31/3/2005

We're all allowed few blind spots. Aside from Brodsky and Milosz, I have never been interested in Montale, though I don't have an active dislike for the latter. Yet I would feel embarrassed for someone who didn't appreciate Cavafy or Pessoa. I think Olson is overrated, but I would feel embarrassed for someone who didn't *get* Creeley. Secretly, we all think our blind spots are not really blind spots, but actually correspond to some deficiencies in the original. In unguarded moments we confess our lack of interest in Pynchon. We reduce Rodin to Romantic bathos.

On the other hand, I'm sure that Auden is wrong when he says that Cavafy doesn't lose much in the translation. I'm convinced that what is lost in the translation of Cavafy is immeasurable, despite that fact that translations of his work still make for convincing reading. Maybe a pure superstition on my part.
Ah, but which 100 poems. You need all of them in order to decide.
I did hear Brodsky read once, in that oratorical Russian style. It was many years ago when I was a Graduate Student at Stanford. The experience left me cold.
I don't know where the "60 books of poetry" that Creeley was supposed to have published are. It makes this master of the minimal seem almost insanely prolific. I think there are really about 12-15, not counting the selecteds and collecteds and recompilations, limited editions, and chapbooks, the same poems arranged in different configurations. The prose also adds to the total, of course. I'm sure there are sixty separate titles, everything taken together, for a poet whose essential legacy is 100 brief poems.
"In my head I am walking but I am not in my head."

***

It's springtime, time for my seasonal put-down of Brodsky. Perhaps Brodsky does not travel well. He may very well be a great poet in Russia, but his reputation in the US is based on his poems in English--whether translated from the Russian or written directly in English. For the most part, his American admirers don't know any more Russian than his detractors do. What makes us think Wang Wei is a great poet? I have no doubt he is, even though I don't know a word of Chinese. There is something that comes through even in mediocre translation. I have no idea whether Creeley would work in Russian translation either.

Here is what I call the "generic" translation blurb. It is a real blurb, I'm just leaving out the names:

"X's translations, while remaining faithful to the meaning and spirit of the original, are consistently imaginative in language and effective as English poetry."

How false this is. X's translations are wonderful translations in some respects, and are imaginative, but they are not "effective as English poetry." Milosz and Brodsky in translation are not effective as poetry in English, and for me, at least, I don't have the unshakeable conviction that the original is great, either. Rigorously speaking, I have to be agnostic. I simply don't know. I can suspect that I would hate Brodsky in Russian too, but this is only a suspicion. Certainly Milosz was ill-served by being translated by mediocre American poets like Pinsky. Brodsky didn't have anyone honest enough in his circle to tell him NOT to write poems in English.

30/3/2005

If you were going to get a pet, what kind of animal would you get? As I sd to my friend, because I am always talking, John, I said, which was not his name, the darkness surrounds us, what can we do against it or else, shall we & why not, buy a goddamn big car, drive, he sd for Christ's sake look out where you're going. I wanted so ably to reassure you, I wanted the man you took to be me, to comfort you, and got up, and went to the window, pushed back, as you asked me to, the window, to see the outline of the trees in the night outside. All night the rain had come back again, and again falls, the quiet persistent rain. What am I to myself that must be remembered, insisted upon so often? Be wet with a decent happiness. And and becomes just so. Semi-articulate flakes. One, and one, two three. I keep to myself such measures as I care for, daily the rocks accumulate position. There is nothing but what thinking makes it less tangible. The mind, fast as it goes, loses pace, puts in place of it like rocks simple markers. All forgets. My mind sinks. I hold in both hands such weight. It is my only description.
Funny how I had just memorized this poem: "I keep to myself such / measures as a I care for, / daily the rocks / accumulate position. // There is nothing / but what thinking makes / it less tangible..."

Creeley invented a new way of speaking in poetry. There are lines nobody else could have written. I still haven't seen an official obituary. Until I do, I will continue to think he's still alive and that it was all a bad joke.
There's a kind of sentimentality in seeing poets of other nations as heroic resisters and American poets as suburban idlers. This contrast was commonplace in the 1970s and persists to this day. Of course, there are poets who were heroic resisters, and suburban idlers with nothing very important to say. But to measure poets by their political salience in their native land is ultimately a mistake. Lorca was not a great poet because he was killed.

Brodsky and Milosz, I suspect, are vastly overrated. Once we take away the "witness to great historical events" topos, what is left? We would never accept poetry this bad if it weren't a translation from an original we presume to be brilliant.

***

A reviewer for Poetry magazine doesn't know what "musicality" in poetry is. Granted, it's an overused metaphor, but it has a real meaning, and there is no other word that can express this fundamental value quite as well. If you can't hear poetry, you shouldn't be in the business of reviewing it. To me, a poem can have a particular timbre and melody. Each poet has a particular sound, and each poem has a tune.

29/3/2005

LISTENING TO A MONK'S CH'IN DEPTHS

Carrying a ch'in cased in green silk, a monk
descended from O-mei Mountain in the west.

When he plays, even in a few first notes,
I hear the pines of ten thousand valleys,

and streams rinse my wanderer's heart clean.
Echoes linger among temple frost-fall bells,

night coming unnoticed in emerald mountains,
autumn clouds banked up, gone dark and deep.

(Hinton)

ONE HEARING CHUN THE BUDDHIST MONK FROM SHU PLAY HIS LUTE

The monk from Shu with his green silk lute-case,
Walking west down O-mei Mountain,
Has brought me by one touch of the strings
The breath of pines in a thousand valleys.
I hear him in the cleansing brook,
I hear him in the icy bells;
And I feel no change though the mountain darkens
And cloudy autumn heaps the sky.

(Bynner)

I'm afraid Bynner has the better ear. Hinton's version includes more semantic elements per line: frost-fall bells vs. icy bells. Bynner tends to simplify more. "one touch of the strings" is much bettter than "even in a few first notes."
AVOIDING FAREWELL IN A CHIN-LING WINESHOP

Breezes filling the inn with willow-blossom scents,
elegant girls serve wine, enticing us to try it.

Chin-ling friends come to see me off, I try to leave
but cannot, so we linger out another cup together.

I can't tell anymore. Which is long and which short,
the river flowing east or thoughts farewell brings on?

(Hinton)

PARTING AT A WINE-SHOP IN NAN-KING

A wind, bringing willow-cotton, sweetens the shop,
And a girl from Wu, pouring wine, urges me to share it
With my comrades of the city who are here to see me off;
And as each of them drains his cup, I say to him in parting,
Oh, go and ask this river running to the east
If it can travel farther than a friend's love.

(Bynner)

Once again, Bynner is more fluid. Hinton's lineation and punctuation have the effect of disrupting the flow of the utterance. Where Hinton would put a period, Bynner would put the word "and." The main difference between the two translators is rhythmic, then. I'm assuming that both are fairly close to the original, since they don't diverge all that much semantically. Whether you like "linger out another cup" is a matter of taste. To me it's translatorese: the kind of phrase that occurs to translators but is not idiomatic in the "target language."
ON PHOENIX TOWER IN CHIN LIN

In its travels, the phoenix stopped at Phoenix Tower,
but soon left the tower empty, the river flowing away.

Blossoms and grasses burying the paths of an Wu palace,
Chin's capped and robed nobles all ancient gravemounds,

the peaks of Triple Mountain float beyond azure heavens,
and mistream in open waters, White-Egret Island hovers.

It's all drifting clouds and shrouded sun. Lost there,
our Ch'ang-an's nowhere in sight. And so begins grief.

--David Hinton

ON CLIMBING IN NAN-KING TO THE TERRACE OF PHOENIXES

Phoenixes played here once, so that the place was named for them,
Have abandoned it now to this desolate river;
The paths of Wu Palace are crooked with weeds;
The garments of Chin are ancient dust.
. . . Like this island of White Egrets dividing the river,
A cloud has arisen between the Light of Heaven and me,
To hide his city from my melancholy heart.

--Wytter Bynner

Two versions of what I take to be the same Li Po poem. Hinton seems to want the reader to slow down and puzzle through each line, whereas Bynner strives for a more fluid effect. didn't understand "Chin's capped" in Hinton's version until I realized it was "capped and robed nobles" and that Chin was a place, not part of a face. Different as they are, I like both versions. Hinton received a grant from the Witter Bynner foundation for his translation, but leaves Bynner out of his bibliography.

28/3/2005

Yikes, I meant "Michael Goldberg" not Michael "B." Blogger is not letting me in to edit my posts.
I bought a Witter Bynner translation. The Jade Mountain. It's not a first edition or anything, but a nice hardbound book in good condition, printed the month I was born. On the theory that one can never have too many translation of Chinese poetry.

***

I'm writing a Villanelle without rhyme or meter. The repetition of the lines is enough, with a pantoum-like quality. I never rhyme my pantoums either.

***

Frank O'Hara invented a new kind of long poem in the poem for Michael B's Birthday and Biotherm for B.B. The New York Tiimes doesn't know it yet. It only happened 45 years ago, so you wouldn't expect them to have caught on yet.

***

Simic has a good piece on Wilbur in the most recent NYRB. It's not on line so you'll have to find a physical copy of the rag. What Simic says about Wilbur's unevenness is quite true. I still can't help thinking that Simic himself is not a quarter of the poet Wilbur is, when Wilbur is at his best. SOME POET! Simic has a very narrow range, although he is consistent within that range. I'd rather be uneven than be even and not ever superb. Simic just doesn't ever give me enough for the eye, the ear, the mind. I just demand more from poetry, I guess.

