31 mar 2004

The Year of the Olive Oil by Charles North. Hanging Loose Press, 1989.

What a funny, witty book from a poet I don't know much about. I've had the book about a year. His baseball line-ups are hilarious. I also like the design of the book. For me that's so crucial with a book of poetry.

30 mar 2004

One of those perfect used bookstore moments: Jordan and I went to the Dusty Bookshelf in Lawrence on Monday morning. I found two copies of Kawabata's "Palm-of-the-Hand Stories" for $4 each. (North Point Press). We each bought one: Jordan needed it for his talk and I wanted one also. I also bought a book by Joe D'Amato.
In my sleep last night (or in half-awake state) I was writing a poem called "Snow Clone." For explanation of the term, see Agoraphilia. A snow cone is a formulaic phrase like "x is the new y," or "[name of poet] is like [name of poet] on [name of drug]." Anyway, my poem was divided into multiple sections, each of which was based on one of these "snow clones."

I can't remember any lines from it.
Back to work now after the Jordan Davis visit. It was great to finally meet him and to discover that he is exactly the same person as I believed him to be. There's no hidden jerkness there. And we cured him of his basketball foul anxiety. At his reading he read one of my favorite poems, "Rotten Floor."

29 mar 2004

Jordan just gave his talk on Kenneth Koch to a very select audience. He got to meet Ken Irby, which was nice. He took off on foot back to the hotel. I hope the audience at the reading is not quite as "select."

28 mar 2004

I left Jordan at the hotel so he can finish his paper for tomorrow. We went out to lunch with Stan Lombardo and Judy Roitman and then went to a sports bar to see Kansas lose in OT to Georgia Tech. The book a day project will be suspended until the Jordan Davis visit is over.

26 mar 2004

Life & Death (Creeley). 1998.

The taste of that specfic doughnut.
In other breaking news, Henry disagrees with Ron Silliman, Mike Snider comes out in favor of rhyme, and Jonathan trashes the New Formalism.
Ok. I have to go fix lunch for Julia and her friend. Bye Chicago AWP conventioneers. Nice talking to you.

Is the panel still going on then?
There's nothing like checking a blog every 10 second to see whether anyone's said anything about you. A weirdly inefficient mode of communication made possible by modern technology.
Anybody there? Hello...
I don't know what you've been talking about in the panel, but you can scroll down for my thoughts about blogging. A couple posts down. The conversations in blogging can be somehow out of synchronization. Like this one!

Equanimity - if not a poetics, then what?

Great. I'm still here. Reload my page please!
Hello Chicago!

What I like about blogging is the simultaneity and everydayness of it. I can live in poetry without interrruption. It's a giant conversation in which I can test my wits against some of the most brilliant people alive today. Frank O'Hara would have loved blogging.
Mark Liberman answers my question about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis on Language Log. Last November, but I only found the link today.
I'm participating in an AWP panel by remote blogging, in exactly half an hour. We'll see how that works.

Poetics Seminar: Jordan Davis: "Palm of the Hand Stories, Comics, Bump Poems, and Apostrophes: Kenneth Koch in the 90s"
Choose your weapon

Poet A writes like this:

"Half of my youth I watched the soldiers
And saw mechanic clerk and cook
Subsumed beneath a uniform.
Grey black and Khaki was their look
Whose tool and instrument were death."

Or like this,

"Impatient all the foggy day for night
You plunged into the bar eager to loot.
A self-defeating eagerness: you're light...."

"The fog drifts slowly down the hill
And as I mount gets thicker still..."

Poet B writes like this:

"Lank potato, darkening
cabbage, tattered raspberry
canes, but the flower beds
so crammed there is
no room for weeds."

Or like this:

"But there's something going on
in those twisted brown limbs,
it starts as a need
and it takes over, a need
to push..."

"You recognize it like
the smell of the sour chemical
that gets into the sweat
of some people from
birth onward."

B seems to have a sharper eye (and ear), and writes with more immediacy and power than A. Why the redundancy of "tool and instrument," for example? Why the Audenesque rhetoric? Is it because A is writing in meter and rhyme? No, there is no intrinsic reason why meter should make a poet less energetic or alert. There is no reason why writing in free verse should free a poet up in this way either. That's just where the chips fall in this case.

Poet A is British poet long a resident of the SF Bay area. So is poet B. In fact, both poet A and poet B are Thom Gunn. He is a very-good-to-excellent poet not matter what form he is writing in. His metrical poems are not bad, but his poetry gains something significant when he abandons meter and rhyme. Why? My hypothesis is that meter pushes some poets into a rhetorical mode that prevents them from saying what they really want and need to say. It doesn't have to be this way, that's just how it happens in many cases.

Sociobiological arguments have no sway here. You can talk all you want of how neo-formalist aesthetics are rooted in human biology, but then why aren't neo-formalist poems better than they are? The arrogance of a Timothy Steele, to talk about the "errors" of Eliot or Williams, is breathtaking. I say, look at the actual accomplishments of the poets. The proof is in the quality of the poetry.
Mike Snider's Formal Blog and Sonnetarium

"Oulipo and other aleatory techniques subvert the human use of language—they are literally inhuman, though they can be briefly amusing, because they deny the body's role in thought."

If you say so! I don't really understand the use of "literally" in this sentence. Nothing could be more "human" than the works of Italo Calvino, Harry Mathews, and Georges Perec.

25 mar 2004

The Jim Behrle Show: Jordan Davis: On Assignment. This is actually helpful. Now I know what JD looks like so I can pick him up at the airport on Sunday morning.
Moscow Mansions by Barbara Guest. Viking, 1973.

The best $50 I ever spent. Maybe this is in a close tie with Own Face for my favorite poetry book of all time. There is a certain "wretchedness" of sensibility that I am constantly at war with.
This book is the antithesis of this wretchedness. Next time someone tries to foist some wretched sensibility on me, I will be armed with this book.
A poetry reading!

Monday, March 29, 7:00 p.m.
English Room of the Kansas Union
University of Kansas, Lawrence

Jordan Davis, author of Million Poems Journal, will read from his poetry (although he doesn't know it yet).

Earlier in the day, Jordan will give a presentation on Kenneth Koch at the Hall Center for the Humanities. For more information contact Jonathan Mayhew.

Here's what I don't quite get. Why, when working under oulipian constraint, does my language inevitably drift toward a particular disembodied tone? Is there another possible style for such writing?
Line 3:

1. Revealed hostility to Danny Ainge.

2. Had left a kettle boiling on the range.

3. Perturbed the reader with an odd mélange.

4. Made me forget to e-mail you, mon ange.

5. Confused the semis on the interchange.

6. An ant who wandered through a mountain range.

7. Found that the French were, in a word, étrange

8. Bewitched the golf-balls on the driving-range.

9. Devised a recipe for sour blancmange.

10. Redid a calculation by Lagrange.

Line 2:

1. (Simplistic explanations do no good!)

