28 sept 2007

I got in the mail today a copy I had ordered of Rothenberg's Poems from the Floating World--a reprint of his magazine from the 1960s, five numbers in all. The particular contents are quite interesting. Wright translates Lorca, Bly Alberti, Antin Breton, Rothenberg San Juan de la Cruz and Neruda, among others. You see ethnopoetics trying to break free from the deep image but not quite making it yet. There are poems by Wakoski, Merwin, Ignatow, Kelly, Levertov, Duncan, Creeley.

Poems by "Guenter Grass." JR's translation of a great Celan poem, "Shibboleth."

Rothenberg was always a genius of juxtaposition. It's fun to what is there. It helps you to imagine what it would have been like to be a reader 40 years ago when all this was new.
Georg Trakl, César Vallejo, and Juan Ramón Jiménez were not "surrealists." I'm going off the "deep" end next time I see a quote about how James Wright translated "surrealist poets" like these! Whether Lorca was a "surrealist' is at least open to debate. It kind of depends on what your definition of 'Lorca" is. The "American Lorca" was a surrealist. The friend of Dalí, the Lorca of the drawings, might have been. The author of Diván del Tamarit was not.

Vallejo wrote an autopsy of surrealism, explaining its failings. Trakl killed himself 10 years before the surrealist manifesto. How would someone feel if encountering a list of "Language poets like Ron Silliman, Robert Hass, Frank O'Hara, and Bill Knott"? Would it matter that some died before language poetry existed, some hated it?

The logic seems to be (1) Robert Bly and James Wright translated Trakl and Vallejo. (2) Robert Bly liked surrealism around this time. (3) Therefore these poets are surrealists.


I really think deep image is not about depth or about image, but about a certain lexicon

bone, stone, tree, wind, cold, silent, dark, happy, glass, moon, sun, night, day, jewel, field.

It's about a certain tone of voice, an attitude.

27 sept 2007

I just realized that I described "The Complete Sentence Game" several years ago.
In Silence in the Snowy Field the words "dark" (with its derivates darken, darkness) occurs 32 times in fewer than 60 pages of poetry.

In Winter News (John Haines) it occurs about twenty times in 71 pages.

Dark is THE deep image word. More so than "deep" itself.

25 sept 2007

The Complete Sentence Game


I will now play "The Complete Sentence Game." The idea is to formulate silent thoughts as well-formed, complete sentences, thus slowing down the speed of thought to that of (silent) speech. The sentences of the game can be about anything, though usually they end up describing the rules of the game itself or exploring its inner meaning. You will notice, playing the game, that other, quicker thoughts clamber in the background waiting to get into play. One part of the mind seems to be charged with the selection of which of these thoughts will get "the complete sentence treatment." Another part of the mind formulates the thoughts in slow sentences. What of the mind that generates the thoughts in the first place?

This is my reproduction in written form of the Complete Sentence Game, an approximation of a "typical" game. While I have played this game for many years I am not sure what its "purpose" is. It could be a writing excercise or a remedy for insomnia, since the forced slowness of the thoughts is conducive to a state of relaxed lucidity that often precedes sleep. When the mind can no longer formulate completed thoughts the game is lost and you have fallen asleep. I find it difficult to "write" a bad sentence while playing. I invite you to play too.


This is the second section of "The Complete Sentence Game." Here I will continue to play, in written form and speaking less about the game itself and more about other implications of its playing.

Why do people think the unconscious is so interesting? Surely consciousness is far more interesting than some state of stupor. After all, it is only the conscious mind that can be interested. I know: I am supressing other thoughts in the back of my mind raising objections. What is interesting is hidden, enigmatic, unexplained in conscious terms. Now the unbearable slowness of the "game" takes hold. I want to able to think in sentences as fast as I can think in other, less well-formed fragments. The speed of writing also comes into play since, as noted above, this is only a simulation of the game itself--although in order to simulate it I have had to play it as I was writing.


