30/4/2003

Joe nominates Mark Strand for the poet without qualities award.

Jordan and Joe Duemer have already linked today to this particulary noxious Newsweek article by a guy named Wexler who claims to be a writer but can't name a single living poet. I wrote an email to Newsweek asking them to let me respond. I'm sure they won't. I would think, just on the level of simple journalism, that the magazine would want to investigate whether poetry books are selling more copies now than in Wexler's college days, when he used to read Lowell and Berryman in order to impress women he dated.
Why do I see the blog as something that most be fed?
Catherine tried out some of these. I'm very flattered.

But you're not supposed to do them ALL AT ONCE. That could be seriously confusing.

Jonathan Mayhew = wellbutrin, expresso, guinness
My "Creeley Variations" is a series of rewritings of "I Know a Man" in the style of other poets. Sort of like Queneau's stylistic variations. Most didn't work out too well, but the Reverdy and Scalapino sections are presentable:

(Reverdy)

un oiseau

un ami
je lui ai parlé

Jean, j’ai dit

qui n’était
pas son nom

l’obscurité nous en-
toure

qu’est-ce qu’on peut lui faire?


quelque-chose d’autre
pourquoi pas?

acheter une voiture
énorme

la conduire

pour l’amour de dieu
a-t-il dit

fais attention!


(Scalapino)


The man taking me in the car, whom I hadn’t met before, though his name was not John I supposed him to be in the car, the other one having been in the garage--and not wanting to have intercourse at the moment.

_________


Otherwise not having had to make a decision, about what his name was, until I spoke to him. Defining him as a friend, though his name was not John as far as I could see. Other than that the sense was I was always talking--not having purchased the car from the want-ads.

_________


Having defined him as a friend and not calling him anything in particular--except when talking to him. That particular statement, since it was not dark outside, in an unusual context. Otherwise not having intercourse except in the car.


_________


The sense of being surrounded and defining darkness as a substance--in which to have intercourse. The peculiar inference derived from a way of saying goddamn--as though purchasing the car was the context. Otherwise his name could not be said to be John.

_________

Having been warned, talking about a car not yet purchased yet riding in another car--the sense of there being three cars or perhaps only one--if not having had intercourse is the context. Otherwise defining him as a friend named John but not listening to the warning.

Here's a handy html cheatsheet. If I really knew html I could get a job in the real world.
I have to revise an article for a book I'm contributing to. Of course, the deadline is today and I haven't started yet. All work is avoidance of harder work. Where did I hear that today? At least two other blogs.
Now if anyone can tell me how to do a "mail to:" link in my template.

Later: not that hard, go to the "help" button on the blogger. Why didn't I think of that before?

I'm filling in the blanks for the Poetics Seminar next semester. I'm inviting Jordan Davis for the Spring. Fall will be local Kansas people.
The way I first started with links was going into my template, highlighting the text of an existing link, and pushing "copy" on my edit menu (I use an iMac). The I would "paste" it into my post. Finally, I would change to url to what I wanted it to be for a particular link. Then I had the bright idea of just copying down the code onto a piece of paper I keep next to my computer for handy reference. That way I can copy and paste from an archive link to someone else's blog, then fill in the rest of the code. I hope this is helpful, Nick.

29/4/2003

"I can see the sun. I know the sun is important. I write about it."

That is Julia's explanation for her most recent poem, which she wrote and posted last night without consulting her mom or dad.
I should explain that the nickname for the University of Missouri is "Mizzou." Since Missouri teams are rivals of Kansas, "Muck Fizzou" is a popular tee-shirt slogan 'round these parts.
A "Muck Fizzou" tee-shirt, is that logopeia?
The etymology of the word "subtle" is "sub tila," or "under the lime tree." Naw, probably not. My dictionary says "sub tela," under the fabric.
Jordan on Olson's Kingfisher. This might be relevant to forcing oneself to like something. But don't you have to already like something a little bit to keep trying? I love much poetry that I don't understand in the slightest. I have a high tolerance for not understanding, which helps me like poetry that others might not.

For new bloggers trying to include links in their posts. Type a little <

then

a href="http://mystupidblog.com"

>stupid guy<

then

/a>
Pound's triad of terms implies (for me at least) that one can measure these aspects of poetry quantitatively. This is useful: we can measure how much emphasis the poet has placed on these factors without even asking ourselves how well he or she has done. For example, there could be a very visual poem that ends up being very bad, but we still notice that the poet has tried to include lots of imagery. Ultimately, however, the judgment has to be qualitative.

What I have a problem with is poetry that doesn't seem to offer much of anything in those three basic dimensions. I think of William Stafford: the poet without qualities. (Substitute the name you prefer if you object to my dislike of Stafford, which is almost pathological.)
Can one force oneself to like Language poetry? Poetry ain't vegetables, as F O'H pointed out years ago. "It must give pleasure." "It must be abstract." No contradiction there for WS in "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction."

Have I ever forced myself to like something I don't really like? I've tried, but there is really no point. I've read things I haven't enjoyed because of natural curiousity or professional exigency, like anyone else. No text is so valueless that it yields no pleasure.
"I do wonder though if the pleasures of logopoeia aren't the pleasures of asceticism, of self-denial, of an almost masochistic suppression of one's desire or expectation of some kind of melo- and phanopoeia from poetry."

--Josh Corey.

Well yes and no. For me logopoeia is immediately pleasurable, it's not based on the renunciation of some other pleasure, and in fact often coincides with these other pleasures, as in Mullen, an intensely logopoeiac poet, though the charm can wear thin fast because of the obviousness of some of her devices.

On the other hand, most readers aren't that attuned to these purely logopoeiac pleasures in the first place. For most readers, word play is an acquired taste. On the other hand, the logopoeia based on flat surfaces (the apparent negation of logopoeia in WB [or Edson!]) can have a paradoxical sensuousness based on asceticism, the negation of easy pleasures, as Kasey has pointed out.

Wouldn't it be more ascetic to have a poetry devoid of logopeia? For me it would. That's why I can't read poetry in translation comfortably. Pound points out that translation emphasizes image (phanopeia). Melopeia, he says, is only translated by pure miracle, logopeia not at all (I am paraphrasing from "How To Read").

28/4/2003

I wish I had been able to take a class on Milton from this guy when I was an undergraduate.
By the way, Heriberto is still blogging bilingually, but has combined posts in both languages into a single blog (link at left). So even if you don't read Spanish it would be worthwhile checking his blog from time to time. I'd say it's about 75% Spanish now, but might vary from week to week.
Powered by audblogaudblog audio post

"Lana Turner Has Collapsed"!
Welcome Catherine to blogland. I see you have a link up to Julia.

You have to know "Rose, Where Did You Get That Red" to get all the intertexts to Julia's poems. The poem "What I saw today" is based on a prose poem of Rimbaud's. The poem about the baseball cap, and the ones about Roberto Clemente's bat and Ornette's saxophone, are based on W.C.W's "Between Walls": think of something others think of as ugly, but that you appreciate. (She writes an explanatory note at the end of each poem.) She has no sense of how good she really is. If I say a poem of hers is good, she will like it, but she has not yet developed a sense of one poem being better than another (thankfully).

the back wings
of the

hospital where
nothing

will grow lie
cinders

in which shine
the broken

pieces of a green
bottle
I'm jealous: other bloggers actually KNOW EACH OTHER PERSONALLY. Julia's the only other blogger I know.
Drove through a few thunderstorms to get back for another blogging week. I will have to shift modes soon to think about trip to Spain in June. (I've been neglecting the other blog recently.) In the meantime, I'll teach another week of poetry in Julia's school. I wonder what Frank O'Hara poems would work with the 2nd grade?

