30 jun 2005

Ok. Now I've read Halliday's hard-hitting piece on Tate in Pleiades. Basically, the idea is that Tate's stuff doesn't stand up to the reverential treatment implicit in a critical anthology devoted to his poetry. Now usually in such anthologies you wouldn't expect to find much negative criticism at all, unless it's the type of work which aims to chronicle the critical reception of a certain poet . In a book of essays on Niedecket, for example, you wouldn't have any essays arguing that Niedecker is *just not that good a poet.* Thus the suggestion that they should have had an essay by a Tate-detractor seems odd on one level. However, we since we all know that Tate is a brilliantly light-weight poet, we need some acknowledgment that that is indeed the case,or alternatively, a more spirited defense against his detractors.

Halliday disputes the assertion that Tate's work has a lot of grief in it, but I think that is a perfectly reasonable claim; it's just that the grief is always expressed behind a particular Tatean schtick that has become all too familiar.

The problem is that he's simply written too many poems, is too prolific in proportion to the relative lack of depth and seriousness of his poetic project, too successful and prize-winning in proportion to the overall quality of his work. Halliday wants more demonstration of Tate's value to a skeptical reader, less taking-for-granted that Tate is deserving of exegesis.

I like some of Tate's work a lot, but wouldn't argue against Halliday's identifications of his weaknesses. In fact, I have said similiar things about him myself. Halliday himself likes Tate about the same as I do, I suspect.
My addictions and compulsive habits (the mentionable ones):


the acquisition of books of poetry, especially anything to do with the New York School. I own nearly every book published by Barbara Guest and James Schuyler. (Someone wrote in a comment on someone's blog: "Poets don't buy books of poetry." Could this be true? Not of any poet I know; luckily I do get a certain number of books gratis [feel free to keep those free books coming to me], but I still buy a tremendous amount.)

(time for another expresso)


publishing, seeing my name in print

poly-rhythms (want to hear my 4 against 5, Cuban bell pattern against straight 8ths?)

writing implements and notebooks


Overheard in my household yesterday:

"Silliman's blog is about Julia today." (Jonathan)

"What's 'the school of quietude'?" (Akiko)

"What does ''familiar premise' mean?" (Julia)

"So all of this a round-about way of saying that Julia's poetry is good because she's too young to be contaminated by this "quietude."? "Yes." (Akiko, Jonathan)

"I didn't know I was that good." (Julia)

29 jun 2005

Coming soon: What salad green are you? an amusing, time-wasting quiz that all the bloggers will take. "You are arugula. You like the shade and are not excessively fussy, although you have a peppery personality. People often confuse you with watercress. You perform best in late Spring and early Summer."
When I say, as I have been known to do, that a ten-year-old could write better poetry than many School of Quietude poets, I'm not being snide.

Of course, she wrote these poems before her tenth birthday.

28 jun 2005

I thought maybe if I could lower my expectations for art -- assume that rather than an objective standard of goodness existing "out there somewhere" I could reconcile myself to a subjective and fickle vehicle for our desires, built on shifting sands, and having more to do with our erotic needs and psychic wounds than some idea of magnificence -- then I could release some of this pain. That's good. I like this. It doesn't sound like a lowering of expectations for art, though. More of a shift to another mode of thinking. This external idea of "magnificence" doesn't sound that great anyway, why not give it up?

I like how in certain books of Spanish poetry the titles go after the poems, in parentheses. You read the poem first; then, if you want, glance down at the title, which serves more as a caption than as a (coercive) set of instructions preceding the text. A poem doesn't have to have a title either. Only if the poet feels the need to add a little something "outside" the boundaries of the text proper, some brief parenthetical explanation. It's like reading the poem first and then saying, "a good title for this poem might be...." rather than reading the title and saying "you are about to read a poem entitled ..."

Of course, if you have a really great title, this method would not work. You need to put the title in the prominent position it deserves: "No possum, No Sop, No Taters" or "That Time of Year When Butter Tastes Like Cold Water". If the title is merely perfunctory, serving to identify the poem, why do you even need it?
Quantities of time
situate quantities
of sound. I listen
on the other side of death.

Music arises
from a silent well;
it is the farmwork of air
in tympani of fire

and it has entered me. Now
music is my thought.

--A. Gamoneda
To return to work written much earlier and revise it suggests a peculiar relationship to time. I'm thinking of Antonio Gamoneda's book "Reescritura," a book consisting entirely of poems he has revised, spanning his entire career. He claims he finds no difference between "words that hesitate in doubt for an hour ... or for fifty years." The effect is to impose a certain uniformity of style on the earlier works, making them seem more like "Gamoneda" before he was Gamoneda--mostly by the elimination of extraneous discursive or ornamental material. (The loss, if there is one, is of historicity.)

If Gamoneda had not gone on to write great works, these earlier texts would have been forgotten anyway. That is, we are interested in them because they are by "Gamoneda." The book is in essence a selected poems arguing for a continuity in his work that might not be visible without these revisions.