2. (A squirrel puppet made of polished wood?)

3. (Not William Butler Yeats's ancient rood...)

4. (The swing-band softly playing "In the Mood")

5. (None of which is too clearly understood)

6. (Or speechless jaws, medicinally glued)

7. (Divas, on stage, who're mercillessly booed)

8. (the executioner had lost his hood)

9. (Who but a beggar would refuse that food?)

10. (And twenty angles waiting to be trued)

You get to witness my "creative process" as I write these poems. (Lucky you, right). I wish I had one of those reserve dictionaries. The -ange rhymes for line three are going to be devilishly difficult. Now I've written a hundred poems (two squared).

Here are the variants of the first line of my hundred trillion poems. My only constraints here were that I couldn't begin any lines with the same word, and that each line had to be a noun phrase.

1. A China cymbal with its upturned flange

2. The journey that is torture to arrange

3. That father, finding that his son is strange,

4. Perfumes that have the power to derange

5. These victims of the fickle stock-exchange

6. Fascists, or members of a vile phalange,

7. What mutt afflicted with a nasty mange

8. Those that have power to hurt, but never change,

9. A blnd-man's room, taboo to rearrange,

10. Young girls enjoying lunch (a rhymeless orange)
It's got to be Shakespearean. I don't think I can find forty rhymes for a word unless I use rhymes that are too "easy," like the -ee. Even finding twenty could be a challenge. And I think, rather than writing a dummy sonnet first, I'll write all ten first lines for all the sonnets. Should they be perfect phonetic rhymes or should I allow myself to rhyme orange with flange?

24 mar 2004

I'm going to attempt my own hundred trillion poems. I first have to write the "dummy" sonnet that will give me the rhyme scheme and basic syntactical sequence. After that it will just be a matter of writing ten lines for each slot.

Cent mille milliards de poèmes

Whatever 10 to the fourteenth power is (100 trillion?). Every time you click new poem you get another sonnet. There are 14 total sonnets, but line 1 of each sonnet is interchangeable with all the other first lines of all the other sonnets, the same with all the other lines. Do the math.

Our Selves by William Bronk. 1994.

This book, for me, has a lower ratio of hits to misses than other Bronk books. I only have three marked in the table of contents from my previous reading. The poems all seem to say the same thing. It is a tired book, written when the author perhaps did not have as much energy. Yet I always want to write my own Bronkiana poems whenever I read him:


We sort through our messages; most are spam.
But, then, the real messages aren't that much more urgent.
Life, elsewhere, does its own thing.
We don't read the messages it send us.
Its urgency is not ours.

23 mar 2004

Brooding upon Mohammad's Krazy Kat,
How Horace got his prosody all wrong,
How Mabel's sweat-pants made her look too fat,
And Henry's Pushkin drove him to his song,
How cats just make me sneeze, so I can't prove
I have a better ear than Espaillet,
How Billy Cobham got into a groove
With Mahavishnu, with a wild display
Of drumming talent. Brooding on this, and more,
On Lope's Violante, Kenneth Koch's wild Ko,
On Silliman, on Behrle, on Duncan's ancient lore,
On Creeley, Berrigan, Nick Piombino,
I started on this sonnet, which I hope you like.
I put some extra feet in, just for Mike.

Yes, let's throw out modernism. That will make it safe to write about Mabel's lime-colored polyester slacks. (Just don't send her over here to shoot me.)
Noon by Cole Swenson. Sun & Moon, 1997.

There is not a false note in this book. I remember making a similar comment about the book last year around this time, when I first read it.

22 mar 2004

... and Henry ups the ante by writing a sonnet that's actually half-way decent.
I'm still trying to add a site feed to my blog. It's not working yet.


Update: it seems to be working now. Thanks to Chris Lott for encouraging me to do this, for the convencience of readers who read their blogs this way.
Straits by Kenneth Koch (1998). U City Public Library.

It's my spring break, so of course I feel I am getting sick. I am only sick during vacations. Julia is home sick with a fever, and I think I'm about 24 hours behind her. This book by Kenneth Koch is one of the the only ones I don't own, and it is out of print. Somehow I missed it when it came out. It would have done me a world of good in 1998, a very difficult year for me. "My Olivetti Speaks" is brilliant. Julia checked out The Pleasures of Peace. She said she wanted to check out a book of flarf and that was the closest thing we could find!
Tympan's brilliant contribution to the sonnet debate.

Why do people who try to write music like Chopin in the present time end up writing like Billy Joel? (Billy Joel, for example). Forms have a history. There is no intrinsic reason why a painter today couldn't go out and try to paint like Monet. But no serious painter is doing this. Why not? Why does no one worship the Greek gods any more? Anachronism is very interesting historically, but it remains anachronism. Are contemporary "pagans" ironic? If they aren't, they should be.

21 mar 2004

Mike Snider's Formal Blog and Sonnetarium: "Jonathan reads watching to see how the poet can possibly get to the end of the line without breaking the meter, pouncing on imagined solecisms"

Ouch, that hurt. The problem is that I know when the writer did something for the sake of the meter. I can just tell, because of that forced "feel." I would say it is because I am a better reader of formal verse, not a worse one, because I notice things that others might not hear. (I could prove it too, by doing a full scale examination of a Frost sonnet, for example.) It is because I read contemporary metrical verse in the same way as I might read Frost that I find the former lacking, most of the time, not because I refuse to credit any sonnet written after an arbitrary date.
Freely Espousing by James Schuyler. 1969. 1979.

I actually found a poem in here I don't ever remember reading. "Royals." It is very strange, with lines like this

"Unable to talk to us,
they know about us and argue about the facts
and the motives we might not know ourselves.
Their argument might be clarifying
to those who know them whom they do not know
as they know us who do not know them."

Is this a schizofrenic's poem?

Why do I need my poets to have a keen sense of language? It is axiomatic for me, yet not for other readers. Sure, the language in the poem quoted above seems deliberately dull, in contrast to Schuyler's usual style. So that makes me curious about what is going on here. That string of confusing monosyllables in the last two lines I quoted...

Moly, North of Boston, Response, Own Face, Gone, Freely Espousing, Straits, Noon, Our Selves, Moscow Mansions

20 mar 2004

Gone by Fanny Howe. 2003.

I'm sure I'm the last person on Silliman's blogroll to read this book. I'm glad I finally got around to it. The religiosity here keeps me at a distance. I don't know what to make of it. This distance makes the reading experience richer for me, in a way.

I'm still trying to read a book a day, combining old with new readings.


"Another one, you say? I'm getting tired."
"But now the second line is almost done:
Come on, you know it would be loads of fun."
"I'll do it in the morning, more inspired;

I'm feeling low, my talent has expired."
"But now the second quatrain has begun,
In fact, we're in the middle of its run."
"Approaching midnight, in a rut I'm mired,

But why stop now? I'm feeling so Petrarchan."
"Those Engish couplets are too apodictic."
"What will we rhyme with that? That's what I'm fearing."

