7 jun. 2005

There's nothing like submitting to a magazine and then reading blog entries by the magazine's editor about reading maybe 5.000 poems at a single sitting while sipping green tea, finding 9 or 10 poems, none of them yours (most probably). You can also see said editor complain about poets who send him abusive emails, leaving abusive comments at his blog, after being rejected. Apparently the magazine was good enough for the poet to submit to in the first place, but, once they are rejected, it becomes boring and conservative, edited by this now incompetent editor.

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Coolidge is not an optional poet. That is, you aren't allowed to overlook him or say "he's not to my taste." I don't mean that you can't dislike him. Likes and dislikes are personal. All I'm saying is he's undismissable, irreplaceable, nonpareil. It's required reading for all true Bemshaites.

There are maybe three periods. Reading the early Coolidge is watching a poet train himself in language. ING, Space, Polaroid are good examples. There's a lot of attention to phonemes, morphemes, and lexemes, as though the poet didn't yet trust hinmself to deal in syntax. If you haven't read Coolidge at all I would start with the middle period. Own Face, Solution Passage, The Crystal Text, Mine, The American Ones, Sound as Thought.. We're talking basically late 70 and 80s. Here Coolidge is more syntactical, "referential" and even confessional. You see the fruits of the labor of working with morphemes and phonemes, but in a more narrative context. With "late" Coolidge some repetitiousness and even tediousness creeps in. There are good still good books, but I would read these last, after the middle and early. While Ron seems to think it's simply a matter of seeing what's in front of your face, I would argue that it takes years to be able to read and assimilate Coolidge. Or maybe it's a matter of learning the simplest things last. I think of that poor woman staring at Mondrian for years without getting anything out of it. I've always loved Coolidge, but it's taken me a while to get through all of this vast and at times difficult terrain. And he keeps writing more so I will never be done.

The best 100 pages of Coollidge bests the best 100 pages of any other living American poet. Discuss in comments.

15 comentarios:

C. Dale dijo...

5,000 in one sitting! Jeez. I thought I was fast. I have maxed at about 100 per hour, depending on what is there. Usually, I range around 70 per hour. ;)

I don't know enough of Coolidge's work to really comment well. I have only read a few.

Jonathan dijo...

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I don't see why you need almost a full minute per poem, I would think 20 seconds would be optimal. That would give you 180 poems an hour. To read 5,000 then you would only have to sit down for 28 hours at a stretch. That would require 8-10 pots of green tea--or maybe something stronger.

(I am kidding of course, just as I was exaggerating for comic effect in my original post, as I'm sure you realized.)

Jordan dijo...

The 100 best pages of Solution Passage pretty well owns that spot. OK OK, give 40 pages to Own Face too.

But wait -- here come the 100 best pages of Bernadette Mayer... and in on an airplane the 100 best pages of Alice Notley, and there's David, and Ron, and... once again I have committed a list.

Jonathan dijo...

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David for sure. John and Barbara. Ron and Ron together might make a good run. All the living poets named Charles combined couldn't hold up to CC.

C. Dale dijo...

I think you have had too much caffeine today! Hahahaha.

Jonathan dijo...

I'm cutting down on the caffeine, actually. Down from my normal 4 double expressos a day to 2, with the afternoon one a decaf.

Tony dijo...

I had a strange face itch rash thing going on for a few months that had nothign to do with caffeine. I don't think. It stopped when I started taking 400 IUs of Vitamin E.

This really does have something to do with poetry.

Tony dijo...

I agree with you and Ron both, Jonathan. I think that at first, Ron's approach works--it's how I approach virtually ALL poetry I read, as a beginner, as one who doesn't claim to understand or try to understand or make sense of it in a "normal" way. Those texts, particularly those "difficult" texts that stick with me for months or years, eventually open themselves up to being read in more different, ways, more "thoroughly," one might say. And of course, it goes without saying that teaching a poet or text is perhaps the best way to "understand" it.

Jonathan dijo...

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8 (now 9) comments? Surely you can do better than that, people! Silliman has 40 and counting on his post on Coolidge. Where's Joan Houlihan? And 4 of the 9 comments I wrote myself!

Gary dijo...

I'll leave a comment in a moment, but I need some more coffee first ... --Gary Sullivan

Gary dijo...

Okay, I'm back. I pretty much agree that Coolidge's best 100 pp. bests anyone living's 100.

I disagree with the idea--from Ron and some of his commentors--that anyone can just look at what's there. I don't think the Pollock or other abstract expressionist analogy works, because there's a reason why we can "see" Pollock and respond to him, which has as much to do with everything that's been written or talked or otherwise "known" about him over the last--what?--half century as the work itself. Whether it's criticism, discussion with others, or just constant immersion in the work (or in work "like" it), some investment is generally required for a response to art like Coolidge's. At least, that was true for most I know who love his poetry. (My own experience of Pollock, btw, was basically precluded by all of the Pollock-info--I don't think I've ever actually "experienced" his work purely, or as purely as I was able to experience Coolidge's.)

