Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pondering the Glut

How much can you eat before, well, before "you know what" happens?
No, I'm sorry, I don' t know what.

One of my favorite journals, The Boston Review, is showing once again why it’s one of my favorite journals.  Here’s a discussion between Mike Chasar and Jed Rasula, where they’re looking at the culture of contemporary poetry.  So is the number of poets (the glut! oh no, the glut!) good for the art form? 


My gut reaction (you could maybe call it my glut reaction) is to say that questions like “Is it a glut?” or “Is it a problem?” aren’t nearly as interesting as questions like “Who is it a problem for?” and “Why do those people think it’s a problem?” For critics like Burt, it’s a problem because it challenges what it means to be an “expert” in American poetry. … how can you be an arbiter of taste if you can’t read everything to pass judgment on it? Insofar as the centrality of Official Verse Culture is affected by a period of glut—where there is no longer an official center—then Official Verse Culture has a stake in the matter.

Here’s the link:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

David Byrne on Books: Will we be able to read our eBooks in 100 years?

I like eBooks. I like physical books, too. It's sad to watch bookstores disappear as more and more folks buy their books online or read eBooks and rarely visit a bookstore. What will be lost and what have we gained in this process?

We've definitely gained convenience—as we did with MP3s. I can carry hundreds of eBooks on my device, as well as newspapers and some magazines. I like the elimination of clutter (or at least physical clutter—there is still plenty of virtual clutter in my life). I like that fewer trees are being sacrificed for paper, but I sense this might be (more than?) offset by the massive amounts of power needed to keep the server farms that hold all our info and support the digital universe going all around the globe.
I like that I can highlight sentences in an eBook and then they appear on a web page so my "note taking" is made very easy. I read a lot of nonfiction, so highlighting is part of the fun, and this little bit of technology makes it easier. Same with the built-in dictionaries—I am the product of a Baltimore public school, and though I have continued my education in many ways there are still words I come across that I don't know, so the built in dictionaries are a godsend.

Books, when well made and beautifully designed, are lovely to hold and behold. There is pleasure in reading a well designed book. A little bit of beauty is added to one's life—something that can't be measured in terms of pure information.

I also have a funny feeling that, like much of our world that is disappearing onto servers and clouds, eBooks will become ephemeral. I have a sneaking feeling that like lost languages and manuscripts, most digital information will be lost to random glitches and changing formats. Much of our world will become unretrievable—like the wooden houses, music, and knowledge of our ancient predecessors. I have a few physical books that are 100 years old. Will we be able to read our eBooks in 100 years? Really?

We're sort of making our whole culture and civilization ephemeral—or more ephemeral than ever—with our rush to digitize.

Lastly, as soon as eBooks can be hacked and distributed for free that industry will really be on its knees—just like the music biz.

Baby Rant At My Own Expense

Bah. My next book is a long poem in Roman numbered sections, all with the same title “In a Landscape,” and, because I started writing it that way, I left them that way, though I’m pretty terrible at counting in Roman, and finding poems in it when I go looking for specific ones, when they pretty much have the same titles, is a mess. Anyway, I’m here to admit to my failure in this regard, as it has ended up causing me to send sections that have already been published out to journals. One would think it would be easy to just write the numbers down (which I do!), but as I’ve done it twice now, where a journal takes something that another journal has accepted (and in the case this morning, actually published), I’m realizing that’s not working well.

I can’t wait to go back to using titles.

Just saying.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

From the “As All Things Must Continue” department:

So anyway, if you’re friends, on Facebook, with the person mentioned in this article, you can go to his page and see his further comments, in which he says that he’s in the “final stages of kicking opiates,” which is certainly a good thing. 

He also says he’s going to be dead in a “couple or few years.”  But as he says, he’s been able to “put away a pile of dough for my wife quite a remarkable one, too--money I would still be making if only I had just kept quiet!  They can't burn me anymore, so I'll be ok.  Someone will snap up my papers, --Boston Univ already has some of them and paid a pretty penny, too, so that's in the Beth find too.  My first chapbook, 15 poems, from 1976 goes for 5,ooo.oo at this point and I'm told it will double in the next decade, esp. with my death--oh God, everyone will love me then--they don't like to see a living poet--there is something unseemly about it.  Later. I have finished books, with contracts and advances, that will appear in 2015 and 2017, possibly one more after that, if I survive”

So I guess he’s OK about it all.  

And now for a second pass. David Biespiel has a few things to say:

" I have never forgotten this last detail: The exposed bully, ______________, walking out of the apartment and leaving the front door wide open behind him for somebody else to close. Some things never change."

There's nothing to be gained by this conversation, I know. It's all old hat, as I well know from Wright's comments on this blog and to me in emails in the past.  But, you know, Biespiel's right: Wright's a bully. I'm glad to see so many people standing up to him this time.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Speaking of Incredible Masterpieces...

Since Hostess is going out of business and all, I went out special to buy my first pack of Twinkies in probably 30 years, and couldn't find one. So much for closure.

Good night, Twinkies. Sweet dreams.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Incredible Masterpieces by Ted Berrigan

Incredible Masterpieces
by Ted Berrigan

Some things we all kind of know, but we need to keep hearing. 