"The perfect rhyme, of course, is 'masochistic.'"
"And so we're done, we'll never cease to hearken..."
"To the voice of verse that in our heads we're hearing."

Own Face by Clark Coolidge. 1978 (1993).

This is probably my favorite poetry book of all time. For sound in poetry, there is no better place to go. And it's funny too:

the black cat
had got too light
and had to be diminished
to be discarded
be banished

he never would wear
the suit I bought him
the suit of shoes
Eagle's Wing:

"Squirrel Fred puts on
his slippers for the
acrobatic never knowing
carnival. He makes
a banana for his
crazy baby baboon nana"
After Lope de Vega

("Un soneto me manda hacer Violante")

Violante's wish is that I write a sonnet.
Well begun is half-way done; I think I'll do it.
Femine rhymes? Ten minutes? Sure, I'm on it.
Once I get started rhyme will push me through it.
(The second quatrain usually develops
Ideas presented in the first. It's easy:
Once you get started, confidence envelops
Your poem, written in a style so breezy).
Where was I? Yes, line nine, where arguments can falter.
An extra foot? It's here I get myself in trouble.
My inability to count, to ride a horse without a halter,
Makes five feet turn to six, then, seven, or eight, or almost double.
I'm done, but for a modest couplet
Short by a foot, or long by a quintuplet.

I know, I know, I have a faulty catalytic converter in the first foot of line 2, a doctorseussism in line 8 (that's the technical term for it, I believe :). But since I love Dr. Seuss, I'll let it stand. I can see how writing sonnets can be addictive. If you don't know Lope's poem, I recommend that you learn Spanish to read it in the original. I didn't have it in front of me, so only the first line is really a translation.

Un soneto me manda hacer Violante
que en mi vida me he visto en tanto aprieto;
catorce versos dicen que es soneto;
burla burlando van los tres delante.

Yo pensé que no hallara consonante,
y estoy a la mitad de otro cuarteto;
mas si me veo en el primer terceto,
no hay cosa en los cuartetos que me espante.

Por el primer terceto voy entrando,
y parece que entré con pie derecho,
pues fin con este verso le voy dando.

Ya estoy en el segundo, y aun sospecho
que voy los trece versos acabando;
contad si son catorce, y está hecho.

[Violante orders me to write a sonnet;
I've never seen myself in such a fix.
They say a sonnet's fourteen lines.
Fooling the fool, the first three are already written.

I thought I wouldn't find a rhyme.
And already I'm in the middle of the second quatrain.
But once I reach the first tercet,
Nothing in the quatrains will frighten me.

I'm entering into the first tercet.
And it seems I've entered there on a good "foot,"
and now I'm ending it with this line.

Now I'm in the second, and I even suspect
That I'm now concluding the thirteenth line.
Count if there are fourteen, and I'll be done]

19 mar 2004

I should point out, in view of Chris L's recent post about the "poverty of approach," that most of us do spend most of the time promoting the kind of poetry we like. It's just that the attack mode seems to garner much more attention! For example, when I posted those critiques of new formalist poems, (something I hadn't done in a long time) my page visit stats suddenly spiked: twice as many people were reading the blog as when I was just posting my normal musings on my daily readings. A critique is more likely to provoke an answer on another blog, and readers will fip back and forth to follow the debate. No one posted links to my posts about particular books I had read and liked in the last few days, only to my more critical remarks.

A vanished house that for an hour I knew
By some forgotten chance when I was young
Had once a glimmering window overhung
With honeysuckle wet with evening dew,
And shadowy hydrangeas reached and swung
Ferociously; and over me, among
The moths and mysteries, a blurred bat flew.

Somewhere within there were dim presences
Of days that hovered and of years gone by.
I waited, and between their silences
There was an evanescent faded noise;
And though a child, I knew it was the voice
Of one whose occupation was to die.

--Edwin Arlington Robinson
I have my spring break now, followed by the long-anticipated Jordan Davis visit to Kansas. I don't know whether that will mean more or less blogging in the next week or so.
Mike Snider waffles and says that "excellent" does not mean "great." (My dictionary defines excellent as "Of the highest or finest quality; exceptionally good of its kind.")
I don't know how to read contemporary metrical verse? I think I do! I'm not "fair" to it because I expect it to rise to the level of Roethke, Stevens, Thomas, or Frost, when what these neoformalists are really attempting is a kind of contemporary "light verse." In essence, I'm making a category mistake, reading this poetry as though it were in the same genre as excellent poetry of the past, and being continually disappointed. There's an audible difference between "I know a woman, lovely in her bones" or "She is as in a field a silken tent" and any line from Rhina's poem. It's the difference between musicality in verse and "painting by the numbers" versifying. I'm not offended that someone would write a sonnet, I'm offended that someone wouldn't know the difference between good metrical verse and crapola.

If you want good story-telling, try Fanny Howe's short-story "Radical Love," from Economics. No story is completely original, but Espaillet's nachos and beers are not well-chosen details.

I just had to write my own 15 minutes sonnet:

The New Formalism

(for Kasey Silem Mohammed and Mike Snider)

The amateurs have clambered o'er the wall
They THINK the TIME has COME for THEM at LAST.
The courtyard on the other side is small...
No matter! 'Tis th'enclosure of the past,
The sonnet's realm, where Shakespeare's verse held sway,
Where Wordworth wrote of narrow convents cells,
And Frost became "Acquainted with the Day"
(The night I mean), where Poe heard tinny "Bells."
...that's not a sonnet? Well, the rhyme was there,
Ripe for the picking, like Augustine's plum.
But somehow none of this seems really fair:
Verse so arthritic makes us seem so dumb.
Tough luck! This wretched sonnet has to end,
There's much here to decry, naught to defend.

There are no obvious metrical hiccups here, if you accent the u in Augustine, like some people do. Not very good? Admittedly it's not, yet I don't think it's inferior to the sample poems over at the Formalist, metrically speaking. I'm not tripping over my toes. The archaism is deliberate; I'm playing with the meter, even when I let it push me around.