How can I organize my blog-reading to make it more efficient? Right now, it is Silliman in the morning, equanimity throughout the day, and numerous others randomly.

27/4/2003

A wasted weekend scraping paint off of narrow poles with help of toxic chemicals. A reader from Chile wants to know what are the good American poets from last 40 years. I'm afraid I'm not the most reliable narrator. For me, the best 100 pages of O'Hara is better than the best 100 pages of any other poet of his time. But my 100 best pages (of O'Hara) might be different from someone else's.

26/4/2003

"A Calvinist coffee and some
pavlova too"

He or she goes on to write.

A new (?) blogger (I'm not sure who it is, exactly), posted this poem using my phrase "calvinist coffee":

Then I'm drinking a Calvinist coffee
at 2 a.m., hardly watching
what's happening beyond the plate-glass rim.
Bees sting once, then die. Can't you
tell when I'm kidding and when I'm
falling past the open hatch?

You're right, Nick, I do blog in an office piled high with books and papers. Julia does write from home. Akiko doesn't have a blog.

I should get one of those "Html for Morons" books. It doesn't seem that hard.
Julia put some poems up last night. She said she wanted to put several up at a time, since she'd skipped a few day: "you know, dad, just like Million Poems does."

25/4/2003

I should probably quote the actual text rather than letting my paraphrase stand. The question is

"It has been suggested that the major challenge for the humanities in the coming century will be to determine the fate of literature and to secure some space for the aesthetic in the face of the overwhelming forces of mass culture and commercial entertainment. True?

Well, yes, but the question is hopelessly framed [responds McGann]. "The aesthetic" already occupies a major "space" in the world of virtual culture, it's just that the academy is out to lunch. "
Jerome McGann answers one of those questions in the Critical Inquiry end of theory symposium in a way I like. The premise of the question is that "the aesthetic" is in danger in the wider society, and that English professors need to do something to rescue "the aesthetic." Jerome points out, more or less, that it is the English professors themselves who are clueless about "the aesthetic." I know this is a familiar argument that Perloff and others have elaborated countless times, but I think it bears repetition.

24/4/2003

Yikes. I deleted a post, but it's still on the page. Yet I cannot edit it either. I think I'm running into the same problem that has plagued others today. ..

Later: duh: I forgot to "republish" the blog.
I haven't broken through the NPR wall yet. I sent them another commentary, based on an old blogpost on Steven Pinker's Blank Slate.
My students use internet rather than library for research. What I think might be funny: some student finding one of my posts through a google search and plagiarizing my ideas, but without realizing that I am usually full of shit--or at least of ill-considered opinions.
No, Ellmann and O'Clair are not alive.


I've recently added some lynx to blogs I regularly read, like Laura, Stephanie, Sandra. The list at left is still not totally up to date; it inevitably lags behind my actual reading habits.

One of my favorite (relatively) new blogs is Tympan. His recent post, on writing the parody of the stereoptypical Asian-American poem and having it accepted for publication, is priceless. It is funny how "threads" get developed among several bloggers at once. Oftentimes I don't make direct reference to the thread I am participating in. I simply assume (wrongly I'm sure) that the readers of this blog read the same blogs I read and will be in the know. I also assume that we are talking past one other and twisting the thread to our own individual purposes.
What does "Della Cruscan" mean, anyway?

***

I probably offended someone yesterday in the discussion at the poetics seminar. I said that Linda Hutcheon had done damage to discussions of postmodernism by identifying the movement with a narrow range of middle-brow novels of the Doctorow variety. Of course, my friend in the Slavic department said, "I like Doctorow and Fowles." It honestly hadn't occured to me that someone would take these novelists seriously! I live in a bubble.

I noticed several months ago on this blog that Coolidge likes words that end in the suffix -age. You know, like mileage, breakage. Now it occurs to me that this is a "signature," that these words rhyme with Coolidge.

***

Thinking about "Biotherm" as I drove into the office this morning. This is what Flarf could aspire to be! Thinking about blogging endlessly all day, when not teaching. Thought of a letter from an imaginary friend: "It must be tough being smarter than other people...."
Saw the new Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry in Border's yesterday. I noticed they've eliminated Berrigan and Schuyler, without adding Bronk or Notley. We find Bernstein and Hejinian but no Silliman or Coolidge, if I'm not mistaken. Who in their right mind would think that William Stafford is a better poet than James Schuyler? Are Ellmann and O'Clair even still alive? Some other guy, whose name escapes me at the moment, has been charged with updating the anthology. I think he's the guy who wrote a PMLA article on elegy I read several years back.
It's odd how little influence Spanish poetry has on my own poetry writing. I've rarely felt the urge to write in a specifically "Spanish" mode, maybe because there is no such thing for me. In other words, I don't see poetry written in Spanish as having a particular center or essence. Lezama Lima is as different from Gil de Biedma as Creeley is from Larkin. Gil de Biedma's Spanish resembles Auden's English; it seems very British in its inflections. I don't think languages imply modes of thought, in any necessary way. Otherwise Frank O'Hara's language would imply the same world view as Thom Gunn's.

So when I think of Spanish-language poetry, I don't think of a single thing, but of a universe of possibilities as wide as that of poetry written in English. I feel close to some writers in Spanish, like Valente, but his Spanish is close to Beckett's French (and Beckett's English to a lesser extent). I hope I am beyond exoticism by now, even though my initial attraction to a "foreign" culture was doubtlessly suffused with romantic motivations.

Look at the way "oriental" culture is used in U.S. culture. We have "zen" tea. We don't have "Calvinist Coffee." The closest parallel is Quaker Oats, I suppose.

23/4/2003

Rexroth can maudlin, as Gary has pointed out. In the 100 More Poems from the Japanese, he invents this horrible poet named "Marichiko" and writes her horrible poems in a sort of "baby Japanese," then translates them into English: "I cannot forget / The perfumed dusk inside the / Tent of my black hair." Parody? Like Kenneth Koch's "I look at you. Oceans of beer gush from the left side of my collar bone." Well, the Rexroth is not quite funny enough; it's just bad. Maybe that's why people don't get the joke when Gary reads his poem out loud. The problem (with Rexroth and others) is not (just) orientalism. The same process occurs when we translate from the Ancient Greek or the Spanish: the cultural stereotype mediates. Why do American poets cite Lorca's duende essay so often? Partly because it seems exotically Spanish. There is no way around this problem. We can't say we are getting to what the Greeks were really about: we can only substitute another representation of Greekness for one we see as outmoded or stereotypical.
This article on Michael Moore from spinsanity is worth reading. I agree completely with my Canadian friend Bob Basil about Moore.
Considering a return to Courier in my microsoft documents, after using Palatino for the last few years as default font. Courier has a clarity and type-writer-like aspect that appeals to me. I hate sans-serif fonts.