Although I still try to publish poems I wrote many years ago I never revise them: it would be like going back and, impossibly, undoing mistakes in one's life.


I've been thinking about the unity of references in contemporary Spanish poets I admire. That is, they all seem to be reading from a common code-book. They use similar references and a common language to talk about poetry. The poets I don't admire so much have a different code book. I'm not sure how to translate this insight into an article. I guess what I'm trying to get at is why a certain Heideggerian vocabulary became so central to so many poets at the same time. Is it because of Valente? Is it just because European poets of a certain type all admire Celan and Jabès anyway?

27 jun 2005

I have new books by Concha García and Jorge Riechmann-- plus a recording of a reading by Antonio Gamoneda that I somehow missed last year when I was in Spain. I'm kind of depressed that I never made plans to go to Madrid this year. I'm not sure why I didn't. Perhaps financial anxiety about having to buy a car before too long.

26 jun 2005

I'm adding Stephen Vincent to the blog-roll. I keep thinking of people I don't have there yet.

25 jun 2005

Read about an interview
with a gorilla, tarantulas in
a tutu, a pencil that feels
sorry for itself, and a star
that makes people calm down.
Read Julia Mayhew's poems, they're cool.
So cool, I almost missed my subway stop!

When I was about 11, I auditioned for a major part in an opera--or operetta of some kind--about the Mormon socialist experiment in Orderville Utah. (A little known fact is that Mormon doctrine prescribes a sort of communal socialism as the ideal form of economic organization.) Anyway, the audition was quite grueling, and my throat hurt afterwards. Although I could match the pitches fine, my voice was starting to change and the range was slightly too high for comfort. I got the part, I think, since I was the only one available for it, but a few days later my older sister told me that production was cancelled because they were going to charge an exorbitant fee for the performance rights. I was both disappointed and somewhat relieved, I think. I haven't thought of this experience in years. It's not part of my normal narrative of my life, but a kind of anomaly. When I remember it, which is rarely, I wonder whether it really happened or whether anyone else remembers it. It does have sort of dream-like quality.

24 jun 2005

This doesn't feel like work. I'm checking my email, going to pick up my daughter's trumpet from the repair shop. All of a sudden I get some miraculously non-spam emails. The translations that were just sent back from APR are solicited by an online journal. I cut and paste a bit, send an email attachment and acceptance is mine in 24 hours. The mail comes with books from Spain. I email some questions to the poet who sent me them. I put in motion a hundred small projects, maybe one of which will lead to something down the road. I want to get the big stuff out of the way--the critical monograph that is the currency in academia--so I can reconstruct my c.v. out of the ephemera that is my daily life. A few poems or translations appearing here or there, a book review or two, an interview. If only I could be paid for some of this! Aside from the fragmentation and lack of tangible rewards, the other problem is in assessing how much any of this adds up to. A book that will receive 5 reviews in scholarly journals vs. a blog for which I get feedback of some kind every single day? The blog is my lifeline to other people. The publisher of my book of poetry is likely to be a reader of this blog.
Two complementary jazz clichés: playing a horn in a way suggestive of a human voice / using ones voice like a horn.

23 jun 2005

& why take such a lonely and misanthropic and anti-social path?
Jess Mynes has a blog now, fewer & further. I thought of Jess as one of the last few pure blog readers without a blog of his own. He's finally taken the plunge.

22 jun 2005

Jonathan's review templates earn the June Ern Malley Didn't Mean It But It's Amazingly Brilliant Anyway Award.
Another revewing template is "Reading [name of poet] is like being high on [name of illegal substance] while attempting to [difficult activity requiring alertness and manual dexterity]." A close cousin of the "Rod Smith is like Frank O'Hara on [name of illegal substance]" trope.

I'll show you how it works:

When you read lines like these

"Your pomegranates have rocked my magenta swirl
of a world, like icicles on a bad hair day..."

you feel like you have just awakened from a dream in which all the Jackson Pollocks in MOMA have been replaced by replicas of glam-rock wigs. The effect is a bit disconcerting at first, but, once you realize it's only a dream, you feel immensely grateful for the experience. Trying to read this book is like knitting a sweater for a very large grandson while coming off a bad LSD trip, and then realizing that you have no grandchildren.
According to Jim McCrary, the Lawrence number of Black Spring should be available soon. It will have some good Irby material in it.
Here are some fragments of reviews I wrote. You can use them free of charge. Just replace the brackets with the appropriate content.


In [title of book] we see [name of poet] being [name of poet]. The same qualities that [name of poet] demonstrated in his/her first book, [title of book], are developed futher/squandered here. Longtime admirers of [name of poet] will welcome the book with open arms/be gravely disappointed. Those who don't like this sort of thing in the first place, on the other hand, are likely to keep on not liking it. An excellent book for those who like books of this exact sort.


