Saturday, March 23, 2013

Cinderella - Alfred Starr Hamilton

This wonderful poem from The Boston Review:

Which also includes a web-only interview with Chris Martin and a review of Carson and Bang, and more.

Alfred Starr Hamilton

 were you ever a little reindeer
 out in the clear
 not too tiny a reindeer
 but a little reindeer
 and the way was clear

 were you ever a little reindeer
 out in the rain
 not a big rain
 but a little rain
 and the way was clear

 and you had your umbrella with you
 not too big an umbrella
 but a little umbrella
 and your name was Cinderella

 wonderfully you were invited
 to a ceremony
 not too big a ball
 but a little ball
 and you had your umbrella with you

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Miguel Hernández - Lullaby of the Onion

Don Share saying something like, "Aw, don't take my picture..."

Far and away my best AWP moment (as the conference itself goes and why it was created in the first place) was Don Share reading his translation of Miguel Hernández's poem “Lullaby of the Onion.”  What to say.  Well, number one, I'd never heard it read before.  And number two, after it, when he said his own poems were not going to be able to stand up to it, I wanted to stand up and say, that's OK, none of our poems will either.  Here it is:

Lullaby of the Onion
Miguel Hernández

(dedicated to his son, after receiving a letter from his wife
in which she said she had nothing to eat but bread and onions)
Translated by Don Share from Miguel Hernández

The onion is frost
shut in and poor.
Frost of your days
and of my nights.
Hunger and onion,
black ice and frost
large and round.

My little boy
was in hunger's cradle.
He was nursed
on onion blood.
But your blood
is frosted with sugar,
onion and hunger.

A dark woman
dissolved in moonlight
pours herself thread by thread
into the cradle.
Laugh, son,
you can swallow the moon
when you want to.

Lark of my house,
keep laughing.
The laughter in your eyes
is the light of the world.
Laugh so much
that my soul, hearing you,
will beat in space.

Your laughter frees me,
gives me wings.
It sweeps away my loneliness,
knocks down my cell.
Mouth that flies,
heart that turns
to lightning on your lips.

Your laughter is
the sharpest sword,
conqueror of flowers
and larks.
Rival of the sun.
Future of my bones
and of my love.

The flesh fluttering,
the sudden eyelid,
and the baby is rosier
than ever.
How many linnets
take off, wings fluttering,
from your body!

I woke up from childhood:
don't you wake up.
I have to frown:
always laugh.
Keep to your cradle,
defending laughter
feather by feather.

Yours is a flight so high,
so wide,
that your body is a sky
newly born.
If only I could climb
to the origin
of your flight!

Eight months old you laugh
with five orange blossoms.
With five little
With five teeth
like five young
jasmine blossoms.

They will be the frontier
of tomorrow's kisses
when you feel your teeth
as weapons,
when you feel a flame
running under your gums
driving toward the centre.

Fly away, son, on the double
moon of the breast:
it is saddened by onion,
you are satisfied.
Don't let go.
Don't find out what's happening,
or what goes on.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Another AWP another opportunity for Tony Hoagland to almost get it right and then blow it

R236. Camouflage and Capitalism: The Intellectual Appropriation of American Poetry, Sponsored by Alice James Books. (Laura McCullough, Tony Hoagland, Kathleen Graber, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Peter Campion) Alice James Books presents Tony Hoagland on the state of American Poetry. Hoagland will present an essay on poetry as camouflage, as something smuggled into the culture and how the poetry community hides behind the overintellectualization of aesthetics.  Kathleen Graber, Reginald Dwayne Betts, and Peter Campion respond, offering assessments of the current condition of poetry in this dialogue and debate moderated by Alice James Books board member, Laura McCullough.

So this was the panel description.  It was on Thursday.  There were several takeaways: 

The essays were all interesting and I hope they’re being published somewhere, as none of the presenters, I believe, read their entire papers.  Maybe Kathleen Graber did? 

To begin, I have sympathy for Tony Hoagland.  He’s a humanist.  He advocates a human approach to art with which I reflexively feel kinship.  But then he starts talking, getting specific, and I start to cringe.  His opening essay, which I’m not going to be able to summarize (I should have recorded it.  I even thought about it.), had a few different points, some of which, as I said, I generally could go along with, but specifically, or when he added examples, I found disagreeable.  The other presenters did a pretty good job of deconstructing them, so again, I wait for the recording to surface. 

Basically, here are the main points, which Hoagland admitted are not final, but are open (opening) questions: 

1. Soul is a bad word in workshops and in discourse on poetry, and has been supplanted by “intelligence.”

2. Wisdom is a bad word in workshops and in discourse on poetry, and has been supplanted by “intelligence” and “cleverness.” 

3. Poetry, under these pressures, has gotten too “intelligent” and lost its humanity (or something like that), as evidenced by a poem example from Ben Lerner. 

