30 sept 2004

I'm so tired I can hardly think. I had a cold last week I never recovered fully from.
A sea-shell's shifting rhythm. Naked people dying in the snow. Humans have no need for protective layers of shell. Yes we do. The leopard in the tree will not hunt us. Why should that be? Is religious belief a light-weight gas in us, making us float, as Frost suggested? Then why do we sink in the slightest bog? Is it the pavement holds us up? What blessèd asphalt is this? Gravel thrown up at a window, never breaking the pane.


That's section XII of a suite I'm writing called "Sunday Morning." To read more of it I suggest you subscribe to "The Hat."
Here's a collective blog, Marsh Hawk Blog, that was uknown to me. Please, Eileen, nobody calls me "Dr. Mayhew"!

29 sept 2004

I left Blanchot off my list of formative readings, along with Frost, Reverdy, Dickinson, Kafka. Byron's Don Juan made a big impact on me, at about the same time as I read Ko and The Duplications. And James Joyce, how could I forget that? Even though I never made it all the way through Ulysses until Grad School, I read the opening chapter at least 10 times. Same with Proust, I think the opening 50 pages of Swann's Way has been extremely influential on me, read in both languages.
How to speak Spanish.

I've noticed something recently: that intonation and rhythm are almost as important as getting the individual phonemes right. That is, you can get all the individual sounds correct yet still sound horrible. There is a basic, simple rule for Spanish intonation. Start at a low pitch, when you get to the first accented syllable of the phrase, go to higher pitch, and MAINTAIN THIS PITCH until the final accented syllable of the phrase, then drop down again for remaining unaccented syllables. (Or raise the voice to an even high pitch for yes-no question.)
Ron Silliman at the Hall Center.
Anyone reading this in the Kansas City/Lawrence Kansas area please don't forget the upcoming Ron Silliman events. Mark Monday, October 4 on your calendars.
Kit Robinson, "The 3D Matchmove Artist"

This one's a thumbs up. A poem with lots of verbal energy. Robinson is one of those hidden poets, not the best-known even among his own group but by no means second rate.

28 sept 2004

Ed Roberson, "Ideas Gray Suits Bowler Hats Baal"

Great title, redolent of Magritte. Yet the poem itself is curiously flat, as though the title itself were the main point of it. Put another way, if you announced a competition to write the best possible poem with this title, this poem would not win.
tributary is the most interesting blog among my more recent discoveries.
And how could I have forgotten Raymond Roussel, Georges Perec, Harry Mathews? The Alexandrian Quartet? etc...
A selective history of my reading might be of interest, at least to myself. It's from the point of view of what I remember now; hence anything forgettable or relatively unimportant from present viewpoint drops by the wayside. These are readings that formed me. Don't write in and say, "I'm surprised you never read _______ ." I probably did. I'm talking about books or authors I read either repeatedly or obsessively at some point, or made lasting impression. The order is chronological.

A.A. Milne. Dr. Seuss. Curious George. Beverly Cleary.

The King James Bible. World History, Encyclopedia Brown, Greek Mythology. Poe. Of Human Bondage! Tolkien. Werner Jaeger. Peanuts.

Rod McKuen, Cummings, Williams, Stevens. Vonnegut; Bradbury, Potok; Jack London; Humphrey Clinker. X.J. Kennedy's Introduction to Poetry. Shaking the Pumpkin. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. The Oxford Book of English Verse. Howl.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Paradise Lost. Yeats, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, Robert Creeley, Levertov, John Berryman, Roethke, etc... Henry Miller.

Updike, Bellow, Roth, Salinger, Singer, Henry James, Carson McCullers. Catch 22. The Cave. André Breton. Learned rules of French prosody from High School teacher.

Flann O'Brien. Henry Green. Anthony Powell. Gilbert Sorrentino. Beckett. Sukenick. Barthelme. Gertrude Stein.

[I'm up to college now]

Latin Poets: Catullus, Horace. Modern Spanish poetry (basically everything.) Galdós. Unamuno. Neruda and Vallejo. Ron Padgett, Ted Berrigan, other "Minor Poets of the New York School." James Wright and James Tate. Attended poetry readings by Spender, Eberhart, Bly, anyone else who passed through the campus. Thom Gunn.

García Márquez, Cortázar. The rest of the Latin American "boom" novelists. Juan Rulfo.

Spicer, Bronk. Borges. Cervantes. Antin. Sophocles. Barthes. Kenneth Burke. Literary theory galore (I must be in grad school now, where I read the least).

After Grad school:

More of everything above, plus Shakespeare Sonnets, Lezama Lima, Bronk, Schuyler, Ceravolo. Japanese poetry. Kerouac. Barbara Guest. Language poetry, especially RS. Coolidge. Scalapino, Susan Howe. Wittgenstein. Gamoneda. Valente. Contemporary women poets of Spain (Isla Correyero, Lola Velasco, etc...). Post avant-garde poets my own age and younger. Edmund White. Soseki. David Shapiro. Blanca Varela... and the list goes on...


So if you wonder why I seem to have supercilious attitude toward Billy Collins, now you know. There is such a thing a being a better, more experienced reader than someone else, of being a more "studied" poet. It doesn't make me more talented, unfortunately.

27 sept 2004

Carl Rakosi, "In the First Circle of Limbo"

"Put some wit / and compassion / into this pen!" No need for that, he already has enough. The guy's, like, 101 years old and can still kick Robert Pinsky's butt.
Robert Pinsky, "Samba"

This poem is trying to capture the vibrancy of the multi-cultural city by evoking typical "multicultural" street experiences. But Pinsky is talking "about" it rather than "doing" it. It is not a bad poem for Pinsky, but it still doesn't quite make it.
Carl Phillips, "Pleasure"

Long sentences in short lines creates a problem: what is the rhythmic integrity of the line going to be?

(And a grammatical problem for me: I know that "sentences" is plural, but the sentence sounds wrong as "Long sentences... create..." Why is this the case?)

If there is no integrity, the poem will sound like prose cut up into lines. Here's how the poem would start if written as a paragraph:

"This far in--where to say the sea and mean impossible makes sense, why not, you can almost forget what brought you here, the water it started with, a life that has sometimes (admit this much) seemed mostly an only half-wanted because finally unruly animal you'd once hoped to change by changing its name..."

It's undistinguished prose and 15 lines of undistinguished verse. Thumbs down.
Bob Perelman, "Here 2"

I've been trying to get through this poem for several days. I keep getting stuck on the 4th line, "And then the market for stable meaning collapsed." This is Language Poetry Cliché #1: "joky metapoetic economic metaphor." I just can't get past this line, so this is going to be a thumbs down. I like Perleman's The Trouble With Genius quite a bit.
There is a book called Book in the Eyewitness Series of Illustrated Books for children. It is hard to find in a database because of its rather generic title. Julia had been looking for it for a while. We came across it in the St. Louis Art Museum Store yesterday. It has beautiful illustrations. It made me realize how ugly most books are.