Reading lines like these

[representative quote]

is like walking into a museum where [name of painter]'s work has been replaced by [incongruous pop culture reference]. [explanation of why this is a bad/good thing].
I need a pair of eyeballs to look at a translation I did during my sabbatical. It's 70 very short poems. I don't need someone to compare it with the original and look for mistakes (I have others who can do that), but someone to look at it with fresh eyes. I'm sending selections to magazines (with no great luck so far). Part of the problem is that the poets are unknown, so the poems really have to speak for themselves to someone who doesn't necessarily know Spanish. That is, I can't just say, "here, look at these Neruda translations, where the value of Neruda is assured and the only question is the quality of the translations.

Some background to pique your interest. The book was written by Lola Velasco and Amalia Iglesias in close collaboration. You can't tell who wrote what. Amalia had cancer at the time (now in remission) and it is in some sense "about" this experience, although the style is elilptical enough that this "thematic" content is not at all intrusive. (Like Jordan, I tend to not like books organized around "concepts" in a tedious way.) This is not that kind of book. Also, it might be relevant to note that, although written by Lesbians, it doesn't seem to demand any particular biographical knowledge on the part of the reader. It is poetry of such radiant "purity" that anything "extraneous" seems beside the point.

I think its appeal is not confined to the avant-garde type of reader. In fact, it might not even appeal to such a reader at all, for all I know. If you are interested in giving me some advice on this manuscript, let me know by b.c: jmayhew@ku.edu. I have some shorter clusters that you can look at if you don't want to see the whole thing.
What I meant was: to create an autobiographical confessional subject, I must create a character whose voice does not feel like my own, since my own characteristic voice is more distanced and ironical. Thus sincerity feels more distanced than distancing irony might.

For example, here is the title poem of my book ms., Minor Poets of the New York Scoool

He spoke sharply--as though a shark's fin
Could wound the sea, or the fog
Be subject to a tongue-lashing--
Impatient, but not rushing the beat.

The world had coarsened, a meaner
Conception taken hold; or he had
Idealized Surrealism, badly
Misjudged the loyalty of goldfish.

A manuscript, Minor Poets
Of the New York School,

Lay unfinished on the kitchen
Table. The fog closed in.

21 jun 2005

Judy Roitman was driving through town today on her way to Western MA. I gave her a copy of The Hat and Fox of Gold, along with the next to the last Spoon Rive.
When I write in the voice of the "New Sincerity" I don't really mean it. In other words, my "sincere" voice is not me, it is the voice of an artificial "sincere guy" in my head. The real me is "ironic guy."
I picked up a few used books over the weekend. Ashbery's Reported Sightings and Fanny Howe's Holy Smoke (1979).

20 jun 2005

The thermostat is set at 80. It's maybe a few degrees cooler outside. The sun is down. So why does the AC kick back on? In other words, where is the energy coming from to warm the house, if it is cooler outside? Is the heat somehow trapped in the walls of the house, continuing to heat the air inside the house even after it has become cooler outside?
Right below Silliman on my blogroll are a few Iinks I've added lately: Mlinko, Joris, Priego, Bruno, Davis (Ray), etc... Don't ask me to alphabetize them, or explain the order in which they appear. Somehow where I put a link has more to do with intuition than with anything else. You probably wonder whether my spice-rack is alphabetized. The answer is yes, but I am not responble for this. In fact, I frequently get in trouble for sticking the cumin in the p section.

19 jun 2005

This is the review, by the way, that inspired me to say, "why don't we just review ourselves."
Overlap: Drew Gardner's Blog: "94% of what makes it past the bear suit serves the rote fulfillment of projected reviewer social expectations and/or stock competitive positioning maneuvers. In reading reviews I'm basically scanning for the 6% perception that remains after this filtering process is done."
I have an idea: we should write reviews of ourselves! our own books! After all, who knows more about my work than me? (Especially its weaknesses.) Now I know what you're going to say. How can I be objective about myself? Well obviously I could "cheat" and only write good things about me, but that would be too transparent. I think the reader could tell exactly the degree of honesty of any poet's self-review. You may think I'm kidding, and I guess I am. I do think we all know our strengths and weaknesses pretty well, though.

18 jun 2005

I've got to stop my manic blogging to give Tony a chance to catch up. Father's day tomorrow. I get to spend all day with my daughter, since her mother's in Spain for 10 days. We're going to a Persian restaurant for lunch--which happens to be her favorite place. (I like it too.) For my present she made me some crytpoquotes, among other things:


[HINT: H = T.]

Bobby Hutcherson: "Dialogue." I can't get enough of the Blue Note albums of this era.

17 jun 2005

Dr. Punctuation. I can think of worse nicknames to have.
Languor Management: Spells against death

Eberhart was one of the first poets I heard read in person. I was probably 12 years old. He was a true visionary poet, an inspired man. He didn't write many great poems, because when he wasn't so inspired he was simply a standard "academic" poet of his era. That Groundhog poem of his does belong to the dreaded pathos of dead animals genre, but I would argue that it is one of the only tolerable examples of it. In fact, I still love that poem, or my memory of it. "I saw a groundhog lying dead / Dead lay he..." I once owned an Eberhart book, even, maybe a collected poems.
How about a blog just for reviews? Obvious conflicts of interest would be prohibited, such as husband-wife, publisher- publishee, best friends, arch-enemies, teacher-student, parent-child. It could come out in a weekly edition. Every book reviewed would get at least two reviews, and the reviewee would get the right of response. To avoid endless debates, there would be no comment boxes, and the reviewer would always get one response to any author's response. After which debate would be arbitrarily cut off. The motto would be "tough but fair." This is not for simply puffery or for gratuitous snarkiness.

