29/4/2005

Bachelardette: "A friend at MacDowell writes me that only a couple of writers knew Robert Creeley's name. (Don't overestimate the literacy of other artists.)"

That's the reference that I was looking for yesterday.
Speaking of Ronald Johnson, I just picked up The Shrubberies. Last thing I need: more books! I notice it was edited by Peter O'Leary, who live in St. Louis. (I don't know him.)

Johnson isn't in any anthologies that I know of. He's certainly one of the best KANSAS poets of all time. If you like poetry of condensed, radiant power:


modal reflections

sutra round pool
on a summer's day

loft waterlily


--dragonfly skim

Love is dead in us
if we forget
the virtues of an amulet
and quick surprise.

A great rant from Jordan this morning.

Yes, the Kantian imperative: you must not only have the experience yourself, but feel that this experience is valid for others as well. That's why "taste" is not a "personal" matter. No, you don't have a right to your own taste, I've always said. This gets me into trouble, but I mean no harm: If taste were personal, you wouldn't have millions of screaming fans. Taste is always collective, even if the collective is only two people, a "folie à deux."


I am a very resistant reader. Where Ron Silliman might seem to admire 500 contemporary poets with an equal measure of enthusiasm, I like about 12 or 15. I usually don't go out of my way to criticize "avant-garde" poets I dislike or think are overrated, because that kind of writing gets enough flak from other people already.

28/4/2005

There are thousands of ways to create poetry. Teaching someone "how to write a poem" is an impossibility. It's not analogous to teaching someone how to change a tire, or scramble an egg. Of course, in any given context (time, place, language, tradtion) only about a dozen ways of making poetry will seem at all possible. Usually, only one will be the focus of any pedagogical technique, as institutionalized in any given location. Let's say that writing fiction is reduced to the idea of writing the "New Yorker Short Story." That's just one form, one tradition narrowly circumscribed in time and place. There really is a way of teaching someone to write the Cheever/Updike story, as updated by more recent writers. It is like teaching someone to scramble an egg. If you don't want to scramble the egg, what are you to do?
Did you see Franz's letters to the editor in Poetry, May issue? They make him look pretty bad. It's true that the magazine is no good, but you don't come to that conclusion after they have just rejected you. That just looks like sour grapes.
The game of "not-having-heard-of-x" could be potentially infinite. There's something nasty about it--like making fun of the undergraduate who had never heard of Apollo. Writing a poem about an undergraduate who has never heard of Apollo is even worse. There should a certain humility brought into play. I had never heard of Ronald Johnson until I read an essay by Guy Davenport about him, maybe 12 years ago or so.
Who?

    Not knowing who someone is is the ultimate litmus test, but one that we will all fail at one time or another. For example, I haven't heard of many prominent contemporary "classical" composers, many middle-brow novelists and rock guitarists, not to mention television actors. I suspect that there are many writers--both poets and novelists--who have never heard of Bernadette Mayer. Someone, I forget who, was saying on a blog recently: "I was with some writers who didn't know who Creeley was."


Nada Gordon Introduction on Bernadette Mayer. Yes, my vote is that Nada should publish the work, with some minimal revision.

27/4/2005

Lorca is not a strong influence on contemporary Spanish poetry. Sure, he's in the "canon" and there's a fair amount of Lorca-kitsch that will never go away, but he's not a widespread influence. I'm not saying recent Spanish poetry would be better or worse if it were more connected to Lorca, but simply stating a general consensus. Nor do Spanish views of Lorca emphasize the features of his work that make him influential in US poetics, the duende for example. There a level at which he has not entered into the nation's literature. I love Lorca, of course, but there's no point in my wishing for his influence to have been greater (greater, by the way, is a word to be types with the left hand alone). I'm not in the business of contrafactual literary history. More Lorca influence might have meant more kitsch; I'm not sure.

Lorca criticism tends to be very bad. There are good, very specialized critics who do nothing but Lorca, but without interesting the rest of our field in what they do. There are many others who are just plain bad.
I stumbled by accident on the new Dagzine.. I didn't even know it had moved.
When the music swells in a movie in a way that feels emotionally coercive: this is the point where you're supposed to feel this way. It's overdetermined, the effect calculated. There is no trust in the capacity of the audience to respond without such cues. That's cringe-worthy.
It would be like complaining that Paul Auster's novels are too deep and intellectual, when the problem is that he makes his "profundity" much too explicit and practically EXPLAINS to the reader how to interpret his "themes."

Much as I love The New York Trilogy many of his other books are tainted with that "Great American Novel" idea, you know, when the novelist is trying to say something profound about "America." The guy who blows up replicas of the Statue of Liberty in Leviathan, for example. Mr. Vertigo about a boy who can fly is not Auster's finest hour. Nor is Timbuktu, narrated from the point of view of a dog. The Book of Illusions has a nice conceit--a film director of the silent era who disappears into the desert and makes movies that will never be shown to anyone. Oracle Night is nicely plotted and avoids some of the horrible clichés of the other books. There is no Auster novel that doesn't make me cringe in parts, when it becomes simply too OBVIOUS. Yet that is also what makes him somewhat popular.
It's not really about a division between "avant-garde" and "school of quietude." This very division implies that, say, Billy Collins is a very good poet within the quietudinous mode, something that is very far from being demonstrated. He is surely a lightweight by any measure. When Bill Knott says, with his characteristic savage facetiousness: "they don't put us in their anthologies, why should we put them in ours"-- this begs the question by imagining two symmetrical worlds of poetry, each with a right to exclude the "riffraff." The school of quietude is not a school with definable borders, but simply a boring attitude toward poetry. Let's keep poetry safe for boring poets! seems to be the watchword.

Really the conversation is so poor that we have a reviewer in BOOKSLUT talking about the Prose Poem as a new and controversial genre, as though Tony Tost had found this obscure and little known form in which to work!

It's not really about accessibility or difficulty either. It is abject mauvaise foi to hold up Rae Armantrout as a representative of difficult poetry when she is one of the easiest poets out there. Let's talk instead about whether she is interesting or not.

"Beginners
are being taught to think,

drawing straight lines
between dots
to reveal hidden shapes"

Sometimes Armantrout seems to be telling me something I already know. This seems to be a facile critique of a certain kind of "thinking," reduced to a childhood exercise in connect-the-dots. When I look closely, though, it is not so clear. After all, that exercise might not be as simplistic as it seemed, and connecting the dots can be a powerful metaphor. Where the point seems most accesssible and blatant, I become unsure of my response. Is her poetry TOO accessible at times? That would be a much more fruitful conversation to have.

26/4/2005

tympan: "I perodically come back and try to read Graham, but she just does nothing for me."
I have an article coming out in this book: Contemporary Spanish Poetry: The Word And The World
Now comments are working, and I've restored my links.
My New York trip interrupted my reading of Chinese poetry. I'll get back to it soon, but I need to devour some of my New York acquisitions first.

Some works by Gilbert Sorrentino. I got a first edition of Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things which I haven't read since college. Also A Perfect Fiction, a book of poems which was published by Norton. Amazing that trade publishers were so hip back in the day. Also a selected poems published by Green Integer.

Also published by GI, Lightduress (Celan) translated by Pierre Joris. This is a book to be read and re-read ceaselessly, to be absorbed.

The Hejduk book I mentioned last week. Worth reading and re-reading. I'm going to read more by Hejduk: his works on architecture and pedagogy.

ING by Coolidge. An early work where the morphemes do the heavy lifting. Coolidge invented language poetry in the 1960s. At least one version of language poetry.

Creeley's The Charm. We see Creeley struggling to define a style in these early poems. The ones that don't work at all still tell us something significant: Creeley was not always Creeley.

***

I've worked most of the ms. of Intravenus into A- form. Some of the poems cannot be improved much beyond that. In some cases the quality of the original is so strong that it seems relatively easy to make it shine through in the translation. In other cases, despite a strong original, the translation must be endlessly teased until it ceases to be embarrassing. There is nothing to guarantee that a given poem will fall into a satisfactory rhythm.