4. The university system is largely to blame. 

There is, as with most essays on poetry, some truth to Hoagland’s claims.  One can always find, as Peter Campion agreed, some bullshit poets out there.  But I have to echo Campion when he says that he was (as I believe Kathleen Graber and Reginald Dwayne Betts also noted) unaware that “soul” and “wisdom” were terms non grata. This is a major flaw in Hoagland's thinking, taking an example (this time a casual conversation with a friend about poetry, where the friend uses word like "dumb" and "stupid" in disparaging some poets) and then conflating it to be a general method.

It seems to me, at times like this, that Hoagland is laying his perceptions of what’s going on over the reality of what’s really going on.  We all do this, sure, but when Hoagland does this by proclamation in a large public setting, he’s setting himself up. 

His premise/premises, in my experience, are simply wrong.  (Right in some places in some poets, but wrong as a generalization.)  And also, his assertion that the “thinky,” “overintellectualization” of contemporary poetry can largely be laid at the feet of academia (we mostly have academic jobs, therefore we privilege academic discourse in our poetry) I find to be severely reductive. 

Hoagland’s arguments, while not without merit, rely on strawman props, which became all the more ironic after Peter Campion delivered his spirited reply to Hoagland’s essay.  At that time, as Campion went last, Hoagland, visibly angered, demanded the microphone for a rebuttal, and delivered a direct attack on Campion (first briefly praising Kathleen Graber and Reginald Dwayne Betts) as a symptom of what’s wrong in contemporary poetry and criticism, and specifically charging him with having committed an immoral (maybe he didn’t say "immoral," maybe it was more like “unconscionable” or something similar) ad hominem attack on Hoagland’s primary source, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, by Lewis Hyde. 

Basically, Campion’s argument went like this: beware the call for “soul” and “wisdom” in poetry, because these terms (and he was NOT saying that “soul” and “wisdom” are bad things, by the way, just dangerous as criteria) can lead one to make value judgments on poetry from outside the poem itself, for example, the way Lewis Hyde dismissed the work of John Berryman because of his “moral failings” (specifically alcoholism). 

It seemed a valid example to me, but it upset Hoagland. 

If the panel had ended there, with just the four essays (and without the Hoagland mic-grabbing finale) it would have been an interesting swirl of positions and thoughts, but as it stands, it’s now another example of Hoagland’s thin-skinned, aggressive nature.  I left the panel thinking only of Hoagland vs Campion, while the interesting and valuable thoughts of Kathleen Graber and Reginald Dwayne Betts were almost completely effaced from my memory. 

I hope, as I said above, that the essays (or the recording) will appear somewhere.  I’d love a chance for those who weren’t there to weigh in on the ideas (not just Hoagland's outburst). If I get the opportunity to see them, I'll link to them or post what I can, as there's a lot of interest (some of it being Hoagland's ideas) that I'm not remembering.  


Someone made a comment on this post (right around comment 80) to ask why I keep “attacking” Tony Hoagland on my blog.  The person then when on to suggest I do something else with my time, making a joke about my “soul.”  This reminds me that I should clarify my position. 

This is what I wrote in response:

Well, I guess that needed to be said. But from my point of view, it’s more like “Why does he keep hammering at this?” This paper is another version of “The Elliptical Poets Have Ruined Poetry” that he’s been doing for years. I don’t get the luxury of choosing my “targets.” What Hoagland says with a broad brush against a type of poetry I admire forces me to respond.

I have never (to the best of my knowledge) attacked Hoagland’s poetry. Responding to his attacks is a responsibility, just as, for him, making the attacks against a type of poetry he thinks is “bad” is his responsibility. For the health of my real soul, I must respond. I will continue to say my piece to his. Just as you’re tired of hearing me go on, I’m tired of him going on. I’m tired of the fight. But, you know, as he has said:

“I'm not one of those people who eschews value judgments of our art, who beams benevolently on all examples of all aesthetics. I believe that judgment is an accessory and an accomplice of taste. I myself love to make and to contemplate descriptive pronouncements of aesthetics. At their best, expressions of judgment are enlivening; they offer the authentic challenge of accuracy and discernment. Critical proclamations offer an audience—readers or listeners—a compressed, potentially illuminating descriptive summary of an artist or a work of art, to verify or disagree with.”

If he’s sincere in this, then a response should be welcome, and disagreement allowed. You can accuse me of whatever, but you could also accuse him of a vendetta against Ben Lerner, for example, who is his only example in his paper on “what’s wrong with contemporary poetry.” After the presentation, he said that Peter Campion was also what’s wrong in the conversation about poetry. If he’s allowed to continue to hammer away at what he sees is wrong in poetry, I must also be allowed. I don’t think Tony Hoagland is what’s wrong in poetry. He’s just saying his piece. What’s wrong is the large microphone he gets, and the deference paid to his accusations.

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Laurel Review at AWP 2013 Table S-3

Hey there!

So, are you going to AWP?  Well, if so, The Laurel Review will be at Table S - 3. That will be on the second floor. We'll be selling subscriptions. One year for $5.00 and two years for $10.00 (plus a chapbook!).

Here's a link to the maps: