30 sept 2003

Crossword puzzle clue today (NY Times): "Georges who wrote 'La disparition.""

Mike Snider asks: Which is Tennyson and which is Swinburne?

That blush of fifty years ago, my dear,
Blooms in the Past, but close to me to-day
As this red rose, which on our terrace here
Glows in the blue of fifty miles away.


Asleep or waking is it? For her neck,
Kissed over close, wears yet a purple speck
Wherein the pained blood falters and goes out;
Soft, and stung softly--fairer for a fleck.

I'd say the first is Tennyson, the second Swinburne. I could be wrong of course. The second is distinctly Keatsian in its diction, evoking the ending of "Ode to a Nightingale." Embarrassingly derivative! The first has an amost Thomas-Hardy like awkwardness which is not entirely displeasing.

Speech is naturally rhythmic. (I'm not talking about prose, but about oral speech.) That is, it tends to fall into intonational patterns, most simply: UUUUP dooooown, UP down... What is the status of metrical rules, or codifications of these intonational patterns? For example, the French Alexandrine (12 syllables line) breaks up into two symmetrical halves, in a call-and-response pattern. But the same intonational pattern would be there if you occasionally had half-lines of 5 or 7 or 8 syllables instead of the required 6. Conversely, you could have metrically correct verses of 12 syllables in which the intonational patterning was relatively weak. What doesn't work is to destroy both the metrical rule and the intonational pattern at the same time. In short lined, heavily enjambed free verse, the line is a spurious unit, in the sense that it obeys neither a metrical nor an intonational imperative:

"The alphabet of the trees // is fading in the song of the leaves"

(I forget exactly where WCW breaks these lines.)

The line could be either a unit of performance, or a purely visual effect. When I read this poem aloud, I observe the line-breaks, introducing a pause but not interrupting the intonational pattern.

As I said to my friend [up] // because I am always talking [level]
John, I sd [up]// which was not his name [level]
The darkness surrounds us [down]// what can we do against it [up]
Or else should we, and why not? [up]// buy a godamn big car, drive [down]
He sd for Christ's sake [up]// look out where you're going [exclamatory]

This is greatly simplified, of course. Your assigment: to translate the Creeley poem above into perfect, rhymed French Alexandrines, then compare the metrical and intonational patterns of the translation and the original text.

29 sept 2003

Here's an experiment. I will translate rapidly a brief poem from Jaime Saenz's "Immanent Visitor," without looking at the translation by Forrest Gander and Kent Johnson. Then I will look at their translation and compare.


"A burnt-out match is simply a burnt-out match. The transcendent fact about the burnt out match is that it is burnt-out, and that, despite no longer being one, it is still called a match.

But that match that is there, on a piece of paper, is dead. That is what's important. Because what's important is that it is dead.

It is being, and we must see it, there, as substantial as the universe. As a thing integrated into the phases of nothingness." (Mayhew)

"A snuffed-out match is simply a snuffed match. The transcendence of a snuffed match lies in its being snuffed and in the fact that although it no longer exists, it is still called a match.

But that match there, on a sheet of paper, is dead. That is what matters. What really matters is that it be dead.

It is being, itself, and being there, it must be acknowledged to be as large as the universe. Like something that folds itself into the intervals of nothingness." KJ and FG.

I was uneasy in my translation with the word "fact." I felt it justified in my own American idiom, and was surprised that KJ and FG had used the same word, but in a different place. I hate words like "important" and "thing"; I forced myself to use them in the translation, though, because I read the poem as being written in a deliberately flat and insistent style. Almost a David Mamet style!

I won't review this book, because I don't want to be the translation police. I have very definite ideas about translation. I also see that I have misread the poem myself: "pese a que ya no es" I had read as "pese a que ya no lo es." I also missed the subjunctive force of "esté" the first time around.

In any case: buy this book. Latin American poetry should be better known--beyond Neruda, Vallejo, and Paz. I know little about Saenz myself and will be reading it with great interest.

I brought in a plastic bag full of books from home to revise my article on Celan and Valente. I have Joris' translations of Celan, some Blanchot, Heidegger, Lacoue-LaBarthes, Nancy. It is surely overkill. But my first and second versions left out many essential parts of the story I was trying to tell.
The idea of a God who had full access to my thoughts, who could judge me on a second-by-second basis, was psychologically intolerable to me when I was 8 years old. I would have to control my thoughts so strictly that in some sense they would no longer be mine. That was pretty much it for me and any form of religious belief. Also the beginning of a frightening degree of self-consciousness.

27 sept 2003

* Octopus Magazine * will publish the BAP face-off. While I was editing it I noticed it was 34 single-spaced pages, and almost 10,000 words--the equivalent of a couple of scholarly articles in length. How many words has Silliman written on his blog in a little more than a year?

26 sept 2003

What good is a new paradigm for the Humanities based on cognitive science if it leads us back to Tennysonian poetics? Nothing wrong with Tennyson, but it's hard to believe our brains are hard-wired to be Victorian--as opposed to Baroque, neo-classical, modernist, postmodernist, neo-ante-diluvian, or what have you.


The BAP face-off will appear in Octopus fairly soon.
"The Enchanted Loom" by Paul Lake has been praised by the usual suspects. Cognitive science is being used to debunk the avant-garde, as in S. Pinker. Of course, the article gets Derrida wrong, quoting a passage from him about the iterability of signs and, later on, making Derrida's exact point for him in a different way. The prestige of science is used to tell us what kind of literature we ought to prefer. It simply doesn't follow. I prefer Descartes to Swift myself, so I was turned off right from the beginning. It made me realize Swift can be used as model of anti-intellectualism.

Of course, it is language poetry that uses the entire brain, not just "left brain" decoding. Why was Mallarmé obsessed with rhythm? Does Gertrude really not care about the meaning of the words she uses in Tender Buttons? Has the author of this article ever read Clark Coolidge? Raymond Roussel? Paul Celan? Góngora? Borges? What profound ignorance!

I'd love to see a brain scan of myself reading an avant-garde text: I bet it would kick the butt of a brain scan of me grooving to Richard Wilbur.


One of those "man on the street" interviews yesterday, as I was walking down Mass. Ave in Lawrence. "What are you reading?" Of course, I said "The Best American Poetry, 2002."

25 sept 2003

I forgot to include Anne Carson in my list of the Best of the Best in Creeley's BAP. For some reason I hadn't put a big blue star next to her name in the table of contents.
When I post something late in the afternoon it's almost always a mistake. I feel punch-drunk from the BAP face-off. What did I learn from all this? I hate similes, except when I love them. They are like.... I don't care for obviousness or poems with cute premises. There are far too many prose-poems, too few poets like Ronald Johnson. I like "lean" poems more than "fat" poems.

"Hambone" and "The Hat" are the best avant journals. "The Boston Review," "New American Writing," "Pleiades," and "jubilat" are worthwhile as well. I'm sure "Skanky Possum" is as great as everybody says it is, but the poems Creeley chose from there were not at the top of my list. "Chicago Review" is good but I can live without "Ploughshares," "Poetry," and "APR." Why is there nothing from "Columbia Poetry Review"? No Barbara Guest or Kenward Elmslie (and so on....)

A note on "methodology": the alphabetical set up some fortuitous match-ups--much more interesting ones than I would have predicted. Over the course of 75 rounds, any unfairness due to method alone is evened out. A great poem might lose to an even greater poem, or a mediocre effort might prevail when the other editor lets his guard done.

I've found about 15 poems that are spectacularly good, others that are delightful in some way. There were several that I felt myself incapable of responding to, even when written by poets I admire.

Best of the Best:

Berrigan, Broughton, Coolidge, Gander, Johnson, Mac Low, Malmude, Manguso, Mathews, Rehm, Silliman, Warsh (Bob)

Anderson, Ashbery, Dickman, Higgins, Koch, Park, Smith, Warsh (Yusef)

Worst of the Best:

Glück, Olds (Bob)

Dennis, Hirsch, Nelson, Pinsky, Wilbur

Round 75


Yusef: "Reading the Bones: a Black-Jack Moses Nightmare" by Ahmos Zu-Bolton II

Bob: "A Sheath of Pleasant Voices" by John Yau

Two good poems with which to end the game. Zu-Bolton's spooky nightmare about some kind of soothsayer interpreting a pattern of bones on the sidewalk, and Yau's pleasant, witty poem about a more obscure nightmare. I did like the lines:

I am one of the last
of the computer chain errors

to become illuminated

Yau's poem lacks conviction for me: I don't know why it was written, though I am willing to keep reading it until I figure it out. The last round has to be a tie. Final score, after 75 rounds.

Yusef: 20

Bob: 41

Tie: 13

With one round vacated.

Round 74

Yusef: "After the Opening, 1932 by Anna Ziegler

Bob: "Nostalgia II" by Charles Wright

Ziegler imagines Edward Hopper after a gallery opening in 1932. The reader's response will depend on how convincingly the scene is painted: Hopper's need for solitude, scorn for the Rockefellers, etc... The poem is more of a short-story, really. I feel a lack of verisimilitude, but maybe it's just me.

Wright's poem ends with a simile that has me scratching my head:

The future, like Dostoyevsky, poised
To read us the riot act

I've never "gotten" Wright's poetry, and this poem is no exception. I understand it semantically, not aesthetically. He has a certain feel for language, but the results obtained seem duller than we might expect. Is it a problem of tone?

This one is a tie.

After 74:


Round 73

Yusef: "Clemency" by Robert Wrigley

Bob: "Illumined with the Light of Fitfully Burning Censers" by Dara Wier

"Clemency" is one of those poems with a lot of "writing" in it--"the redwing blackbirds / drilling their whistly bells." Is "scintillate" an adjective (after the analogy of desolate)? The speaker talks directly to God and is unembarrassed by doing so (or by his own "fine writing"). I've got to respect that sense of unembarrassment.