25/4/2005

I'm enabling comments. Just an experiment. I'll quit the minute it gets annoying, and delete any comments I don't like, or from people I don't like. :)
ArtsJournal: PostClassic:

"Ever since I've started writing in this blog about differences between Downtown and Uptown music, Uptown (or at least non-Downtown) bloggers and composers have been ridiculing me for using the term 'Downtown music.' Apparently they think that by pretending I'm the only one who still uses the term and making fun of me, they can make the Up-/Downtown distinction look quaint, old-fashioned, and discredited, and make me look like I'm living in the past and haven't caught up with the new realities. Meanwhile, Downtown composers, who know who they are and still use the term, write to thank me for carrying on the fight.

It is in the interest of whatever class is in power to discredit the idea that there is any distinction between them and the class they are oppressing."

I guess "uptown" would mean "school of quietude." Maybe Silliman's distinction is not quite as silly as some would think.

***

The New York Times might be able see through Jorie Graham, but it cannot acknowledge the existence of Clark Coolidge or Barbara Guest. We all know Graham is horribly overrated: a once half-way-decent Iowa-style poet who has evolved into an intellectually pretentious and long-winded celebrity poet. A mainstream reviewer like Orr is able to see this, to his credit.

I have tried my best with Graham, dutifully checking out her books from the library on repeated occasions. I can see in the early books that she was very good within the period style of that period. I see how she was able to attract some of the Ashberyians-of-the-right to her cause later on. At least by being "difficult" she avoids being clumped in with the Billy Collins school. By overreaching for an intellectual profundity that she can't really produce, she ultimately creates a kind of bathos.




Hudson river: From left to right: David, Jonathan, Katie, Drew, Duglas.

24/4/2005

I need a publisher, or several publishers. My project: "After Lorca," a series of translations of recent Spanish poetry. The problem: I am sick of Lorca. That is, I am sick of people mentioning Lorca to me, as though he were the only Spanish poet who ever existed. I am also sick of Miguel Hernández and Juan Ramón Jiménez. If you are a publisher, please contact me. You can have the honor of publishing the first volume in the "After Lorca" series: "Intravenus" by Lola Velasco and Amalia Iglesias. My idea is to publish these with as many different small and university presses as possible. Hell, I'll even condescend to using a trade press!

I also need a magazine willing to publish installments of these works. No internet magazines, please. if I am going to publish these on line, I might as well do it on my own blogs.

Death to anthologies! These are complete poetic works, translated in their entirety. Anthologies are evil.
"The tyranny of relativism"--a nice phrase by the new pope. A nice irony, for the theological "enforcer" of the church to denounce "tyranny." Relativism is the recognition that various systems of beliefs are ways of scratching the same itch. How this recognition is "tyrannical" is beyond me. If he had said "the anarchy" of relativism I would have understood him.

23/4/2005

I am definitely "in town" now, but what "town" am I in?
John Hejduk, whose lines I quoted below, was an architect and Dean at Cooper Union; a collaborator with David Shapiro for many years. I don't know a whole lot about him myself, but his book of selected poems, Such Places as Memories, was published by MIT in 1998 with an eloquent preface by David. Hejduk was "the first architectural pedadogue to insist that all his graduates, trained in the most rigorous structures course that exist, meet and train with poets, anthropologists, and surgeons to rethink architecture as a fundamentally multiple mode." Shaprio compares Cooper Union under Hejduk to Black Mountain for innovative teaching.

A lot of Hejduk's poems are ekphrastic or meta-architectural. I like this short poem:

OUT FROM LAMPASAS TO ODESSA

The rocking chair is the soul
of the porch
remove it and all you have left
is white pine for the carpenter ants.

Some texts have a "translated" feel, as though they had been written in another language and translated into English. That subtle "distancing" effect. It's true that he is also capable of a WCW immediacy of attack.

How good is this book? At its best, good enough to produce envy in almost any poet I know. The ways in which it is not the work of a professional poet become almost irrelevant. I hate to make exaggerated claims, but I would say that this book is well worth possessing, if only for the marvelously quotable "Sentences on the House."

The closets of the houes enclose the cloth of death.
...
Death is always jealous of woman.
Death rests under the footings of the house.
The mirrors of the house are covered with death.
Death is disliked because he takes away breath.
...

With a death a house changes forever.