This is my edited version.  The full version can be found here:


I am a poet. There's no question about that, because I have these books, you see, with my name on them. And so I am a poet. You'll find, that's not so funny, actually; you'll find that it'd be very difficult for a long time after you start writing poetry and get interested in it, to have any way to verify the fact that you're a poet. When you go to get a passport and you write down your occupation, you'd be surprised how few people ever write "poet." When you're sitting on the airplane next to a man with a briefcase, and you're going to give a reading, and he's going to a business conference, and he says to you, hello my name is Herman Bluewinkle, and you say, my name is Ted Berrigan, and he says, I'm in electronics, what do you do? And you say, I'm a poet, and he says, holy shit, man. And his eyes get completely glazed over, and he's sure that you're going to whip out all of your poems immediately and read them all to him. Which is the last thing that you want to do. You don't really want to read your poems to anyone, unless

a, they want to pay you for doing it, or
b, they ask you to do it, or
c, you're stoned out of your brain, and you just feel like doing something like that.

But at this age - I'll be forty-two this year - there's no question in my mind that I'm a poet, and that's really all that I am. I've been a schoolteacher, a university professor; I've done a number of other things, too, but essentially I'm a poet; that's my profession. In that sense, I'm a professional poet; it's my career. . . . Lots of people don't like the idea of using professionalism with, in conjunction with the idea of being a poet. . . .

Poetry is my business. I don't know how many of you are interested in making poetry be your business, in the course of your life. It's my conception that it would be a good thing if everybody wrote poetry, in the world, because it seems to me that it's a natural human activity. Just like singing is for the birds. Birds don't sing because they think they're Neil Young, you know; I mean, they sing because that's what birds do. Writing poetry is one of the things that human beings do, and can do. Writing poetry is how you tell your parents, your lover, all the people who don't know you and yourself, who you are, how you feel. The connections are not always made directly.

This is, you can write a poem called "To My Mother," and the chances are ninety-nine out of a hundred that your mother will find the poem out to lunch, and I mean . . . You know, that wasn't the point. But it's very important to write it anyway. If you don't do that, if you don't write poetry, if you don't express yourself, that is who you are, in one or more of the many art forms that exist in the human sphere: . . . [y]ou find yourself slightly gathered up at the shoulder or at the knee, or something like that; you're slightly tight somewhere. Nevertheless, none of that means that you have to be a . . . or make poetry your business.

In the long ago past, poetry was a court activity, and everybody at the court is . . . The ladies-in-waiting and the hand-maidens and the courtiers and the friends of the duke and the king and so on, they all wrote poetry. In China and in Japan and in the European countries, it was expected of you that you do that. It was somewhat of a surprise when someone like Shakespeare, say, wrote poetry. But it wasn't too much of a surprise, because being an attractive youth and being attracted to members of the court, he aspired to that kind of social circle.

[P]oetry is a business; it's a full-time business; it doesn't take up all your time the way working in the A&P may take up all your time, because you don't have to be on the job in that respect all the time; you don't have to go there and be there for so many hours a day and come out. But being a poet is a twenty-four-hour-a-day thing. You're always on. I could be talking about being a painter or being a musician or being whatever, but you're always on. What Allen refers to as mindfulness is simply that. It's a matter of being awake, alive, alert, aware of possibilities. If you're a poet, all of that is partly channeled into the fact that maybe you're going to write some of them down, too.

And so you're caught up in that consciousness if you're a writer that you are; you might write it down, you know, but that's not an unpleasant consciousness, actually; so what if you might write it down; I mean you might not write it down either - you might get hit by a car, too. The thing that I'm stressing is that poetry and being a full-time poet is a full-time thing. And you can hardly do anything else and be an artist, a poet. Probably some of you in the audience . . . and maybe some of you could cite examples of people who have done other . . . William Carlos Williams was a doctor, and Wallace Stevens was an insurance man; there have been others. They were the exceptions, not the rule. The rule is generally, if you have to spend . . .

It seems to me that anybody that writes a few hundred poems ought to be able to write a very good one. Probably should be able to write twenty very good ones. Because the first, if you start writing, the first couple of years you write quite a number of pretty good poems; it's just after that it gets a little hard. And then one wants to see what you do in the next three or four years, and if you're still around after that six or seven years, you're probably going to be around. You're probably going to be a poet. And everybody is rooting for you to do that, but if you don't, it's all right. What the hell. We get ours, you get yours. I mean, it's not quite that brutal, but in a way, it has to be. It's a full-time thing, and particularly the business of becoming a poet.

Now what is a poet? A poet is someone who writes poems. They don't have to be good poems. There are many ways to write poems, but it would probably be more preferable to say a poet is someone who makes poems. What is a poem? A poem is anything that anybody wants to call a poem. Basically because we don't want to bother with that kind of question. It's a stupid, ridiculous question, and one does not want to get into those kinds of definitions. If you think you'll be a poet, you'll know what a poem is. Because you'll recognize it when you see them. And some poems, you see them, and they're good, and that's great. And some poems, you see them, and they're not so good, but both those are poems. Some things are called poems, and you see them, and they're not poems, but they're good to read. If a person wants to call them a poem, that's fine. Some things that you see are writings; you look at them, and they're called poems, and they're not good to read, and they're not poems, and so you just forget, you just ignore them, because everything that's no good will disappear of its own accord in time. You don't have to really worry about that. It's like bad poets, you don't have to worry about who's a bad poet; you know you don't have to go around thinking, god there are fifty bad poets in the world –