Dara Wier writes a parodic poem in "intelligent voice of suburban housewife" who, we repeatedly hear, "got an ok parking space." Does the intelligent housewife still use the word "fishmonger"? Not a criticism, just a question. What is defining her as intelligent here? Is the parody here too condescending?

I have to give the round to Bob just for the title of Dara's poem. I feel my critical faculties slipping away from me. I feel more and more fallible as the game reaches its conclusion, less and less inclined toward meanness.

After 73


Round 72

Yusef: "Scrabble with Matthews" by David Wojahn

Bob: "In Charge" by Nathan Whiting

Wojahn's account of playing scrabble with William Matthews (I cheated and read the explanation this time; I didn't know that Matthews had died), vs. Whiting's dramatic narrative about a guy with sixteen dogs. Wojahn says that Matthews wore his erudition lightly, but the same cannot be said for this poem, which is mannered and "academic." Whiting's funny poem about the dog collector wins for Bob.

After 72:

Round 71

Yusef: "My Work" by Terence Winch

Bob: "Return to Saint Odielinberg, Easter 2000" by Claire Nicholas White

I know, it must be hard to find 75 whole poems published in a single year that one would actually want to include in a book like this. I have deep symphony for these editors. I've only had to read 150 poems for this face-off. They must have read thousands to find these 150.

When Yusef chooses a poem from New American Writing, he comes up with this:

In my work, at any given point,
the great issues of identity politics
and dialectical absolutism assume
a tight coherence, a profoundly
threatening total awareness
by which I seek to mediate
the conflict between meaning
and the extremes of deconstruction

I violently hated this poem a few days ago. The parody seemed facile. Now I'm not so sure. Parts of it are quite funny indeed; there are some cheap shots, but it rings true (by-and-large, on-and-off). The fundamental problem, maybe, is that the pretentious way certain poets talk about their work is FUNNIER than any possible parody of this discourse.

White's poem is a rather conventional "finding the family roots" narrative. It just wasn't sharply written enough for me. Leave out the similes, poets! ("its two towers / like teeth.").

Yusef wins the round.

After 71


Round 70

Yusef: "The World" by C.K. Williams

Bob: "Eye Contact" by Lewis Warsh

C.K Williams' poem about living in France is chatty, entertaining, quite pleasant and filled with concrete details. He brings in Ponge, Fragonard. Unfortunately, he tries to draw out a didactic conclusion from his observations, in flatter language:

... reality has put itself so solidly before me
there's little need for mystery... Except for us, for how we take the world
to us, and make it more, more than we are, more even than itself.

Yet even as I type these words I think: if this were a William Bronk poem I would accept this language. Maybe I'm getting softer, more indulgent, as I resist the temptation to rip into this poem as though it were by Linda Pastan.

Lewis Marsh, though, comes strong with a poem reminiscent of Frank O'Hara's "Fortune Cookies": "The Trojan war was produced by Zeus for his own pleasure." I am a sucker for aphorisms, so Bob wins the round.

After 70


I've deleted a post from yesterday about the advisability of demonizing certain poets and anyone who naively admires them. I was trying to satirize an attitude, but another blogger kindly pointed out that my satiric intentions were not entirely clear. Next time I will use CAPITAL LETTERS when I am being SARCASTIC.

24 sept 2003

Round 69

Yusef: "Man Running" by Richard Wilbur

Bob: "Do Flies Remember Us" by Jean Valentine

We've all seen that movie or that t.v. show where the guy is running away from the law. Richard Wilbur has seen it too, and writes a banal, stereotypical poem-version of it in tired rhymes:

Whatever he has done
Against our law and peace of mind,
Our mind's eye looks with pity of a kind
At the scared, stumbling fellow on the run

The phrase "of a kind" is only there for the meter and rhyme. Wilbur's point is that we sympathize instinctively with the guy running away, not with the police.

Jean Valentine's poem makes a more original point, in fresher language:

Do flies remember us?
We don't them
we say "fly"


[There is typo in the first line: "Do files remember us?"] This one goes to Bob Creeley, who has now won a bare majority of the total of 75 rounds.

After 69:


The final five rounds will be conducted tomorrow, even though the outcome is no longer in doubt. Also tomorrow, my best of the best and worst of the best lists.
Round 68

Yusef: "In Sky" by Susan Wheeler

Bob: from "Raton Rex, Part I" by Sam Truitt

The Wheeler poem is an uncharacteristic choice for Yusef:

The girl refuses the stadium seating.
The girl mixes lazule and vivianite.
The girl was or was not a mother, this is irrelevant.
The girl's skin shelters; her skin burns with self

Truitt's poem, part of a larger sequence, is equally delightful, with short lines spilling over into one another in a bizarre stream-of-consciousness. This one is a tie, denying Bob his definitive victory.

After 68


What can I possibly do after I finish this? (Probably tomorrow.) I'd like to do another similarly absurd comparative literature experiment, but one less exhausting. It won't involve the Best American Poetry Series, that's for sure. Especially not the Best American Poetry 2003, edited by Yusef Komunyakaa, or the Best American Poetry 2002, edited by Robert Creeley.

So submit your suggestions.
The absurdity of comparison.
Round 67:

Yusef: "Premonition" by Lewis Warsh

Bob: "Call" by John Taggart

Warsh is a poet I'm only now getting into. I just bought a book by him for three dollars at "The Dusty Bookshelf" here in Lawrence, Kansas. [Bob has a poem by Warsh also, that will come up in a future round.] "Premonition" is good pick for Yusef: a poem long enough to allow me to figure out how much I like Warsh's work.

Taggart's poem is quiet and unassuming, also a good choice for Creeley, but I'm going to award the round to Yusef.

After 67:

Round 66

Yusef: "In a Rut" by Ronald Wallace

Bob: "Some of We and the Land That Was Never Ours" by Juliana Spahr.

She dogs me while
I try to take a catnap.
Of course, I'm playing possum... (Wallace)

You can pretty much predict the rest of the poem will use a series of animal expressions, and that's the problem with this sort of poem: utter predictability.

From Spahr's title you might expect a response to Frost's poem that begins "The land was ours before we were the land's." That's what you get, in a seemingly endless variation on this theme: "Some of we and the land that was never ours while we were the land. Started from us and of the ground which was never with we while we were the ground. Some of we wore the land. Some of we carried the ground..."

Predictable also? Somewhat tedious? In the positive, Gertrude Stein sense of the word tedious? Some of I liked this poem more than the animal metaphors, so some of I awards the round to Bob.

After 66:


Bob needs only one more round to be declared the absolute victor, by winning over 50% of the rounds. He is already guaranteed has a healthy plurality. I will keep going to the end.
Round 65

Yusef: "On Being Asked to Discuss Poetic Theory" by David Wagoner

Bob: "In Way of Introduction" by Gustaf Sobin

Two "metapoems," apparently. I have a verisimilitude issue with Wagoner: who would ask this particular poet to discuss poetic theory? He responds to the dubious request with a parable about snow falling on the mountain, concluding that the same snow falls even when he isn't there to watch it. A poetics based on the realization that the world exists without human consciousnesss. I get it, but he takes too many words to say it. Sobin, on the other hand, pares down his language:

poems are about. yours, though,
yours, it would seem, are
bout the process of their own
depletion: about, one might assume, the sheer

aboutness of being...

I get it. I've read Char, and Heidegger, and Blanchot, and other poems by Sobin. To me, this kind of writing has a dejà vu air about it. Still, for a less jaded reader it could be effective. I give the round to Bob.

After 65


23 sept 2003

Round 10,064

Yusef: "After Your Death" by Natasha Trethewey

Bob: "Poem After Daniel Hang" by Dale Smith

A school of quietude poem, well done, against Dale Smith's imitation/translation of a Spanish conquistador. This is a difficult one. I am not convinced by this voice:

but only when at last
I relaxed could I see
the possibilities of a life
in which to be deprived of Europe
was not to be deprived of much.


Tribe after tribe,
language after language
who could recall them all?

Who is supposed to be speaking here? The voice just doesn't ring true, either as a 16th century explorer or as a contemporary American poet. I can see the argument that it's supposed to be hybrid voice, but I don't buy it. Dale/Bob should win for ambition,


Yusef wins with Natasha's nicely turned poem about "another space emptied by loss." I like the image of the fig half-eaten by insects.

After 10,064


Round 63

Yusef: "The Lost Boy" by William Tremblay

Bob: "For Larry Eigner, Silent" by Ron Silliman

Remember when they used to say language poetry was "non-syntactical" or "non-referential"? The same kind of people who went around saying the Derrida didn't believe in the existence of reality. Silliman's poem for Eigner is quite referential, and every sentence has a perfectly transparent syntax too. It even has plenty of "content," the word that Yusef uses in his introduction to write off the language and post-language groups completely. If you only know Silliman from his blog, you are missing out on quite a bit. This poem is quite moving: the tribute of one poet to another, written in a way that makes us FEEL the respect for Eigner's craft: it is inherent in Ron's own language:

Moon in the poplars
sets just before the sun
first rising throws shadows
the way a ventriloquist does voices
long, lean, stretching back into compactness

As for Tremblay, he has also written an excellent poem, with some unforgettable images:

... Though his bones
mouldered in cold drizzle he comes
crashing through wild plum thickets
clutching at my shirt, asking where I was
in his sagebrush hours...

Tremblay obviously has talent to spare, although the poem is over-written for my taste, especially toward the end. It is certainly one of the best poems in the Kumunyakaa volume. It might have beaten a lesser poem than Ron's. Another round for Bob.

After 63:


Round 62:

Yusef: "The Restaurant Business" by James Tate

Bob: "You also, Nightingale" by Reginald Shepherd

"Elsie and I were having a nice, little romantic dinner at our favorite restaurant, when the owner of the restaurant came over and sat down at our table.."

It works as prose; I'm not sure why Tate feels he has to break the lines at "romantic / dinner" and "of / the." His scary little parable is classic Tate, a prose-poem written in lines of verse. "I was reading a nice, little book of poetry by James Tate in the bookstore when the owner of the bookstore interrupted me to ask whether I was going to buy the book." The poem has a terrifying conclusion. Normally, I wouldn't get that far.

