31 oct 2004

I'm reading Steve Benson's Blue Book, not systematically, just opening it to a random page and reading some lines. "Skip 50 / pages to see what he had to say. / Read every word." It's funny how the book seems to invite/anticipate this mode of reading. I got the book used and someone has outlined a few passages toward the end of the book.

30 oct 2004

I'm collecting adverb + adjective set phrases:

refreshingly honest 37.000
fabulously rich 61,200
impossibly difficult 73,300
ridiculously ugly 85,000
woefully inadequate: 89,000
amazingly calm 91,100
tragically hip 116,000
strikingly beautiful 132,000
sadly mistaken 141.000
aggressively intelligent 145,000
abundantly clear 192,000
strangely happy 272,000
overwhelmingly powerful 345,000
incredibly stupid 376,000
desperately poor 444,000
obviously drunk 486,000
happily married 664,000

(indireclty responsible 1,100,000
directly responsible 6,180,000)

easily available 8,800,000

The numbers are approximate google hits. I'm not interested in ones with fewer than fifty thousand or so, since there would be too many of them. "Impeccably dressed" didn't quite make the cut. It strikes me that part of what counts as "knowing a language" is recognizing and being able to use and understand such combinations of words. Yet "good writing" must either avoid or ironize such clichés whenever possible.

One of the most frequent one I've found actually is meaningful, since there is a distinction between being direclty and indirectly responsible for something. When a phrase is extremely common, we know longer even recognize it as a cliché: witness "easily available." These don't seem as interesting to me as the mid-range ones like "sadly mistaken." I suppose if both words are very common then the significance of their combination would be much diminished.

I'm pretty much just reading the same thousand books over and over again. That's what if feels like anyway.

Lima approaches "deep image" poetics from a unique angle. At first glance this aspect of his poetry--the "Latin American surrealism"-- was the least appealing to me, yet I have to acknowledge it as one facet of the whole. Unlike much of Merwin or Strand, the images really are surprising and arresting. Who else could have written an Ode to Julia Child?

29 oct 2004

"like a shotgun full of ice" --Frank Lima

If Merwin saw that line he would have to issue an apology for trying to pass himself off as a poet all these years.
Next book I'll be reading: Sawako Nakayusa, So we have been gven time or. Along with the Frank Lima.
The Frank Lima book, Inventory (New and Selected Poems), resonates with my prior readings of Ceravolo and of David Shapiro, who wrote a nice prologue. This is an extraordinary life work. The richness of the "New York School" that can include un poeta puertorriqueño extraordinariamente desconocido.



28 oct 2004

"Viven del Cariño" 1994
Went to a panel discussion about Cuba. María Velasco, of the art department here, showed some striking images of Marta Maria Perez Bravo, which reminded me of Man Ray's surrealist photography.

The composition book I'm using uses the word "interactuar," which I don't think is a "real" Spanish word.
Here's a beautiful poem David Shapiro sent me this morning by email, and kindly gave me permission to post. Remember: you read it here first:

Lag Solo

There's a sign in my basement  Private Road.

There's a sign on my garage door: Self Closing Door.

Between the two we don't exactly live,

exactly die.

In one pocket, dust and ashes, and in the other

pocket, images.

We wear out.

And on the gifted machine a dance-mix

Or the shadow of a dance-mix:

Dance, She Cried.

Equanimity - if not a poetics, then what?..."am I just giving up a need for fuddy-duddy encyclopedism?"
Why do some people irritate me so much, even people I ostensibly "like"? Could it be that these people resemble me to a degree that feels uncomfortable?

I wrote poem below more-or-less in the style of Creeley. That's how it came out, at least.


I'm less and less interested in fictionality, creation of imaginary worlds so little different from our own. Reality seems much richer.
This five-foot stretch of
lucidity, beating us at scrabble

all these years,
grandchildren, great-grandchildren,
lifeless now

Aunt Fae found her
yet how could this be?
so little short of the century.

(Miriam Telford Ellsworth, February 14, 2004-October 26, 2004)

27 oct 2004

If I didn't have so many blogs already I would start a new one devoted to my translations from Spanish and Latin American poetry.
My Grandmother, Miriam Telford Ellsworth, died in her sleep the night before last in her home in Sacramento. She was 99-years old.
I re-read Enslin's The Country of Our Consciousness last night. I love that book--I mean the book itself as physical object as well as the poems in it.