Given the passage of a few years and a few more years and a few years, everything finds - in the cultural world in the arts - generally everything finds its own level. And we're left with it. It might take a hundred . . . For a hundred years everybody might think that Shakespeare was reasonably good and Ben Jonson was totally great, but actually in that hundred years, most people probably didn't really think that, but some scholars wrote down that that was true. But in any case, by now everybody knows that Ben Jonson was pretty damn good; he was even more than that, and Shakespeare was wonderful. Everybody knows that so much that everybody thinks that they've read Shakespeare. Which is very funny, actually, because most people haven't read Shakespeare hardly at all. It's imperative that you do read Shakespeare, and everybody else that you're supposed to have read. However, you don't have to do it by tomorrow. I mean, take your time; it's all right. But don't mouth off about something you think you know, that Shakespeare's included in, around somebody that's read Shakespeare. Because they'll just give you, if they have any wit . . . They'll just give you a look that says, huh, what's this guy saying - I mean he's saying something about poems and sonnets and this and that, and he hasn't even read Shakespeare, obviously.

I'm still emphasizing the business about it being a full-time thing, and it's particularly a full-time thing when you're young. Now, it's impossible to be both a student and a poet. What you generally are is a student-poet. Now, there's nothing wrong with that at all, but on the one hand you shouldn't let it crush you in any way that you are that. That's fine. On the other hand, you shouldn't be too overambitious; that is, when you get your fifteenth poem done, you shouldn't necessarily run up and shove them under Allen Ginsberg's or Bill Merwin's or my nose and say, here's my poems, man - take me to Bobbs-Merrill, Random House, immediately, you know. Don't worry; if you're good, and you write good poems, you'll get published, and everybody, and you'll get famous like people do in the poetry world, and everybody will know about you, and you'll be a poet, and that will be fine. And you'll still be fat, old, toothless, boring, and not have any money, and all that, but you'll get to come to Boulder, Colorado, and sit up here and act like you're doing something. And that's not so funny, because you are doing something, actually.

One of the things that you are doing is that you are a carrier of the culture, sort of like Typhoid Mary, but in a good way. The words stay. Which is very nice; I mean words do stay. That's one of the reasons why Ed Marshall was saying that the word is dangerous. Leave the word alone; it is dangerous. That is, don't tell your own story if it's going to give you a nervous breakdown to hear it. And believe me it's going to come close, if you tell the truth. Because human beings are a rotten lot, I mean, generally speaking. However, they're very amusing, and like that's the redeeming quality.

The point that I'm trying to pull out of that is that as a beginning, at the time when you're a student, you're a student, and that is what you are, and that's good. It's very good to be a student; it's good to be a student as long as possible, as long as you can stand it. One of the reasons why it's good is that it's better than most things. At some point you stop being a student. I'm using the word "student" very specifically, that is as an enrolled member of some institution. Not some insane asylum necessarily, but some university of something like that.

When you stop being a student, you're generally faced with the problem of how you support yourself in the world. Many people face that problem while they're students, too, but they're not really faced with it; if they were really faced with it, they wouldn't be able to be students. When you're a student you can always pull some hustle and keep on being a student. But when you stop being a student, then you are faced with how you are going to support yourself in the world. You have these two situations. One is that you have to exist in terms of physical needs, a place to live, things to eat, and all the vast possibility of necessary luxuries, like radios, records, TVs, cars, things like that, shoes, things like that. That's one.

The other one is the fact that in order to be a poet you have to spend your full time on it. Now, what you do with that full time is another story, which we can possibly discuss a little bit later, but the fact that you have to make a living and the fact that you're going to be a poet are contradictory; they're . . . The tensions of the two work against each other, and it's very difficult to do both, in an orthodox way.

You can't get a job and work five days a week and be a poet on weekends. Because if you do that you'll be an amateur. There's nothing wrong with being an amateur, but I'm assuming that you aspire to be something more than an amateur. You'll be an amateur. It's also bad karma to work at a job fulltime and not go at it as seriously as you were going to go at being a poet. Wallace Stevens, incidentally, was not just an insurance man; he was vice-president of the Hartford Casualty Company. I mean there's no sense fooling around; if you're going to do something, you might as well be good at it. You can also be bad at it which is a pleasure, too, but if you're going to be good at it . . . I mean, I mean if you're going to be able to do it, you have to be able to do it well. What you do about the problem of staying alive, making a living, while you're going about being a poet, frankly I can't really tell you. Everybody has to find their own solution.

[Y]ou have to insist with all that natural rage that every human being is born with, and has all their life, that you are, and are going to be, a poet. And that you are going to make the time to do what you have to do, and that you're going to do it all the time, and that if anybody doesn't like it, I mean you know, too bad; I mean you're just going to do that.

Now some of you - you being you and everybody else - some of you probably have talents, and you can go out and do journalism and do various other little jobs for ten or fifteen years like say John Ashbery did, and meanwhile become some sort of major poet. Or you can do what Allen Ginsberg did; you can be a sort of shocking figure in the universe; by virtue of that plus a few nervous breakdowns, and Time magazine, you can become famous and modestly rich; say you could have $6,000 a year, or something like that.