***

Could I be a Flarf artist? Probably not. I love the classic virtues too much. When I started to make a list of favorite poems, I found I was selecting short, perfect lyrics like Schuyler's "Standing and watching / through the drizzle, / how the mist ..." On the other hand I love "Biotherm," that loose quality. Isn't it great that the O'Hara Selected ends with this poem? Is Flarf a parody of randomly generated linguistic garbage, or an ironic selection of it? I'm prepared to like it, but not to write it. Yet once I say that I want to assert the opposite as well. How about Flarf poems that are also perfect little lyrics? How can I extricate myself from this post without confusing myself even more?
"the color of a burnt louse"

"nimble and easy as a lizard"

"garlic and salt in it"

"where the ramparts..."

"weed thick in the cave"

"it looks well on the page, but never well enough"

"an unconvinced deserter"

"always trickling"

"parrafin pistons"

"standard ingots"

If I write down these random phrases from Basil Bunting as I listen to them it makes a kind of elliptical poem.

Listening to Briggflats on my computer. A wonderful recording I found through a link on Laurable.
I'm going to speak about postmodernism today in the Poetics Seminar. Not my idea: I don't believe in postmodernism.

"A division was created when Art was given the vulgar guise of Postmodernism. This has nothing to do with Modernism, of course. An invented term betrays the ethos of the society that accepts it. And perhaps there are practitioners who might be called Postmodern in their vandalism. But in order to accept this term we have to believe that Modernism, itself, is finished. Like throwing a bathing cap into the divine flux.

The conservative artist would like nothing better than to believe in the demise of modernism. . . "

--Barbara Guest, "Radical Poetics and Conservative Poetry."

22/4/2003

Here's another good catalogue of logopeia I pulled off Michael's blog:

'Mándelstam...[uses] words of various contradictory associations: magnificent and obsolete archaism and words of everyday occurrence hardly naturalized in poetry. His syntax especially is curiously mixed--rhetorical periods tussle with purely colloquial turns of phrase. And the construction of his poems is also such as to accentuate the difficulty, the ruggedness of his form: it is a broken line that changes its direction at every turn of the stanza. His flashes of majestic eloquence sound especially grand in this bizarre and unexpected setting.' --D S Mirsky, History of Russian Literature

Cori is also reading Barbara Guest's "Forces of Imagination," by happy coincidence.
I've renunited my collection of New York School poetry, which was in two or three separate places. I've discovered I own 17 books by Barbara Guest, including a few rarer items I picked up on the used-book market.
I guess "sharing responsibilities" is a stock phrase, as in "We share responsibility for child care." So sharing a responsibility with the moon would be using that cliché in an odd context. An effect of logopeia, perhaps, but a weak one at best.
'[Beth] Roberts can also show off with puns and internal rhymes (“an anger I harbor. . . an arbor”), write an accomplished poem on a Stevensian January, or dial down sound effects to focus on logopoeia: “And now the moon, / with whom we share a responsibility.”'

From Burt's omnibus review in the Boston Review. Obviously I don't share same definition of logopeia because I can't see how this line is an example of it. No offense to poet being reviewed. It's impossible to tell much about her work from such selective quotations.


"it is not the flash of brilliance appropriated in a technique that quenches the pathos of a deprived poem. Although we must not neglect those qualities Leopardi admired in Horace: 'courageous metaphors, singular and far-fetched epithets, inversions, placement of word, suppressions'--recognize them? They appear in our own shifting techniques."

Barbara Guest, "Poetry the True Fiction." A nice catalogue of logopeiac devices.

21/4/2003

I noticed recently that Ron Silliman's nephew Daniel has a link to my blog. His interests are primarily religion, politics, and journalism. His politics are not those of his uncle.
Jordan is imitating Ceravolo. I think his poetry shows a kinship with Ceravolo's in the first place. Nothing to be lost by going back again for another helping.
When I ordered this book from amazon:



I got a hardbound copy without a dust-jacket and was deprived of this image.
Sent some commentaries to NPR. Why do I bother? When I see all the links to NPR in Laurable I think to myself: why can't that be me there? I'm at least as interesting as some guy who wrote a book on Randall Jarrell. I can do middle-brow (no offense, NPR). Or can I, without losing my edge?

I'm way behind in all my work. My solution is to do nothing at all until I calm down.
Leading the way in referrers today to Million Poems is Julia's Poems (after Google, of course). I have to accept being the second most popular blogger in my family.

18/4/2003

The reaction to Julia's poetry was something I didn't quite expect. Several bloggers have added links to her site. I am constantly blown away by things she comes up with, of course, but I thought it was mainly paternal pride. She told me yesterday she had read a description of flarf in limetree. She thought it was "weird."

17/4/2003

The poetry I'm teaching today brings to the fore the question of "falsification." A poet (Felipe Benítez Reyes) who invents a whole series of false poets in a book called "Vidas imposibles." One of these imaginary poets is himself a literary forger. We are given poems (in Spanish) that purport to be translations into Spanish of forgeries of Keats, Leopardi, etc... It reminded me of Donald W. Foster, the foremost expert on literary authenticity, who helped in the unabomber case, unmasked the author of "Primary Colors," and wrote about the authorship of "The Night Before Christmas." I might talk about Yasusada as well.


Julia (Tsuchiya-Mayhew) is getting a lot of attention from people like Josh Corey and Little Shirley Bean.
I'm going to let Kasey have the last word on Edson and logopeia. It would be hard to imagine a more eloquent defense of this poet, whom I frankly "just don't like" for the reasons I enumerated in my previous posts.

16/4/2003

I have often associated Barbara Guest's poetry with the sound of a certain cymbal made in Istanbul, what we might call an "Old K" Zildjian cymbal. Perhaps because I was reading her intensely at the same time that I was learning how to listen to cymbal sounds. Reading her essay "Mysteriously Defining the Mysterious: Byzantine Proposals of Poetry," I can associate this cymbal with her concept of the Byzantine. Sailing along the coast of Turkey, toward Byzantium [Constantinople, Istanbul] she buys some silk in Mersan, later has silk curtains made of them:

"This experience in Mersan may be called a first encounter with the Byzantine. Underneath the surface of the poem there is the presence of the 'something else.' Mallarmé said, 'Not the thing, but its effect.' 'The effect is what I have been leading to with my curtains from Mersan. The 'thing' is the poetic process which lends its 'effect' (the silk of the curtains) to the poem. Process and effect, each go about in disguise. They must be uncovered, these other realms Keats discovered 'When First Looking into Chapman's Homer.'"
If all great poets were great in the same way, we would need only one of them. Pound seems to think that mediocre poetry is all similar, no matter what the epoch or locale. How would we test that proposition? If mediocre poetries were all different, each with its own uniqueness, they would be worthy of admiration, by virtue of this uniqueness.

What I love about this book, "Forces of Imagination," is the enthusiasm for the romance of the poetic imagination, combined with the extreme subtlely of perception. One of the few living authors to induce in me a feeling of utter humility and awe. Her level of poetic culture, understanding, is on a whole 'nother level from that of the run-of-the-mill poet. When I read a book of essays by a typical "mainstream" poet, a Donald Hall, say, I am struck by the utter banality of everything he has to say. (His invention of the term "McPoem" is great, but ironical, since it is a perfect description of his own work!)