Sheperd's weird imagining of Petrarch is closer to genuine surrealism, and the lines are genuinely verse:

Petrarch dreams of pebbles
on the tongue, he loves me
at a distance, black polished stone
skipping the lake that follows

worn-down words...

He wins the round for Bob.

After 62


Round 61:

Yusef: "Lines" by Ruth Stone

Bob: "I Do Not Know Myself" by Hugh Seidman

It's surprisingly easy to find points of comparison between poems as they line up against each other. (Or maybe my talent as literary critic is to invent spurious comparisons.) In any case, both these poems are short, religious lyrics. Stone speaks of a self trying to cross a border between individual and cosmic consciousness. She loses me with the ending:

Sharp as the odor of fresh sawdust,
the color of lost rooms,
those erotic odors, angst of brevity;
like crossing your thighs
in a spasm of loneliness.

I hate similes. Seidman, a poet whose existence was known to me, but only vaguely, writes a starkly simple poem about seeking enlightenment. He trusts himself enough not to COMPARE what he is seeking to anything else, and wins the round for Bob.

After 61:


Round 60

Yusef: "Translating" by Maura Stanton

Bob: "Self-Portrait with Critic" by Ira Sadoff

There is a verisimilitude problem in the Stanton poem (for me as a Spanish professor.) I don't believe that the particular words the speaker finds in "this novel / published in Barcelona in 1901" would really be found in a novel published in Barcelona in 1901. I don't believe that she would have found this novel by accident in a house she had rented. This does not diminish from the charm of the poem, however. Sadoff's critical self-examination describes what a lot of us do: "tinkering around / in a minor key, since no one's listening." Sadoff is leaner and more intense, but I have hard time dismissing Stanton, so this one is a tie.

Will Creeley win an absolute majority? There are fifteen rounds left, and he needs 38 wins (6 more).

After 60

Round 59

Yusef: "There's trouble Everywhere" by Charlie Smith

Bob: "Tenets of Roots and Trouble" by Elizabeth Robinson

Smith writes in a discursive, prosy Ashbery-inflected idiom--"The day / refers to itself in third person." His diffuse and thoughtful poem isn't really all that different from Robinson's Ashberianism of the Left: "There was a tribe adopted first person singular pronoun: / I." What I mean is that both styles are rooted in a single influence, but take this influence in opposite directions. We've already seen the Ashbery to the right in Goldbarth and Koethe. I prefer the leftward turn, of course, because it seems to me that the Ashberianism of the right was pretty much exhausted in the 1970s (by Ashbery himself at times.) So the round goes to Bob for Robinson's exploratory poem.

After 59:

My bookkeeping is messed up. I have to go back and figure out where I went wrong.

Later: 17-32-9

That adds up to 58, but one round no points were scored.
Round 58

Yusef: "Song with a Child's Pacifier in it" by Bruce Smith

Bob: "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" By Corinne Robins

Smith, a poet I have never heard of, comes out strong for Yusef with writing like this "and the air is perfumed with the lacquered black oil spilled / and volition like a little philosopher of hell..." This is an autobiographical poem with complex but not flaccid sentences extending over long sinuous lines, continually surprising.

The Picasso poem by Robins is amusing: what if the demoiselles in Picasso's famous painting could talk, what would they say? I generally don't respond well to poems with a premise like this. I've knocked the one about Beethoven's "sympathies," etc... I can't say it's badly done here, but Smith's poem is stronger, winning a round for Yusef.

After 58


Kasey writes:
"Jonathan Mayhew?s Bemsha Swing gets the coveted blog o? week award this time around, partly because his current Battle of the BAPs blow-by-blow commentary is so riveting, but above all because he is one of the first and most substantive po-bloggers, and is long overdue for some heavy-duty accolades.  Always articulate, measured, and honest, Jonathan is a powerful force for truth and justice in these dark, troubled poetic times.  Praise him!"

I am deeply touched. This is the highest honor in avant-po-mo-po blogland.

22 sept 2003

That's it until tomorrow. Bye Bob

Bye Yusef

Round 57

Yusef: "For Nazim Hikmet in the Old Prison, Now a Four Seasons Hotel" by Myra Shapiro

Bob: "Ends of the Earth" by Adrienne Rich

Myra Shapiro gives away the game in the title. The reader instantly writes the poem in his head just on the basis of the title, and then the actual poem can never win against this mental poem. Adrienne might like Myra's poem, actually. It is more sharply conceived than her own garrulous effort. I don't let myself be influenced by the poets' explanations in the back of the book. I did look back to see what Rich thought her poem was about, however: living in a room in an artist colony previously occupied by someone else.

This one's a tie, I'm afraid. Shapiro loses points for obviousness, Rich for pointless obfuscation. (Me who usually likes obfuscation.)

After 57

Round 56

[JM wipes sweat from brow]

Yusef: "Sleet" by Alan Shapiro

Bob: "A roof is no guarantee" by Pat Rehm

Another lean vs. fat match-up:

Dad sang for someone to fly him to the moon,
to let him play among the stars, while mom
held the lighter up to another Marlboro (Shapiro)

A roof is no guarantee
that you'll sleep

The unease of premises
pins together the curtains
at night (Rehm)

Shapiro's poem is not bad in painting two interpolated scenes: a family driving together through a sleet storm (ca. 1950?), and a conversation about a family member getting cancer. The cultural stereotypes depress me, the old Buick with children fighting in the back. "A rage of wind and sleet" seems to me a lazy way of writing, a tired metaphor.

Rehm's poem reminds me of Rae Armantrout, in the best possible way. That sharp, aphoristic intelligence--

It's hard to believe
5 sparrows were sold for this

Another one for Bob. After 56:


Round 55

Yusef: "The Disappearances" by Vijay Seshadri

Bob: "Fretwork" by Carl Phillips

There is a long-line style and a short-line style:

Every creature, intelligent or not, has disappeared--
the humans, phosphorescent,
the duplicating pets, the guppies and spaniels,
the Woolworth's turtle that cost forty-nine cents ... (Seshadri)

Little hammer, chasing--onto
unmarked metal--pattern,

a name,

a scar upon the face
of history, what

has no face (Phillips)

I prefer the second style, it is leaner and quicker to the punch. Seshadri's poem, in its attempt to make the grand historical statement, seems overserious to me. Phillips' historical meditation is more subtle. Another win for Bob.

After 55:


Round 54

Yusef: "Sequoia sempervirens" by Ed Roberson

Bob: "Starred Together" by Jena Osman

Two thoughtful poems. Roberson's meditation on the sheer size of the sequoia in relation to human scale and life. Osman's essay-poem on spectatorship and voyeurism. Osman has more going on poetically speaking; Roberson's metaphor of human = squirrel could have been more sharply articulated.

One for Bob. After 54


Round 53

Yusef: "What the Paymaster Said" by Kevin Prufer

Bob: "Twenty-Six Fragments" by George Oppen

This hardly seems fair! Oppen has been dead since at least the mid 1980s. Prufer's prose-poem is clever if a bit obvious. The paymaster is the voice of management offering absurd payments to his employees. I liked it well enough, but how can I compare it with a page or two ripped out of Oppen's notebooks, ranging from the banal to the sublime?

In the play, the actors cry out
But in the poem the words
themselves cry out

Oppen wins it for Creeley on historical interest.

After 53:

Round 52:

Yusef: "A Bad Imitation of W.H. Auden" by Robert Pinsky

Bob: "The Back of my Dead Husband's Head" by Sharon Olds

Pinsky's poem starts out like this:

We adore images, we like the spectacle
Of speed and size, the working of prodigious
Systems. So on television we watched

The terrible spectacle, repetitiously gazing
Until we were sick not only of the sight
Of our prodigious systems turned against us

But of the very systems of our watching.

It gets worse. There is a Donald Duck reference. He is trying to do a "public" poetry in a way that doesn't work. Let's hope Louise Glück doesn't try to write like this now she's laureate. The real title of the poem, by the way, is "Anniversary."

Olds' poem is actually entitled "Frontis Nulla Fides." It has its moments, but is too clunky even to win over the Pinsky poem. No points are awarded this round, not even to the "tie" category.

Score after 52:

Still 16-26-9
Round 51

Yusef: "Queen Min Bi" by Ishle Yi Park

Bob: "Snapshot from Niagara" by D. Nurske

These poems were both published in Barrow Street (the first time, I think, that two poems from the same magazine have come face to face). Yusef's choice is the more inspired: Park's portrait of the "Queen Min Bi" is outrageous, powerfully written, and memorable. I wanted to quote an especially arresting image, but found that the genius of the poem is in the accumulation of details. Some of the language is clumsy, but this does not seem to matter.

Bob seems to be growing weary. The poem about a pair of newly-weds getting their picture taken at Niagara falls presents a stock image: "two dim faces, woman, man / worn identical by happiness." Perhaps he was thinking of "be wet / with a decent happiness" when he chose this poem.

Two in a row for Yusef. After 51 Rounds:


[In case you're tuning in late in the game: scroll down to last Monday for the explanation of what this is all about.]

Round 50

Yusef: "What Happened to Everybody" by Naomi Shihab Nye

Bob: "Haunt" by Alice Notley.

I liked Nye's "ubi sunt" prose-poem, which has a deep "mono no aware" and "lacrymae rerum" feeling. Some really well-chosen details here. Notley's poem also details loss, though less sharply:

Why are you
I'm looking for poetry
it's here where it hurts us so much
I have to go on doing this

Yusef wins the round; Notley is one of my top 15-20 contemporary poets, but this particular poem struck me as diffusely written.

After 50:


21 sept 2003

Eagle's Wing: "I AM A TRASH CAN
I am a trash can I hate
being a trash can they throw away
diapers candy wrappers broken pieces
of glass. The most worst thing
is the yucky smell it's so disgusting
it's hard to breathe with the bag
but I don't smell as much but
really stinks Oh now a woman
with a diaper everyone hold their
nose Oh I don't have a nose."