27/3/2005

Language poetry for people who don't like language poetry.

Grenier. Sentences
Scalapino: That they were at the beach
Hejinian: My Life
Fanny Howe: Selected Poems
Silliman: Under Albany
Coolidge: Mine: The one who enters the stories
Susan Howe: The Europe of Trusts
Armantrout: Precedence
Palmer. Notes to Echo Lake

I'm assuming that if you DO like language poetry you don't need a list. I tend to prefer these 9 these writers to Andrews, Watten, Bernstein, Davidson, or Perelman.
I like Paul Auster's novels quite a bit. They are very readable, moving forward with a brisk narrative rhythm. They usually hook the reader toward the end. I like the little nods toward Raymond Roussel and Kafka, Beckett, Hammett, and Flann O'Brien. In short, the "European" resonance tinged with American noirish attitude. So yes, I am a fan of his work. I have always had a problem taking it seriously, though. There are false notes, moments when he telegraphs his punches. His thematic development and his modernist clichés become too explicit: he basically tells the reader how to interpret the text. I'm surprised that he gets away with it. He is good enough at narrative pacing and balancing predictability with unpredictability. Sometimes you think you know exactly where he's going and he goes there, but in an unexpected way. Oracle Nights is one of this best.

26/3/2005

It's been suggested that I put in my list of NY Poetry as well. Of course, you should read everything these poets have written, but I'm going to give a few of my favorites, in no particular order.


John Ashbery. Houseboat Days.
James Schuyler. Selected Poems. [Normally I don't like Selecteds, but this one really includes almost everything you need to read of Schuyler]
Koch. One Thousand And One Avant-Garde Plays / Thank You and Other Poems
Barbara Guest. Selected Poems / The Red Gaze
Frank O'Hara. Collected Poems.
David Shapiro. Lateness.
Joseph Ceravolo. Spring in this World of Poor Mutts.
Clark Coolidge. The Crystal Text / Own Face
Berrigan (père) Sonnets
Berrigan (fils) Zero Star Hotel
Notley. Mysteries of Small Houses
Ron Padgett. Joe. Among the Blacks.
Joe Brainard. I Remember.
Eileen Myles. I don't necessarily have a favorite work; just choose anything start reading.
Jordan Davis. Million Poems Journal
Bernadette Mayer. Writing Experiments / A Mid-Winter's Day
Jonathan Mayhew. Minor Poets of the New York School. {just kidding}

And don't forget Frank Lima, Michael Brownstein, Lewis Marsh, Kenward Elmslie. I'm sure there are other poets I'm forgetting or just haven't read that much. I have no rigorous definition of the New York School. You qualify if you are in an anthology of NY School poetry or if you have some direct connection to one of the five "first generation" poets or to one of the Tulsa school figures.
What if Pound was already a late modernist? What is the "it" that must be made new? The literary tradition itself. His best poetry is translation, revision of the literary tradition. Bringing "it" up to date. More pastistic than futuristic. The Calvacanti, the Cathay, the Lude sing Godamn, the Seafarer. How about Joyce's medieval scholasticism, Yeats' sense of belatedness? So late Beckett is modernism on life support, agonizingly eking out a few more decades. I can't go on. I must go on. Yet what do we have now? 21st Century modernism. Barbara Guest's nostalgia for imagism.

***

Here is my list of 20th Century American poetry, exclusive of the New York School. These are just the works that have meant the most to me. I'd have to make a separate list just of the New York School.

Stein. Lectures in America
Stevens. Harmonium
Pound. Cathay
WCW. Spring and All
Spicer. A Textbook of Poetry
Creeley. For Love / Words
Silliman. Paradise
Niedecker. [Everything]
Ginsberg. Howl.


25/3/2005

My Poet's Bookshelf. I'm assuming everyone already knows that I like Ceravolo, Coolidge, Guest, Shapiro, O'Hara, Koch, Ashbery, Schuyler, Creeley, Williams, and not necessarily in that order. My list will include only non-Americans.

Basho. All the haiku, and renga in collaboration with other poets.
Beckett. Ill Seen Ill Said and "Neither."
Pessoa. All the Alvaro de Campos poems.
Claudio Rodríguez. Collected poetry. I wrote my dissertation on this guy.
Raymond Roussel. "La Vue"
Baudelaire. Fleurs du mal
Reverdy. Plupart du Temps
Shakespeare's Sonnets
Herrick
Horace and Catullus
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Obviously on any other day I might come up with a different list. I'm not a great lorquista, unfortunately. He's a great poet, but one I don't feel close to myself. I've gone out of my way to avoid writing about him, even though he's in my field, academically speaking.
There is such a thing as bad poetry. Sickening right-wing doggerel-drivel, like this poem poking fun of the parents of a woman who was killed by the Israeli army.
"The only fertile research is excavatory, immersive, a contraction of the spirit, a descent. The artist is active, but negatively, shrinking from the nullity of extra-circumferential phenomena, drawn in to the core of the eddy."

Any guesses as to the author of this passage?

24/3/2005

I realize I posted a lot yesterday, a slightly manic day. I was at my desk a lot. I came up with a plan to write an article in six or seven days. Yesterday I came up with a title, "Fragments of a Late Modernity," a critical problem: what does it mean to be a late modernist poet like José Angel Valente, who died in 2000? I re-read some poems and wrote a brief outline. Today I make some more notes. Day 3, I write a first draft on the computer. Day 4, format and revise for style. Day 5, put in some footnotes and bibliography. Day 6, write a cover letter and send to a journal. The only hitch is that the days will not be consecutive, since the weekends are not free for unfettered work.

I can write very fast. I've written publishable articles in a few days before. Of course, I'm cannibalizing from my own conference papers and unpublished notes and I'm writing about poets I've been reading for more than 20 years. So will the article take 6 days or 20 years? Don't try this at home.

Publishing in the best journals in my field was never a problem for me. It came relatively easy. Which made me suspicious of the "best" journals. (PMLA took a relatively dull one, while rejecting my more interesting submissions.) What business did these journals have accepting the articles of a 30-year old kid who knew hardly anything? The journal in my field I most respect is now edited by my wife, so I cannot publish there any longer. We don't do nepotism.

***

I might as well take a few notes in the blog itself, so I can pretend to be working:

Valente is a late modernist. What does that mean? The main parallels are late Beckett and Celan. Since I've already done my Celan/Valente and Tàpies/Valente articles, I will concentrate on Beckett here. The sense of not being able to go on, but forcing oneself to go on, becomes a metaphor for a belated modernism, more crepuscular and elegiac than forward moving. Avant-garde as arrière-garde? (is arrière even a word? note to self: look it up) Modernism as medievalism (Barbara Guest). (Bloom's idea that modernism is already belated in some sense; Perloff's sense that modernism is coming back (21st century modernism)). Valente's evocations of his son Antonio death dominate his last book Fragmentos de un libro futuro. Valente's own repetitions, like his friend Antoni Tàpies's endless crosses and walls! Or even John Ashbery, who has been known to repeat himself a bit. While the poetry of this posthumous book (and a book INTENDED to be posthmumous) can be as compelling as his earlier work, there is nothing fundamentally new here: a re-capitulation of his typical motifs and genres. Prose-poems, translations and apocryphal translations, elegies for Antonio, aphorisms, recastings of motifs from mystical traditions from Sufism to Taoism and Zen.

I'll have to discuss modernism in terms of the "Blanchot canon." Pretty much a Mallarmé-to- Celan vision of European modernism that takes shape in Blanchot's essays from the 40 to the 60s and beyond. Blanchot did not devise this canon all by himself, but that's the most convenient place to locate it. I'll have to explain why postmodernism is not relevant to this discussion. (By the way, I've come across the misspelling "cannon" or "canon" twice in the last week, in a review of Milosz on Bookslut and somewhere else I don't remember: a cannon is a large gun, a canon, a collection of sacred or approved texts. We used to pun on the two words a lot during the culture wars of the 1980s.)

What does it mean that the most prominent poet in what could be called the late modernist mode (in Spain) practices a belated or recycled version of modernity? One conclusion would be that this sort of poetry is "dying out." This could be symbolized by the death of the son. (I'm not sure whether that's my metaphor or Valente's.) The other conclusion: it lasted this long, there must be something to it. It even outlasted an increasingly weak "postmodernism," which never took off in Spain. A third conclusion: poetic "modernity" in Spain in the 21st century might not look like Valente's modernism any more. It is too soon to say what it might look like.
I realize I posted a lot yesterday, a slightly manic day. I was at my desk a lot. I came up with a plan to write an article in six or seven days. Yesterday I came up with a title, "Fragments of a Late Modernity," a critical problem: what does it mean to be a late modernist poet like José Angel Valente, who died in 2000? I re-read some poems and wrote a brief outline. Today I make some more notes. Day 3, I write a first draft on the computer. Day 4, format and revise for style. Day 5, put in some footnotes and bibliography. Day 6, write a cover letter and send to a journal. The only hitch is that the days will not be consecutive, since the weekends are not free for unfettered work.

I can write very fast. I've written publishable articles in a few days before. Of course, I'm cannibalizing from my own conference papers and unpublished notes and I'm writing about poets I've been reading for more than 20 years. So will the article take 6 days or 20 years? Don't try this at home.