26 sept 2004

Not to mention the crisis in Brain Surgery, which makes the home improvement debacle pale in comparison. Fewer and fewer Americans are doing Brain Surgery in their spare time.

Home Improvement At Risk:

Hidden in this survey are even more startling news: only 42.4% of American adults have done home improvement projects over the past year (compared with 46.7 who have read literature). Clearly, the nation's tradition of bricolage is in serious danger. We must speak out clearly on the need to paint and repair one's home. Now I understand why the lines at Home Depot are even shorter than those at Border's.
Have a look at this Executive Summary of Adult Literacy in America: A First Look at the Results of the National Adult Literacy Survey. 21-23% are at level one (barely functional), 23-25% at level two (one step above that) of literacy. So that means 53-58% of adults in this society basically could not read "literature" in any meaningful way. Now compare this with the NEA's "Reading at Risk" survey, which laments the fact that only 46% (or so) of adults have read literature for pleasure in the past year. This is about 100% of people who actually have the literacy skills to read! Only 18-20 percent of the population can read at "the two highest levels" of literacy. Now this information is not the latest, but if the literacy rate is pretty much the same now as in 1992... I'll try to find better information.
People outside of acaemia often have a distorted idea of what really goes on in English Departments. Look at Cornell's Graduate Course offerings here:Department of English at Cornell University.

Then answer the question: is the "aesthetic" per se non-existent in these courses? Are all of them given from the same perspective? Is there a single ideological agenda here?

To me, it seems like a nice mix of courses ranging from the traditional philological to the postmodern. Everything from Anglo-Saxon poetry to Harryette Mullen.

Zukofsky does not appeal to equal numbers of male and female readers. Horrors! Western civilization is in peril, clearly. No matter that, of the two most prominent poetry critics, Perloff and Vendler, one does in fact work on Zuke.

There is no reason, other than aesthetic, to read Zukofsky. There was exactly one "gendered" reading of him at the recent conference at Columbia. This was one too many for a few people, apparently.

If one looks at the most widely publicized and read poetry crtiicism in this country, it is pretty easy to see that aesthetic concerns are at the forefront. For the sake of argument, let's assume that the most widely read critics are Harold Bloom, Helen Vendler, Marjorie Perloff, Charles Bernstein, and Stephen Burt. Harold sells a lot of copies of his anthologies and critical compendia. Vendler is a Harvard Professor and has published many books on mainstream, canonical authors (Heaney, Graham, etc..). Perloff has enormous influence on the non-mainstream stream. Bernstein's books come out through major university presses and are often assigned in college courses. Burt writes for publications that are circulated widely. Add to these names James Fenton, who writes for the NYRB. Now it would be hard to say that any of these critics doesn't care about aesthetics. They promote different agenda, but all are pretty much committed to the idea that poetry is an art form. So where is the threat that Curtis Faville (whoever he is!) sees? I'm not saying I like all these critics equally, or that there aren't problems with poetry criticism, but the problem is not that poetry is only read for its political content or for the "victim" status of the author.

25 sept 2004

Memorization: spurious possession.
Bad cold, missed Aaron Belz's party last night. Reading Encyclopedia Brown with Julia.

Soccer game in September. Forgot hat; sunburn. Won't make that mistake today.

24 sept 2004

More on the "victim canon":

This notion assumes that we would only be interested in American Indian poetry, for example, because we stole their land and committed genocide against them, not because any American Indian poet has anything to say. I really don't think most readers are motivated mainly by guilt. It wouldn't take us that far, really. As for writers being demonized because they are sexist/racist, whatever, that is a much less significant problem than someone outside of academia might suspect. Take Milton, for example. There were the Milton-as-a-sexist-bogeyman articles written, in 1980s mostly. They probably needed to be written. But the Milton Society is doing quite well. They have their sessions in the MLA every year, doing Milton with whatever critical approach happens to be in vogue. There are articles on Milton published in the PMLA, authored by both men and women, that simply take for granted that Milton is a valuable writer who should be studied. Most of these are quite dull, from the point of view of a specialist in Modern Spanish Poetry, but once you try to say there should be more articles on Simon Ortiz, someone's going to use that "victim" line on you.

I just was reminded that the Thomas Fink whose poetry book I recently received and praised in these pages is the Thomas Fink who wrote the book on David Shapiro (literally and figuratively). I hadn't made the connection. I knew the name, and had read the book, but somehow the synapses weren't firing .

23 sept 2004

More on the "victim canon." (What the hell is that? asks Aaron Tieger.)

We don't read Frank O'Hara, or Jack Spicer, or John Ashbery, or Robert Duncan, or Adrienne Rich, or Allen Ginsberg, or Gertrude Stein, or Kenneth Koch, or Jerome Rothenberg, or James Merrill, or Eileen Myles, or Charles Bernstein, or David Shapiro, or Elizabeth Bishop, or Carl Phillips, or Langston Hughes, because they belong to some "victim" category (Jew, Lesbian, gay, black). We read them because they simply are American poetry. That is, take them away, and you have only a significant few writers left. And this is true of both avant-garde and "academic" poetry.
There's a comment by a guy named "Kirby Olson" over at Ron's blog that made my stomach sick, especially this part:

"Stein (whose money made her poetry possible) falls off the stage along with Zukofsky. And yet, as Jews, they can both reclaim their status as members of the victim canon, thanks to Adolf & Co."

Neither Stein nor Zukofsky are read because they are "victims" of anything, nor did either of them present themselves in their works as "victims" of anything. Do we only read poetry written by Jews "thanks to Adolf"? I think not. That's a racist way of thinking: the only possible reason he can think of for reading works by people who aren't Lutheran heterosexual men is pity???!!!!

22 sept 2004

CONCEPTUAL POEM #1: The Miles Davis Quintet

Two people stand up suddenly and begin to debate the relative merits of the 1950s and 1960s Miles Davis Quintets. The debate is over when each has convinced the other, so that the original advocate of the 1950s Quintet is now convinced of the superiority of the 1960s Quintet, and vice-versa.