20 sept 2003

shannacompton.com: blog: "The alphabetical progression pits poets against each other that might not otherwise be compared often, or sometimes two poems by the same poet, or two favorite poets result in a tie of excellence. Who knew this could be so exciting?"
Third Factory Notebook: "The agon is, of course, fascinating, but even more so is the crisp articulation of a single reader's values, unfolded poem by poem."

19 sept 2003

That's it for the week. I'll be resuming the Great BAP face-off sometime on Monday afternoon. At the end, I'll wrap it up with "best of the best" and "worst of the best" lists. Thanks to those who've written in to correct my slip-ups or comment on the results so far. This includes a few of the poets whose poems I have been discussing. No one has taken umbrage so far. With a few exceptions, I've not blasted truly unknown poets. The least satifsying poems have often been those by the biggest names, and this makes perfect sense: those are the ones most likely to be selected for the poet than for the actual poem.
Round 49

Yusef: "Poem for the Novelist Whom I forced to Write a Poem" by Daniel Nester

Bob: "Sonnet" by Charles North

Nester's poem is quite charming and has been growing on me over the past week. There is a gaffe, when he calls his novelist friend "a Greek goddess / descended from Cavafy." I'm not sure why this rubbed me the wrong way. The idea is that poets leave out details which novelists put in. Nester brings in Frank O'Hara explaining why he is not a painter. I wish I could read the poem the novelist wrote alongside of this.

North writes in the hermetic mode of the early Ashbery. These lines could be from Some Trees:

It expresses its reluctance as virtue.
It is reluctant to intrude, like minds into
the fleetingness they concede.

When it is convenient to me, I make a great show of overcoming my prejudices: for some reason the New York poets I love have tied or lost throughout this game. If I go back more than three times between the two poems, as in this case, I must declare a tie. North's poem makes fewer mistakes, but is less interesting and engaging.

After 49:

Round 48

Yusef: "Asparagus" by Marilyn Nelson

Bob: "Sunday Night" by Maggie Nelson


First cook it in its own delicious steam,
sauté breadcrumbs in butter separately,
combine, eat slowly . . .


Or why not make a malt of it? It's
virtually the same thing as a milkshake

but with powder.

Marilyn N's eminently dislikeable sonnet about eating asparagus loses to Maggie N's disjointed and amusing "Sunday Night," first published in The Hat. I'm getting a sense of what the best journals are, "Hambone" and "The Hat" among others.

After 48


Will Yusef beat the spread? He was at least a thirty point underdog going in . . .

18 sept 2003

Round 47

Yusef: "Four Deaths that Happened Daily" by Peggy Munson

Bob: "Sympathy" by Eileen Myles

Munson's poem is quite arresting, with some Plathian self-dramatization, but in a good way. She doesn't take herself too seriously:

One day I died while preparing to live.
The killer stepped out of a Seurat painting
And said "I will make you into a million dots ....

I would have liked Eileen Myles to win, but her poem, from APR, seemed less vivid, less memorable in direct head-to-head competition with Munson's. What is it about APR that drains the life out of poetry? Yusef finally gets his 14th win.

After 47:

Round 46

Yusef: "The Loaf" by Paul Muldoon

Bob: "Behind the Orbits" by Jennifer Moxley

Muldoon cannot be dismissed; an historically resonant poem invoking the five senses. Moxley's blank verse meditation is richer in logopeia. It has a weird Victorian tone going on which I can't quite put my finger on. I like the fact that I have a hard time figuring out what she's doing. I have no sense of aesthetic incoherence, as I did with Halliday.

This one's for Bob. Yusef is in a serious slump here. There are some match-ups coming up I'm not exactly thrilled about, like Pinsky vs. Olds.

After 46:


Round 45

Yusef: "A History of Color" by Stanley Moss

Bob: "Trail" by Mông-Lan

I don't know how to put a little dot under the o of Mông; the circumflex will have to suffice. Her poem is another exploratory voyage, like those of Forrest and Duncan earlier. Moss's poem is an odd historical essay about colors, with many fascinating details. I don't really get what he's trying to do; he would need more Kochian humor to bring it off in verse--he strives for a profound ending that the poem will not support. Bob wins with Mông.

After 45:


Round 44

Yusef: "Dear Alter Ego" by Heather Moss

Bob: "Ashberries: Letters" by Philip Metres

{I'm exhausted; this is hard work. I'm only keeping with it because I've been getting adoring emails and blog-citations all week.}

"Dear Alter Ego" is a jaunty poem, beginning like this:

I wish to cancel my subscription to your
deviance, the dither of which could send me
to cloister myself in darkest moorhead . . .

I rather enjoyed it. "Ashberries" has nothing to do with John Ashbery's. This is a beautiful if conventionally well-written poem, quite a find for Creeley. I hate ties, but what can I do?

After 44 Rounds:

Round 43

Yusef: "To Zbigniew Herbert's Bicycle" by W.S. Merwin

Bob: "To my Father's Houses" by W.S. Merwin

Bill vs. Bill! We've achieved alphabetical equilibrium a few rounds after the half-way point. Unfortunately, the two Merwins have written the SAME poem. Not literally, but the relation between Herbert and the bicycle is the same as the relation between the father and his houses, and the speaker's attitude toward this relation is identical. Herbert doesn't really own the bicycle and the father doesn't really own any of his houses. This one is a draw.

After 43:

Round 42

Yusef: "Jihad" by J.D. McClatchy

Bob: "The Quarry (1-13)" by Duncan McNaughton

Poetry is a mode of exploration. Both of these poets know this, but McClatchy relies more on the already-known. McNaugton's knowledge is discovered in the process of writing to a much larger extent. "Jihad" is a thankless subject for a poem, to be sure. Score one more for Bob.

After 42:

Round 41

Yusef: "The Music of Time" by Philip Levine

Bob: "Butter & Eggs" by Harry Mathews

"Butter & Eggs" is one of the greatest poems in the English language. Well, maybe not, but it is unforgettable and certainly deserves to be in a "best of" anthology. (See the uncomprehending remark about this poem in the amazon.com reader review section for Creeley's BAP.) It is simply an extremely precise recipe for cooking eggs with butter. I'm not sure why it works as a poem, but it does. Why isn't Mathews better known as a poet?

Levine's poetry has declined since he wrote "They Feed They Lion" years ago. This is a good effort for Levine; I kind of liked it. But if you've read 50 poems by him you've read the other 450. Yusef loses with a pretty good poem. Not fair, but I don't make the rules, I just enforce 'em. (Actually, I made the rules too.)

Score after 41:


Round 40

Yusef: "In the Hall of Bones" by Ted Kooser

Bob: "Address to Winnie in Paris" by Sarah Manguso

The premise of Kooser's poem is clever. I like his description of bones, but he ruins the poem with a sentimental ending:

... Of all the skeletons
assembled here, this is the only one
in which throbbed a heart
made sad by brooding on its own shadow

Manguso's prose-poem epistle is delightful. (I feel a little awkward because this is the first poet I'm discussing here who actually might read this blog.) Compare her ending with Kooser's:

"What the lover seeks is the possibility of return, the strange heart beating under every stone."

Bob wins again. Score after 40:

Round 39

Yusef: "Y2K (1933)" by John Koethe

Bob: "Perfect Front Door" by Steve Malmude

I am a fan of Koethe's poetry in general. This poem is complex, ending with a rewriting of Yeats' "The Second Coming" and a reference to Hitler. As usual, the style is vaguely Ashberyian.

Malmude's "Perfect Front Door" - published in The Hat no less- is more sharply drawn:

My summer
is threadbare
these jeans
are chains . . . .

Malmude's refreshing poem is one of my favorites so far in either book, and wins the round for Bob.

After 39:


17 sept 2003

Round 38

Yusef: "Proverb" by Kenneth Koch

Bob: "And Even You Elephants" by Jackson Mac Low

How could I possibly choose between these two? Mac Low's Stein poem is absolutely marvelous, and Koch is one of favorites. This round is a tie.

After 38:

Round 37

Yusef: "Love Blooms at Chimsbury after the War" by Jennifer L. Knox

Bob: "On Antiphon Island" by Nathaniel Mackey

Knox's 14-liner poem is delightful: a series of fictional characters "dropping dead" one after the other. Mackey has his moments here too. I like the word "andoumboulouos." This round was hard to call until I realized that I had to try too hard to like Mackey's poem. If it didn't have his name attached to it, I wouldn't have tried at all. So Yusef wins this round.

After 37


Round 36

Yusef: "After Horace" by Carolyn Kizer

Bob: "Felix Culpa" by Timothy Liu

I've read Horace in Latin: he would never rhyme "Licymnia" with "heart will be a." (In fact, he does not rhyme at all). Horace is a master crafstman, and the translation, verging on doggerel, is insulting to his memory. Liu's poem is enigmatic. His explanation in the back is perhaps better than the poem itself, which still wins the round for Bob.

After 36:

Round 35

Yusef: "When the Towers Fell" by Galway Kinnell

Bob: "'Broken world' (for James Assatly)" by Joseph Lease

Kinnell's poem is a valiant attempt to describe the 9/11 disaster. I wanted to dislike this poem, but I have to admit many readers will be deeply moved by it. Lease's subtle elegy for his friend James Assatly is the better poem, giving the round to Bob.

After 35:


Round 34

Yusef: "The Dragon" by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Bob: "Great" by Bill Kushner

Two poems that are victims of a "style." Kelly's, a "creative writing" adjectival style ("wet black compost"). Kushner's, a breezy jerky New York-school style. It's a tie, even though Kushner's style is more to my liking.

Score after 34:


Sarah (Manguso) writes to correct a mistake in round 27, that's messed up my score keeping. I'm going back now to correct it, and update the score for each round.


There. I did it. I *wanted* the Harvey poem to be in Creeley and the Goldbarth in Kumunyakaa. The books look pretty much the same, and I transposed the results in round 27. I'm amazed by the response to this BAP face-off. I thought it would be a really dumb thing to do but people seem to love it so far.