26 oct 2004

Today we're reading El infarto del alma, by Diamela Eltit, in my Graduate Seminar. It's a book of photos taken by Paz Errazuriz in a rural mental institution in Chile, with accompanying text by Eltit. It is a fascinating and brilliant work.

25 oct 2004

Good poetics seminar today: we got together with some people from the "Life Writing Workshop," faculty members writing autobiographies and biographies, to compare notes in the intersection between poetics and
"Life Writing."
Here's a relativley new blog: The Lovely Arc
Is anger a possibility?

24 oct 2004

My concept of the "poet's novel." It's got to be written by a poet, and appeal mostly to readers of this poet or of poetry generally. It can't be a novelistic novel written by a novelist who is also a poet. It can be very good for what it is, but cannot simply be a novel standing apart from the poet's work. it helps if it is obscure, unknown to non-poetic readers. In other words, James Dickey or Thomas Hardy don't count as writers of "poet's novels." So it is partly about the social identity of the writer? Partly about the work itself? Its readers?

Alfred and Guenevere. I had never read it before. A hilarious novel. Preface of John Ashbery is very illuminating. I must re-read A Nest of Ninnies.

23 oct 2004

My objections to Jorie are that she's

too self-consciously elegant
no sense of "voice," or of a speaker one would want to listen to
not very many memorable lines or pasages
a little bit dull

On the positive side of the ledger, she has

a serious and sustained "project"
a deep sense of seriousness

and she takes herself very seriously

So I cannot simply dismiss her. When I'm not reading her, I think of her as a poet I really should read more of. Yet every time I attempt the reading I fail to connect with her work. It's not crap, it's just well-written and somewhat pretentious verbiage. Once in a while I find a passage that I like, but the poetic energy is rarely sustained. Maybe some day the light bulb will go off in my head and I'll get why others thinks she is great.

This is the article in question:"THE ELDER PRESENCES:"
Henry's getting a long run out of the schtick schtick. I haven't looked at Berryman's black-face recently enough to have an informed opinion about it. Whether it's justifiable or not I don't know, although to me it's not particularly appealing. I found a pretty thoughtful essay about the subject on the web by googling "Berryman minstrel show."
I just finished Tjanting. I am reading The Age of Huts. I checked out a Jorie Graham book from the public libary: Never. I wanted to see her work it has some redeeming value I've never been able to discern before. I'll let you know.


I live in St. Louis but was born in Boston and grew up on stories of Yastremski. I have divided loyalties, but at least one team I like will win World Series this year.

21 oct 2004

Ben Friedlander back-channel. (We had been discussing Joe Brainard and Edmond Jabès. Could the fake rabbi bit in the latter be considered a "schtick?"):

"I think of Brainard as genuine too. Does that rule out the possibility of schtick? That's a real question, by the way, not a rhetorical one: when I wrote you last night I was thinking of Emily Dickinson's neuroses as an example of schtick, in jest of course. But maybe a misreading of genuineness as schtick is itself a schtick rising to the level of poetics. Or maybe not..."
More HG Poetics on schtick, written, appropriately in this case, with a good deal of schtick.

Like all great aphorism, rigorously false.
Kansas Spleen (A la recherche de Ron Silliman

My urine smells of coffee, warm on a cold day. Ron makes his way through Flow Chart, I through Tjanting. "Days to merely cross the page." Apparently I need Baudelaire's permission to drop flowerpot down on dull panes of glass. Page numbers in brackets! Palatino! Others more garrulous than I, what, if anything, do I leave unstated? The world is everything that is the. I offend easily. If you construed that verb as intransitive you win the prize. From Stein to Beckett to Silliman, the semi-colon is suppressed.

My father learned to drive stick shift in the Berkeley hills. Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion doze off in poppy fields of Afghanistan. Bert Lahr played Estragon, or was it Vladimir, or Lucky?, in New York production. Chapbooks bound in sandpaper eat their way through my bookshelves, until only the 1,000 chosen ones are left.