Anyway, I certainly didn't respond to it right away. Even though people told me things similar to what Ron is saying: "Listen to it. He's a drummer! Gary, come on, man--'the blown bolt'--get it?" etc. In my case, it was just immersion in Coolidge's writing and a lot of other writing that was similar and even inspired by Coolidge. I've used the same Coolidge cliche's in trying to talk others into liking Coolidge, and it never works, even when I break down and do readings of passages: "Joe, listen, man--'the blown bolt'--get it?" I'm always met with the same perplexed stare. I've witnessed conversions, but they seem to have happened over time, after immersion. Reading Coolidge is sort of like learning a new language: and as any language teacher will tell you, immersion is the best way to go.

I'm not certain about the three periods. I like the narrative, but after Space and Polaroid I don't think you can just lump Solution Passage in with Mine. Not that it really matters if you do. But they seem fairly distinct to me, anyway. Actually, Space and Polaroid are very distinct books, too. Polaroid is a narrative--it operates such that enjoyment of it/understanding of it/appreciation of it happens over the long period of time it takes to read (or hear read aloud) the book. That's not true of Space--or at least my memory of reading it.

Also: Sound as Thought--it's a comparatively weak book. What's weird to me is that it seems just like an extension of Solution Passage, one of his best. But the sonic/meaning stuff isn't connecting/working to the same degree. I think he had written himself through that particular realm of exploration by the end of Solution Passage and Sound as Thought is not so much thought as after-thought. (The fact that he even called it "sound as thought" suggests it's an afterthought, whereas "solution passage" suggests actual thinking through sound.)

The Nameways books are great, especially the first one. But even better is his newest work, which he read from at the Project a couple weeks ago, and which he says is a continuation of the Nameways books. But it doesn't really sound like a continuation of that. It's really more one long poem--it's Polaroid to the Nameways' Space--and it feels like he's working out other realms of thought/image/sound.

Anyway, I gotta get back to work so I can take a long-overdue vacation next week.

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Jonathan dijo...

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So much to agree with you here, Gary. The periodizations I devised were weak and overgeneral. It's more my vague sense of the work. Sound as Thought is a bit weaker than some of the others, and I never could get into Mesh.

About Coolidge as a foreign language I think you're exactly right. I remember your comment once that someone asked about Creeley: "Does he always write as though he had Alzheimer's?" Showing that even Creeley-speak is somewhat of a foreign tongue. Coolidge even more so, in my experience.

Mick dijo...

Does this conversation need someone to say they actually did respond to Coolidge's writing immediately? I did at least. (Also always been relatively indifferent that he's a jazz drummer.) In some ways it?s returning to his books that I?ve already read that I seem to get less out of them than initially, depending. I think I must have roughly followed the reading order suggested here (middle, beginning, later) myself, so I can't offer evidence to the contrary.

Jonathan dijo...

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I seemed to have always liked Coolidge. I can't remember exactly what the event was that brought him to my attention. I bought Solution Passage--I remember that much--but I'm not sure how I knew that I ought to buy Solution Passage. Maybe having seen the name in the Padgett/Shapiro anthology of New York Poets.

There are many paths to Coolidge, slow or fast.

Gary dijo...

I forgot to mention how I "discovered" and finally grew to love Coolidge. It was through a poet friend, Daniel Davidson, who would pass his copy of Solution Passage to me every time I went over to his--Dan's--apartment. It never clicked, despite Dan's swearing up and down that this was great stuff. "What's up with this *blown bolt* business?" I would ask. "Yeah, that's exactly it," Dan would say, "'blown bolt.' It's great, right?"

Of course it was great, but it took me at least a year to agree. Actually, what finally flicked the switch from Off to On was [WARNING: COOLIDGE CLICHE COMING] *hearing him read his work aloud*. Somehow, Dan convinced me to see Coolidge read live in some airless classroom at UC Berkeley. He was reading, I think, from At Egypt, which would have been brand new at that time (mid-late 80s). Anyway, that pretty much did it. The next time I was at Dan's and he passed me Solution Passage, I thought it was great and quickly found a copy of my own. It remained among my favorite books until I reread it recently ... like Michael, above, I wound up not being as dazzled this time around, although I still think it's great.

Some of his work gets better with rereading, and especially with close reading. That was true for me with Melencholia, which I only half liked the first couple of times, until I decided for some reason to write about it (in Exile? or Rain Taxi? er, I don't remember now), and really gave it a slow, careful, teasing out. I now think that one is better than Solution Passage.

We ran a funny piece in Exile where we created Hollywood pitches for each of his books. _Space_ was like some film directed by Ron Howard, where a ship passes through fields of function words, something like that. I think Meg Ryan played a "pert alcoholic" in _American Ones_. But my favorite was this one:

Arnold Schwarzenegger *is* ... _The So_.