Behind this entire book stand Mallarmé. Poetry is "un art consacré aux fictions," for example. He is the author most frequently cited by Guest. His phrase about poetry being made of words, much cited recently on various blogs, has often been interpreted in a narrow way. It is not reductionist, anti-visionary, at all, for the word in Mallarmé, in Guest, is haunted:

"The poem is the unburdening of ghosts of the past who have come to haunt the writer exposed to the labyrinth. These are ghosts not words; they are the ephemera that surround and decorate the mind of the poet, a halo rescued from life. And it is the poet's halo that we see arching within the poem, not the full dress of rhyme and structure."

You can't have this sense of haunting, though, through a visionary poetry that simply asserts its vision in straightforward, prosaic words. To have this sense of haunting, language needs to be indirect, symbolist. Thus there can be no a priori "ideas for poems" or "subject matter." This explains Mallarmé's remark, which seems banal only because it is repeated so much. A painter (I forget which one) approached him and said he had many ideas for poems, to which Mallarmé responded: "poems are not made of ideas, but of words." The vision has to be in the words themselves; it is not detachable. Otherwise the greatest visionaries would always be the greatest poets.
I finally got my copy of Guest's "Forces of Imagination." This book has its raison d'être in readers like myself.
What exactly is logopeia? I interpret it as including linguistic ambiguity (like Empson's 7 kinds), other kinds of word-play (puns), the evocative and intertextual use of language; the use of words in function of their register. In general, anything relating to the selection and use of words as words. Logopeia would be emphasized in "metaphysical" and "baroque" poetry of the 17th century, in Anglo-American modernism (Eliot), in New York School and Language Poetry, in Prynne, even in flarf. It strikes me that phanopeia and melopeia have much more limited interpretation. That is, there is less (potential) controversy about what they might be: the visual and auditory dimensions of poetry. Logopeia is an intellectual thang. It is the last to develop, says Pound.
Who's behind the mainstream poetry site? What is the relation between this and the flarf movement?
My incapacity for grading papers. The academic situation leads to perfunctory work, even among the best students. There is no way to say that you don't want a perfunctory paper, because they are writing in order to fulfill an assignment. I remember in a creative writing course in college I got the assignment of observing an animal and writing a poem about it. I wrote a line about birds flying in "short, uninteresting curves." It was a dig at the assignment, I suppose. No Rilke's panther for me that day!
Nick has lined to Julia. Fait accompli also cites a stanza from the Sestina Dueling Banjos below.

15/4/2003

Dueling Banjos

“I had a cruel thought today and didn’t say it--guilt
assuaged for the scantest half hour.” “The icy
casualness of the very rich and the very talented,
moving like sound through steel, pierces my spleen.”
“Steed threatens steed, how else to talk
of the too-luxurious razor used before breakfast,

the piano note’s decay?” “The insane audiophile’s breakfast
goes untouched, orange juice refracting sunlight and guilt,
the passive-agressive archivist refusing to talk.”
“Is it the nature of ice to be icy,
or can one wish for a less splenetic spleen?”
“You’ll want to make sure your surgeon is talented.”

“The torment of simply being too talented
for words, facing once more the specious breakfast
of champions, provoked an attack of spleen
in the manic-depressive actress--not prone to guilt
or to allowing cracks in her uncannily icy
demeanour.” “At a thousand dollars an hour talk

is not cheap.” “Refusing to talk--
except to those markedly less talented--
he made of summer’s ascendency an occasion no less icy
than some belated invitation to breakfast
with a paranoid barber.” “There is no guilt
like that of masking expressions of spleen

behind a silk screen depicting scenes from 'Spleen
de Paris.'” “You may think that you can talk
to the narcissistic professor, but what you see as guilt
is but a refusal to recognize rivals talented
at golf, macramé, and making breakfast.”
“I tried her and found her icy.”

“But what point is there in drowning in currents more icy
than glass, when spilt milk can be put down to spleen?”
“What good is such fatuousness at the breakfast
table?” “You only notice his schizophrenia when you talk
to him, otherwise he’s simply untalented
and given to long-winded explanations of Medea’s guilt.”

“I am fond of guilt but find shame much too icy.”
“With a few exceptions, only the talented suffer from spleen.”
“But that’s not something you can talk about at breakfast.”


I have little memory of writing this sestina, except for the phrase "I had a cruel thought today and didn't say it. I found it just now on my hard disk while looking for something else.
I've figured out how to upload images. It's about time, seven months into my blogging career! This is by the other Jonathan Mayhew.
I submitted a commentary to NPR. I found myself being more folksy and anecdotal than I wanted to be. It is extremely hard to write thinking about this format. I'll hear back in a few weeks, according to their automated response.
In limetree Kasey asks what I mean by language charged by meaning (in reference to Edson). I was referring to Pound's famous triad of phano, melo, logo - peia:

"I throwing the object (fixed or moving) on to the visual imagination.

II inducing emotional correlations by the sound and rhythm of speech.

III inducing both of the effects by stimulating the associations (intellectual and emotional) that have remained in the receiver's consciousness in relation to the actual words or word groups employed"
(ABC of Reading p. 63).

I don't find much of any of these in Edson. The words do have meaning--an almost purely denotative meaning--and the anecdote has an allegorical significance, but the words themselves are not charged with meaning. That was all I meant. Those delighted with Edson's narrative imagination will enjoy his poetry more than I do.

Isn't that the point of his use of the prose-poem, to strip away everything ostensibly and conventionally "poetic"? He doesn't even claim to offer a richly developed poetic language. I'm not saying he tries and fails.

14/4/2003

I read Fanny Howe's "Saving History" over the weekend. I was interested by the unstable racial identity of the characters. She provides info about ancestry, skin color, etc... in a gradual way, so that the reader only arrives at a specific racial "definition" through a prolonged process. The white character, Temple, on the other hand, is first introduced as simply "a white man"; there is no ambiguity at all in this case. The subject matter of the novel seems to shift as well, or at least my sense of what it was about. It is not digressive, really, but rather information rich: new dimensions are revealed on each page.
Kasey thinks Russell Edson has gotten a bad rap. Otherwise agrees with me about Simic, early Tate being a better poet, etc... My objection to Edson is the lack of tension in the language: completely flat in tone and register. This is not language charged with meaning. His poetry is basically a series of "theater of the absurd" vignettes, featuring animals of various species, recounted in an almost invariable deadpan tone. And I learn from Kasey's post that Edson sounds "anti-intellectual" in his interviews. I've never seen an interview with him, but this doesn't surprise me a bit. How could he possibly be an intellectual?

The entire weight must be thrown unto the profundity of the anecdotes, since the poetry doesn't offer other "stuff." Once I realized that all the anecdotes are basically identical, as Kasey himself pointed out, I lost all interest in him; it doesn't give me enough. His roots are not in surrealism, I believe, but in Ionescu and the theater of the absurd.

***

I felt so conflicted today I went to a restaurant by myself and asked for separate checks.
Secret fear number 399: I'll be outed as an academic and my opinions will be seen as inherently dull.

All the other secret fears are merely variations of this one. That I'll meet other bloggers some day and they will think me hopelessly out of it, etc... That old "imposter" complex. I feel like an imposter as a professor too, so I can't win either way.
Julia wanted to have some links on her blog, so I copied a few directly from my template to Julia's Poems


I have decided to become an NPR commentator. If anyone knows Andrei Codrescu or otherwise has an "in" let me know.