What do you do as full-time poets, twenty-four hours a day? O.K. I don't know what you do each day; I couldn't make you out a daily schedule, but what you do is you read every poet that you can possibly find to read and write as many poems as you can possibly bring yourself to write for as many years as you can possibly do that. And if you stick that out for a sufficient number of years, you will be moderately well-educated about poetry. That will infect your own writing; your own writing will show your mindfulness of the potentialities, the possibilities in poetry and the writing of poetry, and you will become a better and better poet. It may be given to some of you to become a great important major poet, and it may only be given to others of you to be just a good poet.

I didn't even know ’till I was about twenty years old that there were such things alive; I thought there were only these dead people that had been poets. But the poet is anybody that can get to be a poet, because it is within a natural human sphere and scope. And it does require that effort; that is you have to write many many poems, and you have to read many many poems, and you have to cultivate those two habits, so that you will write many times when you don't particularly feel like it and so that you will read, consistently. So that like when you would think that you haven't been writing for six months and then suddenly you feel like writing again, you look in a drawer and you notice that you've got about four hundred fragments of little things that you dashed off here and there and threw in the drawer, because you didn't want to took at things; you didn't think you liked poetry anymore. I mean you have to be very serious about it. Being very serious means, again, mindfulness; it means being alert to the humor of everything.

It's ridiculous to be a poet. It's one of the silliest imaginable things you can be; it's also one of the most important things in the universe, that somebody be. But somebody will be that, because it is that, so you don't have to. I mean if you decide next week that you don't like poetry anymore, and you'd rather be a conceptual artist and make anthills in Colorado, that's all right too. Because somebody else will be, you know it's all right.

But once I read . . . I remember reading once in a copy of Kulchur Magazine a critical article by a fellow named Gil Sorrentino, who believes in the power of the mind to exert itself in some sort of mathematical fashion so that everything in the world generally can be explained in terms of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The synthesis becomes a new thesis which you can have an antithesis to, and so on. And everything is completely explanatory. Except that he doesn't really believe that that means that a god exists. He has never made himself completely clear on that point. But he does think that it means that if you're a poet, you have to sometime in your life read Robert Browning. Now I thought that was very humorous, because in the first place I hadn't read too much Browning because I didn't feel like reading him because he was too muscular and I didn't . . . I always wanted him to take it a little easier when I was reading him, because I like to read; I find reading very intense, and I don't like to be disturbed by guys that are always shouting when they're writing, like Browning is. But eventually actually I read quite a bit of Browning, because I had to teach him. One way to get out of your head sometimes is to become a teacher. Last year I read The Scarlet Letter, actually, which is one of my great achievements in life, and it was a great book, just like they had been saying all this time. I thought that was really terrific, you know. I don't know what good it did me, but it was a great book. I remember I read Ulysses three times, and I never had a fucking clue, as to . . . I mean, there was the implication, that was given by Ezra Pound and everybody else; you know, that if you just read Ulysses, you would become Batman tomorrow, you know.  Alas, that will not happen.

A few years ago, the illusion was, in the world, was that if you read the works of John Ashbery you would become Captain Marvel instantly. Alas that was true. If you read the works of John Ashbery, you would become Captain Marvel immediately.  Unfortunately you would become a junior Captain Marvel of which the giant Captain Marvel was John Ashbery, and furthermore when any other poet read your works, the first thing that they would think is that you've been reading John Ashbery.

I remember Kenneth Koch once telling me, he said imagine what it would be like if you were the only Surrealist at the University of Minnesota. I think that was a profound remark, actually, and it has very much to do with being a poet. Being a poet is very much like the . . . has a lot to do with the way that little children make things. Children can make a game out of anything. And if you leave any special things lying around on the floor the children will get them, and they'll put them, the milk bottle into the shoe, and paper bag, crammed into the milk bottle, and they'll bring it over and say, look what I made, And you say, that's really terrific, that's really great; what is it? And then they say, I don't know; what is it?

Unfortunately, most of you are not little children, And if you . . . actually if you put the milk bottle in the shoe, and the paper bag in the milk bottle, you'd be geniuses, but that isn't what you'll do, what you'll do is say, write down about thirty boring lines about your relationship with your mother, or something, and then you'll bring it over and you'll say, look what I've made. And generally most people will say, Yah, uh yuk, I can't believe it, goddamn are you out of your mind? Why don't you go out and read Dante or something? Consequently, what you need to do - because it is very important when you make something to be able to show it to someone and have them say it is terrific . . . So that you will, I mean it's necessary to get affection, love, a certain kind of understanding; it's also necessary to get encouragement, and it's further . . . It's necessary to be able to make a show.

[W]hat you ought to do is, if you're a serious poet, is to have three or four friends that are equally serious, either poets or other kinds of artists, that you can not necessarily compare notes from - with - and especially not necessarily show your works to and have them say this is really good, but if you just changed this word in the third line, it would be better. Even that's not what you want. What you want is that you're doing something and you're doing it all together and they exist in the world and they serve as character models for you and you for them.

You can't really do it in isolation, is what I'm saying. A next tenet to go with that is I think the greatest thing I was ever told by another artist; I was told this when I was in my twenties, after a specific sort of bad experience, was I was told that it's very important to pick your audience to whom you show your works. If you show your works to jerks, you will get a jerk's response. This may hurt you. It's all right to be hurt, but not if it interferes with the serious business of your being a poet. This jerk that you show your work to may be your best friend, on many levels. But do not show this jerk your works, because they're a jerk about showing works to, you see. You show people your works so that they will be impressed. Show them to people that will be impressed.