16 jun 2005

Here's a mystery of craft for you to mull over, overnight or in the morning when you read this.

The poet who possesses it, whatever definition you have of "it," and then loses it. That is, a poet who is good by virtue of craft and then loses the ability and/or willingness to write a good poem. Think of Jorge Guillén. Cántico is brilliant, but he just gets duller and duller the longer he lives. The craft is still there, in that the lines have the right number of syllables, but the meter-making argument has died. Denise Levertov is another case. She's got a lot of technical proficiency and a great ear, but those later books are awful. It can't be like a trumpet player losing chops, because it's not a physical skill. It's quite mysterious. Jaime Gil de Biedma said that poetry is for the young or the very old, but that there is middle-aged period where nothing happens. I refuse to believe that, being middle-aged myself. If you don't like my Levertov example, I'm sure there are others you can think up yourselves. If you learn to write poetry then why can't you always write it? I can see drugs and/or alcohol, mental illness or dementia, having an effect, but in the absence of these factors I just don't get it. [Or maybe I'm asking the question in reverse. What needs to be explained is how poets continue after the first burst of youth till about age 25.]

Does the poet know he or she's lost it? Usually not--which indicates an atrophy of the critical function too--a function which ought to be stronger the older the poet gets. I mean the ability to see whether what one writes is any good.
I am too tired to solve the reviewing conundrum tonight. Simon's convinced me it's pointless to talk about the "middlebrow" any longer. I don't know what it means anymore. I did this morning but that was a long time ago.

This is what I have so far: I'm thinking the answer is to infiltrate a few mainstream outlets. If you're writing for a mainstream audience you have certain responsiblities to the public and that will eliminate some of the most obvious chuminess and incompetence.

New Yorker Rock critic S. F. J. convinces the New Yorker to hire Jordan Davis as its poetry critic. Jordan gets to write 1 column a month on whatever he wants and to choose a few guest columnist a year.

Steve Burt stays where he is at the Boston Review.

NYRB: Simic does an ok job on some things. We'll keep Simic and get rid of James Fenton. We add a bright academic critics like Nick LoLordo to the staff. Every Clark Coolidge book is intelligently reviewed.

NYTBR: Get rid of Gregory Orr, the New York lawyer of conservative taste. (Yeah, I know his name is not Gregory, but I can't think of what it really is.) JONATHAN MAYHEW is put in charge of all poetry reviewing. (I don't write them myself, I just assign the books to suitable reviewers.)

RAINTAXI: Poetry reviewers are given three times the space. Otherwise, keep as is. Hire an editor to make the reviewers write a little better.

PARNASSUS: Is this still published? Keep as is, but increase diversity of kinds of books reviewed. Should be a quarterly rather than an annual or whatever it is now.

Mother Jones. Poetry critic is Jed Rasula.

The New Criterion fires Wm. Logan, hiring W.S DiPiero instead. Poetry magazine gets rid of their short omnibus format and dumb personal essays and publishes one serious article on a neglected major figure each month.

More poetry journals could publish reviews, maybe. Pierre Joris gets the go ahead from Clayton to revive Sulfur. The Golden Age of poetry reviewing is upon us.
Bachelardette: I Too Am Middlebrow
Now that I have resolved the middlebrow problem, the craft problem, etc... I will tackle the book review of poetry problem... after lunch or maybe dinner.
I think the existence of something we might call the "middle-brow" is incontrovertible. The problem is that any description of it will sound derogatory. Since it is a term of cultural distinction, the word itself is likely to cause defensiveness. So let's not call it middlebrow. Let's call it "la culture moyenne." A mainstream culture with some pretensions to art but which is addressed to a wider audience that wants to "improve itself." Let's look at some examples.

Masterpiece theater. Well-produced versions of classic works of literature designed for BBC or PBS audiences. "Quality television."

Starbucks. "European"-style coffee in American sizes. Hint: Venti is Italian for 20 but Italians don't drink 20 oz. cappucinos.

Michael Graves designs for Target. Bulging teapots that look "stylish."

NPR's "Fresh Air with Terry Gross." Conversation with movie actors, singer-song-writers, journalists who've written nonfiction books. It's "cultural," but it rarely asks you to think about ideas in a very profound way. She can cover so many bases because she can always fall back on a personal question. (I love Terry Gross, by the way; I just wish she'd interview Ron Silliman. He lives in Philly after all. Bob Perelman and Chas. Bernstein also teach at Penn and might be available.)

I want a word for all these phenomena, which are linked in my mind. It's not that I feel superior to people who shop at Target, listen to NPR, and drink at Starbucks. That would be difficult since I do all of these things myself. We are all middlebrows on an everyday level. Hell, I even read the New Yorker from time to time.