22/4/2005

Download this cool song, "Jonathan Mayhew is in Town," written an performed by Joe Massey after a line by Nick Piombino that I quoted on my blog yesterday or the day before.
Here's a translation that I'm trying to get to the "A" level. It just doesn't seem to groove yet:

The woman of the seeds
fighting death,
the subversive dream
of the universe.

With feet overtaken
by oceans
she surrendered to await
a passion
in self-defense.

This one is a little better. A- :

Living in the colors
of childhood
so as to stay still.

That is how the imprudent ones
remember their future.

The wheel of destiny,
more than a game,
was a precipitous wish
to come back.

Faster
your heart that never forgets
the clarity
of ice.

This one, on the other hand, is an "A":

We are like insects
trapped
in words of amber.

Ancient weavers
of voices
tired from posing
in live flesh.

Two extremes
of the same fleeting star
trembling
and hiding.

In the closeness
of our lips
the moon ferments.

21/4/2005

Here's what I look like, if you have always been wondering. Stephanie took this picture of me a few weeks ago:

Now Cordless himself is on the program. He just compared poetry contests to McDonald's Monopoly! What an idiot.

"She did not know Dave Smith .... she won on her own merits."

No time for Jimmy B to call in, it's 1:57.
Edward Wyatt, of the NYT. "Contests have become significant in the poetry world."

"20 to 25 dollar entry fees." "Several dozen contests..."

"One was the student of another... some ties of institution... implying that something nefarious was going on."

"... unmasked by people he had offended."

"I't's not easy to make a living as a poet."


I've always wondered why Catholics (or any other religious group) can speak of their advocacy for OBJECTIVITY and be against RELATIVISM. The immaculate conception, or any other religious doctrine, is not established by objective means. If you ask believers for an explanation of this belief, they will not appeal to objective reality, but to tradition handed down from the past. Ultimately, the belief, however absurd, is attached to a person, and thus cannot be dismissed, out of respect for that person, but has no OBJECTIVE validity in the world at large.

The reason that it is uncool to mock people for their religious beliefs is that these beliefs provide a shared framework of support based on a hoary tradition. Such traditions seem less mockable in proportion to their relative antiquity and stability. But there is nothing objective about any of this. If I mocked someone's belief, any effort to stop me would appeal to purely relativistic criteria: the same reason that one would not mock any other religious tradition.

Now the foetry segment is coming on the radio.
they're going to be discussing Foetry on NPR's TOTN in a few minute. turn your radio on.
John Hejduk's "Sentences on the House and Other Sentences" is an extraordinary text. It is a series of sentences, each a separate line, with a strong aphoristic, almost Blakean strain. The fact that Hejduk is not considered a poet by the usual measure of such things allows for more latitude--lines that a "real poet" woudn't have written, but the text is richer for them.

You can start anywhere and just quote, as I will now do:

A house contemplates the internal thickness of a fruit in a bowl.
Candlelight is the house's passing thought.
Hail falling on the glass windows of a house is the suicide's afterthoughts.
Angels carry soulfilaments on their wings.
The house searches for its lost occupants.
The house objects to the sea's fluidity.
The sea coaxes the house into its undertow.
God created house to contain man's sins.
A wall anticipates nails being driven into it; paintings cover the punctures.
The knife and fork distanced man's tactility.
A floor carries all the house's vanished footprints.
The sudden appearance of a woman in a door frame takes the breath away.
The bowl receives the soup as a celebration of all concavities.

19/4/2005

Jesse blogs again, will soon be moving to Lawrence to bolster the Kansas blogging contingent.
I didn't miss reading blogs since last thursday, since I was physically with many of my favorite bloggers. The conversation did not stop.
Back from my whirlwind tour to NYC, where I met several people for the first time: Nick and Toni, Gary Sullivan, Reen, Drew Gardner, Katie Degentesh, Megan, Duglas Rothschild and poetically minded bar-tender Shaefer Hall.

I read at a downtown bar with Jordan, toured the MOMA with my New York school hero David Shapiro. The last night I went to Birdland and heard some NYU jazz studies Professors at their CD release party. What else? book browsing at the Strand, the Gotham Book Mart, St. Marks Bookshop. Oyster bar at Grand Central Station, once again with the hospitable Jordan Dav is. On a couple of beautiful days I walked a couple of miles: from Grand Central to the Strand was quite a hike. Each block was so short I kept telling myself to walk a couple more and eventually I was there.