Publishing in the best journals in my field was never a problem for me. It came relatively easy. Which made me suspicious of the "best" journals. (PMLA took a relatively dull one, while rejecting my more interesting submissions.) What business did these journals have accepting the articles of a 30-year old kid who knew hardly anything? The journal in my field I most respect is now edited by my wife, so I cannot publish there any longer. We don't do nepotism.

***

I might as well take a few notes in the blog itself, so I can pretend to be working:

Valente is a late modernist. What does that mean? The main parallels are late Beckett and Celan. Since I've already done my Celan/Valente and Tàpies/Valente articles, I will concentrate on Beckett here. The sense of not being able to go on, but forcing oneself to go on, becomes a metaphor for a belated modernism, more crepuscular and elegiac than forward moving. Avant-garde as arrière-garde? (is arrière even a word? note to self: look it up) Modernism as medievalism (Barbara Guest). (Bloom's idea that modernism is already belated in some sense; Perloff's sense that modernism is coming back (21st century modernism)). Valente's evocations of his son Antonio death dominate his last book Fragmentos de un libro futuro. Valente's own repetitions, like his friend Antoni Tàpies's endless crosses and walls! Or even John Ashbery, who has been known to repeat himself a bit. While the poetry of this posthumous book (and a book INTENDED to be posthmumous) can be as compelling as his earlier work, there is nothing fundamentally new here: a re-capitulation of his typical motifs and genres. Prose-poems, translations and apocryphal translations, elegies for Antonio, aphorisms, recastings of motifs from mystical traditions from Sufism to Taoism and Zen.

I'll have to discuss modernism in terms of the "Blanchot canon." Pretty much a Mallarmé-to- Celan vision of European modernism that takes shape in Blanchot's essays from the 40 to the 60s and beyond. Blanchot did not devise this canon all by himself, but that's the most convenient place to locate it. I'll have to explain why postmodernism is not relevant to this discussion. (By the way, I've come across the misspelling "cannon" or "canon" twice in the last week, in a review of Milosz on Bookslut and somewhere else I don't remember: a cannon is a large gun, a canon, a collection of sacred or approved texts. We used to pun on the two words a lot during the culture wars of the 1980s.)

What does it mean that the most prominent poet in what could be called the late modernist mode (in Spain) practices a belated or recycled version of modernity? One conclusion would be that this sort of poetry is "dying out." This could be symbolized by the death of the son. (I'm not sure whether that's my metaphor or Valente's.) The other conclusion: it lasted this long, there must be something to it. It even outlasted an increasingly weak "postmodernism," which never took off in Spain. A third conclusion: poetic "modernity" in Spain in the 21st century might not look like Valente's modernism any more. It is too soon to say what it might look like.

23/3/2005

I love desert island picks and readings lists, even the dumb "stick" game was fun, so I was happy to receive today in the mail a book compiled by painter and poet Peter Davis:The Poet's Bookshelf. Basically Peter, a reader of Bemsha Swing, asked a bunch of poets to give him their list of 5 to 10 books. 81 responded, with lists and explanations. It has Silliman and Armantrout, Anselm Berrigan and Lisa Jarnot, but also Franz Wright, Philip Levine, Lyn Lifshin, Gabriel Gudding. It's a good enough cross section to make everyone happy. You can even scoff at the choices of your least favorite poet. Probably the least inspired choices, to my mind, are those by Adrienne Rich, but these still gives useful information about her.

Who are the poets cited with most frequency? A list at the back tells us:

WCW 17
Whitman, Dickinson 16
O'Hara 12
Yeats, Shakespeare 11
Stevens 10
Ashbery 9
Rilke, Bishop, Lorca, Pound 8

This confirms my theory that O'Hara is the most influential poet of the postwar period. Lowell was mentioned by only 3, fewer than Melville or Keats or Mark Twain.
Overlap: Drew Gardner's Blog "In songs, Nick Drake, Tom Waits, Dylan, Elliot Smith? I look for the moments in the songs where poetry happens, conjunctions of lines and sounds, not for song lyrics that are like whole poems." I do the same thing when I read poetry. I look for when poetry happens in the poem, not necessarily for the "whole poem." Hope that makes sense.
Salon.com Life | Latte, tea or me?: "Among the reasons for these crushes, certainly, is convenience. 'You have this stationary target for your affection,' says Jim Behrle, a currently unemployed 31-year-old who used to work at a bookstore and also lives in Boston, of his fondness for coffee shop baristas. 'They're sort of stuck behind the counter and have to be nice to you.' "

You may need to watch a commercial for visa to get this story.
Another thing: Does anyone sincerely believe in a god who would damn someone's soul for all eternity because of a legal decision? Doesn't that put GOD in a position subservient to a mere judge? "Sorry to have to do this, but I have to send you to hell for all eternity. You see, a judge ordered the removal of your feeding tube, and who am I to change the rules? I am only GOD."

If you believe in such a deity, omnipotent but subject to the rulings of federal judges, you are profoundly STUPID, in the moral sense. Stupidity is itself evil. In other words, you might be a good-hearted person with good intentions, but if you end up being a Stalinist or a brain-dead fundamentalist Christian and justify this sort of crap, you are evil.
Check out the music of Kyle Gann. The piece based on Monk's "In Wallked Bud" is a lot of fun. There's also a Bartok-like folk dance and a piece based on a Kenneth Patchen poem.
If my cerebral cortex turns to mush, turn off the life-support. My name be buried where my body is and live no more to shame nor me nor you. For I am shamed by that which I bring forth, and so should you, to love things nothing worth. There is nothing but that thinking makes it less tangible. Daily the rocks accumulate position. Nay, if you read this line, remember not the hand that writ it, for I love you so, that I from your sweet thoughts would be forgot, if thinking on my then should casue you woe. Slowly the poison. Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère! Après moi, le déluge. The unsure aphorist is not good for himself. Drive he sd for Christ's sake look out where you're going.

***
Sincerity in the pursuit of evil ends is not a virtue. Having an intellectual justification/rationalization does not make you less evil.
WTF is up with your LRB | Lacanian-Leninist theorist. Stalin applauded himself, that gives him some redeeming value, placing him in the camp of the misguided but basically "enlightenment" tradition? To me, it's more frightening, not less, that mass murder is perpetrated by those who think they have "historical reason" on their side. We need a "theory" of Stalinism? I've met people who are adamantly anti-death penalty, but think it's fine for Castro to kill off a few dissidents. I guess we need a theory of that too! Thank you playing WTF is up with your Lacanina-Leninist theorist.

22/3/2005

Michael Bérubé slaps down Horowitz.
Ron Silliman is indifferent or even hostile to Rodin. Ashbery consigns sculpture to the basement in "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror." Since this is Comparative Literature morning on Bemsha Swing, I should point out that Rilke felt differently about Rodin. Rilke worked for Rodin and got a new sense of physicality into his poetry from the French sculptor's example. I'm not sure why Silliman's comment has the whiff of the philistine for me, whereas I accept Ashbery's quip with equanimity. A double standard? Or maybe I assign Ashbery's remark to the "speaker" of the poem, whereas the speaker of the blog is Ron himself. I approve of Christo, but using Christo to put down Rodin seems a bit absurd, n'est-ce pas?
Spleen


Je suis comme le roi d'un pays pluvieux,
Riche, mais impuissant, jeune et pourtant très vieux,
Qui, de ses précepteurs méprisant les courbettes,
S'ennuie avec ses chiens comme avec d'autres bêtes.
Rien ne peut l'égayer, ni gibier, ni faucon,
Ni son peuple mourant en face du balcon.
Du bouffon favori la grotesque ballade
Ne distrait plus le front de ce cruel malade ;
Son lit fleurdelisé se transforme en tombeau,
Et les dames d'atour, pour qui tout prince est beau,
Ne savent plus trouver d'impudique toilette
Pour tirer un souris de ce jeune squelette.
Le savant qui lui fait de l'or n'a jamais pu
De son être extirper l'élément corrompu,
Et dans ces bains de sang qui des Romains nous viennent,
Et dont sur leurs vieux jours les puissants se souviennent,
Il n'a su réchauffer ce cadavre hébété
Où coule au lieu de sang l'eau verte du Léthé.

I've been thinking about this poem a lot. Here are my mental notes.

"Je suis comme..." We never hear about the "je" after this first line. The whole poem is an extended simile. The decadent bloodthirsty king of a rainy country is supposed to be the equivalent of the splenetic Parisian poet.

"d'un pays pluvieux." sounds like "plus vieux." All the rhymes in the poem are "riches." That is, the entire final tonic syllable is identical. The poem was easy for me to memorize.

"S'ennuie avec ses chiens, comme avec d'autres bêtes." The normal phrase would be "s'amuse avec ses chiens..." We have a Hamletian moment here: "What is a man / if the chief profit of his days / be but to eat and sleep? a beast no more..."

"Rien ne peut l'égayer, ni gibier ni faucon,
Ni son peuple mourant en face du balcon."

Not the use of metonymy, often used for "stock" images. Falconery is "the sport of kings." Where does this cultural stereotype come from? The bloodthirsty, decadent monarch, intelligent but bored with everything? Hamlet is one archetype. Then there's the idea of "oriental despotism." What is interesting about the poem is how Baudelaire grafts one cultural stereotype (bored Parisian decadent poet) onto a previously recongizable literary archetype. Baudelaire invented the new stereotype, yet it is based on what must already be culturally recognizable.