Now what is the equivalent in poetry to all these cultural manifestations? For me, this question is pretty easy to answer. All I have to do is imagine who Terry Gross's favorite poet is likely to be, or imagine who that Michael Graves teapot would be, if it were a poet.

Now why do I want to insist on this distinction? I could say there are just pomes, pmoes, and poems, and not think about the level of "brow' of each case. Those who tend to say there is just "smope," not high-brow smope and middle-brow smope, tend to be the same ones who denigrate the kind of smope I like. It is too intellectual, elitist, avant-garde, "academic," etc.... Thus the middlebrows feel free to denigrate "highbrow" culture, while at the same time refusing to see themselves as implicated in these distinctions at all.

15 jun 2005

In any discussion of craft there would have to be room for at least 4 possibilities:

1) The poem that fails because of an evident lack of "craft." That is, simply the bad poem that anyone of us could improve simply by pointing out obvious failure of art. This is not particularly interesting and I don't have to give examples because they are everywhere.

2) The poem that is recognizably good and also obviously "crafted." That is, we attribute what is good here to something called "craft." Not particularly interesting either. I mean the poem might be interesting, but this does not raise any real issues for the present discussion. Let's say Lorine Niedecker for the sake of discussion. But this also works if you admire, say, Louise Glück at her best.

3) The poem that is good: We can praise it yet somehow we don't want to use the word "craft to describe what is good about it. Does it hide its artfulness flawlessly? Or does it seem "bad" in some way that ultimately doesn't matter? Or are we conditioned not to recognize what it does under the name "craft"? There are several possiblities here, all of them extremely interesting (to me at least). Let's say Frank O'Hara. Ars est celare artem and all the rest.

4) The poem that imitates the crafty ways of (2), but ultimately fails because its devices are too clumsy. It wears the uniform of the well-crafted poem but is not one. This kind of failure might be moderately interesting. In extreme cases it's ludicrous. It might be a smooth but trite poem by a Neo-Formalist, or a free-verse poem full of all the clichés still taught as "craft."

I could teach someone to go from (1) to (2)-- by way of (4) perhaps. Anyone likely to be reading this could probably do the same. The mystery is how to get to (3) without seeming to be (1) or sacrificing the virtues of (2). That is, more craft is generally better, except when it's not.
Top two commenters on my blog in the past week have been Tony R. and C. Dale Y. They are going to be my equivalents of Curtis Faville and Kirby Olson on Silliman's Blog (but infinitely better, of course, than either Curtis or Kirby.)
Ok, I give up. I am William Blake. I am Wallace Stevens. I am a postmodernist. My shorts are aqua-blue boxers with little squiggly lines from Fruit of the Loom. The last book I bought was Mere Mortals by Terese Svoboda for $.025. (Not very good so far, unfortunately) I have owned a few thousand books in my lifetime. I have 365 "songs" in my hard drive, some of them not actual songs but poems. Now playing, "Bemsha Swing" by Monk. Something you might not know about me is I hate these blogging "memes," even when I start them myself. I pass the baton to nobody.
It's time to order your copy of Fox of Gold, written and illustrated by Julia Tsuchiya-Mayhew. Send a check for $5.00 to

Jonathan Mayhew / 526 Kingdel St. Louis MO 63124

This is an excellent present for the young person in your life. Buy it for yourself if you are so inclined.. According to Lisa Jarnot, "Not since Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno have animal poems been so crisp, clear, and delightful." Nada Gordon writes: "Her explanation of how octopuses got their ink is unparalleled in modern literature. A stunnning debut." Read the poems that made Nick Piombino. almost miss his subway stop, a book that Ron Silliman calls "the complete package & a total delight."

Kasey Mohammad says "She translates the colors of Kandinsky into the music of Thelonious Monk and combines them into beautiful language that tells of tigers helping the sick, the planet Locuda, and six-thousand dollar tomato juice."

14 jun 2005

I actually wrote a post this morning about poetry revewing, inspired by Jordan, but I had to delete it because it was too nasty and called out certain venues by name. I hope nobody saw it. My point was that we have the reviewing we deserve because we are the reviewers, but I'm not sure that's right. One thing that makes me mad is badly written prose in book reviews of poetry.
Ok, I left out the line about alphabetizing the spice rack. . .

It's not really an attempt at a "bad poem," but a sort of literary imitation/parody of a certain type of poetry. Much like a novelist might have a character who's a poet and include some poems in the novel.
Here's my second attempt at a bad poem. You can only guess what I was doing when I thought of this idea:

I empty the contents of my pants-pockets
like some meticulous, non-violent mugger--
I have worn these pants now for several days--
and transfer each item to the appropriate pocket
of the pants I am now wearing:
wallet in left rear, comb in right rear,
cell phone, change, and keychain distributed
in the two front pockets according to a system
of my own devising, like someone cooking
on all four burners at once of a stove,
careful not to let anything burn or get done too soon,
so that the dinner will be prepared by six.
Receipts, loose pieces of paper I no longer need
go in the trash. The fountain pen,
in shirt-pocket, at the far left side.
This is not a metaphorical approximation of my life
but my life itself. And what of those things
that cannot be transferred from pocket to pocket,
pants to pants? I ask myself as I leave the house,
locking the door behind me. What of the dreams of my youth?
Happy birthday to Julia. She turns 10 today.