20 oct 2004

And this post back in July is right on the money...The Reading Experience: Communication Skills.
Daniel Green's blog The Reading Experience is truly worth reading.
tributary on the schtick question.
Ok, guys, I take it back. A poetics is nothing but a schtick.
Braque said it better: "La personnalité de l'artiste n'est pas faite de l'ensemble de ses tics." (The personalty of the artist does not consist of the sum of his tics.)
Henry Gould objects to aphorism below. I can see how Henry is attracted to Berryman's minstrel-show schtick, for example. (To me, personally, this is one of the least attractive aspects of Berryman.) I'm moving myself toward the opposite end of the scale. I should have said a schtick is not sufficient for a poetics. Poets often do their best work when they put down the mask for a moment.

Readers of this blog: Name a poet who, in your opinion, is all schtick. I'll collate the results and get back to you.
A schtick is not a poetics.
I spoke too soon. El matasellos "no está en existencias." I don't know how I'm going to get ahold of it.

19 oct 2004

A "matasellos," by the way, is a postmark. Literally, "stamp-killer." It is one of those invariant nouns formed with verb+plural noun, like sacacorchos (corkscrew), abrelatas (can-opener), paraguas (umbrella).
I've also ordered El matasellos, a novel by Heriberto Yépez that is getting a lot of positive ink in Mexico. I'll be the first to write about it in English, most probably.
I've deleted some posts from yesterday and before, so if you've come here looking for some pointless rhetorical violence you'll be disappointed. Yet I feel the urge to do more of same. I am prone to these attacks of spleen, you see. That would be a good title, Kansas Spleen. That's a book I'll write tonight if I hold up.


I re-read What last night. It holds up well. I'm halfway through Tjanting. I ordered a Frank Lima book with intro by David Shapiro, which should be arriving in a few days.
The guy across the hallway from me, Ernest in the History Department, said, "I saw Wittgenstein and he said he enjoyed talking to you on his recent visit here."
I said, "Who?" (thinking I'd heard wrong).
"Raphael Rubinstein."

18 oct 2004

I'm also reading Creeley's Pieces. Why do these poems work so well in sans serif font?
One of today's books read is Vanishing Points of Resemblance, kind compliments of the author, Tom Beckett, even though I didn't place in his erotic poetry contest.
How can one read everything? For one thing, it's a mistake to only read American poetry published in the last 5 years. You wonder why everyone's poetry sounds the same! That might be why. I'm sure there are worthy poets I'm skipping over, but I don't believe there's thousands of truly interesting ones that I'm not reading. Probably the absolute worst is to edit a magazine and only read submissions. All of a sudden one is publishing crap that seems good against a backdrop of worse crap. If you aren't reading in a foreign language, or poetry from the past, you lose perspective very fast. Silliman should only read Beckett and Celan for a year, then come back and see how contemporary poetry of US stacks up. Or how about only Canadian poetry for a year? That would narrow it down.

17 oct 2004

Recently read:

demo to ink, Concierto animal, St. Martins, La nieve en los manzanos, Baladas del dulce Jim.

16 oct 2004

A Thom Gunn Moment, with a little bit of Creeley

I remember we were given an assignment to observe an animal and write a poem about it. (We had read Rilke's "Panther.") Not the kind of excercise that I was (or am) any good at. I remember writing about birds flying from branch to branch in "short / uninteresting curves" ! ?! I wasn't trying to sabotage the exercise, this was just my honest observation. What I had observed yielded no epiphany. Yes, the poem itself was a little drab (ok, more than little), as was obvious to Gunn and everyone else, but I tried to argue that my observation had a sort of "Creeley" quality to it. Amazingly enough, Gunn bought this argument. It didn't make the poem any good, but he had to admit that if Creeley had signed these lines he would have accepted them more readily. I admired this flexibiity, this willingness to take a point from a 17-year old kid.

So what is dullness in poetry, really? My act of attention was perfunctory, and the adjective "uninteresting" was the self-conscious result. The word doesn't appear too much in poetry, and for very good reasons. Follow the assignment, but don't write as though you are following an assignment. An impossible double-bind. Yet, Creeley-like, I was attentive to my own inadequacy, the poverty of that sort of anti-epiphanic moment. To write endlessly, like Creeley, about something that he wasn't very good at for a very long stretch of his life: human relationships, impossibly painful domestic situations. There's a sort of aporia there too, a productive tension if you will. If he were psychologically wise about his experience, he wouldn't have had the experience in the first place, he would have been "spared the agony of human relation/ships."