12/4/2003

I found a copy of Blackburn's "The Cities" for $6. Grove Press, 1st Printing from 1967. Also bought a book by Lewis Warsh.

***

I think everyone should write poetry: kids, people in nursing homes, students, crazies. Everyone, that is, except "professional" poets with MFAs and Pulitzer prizes. If you took a poem by Chs. Simic and said: "this is a poem my uncle from Hoboken wrote," you might be highly impressed. It might be very good for an amateur poet, without anyone making pretentious claims for it.

It's kind of like this child-poet from mid-century France, Minnie Drouet, (or something of the sort). Cocteau reportedly said about her: "all children are geniuses, except Drouet, who is a midget." Once you make a claim that some fairly ordinary poet is great, you invite a backlash.

***

Paul Breslin wrote a chapter on the Deep Image school in his book "The Psycho-political Muse." It is called "deep image, shallow psychology." In an interview Simic, who was reviewed negatively by Breslin in Poetry, dismisses him (Breslin, Northwestern Prof.) as an academic hack. Well, guess what: the review in question is perfectly reasoned in its approach. It asks of this poetry the same questions that are in my own mind.

It is striking how many poets on the Knopf list recently cited by Silliman are poets of the type I have been thinking about lately. Knopf must have an in with the Pulitzer people.

Are the Objectivists bores? (Nada Gordon on Oppen.) It is refreshing to hear this point of view, because that "weighing of each syllable" approach in American poetry has always been boring to me. It is fine when the results are spectacular, as in Niedecker, some of Z..., some of Creeley, but oftentimes the results are rather strained. I'd love to admire Oppen, but if I reflect honestly I don't really dig it. A lot of middle Creeley also suffers from this "strained" effect that O'Hara noted in his interview with Lucie-Smith. Even William Carlos Williams wrote many prosodically inert poems, if we can be perfectly honest. I know because I read Williams everyday for about 7 or 8 years. This might explain my ho-hum reaction to Grenier's "sentences." They are pretty Williamesque, considering that Williams, though he emphasized speech ad nauseum, often wrote for the page.

That being said, there are numerous Williams poems that noone has read that are wonderful. "The Jungle," for example, or "To be hungry is to be great," a great title if nothing else.


THE BOULEVARD OF WEARY MONIKERS

I sat at the lunch counter with the Chairman of the Board and the Wizard of Menlo Park.
A stool creaked under the Sultan of Swat.
In a corner booth the Bard of Avon arm-wrestled the King of Rock and Roll
while the Godfather of Soul looked on.
Suddenly the Knight of the Sad Countenance rode in
to do battle with the Loud Lament of the Disconsolate Chimera.

This is a 3rd or 4th-degree cliché poem. It is based on a forty-year old model, Kenneth Koch's "You Were Wearing..." on the painting "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," on a generative device or "poem idea," with a dash of Ashbery, etc... Maybe it's an amateur attempt at a James Tate or Dean Young poem? "I hope you would like it," as the spammers say when they send me some computer virus.

11/4/2003

I'm adding a link at the left to Julia's poems. I think she might be the youngest poetry blogger out there.

10/4/2003

I found this site about my favorite poet
I am not sure why the blogger wants to put a paragraph break after my links. I don't really understand the code; I'm just copying and pasting from the blogger template.

1990 The World Doesn't End by Charles Simic (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)
1991 Near Changes by Mona Van Duyn (Alfred A. Knopf)
1992 Selected Poems by James Tate (Wesleyan University Press)
1993 The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck (The Ecco Press)
1994 Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa (Wesleyan University Press/University Press of New England)
1995 The Simple Truth by Philip Levine (Alfred A. Knopf)
1996 The Dream of the Unified Field by Jorie Graham (The Ecco Press)
1997 Alive Together: New and Selected Poems by Lisel Mueller (Louisiana State University Press)
1998 Black Zodiac by Charles Wright (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
1999 Blizzard of One by Mark Strand (Alfred A. Knopf)

1990s Pulitzers. This decade marks the apogee of the style I have been studying recently. With Simic, Tate, Gluck, Wright and Strand taking 5 out of 10 prizes.

Later: do Charles W. and Louise belong in this company, asks John E (The Skeptic)? Louise does: she has that stiff poetic diction of the period style, though not the zany anecdotes. I'd have to think about Charles W, who often bores me to tears. To me he exemplifies "the New Yorker poem." I mentioned yesterday an interview with the other Charles (Simic) in which he names these other four as his favorite contemporaries. The more I study it, the less I'm convinced I know what the period style really is, what I originally meant by this concept.


I can't believe it's taken me seven months to put a link into the actual text of a post. Now I am finally a real blogger!
I like this poem

by Jordan Davis.
Perloff says in her book on Frank O'Hara that he wasn't a particularly good reader of his own work. I disagree. See audio post.
Powered by audblogaudblog audio post
"I resented being invited to admire dialogue so close to modern educated speech that music and style were impossible." Yeats, on seeing Ibsen's "The Doll House." Lorca would have felt the same way. I just taught "La casa de Bernarda Alba." The actual plot construction is pure Ibsen. There is a scene at the beginning with two servants talking--the classic realist exposition. Yet the way the characters talk is vivid and poetic, largely because Lorca never states a point abstractly. Everything is a concrete image.

"As time passed Ibsen became in my eyes the chosen author of very clever young journalists, who, condemned to their treadmill of abstraction, hated music and style; and yet neither I nor my generation could escape him because, though we had not the same friends, we had the same enemies." (More Yeats on Ibsen)

Lorca has a little squib at the beginning: "The Poet advises that these three acts have the intention of a photographic documentary." This was the 1930s. Social realism was the rage.

I have a hard time seeing the documentary as a genre of "non-fiction." If you film for 100 hours, and produce a documentary of 1 hour, you are selecting 1% of the possible material before you. You can prove pretty much anything you want. Of course, you have already decided what to film, whom to interview, in the first place, so what you shoot in the first place is a totally subjective decision as well. Anything that doesn't accord with your world view, if it gets into the 100 hours you have filmed, can be easily filtered out. Yet when you watch a documentary it seems like you're getting "raw data." We all know this, of course, but if the documentary coincides with our own bias, we are still disposed to accept it as more or less a slice of "reality." Michael Moore, for example, strikes me as a pure propagandist--with whom I agree politically, but whom I distrust profoundly.

The difficulty of studying something so circumambient, the medium in which we are swimming. The fear of saying the obvious. I read some interviews with Simic yesterday: at one point he cites the same poets the same exact poets that I have been associating with him: Mark Strand, Charles Wright, Louise Glück, James Tate, and Russell Edson. Of course, this seems obvious. Birds of a feather.

***

We read James Nolan's translation of Gil de Biedma yesterday in my graduate seminar. He feels the need to take a deliberately prosaic language and spice it up. For escribir [to write], he translates "scribble." Now Gil de Biedma is innovative in Spanish poetry for bringing in a flat, understated, Audenesque tone (late 1950s, early 1960s). He uses that Brittanic litotis and the pronoun "uno." This translator probably doesn't want to try for a similar effect, because his audience is principally American. But Gil de Biedma had lived in England and I hear his Spanish as British-inflected.