13 jun 2005

Tributary on double cee as drummer.
You can buy it here at a hippy bookstore for $12.
I picked up this WCW issue of "Intrepid" at a library book sale for twenty-five cents. It is called "Bill Williams & Flossie's Special" and was edited in 1980 by Allen DeLoach. It has contributions by Levertov, Corman, Creeley, McClure, Ginsberg, Economou, Rakosi, Whalen, and a few others. Also an interview of Flossie by Ignatow and quite a few black-and-white pictures. It's in beautiful shape except for the black BOOK SALE stamp. I don't know about the monetary value of such an item, but it's got to be more than two bits, and the sentimantal value to me of such ephemera is inestimable to me. The Whalen texts are wonderful because they are drawn/written in his own hand.

12 jun 2005

Bemsha Swings!

Thanks Tony! And I should add that Tony has been the number 1 commenter on this blog since I've started having comments.

11 jun 2005

People often confuse me with "Jonathan Mayhew," the Spanish professor at the University of Kansas, a well known specialist in contemporary Spanish poetry with a semi-distinguished academic career. I have to admit that I have encouraged this confusion a bit. I have never actually denied being him, and our biographies coincide to the point that the indolent blogger-poet and the hardworking academic scholar could easily be seen to be the "same" person.

Stephen Burt asked me recently about Spanish poetry. What he should read, etc... He said, "If you are the Jonathan Mayhew who is writing 'Spanish Poetry 1980-2000..." Am I him? I wonder at times.

Anyway, I guess the answer can be given in two parts. One for those who actually know Spanish, and another for those who don't. Stay tuned.
I was trying to write a deliberately bad poem last night when I was about 10 minutes from falling asleep. This is as far as I got:

Robert DeNiro's father was a painter
an abstract expressionist
all his paintings were destroyed in a fire
I was told this on my last trip to New York

An abstract expressionist
my information might not be reliable
I was told this on my last trip to New York
who was it told me?

My information might not be reliable...

I guess that's one idea of bad poetry. A totally "dead" style, flattened out to the extreme, somnolent beyond belief.
differentia: call for work. Visit Jesse's blog. He's smart; he's entertaining; he lives in Kansas.

9 jun 2005

Top most frequent things to say about Clark Coolidge:

[courtesy of Ron, John Latta, Gary, Steven Burt etc...]

1. He's a jazz drummer, man. A trained jazz drummer. So *percussive.*

2. You have to hear him read aloud.

3. "I didn't get him when I first read him..."

4. "I'm [well-known mainstream poet, editor, critic, professor] and I've read maybe two or three poems by him. I'll have to check him out!"

5. I liked him from the moment I knew who he was!

6. Doesn't offer what we're looking for in poetry: plot, character, description, sentiment.

Give me the other 4 Coolidge clichés in the comments box.
The Ideological Double-Bind of the Fiduciaries: We value the poem, not the lifework... never mind that we speak only of a few Canonic Names!
Fox of Gold is going to press next week. Blurbistas: If you've said you would write a blurb please give it to me by Sunday. Otherwise the book will simply not have your blurb on it. Ron Silliman calls these poems "as rich with color as the rainbow & filled with a mischievous wry wit." Watch this space for ordering information.

7 jun 2005

My wife is a Japanese pop star. Well, someone with the same name at least. My Akiko is much cuter though.
Tomorrow I celebrate twenty years of marriage to the lovely Akiko.
Stunning find in Clark Coolidge Poem.
I've noticed that most narratives of Spanish literary history revolve around concepts of insufficiency and belatedness. For example:

Spain's "enlightenment" was insufficient, and thus Spain never developed a culture of modernity. The consequences are seen even today, in that Spain is not as "European" as the rest of (Western Europe.)

The transition to democracy was insufficient because of the lack of an enlightenment tradition. (the "Subirats hypothesis").

"Postmodernism" in Spain is insufficient and superficial because Spain never had a great enlightenment tradition of modernity.

Romanticism in Spain was insufficient and superficial. It took Luis Cernuda--a 20th century poet--to bring a more profound, Hölderlinian romanticism to Spain.

So basically, I have as my field a literature defined by its problematic relationship to modernity, expressed as a narrative of insufficiency and belatedness. The original sin is not having an enlightenment in the first place. This failure, in turn, stems from the act of reconquering Spain from the Moors and expelling the Jews and later the remaining Arabs. Then setting up the inquisition and resisting Protestantism. Stamping out Jewish and Islamic-tinged mysticism in favor of orthodoxy.