My hand hurts, ink-stained. I don't have to tell you that this is the third section of the prose-poem "The Complete Sentence Game." I really think the point of this poem is to teach you how to play it, since the sentences I am writing, though well-formed, might just as easily have been other sentences. I am giving you permission to pay attention to your thoughts. While this poem seems inadequate in many ways, I think that it is not the words on the page, but the game itself that these words and sentences instantiate. This fluid, thought-based poetics might be of use to you, at some point, whether you want to fall asleep or reach a state of heightened awareness

24 sept 2007

I became a specialist in Spanish literature because of "deep image" poetry. Not directly, because it was never my favorite kind of poetry exactly in English, but because of the general climate of interest in Latin American and Spanish poetry during the late 70s, a formative time for me. The Nobel prize went to Vicente Aleixandre in 1977. I wanted to read the stuff in the original, go back to the sources. You know how snobbish I can be, but I was even worse back then.

Now reading Greg Kuzma and the like, I see no connection to Spanish-language poetry at all. The Spanish roots of contemporary American poetry are very shallow, generally speaking and with significant exceptions.

I single out Kuzma because to me, in my memory at least, he is Generic Deep Image Guy of the 70s.

Logically, the Spanish department should be full of me, full of people brought into the field by the ubiquity of Neruda during the 70s. I'm sure there are others, but that's not the typical person in the field in my experience. When I realize this then I know how to make certain adjustments in dealing with people. For example there is Latin American Leftist without a strong interest in literature in the first place. He came into the field for largely political reasons. There the person who majored in Spanish and just kept going, eventually developing an interest in literature, but an interest largely confined to what was taught in the curriculum.

23 sept 2007

In the course of my research this week I have seen figures like Donald Hall, William Stafford, and David Ignatow listed under the "deep image" label. I am scratching my head a bit. These poets mostly practice a flat, dull realism that has little to do with any understanding of the "deep image," whether in the Bly/Wright camp or the original Rothenberg/Kelly deep image school. The definition seems very nebulous in any case. You can't expect a clear definition of a fundamentally fuzzy concept, I guess.

And Graham Foust... Who died and made him Billy Collins? I think he's vastly overrated. Since when did mere competence make you great? That poem about the Huffy bike is something anyone could have done.

21 sept 2007

"But the one thing that should have told us to kill the term was that Robert Bly was enthused by it. His promotion of it in his magazines, the Sixties and the Seventies, eventually eviscerated any intellectual significance it had."

David Antin

19 sept 2007

Here's a list of Rothenberg's desiderata for "deep image" poetry:

"a heightened sense of the emotional contours of objects (their dark qualities, or shadows);

their free re-association in a manner that would be impossible to descriptive or logical thought, but is here almost unavoidable;

the sense of these objects (and the poem itself) being informed with a heightened relevance, a quickened sense of life;

the recognition of the poem as a natural structure arising at once from the act of emotive vision."

17 sept 2007

I had a look at White Sun Black Sun (Jerome Rothenberg) today in special collections here at Kansas. It is amazing how the whole discussion about the deep image hardly ever cites a line from one of the first books of deep image poetry (if not the first). One reason is that you have to go to the rare book room to read it. There's no collected poems of JR that includes this material.

I also re-read some of the early theoretical texts by Rothenberg and Kelly in Trobar on the deep image. It's not necessarily what you might expect it to be.


I tried a new experiment with my scholarly writing yesterday. I was sick of all the chapters I was writing all at the same time so I opened up a blank microsoft document and just wrote down ideas for two hours without thinking necessarily of where these ideas would end up.

14 sept 2007

It's like arguing about the prosody of poem that may or may not exist, and which nobody participating in the debate has ever read. There could be very subtle debates by very smart people, hundreds of books written about the subject, but there is no valid position to be taken, since even if the poem existed there would be no source of information about it.