9/4/2003

The subjective sense of one's own brilliance fades as the day goes on. What am I still doing here? Why does Manguso praise Young?
Mediocrity Studies could not escape the fundamental paradox: that to be established as a discipline it would have to acquire its own normality, its own routine way of doing things. Mediocrity Studies 101 would have a set curriculum, etc...
My fantasy text: the poem, or novel, so completely ensconced within a normal period style that it in no way transcended this style. This is a fantasy because I'd like to believe that all texts, even ostensibly mediocre ones, have a residue of excess, something that is not wholly circumscribable to an a priori definition.

I once began a novel (I only wrote 3 or 4 pages; I am no novelist) in which one of the characters is studying the work of a fictional French writer who exemplifies the "perfect" text, that is, the text with no such residue: nothing that is not explainable by a set of rigid conventions. The hero of my novel was fascinated by this perfect conventionality; it allowed him to define the ruling conventions of this writer's work as a perfect structuralist critic. Of course the critic in my novel would have gone insane.

My interest in banality is thus two-fold: I am interested in why others don't necessarily see it where I do, and in the structuralist dream of the perfectly banal, conventional text, one that doesn't exceed the convention by the slightest hair. Once a text slipped into this complete, perfect banality, it would suddenly become an object of fascination again. Boredom is impossible.

The subjective sense of feeling oneself to be "brilliant." How odd that is! It seems to be created, confirmed, by the banality surrounding oneself. Jordan is right: I don't want to set myself up as an arbiter. What I'm trying to do is examine myself, avoid falling into the trap, whatever that trap is. Seeing oneself as "mystery genius"? (Jordan's coinage).

To set myself up as enemy of banality, in my new field (mediocrity studies: the study of normal cultural expression, sort of like Thomas Kuhn's "normal science"). The dangers of this endeavor are multiple. After all, normal expressions also have their value and are inevitable. The idea that they could have been avoided seems illusory.

I share my birthday (August 24) with Robert Herrick and Jorge Luis Borges. I was just checking out the NPR Writer's Almanac Site, doing research for my period style article. Garrison Keillor epitomizes a certain sensibility, in his choice of texts.
Peevishness and spleen as my driving forces. When I am allowed to release my bile I end up being quite cheerful. When I repress my peevishness, on the other hand, I become saturnine, melancholic, and even more splenetic. From the outside I merely appear phlegmatic.

***

August Highland of m.a.g. is featuring some of my work in the Spring issue. I'll put up a link at the approprite time. I'm quite an incompetent blogger because I don't know how to put a link in the actual text of my postings. I'm sure it's not too difficult.

8/4/2003

"Total absorption in poetry is one of the finest things in existence--
It should not make you feel guilty. Everyone is absorbed in something.
The sailor is absorbed in the sea. Poetry is the mediation of life."

Kenneth Koch, "The Art of Poetry"
I've been noticing I use the word "obviously" in my speech a lot lately. What could this mean? There is very little that is obvious or self-evident, not enough to justify my using that word so much.

***

I lost articulateness during the last 10 minutes of class today. Instead of stopping, I went overtime, since we started discussing attitudes in Spain toward the Bush war (supported by Spanish president Aznar). One of the students told me that one of the journalists killed in Iraq recently is son of Spanish Izquierda Unida ["United Left, used to be Communist Party) leader Julio Anguita.

***

I don't feel myself to be particularly articulate. I am not one of those people who can just talk and say what they mean at the first try. At times, though, I can speak with some degree of eloquence. I just lose it when I'm especially tired like right now.

I don't appear in David Hess's little tableau, for which I'm grateful (I guess), though I am partially visible in the character he calls "Marjorie Perloff." Gudding's sense of humor is too labored for my taste. He is trying to be funny; he has a "theory" of comedy for God's sake. I'm prejudiced because I used to spar with him on the poetics list back in late 1998.

I need constant intellectual stimulation. I get it mainly from the implied dialogue among bloggers. Reading becomes less solipsistic because I can publish my responses as I go along. The Buffalo poetics list once served that function for me, but became too cluttered and contentious. I've been writing this blog for 7 months, and have no plans to stop any time soon.

Where I hesitate most is posting poems on the blog, since I myself often skip over others' poems on their blogs. I can't always switch that easily between a quick, web-surfing attention span and a slow, poem-reading attention span. To read poetry I need to be out of this windowless office.

7/4/2003

To clarify, in response to John Erhardt: the ironic citation of clichés is not an illegitimate technique. In the hand of a weaker poet, though, the clichés tend to take over, diminish rather than augment tension. Does the use of canned language lead to some weak moments even in Ashbery, Schuyler? Indubitably. In Strand, Tate, though, there is often not any poetic tension to begin with, and the clichés are not transformed or subverted quite enough to justify their use.

That is why I think of Tate as a lightweight Ashbery. It seems as though it would be easy to write like Ashbery, since we all know the clichés of our own time. Tate proves that it is not. It is sad, because I used to love his work when I was young (when he was young). The Lost Pilot, The Oblivion Ha-Ha, are superb. His writing seemed to lose energy as it absorbed that Ashbery influence.

I got the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry when it came out in 1973. Tate was the youngest poet in there. I was 13 years old. So I actually read and liked his poetry before it started to go downhill in the mid-late 1970s. I would love to hear a defense of this poetry, by the way, by someone who thinks he is still going on strong. Debate always helps me to clarify my own ideas.

Another thing about Ashbery's clichés, is that they are usually "off." They sound weird, unfamiliar, as if the person who is using them didn't quite know their proper use. With lesser poets the same clichés are often simply "themselves."
Dana Gioia on Robert Bly:

"By propagating this sort of minimalist translation Bly has done immense damage to American poetry. Translating quickly and superficially, he not only misrepresented the work of many great poets, but also distorted some of the basic standards of poetic excellence. His slapdash method ignored both the obvious formal qualities of the originals (like rhyme and meter) and, more crucially, those subtler organizing principles such as diction, tone, rhythm, and texture that frequently gave the poems their intensity. Concentrating almost entirely on syntax and imagery, Bly reduced the complex originals into abstract visual blueprints. In his hands, dramatically different poets like Lorca and Rilke, Montale y Machado, not only sounded alike, they all sounded like Robert Bly, and even then not like Bly at his best. But as if that weren’t bad enough, Bly consistently held up these diminished versions as models of poetic excellence worthy of emulation. In promoting his new poetics (based on his specially chosen foreign models), he set standards so low that he helped create a school of mediocrities largely ignorant of the premodern poetry in English and familiar with foreign poetry only through oversimplified translations." (Gioia 172-73).
The ironically cited cliché is itself a cliché. Ashbery still gets away with it, because he practically invented the technique and avoids falling completely into that suburban ennui tone (usually). He also uses an erudite register along with the clichés: they are just one element of his poetic language, not the predominant one. He really has an incredible range.

You can read old reviews of Frank O'Hara books, of the books he published while alive. U of Michigan P put out a book of critical essays that includes most of these reviews. The reviewers are generally obtuse, clueless. They can't hear that tone, or they devote a perfunctory paragraph to him in one of those notorious omnibus reviews. For me, O'Hara is THE poet of his age, also with an incredible range of registers.

Is reviewing better nowadays? I'm sure it is, if you take Rain Taxi into account, and some of the internet sites. I picked up my copy of Rain Taxi while buying "In Memory of My Theories." I wish the reviewer of Jordan's book had put some more time (and space) into it. It is not really an uneven collection, in terms of quality; it is only uneven in the sense of being variegated.