CONCEPTUAL POEM #2: Against Yvor Winters as Such

A woman stands up and denounces Winters' malign influence on American Literature. She may not mention Winters' name, however, and must present her argument in wholly metaphorical terms.
Heidi Peppermint, "Real Toads"

I'm having trouble gaining entry into this poem. Poetry can be difficult, but the trick in that case is to create a sense of urgency under the surface that motivates the reader to want to grapple with the difficulty. I don't dislike this poem; it is even the sort of poetry I might like in the abstract, but I haven't learned to read this poet yet. Is that her real name?
I normally don't do a lot of political commentary here. Others do it much better than I could, especially the brilliant UT Law/Philosophy Professor Brian Leiter: The Leiter Reports: Editorials, News, Updates: More steps down the road to fascism: Legitimizing "Preventive Detention."

I am concerned about the revisionist history that says that the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII was a good idea. I grew up in California with Asian Americans. I am husband and father, son-in-law and brother-in-law of Japanese and Japanese-Americans, although my wife's family came to the US in the 60s. I remember the racism of my paternal Grandmother. Even apart from my personal connection to this issue, I feel strongly about it. Obviously the agenda of these folks slightly to the right of Attila the Hun is to justify the internment of other ethnic groups now and in the future. Maybe it's the Arabs now, but twenty years from now it could be any other group. Chileans? Russians? Tibetans? Filipinos? Nigerians? Jews? It could be YOU.

I know what you're thinking. This is paranoid. It couldn't possibly happen in America. Well, it happened before, it's happening now (concentration camps in Guantánamo, etc...), and it could happen in the future.

The blog and the BAP must wait until I do a promotion letter and two article reviews.

21 sept 2004

My dad gave me a copy of Rothenberg's Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas when I was a kid. The book came out in 1972, and it must have been not too long after that, so I was probably 13 or 14. I always loved that book, but at some point I no longer had it. Either it disintegrated after repeated readings or it was lost at some point. So I decided to find another copy of it, which arrived today in the mail. I admire Rothenberg's other anthologies as well, but none quite as much as this one. I can't tell whether that's for mostly sentimental reasons. The book, long out of print but easily and cheaply available on the second hand market, still stands up because of the quality of the translators, Schwerner, Tedlock, Hollo, Rothenberg, Levertov, Tarn, Richard Johnny John, etc...

Did I "get it" when I was a kid? Yes I did.
I was right: The missing word is "Société".
Danielle Pafunda, "RSVP"

For me, this comes dangerously close to a Billy Collins poem: a simple premise slickly executed. Some might find it clever and amusing. It might be better than the typical Collins poem; I'm not in a position to know:

"Don't invite me to your pity party.
Don't call me up on your pity party line
and invite me over for punch and cookies..."

and so on...

But coming across it in a "Best" volume creates too heavy an expectation for such a slight piece. This is a poem you dash off in a few minutes and post to "as-is."
Jeni Olin, "Blue Collar Holiday"

Here's a hilarious poem. "Wrist slitting stuff." It evokes an air of good humor in a decadent setting. I'm tired of giving ratings. It serves no useful purpose. I'm going to a thumbs up, thumbs down system. This one is thumbs up.
Alice Notley, "State of the Union"

This prose-piece is part of a much longer work, but is also relatively self-contained. I understand that poetry doesn't have to always aspire to the gem-like lyric, or eternal relevance. Alice is going in the other direction; her recent work is prolix and diffuse. Yet her language still has some of the compression needed for poetry. And great insight: "why is the president so popular? because he is vicious." I have to say that I liked Notley better a few years ago than I do now, when I find her work more uneven than I would like it to be. 8.5.

Language Log: A Mexican perforator by any other name

What makes this story fascinating for me is that one of the reporters on the story is named "Fédérique Roussel." Maybe a relative of Raymond Roussel? Perhaps the word "Mexicaine" is feminine because it is short for "La société mexicaine de la perforation." There's got to be some feminine noun lurking implicitly in the background.

20 sept 2004

I got this book in the mail today by Thomas Fink called After Taxes, published by Marsh Hawk Press. It's got a blurb by Eileen Tabios on the back, so that's one thing in its favor already. The second thing is that it was sent to me for free. It was sent to Kansas State University by mistake, and a kind gentleman in the Spanish Department there forwarded it to me. I am not at Kansas State (Manhattan, Kansas) but at the University of Kansas (Lawrence). I am not insulted by the mistake, I just want to receive what people send me. If you want to send me your brilliant books for review, even though I don't write reviews:

Jonathan Mayhew
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
University of Kansas
1445 Jayhawk Blvd.
Lawrence Kansas, 66045.

If I were to write a review of this book, which I haven't read yet in its completeness, I would point to a poem like "DRIBBLING CHASTITY":

offensive, soul's cruel
hairdo jeering
at the suit
you walk.

Through. To think
remedial roses
would goose his

gimpy frigidaire.
Crass skin, shirt

choler. Swollen

dimes, classrooms where
undercover iconoclast
sublime might jerk

off sluggish
bathrobe's decorative kidney.
Can a vase
smash rage?

I like everything about this poem--the feel for language, the sense of humor, the communicative drive, balanced by the realization that you don't have to explain everything. A rapid glance through some other poems in the book reveal similarly excellent flashes of briliance. Not everyone can do zaniness as well as Fink; it can easily turn into cuteness. (I'm guessing he's read some Elmslie at some point, another poet who's mastered that delicate balance.) So whoever had them send me the book, thank you. I'm still wondering whether a vase can smash rage...

Eileen Myles, "No Rewriting"

Here's a poem that seems loose and baggy, unrevised (no rewriting) but is actually tight and effective:

"sticking my hands in my jeans
which ones have the torn pockets
I repaired
and where do I put my keys
which pants am I in
do I remember them?"

It occupies about 6 pages in the BAP. No wasted motion. 9.5.

Go Eileen!

Paul Muldoon, "The Last Time I Saw Chris"

Normally I get down with sestinas but this one leaves me cold. The language feels slack, unmotivated by any desire to communicate anything. It reads like the academic exercise that it in fact is. Points off for bad punning. 6.5.
Erín Moure, "8 Little Theatres of the Cornices"

Here is a surprising poem, divided into 8 sections, each a "theatre" but also the hint of a play or ritual that might be performed in such a theatre. The language is fresh and exciting. There are reference that aren't explained, which adds to the air of mystery. I don't know this poet. 9.

19 sept 2004


"motaina ya hirune shite kiku taue uta"

"Ashamed / napping, hearing / the rice-planting song."

I'm wondering whether that is a commentary on Bashô's "huryu no hajime ... taue uta."
Teaching Julia to play the trumpet... which would be easier if I knew how to play the trumpet myself.

18 sept 2004

I fell half asleep this morning after taking an allergy pill. In a state of half-sleep saw a piece of paper covered with words that I could read. If I had had a tape recorder handy I would have recorded a wonderful poem. The words were very concrete. I can't remember them now.