So to take a position against the debate as such you wouldn’t have to read those hundred books. You could simply say that the debate itself is pointless because the only possible point of reference is the position of some previous debater.

Some who don’t feel strongly about the poem or its existence join in the fun anyway. They like intellectual debate for the sheer gamesmanship of it. They learn the rules of the game and what counts as a valid argument, which usually consists of manipulating previous arguments in a particular way.

No particular argument about the prosody of the poem would prove the existence of the poem. That’s the presupposition that makes the discussion meaningful in the first place, to the participants.

The proliferation of rather abstruse theory in such a field of imaginary prosody should be taken as a sign that nobody’s position is based on anything meaningful, rather than a sign that it is a field highly worthy of respect due to its exteme subtlety and theoretical elaboration.
I noticed a spike in submissions for The Duplications. That was fine, but many of them were inappropriate. Light verse or "mystical poetry," people who thought I would be impressed by their cvs, or that they had written 2,000 poems before the age of 19. Then I figured it out: the address has gotten onto a site that listing magazines accepting emails submissions. I was getting poems from people who would never have gotten to The Duplications from my blog, and who probably submit randomly to 100 places without knowing or caring where. These are essentially spam submissions and wil be treated as such.

UPDATE: Speaking of which there's a new poem by Mark Statman there now.

13 sept 2007

"Poetry should be at least as well written as prose." This statement is rather puzzling because poetry, as the putatatively superior mode, should be better written, not come up to some superior prose standard. I think what Pound was driving at was that since poetry ought to be better in the first place, we should reject poetry that doesn't even make it by prose standards. In other words, there is only ever writing, whether it's prose or verse. Bad writing in poetic form, padded verse and the like, is even less acceptable than bad prose, because the standard ought to be much higher. For example, this paragraph I am now writing is not very good prose. If a poem strikes you as less well written than this paragraph, then it isn't defensible.

The implicaton was that there was a lot of verse circulating that was not up to the standards of the best prose writers around at the time.

It's not that poetry should be good prose first, with some poetic value added on, but that it has to surpass the level of good prose to be even considered adequate.

12 sept 2007

Logopeia is intertextual. It depends on other uses of the word outside of the text. Not just the meaning of the word, but context where you'd expect to find it.

If somebody referred to a particular poet's logopoeia, I would think the reference was to--

Technical or specialized jargon of a particular field; antiquated or literary language, poetic diction; slang; regionalisms; neologisms; deliberate solecisms or grammatical errors; words used in their etymological sense; the creation of an individual poetic "idiolect" out of a particular selection of the available lexion; puns, verbal ambiguity; various types of verbal irony; proper names of a certain sort; syntactic figures (hyperbaton); unusual combinations of any of the above. Use of any of the above in unexpected ways.

So I don't get it when people think of Logopoeia as mostly a figure of "meaning," or the combination of meaning with sound and image. Logopoeia, I would like to think, is its own thing, not some derivative of other poetic devices. I like to think that people who don't accept my definition just don't respond to logopoeia in the first place, don't think it is important, for don't recognize that there are different kind of words.

10 sept 2007

It could be that my definition of logopoeia is mine alone. I don't think the concept is clear at all in Pound--

Logopoeia, 'the dance of the intellect among words,' that is to say, it employs words not only for their direct meaning, but it takes into count in a special way of habits of usage, of the context we expect to find with the word, its usual concomitants, of its known acceptances, and of ironical play. It holds the aesthetic content which is peculiarly the domain of verbal manifestation...

It is not abstract ideas or intellectual content, because it cannot easily be translated. It is the poetic effect gotten from using a word in a particular way in relation to that word's normal or expected usage.

Think of the word "wastrel." Now think of its context, where you would be likely to find it. A Victorian novel? What other words would you be likely to find in its vicinity? (urchin, workhouse) Is it ambiguous? (Yes, it means either an abandoned child or a goodfornothing bum.) Other associations? (waste, waist?). What is the word's register? (archaic, literary, relatively unusual but not unheard of either). Now imagine it where it doesn't belong, its anti-context. Using it there would produce a logopoetic effect because it would clash with its surroundings, it would be used "in a particular way in relation to that word's normal or expected usage."