***

Will they cancel class tomorrow if Kansas wins national championship tonight? If so, I could have stayed at home until Wed. I told the secretaries in the office: "It's only a basketball game" and they almost took my head off. I've listened to enough a.m. sports radio in the car that I almost care.
Short Story


Not foolish the determinant. “Remember:
Kafka’s turned into,” pronounced William

the Superintendent, “and received, perhaps
unwarranted, his effectiveness . . . have needed

an activist, a scintilla being
otherwise.” Was Springtime browned leaves?

Is sprinkled? The prayers, warmer
days, late April--the school

approaching end. Peter and people
talked, co-governers of paper. Laden,

one inhumanly old Ford, unyielding
to, of, glass. Mary first. . .

***

Poetic Language

Poetic Language was tired of being exciting, the “big fuss” made about it everywhere it meant. It wanted to “pass under the radar screen” so as to recount absurdist parables in flattest, deadpan clichés. Could Bill Merwin help? Naw, he was too good a poet! So Poetic Language thought... but soon Russell, Mark, the two Charleses, and Jim “convinced him it was the right thing to do.”

Kenneth “threw his hands up in despair. . . “

***

Is James Tate an "Ashbery lite"? If I have to ask, he probably is. I read Shroud of the Gnome yesterday. Re-reading "Hush" (David St. John), a receipt fell out of the book, dated 9 August 1978, from Moe's bookstore in Berkeley. So I have had this book almost 25 years. It's the quintessential mid-70s book--

They've carried the fat man who yelled
For more butter on his lobster through the streets
Weeping.

Yet some of it holds up much better than I would have expected. The poem "For Peter Everwine," for example, and the title poem of the collection. Certainly better than most Tate, Strand, and Simic from this period.

6/4/2003

The reviewer of Charles Simic's poems in the New York Times Book Review this morning says that Simic's style is unique, all his own, and that this fact is not even debatable. I was taken aback: whether you like his work of not, his short free verse poems in rather "flat" language (the reviewer's own adjective), that recount quasi-surrealist or absurdist anecdotes, are pretty commonplace, not dissimilar to Mark Strand, James Tate, and a host of other prize-winning poets of last 30 years. Simic almost defines the "period style" I have been writing about. What am I missing here?

I remember being surprised when I learned he was not American born; you'd think a European would bring something more to the table. Why does he writes in those American suburban clichés? One the reviewer quoted today about "the note my mother wrote me to get me out of school." I'm not saying his work has no value; he's probably in the top ten who write in this mode. I'm just surprised that it would be seen as hugely original.

4/4/2003

I sit on a mat
and say with my own mouth
war cannot go on
I pick up a loaf
and say war must not
go on,
so decide to protest,
I go into my house
with a
sign
I see a flower
I put it on the sign
Now I'm going to my house
I have a sign about war in Iraq
I do not like war
and it must stop.

A poem my daughter Julia wrote about going to the protest last week in Forest Park.
I recognized Bill Evan's piano playing instantaneously as I awoke to local college radio station. It's like recognizing the face of someone you know.

I expect students to react in the same way I do. I gave them some poems of Claudio Rodríguez and expected them to instantly recognize that this was the real thing. Of course, they were not at all impressed. It's like playing Coltrane for someone and having them think it's nice background music. You can't get angry, only sad.

This is the model of the poem that students were taught to write in creative writing workshops circa 1975:

The Sleeper

Long white hairs knot his fingers
which have grown into his chest like snakes.
His feet grip each other like gila-monsters.
There are toads in his ears,
boulders in his blood.
His house is floating, gasping, exploding
under the ocean of his children
who flee on insane ladders
into the dark university.

Strong, active verbs, flights of surrealist fancy, lots of animal imagery. Of course the poem looks like a cliché now, since there are so many poems written in the same vein. But this "false Latin American poem" by a poet I will call "Jim" still holds up reasonably well. It is more vigorous in language than the WSM poem I quoted yesterday. I give it 3 stars for phanopeia, taking off points for the similes in lines 2 and 3. I give 2 and a half stars for melopeia: a good "free verse poem." 1 star for logopeia: there is not a very convincing "dance of the intellect." The poem would be better without the words "long," "insane," and "dark." The adjectives weaken the force of the poem, which depends on its strong nouns and verbs. These adjective also lend a cliché quality to the text, in retrospect. Anything would be better than "dark" here. "into the ecru university."

Jim's more recent poems don't have that same vigor of expression. They are often deadpan prose poems in the mode of Russell, whom I have never appreciated. I think there is a similar evolution in Louise. Her first books had a more lively, variegated language. Is this also true of Mark and Charles?

In case you are put off by my use of first names, I will provide an interpretive key:

Bill = Merwin
Frank = O'Hara (duh, there is only one Frank!)
Jim = Tate
Russell = Edson
Louise = Glück
Mark = Strand
Charles = Simic

Who am I missing in this discussion? Stephen? Greg? Dean? The blog is working quite well as a place to work out ideas for an article I am writing. If anyone wants to help me out I'd welcome it. I'll acknowledge any help I get in a footnote.

My cognitive therapy last night was about my laziness. I said I was lazy.

--Why do say that, you've just worked a 10 hour day?
--I don't work very hard on the weekends, or even on Fridays.
--You never stop thinking, reading, writing your blog, teaching poetry to children. . .
--That's not real work. I have a stack of ungraded papers on my desk.
--You are teaching an extra class; most of those papers are from that.
--I only prepared my undergrad class for 15 minutes yesterday.
--How did the class go?
--Fine, the students responded well to the material; I asked good questions, came up with a nice reading of the play with their help.
--So what's the problem?
--My colleagues would never prepare class for only 15 minutes.
--Maybe you are more efficient or quicker to see how to teach a text after a single reading.
--It could have been a disaster! What if it hadn't worked?
--Well, what if it hadn't worked?
--Then I would have given a sub-par performance.
--That's never happened to a colleague who was meticulously prepared?
--I don't know...
--I'm sure it has. What if a colleague said he or she told you that a particular class didn't go well?
--I would say it happens to everyone!
--Then why are you singling out yourself for blame? Especially when the class did go well. You prepared to give a class the way you know best, based on your own capability and experience. The class was successful. Yet you perceive a problem here. You are a seriously fucked-up man.!


It's a lot cheaper to do it to yourself than to pay someone $75 for 50 minutes.



3/4/2003

Blogger just ate a long post in which I performed cognitive therapy on self. Oh well, it's been a long day.

Joseph Duemer, whose excellent blog I read from time to time, is the editor or co-editor of an anthology of poems about dogs, I discovered a few weeks ago at Border's. There's nothing wrong with those thematic anthologies; in fact they can have a pleasantly aleatory quality. The 500 best poems about feet. I was trying to define what I take as the linguistic impoverishment of a certain style of America poetry, and I found this poem called "Dogs":

Many times loneliness
is someone else
an absence
then when loneliness is no longer
someone else many times
it is someone else’s dog
that you’re keeping
then when the dog disappears
and the dog’s absence
you are alone at last
and loneliness many times
is yourself
that absence
but at last it may be
that you are your own dog
hungry on the way
the one sound climbing a mountain
higher than time.