Round 33

Yusef: "Some Rain" by Joy Katz

Bob: "Flying" by Maxine Kumin

Katz's poem, a poetic survey of rain in relation to a dozen or so historical figures, is amusing in a Kenneth-Koch like way. It's basically a list poem. It could have been more sharply drawn, but it is better than Kumin's anecdotal poem. Bob goes wrong here the same way he did when he went with Donald Hall. These poets just don't have it. Yusef wins.

After 34:

Round 32

Yusef: "Ten Sighs from a Sabbatical" by Rodney Jones

Bob: [untitled] "across dark streams" by Ronald Johnson

Ok, Yusef, you are disappointing me. Warmed-over poetic gossip from the Southern agrarians, what Allen Tate told Rodney about Robert Lowell and Randall Jarrell? Who cares?

Bob, on the other hand, is resorting to DEAD GUYS. In most forms of competition being dead is not an advantage, but, as Rodney himself writes,
"The dead, when they are recent, are as good / as they will ever be." [Huh?]

Ronald Johnson's poem is wonderful, I'm going to quote all of it:

across dark streams
of shooting stars

supplicant cast fly
another year alive

belief, belief brief
zero at white core

Not only that, but Ronald Johnson is from Kansas. We only have two or three good poets in the history of the state. Another round for Bob. Score after 32 Rounds:


Round 31

Yusef: "Success" by Richard Howard

Bob: "9-11-01" by Fanny Howe

"Her dealer, who handled successful artists / was a successful dealer, / and his Christmas party, too, was a success." Did anyone ever think Richard Howard could write his way out of a paper bag? The punchline to the poem is amusing enough, but why make us wade through 10 dull stanzas before we get there?

Fanny wins it for Bob with her 9/11 poem.

After 31:

Round 30

Yusef: "Summer Night" by Tony Hoagland

Bob: "you: should be shoo you" by Everett Hoagland

The first Hoagland poem is a half-way decent poem of every-day life. Worthy of publication, though not in a "best of" volume. Everett's poem is a somewhat predictable tribute to Baraka and 60s Afro-centrism. I have to give the round to Bob, since the second Hoagland is more ambitious and provides a window on some fascinating cultural history. At least our alphabets are synchronized now!

After 30:

Round 29

Yusef: "The Desire Manuscripts" by Edward Hirsch

Bob: "TCAT serenade: 4 4 98 (New Haven)" by Michael S. Harper

Why retell stories from Greek mythology in a bored, perfunctory way? Harper wins, this time for Bob, with his take on Seamus Heaney. Just when it seems Yusef is getting his act together, he blows it again. His taste is often *whiter* than Bob's.

Score after 29


Round 28

Yusef: "Villlanelle" by George Higgins

Bob: "Affirmation" by Donald Hall

Higgins' villanelle beginning "When Steven Spielberg spoke at Oakland High" is simply brilliant. I'm a sucker for a villanelle (or sestina or pantoum), and this one packs a punch. The idea is that they try to fix up the usually dilapidated school in advance of Spielberg's visit. (He visited the school apparently because some students had laughed inappropriately during a screeing of Schindler's List.) The poem wouldn't have worked if it weren't a villanelle.

I can see how the emotional rawness of Hall's poem appealed to Bob. "To grow old is to lose everything." To be fair, this is an above average poem for Hall, who everyone knows to be an utter mediocrity. Yusef wins with Higgins' villanelle.

After 28


Round 27

Yusef: "Sad Little Breathing Machine" by Matthea Harvey

Bob: "The Gold Star" by Albert Goldbarth

Goldbarth could give lessons in grossness to Gabriel Gudding:

Elaine's job on the geriatric ward included encouraging
the constipated to loose their stingy, gnarled marbles
into the bowl--by hand . . .

Harvey's discontinuous anti-narrative lacks conviction. I try to avoid reading any of the contributor notes at the back of the book, but this poem had me stuck. Still, I will be re-reading it, while Goldbarth's poem exhausts itself in a single reading. Yusef wins

After 27:

Round 26

Yusef: "Rhythmic Arrangements (on Prosody)" by Michael S. Harper

Bob: "Reunion" by Louise Glück

This round features two of the four poets who appear in both volumes (the others are Bidart and Warsh.) I got mixed up for a second about which poem was chosen by which editor. Harper's poem starts off:

I was forced to memorize and recite
in front of an atonal white hostess

made to do it again
in Iowa tests of critical argot complicit

with theatrical endrhymes . . .

The "atonal white hostess" might very well be Louise, whose tone-deafness here is astounding:

It is a pleasure, now, to speak of the ways in which
their lives have developed, alike in some ways, in others
profoundly different...


... Time has been good to them, and now
they can discuss it together from within, so to speak,
which, before, they could not.

Harper's deft metaprosodic poem wins the round for Yusef. The thought crossed my mind that Glück was parodying the empty, banal way we think about our lives. I kind of doubt it.

After 26:


In case you don't know what this is all about: I'm facing off the Best American Poetry series, 2002 vs. 2003, poem by poem, in the order the poems appear in the volumes (alphabetical by last name of poet). Scroll down to Monday September 17 for the beginning.


Round 25

Yusef: "The Opaque" by Mark Halliday

Bob: "Beginning with a Phrase by Simone Weil" by Peter Gizzi

Halliday's meditation on poetic opacity is rich with examples--"Blueprints for the wiring of public buildings in Singapore." The poem goes on a little too long, and becomes too *transparent* at times, but is still more interesting than Gizzi's variations on the phrase "there is no better time than the present." The two poems are not that dissimilar. Gizzi makes fewer mistakes in his excellent poem, and I almost gave the round to him because of my irritation with Halliday, but Halliday holds the reader's attention more strongly, winning the round for Yusef.

After 25:

Yusef: 8; Bob: 13; Tie: 4

16 sept 2003

Round 24:

Yusef: "Beauty" by Linda Gregg

Bob: "Carried Across" by Forrest Gander

Gregg's poem includes the faux-aphorism "The violation / of beauty never happens just once," soldering together an anecdote about seeing Brigitte Bardot on ET and another about shooting a dog who's killed a sheep. (Jordan asks in his Constant Critic review: does she want to shoot Brigitte Bardot?)

Forrest Gander's poem is quite amazing, both in its finely observed details and its overall effect (it extends over seven pages in this volume). I like the defamiliarizing use of Spanish. Score another for Bob.

After 24 rounds:

Round 23

Yusef: "Max Jacob's Shoes" by Ray González

Bob: "Surrealist Love Life" by Gene Frumkin

Two homages to surrealism. González's is a coherent, Edsonesque prose poem (although better than Edson), while Frumkin's is more discontinuous, unpredictable in its movements. I like both poems. Although both are one remove from real surrealism, Frumkin has a slight edge because he is trying harder to get at the real thing. Bob wins, regaining his narrow majority.

Score after 23:

Round 22

Yusef: "Report on Human Beings" by Michael Goldman

Bob: "Independence Day" by Benjamin Friedlander

Goldman adopts a deliberately dull tone, since his poem is supposed to be a "report." The result sounds like William Bronk on boring pills:

We were distinguished
by our interest in scenery


What was most wonderful about us
was our kindness

Friedlander's poem isn't great either. Rather obvious political points and plays on words. This is another tie.

After 22:


Round 21

Yusef: "Landscape" by Louise Glück

Bob: "To a Student Who Reads 'The Second Coming' as Sexual Allegory" by Jeffrey Franklin

If there's anything I dislike more that a poem by Louise Glück it's a poem by a professor about his student's misreading of Yeats (or anyone else.) The title of Franklin's poem pretty much tells you all you need to know: the title/premise is likely to be better than the poem itself. (Like the poem about Beethoven's nine "Sympathies" in the other book). Glück's poem presents an eerie, ethereal landscape. She is talented, and this is one of the best I've seen by her in recent years. She wins the round for Yusef.

After 21

Round 20

Yusef: "An Offer Received in This Morning's Mail" by Amy Gerstler

Bob: "Drones and Chants" by Norman Finkelstein

Amy Gerstler misreads the word "sympathies" for "symphonies" on an advertisement for classical music cds and writes a poem with a clever premise--not quite clever enough to sustain a poem of a page and a half. Norman Finkelstein's rhythmic elegy for Armand Schwerner wins this round easily for Bob.

After 20:


Round 19

Yusef: "Ponderosa" by James Galvin

Bob: "Animals out of the Snow" by Clayton Eshleman

Galvin's poem about a ponderosa tree getting struck by lightning is quite *striking*. It's one of the best I've found in the Komunyakaa volume so far. Eshleman's dream poem is like Dybek's: more interesting for the dreams themselves than for its language. This is the third or fourth not-very-compelling poem I've found from Skanky Possum. Sorry Dale!

Two in a row for Yusef. After 19:

Round 18

Yusef: "The Vagrant Hours" by Charles Fort

Bob: "O Patriarchy" by Elaine Equi

Fort's poem, while perhaps quietudinous and academic, is smooth and competent. (I wish he hadn't written "verse libre" instead of the correct "vers libre.") I don't really "get" Equi's poem. I understand what the point is, but I don't understand the aesthetic impulse behind a poem like this.

but if a woman
is offended,
she finds no one there
to blame.

Maybe I'm not familiar enough with her work. Creeley would have written: "but if a woman / be offended." Skanky Possum again.

Yusef scores!

After 18:

Round 17

Yusef: "Journal" by Stuart Dybeck

Bob: "Moon Cornering" by Theodore Enslin

Dybeck's dream-diary poem starts off in such a dull way I almost didn't read the rest of it; it gets much better. The dreams themselves, however, are more interesting than the language used to recount them. Enslin's poem is one I have to keep reading to decide whether I am really convinced by it. Once more Creeley's surprising propensity for selecting Creeleyesque poems. A narrow decision for Bob.