[S]tart a magazine, or publish little books, and send a copy to everyone in the world that you want to read them. You'll be surprised how many will read them. They won't necessarily write back, and respond, but they will read them. And if you're good, they'll remember. And at some point in time, they will respond. And you'll meet them, and you'll be introduced to them, and someone will say, John Ashbery, this is Steve so-and-so, and he'll say, oh yes. I've seen your poems in magazines. I enjoyed them quite a lot, and then you'll be knocked out for the next five years, and, you know, you can write incredible masterpieces, you know.




Originally published in On the Level Everyday: Selected Talks on Poetry and the Art of Living, New Jersey: Talisman House, 1997, edited by Joel Lewis and used here by kind permission of the publisher.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

I myself am WIMF

Interesting, kind of weird article in the current APR. 

It’s written by Michael Broek, titled “Weird & Bathetic: Tony Hoagland, The Office, and the Confessional Mode.”

It centers on Tony Hoagland’s poem “The Change,” aware, as Broek writes, that it has “lately come under scrutiny.” 

What Broek is interested in doing here is making a distinction between the Confessional poetry of, on the one side (according to Broek), Robert Lowell and John Berryman, and, on the other side, Tony Hoagland, Dean Young, and Bob Hicok.  This new crew, these new confessional poets, he designates WIMFs: White, Heterosexual, Middle-Class Males with Feelings. 

It centers almost solely on Hoagland and “The Change,” comparing Hoagland’s speaker with the character Michael Scott from The Office. 

The idea is that this character is inept, well-meaning, nostalgic, and naïve. 

The thing about Michael Scott is that he thinks he’s aware of himself, but he’s not.  And he thinks he’s funny, and he’s not.  And his lack of awareness and lack of being funny makes him funny to watch:

As Broek writes: “Hoagland’s manipulation of the reader’s gaze causes us to simultaneously applaud while also being disgusted by his speaker’s language and attitude.” 

I guess that fits.  And this is the moment where Hoagland’s poetry gets him into trouble: “Hoagland the poet knows very well that his speaker’s statements are immediately suspect.”  That’s the crux of it, right?  How aware or not aware Hoagland is of what he’s playing with.  Or maybe not.  Maybe readers who have criticized poems of his, like “The Change,” believe him to be aware of what he’s doing, but not sure WHY he’s doing it. 

Why Steve Carell portrays Michael Scott the way he does is understood, and is obviously comic.  Hoagland’s speaker is (speakers are) much less comic, and more provocative. 

Michael Scott is a tour of ineptitude, the wounded male desperate for community, who has no real capacity for others.  In my reading, Hoagland does tour some, on the surface, similar territory, but he—the poet, not the speaker—is interested in stirring the pot, more than the writers behind The Office are.  he is a self-conscious provocateur. 

I’m not sure the point of comparing The Office with these three contemporary poets, and I’m not sure what to make of this term, WIMF (Is it a movement?  A tendency?  A mode?), but merely pointing as we pass is interesting, even if it doesn’t lead anywhere.  Call it a transitional voice, maybe.  Or the last cry of belatedness, the nostalgia of male dominance masquerading as farce.  Who knows.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Which leaves us helpless helpless helpless helpless

Tupelo is going to publish manuscripts from Harold Schweizer and Annie Guthrie, from out of their open reading period.  That’s good, I’m sure, but what I’m interested in is the length of the lists for Honorable Mention and Other Remarkable Work.  There are a LOT of manuscripts out there.  I just thought I should repost this list.  We’re living in a very crowded room, people.  “The chains are locked and tied across my door,” as Neil Young would say it.  Here's the electric version:
Honorable Mentions:

Seth Abramson, Madison, Wisconsin, Thievery


Desirée Alvarez, New York, New York, Enchanted Ground


Geoffrey Babbitt, Geneva, New York, Appendices Pulled from a Study on Light


Hadara Bar-Nadav, Kansas City, Missouri, Lullaby (with Exit Sign)


Margo Berdeshevsky, Paris, France, The Breaking Book


Deb Casey, Eugene, Oregon, Mothertongue 


Victoria Chang, Rossmoor, California, Dear P. and The Boss


Gary Hawkins, Black Mountain, North Carolina, Worker


Paul Hoover, Mill Valley, California, Gravity's Children / The Windows


Luisa A. Igloria, Norfolk, Virginia, Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser


Diane Kirsten Martin, San Francisco, California, Hue and Cry


Juliet Rodeman, Colombia, Missouri, The Voice Of That Singing


Broc Rossell, Denver, Colorado, Cark


Martha Silano, Seattle, Washington, House of Mystery


Peter Strekfus, Northport, Alabama, Errings


Eliot Khalil Wilson, Golden, Colorado, This Island of Dogs


Sam Witt, Framingham, Massachusetts, Little Doomesday Books


Theodore Worozbyt, Covington, Georgia, Echo's Recipe


Gail Wronsky, Topanga, California, The World in Reverse


Other Remarkable Work:

Angela Ball, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, A Report on the Party and the Guests


Mary Buchinger, Cambridge, Massachusetts, my heart, and all the fields --


John De Stefano, New York, New York, Critical Opalescence and the Blueness of the Sky and Three-Body Problems