They say the average person has a (passive) vocabulary of about 50,000 words. You'd think, then, that this famous poet, whom I will call "Bill," would use more than the same 50 to write each poem.

Compare this to another poet who I will call "Frank," who fills his poems with proper names, words in other languages, gay slang and campiness, erudite vocabulary, and "cornball" surrealism. Both styles could be called "colloquial" in some sense, but they are miles apart.
Equanimity is on fire today. I usually check it about at least every 30 minutes during the morning when I'm not in class, so I am almost his simultaneous reader. I know it would be much more efficient to read it all at the end of the day, but obviously efficiency has nothing to do with it. I enjoy "bouncing" my posts off of his, and blogging in a similar rhythm, even when my posts have nothing explicitly to do with his.
To: The KU Community
From: Bob Hemenway, Chancellor

A number of you have asked me how we can best show support for our U.S.
troops who have been placed in harm's way during the Iraqi conflict. It
goes without saying that all Americans defending our freedom deserve such
support, and we should particularly keep in mind those Kansans, including KU
faculty, staff, and students, whose lives are now at risk.

Governor Sebelius has eloquently addressed the anxiety that we feel for
those who have been called to duty. She has stated, "Their morale is as
important as any strategy or piece of equipment. I hope you will join me in
finding ways to express our support and gratitude toward them." The
Governor suggests that we write letters, fly flags, and do whatever it takes
to show them they have our support. I suggest we sing out when the national
anthem is played at the Final Four, place yellow ribbons on trees, and begin
each day with a period of contemplation.

KU will always remain a place of academic freedom for those who hold a wide
range of views, but it must also be a place of support for those whose lives
are at risk, as well as a place that honors bravery and courage.

The Campanile tolls every quarter hour in memory of KU students who gave
their lives in World War II. As we hear it ring, let the sound of the bells
continually remind us of our present-day Jayhawks, and our prayers for their
safe return.
Chancellor of KU, an English professor and author of biography of Zora Neale Hurston, sends us an email message on how we can best support the troops, those "fighting for our freedom." We can display the American flag, sing the anthem louder at basketball games. Of course we have to respect academic freedom...

Now even if you support the war, it is quite a stretch to say that the U.S. is fighting for the "freedom" of American citizens. It is intervening for U.S. strategic interests in the world, not to preserve the Bill of Rights, which Ashcroft would love to dismantle himself. We are measurably less free now than in 1999, and the Chancellor's message is an indication of this. I'm sure that those who support the war effort will be waving the flag anyway: why would they need to be told to do this? The message is meant, then, for the Kansas State Legislature. The chancellor is trying to send a message to Topeka that the University is in ideological line.
I read the play: pompous, overbearing husband, an ambitious doctor. Separated from wife--neurasthenic housewife. Conflict over custody of female dog named "Nunca." A nice twist at the end, otherwise fairly banal. I chose to teach this play because? I don't even remember. I always need to surprise myself by assigning a work I've never read myself.

***

Perloff on Merwin in "Poetic License," one of those piece-by-piece dismantlings of a poet that she does so well. Not much is left of him after she is done.
With Ken Irby in Border's yesterday afternoon. He showed me Joe LeSoeur's memoirs, "Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara," which I almost bought. It is unusual to go to Border's at 4 p.m. and NOT run into Irby.

***

The essay on the period style is taking shape. Translation ought to enrich the language. Instead, translation from the Spanish tended to create a new "poetic diction." In the 1970s, Merwin writes in a vocabulary of 500 words (maybe 1000). Edson's restricted tone and lexicon. I'd like to show with some precision how the early 1970s deep image poem turned into the mid 1970s suburban creative writing workshop poem, and led to the creation of "Dean Young."

Of course, I haven't read the one-act play I'm teaching in two hours.

2/4/2003

413 poems is ALMOST a million. poetically speaking. Keep them flowing forth.

***

Two parallel fears. That all that I'm saying is so obvious that it will meet with yawns, or so off the wall that it won't be understood at all.
I've emailed Bob Hass to see if he is indeed the author of the mystery article. I've written 500 more words of the article on translation and period style. It has been sort of writing itself in my head the whole day.

Upper limit: Merwin
Lower limit: Bly
Somewhere in the middle: Strand

But is Merwin better than Strand? How does the Asbheryianism of the right fit it here? Goldbarth? Does it fold back into the deep image based period style, or is it its own separate thing? How about practitioners of the old period style (academic 50s), like Moss and Hall, who end up writing in the period style of the 80s?

What happens when the period style absorbs the more intellectual mode of Jorie Graham? What if there is no period style and I am simply making it all up?
I've found the Gioia essay on Bly. There is another one on Howard Moss that bears re-reading. I had remembered it as demolishing Moss, but it actually praises him--but in a way that demolishes him in my eyes. At one point he talks about how a certain Moss poems "discuss serious human issues." Anyone who can talk about poetry in such language! Poetry discusses nothing, certainly not "issues." If it does, it might be expected that they be "human" ones, not vegetable or mineral ones.

I haven't been able to locate the Hass essay on translation yet. I find his "Twentieth Century Pleasures" not devoid of interest but ultimately rather bland, sort of Pinskyesque. I get more out of Gioia's reactionary provocations.

Gioia says that since he encountered Ginsberg's poetry in the classroom of an elite private university, he could not see it as revolutionary in any way. Talk about a failure of imagination! I can imagine, reading Gioia, what it is like to be a person for whom Howard Moss is a compelling poet. I am not that person, but reading Gioia, I can put myself in that place for a moment. Otherwise, I would see Moss simply as a dull mediocrity who exemplifies a certain period style. That is one good reason for reading criticism. Gioia seems unable to imagine himself as a reader in 1959 picking up "Howl" for the first time. He also seems to think people read Ginsberg only for his ideology, not for its radical use of language.


1/4/2003

I'm still here eleven hours later. I've taught three classes of an hour and twenty minutes each, and written 1000 words in Spanish for my essay on translation and the period style. I know I have to look at two essays, one by Dana Gioa called "The successful career of Robert Bly," the other by Robert Hass on how translation affected American poetry for the worse. I know Gioa is a Republican and all, but his demolition of Bly is truly enjoyable. Hass is also quite insightful. I just hope his essay is in a book somewhere, because I read it in a magazine many years ago and have no idea how to find it if it is not (in a book of essays). And what if he is not the author of this essay? Then I will never find it and will be plagiarizing from something I read a long time ago? Or what if if my memory invented this essay and it doesn't exist at all?
Which edition of Reverdy did F. O'H have in his pocket? asks Jordan Davis. That is a question worthy of Nabokov, who asked himself what kind of insect Gregor S. turned into.

Speaking of the period style, I just got a great idea. Heriberto suggested I write an essay for a Mexican magazine called "Alforja." I am going to write about how translations of Latin American poetry in the 1970s fed into and created the period style of "soft surrealism." I believe I coined this phrase myself in a post a few months back, but I am not sure. I saw Silliman use it a few weeks ago. I'm not sure whether he got it from me, or whether this is a phrase in common use already.

The idea is that a certain kind of translation practice led to a fairly stiff, uncolloquial and portentous style. You can see how poets like Louise Glück and James Tate wrote with a certain colloquial vigor in their first few books, before this style took them over.