Berryman famously found Creeley dull, probably because of the lack of a certain sort of theatricalization, at which Berryman was very good at.
I got hold of this book, Emily Dickinson and Contemporary Art. It's a catalogue from an exhibition they had at Amherst a few years back. Fairly interesting visually, but verbally flat, both in the porfolio of poems they drew together (Richard Wilbur,great!) and in the essays. There is a kind of "art-speak" I don't identify with at all. if I were to write about art I wouldn't write like that. I don't know what I'd do, but it wouldn't be that... The art was postmodern but the poetry was anti-modern. A familiar story.

15 oct 2004

Ron's argument that Robert Duncan created the "reading list" for us today, that his reading list is ours, is probably valid from where he sits. I know that my reading list was formed from Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery, and also that this list doesn't correspond exactly to Duncan's list. I took my cue from Ashbery's introduction to the Collected Poems of F O'H. Gertrude Stein plus the more canonical modernists, French surrealism, Roussel, Flann O'Brien, Lorca, Beckett, Joseph Cornell, John Cage, Auden. That's as good a starting point as any. Duncan's West Coast canon is not entirely different, but there is a difference in emphasis. The New York poets are more oriented toward France. They are less interested in theosophy and in neo-Romantic constructions of the poetic self.

What has always bothered me about Duncan--who is a great poet in all respects--is the insistence on his own authority as a poet, his setting himself up in relation to a tradition of "poesy." All that Victorian medievalism in his diction seems to have that purpose. As though he could only be a "poet" if he were heir to some notion of poetic authority. The H.D. book recently parsed expertly by Silliman in the intimidating presence of Ken Irby, (who was personally much closer to Duncan than Silliman was, who was even a proofreader of the HD book itself) is about this process of poetic authorization vis-a-vis a poetic predecessor. Now when I say some of this bothers me, this does not mean I don't find it endlessly fascinating, only that I find myself asking why it is necessary to claim this sort of poetic authority in the first place. I prefer other models of "becoming" a poet.
Aaron Tieger on judging people by what they read rather than what they write. I agree, in that you can't blame someone for not being a very good poet. Few people are, after all. On the other hand, what you read is your own choice. . . An anecdote about the Bush family mansion containing no books at all. It came up in recent conversation with Ron S. and David P.
I wrote two posts ago ".... demand far outpaced demand." Was that what I meant to write? No, but I didn't correct error because I liked its absurdism.
There are two ways of reading Creeley. One is to isolate the top 10% of his poems and read them over and over again. The other is to wade through everything, the poems apparently too slight or too diffuse, to realize that the other 90% has real value. I've been preferring the second approach lately.


I had an idea for a project: writing a book about 15 poems that I would select by the following criteria:

maximum of 10 could be American
" " could be written originally in English
" " could be written by men
" " could be written in 20th century etc...

in order to counteract my own 20th century, male, English-speaking, American bias, yet still have things weighted toward my own sensibility.

I would write 15 pages about each poem. I thought of something Ron said on recent Kansan visit: he's more interested in poetry than in the poem. For me it depends on what side of the bed I get up on. Sometimes I'm much more interested in the poem than in poetry. We need a counterweight to anthologies like One Hundred Old Chestnuts You Ought to Have Already Read

So far my list:

Frost "The Silken Tent"
Coolidge. something from My Face ?
Frank O'Hara, "Poetry"
James Schuyler "Standing and Watching"

Basho, et al. "Through the Town..."
Guest "Gravel"
Catullus ????
Claudio Rodríguez "La encina... ."
Blanca Varela ????
Emily "We Grow Accostumed to the Dark"