After 17 rounds:


Round 16

Yusef: "Open Door Blues by Stephen Dunn

Bob: "Midsummer" by Diane Di Prima

I hate Stephen Dunn's poetry, and might be expected to prefer DdP. However, Dunn's chatty, genial poem makes me think of a lesser James Schuyler: "I've left the door open. The flies / know. The wasps will soon." Di Prima makes me feel like I'm in Sunday School:

Prayer at the stillness of noon.
A pause at the balancing point
Grace of the ascent ...

A weakness in Creeley: poets of his own generation, even when they're not doing their best work. Yusef wins the round! Proving once again my total objectivity and fairness.

After 16


Round 15

Yusef: "Fox Trot Fridays" by Rita Dove

Bob: "Long after (Mallarmé)" by Ruth Danon

Bob gets off easy this time. The Danon poem is charming but slight; doesn't make me think much of Mallarmé. The Dove, on the other hand, is sentimental and clichéd. She tries to mask her clichés "Thank the stars" instead of "thank your lucky stars" but why not eliminate them completely? Bob wins again.

After 15:

Round 14

Yusef: "Skin" by Susan Dickman

Bob: "Traced Red Dot" by Clark Coolidge

Dickman's poem is truly memorable. What happens to the skin floating around after a terrorist bombing? "What to do / with all the minute pieces, the shreds?" The ending ruins the poem for me, by finding a false resolution of this question: "perhaps / somehow, the earth remembers." And then a little note: "Jerusalem Bombing, February 1996."

Contrasted with Coolidge's skin imagery: "skin pulling its surface moisture / Barbizon personality like a peanut."

I can't give the outright victory to Coolidge, even though he's obviously one of my favorite poets. The poems are just too different from each other: no punches were thrown in this finger-puppet fight so I have to call it a draw.

Score after 14:

Round 13

Yusef: "World History" by Carl Dennis

Bob: "Corpus Delicti" by Peter Cooley

Dennis suggests it is better to be a medieval theologian than to start World War I, and better to be Jehovah's Witness missionary than to be Hitler starting World War II. "Corpus Delicti" is a well-crafted poem in a deep image, pseudo-profound mode. Both poems are trying to make the grand statement, but Cooley's poetic diction is more resonant that Dennis' utter flatness. I can imagine a reader attuned to the period style really loving the Cooley poem. The round goes to Creeley once again.

After 13:


Round 12

Yusef: "Six Sketches: When a Soul Breaks" by Michael S. Collins

Bob: "Lullaby for Cuckoo" by Tom Clark

Collins' poem has that "ripped from the headlines" quality that Yusef is looking for. Too obvious for my taste, although well enough done on its own terms; quite memorable. Tom Clark's confusing apostrophe to a cuckoo in a clock does not quite convince me, although I do like the lines: "Or was homo faber the missing link / who forged you in his workshop of stupid toys." I'm starting to learn what the Skanky Possum style is all about.

The round goes to Yusef/Collins.

After 12:

Yusef: 3
Bob: 7
Tie: 2

Round 11

Yusef: "Litany" by Billy Collins

Bob: "On the Screened Porch" by Elizabeth Biller Chapman

Collins is facile and glib here (big surprise), and loses to conventionally good poem by unknown poet, from Poetry Magazine. A kind of childhood memory poem I would usually sneer at, but here the details are vivid and finely wrought. There is more "content" here than in the Collins. (Yusef's favorite word.) Bob is turning out to be a superb editor. Even his two losses have come with good poems.

Score after 11:


Round 10

Yusef: "Aeon Flux: June" by Joshua Clover

Bob: "Opposed Glimpses of Alice James, Garth James, Henry James, Robertson James and William James" by Anne Carson

Yusef is bringing it on now! Ashbery-like lush verbosity in Clover versus Creeley-like concision in Carson. Carson's is more my kind of poem, it is true, but Clover's is almost as good in its own way. This one has to be a toss-up, although I like the Carson one as much than any poem in either book so far.

Score after 10:


Round 9

Yusef: "Perfect Attendance: Short Subjects Made from the Staring Subjects of Strangers" by Rosemary Catacalos

Bob: "What I Threw into the Grave" by Michael Burkhard

Good poems with great titles: both are poems with cute premises given away in these titles. I have to give the edge to Catacalos for those long, sinuous lines and wryness:

As when someone's uncle Theo, his name the old Greek joke of "Uncle Uncle,"
misjudges his scythe-like sponge knife beneath the reef at Tarpon Springs

Burkhard is a tad more sentimental. This could be a tie, but Yusef is struggling and so I have to give him the close decision.

Score after 9:

Round 8

Yusef: from "1000 Lines" by Catherine Bowman

Bob: "Ballad of the Comely Woman" by T. Alan Broughton

Broughton's poem reminds me of the early Creeley. It is a re-telling of a folk-tale about a hag turning into a beautiful young woman:

As I walked out one day
I met on my path a woman
ugly as sin and walking a dog.
She stopped me and said, "Young man, ...

A very memorable poem.

Bowman has her moments, but I can't justify banality like this:

all stupid things, really, it was clear, you
were not happy--your therapist said I
needed to get over my problems with
men, before we think about having kids [...]

The round goes to Bob. Score after 8:


15 sept 2003

Round 7

Yusef: "Art Tatum" by Bruce Bond
Bob: "The Body" by Jenny Boully

I was going to quit for the day but this one seemed so easy. A maudlin treatment of Tatum (unforgivable, the fingertips in the eyes, as Jordan as pointed out), in academic verse, vs. a compelling set of false footnotes: "a good poem writes itself as if it doesn't care." Tell that to Bruce Bond. And someone should tell poets never to explain their poems (that goes for both Yusef's and Bob's selections).

Score after 7:


I had actually expected it to be a little closer at this point.
Round Six

Yusef: "Rambling on My Mind" by Diann Blakely
Bob: "Injunction" by Frank Bidart

Here the roles are reversed, Bob having chosen Frank. Blakely's invocation of Robert Johnson seems forced to me. Bidart's Blakean meditation has some wit: "the temple / is offended by, demands the abolition of brothel, now theater, now /school."

While it seems unfair to Yusef, who lost in the last round with Frank Bidart, I'm giving the decision to Bob's Bidart poem.

Score after 6:

Yusef: 1
Bob: 4
Tie: 1

Remember: all this is highly scientific.
Round Five

Yusef: "Curse" by Frank Bidart
Bob: from "Zero Star Hotel" by Anselm Berrigan

Bidart curses those who brought down the World Trade Center in poetic diction. "you hear as if in slow motion" is a cliché, surely. The curse seems mild in relation to the event, somehow, as if this event were not sufficient to effect a break in decorum. Not a bad poem, for SoQ devotees, but Anselm's language is taut and humorous. This poem is better than most of TED Berrigan. Anselm by TKO.

Score after 5:

Yusef: 1
Bob: 3
Tie: 1

Round Four

Yusef: "Some Further Words" by Wendell Berry
Bob: "12 [squared]" by Charles Bernstein

I'm sure Charles would agree with many of Wendell's fine sentiments. Bernstein's twelve haiku-like fragments, separated by horizontal lines, include this faux-Creeley poem:

counting now to five
next to three
then up till four

Berstein underwhelming poem wins, but only because Berry's poem is extremely weak, depending too much on an expectation of right-thinking agreement. Imagine a poem written in the same mostly uninteresting language, but espousing right-wing, anti-environmental sentiments.

Score after four rounds:

Yusef: 1
Bob 2
Tie: 1

Round Three

Yusef: "Dedicated to the One I love" by Nin Andrews
Bob: "The Golgotha Local" by Amiri Baraka

A breezy, faux-O'Hara poem--versus a typical Baraka product. This one is a tie since neither poem is convincing to me. Andrew's poem, not without its charm, is surpassed by the original model, while Baraka's dialect sounds stale: there is more linguistic invention in the average rapper.

Score after 3 rounds: 1-1-1.

Round 2

Yusef: from "A locked Room" by Beth Anderson
Bob: "The Pearl Fishers" by John Ashbery

Anderson's poem is written in smooth, eerie prose-poetry. It reads like an Oulipean parody of a detective novel, and out-Ashberys Ashbery's conventional Ashberian lyric. I reject the idea that to defeat the champion, you need to score a decisive victory. The Anderson poem is a more imagiinative choice than picking one more poem by Ashbery.

Score after 2 rounds:

Yusef 1
Bob 1
Coming soon:

Poem by poem comparison of BAP 2002 (Creeley) and BAP 2003 (Komunyakaa).

Rules: First poem in Creelely versus first poem in Kumunyakaa, etc... until the end of the shorter of the two volumes. I am the infallible judge. You are free to disagree with me, of course; just remember that I KNOW MORE THAN YOU DO.

Round 1:

Yusef: "The end of out of the past" by Jonathan Aaron

Bob: "Up to Speed" by Rae Armantrout

Aaron's not very objectionable poem is a retelling of a scene from an old movie; but what does it add to this movie? It seems to be a "second-degree" text in this sense. The hard-boiled dialogue that might work in the movie can fall flat in the poem. I dislike the cliché "strictly business."

Armantrout writes five short fragments, some of them wittier than others. I like the lines "Does a road / run its whole length / at once." This is a poem I will be re-reading.

Score after One Round:

Yusef 0
Bob 1

12 sept 2003

What K. Silem Mohammed said in his recent post on houliganism on the web. And what Brian has said in email to Joan, and all the rest of you who agree with my take.

I'm rather weary of the debate. The reason I jumped to the defense of a poem published in Slope by an MFA student at Brown (maybe you should meet her, Henry) was because the critique of this poem was so unsubtle. I wanted to like the poem, to champion the underdog. To those who have said, well, it's still not a very good poem, I say, so what? What if I give a "B" and someone else gives it a "C-", that's not motive for scandal or outrage; it's just a normal disagreement between friends. Houlihan wanted to place it off the scale completely: you can't judge it at all, she claimed, because it doesn't play by the rules (her rules). My reading did not prove the poem was great, simply that the choice of words was not arbitrary in the sense being claimed.