"Du buffon favori..." We get a series of stock figures, the obsequious "précepteurs," the court jester, the licentious court ladies, the wise alchemist, the formerly powerful old men reading their Tacitus. We are supposed to recognize these images, and the poet uses the deictic "ce / ces" [this / these] with some frequency, drawing us into the scene.

How is the poet like this other figure? The reader has to do all the work to complete the metaphorical transformation, reading this poem along with a few others with the same title.

[Quick prose translation: I am like the king of a rainy country, Rich but powerless, young yet very old, who, disdaining the flattery of his tutors, bores himself with his dogs and other beasts. Nothing can cheer him up, neither game nor falcon, Nor his people dying across from his balcony. The grotesque ballad of the favorite clown Can no longer distract the brow of this cruel invalid. His bed decorated with fleurs de lys becomes a tomb, And the court ladies, for whom all princes are goodlooking, Cannot find a way to dress immodestly enough To draw out a smile from this young skeleton. The "savant" who makes his gold has never found a way To extirpate the corrupted element from his being. And in the blood baths we've inherited from the Romans, And which powerful men remember in their old days, He's not been able to reheat this decadent cadaver Where instead of blood the green water of Lethe flows.]

21/3/2005

I'll be in New York between the 15th and 19th of April. Anyone who wants to get together please let me know.
Here's a list from several years ago. Obviously the list would be different now:

May 11, 2001

Level I: Serious prolonged engagement over the course of many years. Sometimes significant publications about:

Claudio Rodríguez
José Angel Valente
Antonio Gamoneda
Pedro Salinas
Federico García Lorca
Jorge Guillén
Vicente Aleixandre
Luis Cernuda
Jaime Gil de Biedma
Felipe Benítez Reyes
María Victoria Atencia
Concha García
Lola Velasco

William Carlos Williams
Frank O?Hara
John Ashbery
Barbara Guest
Clark Coolidge
William Bronk
Robert Creeley
Jack Spicer
Kenneth Koch

Samuel Beckett


Level II: Some professional expertise, possibly a few publications about. Or some extensive/intensive reading at some point. Or at early stages in reading of work.

Garcilaso de la Vega

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer
Antonio Machado
Juan Ramón Jiménez
Francisco Brines
Leopoldo María Panero
Ana Rossetti
Blanca Andreu
Guillermo Carnero
Juan Lamillar
Jos María Alvarez
Pere Gimferrer

Isla Correyero
Amalia Iglesias
Ada Salas

Pablo Neruda
José Lezama Lima

W.B Yeats
Thomas Hardy
Emily Dickinson
T. S. Eliot
Wallace Stevens
James Schuyler
Joseph Ceravalo
Ted Berrigan
David Antin
Harry Mathews
Bernadette Mayer
James Tate
Charles Bernstein
Susan Howe
Ron Silliman
Lyn Hejinian
Leslie Scalapino

Pierre Reverdy
Raymond Roussel

Level III: Substantial knowledge of work, but less extensive and sustained (or more sporadic). Or without expert knowledge of original language, period. Might know about but dislike somewhat, etc?. Might own one or two books by?

Catullus
Horace
Paul Celan
Rilke
Fernando Pessoa

Luis de Góngora
Fray Luis de León
San Juan de la Cruz

William Shakespeare
Robert Herrick
William Wordsworth
Alexander Pope
William Blake
John Clare
W. H. Auden
Thom Gunn

Charles Baudelaire
Arthur Rimbaud
Stéphane Mallarmé
Guillame Apollinaire
André Breton

César Vallejo
Octavio Paz
Nicanor Parra

Walt Whitman
Gertrude Stein
H.D.
Ezra Pound
John Berryman
Robert Frost
Charles Olson
Denise Levertov
Robert Duncan
Jerome Rothenberg
Robert Lowell
Elizabeth Bishop
James Wright
Karl Shapiro
Gilbert Sorrentino
Sylvia Plath
Gary Snyder
Mark Strand
Louise Gluck
Fanny Howe
David Shapiro
Ron Padgett
Alice Notley
Juliana Spahr
John Koethe
Rae Armantrout
Michael Palmer
Barrett Watten
Robert Grenier

Rafael Alberti
Juan Larrea
Luis Rosales
Gerardo Diego
Manuel Altolaguirre
Blas de Otero
José Hierro
Carlos Bousoño
Ana María Moix
Angel González
Jaime Siles
Martínez Sarrión
Luisa Castro
José María Caballero Bonald
Julia Otxoa
Vicente Valero
Ildefonso Rodríguez
Luis García Montero

Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Cavafy


Level IV: Minimal but definable knowledge. Or substantial acquaintance without much sustained interest, etc?

Petrarch
Philip Sidney
Thomas Campion
Virgil
Andrew Marvell

Basho

Geoffrey Chaucer
Wyatt and Surrey
John Skelton
Edmund Spenser
John Donne
John Milton
John Dryden
P.B. Shelley
ST Coleridge

Philip Larkin
Ted Hughes
Seamus Heaney

E.A. Robinson
Carl Sandburg
e.e. cummings
Edgar Lee Masters
Marianne Moore
Adrienne Rich
Kenneth Rexroth
Philip Whalen
Josephine Miles
W.S. Merwin
Robert Bly
Jorie Graham
Gustaf Sobin
Anselm Hollo
Cid Corman
Tony Towle
Mark Halliday

El Duque de Rivas

J.A. Goytisolo
Carlos Barral
Angel Crespo
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
Eladio Cabañero
Jorge Riechmann

Paul Verlaine
René Char
Aimé Césaire
Vladamir Mayakovsky
Eugenio Montale

Rubén Darío
Nicolás Guillén
Alejandra Pizarnik
Blanca Varela
María Auxiliadora Alvarez
Eugenio Montejo
Enrique Lihn

Level V: Identifiable name. Little direct reading of work.

Robert Kelly
Robin Blaser
Frank Lima

Pasternak
Joseph Brodsky

Gautier
Cendrars

Ungarretti
Trakl

Meléndez Valdés
Toward the actor's declamation or the calligrapher's pen, the attitude that the poem's medium is the MIND, not the voice or the flourish of the pen. The opposite view: the poem that needs to be embodied in a particular presentation.


***

"Poets and Writers." Nobdy would say "Novelists and Writers." Like the bookstore pleonasm "Literature and Fiction"?

***

Poets with whom I've gone to school, that is, taken to the limits of obsession. I once compiled a list of all the writers I had studied to such an extent, whether professionally or personally. I wish I could find it, a document lurking on my hard drive somewhere.

19/3/2005

So much for my bracket... if I had a bracket.

17/3/2005

Fame is ultimately banal. The stories Gary has collected are marvelous, mind you. Discussing orchids with Raymond Burr, priceless, as the Mastercard slogan would have it. The law of 6 degrees of separation means I am probably only one degree of separation from any given famous person, since famous people know more people. They get out more.

Is exchanging polite hellos with Regis in the St. Louis airport, as we were walking opposite directions, equivalent to glimpsing Borges being led to his lecture in Madrid? I almost met the King and Queen of Spain but had to leave to pick my daughter up before I could. My wife met them. My late father met Prince Charles once in an official capacity. I saw one of the 60 Minutes anchors outside the Metropolitan Museum in New York once. Morley Safer or Mike Wallace? I didn't even know at the time. My strategy is usually to pretend not to notice Mr. Famous Person. I was introduced to Stephen Spender when I was a kid and he came through town to give a poetry reading. Is that like having met Robert Blake (I haven't met him)? I've met Richard Eberhart. Robert Bly. Robert Creeley. William Stafford. Thom Gunn. Karl Shapiro. I know, to varying degrees, Jordan Davis, Gilbert Sorrentino, Marjorie Perloff, Ron Silliman, Ken Irby, Pierre Joris, and Kasey Mohammad. I've known Claudio Rodríguez and Francisco Brines. I've been to a poetry reading by Rafael Alberti. Another by Gonzalo Rojas. I've seen Juliana Spahr. I went to a poetry reading where a host of famous poets were present. Eileen Myles, Jerry Rothenberg, David Antin. I audited part of a course by René Girard. I've seen Billy Higgins in the flesh. He nodded at my applause. I had Kenneth Koch sign my KK books at a reading many years ago. I said something banal to him. I've had phone conversations with David Shapiro. Legendary minor poets have emailed me in response to my blog.

My mom was a waitress in the 1950s and the actor who played "Jethro" used to come in to the place she worked. He wasn't famous yet.

16/3/2005

Let's play: What's up with your kooky right wing web magazine.

First of all, what's up with the painting of a depressed-looking Uncle Sam in Rodin's "thinker" posture? His right elbow should be above his left knee, not his right knee. Look at the damned statue! If you can't get that right how can we expect you to get anything else right?

Let me get this straight: Communism is bad (I knew that) and democrats might as well be communists. The U.N is bad. Indian mascots for sports teams? Good. McCarthyism? Good. France? Bad. Israeli occupation of West Bank? Good. Death penalty? Good. Except when Kenneth Starr is against it, then it is temporarily bad to prove the liberals wrong about Starr: he's a good guy after all. Social security? Bad. The whole thing reminds me of the Birchers I knew as a kid with the anti U.N. bumper stickers. I knew they were dumb even when I was eleven years old.