14/4/2005

The blog will lapse into silence until next Tuesday or Wed during my trip. Hope to see some of you in New York over the weekend. I also won't be answering email very carefully.

***

I think subscribing to the APR during the late 70s made me very depressed. There was no standard, nothing but celebrity and maybe physical attractiveness. It was kind of the people magazine of poetry. It still is. It has a certain liveliness and élan, and every poet I like will eventually be featured, along with every poet I don't admire, but there's a fundamental lack of gravitas. Translation is used as filler there. At least Poetry magazine nutures some talents (or what they think of as talents), some minor miniaturists of the day like Kay Ryan. I actually went to buy an APR recently and coudln't bring myself to buy it. It just didn't seem to add up to $5.95 worth of poetry, or however much they are charging.

***

I too dislike it. It is a viscous substance, seemingly ubiquitous but impossible to locate with any certainty. Those who know nothing about it are officially in charge of it. Those who love it seek to destroy it with sadistic cruelty. To separate out its impure elements, its sentimentality, its narcissism, its pretentiousness, is to kill it. Yet these elements are what makes it, with few exceptions, almost unbearable.


13/4/2005

Under the influence of Lawrence Venuti, I was for a time a proponent of foreignizing translation. Now I'm drifting back toward the "domesticating" pole. Here's one I've been working on today:

Harder to wake up
with nobody
keeping watch over me.

No point
in wiping the sand
from my lids yet.

We're still in love
with the blind body
of night.

Cats too
dream of colors
they have never known.

[from Intravenus by Lola Velasco and Amalia Iglesias]

The point is to include nothing that you or I wouldn't write in a poem originating in English. That might mean not writing anything you wouldn't actually "say" out loud in English. Colloquialness is not the gold standard, but it is a useful way of measuring. Thus no translatorese, or allowing Spanish to exert pressure on English. As a scholar I'm fond of translations that refuse to domesticate, but as a reader I'm not.
I guess I should be grateful for those footnotes in the Diary of James Schuyler. On the other hand there is something to be said for leaving some things slightly mysterious. "This is the first line of Keats' "To Autumn.'" Well duh.

***

Sometimes when I feel most blocked and depressed it is really the prelude to a period of intense, wonderful work.

12/4/2005

Inspired by Gary, Jack has come up with his own Coolidge/T'ang combination.

I haven't had time to write my own yet.

You can use another dynasty if T'ang does not appeal to you. Jump forward a couple hundred years to the Sung period if you want.

I should be getting some good books in the mail soon. Schuyler and Tu Fu. One more thing I ordered but don't remember exactly what it is. I'll be surprised, I guess... Oh, yes, an Arthur Waley translation from the Chinese. I'll never be a great poet, but I think I have it in me to be one of the greatest readers of poetry of my time.

Looking forward to my New York trip this weekend. It might be very inexpensive if I weren't allergic to cats. Solvitur acris hiems! How would Tu Fu have translated Horace?


11/4/2005

Gary completed the entire T'ang assignment before I could even decide what poem to translate myself.
Gary Sullivan sends in:

BARBARA GUEST T'ANG


Beans. Somewhat south of here. On a hill?

Have chosen the season they intend to inhabit. "Spring" means

our companions will pick them. Memory--shucked--

Shucks.

Swollen, cradled ...

split apart at the seams.
COLLECTED

I saw her once
read at the Guggeheim
Ashbery to the side
inclined on a palm

Marianne Moore attended
by her man in livery
& Robert Lowell cleared
his throat introducing

Bill B. was there
already impressed
but I don't recall
her voice or

a line it stressed
and Liz Bishop
is a sportscaster
on the Albany tube

--Clark Coolidge

What is this poem trying to say? Why is Ashbery just "Ashbery" and "Marianne Moore" and "Robert Lowell" get their full names (and Bill Berkson is "Bill B.")? Is it a commentary on literary politics? It isn't exactly pro-Elizabeth Bishop, or anti-Elizabeth Bishop either.
Silliman's Blog receives hate mail from a Pulitzer prize winning poet. I have my own guess in the comments to his post. Let's just say I don't think it's Paul Muldoon or Adrienne Rich. Several points stand out for me:

1) The idea that SoQ wants to pass itself off as "unmarked," as simply "poetry." Thus it needs a label so we can contest this presumption of universality.