There's something "off" about singling out a poem by a young, unknown person to attack. If I were going to target the SoQ (or whatever), I would choose Pinsky or someone else "famous," not some MFA student from Iowa publishing her first or second poem. Here the "so what" factor kicks in again. If I announced to the world I had found a mediocre poem in the Iowa Review I would be greeted with a chorus of yawns.

The Unquiet Grave.
Joe London has a poetry blog worth checking out. It appears to be relatively new.
Jordan Davis on the BAP 2003. Where can I get some of that genial tact?

11 sept 2003

Bad Mickey Television Sock.
"Here, I've kept the 'best' words and re-ordered them. Have I improved the poem? Damaged it? Changed its meaning? No. The poem is unaffected by change of any kind and therefore impervious to evaluation of any kind. It is SuperPoem, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal poems. Such a poem defies revision because—revise towards what? or away from what?"

Here I think I've located the source of Houlihan's uneasiness. The poem cannot be revised according to the canons of the "creative writing" workshop. We cannot apply the usual criteria: "eliminate the cliché in line four." We cannot offer suggestions for improvement because the poem is not trying to be the standard workshop poem in the first place. It is arrogantly placing itself in another category.


Now in my own case, for example, "suggestions for improvement" would be largely irrelevant. It may be that the poem I've written is weak. In which case, the best thing to do might be to throw it away, not to revise it. And especially not to revise it to bring it into line with the standards of "creative writing."
Since the Houlihan controversy won't go away, I might as well address her comments head on. Henry, quite correctly, has pointed out our collective failure to take her arguments seriously. I will now do so.

This is her approach to the poem I cited a few days ago:

[Is an axle's excavation
an axiom's inversion
that muzzles
the ventriloquist breath

of a nipple. The revolving door
of its throat.]

"It seems that not only are these words not best (or worst), they are not even among a specifically selected few [????]. All word choices seem equally good (or bad) for this poem because the poem does not want to add up to anything, does not want to become anything, it only wants to resist becoming, to remain a baby in the continuum of its utterance. Therefore:

Is an axiom's evacuation
an axle's inversion
that snubs
the ventriloquist bread

of a testicle. The spinning jenny
of its lashes.

Why not? How does this version differ from the original? Only in its words. And since the words don't count, since they don't have to be best, better, bad or in any way related to any potential meaning, my poem is as 'good' as the original. In fact, I would argue my poem is the original. It is exactly the same poem, albeit with different words?but neither set of words makes any difference to the meaning."

How solid is this critique? A ventriloquist produces sounds in his or her throat, so "lashes" does not mean the same thing. Since the ventriloquist seems not to be talking, her breath might be imagined to be "muzzled." I fail to see why snubbing bread is equivalent to muzzling breath! I am somewhat confused by the conclusion: "my poem is the original. It is exactly the same poem, albeit with different words..." How can the same poem have different words? Since when does a testicle mean the same thing as a nipple?

If the point is that the poet chose her words at random, this is clearly not the case. Joan H. assumes that the point is to create a random, meaningless utterance, but the poem is ABOUT meaning and the production of an axiomatic utterance. (Where the critic reads it simply as the unwillingness or failure to produce such an utterance). I'm not saying everyone has to like this poem (although I do). A more intelligent critique, though, would entail having read and understood the poem.

10 sept 2003

GARY has this take on Bemsha Swing. He captures my digressive tendency and overall silliness. I wish I could enter a poetry contest judged by Bill Knott.
How to pronounce my name:

In Michigan, where I lived as a child, it was JA-nathan, but I prefer the short "o" sound, as in the word "mock." The British pronounciation JOE-nathan is also objectionable to me, unless you happen to be British. The other two a's in my first name are shwas. The "th" is UNVOICED, dammit (unless you are speaking very rapidly in which case nobody will notice.

"May" as in the month of May. "hew" like chopping down a tree. "MAY-you" is acceptable if you've known me a long time. Remember: Dactyl + trochee, although I don't care if you pronounce MAY-HEW as a spondee.

Thanks, I'm glad I got THAT off my chest.
If Jonathan Mayhew wrote this blog...

It would be pretty similar to what you see here. I'm not aware of what my "parodiable" qualities might be. The tendency to overgeneralize or the contrary tendency to draw distinctions too fine to be of any use? Laziness, self-deprecation, arrogance, desire to be noticed, desire not to be noticed? Self-awareness, lack of self-awareness, in some weird combination?

"Dans une société de grande civilisation, il est essentiel pour la cruauté, pour la haine et la domination si elles veulent se maintenir, de se camoufler, retrouvant les vertus du mimétisme." --Michaux
Bill Knott has some comments vis-à-vis Dale Smith's open letter to Houlihan. I remember reading Knott in the late 1970s, when I first started reading poetry. I've heard little of him since, though there was some commentary on him in Rain Taxi a few years back if I remember correctly.
A quote from Louis Zukofksy: "The great poet is implicitly a good critic of poetry." That doesn't overstate the case by any means, and doesn't imply the opposite. Even in the case of Pound, the limitations of his criticism are intimately related to the limitations of the poetry itself. Criticism is sorely needed. I can't wait to see Jordan's review of the BAP 2003 on the Constant Critic.

9 sept 2003

... and another thing (not to beat a dead horse or anything!) but Bernadette's writing experiments are also the object of scorn in the essays by J. H. that have been the subject of much debate on the blogsphere.
Joan spends a good deal of time taking apart this poem:

"Is an axle's excavation
an axiom's inversion
that muzzles
the ventriloquist breath

of a nipple. The revolving door
of its throat."

* by Christina Mengert, Slope, Issue 17

I hope Christina (whoever she is) won't mind me reposting it here and saying that I don't think this poem is deserving of such harsh treatment. Whether or not it is a great poem, it does matter whether the words in it are replaced with others! I'd like to be able to defend every poem in Fence and Skanky Possum. Unfortunately, I can't. A lot of the work is simply not that compelling, from where I sit. I am not arrogant enough to think I am the one to make that determination, though.

I guess it was Pound who popularized the idea that critical judgment is intrinisically tied up with the ability to produce works of art oneself. Of course, we all know it doesn't work that way! We don't worry too much whether Marjorie Perloff can write a poem, or whether Clement Greenberg knew how to paint. If the critic defines herself as a poet, though, and publishes poetry, then the Poundian criterion kicks in. We are entitled to look at where the critic is coming from, poetically speaking. I assume that poets, as critics, are implicitly defending their own poetics.

I should add that Houlihan's demolition of the Bly BAP is quite convincing, devastating even. Which goes to show that the "blindness/insight" aporia is in full force. She can see how and why a prosaic Donald Hall poem is wanting, but is reduced to Philistine blustering when faced with Lyn Hejinian or Fanny Howe. Go figure.
Possum Pouch writes (to Houlihan): "I won't waste time addressing most of your asinine and labored arguments. I just want to make a few comments regarding your gross stupidities and generalizations."

While I agree that Houlihan's critical judgment is weak, I don't think such an intemperate and badly written response is very effective. Especially when he calls HIMSELF asinine a few lines down, and says he wants "to stretch [her] perceptive modus."
HG Poetics asks: "All this vehemence makes me ask: is criticism actually possible with regard to contemporary poetry? Contemporary culture is most adept at creating complete autonomous worlds (poetry movements, football seasons, ghettos, SUV ads, music videos, computer games. . .). These pastimes are so pervasive and all-consuming that, in comparison, perhaps, a general notion of 'good writing' seems inconceivably boring. 'Progressive' poetry creates its own terms for production & consumption, which have a lot to do with an aura of performance & 'liminality' & immediate experience, and little to do with 'normal' or even traditionally or measurably elegant syntax or vocabulary."

But we are all vehement! Henry Gould and Jean Hooligan as much as Jonathan Mayhem. It's called passion! If elegance could be measured it wouldn't be elegant any longer. If poetry were written in "normal" language it wouldn't be poetry at all. All this reminds me of some books my Grandpa had by Robert Hillyer, a guy who used to write a column for the Saturday Review or Saturday Evening Post. He would quote a poem by Cummings or Williams or Auden and sneer at it. Modern poetry was crap. Half the time he was right, but that just shows bad poetry will always be more plentiful than good. The poetry he advocated was worse than crap. That's why the badness of Houlihan's own poetry matters in this debate.

8 sept 2003

Joan Houlihan's poetry sounds more or less like this:

"Oh, my semi-precious, so much slow time
so much crawling and browsing
so much fascination with harmful insects
and corrosive sublimate.
As if you have as many eyes
as many eyes as the common fly,
and every one stuck open wide
to the wonderful, wonderful world."

Yet she cannot appreciate the humor of Lyn Hejinian's lines--

"I thought I saw a turtledove resting in a waffle.
Then I saw it was a rat doing something awful."

--lines she singles out for contempt: "any general audience would perceive, correctly, that the lines are drivel." I guess they would be drivel, if they were read *straight* rather than humorously. But where would you find a reader that incompetent?

I'd like to know why Houlihan's offspring is only "semi-precious," why she doesn't know how to use the subjunctive ("as if you have..."), and why she can't think of a better phrase than "the wonderful, wonderful world." But then again, I am not part of the "general audience" that knows what it likes and likes what it knows.

I normally wouldn't waste my time criticizing someone's amateur poetry. What I object to is that this person is setting herself up as a "poet," "editor in chief" and "essayist" with a cogent diagnosis of the malaise of contemporary American poetry.

I find it incredible that people enjoy poetry that I think is beneath contempt, while dismissing work by writers whom I admire. Why is it that people don't have the good sense to arrive, spontaneously, at judgments that coincide exactly with mine? Never mind that the poets I like are those with whom I am most comfortable, those I have been reading for over twenty years. In fact, I can easily tell whether I will like a given poem just by looking at the NAME OF THE POET. If I have never heard of the poet, then chances are the poem will not be very good--what are the chances that someone I'VE NEVER HEARD OF could write a decent poem? After all, Keats, Shelley, and Byron are not born every day. Of course, if it is a poet I ALREADY DON"T LIKE, the chances are even greater that the poem will be bad.