We can see that this effect is distinct from the visual image of a "wastrel," a word which for me frankly calls up no picture at all. (Ok, I'm lying: my visual analogue to this word is in fact a particular kind of drawing by Edward Gorey.) I can smell the word more than I can see it. It's also goes beyond the sound of the word, because it you didn't have those purely verbal associations this odor would not be produced. It's not a primarily melopoeic effect, then, but a mostly verbal one.


Also, by extension, other verbal figures of rhetoric that aren't particularly focussed on the "image" belong to logopoeia. Hyperbaton for example.

I think Creeley is strong in logopoeia. Hart Crane. Stein. Lowell. Donne and Stevens. Guillermo Carnero. Ashbery. I know it when I see it. Pound found it in Laforgue.

It is conspicuous in its absence in the mature poetry of Wright. (His earlier poetry, influenced by New Criticism, has more of it.) It is absent from many translations, and in fact its absence makes discourse sound "translated."
Here's a link to the Lorca translation that I mentioned about a week ago. Mark Statman writes that it should be out in January.
James Wright is a totally original poet. (A separate question from being a good poet or bad.) He doesn't resemble any precursors within American poetry (Roethke?). He certainly bears little resemblance to any European or Latin American sources that I know of (Neruda? I don't think so). His poetry would seem unoriginal if you didn't know that he was the first one to write like that. So whenever I start to write a poem entitled "Reading James Wright's Poem about Reading a Bad Book of Poetry and Wondering What Book it Was, and Whether it Was Really Bad, Then Closing my Eyes and Smelling the Rotten Wood," I have to stop myself.

9 sept 2007

However much we might claim we value orality and performance, the written text is still the thing. Imagine if most music consumers read scores every day and only once in a while listened to music or went to hear it played. If they heard music, if at all, played (indifferently) by the composer him or herself.

Some poets read well. Some read badly. But it is fair to say that few read well enough to make the experience of hearing that worth while. The average member of the poetry reading audience is a poet who can read aloud just about as well as the average poet reading. If the reader is not good, then every member of the audience is trying to image what the poem would sound like if read well.

Yet this same reader at home, even reading silently, can hear the wonderful music of poetry, noble accents and lucid inescapable rhythms, that are superior to all but the very best performances. Unheard melodies are in fact sweeter.

Only some very highly trained musicians can silently read a score and hear very much.

7 sept 2007

This tests my limits of badness in another way--

This time, I have left my body behind me, crying

In its dark thorns.


There are good things in this world.

It is dusk.

It is the good darkness

Of women's hands that touch loaves.

The spirit of a tree begins to move.

I touch leaves.

I close my eyes and think of water.

--James Wright, "Trying to Pray"

This kind of poem was such a stylistic influence on so many people when I myself first began writing, the decade of the 70s. This epoch was also the heyday of kahlil Gibran, and some of the language comes uncomfortably close to that. The particular kind of speaker of this poem is found in many others of the period, by everyone from Simic to Orr and Kuzma. There's something oddly unidiomatic, "translated," in the tone, as if the speaker were not native speaker of English. Nobody talks like that: "I touch leaves." "It is the good darkness."

So there are aspects of the poem that come up against my own ideas of "acceptability." Its sententiousness and simplified language, for example. This badness is potentially interesting, but only if I conclude that it's not wholly on the side of badness. Otherwise there would be no limit testing at all. It's a very beatiful poem in some ways. You can see why this particular mode became influential, and remains so to this day.

6 sept 2007

Went to a poetry reading by Tony Trigilio tonight. Haven't done that in a while. Julie Dill was there. Steven Schroeder, recently moved to St. Louis. Aaron Belz, needless to say.
If unhappy families are all unhappy in their own way, then shouldn't bad poetry be more interesting?