17 sept 2004

I got pretty mad at Shiki last night for not being respectful enough of Bashô.
I came up with my own variation on the "hûryû no hajime" hokku:

Your hipster style was born
in the cotton fields
of the deep South.


Here's another one:

¿"La oscura raíz del canto"?
Un olivar andaluz.

The idea is to translate this into as many different cultural contexts as possible. If you have one to contribute, write me.

16 sept 2004

"fûryû" according to Makoto Ueda is "the refined taste of a poet or artist that is manifested in his work and lifestyle." So "fûryû no hajime" is the beginning of this. This is to be found in rice planting song "taue uta" of the "oku," the Northern interior region of Japan.

46. K. Silem Mohammad, "Mars Needs Terrorists"

Not only a brilliantly hilarious poem, but one that inaugurates (or helps to inaugurate) an entire new genre. Flarf has arrived. It's topical and very much of our own time and place, yet will resonate into the future as well. I feel awkward about assigning grades to blogging-friends. Yet how could this be anything less than a 10?

Congratulations on getting into the BAP.
44. Steve McCaffery, "Some Versions of Pastoral"

Empson, Horace, et in Arcadio ego, Paul Celan... McCaffery brings a lot into play in this extended piece, complete with preface and epilogue. Rumor has it Josh Corey commissioned this piece so he could write the last chapter of his dissertation. There's some intellectual brilliance and some poetic value added here. 9 stars.

44. Harry Mathews, "Lateral Disregard" (after an observation by Kenneth Koch)

Invent a context in which the line "Shall I compare thee to a summer's bay" makes poetic sense. That's the assignment that Harry Mathews gives himself. After this fractured Shakespeare line he provides a nicely wrought description of the bay in question. Mathews is underrated as a poet. The recontextualization is successful. I would think it good classroom assignment. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's bray?" "Shall I compare thee to a Summer's flay?" "A summer's neigh?" 9 out of 10.
Two more versions of the Basho haiku:

"Here they begin
The celebrated places of the provinces,
With a song of the fields"

--Earl Miner

begins in the back country
with planting songs."

--Lenore Mayhew

Earl Miner is one of the great scholars of Japanese poetry, yet I can't get anything out of his version. It is so different from the consensus translation (the sum of all published versions) that I have to wonder. Aunt Lenore's, on the other hand is an elegant variation on this consensus translation.

15 sept 2004

Denise Low spoke at the Poetics Seminar today, about Lance Henson, a Native American Poet. She brought her students from Haskell Indian Nation, which is also in Lawrence, Kansas. The quality of the discussion was extremely high. It turned on the question of negotiating cultural identity, but what made the discussion so compelling was that nobody used a phrase like "negotiating cultural identiy." Henson's poetry is quite striking. It's extremely compressed and allusive. "li po and tu fu have / forgiven nothing / not waking drunk under any moon."
43. Nathaniel Mackey, "Sound and Cerement"

This is a little awkward. I respect Mackey's project--from a distance. I like the idea of what he's trying to do, but when I get down to the writing itself I don't find it as felicitous as I'd wish it to be: "he / and she of the adaptable tongue, / teeth, lips, mind's own sacred / ass-cleft and crotch, we of the / exiguous / fit ... Erogenous mind's aperture." This is a case that really comes down to taste. I don't even like Abbey Lincoln--go figure. 7.5.
Station 11 - Sukagawa - McCullough translation:

"A start for connoisseurs
of poetry - rice-planting song
of Michinoku"

Culture and Civilisation: "Pristine elegance / There, in the interior, / The rice planting song.

Furyu is often translated as style and hajime = origins, oku = interior. Even in a remote rural area there's culture and style which is the origin of city style. "

There's a tension between reading it as "even in these primitive songs we can find the roots of 'urbane' civilization" or "you have to go back to these primitive origins in order to find the origin of true art." The second might be a Western Romantic reading of the poem.
the beginning / of poetic elegance - this rice-planting / song in the interior.
The true beginnings / Of poetry - an Oku / Rice-planting song
Fûryû no  /  hajime ya oku no  /  taueuta.

Here is another Basho haiku I've been thinking about.

Haruo Shirane:

Beginning of poetry
the rice-planting song
of the Interior

Lucien Stryk:

Birth of art
song of rice planters
chorus from nowhere

Nobuyuki Yuasa:

The first poetic venture
I came across--
the rice planting songs
of the far North

This poem has the advantage of being set in a prose context. The brevity of the haiku is compensated for by the fact that the poems are meant to be read in a rich, thick cultural context. This poem occurs in Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North. I'll see if I can't round up a few more versions of it.

Turns out Sean Labrador was a student of Kasey's. I can't wait to get to "Mars Needs Terrorists." I still have to get through Mackey, Mathews, McCaffery before arriving at Mohammad. The McCaffery poem might be good chapter for Josh's dissertation.

I'm also looking forward to commenting on Myles, Rakosi, Shapirio, Silliman, Stefans, Sze, and Tate.
42. Ann Lauterbach, "After Mahler"

Here is a poet I have tried to read in the past without much success. I've sometimes felt her too derivative of Ashbery. This poem, however, does not give me that impression, so maybe I was wrong before. This poem is intellectually complex and repays repeated readings: "philosophical questions / on a far continent like so many markets." I'm not convinced by every single detail yet. 8.75.
41. Sean Manzano Labrador, "The Dark Continent"

I've been stuck on this one for a while. The dark continent is Africa. Freud famously used the phrase to refer to female sexuality, grafting misogyny onto racism. Labrador uses the phrase as a title of his poem that seems to be about his girlfriend, and his own inability to understand her sexuality: "it is a dark passage we share in the lightout to get to lips." "we both read mythologists and psychoanalysts / they did not teach me Greek but a lover of Bartók / who said 7 years ago my smoking was my girlfriend / substitute."

The poem has interesting moments, grafting a pastoral motif unto the sexual thematics in a way I didn't entirely follow. (I'm not implying that the poem itelf is necessarily sexist, although if someone made that argument I wouldn't object.)

I give it an 8 for its overall exuberance and its flashes of brilliance.

14 sept 2004

ist alles, was geblieben ist
vom Traum des Kriegers.