2) Ron's unfortunate tendency to want to position the New York School closer to SoQ. I don't see the point of this manoeuvre. Is it an East-Coast/West-Coast thing?

3) A good one-line zinger comparing reception of James Tate with that of Ron Padgett.

9/4/2005

Take your favorite T''ang dynasty poem and translate it into the style of the following poets:

Creeley
Guest (Barbara)
Guest (Edgar)
Ceravolo
Coolidge
Niedecker

Avoid humor: write serious poems in the style of these poets. Don't be parodic (except in the case of Edgar Guest, maybe).
I found a copy of A Nest of Ninnies yesterday in a used bookstore. The 1979 reprint, not the first edition. I got three quarters of the way through it and then fell asleep. It has blurbs from Ned Rorem and W.H. Auden, of all people. Is this Schuyler's third best novel, out of three? The Ashbery input doesn't make it better. Alftred and G. and What's for Dinner are both better.

8/4/2005

The variously unsatisfactory or seemingly insufficient aspects of Creeley's work are inseparable from the actual greatness of the work. The inarticulateness, hesitancy, the occasional triviality, vagueness, or sentimentality. What else? A minimalism that sometmes seemed (to me) a dead end. Sentences that are as abstract as anything out of Ashbery:

"Things continue, but my sense is that I have, at best, simply taken place with that fact. I see no progress in time or any other such situation. So it is that what I feel, in the world, is the one thing I know myself to be, in that instant. I will never know myself otherwise."

A sense of oneself in the specific here and now, but expressed abstractly, negatively. It is a kind of mysticism. This attempt to explain the work is more difficult than the work itself. A work very appealing and genial yet paradoxically enigmatic. "Position is where you put it." Koan-like tautologies. Let's not translate all this into a critical metalanguage.
I met Stephanie Young last night at her reading.--which means I only have about 700 bloggers more left to meet in person. I liked her a lot. Very warm and funny. She said I reminded her of Jordan Davis. That's quite a compliment.




7/4/2005

What is it about Creeley anyway? It's maybe a new style of self-presentation, a new language. The closest precursor is Wiliams, but Williams would never have said "my love was a feather, a flat / sleeping thing." Or "Pain is a flower like that one, / like this one, / like that one, / like this one." One difference is that Creeley will often eschew the visual for entire poems. Or the visual aspect will be reduced to a few shades of black and gray. He is much more abstract than Williams or Pound.

I have always come back to Creeley periodically, at different stages of my life, and found something different each time. Although I only met him once in person, I did write him a letter on one occasion, and received answer--from Finland! He liked my article on Williams published in "William Carlos Williams: Man and Poet." He was also a reader of Bemsha Swing, mentioning this humble blog in an interview once.

There is a difference between reading the early Creeley in one's teens--younger than the Creeley who wrote these poems--and in one's forties, considerably older than the poet.

Creeley shows up in my own poetry a lot. I wrote a whole series based on "I Know A Man." I also wrote the lines "Collect Creeley seriously before I die" and "To say something Creeley wouldn't." Though I've always said Frank O'Hara was my favorite poet, Creeley is much closer to the way I write. Even when I tried to write like Frank it came out more like Bob. I don't how much I've written about him on this blog: I suspect quite a bit. There is always more to say about Creeley. I've suggested that the reading of his flatter, diarist works is equally valuable as a reading of his "greatest hits."
HG Poetics will be sorely missed, if this is indeed its last day.
Chinese poetry follows elaborate codified rules. Translations of Chinese poetry follow no prosodic rules at all. It is almost as though the translators understood that translation is the translation of meaning, that the first duty of the translator is to destroy form.
Can't miss the 3 Stephanies tonight in St. Louis.

5/4/2005

The New York Times > Books > Saul Bellow, Who Breathed Life Into American Novel, Dies at 89

I have to confess that I haven't read a Saul Bellow novel in 15 or 20 years, and didn't even know that he was still alive. I read everything he wrote up to a certain date, and then just stopped after the novel about Delmore Schwartz.
Joseph duemer has referred to at least four of my posts of the past few days. (Nice bonsai, Joe.) Usually nobody links back to me that frequently except maybe for Henry Gould or Michael Snider. I think Joe's decision to pursue writing and teaching and leave administration for those who badly want to do it is a good one, by the way.