The magazine is supposed to seem highly "intellectual." One article I saw even had footnotes. Funny, "The American Thinker" doesn't have articles by any noted conservative "intellectuals." It doesn't even rise even close to the level of Commentary or The New Criterion. Where's Gertrude Himmelfarb when you need her? Where's Judge Richard Posner? Hilton Kramer himself would be embarrassed by this shoddy site. Hugh Kenner and Guy Davenport would turn over in their graves. William Buckley would turn over in his grave were he not still alive. Where's the "thoughtful" reflection on serious issues that the zine promises? (By the way, it was the Christians who threw the Jews out of Spain, not the Arabs. Maybe if you read a book or two by Ammiel Alcalay you would learn something. He even edited an anthology of Israeli literature!)

Thank you for playing "What's up with your kooky right-wing web magazine."
The stick has been passed to me by two other bloggers. I hate ponzi schemes and chain letters, so it will die here with me.

Book for Fahrenheit 451. Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara. You get to memorize the book and then pass it on to someone else, if I remember Bradbury's novel correctly. So I would get to memorize the Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, and teach it to a younger person.

Last book I bought. (Auster)
Last book I read Sugar Pill (Drew Garnder)
Currently reading. The Red Gaze (Guest)

Crush on a fictional character. Aunt Fritzi from the Nancy comic strip.

Desert Island Picks:

Góngora, Soledades.
Shakespeare, Sonnets
Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara
A la recherche du temps perdu
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Speaking of Poetry Magazine, the blog formerly known as geneva convention has some comments on Goldbarth and W.S. in the recent issue.

A friend of mine, X, at Stanford had a friend who was also a good friend of W.S. This mutual friend had a particular kind of relationship with W.S. DiPiero based on a relationship of equality, two buddies hanging out, and created a totally misleading expectation in X's mind of what DiPiero would really be like. I can't remember if this story is even accurate, it was told to me so long ago.
I actually have some respect for W.S. I even audited his course on contemporary British poetry many years ago. That's why I appointed him editor of the "academic" issue of Poetry.

15/3/2005

A Modest Proposal for the Reform of Poetry Magazine.

January. Henry Gould issue. Every January would feature the work of a lesser known, but deserving poet. Preserving cultural memory.

February. Poetry Comics! edited by Gary Sullivan. There has never been a comic in Poetry, ttbomk.

March. Academic Poetry issue, edited by W.S. DiPiero and Robert Pinsky. We leave room for the old "Poetry" magazine, but only once a year.

April. Language and Post-Language Poetry issue, edited by Lyn Hejinian.

May. Visual and Sound Poetry.

June. Poets under the age of 12.

July. Translations.

August. Amateur poetry. Ditties from Church Newsletters!

September. Bad poems by famous poets. (The APR issue! )

October. Song lyrics.

November. Minor Poets of the New York School.

December. Prose: reviews, exchanges, etc...

Notice that at least 3 issues are reserved for bad poetry, so lovers of the bad should be appeased. We've quarantined the academic school into one issue, added more visual and auditory appeal, tipped the balance away from prose. This formula also allows the reader to break out of the usual rotation of Pinsky, Collins, Charles Wright, Citno, DiPiero, Sandra Gilbert, Merwin, Pinsky, Hass, Collins, DiPiero, Ashbery, Citino, DiPiero, Bidart, Pinsky...

You may think my approach is too gimmicky, but I am perfectly serious. The magazine has plenty money so the logistics shouldn't be too hard to handle. We can pay someone to scour the church newsletters in search of amateur poetry, fly Gary into Chicago to edit the Comix issue.

14/3/2005

Lets play: What's up with your prestigious Poetry magazine

The magazine in question has not really been good for a very long time. It is rooted in the 1950s-1970s academic style. A recent feature had a series of mediocrities condescend to famous poets who were better than them. Does anyone really care whether McClatchy doesn't care for Rilke or someone I've never heard of doesn't like Whitman? That Dobyns doesn't like Frost? Dobyns shouldn't even be allowed to have an opinion about Frost! Of course William Logan hates Hopkins. William Logan hates poetry of all kinds.

Do we need a magazine featuring W.S. DiPiero in every fricking issue? Do we need mediocre light verse pantoums by A.E. Stallings? Essays by Joseph Epstein and John Simon?

They repeatedly publish the worst poets of our age, the Pinskys, the Collinses. If they go New York School they stick to Koethe and Lehman.

There are some reviews worth reading, but the prose is increasingly crowding out the poetry. Have you noticed? More prose features, letters to the editor, exchanges that are much more interesting than any poem in the magazine. (The discussion on "greatness" is downright irritating though.) Less poetry, and poetry of lesser quality. Let's promote poetry by showing how dull it can be!

I'm sure I'm being unfair. I haven't read every poem in the magazine to make sure they are all dull. If you are readiing this blog and published a good poem there in the past few years, I'm sure it just slipped through the cracks. Nothing can be perfectly dull, not even Poetry Magazine.

Thank you for playing "What's up with your prestigious poetry magazine." And apologies to Jimmy Behrle who inspired the title of my game.
Reading: Sugar Pill (Thanks Drew), The Red Gaze,. Eunoia.
My writing is echoey lately. Always. The "voice" is never mine. Let my powers of imitation fail me!

13/3/2005

Interpretation of my dream:

1. I placed a premium on originality. I objected to the painters who shamelessly painted in the style of other painters. The dream also includes an implicit critique of Miró's self-plagiarism.

2. I was also placing a premium on technical skill. I objected to the poor draftmanship of the artist painting Mickey Mouse. I admired the technical skill of Warhol without liking his art.

3. Anger. I was angry that this kind of work was being done and accepted as valid.

4. I was looking at a catalogue, not at the paintings themselves. A lot of my experience of art is looking at reproductions rather than originals. The dream had a second-hand quality.

12/3/2005

e-x-c-h-a-n-g-e-v-a-l-u-e-s. Thomas Fink interviews Sheila Murphy. Just up and worth reading. A beautiful interview.
The clue in the Saturday Times puzzle was "Many a blog post." That answer was supposed to be "rant." The scary part is that was the first word that occured to me for that clue.
My art criticism dream: I was leafing through an art catalogue with someone else, identity unknown. The prints were of very derivative paintings, fake Miró's with typical bird and star motifs, with that typical Miró blue sky color. I was loudly complaining about how bad and derivative these paintings were. The last ones we were looking at had Mickey Mouse figures, very badly drawn, against this same Miró-like background. I started in rather pedantically and angrily about how Joe Brainard's "Nancy" drawings were much superior. Then I went on to Warhol. It was clear the other person was not a Warhol fan. "Even Andy Warhol draws much better!" I shouted. To clarify my point I went on: "I said EVEN Warhol..." I had the image of Warhol's Mao series in my mind. By this time I was with the other person in some kind of cafeteria line, and the identity of the person was a little clearer. Waking up I assumed that it was Marjorie Perloff.

11/3/2005

I found, written into my old copy of The Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara, a list of "10 best O'Hara?" I must have done this list many years ago. I know I had the book since the 1970s. Not all the poems I list are in the Selcted poems.

Poetry
Memorial Day 1950
Getting Up Ahead of Someone (Sun)
To the Harbormaster
A True Account of Talking to the Sun on Fire Island
Mr. O'Hara's Sunday Morning Service
A Young Poet
Poem (There I Could Never be a Boy)
Naptha
A Step Away from Them

I still agree with this list, more or less, though it's missing the poem for Morton Feldman ("Who'd have thought / that snow falls") "On Rachmaninoff's Birthday,." "Biotherm," "In Memory of My Feelings," "The Day Lady Died." It's like trying to fit forty poems into a list of ten. I would put the best thirty poems of O'Hara against a comparable number of poems from any other poet of this period.

***

Here's a translation I'm working on:

As though a lantern yanked me up
from the middle of the night,
so you uncovered me, so you pointed me out.
So you drilled through my steep silences and minted
the borders of my island.
Naming me, you expose me, you place me in the bull?s-eye.
There is no place for a ruse, there is no place to hide.
I am a paralyzed target, center of your will, destiny
of your attention and your warning.
What are you waiting for?
I won?t shrink from the light.
Let what your dart decrees be done in me.

(Ana Rossetti)

While I only really need a literal version, I want something much more satisfying. This incredibly clunky version is not it. Much too preposition-y for one thing. The last line doesn't work at all. She's really saying "thy will be done," with a biblical overtone, but speaking of a pagan love god. It could be a Lorenz Hart lyric: "I'm a sentimental sap that's all / what's the use of trying not to fall. You've cooked my goose / so what's the use / 'cause you took advantage of me." I'm so hot and bothered that I don't know my elbow from me knee. So lock the doors and call me yours. What kind of car would Shakespeare drive? I really need a sort of Petrarchan vocabulary.

Translating you usually discover the strengths and weaknesess of a poet. Rossetti is a bit campy, redundant, over the top in rhetoric, sentimental, and those are the strengths).

10/3/2005

Back to that Meghan O'Rourke article on Ashbery. It does exactly what a critical article for the general public needs to do: give specific orientation to the reader, but without condescension. The suggestions are concrete and followable, removing some barriers to comprehension (Ashbery's pronoun shifts, for example.) Compare this Joan Houlihan's response to the Hejinian bap, a response which does not fulfill any useful critical function.