39. Yusef Komunyakaa, "Ignis fatuus"

We established last year the Yusef has execrable taste in poetry. And yet he is a very good poet. "A swampy / glow haloes the Spanish moss, / & there's a swaying at the edge / like a child's memory of abuse / growing flesh, living on what / a screech owl recalls." Concrete images, a communicative urgency. I would tell him to change the word "abuse" here; it strikes a false note, too generic. If you're going to be specific about moss and owl species, why use a generic, Oprah-like word for psychic trauma? 8.
John Koethe, "To an Audience"

"I knew the artifice would finally come to this: / an earnestness embodied in a style." Doesn't that define Koethe's poetry? An earnestness that puts the audience to sleep. One wants to grab him by the lapels and shake the dullness out of him. The dull simile, "like children playing with some blocks." The overall tiredness of the diction. His explorations of solipsism have engaged me in the past, but no longer. I'd rather be reading Ashbery. 7.
38. Kenneth Koch, "The Man"

Koch invented flarf in 1953. 10 stars.
37. Marc Jafee, "King of Repetition"

This poem might work well in poetry slam environment. It has those "dumb" rhymes; I'm not even sure if it's meant to be ironic. If it isn't ironic, it is very, very bad. But it's got to be a little bit ironic. 7.
36. Major Jackson, from Urban Renewal

Sometimes an anecdote is almost powerful enough to carry a poem. In this case, the prose explanation at the back of the book is as effective as the poem itself, if not more so because of the gain in clarity. Still, the story, about a Eurocentric teacher who assigns children the names of French painters because she cannot remember names like Bahrain or Darnell, has a strong impact. 7.5.
35. Kenneth Irby, "[Record]"

Irby has an "ear," that's for sure. That long line of his with close attention to sounds creates a meditative mood:

"Crows and redbirds clear cawing and clear calling

and the quiet of Saturday, the quiet of spring break and the students gone and the students staying

and the cylamen fading rosier and rosier from blood-crimson to the tide gone into and the turning"

34. Fanny Howe, "Catholic"

Another poet who gets to stretch out, in this poem-essay on being Catholic in the unique fashion that Howe is Catholic. It weaves in and out between prose and lineated prose. I find the text very rich, although not all the thoughts are expressed felicitously. Once again, I don't really care too much that the text might not be classifiable as a "poem" in the conventional sense. 8.
33. John Hollander, "Fiddle-dee dee"

Here's an "academic" poem that a language poet might love. I don't. It's tedious. It could easily go on forever or stop before it does; it wouldn't matter. The best thing is the epigraph from Lewis Carroll. 7.
32. Jane Hirschfield, "Poe: An Assay (I)"

"Spider / do not worry / I keep house casually"

That's wonderful! It's a haiku from Issa stuck in this typically "academic" poem, which takes the form of a set of notes for a lecture on Poe. (I'd love to hear this professor lecture on Poe, for sure.) Does it work as a "poem"? I knew you'd ask that. I don't really care; maybe that's the wrong question to ask even. I'm engaged by its surprising juxtapositions, and bonus points for the Issa. 8.5.
31. Carla Harryman, from Baby

It's good to allow more pages for a poet to stretch out a bit, with a more extensive preview of a book-length sequence, in this case a prose-poem (novel?) divided into sections of unequal length. I like it, although the poetic quality is sometimes attenuated by its more prosaic qualities. It is amusing, but irregularly so. 8.5.

13 sept 2004

"How quiet--
pierces rock"

That's Stryk's translation of a famous Basho haiku. I would say it's excellent to have in the mix. And yet...

"Shizukasa ya
iwa ni shimiiru
semi no koe"

Here's my reconstruction, based on my reading of a dozen other versions of this poem and my very limited Japanese:

Quietness, silence [emphatic particle/cutting word "ya"]
Rock [particle "ni" = into] penetrate, seep
cicada [posssive particle "no"] voice

The cicada's voice has to come LAST in this poem, just like the "mizu no oto" (water's sound or "splash") has to come last in the most famous poem by this author. In both poems you have a silence being broken, and the last element in the poem is the noise itself. And a cicada, not locust, is the consensus translation for "semi." So I'd say Stryk's version is quite stryking, but I'd rather have it as one among many versions. He is far from authoritative.

He often switches the order of the images; this may result in a better poem in English, but it ignores something significant for readers such as myself. There are certain formulaic phrases in Japanese poetry that tend to go either in the first or last line. A translation should have certain transparency in this respect. If the first or last line is something like "kusa makura" (grass pillow, the traditional metaphor for traveling) or "hototogisu" (cuckoo) the reader should be able to see this from the translation, without even having the Japanese text handy.

Poets that you can never get enough of, that you can't have too many translations or editions of. For me, in no particular order, it's Basho, Claudio Rodríguez, Frank O'Hara, Barbara Guest, Samuel Beckett, the Shakespeare of the Sonnets. I'm talking about what I've read most assiduously over the past 10 to 20 years, in some cases. Others I've been involved with professionally, like José Angel Valente, but has not entered into my personal pantheon to the same degree. I was surprised to discover, when re-sorting my books the other day, that I own at least six books by Lyn Hejinian. My Life / The Cold of Poetry / BAP 2004, / Oxota / The Fatalist / The Language of Inquiry. That's how devoted I can be to a poet I've been reading for a much shorter period of time. I have 10 books by some poets I don't even like very much.
Comment on my Basho observations at Language Log: Translation and analysis.

Kent Johnson points out that Lucien Stryk is a good translator as well:

"Summer grasses,
all that remains
of soldiers' dreams."

I do adore Stryk's translations, in fact, but does he beat the collective wisdom in this case? For example, most translations have "warriors" in place of "soldiers." His translation is better than most of the others, but where it departs from the collective wisdom I disagree with him. "Warriors" best captures the "medievalism" of Basho's reflection on a famous battleground.

12 sept 2004

I need to credit the source of many of these translations:The Beat of Different Drummers.
The wisdom of crowds in translation. Take Basho's

natsukusa ya / tsuwamonodomo no / yume no ato


Summer grasses
where stalwart soldiers
once dreamed a dream.


Old battle-field,
fresh with spring flowers again,
all that is left of the dream


Haply the summer grasses
are a relic of the warriors' dream.


Ah! summer grasses wave!
The warriors' brave deeds
were a dream!


The summer grass!
'Tis all that's left
of ancient warriors' dreams.


A thicket of summer grass
Is all that remains
Of the dreams and ambitions
Of ancient warriors.


summer grass
dreams' ruins


The summer grasses :
The high bravery of men-at-arms,
The vestiges of dream.


A mound of summer grass:
Are warriors' heroic deeds
Only dreams that pass?


A dream of warriors
after dreaming is done ,
the summer grasses.


Summer grass: where the warriors used to dream


Summer grass:                                                 
of stalwart warriors' splendid dream                
the aftermath


Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers'
imperial dreams


Summer Grass
where warriors dream.