Or do we follow Pound who stated that mediocre poetry of whatever time and place resembled other mediocre poetry?

5 sept 2007

"That poetry often hides its light in a bushel of serviceable prose ligatures is something we tend less to forget than work at banishing from our minds intentionally. Just as to some, the writings of an Ammons or an Ashbery offend by thrusting the sentence, already fronting the poet’s insensate thought, further along toward its proscenium’s edge, at times by adopting the hectoring tone of a lecturer and at others by simply extending lines from the page’s far-left margin all the way to the far right. We easily lose sight of how near to the fourteener’s margin of errancy much traditional verse routinely strays, and that does not exclude poems in which metrical regularity is not so much a disguise as the formal donning of a masque (no, that’s not a spelling error) by other means."

To which I say "huh"? From the awkward syllepsis of the "we tend less to forget than work..." construction, to the sentence fragment that follows (which we don't know is a sentence fragment until the end, when we don't find the end to the "just as..." simile); to the inept metaphor of traditional verse straying "near" to the "margin of errancy" of the fourteener--this passage has about as many stylistic flaws as you could fit in 50 or 75 words.

What does this mean? What's the difference between "the formal donning of a masque" and "a disguise." Can one "don" a "masque" as easily as a mask?

I don't get the "to some...offend" construction either. You don't "offend to" someone in English.

Who the fuck is offended by a margin? I've never seen it happen.

In what sense does a sentence "front" a poet's thought? Does it adjoin it, or advance it money, or cover up an illegitimate business? What is the "it" of "its proscenium's edge"? The sentence, the thought? I get that the page is a stage, metaphorically, but I don't know why having a hectoring tone pushes one toward the edge of this stage.

Where are this writer's "serviceable prose ligatures"? Under what bushel are they hidden? (I'm trying to picture a bushel of ligatures.) Why should someone who can't pass freshman English be qualified to write about "prose," let alone verse?

Sorry this does not deserve a link.
Ultimately I'm only interested in a poetry that tests my own limits of acceptability. So it's not a question of blandly accepting everything in a particular school. Take Kerouac. Not a poet I have an easy time accepting--

"I've T S Elioted all the fogs, / Faulknered all the stone, / Balanced nothing gainst something, / Played solitaire, smoked..." ("Desolation Blues")--

Just when you're getting ready to explain why it's bad, you realize that it is very good indeed. Think of all the poets who've never written a line as good as "Faulknered all the stone." (Probably you and most certainly I have never done so.) It's like being 14 all over again and reading "The houses are haunted / by white nightgowns" for the first time. It's a jolt. The window opens again and you realize what it's all about.

This constant testing of limits implies that aesthetic judgment is never suspended, even as its boundaries remain malleable. That is, the threat of the bad, that which cannot be accepted, remains ever present. It is a heightened sense of alertness. Maybe I'm the only one who reads like this, but this is my spin of the implications of Kasey's statement that "If there weren't people who 'didn't get it,' poetry would have no way to identify itself." Usually the one who isn't getting it, in a given situation, is me. Or only partially and skeptically getting it, even with some of my favorite poets.

That's not a criterion for good poetry, just the opposite. Every reader has zones of acceptability, and every interesting poet has zones where certain readers will feel discomfort. Put those two factors together and you have a lot of amazing things happening.

(link here to Kasey's post)

4 sept 2007

I've gone 35 days now without "breaking the chain." It works better than i could ever have expected.

2 sept 2007

Lorca Trivia

Robert Motherwell's series of painting "Elegy to the Spanish Republic" started out as an image to which he gave the title "At five in the Afternoon," after Lorca.

1 sept 2007

Lorca Trivia

Diane Wakoski wrote a poem which recounts a dream: Lorca rides by on a horse and entrusts her with the safekeeping of every gold objects in the world.