The analogy I like to use is classical music. People sometimes assume that it offers some kind of "immediate" gratification, that you don't have to be trained to listen to it. Yet almost everyone who does in fact listen to it with real enjoyment grew up around it in some fashion. Even someone with as little musical talent as I possess. I have studied a few instruments, played in bands, sung in at least three choirs, been to classical concerts, heard my mother and sister play the classical repertory on the piano all through my childhood. I have enough of a background to know what it's all about, without being anything close to an expert on any aspect of it. Much less than a real musician, but in comparison with someone who hasn't had exposure at all, a great deal. I know enough to say that James Merrill is not Mozartian in any way!

Poetry is the same way. People without any background in it need exposure and possibly a bit of guidance. And many people's exposure to it is exceedingly minimal, even more minimal than the average person's exposure to classical music. That's why I love "instruction manuals" if they are done in the right way.
Answers in to Gary's question, very interesting set of responses.
Ron, helping out a student with an assignment about language poetry objects to "purify the language of the tribe" as a cliché. What he could have pointed out was that Carl Dennis uses this phrase in a way antithetical to its origin in Mallarmé's "Le tombeau d'Edgar Poe":

Eux, comme un vil sursaut d'hydre oyant jadis l'ange
Donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu,
Proclamèrent très haut le sortilège bu
Dans le flot sans honneur de quelque noir mélange.

[More or less: a vile crowd of people like a multi-headed hydra having heard the angel give a purer sense to the words of the tribe, proclaimed very loudly that the spell had been imbibed in the honorless vessel of some black mixture]

This is Mallarmé's protest against people like Carl Dennis, who think poetry should speak "clearly," and who were presumably objecting to Poe on similar grounds. Anyone who associates Mallarmé with some plain-spoken Wordsworthian idea of poetic language, as Dennis seems to be doing, is deeply confused about literary history. Mon dieu.

9/3/2005

The Instruction Manual - How to read John Ashbery. By Meghan O'Rourke
Ashbery is still the man. Turn to page 43 of your copy of Where Shall I Wander and read the poem "Well-Lit Places."

"The proud, the famous, the magnficent
exude gentleness and megalomania.
Embassies are loud with the sound of cymbals and organ.
The taste of insolence is sharp, with an agreeable mingled sweetness."

Not every poem in the book is on that level. I haven't read much of it yet. I'm getting to know it gradually.

See also page 9.

What?! You don't have the book yet? Waiting for it to come out in paperback? Maybe the New York Times convinced you that, while Ashbery is important enough to put on the cover of the Book Review, you don't really need to read ANOTHER damned Ashbery book. Maybe you brought a Pinsky to an Ashbery fight once and got badly beaten.
Pack Poetry might soon join my list of favorite blogs. I just started reading it yesterday so it's not even on my blogroll yet. Some good posts about Kenneth Koch's comics and children's poetry.

***

I have a "nothing's too stupid to write down" notebook, where I jot down phrases from my internal babble:

bleeding fountain pen

wearing big hats as absurd status symbols

It is only in its imperfections than air becomes visible.

Something I learned yesterday becomes something I have always known.

You must position yourself along a continuum not of your own making.

What I read only confirms my beliefs, never changes them!

To get my handwriting small enough...

"We don't have to lock the cabinets any more. It doesn't have to be cute or pretentious."

What this notebook won't become.

Can't bear to put my name in this book.

"contempt for the academic"

"tone deftness"

doesn't look like work.

Since it costs $15 dollars to rent these shopping carts, we must hitch them to the stars.


8/3/2005

Corey has quit the evil poetics list too. I advised Tim Yu to do so months ago. It took yet another racist incident to finally convince him. Let's leave it for the homophobic racists and the tiresome poets who use it for a captive audience. Then it can just be put out of its misery.
Another good M blog is Bill Marsh'sSan Diego Poetry Guild, An excellent post on poetry slams and the Christian right. Check it out.
{lime tree}: Shakespeare's Sonnet 71

The way I read this poem, the central figure is the paradox of false humility: it comes to say the opposite of what it ostensibly says: do not remember me after I am dead; mourn for me only as long as the surly sullen bells are ringing. The idea is that the speaker is so unworthy that the "wise world" (sarcastic alliteration: the world was "vile" only a few lines earlier) will mock the addressee for having loved him. "Remember me not," however, is an impossible command to fulfill (don't think about a white polar bear!). Don't let a little thing like our friendship get in the way of something so important as your social standing! "My poor name" is ambiguous: is he saying "poor me," I will be dead, or "poor me," I am unworthy of your love and friendship due to my low social standing?

What the poem is really saying is: "If you truly love me, you will mourn for me even though others might ridicule you for it. Reading these lines, you will realize that your concern for your worldy position is misguided."
K.S. Mohammad's {lime tree} has always been in my top two or three blogs. Hell, I even know how to spell his name after three years (I hope). If you do his exercise on sonnet 71 at home you will receive a fine education in poetic technique. The combination of solid erudition and up-to-date flarf hipness is impossible to beat. Along with Josh Corey, it is the top blog for academic poetry wonks like myself.

The only flaw in Lime Tree that I can see is that it is not updated hourly or daily. Unfortunately for us Kasey has more *important* things to do than maintain his blog.

7/3/2005

Pierre Reverdy

Départ

L'horizon s'incline
Les jours sont plus longs
Voyage
Un coeur saute dans une cage
Un oiseau chante
Il va mourir
Une autre porte va s'ouvrir
Au fond du couloir
Où s'allume
Une étoile
Une femme brune
La lanterne du train qui part

What's great about this is you only need Jr. High School French to read it. Note the rhymes and the rhythmic phrases. I've scanned the lines for you. After the first three lines everything is divided into groups of 8 syllables (8, or 4+4, 3+5):

5
5
2
8
4
4
8
5
3
3
5
8

It's not about hard and easy. Ashbery is medium soft now; he used to be rock hard. Reverdy is transparent, yet he was not always so. Cummings used to be incomprehensbile but now he's far too comprehensible. It's as much an oversimplification to say that all greaet poetry stems from "trobar clus" as to say the opposite. Garcilaso was held up as model of limpidity but in his day was seen as obscure purveyor of Italianate modes. Grenier is "easy." Silliman is clearer than Ashbery. Guest is transparent in style yet "intellectually challenging," to use my unfortunate euphemism. Armantrout is easy of approach yet complex. Of the poets I study in my book, many are quite "easy" yet extremely difficult at the same time. A lot has to do with the viewpoint of the reader, and how these metaphors are deployed. Transparency vs. opacity. Ease vs. difficulty. Clarity vs. confusion. Softness vs. obduracy. Approachability vs. aloofness. Depending on what metaphor you choose you might get different results. I wish I could write academically like I do on the blog.
I forgot to put this link into the last post: Dunkin' Donuts - A more perfect pastry. By Bryan Curtis
The Conclusion of the Conclusion which means I am officially done, except for some pesky translations:

Note that Bernstein?s disdain is not for popular culture, which can be smart and edgy in its own right, but for the seemingly well-intentioned middle-brow dilution of high-culture. He suggests that we should be suspicious of the impulse to "popularize" poetry in a way that would eliminate all those elements that make it distinctive and valuable.

The Spanish situation is not identical to that in the North-American one to which Bernstein is referring. Official culture in Spain, heavily supported by the State, is devoted largely to the nostalgic commemoration of an idealized past. Nevertheless, there is some strong parallels between García Montero's "poetry of experience" and contemporary American poetry of the Billy Collins school. Most significantly, both movements succesfully position themselves at the center or mainstream of the cultural landscape and reject more avant-garde, intellectually challenging poetics. Both have profited from the erosion of the boundary between the "high" and the "middle." It is necessary to remark here that the concept of the "middle-brow" has itself undergone a shift downward: the on-line magazine Slate, for example, runs a column entitled the ?middlebrow? which has recently addressed such weighty issues as the Sports Illustrated Swim-Suit Issue, The ?Gillette Man,? the humor of Dave Barry, and quality of coffee at Dunkin Donuts. If this is the middle-brow, where has popular culture gone? Or more relevantly, does this re-definition of the term mean that anything of more intellectual weight than Dunkin Donuts is high-brow?

It is difficult to avoid the appearance of elitism when insisting that there is a significant difference between John Ashbery and Billy Collins, or between Antonio Gamoneda and Luis García Montero. Even if we accord Collins and García Montero their due, however, almost anyone would agree that their poetics is founded on an explicit rejection of the more challenging role that readers like Bernstein or myself expect from poetry. The "anti-elitist brief against difficult late modernist and postmodernist poetry fails, in my view, because it is based on a misguided defense of popular culture. Those of us who champion more challenging poetry enjoy Dave Barry and Dunkin Donuts, Comic Books and HBO serials, as much as anyone else does. The objection is not to popular taste, but to the relentless promotion of a sort of middle-brow culture of blandness.

Another familiar assumption that must be rebutted is that the assault on high culture is somehow progressive. It is true that conservative pundits inside and outside of academia sometimes use the idea of a traditional literary canon in order to promote their agenda, but does anybody believe that the study of literature helps to prop up the power of the Bush administration? If ever the political élite required the sort of legitimization provided by literary scholars, those days are long past. By the same token, the demand that literary scholarship be politically efficacious in an immediate sense is perhaps unrealistic. Even more socially relevant work has inherent limitations when it is confined to the practice of an academic discipline.