We might prefer or despise a particular version, but the best version is probably the sum total or average of all these. The more you have, the better. Any eccentricity or redundancy simply drops away. You don't need a mound of grass or a thicket of grass, just plain old natsugusa is fine.

30. Barbara Guest, "Nostalgia of the Infinite"

I don't think there are many readers more devoted to BG that I am. I have downloaded a recording of the book this comes from onto both of my computers and memorized many of the poems. This one is not my favorite of them, but it does capture the mood of nostalgic modernism pretty well. 8.75.
29. Ted Greenwald, "Anyway"

This one wouldn't have made the cut if I were selecting the poems. It does have a nervous, zany music to its repetition, which might be enough to sustain a poem:

"Keep on giving, everbody's great
And keep on, a few directions
The same language, forward to giving

Translate from to, everybody's great
And keep on, forward to going
Translate from to, miss so much"

Greenwald repeats similar rhythmic patterns six separate times, with results of varying interest. 7.

28. Arielle Greenberg, "Saints"

Here's a poem in the amusing-acceccible mode popular among young poets these days, "casually licking the bottom of the bag salt from their fingers." I've seen Arielle read in St. Louis. It's nice to see her in the BAP. 8.
27. Aaron Fogel, "337,000, December 2000"

After the zany language of Elmslie, this poem is quiet and effective. I'm not sure what it is about, but it makes a case for itself in an understated, gradual way over 4 pages.

"The bird and the leaf who resemble each other
in not staying lastingly on the tree
are not friends, are unaware of each other.
They inhabit different corners of attention."

It could be a faux-translation from the Chinese. Who knows? Although I have no idea who Fogel is, he is a poet I'm going to be investigating in the near future. This is one of my favorite poems in the book so far. 9.5.

11 sept 2004

I'm going to put together a few questions about hybrid genres, and then putting them to a few select individuals--the 112 regular readers of this blog. The results will then feed into my Spanish language hybrid genre blog.

10 sept 2004

I've never written a poem about anything before. It is curiously liberating. David Shapiro wrote some imaginary blurbs for my poem.
I'm pscyhed that Heriberto Yépez is participating in a blog that I set up for my graduate course. This might be the first time an author to be studied in a Graduate Seminar in Spanish is also participating in on-line discussions in conjunction with the class. This is great because my class is about blurring lines between genres and subject positions.
I didn't have much time to blog yesterday. Same for today. I'll bring my BAP home with me over the weekend. The next few poems look promising: Fogel, Greenberg, Guest, Harryman.

9 sept 2004

26. Kenward Elmslie, "Sibling Rivalry"

"Back at the safari,
precursor stalwarts reeled in salmon,
shot pampas zebras, fjord hippos,
wham, went blind.

Daydreams in steamrooms.
Nance fantasies, gung-ho lunges
at tent show sleaze..."

Here is a poet with a recognizable style, derived from other New York school models but ultimately all his own. I'll have to go back and revise everyone else's score down after reading this. He really shows up most of the rest of the poets that I had to struggle through up til now. Why does poetry have to be so dull so much of the time? Cui bono? Whose interest does it serve for poetry to be dull? Repent dull poets! 9.75!

8 sept 2004

25. kari edwards, "short sorry"

I'd rather be named Kerry Edwards than Bush Cheney (sorry, bad joke). This poem is like a short-story put into a blender and mixed up, resulting in a "short sorry." It may not be the best introduction to kari's work for the uninitiated; it could come off as a little clotted and forbidding. The frequent use of "quotes" and random capital letters makes the narrative, such as it is, less fluent. The poem comes into focus more for me in the second of the two prose paragraphs. 8.5.

24. Rachel Blau DuPlessis, "Draft 55: Quiptych"

This poem was a chore to get through. I could easily quote effective lines and whole stanzas, but the whole is rather diffuse: garrulous, repetitive, a wee bit pretentious. Some bad puns don't help it. I'm having difficulty identifying the tone. It's supposed to be about "a random gathering of things insignificant in themselves" (Herakleitos), so the problem is in letting the beauty of this randomness shine through. What I see instead is a lot of talking around and about the problem. It's a good effort, promising enough in spots to merit an 8 out of 10.
23. Rita Dove, "All Souls'"

There are two ways of looking at this poem. You could see it as a pretty good "New Yorker" style poem, fitting nicely that space of page above or between the articles. It presents a re-visioning of a mythic scene, Adam and Eve being expelled from Paradise, with some well-chosen details. The animals are not your standard Lions and sheep, but "mink, gander, and marmoset, / crow and cockatiel." There are some elegant turns of phrases, and the poem ends on an Ashberyian note "as if straining / to make out the words of a song / played long ago, in a foreign land."

The other approach would be to find fault with the banality and or pseudo-profundity of some of the phrasing: "Of course the world had changed / for good." "Before them, a silence / larger than all ignorance." I don't understand the use of "et cetera" in the line "grief and confusion, et cetera." It's hard to use a phrase that's essentially "filler" in a poetically effective manner, unless it is ironic, as in Creeley's poem about the dishonest mailman!

This is what I mean by mediocre poetry. Not bad, not "How could the New Yorker publish that!", but rather, nothing particularly embarrassing, a justifiable poem.

I should add that this type of poem is typical of a kind of "creative writing" classroom excercise. Imagine a mythological scene in your own words. Isn't this an invitation to banality, in a way, since the student isn't going to be able to compete with Milton? Modern day retellings can flatten out all that grandeur.

I'll give this one a 7.

22. Lihn Dihn, "13"

Here's a prose poem I really can get behind: fresh, witty, accessible. My favorite paragraph: "You cannot understand the story of the youth who falls in love with his own reflection in the spring. Where you are, water does not reflect. One's view of oneself is made up entirely of other people's verbal slanders." 9.

Who is this poet? A new one for me.
Here's an idea I had (file it under stupid avant-garde poet tricks). Rewrite a poem from memory. It has to be a poem that you remember something significant about, but you aren't allowed to use something you know too well. A poem in a foreign language is best, because then your version will be free of interference from the actual language of the poem. Here's my first attempt, from a great poem of Nicanor Parra that I vaguely remember. I don't know the title. I also didn't know to what extent I should invent things I know were not in the poem. There's obviously two ways to go: to try to be as faithful as possible to an unfaithful memory, or to take arms against the frailty of remembrance and invent some wacky variations.


I spent the prime of my youth living with my two crazy great-aunts, Hortensia and Acacia.

I was studying for a notary exam I would never pass, like the typical señorito of my inane generation.

They forced me to engage in long negotiations with the electric company over small billing errors

To empty bedpans. My manhood suffered extreme blows.

I would have to dance the tango with them by turns long into the night

And prepare foul-smelling poultices, mustard and cloves.