18 mar 2004

Finally, on the issue of "respect for the reader." The assumption is that poetry in the avant-garde tradition fails to respect the reader, because it is avant-garde and a particular reader may not know how to read such a text. This argument seems circular to me. Can we assume the ideal reader to be truly literate? Doesn't adult, educated literacy assume some acquaintance with the past 150 years of literary history? How is it disrespectful to assume your reader has some strategies for approaching a slightly "difficult" text, one that might not adopt the folksy Edgar Guest mode favored by the new formalists? Henry Gould expects me to know who Joyce and John Berryman are before I read his poetry, for example. I don't see that as disrespectful in the least. I choose Henry here because he is not particularly "avant." He's writing in the mid-century tradition of the New Critics, Lowell, and Berryman, which did assume a somewhat better-educated reader.
{lime tree}: Conformalism

Jonathan, I feel, indulges that Rhina P. Espaillat poem far more than it deserves.  Even granted that the sonnet is apparently part of a longer cycle, which I haven’t read, and which looks like it has a larger thematic focus on storytelling in the abstract, thus potentially relieving the individual poem somewhat of the accusation that the story it tells isn’t interesting in itself, there’s just no excusing the arthritic prosody and trite phrasing, which are clearly not self-consciously intended.  If a beginning or intermediate student wrote this poem, I would praise him or her in due measure for the work that had obviously gone into practicing the metrical “scales,” and for fitting the narrative with some competence into a fair approximation of a Shakespearean quatrains-and-couplet syntactic structure, but—especially if it were a more advanced class—I would call the student on the limpness of the language, the cliches, the gratuitous and unjustified show-offiness of the form.  Most annoying of all to me is the poem’s complacent comfort with its own snug, smug “literariness,” its embarrassing self-delight in having accomplished such a slight feat: gosh, fitting a whole ghost story into a single sonnet, imagine!  And in iambic pentameter too!

I knew I could draw Kasey into this debate. It is rather pointless, because you are not going to convince a hardened new formalist to reform.
I didn't quote the last six lines of that awful poem about the police psychic, it is true, as pointed out by someone with a nearly illegible grape colored blog. (You can't read black print on a dark, grape-colored background; and please, do something about those apostrophes.) The reason is that I simply got carried away. I was simply quoting a fragment to give some idea of what I meant by treating the reader without respect--and then I went on longer than I should have about why this writing was so bad. I didn't want to quote any more of it than I needed to.

Is the second part of the poem any better? The conclusion is too cute for words: "Guilt is too quick for me." The reach for the "profound" conclusion is a common flaw in this type of light verse. What's the point? It only makes sense if you don't think about it too hard! Don't make me read any more of this crap than I have to!
((The Formalist 2001)):

"He sees her in the lamplight, and is drawn
instantly by her gaze. But when he threads
his way through clumps of guests, she has moved on,
and he pursues, searching among the heads
bent over snacks and conversation. Once
when he thinks he's found her, he draws near
someone who turns -- he feels like such a dunce! --
another face he'd hoped would not be here.
But on the piano, look: a photograph
of her, the nameless girl he needs to see.
Where is the host? There, serving. With a laugh
that strains for casualness, he asks, 'Who's she?'
'Ah,' sighs the host, over the chips and beers,
'My only daughter, dead these eighteen years.'"

This poem by Espaillat is Mike Snider's idea of a great contemporary poem. I wouldn't say the poem addresses the inner idiot in me, but I do have several objections to it:

1) The story told is completely unoriginal. Haven't we all heard it before? What is added in the retelling / that makes it so compelling?

2) The language is not very exciting or interesting. The turns of phrase are no more distinguished than you would find in the average "New Yorker story." The language is colloquial, yet somehow "off." ("dead these 18 years").

3) It makes me think of Browning. That's where this particular poetic mode comes from, I would hazard. Didn't Browning already do this sort of thing much better, more than a hundred years ago? Browning wasn't reproducing a 100-year old style, but forging his own.

4) There is no music in the verse. It's competent at best, but dull. There are no extraordinary lines or images. I could quibble about some specific metrical choices as well, but what would be the point?

5) The mediocre is the enemy of the great. This doesn't hold up well to great poems in the metrical tradition of the past. What to make of a diminished thing?

6) I don't feel "haunted" after reading it. I don't have a sense of the uncanny, although that's what I think she's trying to convey. The poem fails to communicate this sense (to at least one reader.) Compare it to that great Edward Arlington Robinson poem about the haunted house if you want to see what I mean.

Response by Juliana Spahr. (Sun & Moon, 1996)

This book really takes me back to the 1990s. UFO abductions, Oprah, multiple personality disorder. The book is really an intelligent essay on how the self is constituted. "thrashing seems crazy." I could see reading it along side of Oliver Sacks and Frederick Crews. Questions of witness, testimony: we want to believe the testimony of survivors, but what if what they claim to have survived is alien abduction? There is compassion: these people have been through something, if not alien abduction. For what, then, is alien abduction a metaphor?

North of Boston by Robert Frost (1914).

"After Apple Picking" was not as good as I remembered it to be. This is an amazing book, however. Frost is already Frost. The wife in "Home Burial" is estranged from her husband because she doesn't understand a metaphor. Burying their child, he talks about a cedar fence rotting after two days of rain. The wife wonders how you can talk about a fence at a time like that. Yet the husband cannot explain his own metaphor either.

17 mar 2004

I never said that using language clearly or writing in meter was tantamount to treating the reader as a "blithering idiot." I meant that the reader I imagine being addressed in verse like this--

Yes, the police have called me many times,
And generally they've taken my advice.
I keep a scrapbook of uncommon crimes
I've helped with, when the vision was precise
Enough to lead the searchers to the scene --
Most murders, as it happens, are within
Three miles of home and in the day's routine,
Stopped by a stranger (or the next of kin).

--is a reader who needs to have certain cultural stereotypes and commonplaces (the police psychic, that perpetual staple of bad television) explained to him (or her) in inept rhyming pentameters. What is the reader supposed to admire here, the skill at putting this into rhyme? This is disrespect toward the reader's intelligence. By intelligence I don't mean detailed knowledge of specific academic fields. It ain't brain surgery, folks! (I'll save the debate about whether poets should be serious intellectuals for another time; can't they be as smart as normal folk, at least?) Notice, too, how the poet has sacrificed all other poetic values on the altar of formalism. There is no convincing imagery, no logopeia or interest in language, no intelligence of the everyday sort, no emotional weight. There is no style. Is the idea that a police psychic might speak in verse witty in and of itself? I don't think so. Milton thou shoulds't be living at this hour!

Jonathan Mayhew Exiting a Slide.JPG 778x1182 pixels

I look like I'm in a coffin.
A wall of books in my office (several walls of books) are like a protective shield. From what are they protecting me, though?
My ungoing project of committing all of Shakespeare's sonnets to memory coincides with the continuing discussion of narcissism on Nick Piombino's blog and elsewhere. Narcissism is not about self-love per se, but the misrecognition of self-love. That is, Narcissus is not in love with himself, but with an image he misrecognizes as the other. He doesn't know it's himself he is in love with. Read the story in Ovid. Anyway, the speaker of the poem I memorized last night, who I will call "Shakespeare," accuses himself of narcissism: "Sin of self-loves possesseth all mine eye, / And all my soul, and all my every part. / And for this sin there is no remedy. / It is so grounded inward in my heart." But the accusation has got to be false, since narcissists don't know they are narcissists. Thus we don't believe him when he says "Methinks no face so gracious is as mine / No shape so true, no truth of such account." The next few lines are interesting: "And for myself my own worth do define / As I all other in all worths surmount." The self-sufficiency is striking: the judger and the object judged are one and the same.