14 oct 2004


UPI, New York, NY

John Ashbery has not published a book of poetry in slightly over two years. The normally prolific New York City poet published his last book of poetry, Chinese Whispers, in May of 2002. It has been reported that most of his regular readers have already finished the book, and are growing increasingly restive while waiting for the next book to come out. While this might not seem to be cause for concern, many experts believe that the days of cheap, plentiful Ashbery poems are past.. "The stockpile of poems from collections of the 1980s and 1990s once seemed inexhaustible," stated Ashbery expert Garbo Suleiman, "but most of us have re-read these volumes to the point of exhaustion. If Ashbery continues to withold his poems from the market, we could see a return to the day of the early 1970s, when demand far outpaced demand." Ashbery could not be reached for comment.
The Leiter Reports: Editorials, News, Updates: Derrida: "one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century"...: "Not a single philosopher of any note in the English-speaking world--or from Europe--is represented on the list of signatories to the letter, by the way. There is a reason."

There's an interesting slippage in this post between "faculty who teach in philosophy departments" and "... philosopher of note." Are Zizek, Butler, Caputo, not philosophers of note? Is Leiter himself a professor of philosophy or a "philosopher"? If someone in a philosophy department admires Derrida, is s/he automatically demoted from philosopher to "faculty teaching in a philosophy department"?

Rorty, Habermas, and other philosophical heavyweights take Derrida seriously, although they did not sign this letter to the Times. Barry Watten, Charles Bernstein, Marjorie Perloff did, along with a thousand other folks.


"Just as many of Marx's critics scarcely recognize the degree to which Marx produced much of the common social and historical frame of reference and vocabulary that the critics themselves use, so too do many of Derrida's critics fail to recognize how much Derrida and his associated [sic] helped to normalize certain propositions about interpretation and communication that we do not specifically attribute any longer to them. Almost all of us take for granted now the permanent imperfection of representation and communicative action, the inevitability of a profound and important slippage between signifier and sign, reader and text, but this wasn't always a given in humanistic writing."

Now that I'm finished with the BAP I'm going to start keeping track again of my reading. I've just finished a few books. Creeley's Memory Gardens, Julia Otxoa's La nieve en los manzanos.
I saw the new issue of Poetry (October) at Borders. They have this "antagonisms" section, asking various people for names of poets they don't care for. As though we should really care whether some mediocre or obscure poet doesn't like Marianne Moore or H.D. or Frost or Rilke! Something is out of alignment here. It doesn't compute. There's a lack of perspective. It might be meaningful if Rilke hated Milton; it's meaningless that William Logan doesn't appreciate Hopkins, because Logan is pure nothingness.

13 oct 2004

Teaching the seminar is pure joy. The key to happiness is total absorption in the task at hand. When I am in class I am attentive to everything, the ideas being discussed in relation to the overall "lessons" I want us to come away with, the body language and level of attentiveness of each of the 10 students, their own level of engagement. When the majority of them are also engaged, are here in class with me, when the seminar is clicking, the students feeding off of one another's level of engagement, I can sit back and enjoy it. It is effortless, even though I am working very, very hard, keeping track of the time elapsing in relation to the rhythm of the discussion, intervening or deliberately remaining quiet to allow for more space. And the students too seem to have an idea of the beginning, middle, and end of the class, its particular rhythm.

The joy is retroactive too, in that it takes its full effect a day or so later, when I reflect on it, as I am doing now, travelling back in time a day and idealizing what was probably an imperfect class in many respects. As Asbhery notes, happiness can be anticipatory or retrospective, yet is always related to some idea of a presence, even if it is two moments superimposed the one over the other.


A striking dream: I was climbing a steep hill; on my left was a formation of rock that resembled a cemetery: tombstones irregularly pointing up at the sky. Yet is was a natural formation, as I discovered as I drew nearer. The ambiguity (human or natural?) contributed to the effect of striking beauty. I felt that I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. This feeling was a sensation of physical elation such that I had never felt. At the top of the hill were some Roman ruins carved out of similar stone. I wondered whether they had been carved out of rock or whether the rock had been hauled to the top of the hill by slave laborers. I thought of the Egptians pyramids. A well preserved Roman-style building, looking much like one of those pseudo-classical banks, had the word VICTORIA carved above its columns. I associated the building with Rome's victory over Carthage in the Punic wars.

My Fall break starts today. I'll be reading La nieve en los manzanos by Julia Otxoa, Baladas del dulce Jim, by Ana María Moix, and Concierto animal by Blanca Varela, along with some Creeley, Silliman.