One day I went out for cigarettes and never came back.

Executing their estate took another ten years from my vitality.

It turned out they were nebulous partners in criminal conspiracies.

Yet their sordidness let me reinvent Latin American poetry,

Save it from Neruda's obsolete nobility

As a broken man of 44.


Update: I won't embarrass myself by giving you the real poem to compare to my extremely imperfect memeroy. I went back and read it. It is much superior to anything in my sordid memory of it. It is called "El túnel."

21. Jean Day, "Prose of the World Order"

It's good to hear from Jean Day, who I last saw in the American tree anthology. This poem keeps changing every time I read it, as though someone had snuck into the book and changed the words of the poem. I like that slipperiness, but my rating also shifts up ond down as (relative) indifference to it changes place with intense interest. 8 for now.

7 sept 2004

It's going to take me a while to get through the BAP this year. I keep getting stuck on certain poems that I don't know how to properly judge. This is how it should be. Poems shouldn't all be written in the same mode, with interchangeable parts.
20. Olena Kalytiak Davis, "You are a scholar, Horatio, speak to it"

Here at last is a poem I can really get behind. It is a strange dialogue between two unidentified characters. "You say you walk and sew alone? / I walk and sew alone. The author, an unknown poet to me, sustains the enigmatic mood to the very end, creating eerie rhythms. I don't want to read an explanation of the poem, since I fear it might spoil it. 9.5.

75 poems is way to many for a "best" volume. I'm sure 75 good poems are published every year, but how could anyone find them? Real finds, like this one, are comparatively rare.

6 sept 2004

19. Michael Davidson, "Bad Modernism"

The epigraph is from Ashbery, and the poetic language is derived from Ashbery as well, though in a subdued, almost depressed mode. "I like these cream-filled versions / so unlike what we get at home." or "the smell you smell afar / is something boiling over." or "we only work / part time, the other part / we illustrate profound malaise." The poem successfully makes me want to go read some good modernism. 8.
18. Michael Costello, "Ode to my Flint and Boom Bolivia"

Here's another exuberant, blustery, fun poem. I wish it were just a little bit better, carried more conviction with it. It doesn't quite have that early-Kenneth zaniness of language that it needs, if that is what it is trying to do. "I am my Bolivia's keeper & it is mine." 7.5.

I don't know the author's work at all.

5 sept 2004

I used to hate the anti-intellectualism of a certain kind of poet I would meet. A refusal to take the intelligence seriously. (I still hate it. ) There are people who could blow me away intellectually as well, so I'm not being arrogant here: it's more of an attitude than anything else. Now Dorn was a smart guy, and I don't think he suffered fools gladly. He had a smart, tough stance that I like, irrespective of the particular opinions he had.
I don't feel any special antipathy to Dorn; in fact, I am very interested in his life and writing. On the other hand, he doesn't want to make us "like" him in any easy sense. I'd rather take him seriously than "like" him. The fact his work has passed into a state of near inaccessibility strikes me as scandalous.
Do words have origins? I mean this question seriously. Obviously we can trace back a word's etymology to a certain point, and then stop. But the stopping point is not the word's origin, since presumably that word also would need to be traced back to its origin. And the further one went back, the least relevance this origin would have for us in present time. I know this runs contrary to a certain kind of "poetic" thinking, that would claim that the archaic sense of the word is the true essence or meaning of the word.


Ed Dorn objected to the phrase "I'm outta here" because it wasn't literally true. The person saying it hasn't left yet. I get the point, but doesn't it show a lamentable insensitivity to the way language really works? The present tense can refer to present moment, to immediate future, to habitual actions, even to seemingly timeless state of affairs. "Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen." "I am driving to Kansas tomorrow." "I teach on Tuesday an Thursday." It is wonderfully malleable in terms of its time and its "aspect.."
Today is second bloggiversary for Bemsha Swing, started Sept. 5, 2002.

4 sept 2004

I'm reading Lezama Lima for my graduate seminar. What a true Mother(F) of invention! It's hard to imagine a more central Latin American poet of the last century. He was Catholic and the story goes that a priest told him that he had to believe in the existence of Hell to be a good Catholic. He was having trouble with the concept and finally came up with the perfect solution: there is a Hell, but there is no one in it.

Exhausted by talk
of the only happy life


Lao Tsu! You are hardly on my mind.

iii. (churchgoing)

Their babies scream as I walk in


I answer in 8 words
longer thoughtful letters


I wrote the poem above in 1977; it is also going to incorporated in the "religious poem" that I have been commissioned to write by David Shapiro.


I picked up a copy of the Chicago Review (special issue on Dorn). An added bonus was Andrea Brady's completely devastating dismantling of Don Paterson's introduction to a recent anthology of British poetry. It's the best skewering of the conservative view of poetry I've seen recently.

3 sept 2004

I've left my BAP behind in Kansas for the weekend. I'll be blogging about other matters in the meantime, until next Monday.


I share at least two aspects of "religious people"--a sense of awe that anything exists at all and that I am alive, (a sense of the sublime), and a sense of ethics. What I lack is a belief in a religious "calculus"--"perform these ritual sacrifices correctly and you will triumph in the next battle," or, "believe in this particular bill of particulars and you will receive these benefits." Consequently, I also lack the notion that one of these calculi, one particular story of how ethics, awe at being alive, and the rest fit together, can be established as superior to any other such story. I am not that interested in the idea of an afterlife, or in establishing the nature of what it is that I am in awe of. I am also deeply skeptical that we, anyone, can put everything together in a coherent way. Since anyone can feel a sense of awe at creation, everyone can be equally religious.
There may be some new to the blog who does not realize that I did the BAP thing last year as well, comparing the Creeley to the Komunyakaa. It's available in "Octopus" and in my own archives. I don't have the inclination to do the three-way comparison and revisit my judgments of last year.

2 sept 2004

I've been "commissioned" to write a poem about a particular subject. It sounds strange, but there is a certain comfort and freedom in having a poem asked of you in terms you can hardly refuse. (More about this later.) Anyway, I was looking for an old poem of mine on a similar subject, and found some others I had written before the age of 20. For example,

Hyacinths... Roses...

I seem to belong to a brotherhood
of the half-hearted, disbelieving in
my own emotions... I admit nothing
but what I bring wrapped in old newspapers.

Now I'm not embarrassed by that at all. I was probably 15 when I wrote it, but I can tell, re-reading it, that I had learned something from Pound and Creeley. Not only that, but I don't think I'm a better poet now than then in any meaningful sense. No wonder I hated the condescension of adults. It is oddly comforting to know that a lot of what I do know about poetry I have known for a long time. That might explain my impatience with Billy Collinses of the world. They are like the stupid adults of my childhood, (from the adolescent arrogant perspective that is still a part of me).