The sextet presents the truly narcissistic moment: Shakespeare looks at himself in the mirror: "But when my glass shows me myself indeed / Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity, / Mine own self love quite contrary I read: / Self so self-loving were iniquity." This is curious: if you are beautiful and young, self-admiration is fine. It only becomes a problem when the object of adoration isn't worthy any more. The real narcissism in the poem, then, comes when Shakepeare, gazing at his young friend, assumes that he shares in the friend's youthful beauty: "Tis thee (my self) that for myself I praise / Painting my age with beauty of thy days." In other words, by looking at the young friend, he can pretend to be a Narcissus looking at his own image. The illusion is already unmasked, before it is actually presented. A very "self-knowing" structure.
Mike Snider's Formal Blog and Sonnetarium

Guess who Mike's mystery correspondent is? The problem with Mike is that he is right about 90% of the time, but makes a fetish of the 10% about which he is wrong. I could, flattering myself perhaps, imagine him making a similar statement about me. Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye... Tolle lege: Go look at the poems at The Formalist and see if you think they interpellate you as a "blithering idiot. " What oft was thought and even more often expressed just about as well. What member of the distinguished editorial board accepted these poems: Justice, Kennedy, Hollander?

Moly by Thom Gunn. Faber & Faber 1971. Signed copy.

There is a brittle formal perfection in some of these poems. The title poem, however, is marvelous, taking the drug metaphor that structures the book in a more metaphorical direction. The poems about LSD seem oddly detached. I took a class from Gunn in about 1978 at UC Davis. I've never been particularly excited about his poetry, though I was glad to have studied with him.

16 mar 2004

E l s e w h e r e discusses the infamous graph. I think when he says "Jonathan" in this post he means "Josh." My scheme would more a flow-chart I can't really reproduce graphically:

Is it the kind of poem I would myself like to write?

I. If so, would I do it better or worse?

A. If I could do it better, how come I haven't yet?

(1. laziness
2. lack of talent
3. lack of imagination)

B If I would do it worse, what can I learn from this poem?

II. If not, why wouldn't I like to write it?

A. It's not in a mode I feel to be "contemporary."

(1. would I have written it if alive 200 years ago?)

B. It's contemporary, I'm just not interested in that particular mode.

(1. It's pretentious
2. .... )

Oracle Night by Michael Brownstein. (Sun & Moon, 1982). I've had the book about a year. Someone should edit "The Collected Blurbs of John Ashbery." This book, like the Hejinian, has an Ashbery blurb. He is generous to a fault with these. Not that Browstein doesn't deserve his:

"To read Oracle Night is to step off a busy street into a quite courtyard that is like the space between our perceptions and what we perceive. We can note, 'like a lizard undergoing fission,' that 'the porch is frozen inside the house,' and had become 'a curious blend of beauty and linoleum."

I like the puntucation in this book. There are no periods, colons, or semi-colons, only commas. Commas are only permitted inside of lines, not in terminal position. Only the first word of every poem and the pronoun I are capitalized. Poems have no titles. There is no table of contents.

The First 31:

The Harbor Master of Hong Kong, Shroud of the Gnome, Sun, The Little Door Slides Back, Teoría del miedo, Theoretical Objects, Toujours l'amour, Some Other Kind of Mission, Ridge to Ridge, Transmigration Solo, The World Doesn't End, Some Words, Variaciones en blanco, Syntax, La lentitud de los bueyes, Quill Solitary Apparition, Dreaming as One, SPACE, A Boy's Will, Blizzard of One, Gone to Earth, Nadie, A Certain Slant of Sunight, what is means to be avant-garde, In Memory of My Theories, Sentences, Arboles que ya florecerán, h.j.r., The Fatalist, Shadow Train, Oracle Night

I think that makes a nice prose-poem. I have five or six language poets, about the same number of New York School. Three Soft-surrealists. Nothing before 1900. The odd thing is that I cannot at this moment remember the book Gone to Earth, cannot remember who wrote it or anything associated with the title. ¿Dónde tengo la cabeza?


Two minutes later, after having looked it up: Yes, the Pam Rehm! I liked the book, but I didn't find the title itself memorable.

Shadow Train by John Ashbery. 1981.

I've had this book most of my adult life. What pleasures even a "minor" book by Ashbery holds.

15 mar 2004

Results of the test are in. Most readers wanted to be anonymous, and there were very few of them, so I'm not referring to any of them by name. I'll summarize the results.

Poem (A) is by Allison Joseph, a formalist poet who is supposedly a professor of English and author of 5 books of poetry. I found it at The Formalist web sit. One reader said

"I have never read (A) before but sense the hand of that frequent blog poster of sonnets whose name I temporarily forget. The poem is of a badness beyond belief! Worst points: the pseudo-colloquial diction, and the evocation of quite another sort of piles....."

I would add that the use of "apostrophe s" to preserve the meter is particularly obnoxious. Another reader said simply "bleh."

Poem (B) is by a poet who prefers to remain anonymous:

"(B) I take to be satire....'I was on the faculty too!' is just right (esp. the
punctuation)--fabulous, Kochian, faux-wide-eyed--the phrase 'glamour photo' spoils it a little for me: too knowing...." Another said, "bad prose chopped into lines" (duh!). Another reader guessed Lewis Warsh, which was an incorrect guess.

(C) is by Kenward Elmslie. It's not a typical poem by him and didn't make a good impression on anyone. The same reader quoted above said:

"(C) I will presume is the one the Professor doesn't think is 'bad'--but I
don't like it either! What a bad student am I! How to justify my stance? It
seems to me a schematic account of an experience rather than an experience in language for its reader. (But if it were a part of a larger whole--he qualified cravenly--I might understand it better....)"

Another reader said "C) road... silent... junction x2... woods... green... hole... universe... freshness... strange... home... No surprises here. Best of the bunch tho that is saying little."

I don't think C is very accomlished either; I was trying to find the generic, completely unidentifiable non-quietudinous poem. (I think I found it.) It doesn't necessarily make mistakes, but it doesn't have a lot of sharpness to it either. It lacks the poet's usual zany sense of language.

"Choose better poems" was the conclusion of yet another reader. I'll have to try the experiment again, with poem I think of as good, but that are as obscure and unidentifiable as possible.
st*rnosedmole: "Notes Toward a Surreal: So Jonathan Mayhew and Tony Tost have been discussing Charles Simic, and I would post to their discussion, but Tony's archives are all screwed up, thereby making me weep blue tears onto my keyboard. A short circuit should ensue. Shortly. I gather Jonathan's beef with Simic (they were discussing his book 'The World Doesn't End,') is that while the poems are narratively surreal, Simic never takes a chance with the language, or grammar, or syntax being surreal. The form doesn't follow the function. "

14 mar 2004

Book of the day (for today). The Fatalist by Lyn Hejinian. (2003). I'm ten pages from the end. Wow! This is the best new thing I've read in quite a while. I like it better than Oxota. Why didn't anyone tell me this work was so great! "Make a list of what you admire / in poetry, make a list of all you hate." (p.36).