I have nothing against Donald Justice. He was a fine poet and evidently a gifted teacher as well. I would only object if someone made a claim that Justice was one of the major poets of our period. I see a fundamental difference between poets who transform our vision of what poetry can be--Ginsberg or Creeley, Frank O'Hara, Ashbery--and not half-bad practitioners of the craft like Justice. Litotes is the appropriate figure of speech for a distinguished poet like Justice, who doesn't even approach the levels of these transformative figures. It's hard not to damn with faint praise in a case like this. I feel the same way with Cid Corman--certainly a respectable figure, but not a transformative one in quite the same way as Creeley.
To and for in shadow from inner to outershadow

from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself by way of neither

as between two lit refuges whose doors once neared gently close,
once turned away from gently part again

beckoned back and forth and turned away

heedless of the way, intent on the one gleam or the other

unheard footfalls only sound

till at last halt for good, absent for good from self and other

then no sound

then gently light unfading on that unheeded neither

unspeakable home

I don't know why this is in a book entitled THE COMPLETE SHORT PROSE. This is one of the greatest poetic texts of our time.
Hard black ball-point pen for filling out insurance forms. Barthes said there was a "bic" style. It wasn't good.
Is it possible to read Chinese poetry without "orientalism"?

4/4/2005

WRITTEN ON A WALL AT SUMMIT-TOP TEMPLE

Staying the night at Summit-Top Temple,
you can reach out and touch the stars.

I venture no more than a low whisper,
afraid I'll wake the people of heaven.

(Li Po; Hinton)

Templo de la cima, la noche:
la mano alzada acaricia la estrella.

¡Pero cuidado!
Bajad la voz.

No despertemos a los habitantes del cielo.

(Valente)
Me pedís que explique las razones del fracaso y del éxito.
La canción del pescador se sumerge en las aguas.

Valente, translating Wang Wei.

You ask me to explain the reasons for failure and success.
The fisherman's song sinks into the waters.
On with my Beckett / Valente article. I hope I find a way of sticking Creeley in there somewhere. And maybe some T'ang dynasty poetry.

Tú que regresas de las montañas
has debido de estar en Tianmu;
dime, bajo las ventanas de mi casa
¿cuántos crisantemos habían florecido?

I think I recognize the source for this poem, although Valente calls it "apocryphal." It is Wang Wei:

You who have come from my old country,
Tell me what happened there! --
Was the plum, when you passed my silken window,
Opening its first cold blossom. {Bynner, trans.}

3/4/2005

The lame spoof about the Pope below is a spoof of myself. I was thinking: here Creeley has died and the newspapers are making a big deal about this MINOR POLISH POET. Where are their priorities? The spiritual leader of a billiion people or the spiritual leader of 1,000 contemporary American poets. The remark attributed to Ron Silliman is also fake, of course. If only the Pope had been a LANGUAGE poet! Now that would have been interesting. How tragic that he wasn't!

Milosz really did praise Wojtyla's poetry for its thoughtful reflection on Catholic dogma. And Wojtyla really did write a dissertation on San Juan de la Cruz, so I only had to stretch the truth a tiny bit.
Sharp Sand: Musicality in Poetry: Disagreeing with Jonathan Mayhew

What? Donald Justice disagrees with me? I must be right then.

But Joseph Duemer cannot avoid using the word "musical" about Justice himself.

Poems do have definable intonational contours, rhythms, formal structures, that, whether you call them "musical" or not, have their closest parallels in music. It's the "auditory imagination." Next you'll be saying that poetry is not a visual art!
Apparently a minor Polish poet named Karol Wojtyla died over the weekend. Wojtyla published poems as a young man in Poland and wrote a dissertation on the 16-century Spanish mystical poet Juan de Yepes (better known in the English-speaking world as Saint John of the Cross). He went on to become head of a large international organization, but never abandoned poetry altogether. He published several books of poetry using the pen name "Pope John Paul II." Among the admirers of Wojtlya's poetry was Polish Nobel Prize laureate Czeslaw Milosz, who praised him for his "dogmaticism." Reaction to the death of this poet in literary circles was muted. Ron Silliman has pointed out that the great tragedy of Wojtyla's poetry was his inability "to make the turn to language."