Marlon Fick, Wenzhou, China, The Tenderness and the Wood


Harry Griswald, San Diego, California, Under the Piano


Jessica Harman, Arlington, Massachusetts, Overflowing Inner Beauty TV


Judith Harris, Washington, D.C., Night Garden


George Kalamaras, Fort Wayne, Indiana, We Wore Monk Hair


Janet Kaplan, Brooklyn, New York, Chronicles


Jesse Lee Kercheval, Madison, Wisconsin, Extrajera / Stranger


George Looney, Erie, Pennsylvania, The Indefinite Clarity of Sky: Poems of Kinsale


Jacquelyn Malone, Lowell, Massachusetts, The Sedimentary Layer


Sawnie Morris, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, Her Infinite


Addie Palin, Chicago, Illinois, The Cautery


Linda Tomol Pennisi, Syracuse, New York, Miniscule Boxes in the Bird's Bright Throat


Maud Poole, New York, New York, Purse Pistol


Carol Potter, Corinth, Vermont, DNA


Jendi Reiter, Northampton, Massachusetts, Bullies in Love


David Roderick, Greensboro, North Carolina, The Americans


Susan Roney-O'Brien, Princeton, Massachusetts, Thira


Helen Klein Ross, New York, New York, Because of Them


Dennis Schmitz, Sacramento, California, Intimacy


Tina Schumann, Seattle, Washington, Praising the Paradox


Gail Segal, New York, New York, Fault Lines


Peter Shippy, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, this theatre of honey and faded roses


Katherine Soniat, Asheville, North Carolina, A Fan of Bees


Page Hill Starzinger, New York, New York, Vestigial


John Surowiecki, Amston, Connecticut, Significant Others


Joyce Sutphen, Chaska, Minnesota, Sleight of Hand


Brian Swan, New York, New York, World's Shadow


Molly Tenenbaum, Seattle, Washington, Umbilical Travels


Christian C. Thompson, Broomall, Pennsylvania, Low Growth


Daneen Wardrop, Kalamazoo, Michigan, Cyclorama


William Wenthe, Lubbock, Texas, God's Foolishness



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jack Gilbert (1925 - 2012)

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

John Ashbery - The Bungalows

A great way to start 11/7/2012, from John Ashbery.


The Bungalows

Impatient as we were for all of them to join us,
The land had not yet risen into view: gulls had swept the gray steel towers away
So that it profited less to go searching, away over the humming earth
Than to stay in immediate relation to these other things—boxes, store parts, whatever you wanted to call them—
Whose installedness was the price of further revolutions, so you knew this combat was the last.
And still the relationship waxed, billowed like scenery on the breeze.

They are the same aren’t they,
The presumed landscape and the dream of home
Because the people are all homesick today or desperately sleeping,
Trying to remember how those rectangular shapes
Became so extraneous and so near
To create a foreground of quiet knowledge
In which youth had grown old, chanting and singing wise hymns that
Will sign for old age
And so lift up the past to be persuaded, and be put down again.

The warning is nothing more than an aspirate “h”;
The problem is sketched completely, like fireworks mounted on poles:
Complexion of evening, the accurate voices of the others.
During Coca-Cola lessons it becomes patent
Of noise on the left, and we had so skipped a stage that
The great wave of the past, compounded in derision,
Submerged idea and non-dreamer alike
In falsetto starlight like “purity”
Of design that had been the first danger sign
To wash the sticky, icky stuff down the drain—pfui!

How does it feel to be outside and inside at the same time,
The delicious feeling of the air contradicting and secretly abetting
The interior warmth? But the land curdles the dismay in which it’s written
Bearing to a final point of folly and doom
The wisdom of these generations.
Look at what you’ve done to the landscape—
The ice cube, the olive—
There is a perfect tri-city mesh of things
Extending all the way along the river on both sides
With the end left for thoughts on construction
That are always turning to alps and thresholds
Above the tide of others, feeding a European moss rose without glory.

We shall very soon have the pleasure of recording
A period of unanimous tergiversation in this respect
And to make that pleasure the greater, it is worth while
At the risk of tedious iteration, to put first upon record a final protest:
Rather decaying art, genius, inspiration to hold to
An impossible “calque” of reality, than
“The new school of the trivial, rising up on the field of battle,
Something of sludge and leaf-mold,” and life
Goes trickling out through the holes, like water through a sieve,
All in one direction.

You who were directionless, and thought it would solve everything if you found one,
What do you make of this? Just because a thing is immortal
Is that any reason to worship it? Death, after all, is immortal.
But you have gone into your houses and shut the doors, meaning
There can be no further discussion.
And the river pursues its lonely course
With the sky and the trees cast up from the landscape
For green brings unhappiness—le vert Porte malheur.
“The chartreuse mountain on the absinthe plain
Makes the strong man’s tears tumble down like rain.”