Here are my lists:

!) Music
@) Humor
#) Intelligence
$) Unpredictability
%) Logopeiea
^) Concreteness, detail
&) Attitude, edge
*) Sense of wonder
!)) Subtlety
!!) Sexuality
!@) Inventiveness; difficulty

!) Slackness, verbiage, going on too long
@) Pretentiousness
#) Excessive "effort"; a sense of the belaboured
$) [Unintentional] stupidity
%) Condescension
^) Explanation
&) Solemnity or misplaced earnestness
*) The appeal to the reader's anti-intellectual tendencies
() Aesthetic incoherence or "wimpiness"
!)) Perfunctoriness, dullness
!@) The assumption of "comfortable" values in the reader

That does it for now. I'm sure I'll think of more later. Please note I'm speaking only for myself. Anyone else is free to admire poetry that is pretentious or explanatory, solemn or dull, or dislike poetry that is intelligent, unpredictable, and subtle!
Book of the day, h.j.r. by Pierre Joris. OtherWind Press, 1999. Signed copy given to me by the author.

I've had this book since 9/25/02, apparently, and have dipped into it from time to time. I like "Aegean Short Wave," which uses the radio frequency trope to good effect.


Julia's writing another sestina right at this moment. Watch out!

13 mar 2004

Book of the day (yesterday's). Del ojo al hueso. Olvido García Valdés.

I don't know if I understand this book yet. I'll have to put it back in the rotation for the next series. Once I've read 100 or so I will permit myself to go back to the same poets.
My test is, like the newspaper horoscope, "for entertainment purposes only." I'm not trying to demonstrate any thesis of literary theory.

12 mar 2004

I'll extend the deadline for the test until early next week. Only two responses so far. Will Ron himself play? We'll see shortly.
Here's my test of poetry. No fair if you've already read the poem and know who the author is, although none of the poems is at all famous. Two of these poems are egregiously bad, in my humble opinion: one is trying to be bad while the other is bad despite the best efforts of the poet. Email me before 6 p.m. Kansas time this evening.


My life's controlled by swelling paper piles:
rough drafts go here, and syllabi right there,
that one's for worthy causes I should care
about, this one's for frequent flyer miles
and credit card reports, the run of bills
that tell me what my spending limits are.
The journey to insolvency's not far,
so should I save or spend it all on thrills?
I'll tell you what my greatest thrill would be --
to live without these piles, all orderly --
or maybe just a neater symmetry --
no more receipts gone loose, my desktop free,
no more piles on the floor or in my bed.
Don't even ask what piles dwell in my head.


I stood behind you
last week
in the flu shot line
at the student health center
I must have been sniffling
on the way out
you recommended some antihistamines
you said you were a voice teacher
on the faculty here
you asked what my major was
I was on the faculty too!
you kept saying "I hope you're feeling better"
I found your glamour photo
on the music department home page
maybe we can get together
for a coffee or a drink sometime


going way back to dusty road
before cars, silent walkers

come to junction
avoidance of junction

run towards woods
green field gives way

hole, plummet into it,
new universe

exciting freshness and strangeness
the strains don't apply here

accidentally reborn
head home

ELPAIS.es - España - El secretario de Estado de Justicia eleva a 198 el número de muertos por los atentados

11 mar 2004

"The arctic honey blabbed over the report causing darkness
and pulling us out of there experiencing it
he meanwhile... and the fried bats they sell there
dropping from sticks, so that the menace of your prayer folds...
Other people... flash
the garden are you boning [...]

"Leaving the Atocha Station" (Asbhery)
Book of the day Arboles que ya florecerán by Concha García. 2001. Prologue by Olvido García Valdés.

Todo rinde cuentas. Sin surcos
la mujer parece detenida
oreándose en un lugar
más anónimo que un presagio
explicado en tercera persona.

Amazing poetry, with a deep sense of alienation. Not dull like Adam Phillips (according to Nick P today), but with real psychological insight. "And the sad augurs mock at their own presage."


Bombs in the train station in Madrid. The victims could have included me, if I'd been there, or any number of my Spanish poet friends. A terrorist is simply a fascist who doesn't (yet) have the power of a state behind him.

10 mar 2004

Sentences (Grenier). On line version.

What can I say? I had to read two books today since I don't teach or drive today. With respect to Ron's recent "test of poetry," it is clear that I value certain of these "sentences" because they are Grenier's. You hear a phrase like "trouble with chess is it doesn't make noise" in relation to Grenier's authorial persona. On the other hand, I know nothing about Grenier except for the work itself.


Even if the book of the day is not very good doesn't it very matter much, since it is only one day. That's what I'm learning. Even the book I most resisted so far, Strand's Blizzard of One becomes tolerable in the context of a sequence of books of which it is only one.
The poetry book of the day is In Memory of My Theories by Rod Smith. O Books, 1996. I've owned it for about a year; it has a cover by Scalapino, blurbs by Carolyn Forché, Kevin Davies, and Kit Robinson. The Forché blurb makes me think of her in a different light, unless there are two Carolyn Forchés?

I haven't finished it yet, I will probably do so this evening. It is quite delightful ("Bad Ashbery But Fun"). Funny and smart. It would be pretentious without these two qualities. In keeping with the Piombino spirit, I'm not comparing it to anything else or ranking it in any way. Since it is the book of the day no other book counts today.
fait accompli:

"Once again- over at Ron Silliman's blog-
poets have been drawn into rating peers.
Why is judging, rating and comparison
the activity most poets are drawn to
most of all? It seems most people get
bored without making a competitive game
out of poetry. I don't deny my own competitive
feelings, however, the activity of poets rating
other poets is the one I like least in
this field. Sure I make comparisons like
everybody else, but making a public
spectacle out of it this is the American obsession
I like least. It is the essence of the Society
of the Spectacle, the poetic equivalent
of a beauty contest. Sure I'm jealous of
all the attention Ron's blog is getting, but Ron
is a very generous friend and I applaud his
success. But this 'best of' and
classification drive makes
me sick. How did I ever fall for
joining in? I guess I was in a great mood
that day because a blogger friend had
highly complimented me. Well, I should
be more wary about what I say
when I get so excited and happy."

I've always (for the past year or so I mean) admired the way Nick refrains from putting down other people. The ranking game is a trap, of course. It can be fun, though, if taken in the right spirit. It can be a game, somewhat lighthearted in tone. Especially if you use very narrow criteria, like, "who's the best poet with initials JM?" Don't be afraid of your own enthusiasm, Nick! As long as you retain that basic sense that these rankings have no real "weight" you should be ok.
Language Log: What gets taught; what gets learned

I'm a regular reader of Language Log. To Geoffrey Pullum's list of things that should be taught in high-school I add my own seemingly whimsical but deeply serious curriculum for Freshman and Sophomore years in college. (I'm assuming they already have everything on Pullum's list.) My list owes something to Auden, I'm sure, but I don't have his essay in front of me. Mine is not specific to poets.