When flipping through the average "literary" magazine, it is quite obvious to me that most of the poems are quite bad. So usually, I just read the first few lines of every poem: if anything in them is redolent of the sort of poetry I DON'T LIKE, I move quickly on.

By carelessly misidentifying "Five Fingers Strong" as the Ingredient, I have effectively transformed it into "The Ingredient." The power of misnaming.
I was reading the BAP 2003 in the bookstore yesterday. I couldn't bear to actually buy it. The poem by Pinsky on 9/11 is truly awful. Pompous use of the word "we" and a sort of clumsy attempt at a "public poetry."

Creeley's 2002 BAP is actually quite a stimulating book, with Silliman and Fanny Howe, Coolidge, and only a handful of the obligatory dull poets of the Hall/Howard variety. If I were going to buy a book, it would have been this instead of the 2003 volume. It does have more African-American poets than other years, but there is a total exclusion of language poetry and many other vital tendencies. You get the feeling Lehman is leaning over the shoulder of the guest editor (whoever that is any given year) and imposing certain poems and poets.

7 sept 2003

This comment on a BAP of a few years ago. It contains some good points about Lehman's series, although the poets under attack in this particular case are among my favorites! Who is this Joan Houlihan anyway?

5 sept 2003

This blog was started one year ago today. Thanks for reading it!

4 sept 2003

Adolescence seems to be extending in both directions at once: into the pre-teen years, and into the late twenties or early thirties. An article (in a Spanish composition textbook I am teaching from) about the crisis of early adulthood--20-somethings who still live with their parents and don't know what they want to do when they grow up. And third-grade girls in my daughter's class acting like sorority women.
/ nickpiombino.blogspot.com
09-04 03:12 PM / www.sandrasimonds.blogspot.com
09-04 03:00 PM /2002_10_01_jonathanmayhew_archive.html Google search: "the silken tent" "robert frost" understanding
09-04 02:57 PM /
09-04 02:14 PM / www.danielsilliman.blogspot.com
09-04 02:10 PM / www.danielsilliman.blogspot.com
09-04 02:02 PM /2003_01_01_jonathanmayhew_archive.html www.dogpile.com/info.dogpl/search/web/revolut...
09-04 01:33 PM /
09-04 01:13 PM / ronsilliman.blogspot.com
09-04 01:02 PM / radio.weblogs.com/0113501
09-04 12:58 PM / radio.weblogs.com/0113501
09-04 12:49 PM /
09-04 12:49 PM / johnmost.blogspot.com
09-04 12:48 PM / johnerhardt.blogspot.com
09-04 12:37 PM /
09-04 12:29 PM / garysullivan.blogspot.com
09-04 12:16 PM /
09-04 12:15 PM / winepoetics.blogspot.com
09-04 12:15 PM / winepoetics.blogspot.com
09-04 12:15 PM / monkey.onepotmeal.com
09-04 11:46 AM /
09-04 11:43 AM / Google search: barbara guest, durer in the window
09-04 11:24 AM /
09-04 11:24 AM /
09-04 11:18 AM / harlequinknights.blogspot.com

My most recent "hits."
?'m st?ll h?v?ng pr?bl?ms w?th m? ?cc?nt m?rks. Th?y ?r? ?ll sh?w?ng ?p ?s q??st??n m?rks ?nst??d. Wh?t sh??ld ? d??

3 sept 2003

I'm saving all my archives to a microsoft word document. I've done all of 2002 (Sept - Dec) and it adds up to 84 pages. I found a phrase "to amuse a future version of myself" which amused me.
I was reading TLS (don't ask me why) and saw a review of a book on postmodernism by Jonathan Clark. As I was reading the review, I began to feel uneasy. Apparently the book is not really about postmodernism, and Clark is a Tory historian who wishes the Puritan revolution, the American revolution, and all subsequent revolutions had never occured. My uneasiness was due to the fact that there is a "Jonathan Clark" who has an office a few doors down from mine. Sure enough, I came to a sentence about how this guy was "ironically," a distinguished professor of history at the University of Kansas. Ironically because his ideal civilization is pre-revolutionary England, and the Midwestern U.S. is a place devoid of historical interest for him. Maybe that's why I've only laid eyes on him twice this semester.
Mallarmé and Roussel. Reading Melville's translation of "La vue" at the same time as Mallarmé's essays, it struck me how early Roussel, writing in 1903, was the "anti-symbolist": his meter is classical and impeccable--no free verse or prose poem for him--and his discourse is absolutely denotative. No suggestion or suggestiveness, no avoidance of direct statement. And yet ... there is a mysteriousness behind all this flat surface--the mystery of why someone would want to write like this.
Driving to work today, I realized I had written "Ariosto Furioso" instead of "Orlando Furioso" one of my lists. It is corrected now. Will they revoke my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature? Ariosto is the name of the author. It looked wrong to me when I typed it, but I couldn't quite figure out why.
Heriberto's desert lists. The Spicer is a good choice. I'm sure it will show up on my NEXT desert island list.
Desert Island Picks. All Spanish

Don de la ebriedad.
Residencia en la tierra.
Muerte de Narciso.
La cometa o las manos sobre el papel.
Material memoria
Libro del frio
Eglogas (Garcilaso)

2 sept 2003

Received today. Barbara Guest. Durer in the Window, Reflexions on Art. Roof, 2003.

Despite the somewhat intrusive, rather busy design by Richard Tuttle, a beautiful book. Guest is at her best when she is immersed in the art work, collaborating with it, not writing "about" it. Some early clippings from Art News. Some poems from different periods, giving a wonderful feeling of simultaneity between the 1950s and the present. Texts published elsewhere acquire a new context. An essay on Tuttle uses almost identical language as in a poem from Miniatures entitled "Noisetone." That poem can then be read as "about" Tuttle.

For Gary--some comics in collaboration with Joe Brainard.
Patrick Durgin writes: Louise Gluck is worse than Billy Collins. At least with Collins you had an auspicious imbecility one could, in rare but welcomed moments, laugh at. With Gluck, you have pure despairing introversion AND auspicious imbecility. The shift is exemplary of the "American" psyche as it turns from its global terrorism to its universalized depression. We must believe "this will hurt me as much as it hurts you" ...
Since my blog is only a week younger than Siliman's, it is also one of the longer standing poetry/poetics blogs. I was inspired by Ron to start mine. Others in that same initial group were Jordan and Gary, Heriberto's first blog, etc... A few predate this period. When I go back to my archives they say "Bemsha Swing." A falsification of history. It was "Jonathan Mayhew's Blog" in that period. I am disturbed by this. On Friday, Sept. 4, this blog will turn one year old.


Julia's starting 3rd grade today.
2nd Desert Island List. No "selecteds" or "collecteds" allowed. Only individual "works" of poetry.

1. Spring in the World of Poor Mutts.
2. Orlando furioso. (I've never read it, and I could learn Italian)
3. Breathturn. (In Pierre Joris translation; my German is weak)
4. The Odyssey + Greek dictionary and grammar. I once studied Ancient Greek intensively for 10 weeks, and promptly forgot every bit of it.
5. Thank You and Other Poems. Or The Duplications.
6. Fair Realism.
7. Libro de los venenos (Gamoneda)
8. Harmonium. (I know I'm plagiarizing others' lists here...)
9. Nouvelles Impressions d'Afrique
10. Something really dull that I can turn to in times of true despair. Dryden's translation of the Aeneid?

"We have been experimenting with verse."

When I read this sentence yesterday in a translation of Mallarmé's essays, the original French, from when I read the essay 20 years ago, popped into my head:

"On a touché le vers."

Mallarmé is bringing news (from France to England). The progressive mode ("We have been experimenting...") is all wrong. We need the sense of an EVENT. The verb "experimenting" is wrong in this context as well. And the personal pronoun "We" for the impersonal "on."

1 sept 2003

Sick in bed with a cold when you are supposed to be road tripping to new Mexico books.
lime tree: The Problem with Desert Islands
I'm updating my links. I don't have everyone yet, but I'm working on it.
Early Louise Gluck--her first book at least--can be quite good, with a colloquial sense of language and zany sense of humor. Since then, her poetry is written in an increasingly stiff, somewhat unreal "poetic diction." Why do poets worsen?


Desert islands picks:

1. J. Schuyler: Selected Poems. A beautiful selection. I like almost everything in it.

José Lezama Lima: Obras completas. The great Cuban poet is deliberately "insular," yet expansive in his references. You would need at least one inexhaustible book like this on a desert isle.

3. Coolidge: Solution Passage. A thick, dense book I have been exploring for more than ten years and haven't exhausted yet.

4. Barbara Guest. Selected Poems. A beautiful book in the physical sense; would I want to expose it to the elements on my desert isle?

5. Perec. La vie: mode d'emploi. I'd have to bring the French original, since I would have lots of time to practice my French! The encyclopedic quality of the book makes it ideal for castaways.

6. Beckett. Ill seen ill said. Short, but inexhaustible in its own way. This one I have to bring in English.

7. Góngora. Polifemo. I've always wanted to read this straight through. With enough time on my hands, I could manage it.

8. Pound. Translations. This is really two books in one. A window on "world poetry" through Pound's eyes, and a window on Pound through the eyes of the world.

9. Raymond Roussel. La vue. La source. etc... These "blank" works have always fascinated me more than his texts written according to the "procédé." to me, Roussel is a greater poet than Valéry. Must be read in the original. Can I smuggle in a LaRousse?

10. For the last selection I'd have to choose something I really hated, simply to have something always "in reserve" once I had exhausted 1-9. Nothing comes to mind at the moment, though.

No O'Hara, Ashbery, Koch, WCW? Good question. I have already absorbed these poets enough that I don't *need* to read them ever again. The same goes for Claudio Rodr?guez, Lorca. I could reconstruct many poems from memory so I wouldn't need the physical books.