12 oct 2004

Another, related mistake is seeing Derrida outside of the context in which he was writing, basically the avant-garde of his day--Blanchot, Sollers, Barthes. If one transposes him to an English department with a fairly conservative canon, what happens? Deconstruction becomes a way of reading Romantic and Victorian poetry: Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Browning. I'm thinking mostly of G. Hartman, Hillis Miller, Cynthia Chase, that Lyric Poetry After New Criticism book. Harold Bloom, though not a deconstructionist, also reinforced the same canon.

My first book was vaguely deconstructionist, in that it was structured around a central aporia. However, I avoided a Derridean vocabulary.

11 oct 2004

Like Barrett Watten, I am not a Derridean, yet feel the need to defend against rather simplisitic definitions--whether coming from detractors or admirers. I remember when Searle demolished Culler's book on Derrida in the NYRB. Culler's defense of his book, and of Derrida, was weak, and Searle demolished him again in the letters to the editor exchange. Deconstruction turned out to be useless in the hands of anyone but Derrida, its flaw being that any simplification or clarification or even "application" of it made it seem entirely moronic if not outright wrong. I once reviewed a book by someone trying to "apply" Derrida to a particular Spanish poet. I think that was my most negative review of all time.
We don't formally know the rules of English grammar, unless we are linguists. For example, if I had to explain the use of definite and indefinite articles in this stanza

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree...

to someone learning English, who didn't have articles at all in her native language, I couldn't do it without great effort, and I'd probably be wrong. Instead, what we usually do is say, "listen enough to how these articles are used until you get the hang of it." In other words, develop "native speaker intuitions" of your own. Even if I were a great explainer of grammar, the person I explain the rules to might not be capable of both 1) Understanding a set of abstract rules, and 2) Applying these rules consistently the way a native speaker would. If I substitute an "easier" rule, one that accounts for many but not all cases, the rule will be easier to understand and apply, but will likely lead to errors. In fact, the student is likely to simplify the rule on his own.

Frost could have written

The way the crow
Shook down on me
A dust of snow
From the hemlock tree...

but not "A way a crow..." I have no idea why. Just sounds wrong.

People who are not linguists, but who think they know grammar, are the worst, for they will tell you it's a grammatical mistake to say "smarter than her."
Charles Wright, "In Praise of Han Shan"

This is the last poem in the 2004 BAP, which I'm sick of by now, despite the several good poems it includes. Wright has always bored me to tears. It's not that he's bad, but that he doesn't write for any reason. As he himself says, this is "art for nothing's sake."


Best of the Best:

Alexander, Ashbery, Berrigan, Buchanan, Davis, Dinh, Elmslie, Fogel, Greenberg, Guest, Howe, Irby, Koch, Mathews, McCaffery, Mohammad, Moure, Myles, Rakosi, Shapiro, Silliman, Stefans, Sze, Tate, Toscano.

Worst of the Worst:

Collins, Hollander, Phillips, Pinsky, Seidel, Stern, Wagoner.
David Wagoner, "Trying to Make Music"

Some poets actually make music in their poetry, not merely talk about it in a dull way. It's a poem that denounces its own inadequacy from the first line. I sympathize with him. It is hard. Wagoner is one of those mediocrities that Kenneth Koch's strangler somehow missed years ago.
Julia scored her first ever goal on Sunday. From about 40 feet away, the ball came to her and she blasted it into the net. The goalie got a hand on it but there was no way she could have stopped it. A thing of beauty. How can someone 4'2" and sixty lbs generate that kind of power, I don't know.
Paul Violi, "Appeal to the Grammarians"

A rather ordinary but charming poem. It has its moments; I like the weird interpretation of the Spanish inverted exclamation point, which has nothing to do with disappointment.
Rodrigo Toscano, "Meditatio Lectoris"

Here's a strongly rhythmic poem much to my liking. It is a rhythm of thought as a well as a sound-structure. I wish I had more to say about it. The BAP is not really conducive to the way I like to read, with a book by single author in particular publishing context.