2/4/2005

Reading T'ang dynasty poetry is a transformative experience. I wish I had done it earlier, but sometimes one has to be ready. I want to look at Waley and other translators now. The Bynner collection is much better than I ever would have expected. An even dignity of tone.
Sharp Sand: Blind Spots: Agreeing with Jonathan Mayhew
I read 20 pages of The Prodigal at the bookstore while Julia was looking at books. Walcott has a great ear, but there is a big problem with bathos. What he is saying in such hifalutin language seems utterly trivial in relation to the language. He's admiring some bar-maid in the Swiss Alps in one of the early sections. It's travelogue poetry, "Fulbright poetry" where the poet goes to Europe and admires the sights. He is constantly aiming for the profound statement, and is a very good stylist, but is constantly coming up with relatively banal observations. I don't know whether I have an open mind--because I still insist on reading Walcott--or a closed mind, because I still find him disappointing.

1/4/2005

Of course, if Brodksy is a great poet in Russian, the bad translation is all the more tragic. If it's mediocre in the original there would be no reason to protest the doggerel version. By the way, I am using the word doggerel in its precise technical sense, not as a synonym for bad poetry.

***

WAITING FOR AUDIENCE ON A SPRING NIGHT

The flowers along the palace
Walls grow dim in the twilight.
Twittering brids fly past to roost.
Twinkling stars move over ten
Thousand households. The full moon
Enters the Ninth Constellation.
Wakeful, I hear the rattle
Of gold keys in locks. I hear jade
Bridle pendants tinkling in
The wind. At the dawn audience
I must present a special
Memorial. Time and again
I wonder how long the night will last.

(Rexroth)

A NIGHT-VIGIL IN THE LEFT COURT OF THE PALACE

Flowers are shadowed, the palace darkens,
Birds twitter by for a place to perch;
Heaven's ten thousand windows are twinkling,
And nine cloud-terraces are gleaming in the moonlight.
. . . While I wait for the golden lock to turn,
I hear jade pendants tinkling in the wind. . .
I have a petition to present in the morning,
All night I ask what time it is.

(Bynner)

Two versions of a Tu Fu poem. I'm thinking Rexroth has done more work to interpret the poem. He has a more definite idea of what it's about, and presents details in accordance with his interpretation of the poem: the jade pendants are around the necks of horses coming and going in the night. Bynner is more "passive" in this respect. Bynner is rhythmically superior and simpler. Neither version feels definitive to me. Very few translations seem unimproveable.
Folk Tune:

"It's not that the Muse feels like clamming up,
it's more like high time for the lad's last nap.
And the scarf-waving lass who wished him the best
drives a steamroller across his chest.

And the words won't rise either like that rod
or like logs to rejoin their old grove's sweet rot,
and, like eggs in the frying pan, the face
spills its eyes all over the pillowcase.

Are you warm tonight under those six veils
in that basin of yours whose strung bottom wails;
where like fish that gasp at the foreign blue
my raw lip was catching what then was you?

I would have hare's ears sewn to my bald head,
in thick woods for your sake I'd gulp drops of lead,
and from black gnarled snags in the oil-smooth pond
I'd bob up to your face as some Tirpitz won't.

But it's not on the cards or the waiter's tray,
and it pains to say where one's hair turns gray.
There are more blue veins than the blood to swell
their dried web, let alone some remote brain cell.

We are parting for good, my friend, that's that.
Draw an empty circle on your yellow pad.
This will be me: no insides in thrall.
Stare at it a while, then erase the scrawl."

Here's the problem. If this had the name of an unknown MFA student on it and was sent in to a mainstream poetry journal, it would be rejected outright. It is pure doggerel. But if we imagine some genius Russian poem lying behind this, it all of a sudden becomes respectable? Brodsky did himself damage by translating himself. He simply had no ear for English verse. If it's deliberate doggerel, it's not quite sharp or funny enough to justify the form. It's not "so bad it's good," it's simply bad.