Basic poetics: Rudiments of scansion in English and at least one foreign language; fixed forms (sestina, pantoum, villanelle, Oulipian variations). Theories of metaphor. Avant-garde poetics 101.

Basic music theory: time signatures, basic knowledge of reading music; principles of ethnomusicology. Layman's knowledge of 12-tone composition and basic jazz forms.

Basic visual arts: ability to draw a convincing likeness of a human face; history of the cinema; recognition of architectural styles and artistic media.

Other arts: familiarity with at least one performing art (acting, dance).

Philosophy: knowledge of key philosophical concepts (empiricism, rationalism, nominalism, realism). Detailed study of Kant and Wittgenstein. Intellectual history from the enlightenment to postmodernism.

Ethnology: knowledge of the history of anthropology from Boas to Levi-Strauss and beyond. Comparative religions. Contemporary critiques of ethology.

Physics: recent developments in cosmology and theoretical physics understood in layman's terms, as far as that is possible.

Contemporary cognitive science: how does the brain work?

I'm sure I'm leaving things out. (Some on purpose, of course.) I take these things to be what every educated person should know at some minimal level. I'm not expecting everyone to be a talented musician or a philosopher. I'm weak in many of these areas myself. I'm also assuming they have a grasp of their own popular culture and that we don't need to teach it to them. I also assume they don't need to be taught to read realistic fiction.
I read the rest of Economics last night. "Elevator Story" is great. That not the book of the day, however.

9 mar 2004

It's Ornette's birthday! Happy birthday Ornette. (And thanks to Woods Lot and Language Hat for reminding me).
I got my copy of Economics today (Fanny Howe). The first story really hits you in the gut. It is on the level of Langston Hughes The Souls of White Folks. A liberal white couple adopt a 6-month old black boy so their daughter won't be an only child. They never quite think of their son as fully human.
The Harbor Master of Hong Kong, Shroud of the Gnome, Sun, The Little Door Slides Back, Teoría del miedo, Theoretical Objects, Toujours l'amour, Some Other Kind of Mission, Ridge to Ridge, Transmigration Solo, The World Doesn't End, Some Words, Variaciones en blanco, Syntax, La lentitud de los bueyes, Quill Solitary Apparition, Dreaming as One, SPACE, A Boy's Will, Blizzard of One, Gone to Earth, Nadie, A Certain Slant of Sunight, what is means to be avant-garde, In Memory of My Theories, Sentences
Equanimity - if not a poetics, then what?: "A certain travel website has defeated my last three attempts to arrange to fly to Kansas City, MO. I will not relent until this itinerary is complete."

I hope these arrangement are completed soon!
what it means to be avant-garde (1993) Private stock.

One thing it means is that you get to congratulate yourself on being avant-garde, prove how smart you are. Seriously, though, I've always liked Antin's take-down of Bloom, the Romantic subjectivity crisis being reduced to the status of a copyright dispute. The last piece, "the structuralist," is brilliant. I've read Antin over and over again. Some of the pieces withstand repeated readings more easily than others.

8 mar 2004

I passed Ron's "test of poetry," if 50% is a passing grade.
A Certain Slant of Sunlight 1988. Private stock; New York City School shelves.

Berrigan riffs on Frost also: "Something / There is that doesn't love a wall: I / am that something." There are no page-numbers in this book. The copyright page is at the end rather than the beginning. Some of the poems were written in collaboration with others, according to Alice's intro, but which poems were done with which collaborators? I love the take-off on Vachel Linsday's "broken school windows." Berrigan's persona is obnoxious, in a sort of ingratiating way.

I wish the whole book were facsimiles of the actual postcards.

The mythology of the New York School is almost dead in me. But only almost dead.

7 mar 2004

Book of the day. Nadie (José Angel Valente). 1997. Private stock.

I almost didn't read a book today. I started In Memory of my Theories in the morning then was interrupted and started to read other things. I'll come back to the Rod Smith a little later.

"You sleep in your night submerged. You are at peace. I claw at the frozen walls of your absence, the walls ungrooved by the time that cannot endure below your eyelids. You ash. I blood. Your voice a light leaf. This song stony. You are no longer even you. I, your absence. I a memory of you, tenuous, distant, that you will never be able to remember me again."
Interview with Julia Tsuchiya-Mayhew

JM: When did you start writing poetry?

JTM: When I was seven-years old, of course. When was I born? June 14, 1995, in Columbus Ohio.

JM: Who are some of your favorite poets?

JTM: Kasey Mohammed and the one with Million Poems. Can it be dead?

JM: Yes.

JTM: How about Kenneth Koch?

JM: What is your favorite thing about poetry?

JTM: I don't know, it's just fun to write. You can use your imagination.

JM: What do you feel like when people read your poetry?

JTM: I feel proud of myself.

JM What kind of poems are your favorite to write?

JTM: Sestinas and "pretend to be." And acrostics.

JM: Do you think you'll write poetry when you're grown up, or stop writing?

JTM: I think I will write a little bit but not as much. I'll be into different things.

JM: What will you be into?

JTM: Maybe more into writing normal stories, since I'm into all different forms of literature.

JM: Who are you favorite authors?

JTM: JRR Tolkien, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, and Beverly Cleary. And Emily Rodda.

JM: What's your favorite genre of fiction?

JTM: I like realistic fiction, normal fiction, and science-fiction.

JM. How do you get ideas for poems?

JTM: It pops out into my mind suddenly. And sometimes by reading books.

6 mar 2004

Book of the day (second try). Gone to Earth (Pam Rehm). 2001. Purchased today at Subterranean Books.

The first poem in the book I recognize from the Best American Poetry (Creeley). I'm having a hard time getting a hold of this style. First I thought of Rae Armantrout, then of Fanny Howe. This is one piece of writing that caught my attention:

"Grassy a portion of everything

School children mingling
Two dogs follow

The geese overhead
Led without tracks

We move hither now thither
Towards something

Only to be drowned crossing the river"

I wish the book three times longer than it is, so I could figure out what I think about it.

Book of the day. Blizzard of One (Strand). 1998. University City, MO, Public Library.

Ennui. Mine or Mark's? Both. Like Tate without the sense of humor? A polished surface, certainly. "Well-written" with scare quotes. In other words, not so well-written. I don't think there's a memorable image in the book. The Simic, in retrospect, was much sharper.

I have a gift certificate to Subterraneum Books for $15. Purchased for more than that at a Silent Auction for the elementary school. And some Barnes & Nobles credit I got for reviewing a textbook, so I'll be able to get more books today or tomorrow.

