Waldrep/Gallaher book of the same name.

“No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear”
Derived from the book of the same name by J.A. Tyler and John Dermot Woods.

Friday, May 11, 2012


In which one gets one's ducks in a row.

Once again, the world would be a more interesting place if poets were taken as seriously as visual artists. In the meanwhile, we have to extrapolate:

from Altermodern: A Conversation with Nicolas Bourriaud

NB: The Radicant , which is now out, is . . . . a critique of postmodernism as an ideology and as a historical narrative, and an attempt to define what’s next, that I name the ‘altermodern’. But to answer your question, The Radicant also prolongates and deepens some aspects of Postproduction, clarifying the political statement of this earlier book. Basically, it insists on the difference between appropriating and what I call ‘formal collectivism’, and attributes a positive value to precariousness as a cultural phenomenon. In a way, it is about the value of programming and deejaying as methods: what does it mean? What do artists actually do when they use already existing forms? What ideology does it relate to?

To cut a long story short, what we traditionally call reality is in fact a simple montage. On the basis of that conclusion, the aesthetic challenge of contemporary art resides in recomposing that montage: art is an editing table that enables us to realize alternative, temporary versions of reality with the same material (basically, everyday life). Thus, artists manipulate social forms, reorganize them and incorporate them in original scenarios, deconstructing the script on which the illusory legitimacy of those scenarios was grounded. The artist de-programs in order to re-program, suggesting that there are other possible usages for techniques, tools and spaces at our disposition.

The cultural or social structures in which we live are nothing more for art than elements to be used, objects that must be examined and formally addressed. That, to my mind, is the essential content of the political program of contemporary art: maintaining the world in a precarious state or, in other words, permanently affirming the transitory, circumstantial nature of the institutions and the rules that govern individual or collective behavior. The main function of the instruments of communication of capitalism is to repeat a message, which is: we live in a finite, immovable and definitive political framework, only the decor must change at high speed. Art questions this message, and reverses it. It is an idea that was actually the core of Relational Aesthetics already, the Marxist idea that there is no stable “essence” of humankind, which is nothing but the transitory result of what human beings do at a certain moment of history. I think this might be the cornerstone of all my writings, in a way.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Getting All Misty Over Fear Fun

J. Tillman as Father John Misty

Far and away the biggest surprise for me, and my favorite album of the year so far, is J. Tillman's new project as Father John Misty. I wasn't a big fan of either Tillman or Fleet Foxes, but boy do I like this Father John Misty thing.

And here I was thinking 2012 was going to be a competent, unexciting year in music.

Here's a typical review:,73222/

“But the myths that most fascinate Tillman derive from his new home, a famed hillside community that immediately conjures all kinds of hippie dreams and Hollywood nightmares. The death-obsessed folk-rocker “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” is a direct homage to Young’s On The Beach, a record that shares Fear Fun’s sense of spiritual confusion and sardonic cynicism about the canyon’s tweaked culture. “I’m Writing A Novel” takes this weariness in a likeably lighthearted direction—this is where the talking dogs show up—that carries over to the whole of Fear Fun. Tillman soaks up the sounds, smells, and free-floating strangeness of his environment, and revels in its humanity.”

You can listen to the whole thing on SoundCloud (and rip it if you're clever, but you should buy it instead) through this site:

Seriously good music. Just saying.

Here’s a clip of what promises to be an eccentric and excellent stage show:

Is J. Tillman going to turn out to be a Bowie-like chameleon? Who knows. I just hope Tillman keeps this Father John Misty thing going awhile.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Under 35 in 1989

I'm moving my office this month, and look at the sorts of things I'm finding!

Nicholas Christopher introduced the new generation of poets in 1989 in Under 35: the New Generation of American Poets.

It’s not really how right or wrong he was about specific poets (some of these poets have continued to be widely anthologized and talked about and some haven’t, which is always the case), but more, what interests me is the slice of American poetry he saw then.

America is an “[e]mpire in decline, from all indications,” he says in the introduction. And “every poet is writing his or her personal history, but also a history of his [or her] times.”

Here they are, or were, then:

Judith Baumel

Bruce Beasley

April Bernard

Lucie Brock-Broido

Cyrus Cassells

Henri Cole

Connie Deanovich

Lynn Doyle

Cornelius Eady

Martin Edmunds

Elaine Equi

Martin Espada

Kathy Fagan

Suzanne Gardinier

Martha Hollander

Lynda Hull

Vickie Karp

Wayne Koestenbaum

Victoria Kohn

Robert McDowell

Askold Melnyczuk

Carol Moldaw

Karen Murai

Jane Oliensis

Brenda Marie Oxbey

Jacqueline Osherow

Donald Revell

Mary Jo Salter

Vijay Seshadri

Jason Shinder

Jack Skelley

Mark Svenvold

Cole Swensen

David Trinidad

James Ulmer

Valerie Wohlfeld

Cynthia Zarin

So what version of the forming canon was Christopher seeing? This anthology is weighted heavily to poets who looked a lot like, in their content and form, the poets of the generation before them, typified by the poetry of Sharon Olds.

Here’s a poem, which opens and is typical of the anthology, by Judith Baumel:

The New York City World’s Fairs
1939 and 1964

for my mother

We visited the world’s fair
thirteen times and saved a brochure
from every pavilion.
When you were my age then,
with a Heinz pickle pin
on a brownie collar,
you trooped through the Dawn of a New Day,
the World of Tomorrow;
marched up the Helicline
and saw Billy Rose’s Aquacade.
You went back for the thrill
of stepping on a board that yelled,
“ouch, that hurts” or “don’t tread on me.”
GM’s bright Futurama between
the Great Depression
and the Second Great War.
I put 50 cents in a machine
at the Sinclair pavilion and it produced
a fresh warm plastic dinosaur.
That was man and science—
dinosaur to oil, oil to plastic.
I wanted and got another.
You wanted to teach the family possibilities,
to show man’s clever exhibitions,
but the future I came away with
was an entire house
of impermeable Formica where I wept
because my brother was lost
for the fifth time that season
and you’d gone to some hamburger-
shaped tent to pick him up again.

But, what’s equally interesting about this anthology is the inclusion of poets like Cole Swensen, Donald Revell, and Elaine Equi, who would go on to typify a very different strain of American poetry.

If there was any truth in Christopher's description of America in 1989, it's only more true now, so it's not surprising, then, that looking at this anthology now, it’s hard for me to say much has changed in American poetry in the last 23 years. Whatever the debate was is still the debate.

Something to think about, at least, while waiting for the complex transformation to get here.  I'm going to the porch now to watch for the foederati.

Thursday, May 03, 2012


Estragon: I can't go on like this.
Vladimir: That's what you think.