9 oct 2004

The problem with Derrida was seeing him as a literary theorist / authority figure rather than as a writer. The reception of Blanchot never had that problem, since there was no school of Blanchot in the US academy. ( A writer doesn't need to make falsifiable claims. ) Of course, Derrida is to blame for encouraging a school of Derrida. It is not reasonable to expect him to have said "don't imitate me, don't be influenced by me," but he could have done a little more to mark his distance.

French theory is officially dead now.
Jacques Derrida has died...
I'm not sure why some journalists want to see last night's debate as a draw. If it had been a prize fight, it would have been stopped by the referee in the 4th round. Bush thinks the original U.S. Constitution disallowed slavery, as he made clear in his rambling discussion of the Dred Scott decision! Of course, I was watching the debate at the Kerry rally, which greeted Bush's responses with hoots of derision. Kerry showed up at the rally about 10:35, quite exultant. The idea of Bush as out of touch with reality is a winning theme for him, I think. I've never actually seen a presidential candidate before, if you don't count Jerry Brown. I was never impressed with Kerry until tonight. He finally seemed substantial to me, not a mere Bush alternative. Seeing him in the flesh, albeit from a distance, I sensed some charisma.

Others observing said that Bush was not scowling, but I thought his facial expression was moronic throughout. Why can't Daniel Schorr simply say that Bush looked like a cretin? I'm sure he's thinking that.

8 oct 2004

We're going to the Kerry rally tonight in St. Louis.

7 oct 2004

Koch as Jerry Lewis's stunt double.

Edwin Torres, "Robert Pinsky Has No Samba"

This is a fun poem. (That's not the real title, by the way, I'm making a joke.) It kind of reminds me of the invention of movements like "The New Brutalism" in late-night email exchanges.
Ron noticed David Perry's height, and that I look ten years younger than I claim to be. I wonder why he didn't notice the supermodel who was our waitress?
d'oh, that should be Austrian novelist, not Australian.
The Nobel prize can be conceived as a way of publicizing a work in need of publicity, rather than recognizing a work that is already famous and influential. I've never heard of this Australian novelist they've given it to, Jelinik, so I can't say it's a good or bad choice. I don't read much so-called "fiction." It's supposed to be more major form nowadays, yet I think that's shortsighted and mistaken.

6 oct 2004

James Tate, "Bounden Duty"

This is one of the spookiest and best Tate poems I've read in years. I think it is about Bush, but Tate claims that it is about Clinton, which shows that a poet can misunderstand his own work. The flaws in Tate's recent poetry actually work in this poem. If it were better written the dramatic monologue wouldn't be as convincing. As it is it's spot on. No fine writing here.

Arthur Sze, "Acanthus"

Sze is another one for "fine writing." "Green powdered henna / in a box beside white mulberries." Petals on a white, black bough. Come let us feast our eyes. Sze is really good, actually. I would recommend anyone read his poetry for a year and imitate it, then try to write in the opposite style: no keenly observed sensory detail. That would be an interesting experiment. "saffron / cardomom, frankincense, cinnamon, ginger, / galingale, thyme, star anise, fennel." I can smell the galingale in this poem and I don't even know what it is!
Virgil Suárez, "La Florida"

I actually enjoy poetry with a luxuriant lexicon: "Lugubrious days pass with the amplitude of manatees, / hibiscus unfold their smiling vortex to confused bees." This is a Florida you have to pronounce "florEEda." He shouldn't have published it in the New England Review, that's a geographical faux pas. If you're going to do "fine writing," do it well, as VS does.
Gerald Stern, "Dog That I am"

Stern is a perfectly middling poet. Never actually wrote a poem anyone remembers, yet persists in anthologies like this one. My main objection to this poem is that the line has no integrity. Five out of sixteen lines--nearly a third--end in prepositions, but there is no syncopation, since the line is never established in the first place as a unit worth paying attention to. There are no memorable phrases, nothing of real poetic value here that I can see. The poem only makes sense if you read his explanation in the back, hence it is a poem made to be read at a poetry reading, where the explanation does the real work. Not even the explanation is a solid piece of writing.
A lot of work was done today in this office, most of it having to do with my actual work and not the blog or poetry, etc...

I've been stuck on the Bruce Smith poem in the BAP for a while.