5 mar 2004

Jim Behrle's Famous Monkey: Poetic W****eball in Crisis: Day One--W****e Inc's Trademark Statement from w****e.com

This is too rich for words. I doubt the w****e-ball people know who they are dealing with. Now I'm worried about Thelonious Monk jr. suing me!

I had been aware of the Black Spring blog for quite some time, but only recently did I connect its author with the poet I had met a few years ago in Lawrence when he stopped through to give a reading. When Jim McCrary mentioned that Steve was going to do a Lawrence issue of Black Spring it suddenly dawned on me that this was the same Steve Tills I had met before. I had somehow lost his name in my memory banks.
Book of the day. A Boy's Will (1913). Cheap Dover edition of book.

"A boy's will is the wind's will, and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." That's where Frost's title comes from, although the edition I have doesn't have this line as an epigraph. He rhymes trees with breeze three times. There is little to suggest the mature Frost, although he was almost 40 when he published it. Yet North of Boston, published shortly after, contains chestnuts like "Mending Wall." "Something there is that doesn't hump a sump." That moralizing tendency in Frost is hard to take.

4 mar 2004

Literary Kicks: Robert Creeley Interview Bemsha Swing is mentioned by RC here:

"I much like the quickness of exchange (for which read 'publication') it provides. I truly think the more, the merrier -- and let one's own perceptions and needs make the relevant connections. Pound said years ago, 'Damn your taste! I want if possible to sharpen your perceptions after which your taste can take care of itself.' It's as if someone has finally opened that bleak door of usual discretion and habit, and let in a great diversity of response, proposal, everything. Two blogs I value indeed:


My perception of aesthetic greatness comes in the form of laughter: "this is so great that it is ridiculously great. No one should be able to do this."
How can I read one or two books of poetry every day? Am I reading superficially? Well, one reason is I don't watch television. Another is that I have tenure. Usually I am re-reading to some extent. Some books are short. Some, like the Simic, don't provide obstacles to quick reading. Sometimes I'm reading the book over two or three days. I know I won't be able to read Stubborn Grew in a single day, for example. Gould goes down slow. (Hey, that should be a blurb on his next book.)

You can read aloud to yourself the better part (or the worst part) of an average "slim volume of poetry" in an hour.
I didn't mean to imply that Kent Johnson was an old man. I meant "older than David Hess" in this context.
Book of the Day. SPACE. Clark Coolidge, 1970. Source: KU library.

Wow! What a hilariously funny book. To come up with this in 1970, before "language poetry" existed. You've got to read it aloud to get the humor, although the spacial disposition is also beautiful. I had some interesting dreams after reading this book last night. One in which David Hess was giving a poetry reading in Spanish while morphing from old to young man and back again. At one point he resembled KJ. I was supposed to read after him and told a woman in the audience (possibly Julianna Spahr or Susan Schultz?): "how can I compete with that?" She responded: "by speaking the truth of your self" or something of the sort. Something neither of them would actually say, of course.

3 mar 2004

I sometimes forget that the Buffalo Poetics List still exists and is taken seriously by anyone. The only time I actually read a post from Buffalo is when I follow a link from Tim Yu's blog. I officially call for its abolition! It serves no function except to stir up spurious controversy. As long as it exists certain boring people I won't name here will have a captive audience.
Book of the day: Dreaming As One (Warsh). Source: JM's private collection.

He allows himself imperfection, is rarely boring; the kind of poet it's easy to underestimate. Here are the books he had "Above My Bed" in 1970, long before Oprah's book club:

One Hundred Years of Solitude (GGM)
T & G (Niedecker)
Wishes, Lies & Dreams (KK)
Balling Buddha (Giorno)
Poems, 1906-26 (Rilke)
Pack My Bag (Henry Green)
Going Away (Clancy Sigal) [who is that?]
A Return to Pagany, 1929-32 [he doesn't provide the author, WCW?]
The Finger (Creeley)
Scripture of the Golden Eternity (Kerouac)
Concentration and Meditation (Christmas Humphreys) [???]
In the Early Morning Rain (Berrigan)
The Age of Rock (2)
Maya (Hollo)
Elegiac Feelings American (Corso)
The Essential Lenny Bruce
The Greatest Thing in the World (Notley)
The Beard's New Basic History of the United States
Prison Diary (Ho Chi Min)
Their heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue (Paul Bowles)
By the Waters of Manhattan (Reznikoff)
Notebook (Devereaux Carson) [who's that?]
The Way of the White Clouds (Lama Angarika Govinda)
100 Memories (Waldman)

I need to write my manic-depressive oxymoronic course description. I'm thinking of calling the course "poet's prose." My idea is to choose texts that don't belong to poetry as a genre; I don't even want to do "prose poems." Or I could choose a duller but less threatening title like "Literary Thought in 20th Century Spain and Latin America." Problem is, I hate the idea of literature. I know I want to do Lezama Lima, Borges, Gamoneda, Cortázar. Will it end up being an essay course? Maybe "writing across/against genres"? (What's duller than a literary genre?) We can read some Wittgenstein...

Or is the danger in setting up a new genre, the "poetic story/essay that Jonathan is interested in"? I could use your help. Please email suggestions for a good course title.


"Maybe it's just a matter of critical mass; even most of those voicing critiques of blogs had to admit (somewhat sheepishly) that they, too, had blogs of their own."

So's your old man! as they used to say on the playground. If you start trading insults with Jim Behrle, you will lose every time.

2 mar 2004

I have a hard time imagining anyone who doesn't think Jim Behrle is funny. He is much funnier than Dave Barry, and his political insight into the care-bear democratic candidates is priceless.
Some back-and-forth with Tony about Simic in the comment box on the amnesiac blog. I'm not against easy poetry per se, but Simic frustrates me because he never takes an aesthetic risk.


I also read Quill, Solitary apparition (Guest) today, which I'll append to list below.
Reading & Writing: Right Wing Politics & The New Formalism

I agree with everthing Joe Duemer has to say here. I would go even further: even if the New Formalism professed left wing politics it would still be lame, because the quality of writing is just not convincing (to me).


I've deleted some witless, inane commentary from this post, so if you've come here in search of inanity you'll only find a little bit left.

Caterina.net: Database design in Ghana: "At our talk yesterday, Carly from CUSO was saying that in Ghana people didn't like entering their info into databases because they didn't like splitting up their identity into different fields, like Firstname, Lastname, Age, Height, Weight -- that they wanted it all together in one field, undivided."
Today, La lentitud de los bueyes (Julio LLamazares).

1 mar 2004

And Syntax (Robin Blaser). I book I've had on the shelf forever, and had dipped into from time to time without really reading whole.

Which is kind of the point of this exercise, isn't it? I'm always flitting around from book to book. To read poetry books straight through is a different approach.
Book of the day: Variaciones en blanco (Ada Salas). Not particularly impressive. I'll have to read something else later after my Lukacs and Adorno.