So there are two narratives, really. One, on the left, celebrates anyone who (exceptionally) fights against the central anti-modernization at the heart of Spanish history. Blanco White, Larra, Américo Castro, Cernuda, Goytisolo. The other, on the right, celebrates the achievements of empire and Christianity.
There's nothing like submitting to a magazine and then reading blog entries by the magazine's editor about reading maybe 5.000 poems at a single sitting while sipping green tea, finding 9 or 10 poems, none of them yours (most probably). You can also see said editor complain about poets who send him abusive emails, leaving abusive comments at his blog, after being rejected. Apparently the magazine was good enough for the poet to submit to in the first place, but, once they are rejected, it becomes boring and conservative, edited by this now incompetent editor.


Coolidge is not an optional poet. That is, you aren't allowed to overlook him or say "he's not to my taste." I don't mean that you can't dislike him. Likes and dislikes are personal. All I'm saying is he's undismissable, irreplaceable, nonpareil. It's required reading for all true Bemshaites.

There are maybe three periods. Reading the early Coolidge is watching a poet train himself in language. ING, Space, Polaroid are good examples. There's a lot of attention to phonemes, morphemes, and lexemes, as though the poet didn't yet trust hinmself to deal in syntax. If you haven't read Coolidge at all I would start with the middle period. Own Face, Solution Passage, The Crystal Text, Mine, The American Ones, Sound as Thought.. We're talking basically late 70 and 80s. Here Coolidge is more syntactical, "referential" and even confessional. You see the fruits of the labor of working with morphemes and phonemes, but in a more narrative context. With "late" Coolidge some repetitiousness and even tediousness creeps in. There are good still good books, but I would read these last, after the middle and early. While Ron seems to think it's simply a matter of seeing what's in front of your face, I would argue that it takes years to be able to read and assimilate Coolidge. Or maybe it's a matter of learning the simplest things last. I think of that poor woman staring at Mondrian for years without getting anything out of it. I've always loved Coolidge, but it's taken me a while to get through all of this vast and at times difficult terrain. And he keeps writing more so I will never be done.

The best 100 pages of Coollidge bests the best 100 pages of any other living American poet. Discuss in comments.

6 jun 2005

El culo de Bette

El culo de Bette no existe en el tiempo; sólo es espacio.

El culo de Bette no tiene ni orejas ni ojos

ni pecho. ni labios -- ¡faltaba más!

Sólo es culo, puro culo intemporal.

El culo de Bette no tiene Bette, ni Marilyn.

Se ha quedado sin Greta, sin Ingrid.

¡Ay de los tacones perdidos, del lápiz

de labios que Bette ya no tiene, que

el culo de Bette ya no tiene, que nunca ha tenido!

Ni tendrá nunca. Pobre de Bette.

Pobre del culo amplio pero inexistente

de Bette.

5 jun 2005

I've been continuing to readThe Canary # 4. One sign of a well-edited journal is that the poems by lesser known poets are as good or better than those of the "famous-to-a-few" poets. I was looking forward to work by some of my favorites, like Howe, Nakayasu, Schultz, Jarnot. These did not disappoint, but many of my favorites in this issue are by poets I didn't know as well. David Trinidad's long but absolutely devastating pantoum, for example. I liked Danielle Pafunda's "Small Town Rocker" a lot. It's like a classic "New Yorker story" with all the extraneous material cut away. I was glad of this because I hadn't liked her poem in the Best American Poetry very much. Devin Johnston comes through strong in two poems. I can't help seeing a Ronald Johnson connection, since Devin runs Flood Editions which publishes Johnson. Another favorite: Jess Mynes' "November." I tend to like lean, spare styles like those of Johnston or Mynes. Paul Naylor is someone I've never heard of before, and his poetry in this issue is also very good.

3 jun 2005

My Carve came today, along with a Spoon River Poetry Review. Also, I picked up a copy of The Canary at a little store that tends to have lots of assorted magazines. I came across a poem by Laurel Snyder in The Canary that surprised me: "You'd come to my house if I were sleeping / naked. If I were naked with naked Britney Spears." I had never read her poetry before, and I expected it to be somehow more ... earnest and relgious. It's funny how one's blog image of a person creates certain expectations.

Not much in Spoon River: a lot of clunky midwestern style poems. Jeffery Bahr's "Dinosaurs" is good, upholding the honor of the bloggers. Carve has Jordan's "Overcast Market," among other good things.
Another thought on publication and rejection (I have a lot of poems out there circulating right now and I had a weird dream about it last night.): it might take a few batches of poems to get the editor to warm up to your "voice." If you really feel you are right for a journal, but the editor has not warmed up to you, try again. Don't overdo it though. I'd recommend a journal where you think you might be read by the same one or three people every time, as opposed to one that uses screening by MFA students.

This does not apply to the poet who doesn't even know his or her work is truly crappy, and submits over and over again.
I'm adding Shanna. Soon I will be putting Emily in too, and fixing the link to Julie Dill.