"Hyacinths..." was rejected by Poetry magazine! How could they! I know I worked hours on it, perfecting the rhythm and phrasing and punctuation but ensuring that the actual labor was concealed in the final product. (Ars est celare artem). I feel both close and distant to the writer who wrote this. Distant enough to respect him from afar.
17. Jack Collom, "3-04-00"

It's nice to have a good poem after Collins' debacle. "Sundown / at Walden pond. Redwings / singing, plump Canadas / all around." Some rhythm, some imagery, all the good stuff we expect from a poem. A little too much in spots, but nicely turned. 8.5.
16. Billy Collins, "The Centrifuge"

The poem has a perfunctory feel, as though it had no reason for being written. We learn of people seeing a strange piece of machinery, ("difficult to describe what we felt") and later taking part in "a great historical discussion / that included science / as well as literature and the weather." (The weather, no less!). I wish I'd been there for the discussion, because it loses a lot in the retelling. "What did it mean? we all wondered openly." I wish all this dullness were somehow ironic, but it seems all wrong for a poem that is supposed to evoke a sense of enigmatic awe. ("These were not new questions, / but we asked them repeatedly and earnestly.") Maybe it's supposed to be a deadpan style that risks very little. There is some anecdotal potential that is not realized. To be very, very generous, I'll say 3 out of 10. This is the first truly crappy poem I've encountered so far.
T. J. Clark, "Landscape with a Calm" (after a landscape by Poussin)

There are quotable bits here too, although the poem as a whole is not consistent enough. "Don't assume that men on galloping horses are always in a hurry." The general mode is Ashberyian, but without the precision of language. The "writing a poem after a painting" idea can turn out to be "academic," a mere excercise if not accompanied by communicative urgency. Still, it's pretty impressive for someone better known as Art Historian. 7.5.
14. Anne Carson, "Gnosticism"

The poem starts off well, with a striking first section, but then fizzles out a bit in the next five. The Frank O'Hara/Homer name-dropping doesn't quite work. (Jordan's already pointed this out.) "First line has to make your brain race that's how Homer does it, / that's how Frank O'Hara does it." The poem, or suite of poems, has quotable moments, but doesn't work as a sequence for me. 8.
13. Michael Burkard, "a cloud of dusk"

I am prepared to like this poem, by a poet I have no previous acquaintance with, "because of the because clauses." That's good. Or, "one night sleeping with two cats / Big and Little / and i am serious about those names." The speaker appears to be psychologically impaired in some undefinable way, paranoid or recovering from drug addiction? 8.5.

When I say I want poetry that does something on the surface of the language, I am not calling for a poetry of only surface. On the other hand, if I say, strip away the surface crap, I am not calling for a poetry of dull, desultory language.
Mayhew's fallacy is now Mayhew's disorder. I've peeked ahead to the Billy Collins poem. It doesn't look good for the true poet laureain't.

12. Oni Buchanan, "The Walk"

I have no idea who this poet is, but I really liked this poem. The speaker, of indeterminate gender, is threatened by attack by a woman coming to him/her with a hatchet and/or shotgun. This is the first poet I've seen here (aside from Will Alexander) who's writing in clean, rhythmic lines. The language is alive, and there is that communicative urgency I've missed in some others. 9.
There's a disease called only reading contemporary poetry. You lose your sense of perspective. It's just as bad (if not worse) as never reading contemporary poetry.

BAP stats

1 sept 2004

11. Mark Bibbins, from "Blasted fields of clover bring harrowing and regretful sighs"

Two prose poems, probably from a longer sequence. There are details that might be meaningful in a more specific narrative context, "someone slipped him diet Orangina and he went ballistic," but which don't have a real point in the absence of such context. It seems a typical technique in contemporary poetry (perhaps overused)? I remember a whole issue of Fence with such poems in it. Maybe you had to be there when the diet Orangina was consumed. The prose itself is not extraordinary enough to make the technique work here. Maybe the work is not easily excerptible. 7.

I don't know who Mark Bibbins is.
Back to BAPping.

10. Anselm Berrigan, "Token Enabler"

Another somewhat hyper poem, like Chris Alexander's, in long lines. It has a lot of quotable bits, but I haven't put it all together yet. "I know in my experience at work my problem is not my communication / skills it's the fact I'm communicating to the wrong people." Couldn't any poet who's not reaching an audience say the same thing? 8.

I've never met Anselm, nor do I own any books by him. I've read enough of his poetry here an there to know that I like it. The selection in the Creeley BAP was superb.
9. Charles Bernstein, "Sign Under Test"

More aphorisms. As with Ashbery, the problem of responding to this particular text or to the author's entire work, of which this selection is highly representative. It contains the usual mix of Wittgenstein and Henny Youngman. Some of the aphorisms are striking and memorable, others jokey and facile. The overall effect is of following a fertile mind at work through different moods. 8.5.

I've met Charles B. but can't say I've ever had a conversation with him.
8. Alan Berhheimer, "20 Questions"

How many language poets does it take to change a lightbulb? To get to the other side. Here are twenty questions, without question marks, ranging from the trivial cultural cliché (lightbulbs, presidents saying "nucular") to the profound. I like the aphoristic mode, half-way between O'Hara's Fortune Cookies and Silliman's Chinese Notebook. On the other hand, what does this poem add to this tradition? More bulk or something substantively different? Give it a 7.

Bernheimer is another "familiar stranger" to me, like one of those people you see in the coffee shop but don't really know.
7. Mary Jo Bang, "The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity"

I saw Mary Jo read at the City Museum last year, but was too shy to introduce myself. I can't praise this poem in any way that would sound convincing. I can't say that it's bad--it's an ekphrastic exercise after a charcoal drawing by Odilon Redon, and is full of concrete imagery and the like. My problem with it is that it doesn't give me any reason to care. It has no communicative urgency, no reason for having been written. It sounds like "academic" poetry to me in that sense. That is, it has no obvious flaw that can be pointed out in the workshop, but nothing that compells either. Maybe I am missing something, and have simply not gotten the poem yet. 6.5.
Yes, and you can indeed use the pluperfect subjunctive in both clauses of a past contrary to fact condition.
6. John Ashbery, "Wolf Ridge"

How do you tell an ordinary Ashbery poem from an extraordinary one? I'm not telling. He is the most influential poet of the last 30 years, but the fact that there are so many poems that seem more or less interchangeable is problematic for some. I say, the more the better. Meatloaf is indeed the third vegetable in this case. 9 out of 10.