It is true that I have myself made a political statement of sorts in this book, since I have insisted on the congruence between middle-brow poetic blandness and reactionary thought, and argued that the state sponsorship of mediocrity is not beneficial to culture. My aim, however, is not to change the world but to preserve a space in it for the vibrant poetic culture that has been the mainstay of my life.
Just to show you I'm not just blogging during my sabbatical, here is the beginning of the end, the start of the conclusion to my book:


This book has attempted to address the question of why the most ambitious and intellectually challenging poetry of our time meets with so much resistance or indifference. Posed in this way, however, the question virtually answers itself: the challenging nature of the poetry I have been championing and the resistance of the culture at large are one and the same phenomenon. As I have shown in the preceding chapters, recent Spanish poetry outside of the dominant school is not lacking in quality, variety, or depth. It should also be pointed out that such poetry, the heritage of the great moderns, has never enjoyed widespread appeal. Thus the notion that we are living in an age especially recalcitrant to poetry is at best an historically inaccurate simplification.

What has changed, perhaps, is that university professors, and others belonging to the "élite," culture no longer believe the modernist paradigm of an élite culture worthy of respect and emulation. Even many highly educated people today seem to share the widespread disdain for more difficult forms of art. The waning of the modernist imperative at the end of the twentieth century has meant that the expression of indifference (or hostility) to challenging and difficult forms of art no longer carries any negative stigma. In the academic humanities, the move from literary to cultural studies has undermined the traditional privilege enjoyed by literary works deemed to be more prestigious or "high-brow." It is true that such works continue to be studied--reports of the death of the canon have been exaggerated in the popular media--but many in the field have the sense is that the study of literature is an essentially conservative enterprise left over from an earlier, less enlightened period.

This conception of literary study is, unfortunately, quite accurate in many cases. The defense of the "literary" per se does often seem to be the province of more conservative members of the academic profession, and in this context the promotion of a cultural studies open to the study of all forms of cultural expression is quite welcome. When an elder statesman of my field starts to defend the primacy of the literary, I sympathize with him but wince at the same time: his "literature" is not mine. I remember the academy was never very adept at reflecting the vitality of modern and contemporary poetry: the New Criticism, for example, promoted a deeply conservative version of modernism, and prestigious deconstructive critics like J. Hillis Miller have professed their belief in the sanctity of the canon, turning their attention mostly to Romantic and Victorian poetry. I remember that Harold Bloom, also a champion of the Western Canon and a purveyor of popular "greatest hits" anthologies, uses the term "school of resentment" to mask his own resentment at Feminism or Gay and Lesbian Studies, and has zero interest in the work of any significant younger poet in the United States. The conservative English Department (or Spansh Department) really is no friend to contemporary literature. I think of friends and acquaintances who write language poetry, "flarf," or experimental comics. To continue to study "literature" within the academy in the same way as it was studied in the 1950s would not help bring attention to their work.

My own approach has been to follow a third path between a conservative literary studies and a ?cultural studies? with very little interest in literature per se. Cultural studies promises to democratize the study of literature and culture by placing cultural productions of various types on an equal footing. In practice, this almost always entails a devaluation of élite culture. Since the canon still survives in reading lists and in more traditional scholarship, what tends to be squeezed out is innovative work by younger writers. My "third way," then, entails following the example of Marjorie Perloff and other critics who have studied more innovative contemporary literature within the academy, attempting to bridge the gap between scholars and poets.

One argument underlying this book is that the autonomy of poetry has a tangible value, and that the insistence on this value in not inherently conservative. I believe that the lesson we have learned in the past few years is that, in the absence of some notion of autonomous value, literature will evaluated either for its market price or for its political instrumentality. A significant work, in other words, will have either some economic value, judged by sales figures, or some wider social resonance. Often, these two scales of value exist in an uneasy relationship to each other: without some measure of popularity in the marketplace, a work can not really do the "cultural work" it is called upon to do. This means that a poem is read by only a few people, we conclude that it automatically lacks the sort of social relevance that novels and films sometimes enjoy. Even socially-conscious poetry usually lacks this kind of entry into the marketplace to make it relevant to the larger culture.

The answer, according to some, is to re-popularize poetry, to bring something called "poetry" to the attention of a wider public. Charles Bernstein, in a biting satire entitled "Against National Poetry Week as such," point out the inherent problem in such an effort. The main problem is that the effort is deeply insincere, since what is being brought to the public lacks any qualities we associate with ?poetry? :

The path taken by the Academy's National Poetry Month, and by such foundations as Lannan and the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Fund, have been misguided because these organizations have decided to promote not poetry but the idea of poetry, and the idea of poetry too often has meant almost no poetry at all. Time and time again we hear the official spokespersons tell us they want to support projects that give speedy and efficient access to poetry and that the biggest obstacle to this access is, indeed, poetry, which may not provide the kind of easy reading required by such mandates.

This is the genius of the new Literary Access programs: the more you dilute art, the more you appear to increase the access. But access to what? Not to anything that would give a reader or listener any strong sense that poetry matters, but rather access to a watered down version that lacks the cultural edge and the aesthetic sharpness of the best popular and mass culture. The only reason that poetry matters is that is has something different to offer, something slower on the uptake, maybe, but more intense for all that, and also something necessarily smaller in scale in terms of audience. Not better than mass culture but a crucial alternative to it.



6/3/2005

Rounding out my the L section of my favorite blogs is Cosmopoetica, by Chris Lott. There are quite a few good ones in the M's.
My favorite L blog is Language Log, written by Mark Liberman and a team of other linguists. Geoffrey Pullum is one of the funniest writers I know of.
Language Hat is also required reading. I don't know Mr. Hat's last name so I'm putting him in the LLs.
Yes, Michael Benedikt! Too bad Ashbery is not as good a prose-poet as Michael Benedikt, whowever the hell he is. I haven't thought of him in years. Michael Benedikt of the baleful influence, Russell Edson of the baleful influence!

***

We hold translators to an impossibly low standard. A translator should not be allowed to get away with things just because it's a translation. Some of the greatest poems in the language are translations, but they are still poems of our language. Usually, the failure is rhythmical and linguistic. The language is not convincing and the rhythmic impulse is desultory. Translators of Brodsky and Milosz are particularly bad. Eastern European poetry in general has not been served well. It's read for sentimental reasons: "look, they have something to write about, unlike our crappy unpoetical suburban American reality!" I have written many invectives against translation. Not against translation itself, but against the hubris of calling a mediocre translation a "poem in English."

5/3/2005

K is also for THE GREAT AMERICAN PINUP, a new addition to my favorite blogs. On to the Ells.
K is for Pantaloons: Tykes on Poetry. A visually and poetically sharp blog. Recommended reading.
My other J is Jill Jones' Ruby Street.I should read it more often than I do.
Raw garlic, radical politics, horse racing, tourism, knitted hats, Robert Duncan, Tsunamis, its ... Lisablog!. She has very few links to other blogs, but one of them is to Julia.

I don't read any blogs whose authors last names start with I.
The worst thing you can do is what I have just done: condescend to CG. He really hates that and will explain things to you with even more earnestness. NEVER engage in debate with CG. It is not that he will "win" the debate, but that he will drag you down to his level. He will win just be having you take him more seriously than he deserves.

I should point out that YOU, dear reader, are not Condescending Guy. If you recognize him in yourself you are wrong. In fact, you can take comfort in the thought that, however, much of a CG you are, I am probably much more of a CG than you could possibly dream of being.
Did you ever meet Condescending Guy? CG is an autodidact or someone who dropped out of a PhD program 20 years ago. (Condescending Gal is a different story; I have limited experience of her so I cannot comment at length.) Condescending Guy knows more than you about every possible subject--except that he doesn't. He has read some popular science books; he'll explain how Stephen Pinker has disproven feminism. He thinks there's something called "postmodernism." He will answer a profound question in a banal way. He might swear by Strunk & White! He'll patiently set you straight on any number of matters. If he is a poet, his own poetry is "carefully crafted" and he'll warn you against clichés. He revises every poem 100 times but it is still a piece of wood. He'll earnestly recommend a book by Robert Pinsky or Billy Collins to you. He'll tell you why bloggers don't match up to the New York Times Book Review.
On to the aitches, there is David Hess's irreplaceable, on-and-off-again Heathens in Heat. Recently quoting from a photocopy of Fits of Dawn supplied by Mr. Piombino.

4/3/2005

Daniel Green, the relentless aestheticist, Drew Gardner, , who needs to post more often, Stuart Greenhouse, whom I need to read more often, Gabe Gudding, , the saintly one.
Steve Evans: Third Factory/Notes to Poetry. A relentless account of everything Steve reads. Steve reads a lot. Nobody in the "F" category of blogs. There will be quite a few in the Gees, like

Henry Gould. Henry likes to think of himself as neglected and out of synch with the other bloggers, so I try to avoid neglecting him whenever I can. Lately he's been posting music on another blog, for which I lack the requisite "plug-in."

Nada Gordon. "Her poems are full of bile, her clothes are not." That would be a great line for a villanelle:

"My poems are full of bile; my clothes are not.
This vintage fabric must not show its seams.
Clothes full of bile, what a horrible thought!"

You can write the rest yourself.