All this came to pass eons ago.
Your program worked out perfectly. You even avoided
The monotony of perfection by leaving in certain flaws:
A backward way of becoming, a forced handshake,
An absent-minded smile, though in fact nothing was left to chance.
Each detail was startlingly clear, as though seen through a magnifying glass,
Or would have been to an ideal observer, namely yourself—
For only you could watch yourself so patiently from afar
The way God watches a sinner on the path to redemption,
Sometimes disappearing into valleys, but always on the way,
For it all builds up into something, meaningless or meaningful
As architecture, because planned and then abandoned when completed,
To live afterwards, in sunlight and shadow, a certain amount of years.
Who cares about what was there before? There is no going back,
For standing still means death, and life is moving on,
Moving on towards death. But sometimes standing still is also life.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Welcome Back! Just in time for the election

I’ve been away so long I forgot my password.  Well, I guess the time has come to come back.  In the meanwhile, I was the assistant coach for my daughter’s U-11 soccer team!  It was great, their first year as a club team, and it’ll start back up in March. 

I’m now seven months into my attempt at a year of not writing poetry.  It’s rough going, but I might be up to the task. 

And also, I’ve completed the first draft of Time Is a Toy: The Selected Poems of Michael Benedikt, and am sending it off to Laura Boss (who is still without power in New Jersey). 

To welcome myself back, here are sixteen poems I like:

Matthew Zapruder
American Linden

When you’d like to remember the notion of days,
turn to the barn

asleep on its hill,
a red shoulder holding the weight of clouds.

You could stand still for so many moments.
So little is over and over required,

letting the wind brush your crown.
The lathes of tobacco swing into autumn.

Swallows already discuss the winter.
I know you are tired of imagination.

All that clumsily grasping the sunlight.
Aren’t you tired of bodies too?

Whenever it rains, they fall from the sky
and darken your window.

Clutching each other they call out names
while you sit in the circle thrown by a lamp

and pretend they are leaves.
The potatoes cringe and bury their heads.

Do you see them?
They know where to return when hoofbeats come.

Like you they were not born with pride,
they were born with skins made of earth.

Their eyes are black, and they sing out of tune,
quietly, under the snow.

Thomas Lux
To Help the Monkey Cross the River,

which he must
cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
to help him
I sit with my rifle on a platform
high in a tree, same side of the river
as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
him? When he swims for it
I look first upriver: predators move faster with
the current than against it.
If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey
and an anaconda from downriver burns
with the same ambition, I do
the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
will reach the monkey
before he attains the river's far bank,
I raise my rifle and fire
one, two, three, even four times into the river
just behind the monkey
to hurry him up a little.
Shoot the snake, the crocodile?
They're just doing their jobs,
but the monkey, the monkey
has little hands like a child's,
and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.

John Ashbery
Old-Style Plentiful

I guess what I’m saying is
don’t be more passive aggressive
or purposefully vague than you have to
to clinch the argument.  Once that
happens you can forget the context
and try some new bathos, some severity
not seen in you till now.  Did they
send the news of you?  Were you forthcoming
in your replies?  It’s so long ago
now, yet some of it makes sense, like
why were we screwing around in the first place? 
Cannily you looked on from the wings,
finger raised to lips, as the old actor
slogged through the lines he’s reeled off
so many times, not even thinking
if they are tangential to the way we
slouch now.  So many were so wrong
about practically everything, it scarcely seems
to matter, yet something does,
otherwise everything would be death. 

Up in the clouds they were singing
O Promise Me to the birches, who replied in kind. 
Rivers kind of poured over where
we had been sitting, and the breeze made as though
not to notice any unkindness, the light too
pretended nothing was wrong, or that
it was all going to be OK some day. 
And yes, we were drunk on love. 
That sure was some summer. 

Russell Edson
A Letter from an Insomniac

Dear Mr. Furniture-Maker,

The bed you have made for me is a very difficult one.  When I pull on its reins it rears up protesting the road.  And it seems to fear heights, for when I ask it each night to jump from the window, it hesitates.  It is impossible to sleep in a bed that is afraid of heights . . . I dream so often of the mountains.  I believe this bed is a valley creature. 

Louise Glück

There is a moment after you move your eye away
when you forget where you are
because you’ve been living, it seems,
somewhere else, in the silence of the night sky. 

You’ve stopped being here in the world. 
You’re in a different place,
a place where human life has no meaning. 

You’re not a creature in a body.
You exist as the stars exist,
participating in their stillness, their immensity.

Then you’re in the world again.
At night, on a cold hill,
taking the telescope apart.

You realize afterward
not that the image is false
but the relation is false.

You see how far away
each thing is from every other thing.

Laura Jensen
The Red Dog

You know that he is going to die
as soon as I tell you
he is standing beside me
his hair in spikes and dripping
from his body. He turns his head.
Canadian geese
all of them floating along the shore.
The red dog is swimming for them
only his head shows now
they flap into a curve and move
farther along the bay.
You know that he is going to die
this is the time for it
while there is a way to vanish
while the geese are moving off
to be their hard sounds
as their bodies leave the water.

Jonah Winter
Have you ever been on a steam train ride?
I love trains!
That is why today is a special day for me.
The railroad yard is huge!
The first thing I do is meet the engineer.
Steam makes the steam train go!
Shoveling coal is hard work!
“W” stands for whistle.
The train is coming!
The man in the blue uniform is conductor Bill.
I can see sheep!