2 jun 2005

Also, I am updating links. Check your link at the left. Is this your current website or have I not made note of your change? Was that your blog url in like, 2003? Did I forget you completely? (I've added Tim Peterson and C. Dale Young recently.) Write me an email. I know there are blogs I read regularly that I don't link to now, but I'm not sure which ones they are!
Is there anything more efficient than technorati for tracking links to one's blog? Let me know in the comments
I've learned some new words recentlly. quincunx, adelphopoeisis, putti, convolvulus, celadon.
Thicket has a go at it.

1 jun 2005

"One of the defining peers of my own imagined company of poets."

That's a blurb for Ronald Johnson, written by Creeley. It might seem rather ordinary, as though he could have written it about anybody, but to me it is quite striking. Every word seems to carry a particular weight or emphasis. defining : he is a poet who defines the company itself; without him it would be different. peers : these poets are equals. imagined The company of poets exists in Creeley's imagination. They might not have ever been in the same room together, but they form a group in Creeley's mind. company = cum = panis. People with whom you break bread. Constrast this with "one of our greatest poets." -- H. Bloom. Creeley's is a much more personal statement.


One question missing from those below is how to deal with rejection. That seems inherent in the process of seeking publication. My own feeling, coming back to the process after many years of not seeking publication at all, is that I have to view any editor I submit to as fully competent to judge the needs of his / her own magazine. This does not mean the editor is competent to judge the value of my poetry outside of that context of publication, but simply that "la loca en su casa sabe más que la cuerda en casa ajena." [the madwoman in her own house knows more than the sane woman in someone else's house]. So you can't go back to the editor and say, "Why did you publish HIM instead of me?!" Even when you know you are better than HIM, you have to let the editor make his or her own "mistakes." Your poems simply haven't convinced the editor. I have submitted to some journals I don't anticipate would be that sympathetic to my work, just to see if I have "crossover appeal." (I don't so far, but you never know!)
At the risk of prolonging the meme or vogue of questionaires, I feel I must answer Radical Druids questions. After all, they have my name on them.

1. Do you write with the intent of submitting (and getting published)? Is that your primary objective in writing poetry (publishing to print media, or online journals, or other outlets [i.e., contests, prizes, etc.])?

I write with the intent on being published, but I don't necessarily write "for publication." Sometimes, though, I let the occasion of being asked for a poem generate the poem itself. For example, Tom Beckett was soliciting poems on "textual improprieties" and I wrote a poem to order called "Textual Proprieties." Gabe Gudding asked me for a poem for Spoon River Poetry Journal so I wrote a poem entitled "Spoon River Anthology," riffing on the E.A Masters theme. David Shapiro commissioned a poem from me on my Mormon background, and I wrote it, publishing the first section in the Hat. I like Spicer's idea in the book of magazine verse to write poems specifically for journals.

2. If submittal/publishing is not your primary objective, is there another outlet (regular public poetry readings, religious liturgy, slams, literary cameraderie/competition) for which you tend to write?

Publishing is not the objective. These are outlets, media, not reasons for writing.

3. Do you write poetry for other reasons (i.e., personal confessional, celebration of special events, academic requirement, etc.)? How much of what you write is for these "personal" uses, as opposed to ultimately for "audience" consumption?

That's a false dichotomy. The reason you write is always personal, but you still want what you write to reach an audience.

4. In any case, what percentage of your "audience" is other poets, versus non-poets?

Probably nearly 100% poets, but that is partly because I am an extremely unknown poet. I've never published a book of poetry, for example.

5. As relates to audience, what is the level at which you seek to connect with them (i.e., artistic, intellectual, emotional, political, spiritual, etc.), once you have them identified? Does "connecting" to your audience even matter?

These aren't really separate "levels." If there is no connection there is no audience. I like Creeley's idea of a "company" of poets.

6. As you explore those different aspects of yourself through your poetry, does that change your audience, make it larger or smaller, alienate it, etc.?

The audience is going to be small for the foreseeable future. I do have a very high quality audience for my poetry, though. Alienating my miniscule audience would be interesting.

7. What percentage of the "audience" for your poetry would you consider your friends or even acquaintances, if any?

I eventually end up making friends with all my readers. See answer to question 4.

8. In terms of well-crafted, do you think that craft (that is, skill of the poet in whatever genre or form they have chosen) is typically the criteria used in determining what is or is not published in the above? Or is it more likely to be what is considered "good" poetry by academia and its associated publishing press?

It depends what you mean by craft; I've always had problems with that word. What is considered good poetry in academia (but what part of academia; I am an academic myself?) does reflect a certain idea of "craft," which usually means conformity to a period style. I can see a more "skilled" poem being rejected in favor of an (apparently) less skilled one. When we say a poem is well crafted how is that different from simply saying that it is a good poem?

9. What is more important to you as a poet, assuming that you can only pick at most two of the following: that you be widely read, widely known, widely admired, widely quoted, or well-paid?

Obviously if you're known, your'e also read. You can't be widely quoted without being first well-known. I would like to be considered an indispensable part of the "company" of a poet whose work I admired. Giving that word "company" the inflection that it has in Creeley's work.
Radical Druid: Questions for Jonathan Mayhew (and others)