Nada is one of those larger-than-life bloggers in my imagination of her. I've been reading her blog for about as long as I've had my own.





On with the Ees: Conversational Reading by Scott Esposito is recommended reading. I checked out the Ben Yagoda book from the library that Scott recommended a few days ago. The concept was good, but the interviewees were relentlessly down-the-middle-of-the-road. I can take Dave Barry and Elmore Leonard, but Camille Paglia? Billy Collins? Cynthia Ozick? John Updike? He could have tried to interview Philip Lopate or Gil Sorrentino or Ron Padgett. It's not as though the writers he interviewed are all bad, but why Billy Collins? Why, why, why, why, why!!! Is this the prose-writer's idea of a poet? If so, we are doomed.

3/3/2005

écritures bleues: at least one buyer of my unwritten book.
I almost forgot Eeksy-Peeksy, Malcolm Davidson's blog of eerily evocatived prose pieces. Malcolm has other blogs too, but eesky is the one I read most frequently.
On with my list of my 100 favorite blogging friends: E is for transdada. A fascinating poet, Kari Edwards blogs mostly about GLBT issues in this space. Basic issues of human rights that we should all be concerned about.
.
Introduction. What this book is for. Total dedication to poetry. Why there can be no "instruction manual." The myth of "talent."

Chapter I. The classic 20th century style, based on Imagism. Why I am not qualified to write this book (captatio benevolentiae!) Why children and polar bears can write good poetry. Pound's principles of "charging language with meaning." will still get you 90% of the way. Wyatt. Robert Herrick. Reverdy. Williams. Niedecker. Ceravolo. Coolidge. David Shapiro's translation of Ryokan. Silliman's Paradise. The avant-garde is the tradition.

Chapter II. Why the Russell Edson / Charles Simic approach is limiting. Pitfalls of a contemporary style based on prose models. Advantages and drawbacks of the contemporary period style. The translation trap.

Chapter III. Introducing the logos back into the mix. Oulipo procedures to make a "surrealist" poem by W.S Merwin interesting. Under-writing and over-writing. The "under-crafted poem" and the "over-crafted poem." Barbara Guest. Rae Armantrout.

Chapter IV. Melopoeia for the busy professional. Why "new formalism" is a fraud. Hearing the poem.

Chapter V. The process of writing. Listening to the interior babble. Pitfalls of revision. The Million Poems method. Only you can write your poems.

Chapter VI. Essential reading lists. Why you must read poetry without stopping. Did I mention total dedication? Why you must throw this book away after reading it. After all, poetry shouldn't have an instruction manual and I am not qualified to write one anyway.

Chapter VII. A brief anthology.


2/3/2005

Katie Degentesh uses the blog form in a totally different way from most of us: a series, irregular in rhythm, of odd and hilarious urban vignettes.
I almost left out Poetry Hut Blog, by Jilly Dypka. Excellent source of news about poetry.
vowel movements by Julie Dill is a local favorite. Equanimity is my favorite blog of all time, and I love pseudopodium even when I have no idea what Ray Davis is talking about.

Joe Duemer has been blogging forever, since before Silliman's blog. Good political commentary and Wittgenstein. I even purchased and read a book of poems by Joe Duemer because of his blog. It had a fine sestina in it.
On to the cees. Sorry if I left you out if your name starts with an A or B. I'm not going to lie and say I read a blog I really don't. It doesn't mean anything except that you probably don't link back to me frequently.

Cahiers de Corey is the most substantive academically based blog aside from Lime Tree, who doesn't post as frequently. I've also been reading Corey for a long time. He will go far. Is this the first dissertation on American poetry whose progress we can follow on line?

The studious Laura Carter is a new addition to my regular rotation. I've been reading Shanna Compton for a long time. Her blog's just always been there for me. I don't even remember when I first started with it.
Whimsy Speaks by J. Bahr is also in my "B" section, even though he doesn't like Frost's "Silken Tent." Jeffrey is whimsical and intelligent, never boring. I haven't been reading his blog for very long, but it's earned a spot on my favorites.

And Tom Beckett whom I've mentioned recently but cannot leave out of the favorites list.

Bramhall, another recent edition to my favorites list, with a good post today on Language Poetry.

Jim Behrle heads my list of favorite blogs (going in more or less alphabetical order). The cartoons, the rants and open letters. The Ron cartoons are funny as hell.

THE GREAT AMERICAN PINUP: A 10 POEM ANTHOLOGY, EXPIRATION 03/01/05 Good list from David, much better than his list from 10 years ago. He even has the same Yeats poem I chose for my list. The Catullus poem is an odd choice. I would have chosen a much more conventional one like "Passer, deliciae meae puellae." So he gets points for originality on that one. I haven't read a poem by James Dickey in years, or even thought about James Dickey for that matter. He was super famous when I was growing up.
What's wrong with this?:

"I have had asthma for a
long time. It seems to improve
Here in this house by the river.
It is quiet too. No crowds
Bother me. I am brighter
And more rested. I am happy here. . . "

(Rexroth translating Tu Fu.) To me it is just WRONG. I don't know Chinese, but this is WRONG. The enjambments break up the rhythm of the thoughts, but don't give any sense of surprise or creative disjunction; just jerkiness. Are they supposed to be imitating the way an asthmatic talks? I don't think so because he uses other equally arbitrary line-breaks in other Tu Fu translations. Usually in classical Chinese poetry a line is also a unit of thought, so by breaking up the original lines for a jazzy effect you are destroying that basic phrasal rhythm. Maybe Rexroth has no ear (heresy!?). I've always assumed he did, because he enjoys a certain reputation, but maybe he actually doesn't.

Rexroth's diction produces an effect of bathos. "I have had asthma for a / long time."
Impersonation, a good post on the Dunham Kelley-Hawkins affair.

1/3/2005

Although I AM dogmatic, I hate telling people what to do. Just ask my students. In fact that is my worst weakness as a teacher. Thus the title Poetry: An Instruction Manual is totally ironic. I can't even tell someone how to bake a loaf of bread because I assume that the person will want to do it in his or her own way. That Poundian tone of "let the student learn to scan Greek choriambics in his sleep" is totally foreign to me. I say this, because someone obviously unfamiliar with my style emailed me to protest against the very idea of an instructional manual or textbook of poetry. "Let the barbarians in for once" he told me. I googled the guy, because I was curious, and of course he had an MFA from Iowa! I guess they don't use textbooks there, because they are so anti-institutional. I have nothing against people with MFAs from Iowa. That would be an absurd prejudice. But obviously if you have such a degree you must accept the idea that poetry is something with a particular pedagogy. I simply believe my pedagogy has something to offer.
Back from my favorite bookstore, where I got a book by Bök and Rexroth's Chinese Translations and an anthology of 16th Century British Poetry, I heard the doorbell ring and the mailman brought me The Red Gaze and Joe, by Barbara Guest and Ron Padgett respectively. My whole wheat bread dough is rising in the oven. It's a good day. I decided a sabbatical is for READING.
My list of of 10 poems can beat up your list of 10 poems

1. "Standing and Watching" (Jimmy Schuyler)
2. "On Rachmaninoff's Birthday" ("Blue Windows, blue rooftops") If you don't know who wrote that I pity you.
3. "The Silken Tent" If you don't know who wrote that I pity you.
4. "Gravel" (Barbara Guest)
5. "The Devil's Trill Sonata" (David Shapiro)
6. "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter" If you don't know who wrote that I pity you.
7. "The Wild Swans at Coole" If you don't know who wrote that I pity you.
8. "Some Trees" (Ashbery)
9. "The Prophet" (Notley)
10. "The Art of Poetry" (Kenneth Koch)

That's just 20th century and poems written in English, mostly American, to simplify things. No epic poems, though a few longer pieces like the Shapiro and the Koch. It's a good place to start at least. I would really need to make a list of 100 poems and 100 books of poems.

Some longer works: Tender Buttons (I pity you, etc...) Silliman, Paradise. Mayer, A Midwinter's Day, Coolidge, Crystal Text., Williams, Spring and All Go to school with a poet. Never read the "Selected Poems" of anyone. You need the context of the weaker poems alongside the stronger ones. Never let an anthologist or selector do your work for you. Instead of sitting down a student with a Norton Anthology, wouldn't it be better to sit him or her down with the Collected Poems of Stevens, Cummings, Williams, H.D., Moore, Creeley, and let her or him make the anthology?
Vaudeville Without Organs is Tom Beckett's new blog. I love it when bloggers quit blogging, only to re-emerge 72 hours later re-invigorated. Like elsewhere, which returned to its full splendor immediately after Gary decided to put it on hiatus. In other news, the other Gary has a crush-list of worthwhile blogs. I'd love to do a series on my favorite blogs, but don't want to leave anyone out. I tend to favor blogs I have been reading for a long time and those of personal friends, like equanimity; those that simply mention my name frequently are also required reading. I have to check out what people are saying about me, after all.
The idea behind the book is that nothing like this exists. There are the classic "introductions to poetry" that reflect a basically New Critical perspective, that is, a perspective rooted in the 1940s. They aren't really geared toward the writing of poetry either. Robert Penn Warrren, John Frederick Nims, Lawrence Perrine. I'm assuming a writer under 40 who might want a hip but rigorous approach, sharp funny and irreverent.

I am entertaining bids from publishers so if you are a publisher and want to publish this book, I am all ears. We have a natural audience: textbook adoptions!