Joy Katz
Big Baby

Scraping sounds, metal straining, and the baby—gainly, smooth-skinned—enters the world with its canyonlike spaces and big things going wrong. And quick big things too: shadows from hopping toads on streets dry as pancakes. Even the raspberries hang heavy-lobed; even the grasshoppers make sturdy sounds of lovers pulling up to long tables. Three balloons on rough waxen cord float upward. Welcome! Take big steps. (The baby brings its feet down with aplomb.) No one is inside my head whispering; people speak clearly into loudspeakers on utility poles. Welcome also to the large-and-quiet world: simple shape of mountain, fat emeralds, carven alphabet block, rhinos moving smoothly on dolleys. In the light and air the shadows of the clouds move bigly over the baby’s arms. I speak to it in complete sentences. The baby gains a natural understanding of civics, geologic time, and Canada. Emphasis shifts: the baby will come to accept hormonal changes. Meanwhile it helps itself to large portions and moves about with whales, having learnt to swim in wide shallows. I think up terms of endearment that are not diminutive: my bus, my tarmac. What a relief to crush tininess underfoot into an expanse of sand on which you can find pounds and pounds of whelk. To raise up a house of timbers and catch in it bucketfuls of clear soup! To cart the empties to the dump and listen with equal pleasure to Wagner and Dalrymple. To prefer autumn’s bigger name, fall, and its battering changes. The baby makes big noises, signifying to me its loud big love.

James Tate
Land of Little Sticks, 1945

Where the wife is scouring the frying pan
and the husband is leaning up against the barn.
Where the boychild is pumping water into a bucket
and the girl is chasing a spotted dog.
And the sky churns on the horizon.
A town by the name of Pleasantville has disappeared.
And now the horses begin to shift and whinny,
and the chickens roost, keep looking this way and that.
At this moment something is not quite right.
The boy trundles through the kitchen, spilling water.
His mother removes several pies from the oven, shouts at him.
The girlchild sits down by the fence to stare at the horses.
And the man is just as he was, eyes closed,
forehead against his forearm, leaning up against the barn.

Sarah Manguso
Kitty in the Snow
Meanwhile I fuck this sculpture
In my mind until it melts, then stop. 
Mmm, cold. 
At the party I talk to everyone’s honey
And sip poison and then go home,
Get shitfaced, and get it on with myself. 
I’m so good, I give it to myself every bad way I know. 
I whisper in my ear as I come:
Sarah Manguso, you’re a damn fine lover. 
Maybe someday we can be together, too. 

Michael Palmer


What of the wolfhound at full stride?
What of the woman in technical dress
and the amber eye that serves as feral guide

and witness
to the snowy hive?
What of the singer robed in red

and frozen at mid-song
and the stone, its brokenness,
or the voice off-scene that says,

Note the dragonfly by its iris
but ask no questions of flight,
no questions of iridescence?

All of this
and the faint promise of a sleeve,
the shuttle’s course, the weave.

What of these?
What of the century, did you see it pass?
What of the wolfhound at your back?

Charles Wright

The older we get, the deeper we dig into our childhoods,
Hoping to find the radiant cell
That washed us, and caused our lives
                                                          to glow in the dark like clock hands
Endlessly turning toward the future,
Tomorrow, day after tomorrow, the day after that,
                                                                               all golden, all in good time
Hiwassee Dam, North Carolina.
                                                   Still 1942,
Still campfire smoke in both our eyes, my brother and I
Gaze far out at the lake in sunflame,
Expecting our father at any moment, like Charon, to appear
Back out of the light from the other side,
                                                                low-gunwaled and loaded down with our slippery dreams.

Other incidents flicker like foxfire in the black
Isolate distance of memory,
                                             cross-eyed, horizon-haired.
Which one, is it one, is it anyone that cleans us, clears us,
That relimbs our lives to a shining

One month without rain, two months,
                                                             third month of the new year,
Afternoon breeze-rustle dry in the dry needles of hemlock and pine.
I can't get down deep enough.
Sunlight flaps its enormous wings and lifts off from the backyard,
The wind rattles its raw throat,
                                                 but I still can't go deep enough.

Mary Ann Samyn
Who Are the New Saints & What Are Their Miracles

In the middle of the extremely on-time experience, I kept feeling late. Did someone say “paradox”? Did someone mean “wallowing”?  Did anyone hear me chirp in the museum?  One guard looked over; one looked sad.  Situation in Yellow: my cheek coveting your hand.  At the miniature village, this sign: “Be prepared to see more than you expect.”  Is that possible?, I whispered, cupping your fingers to my mouth.  Or, just imagining that as the freight elevator shook us up. 

Saskia Hamilton
The First Evening

Listen to that drumming, so light it skims along the surface
like the birds at dusk dipping down to the water,
or a nonsense rhyme going on below the song.

He sipped.

Then the evening was over, even though
it was soft and if we were to go on we would reach the sea.

I wore red beneath my shirt.

What was to come?

There was a plank between my shoulder blades
leaning against the wall inside of me, waiting to be put to use by the workmen
who come at six and work until three.

Sleep while you can for tomorrow it will be morning.

Albert Goldbarth

It’s hunger and territory
although we choose to call it song.

Zachary Schomburg
Scary, No Scary

One night,
when you return to your childhood
home after

a lifetime away,
you'll find it
abandoned. Its

paint will be
completely weathered.

It will have
a significant westward lean.

There will be
a hole in its roof
that bats fly
out of.

The old man
hunched over
at the front door
will be prepared
to give you a tour,
but first he'll ask
Scary, or no scary?

You should say
No scary.