Bruce Smith, "Song of the Ransom of the Dark"

It's an interesting poem that almost makes it. The technique of interspersing two voices has been used by Creeley and Williams, most notably. I don't quite see the formal invention to justify the technique in this case. It's like the poem you read and immediately think of another poem that uses the technique better. Not quite fair, since Smith's poem is not horrible either, just kind of middling.

Brian Kim Stefans, "They're putting a new door in"

Yes they are. I love the casualness of this poem, which includes the only other poems written in 2001, such "If there are no animals on Mars, is there anything that could classify as 'shit.'" It makes me want to translate it into Japanese. Good job, Brian.
I got a note from Spanish poet Julia Otxoa, who had noticed I was teaching some of here texts in my graduate seminar. One thing I've been able to do this semester is to have the students ask questions directly from some of the authors we have been reading.

5 oct 2004

Ron Silliman, "Compliance Engineering" from VOG

There are two possible readings: to isolate typical Silliman sentences as appreciate them as aphorisms/observations, and to put all of these lines together to see what the combination does. There are the small things Ron notices that no other poet does:

"One drawer in the kitchen
just for rubber bands."

"Small fluorescent night-light for the bathroom
my son calls 'rectangular moon.'"

Put them all together you get a plotless narrative similar to a renga written by Bashô and Boncho.
David Shapiro, "A Burning Interior"

A major poem by a major poet. The version printed here doesn't have the dedications and titles that appear in A Burning Interior (the book), and which enrich the poem considerably.

"When a poet is weak,
like a broken microphone,
he still has some power,
indicated by a red light."

For me that describes David himself, a poet who knows he's immensely powerful as a poet even when he feels discouraged.

"Who but he
Would talk to a teapot."

Frederick Seidel, "Love Song"

It's a pleasant enough piece of doggerel. Not quite funny enough to get a thumbs up.
Jennifer Scappettone, "III"

Here is poem in three irregularly jagged columns. A second shorter section is in a regular stanzaic shape. They've had to use a smaller font than for the rest of the book. I don't really have any strong feelings about this poem one or another yet. I'll have to come back to it.
Hearing Ron made me want to revisit Duncan, who was never santo de mi devoción, although looking at my shelves I do have quite a few books of his.
Carly Sachs, "the story"

The poem is in six sections of eight lines each. It is a fractured narrative of a sexual assault, or at least that's what I think it's about: "was a we the my big / terrible voice no saying and fast." Or: "to he vagina straddled loving love / what I be after under Kent / on I trouble raped." I'm giving it a thumbs up: it's trying to do something new and pulling it off.

Ron's gone. He read from four sections of the Alphabet last night to small and appreciative crowd. What struck me from the reading is how accesssible Silliman's poetry is. It's not difficult in the least. Later we had drinks with David Perry, who is now living in Kansas City.

4 oct 2004

A guy even drove up from Arkansas to see Ron. That's a loong drive. He was told to say hi to Ron and me from Jim Behrle.
Ron's talk on Duncan and H.D, punctuated by Ken Irby's observations, was very illuminating. Just as Duncan's HD book at least as much about Duncan as about HD herself, Silliman's talk told us a lot about Silliman. The retracing of the textual history of this book showed an attention to detail that has little to do with how must people think about the publication of poetry. Is it an accident that Silliman published The Alphabet with so many different publishers? The publication history is part of the development of the work itself.

Another blog I've noticed recently is: Blindheit: clarity is overrated. Most of it is in Spanish.
Ron Silliman is just an ordinary guy. He is not some scary poetry dictator. Not that I ever thought he was, but it's nice to know.

1 oct 2004

Writing this bog is "hard work." I mean really hard. Anyone saying otherwise is sending "mixed messages" to the American people and our Polish allies and does not deserve to be commander-in-chief of this blog. I don't understand what this "international test" is. It's hard work.

I met Raphael Rubinstein for breakfast this morning. He is a regular reader of this blog, a poet and Art Critic from NYC, but born in Lawrence, Kansas. His book has blurbs from David Shapiro, David Bromige, and Harry Mathews. That's a powerful combination.
Julia just finished the Grim Grotto. I don't think she's heard of Daphne, but she would have recognized names like Jordan Davis, Ron Silliman, or Kasey Mohammad.