30 oct. 2008


*Silliman. Tjanting. 1981. 2002. 204 pp.


Just because Dana Gioia is wrong about poetry does not [necessarily] mean Ron Silliman is right, as Joseph Duemer points out. That's true... I guess. But just because Gioia and Silliman might be wrong does not mean Duemer or Mayhew are right either, and et cetera.

The Silliman of this book is not wrong about poetry. It is hard to show the excellence of the book in excerpts, because the effects come from the accumulation and repetition of material. Still, I think there are some self-evidently brilliant passages like this on pages 36-37. I begin to quote at an arbitrary point:

In the era of micro-waves lipstick got redder. First milk bottles disappeared, then Tootsie Rolls. Drawstring pants were then in fashion. Freak storms caused airplanes to meet unexpected mountains. What you learn about others as they do their wash. I found myself missing the delta. The asphalt came right up to the linoleum. People wore their hair as if they had just been swimming. All the conversations seemd to be in the middle by the time you arrived. Punctuation limits the conflict of words. All lawns had begun to grow imperceptibly quicker. Dogs were more easily provoked. Even newspaper headlines began to look like hieroglyphics. It was more difficult to climb the steps of the house each day. The rhythm of consonants had begun to sound like primitive drums. The whimper of vowels was intolerable. The neighbors salsa was constant. You took to the streets..

The string of seemingly disconnected paratactic sentences is linked by a thematic thread: mutation and/or decline. Each observation is sharp in and of itself, and related to one of the poet's central themes: the vicissitudes of the lived environment, the poetic subject, the writing subject, in relation to social realities and the natural environment, and the aesthetics of everyday life. Fashions change, correlating with other mutations in the social fabric. Certain elements, "rhyme," like the asphalt and the linoleum: surfaces of exterior and interior spaces respectively, or "Hard edged as the hedges of a ruling class garden" earlier on the page. Where the sharpness of the topiary seems to reflect the harshness of the inhabitants of the house.

Some may not like this particular kind of writing. That's fine. What irritates me is the gesture of calling it "out of bounds." It is not something that can be dismissed as, well, not really poetry, beyond the scope of what someone ought to be expected to read. I have the same attitude toward flarf or just about anything. Don't draw some arbitrary circle around poetry just to exclude some slightly different manifestation of the art form. Don't be stupid.

29 oct. 2008


*Ron Silliman. Lit. 1987. 70 pp.

What's the meaning of this? You call that poetry? It doesn't even rhyme. Most of it's in prose, if you want to call it prose, which is debatable. And it doesn't make much sense. It's published by "Potes & Poets Press." Well, make up your mind! Are you going to spell the word "poets" right or not? The emperor has no clothes! My kid could paint that. "Silliman is wrong and I can prove it." What happened to real poets like Robert Frost?

I don't understand poetry. I don't like poetry. I don't "get" poetry. I too dislike it. Poetry is boring. I probably couldn't tell you the difference between poetry written by Keats or the neighbor's cat. Why don't Americans read more poetry? Why don't high school students like poetry? I remember when people used to read poetry, when poems were published in the newspaper. There was a time when poetry was popular!

Felipe Benítez Reyes. El equipaje abierto. 1996. 109 pp.

Nothing is real here. It's all a set of literary clichés that denounce their own falseness and irreality. Benítez Reyes has a talent for this, undoubtedly, for writing the same poem over and over again.

*Ted Berrigan. A Certain Slant of Sunlight. 1988. No page numbers.

This is Berrigan's postcard book, written in the last year of his life. He either scores a complete hit or misses completely. You and I might not agree about which poems are hits and which are misses, but I see a clear dichotomy.

28 oct. 2008

Page proofs are here!

24 oct. 2008


*Sarah Manguso. The Captain Lands in Paradise. 2002. 55 pp.

I read this in the KC airport as I was getting ready to fly back for the weekend. Now Sarah is better known for a memoir of her illness that's going to be much more widely reviewed than a book of mere poetry.

The book holds up fine on my second reading. A remarkable consistency of tone. "All bad poems are bad in the same way: imprecision." I'm wondering if that's true. Even if it's not, it's a good line.

23 oct. 2008


Ted Hughes. The Hawk in the Rain. 1957. 1979. 59 pp.

I thought he was a better poet than this, I remembered the "Thought Fox" and a few others things, but most of the time, on this re-reading I had no idea what attitude he was even posturing in the direction of. The satiric edge is blunted by the verbal clumsiness. He comes out of Hopkins and Lawrence rather than out of Hardy and Auden. That's unusual for a British poet of that generation. It makes him better than most, but the offensive misogyny and anti-intellectualism don't win him any points.

"dilemma-feebled spine" was a phrase that struck me as particularly inapt.

*Claudio Rodríguez. Conjuros. 1958. 1985. 73 pp.

I'm teaching this book today. Exalted interior monologues in which the poet imagines himself a bird, a mountain, or addresses his own feet, the laundry drying in the open air...

*Paul Celan. Breathturn (Atemwende). Pierre Joris trans. 1967. 1985.

I've been re-reading this; I finished while my class was taking an exam. I went straight through without looking too much at the German. There are extraodinary poems and translations here.

*Leslie Scalapino. That They Were at the Beach. 1985. 111 pp.

I got this book at that same bookstore in Columbus Ohio. I sense the influence of Robbe-Grillet in a way that hadn't occurred to me before. I still think Considering How Exaggerated Music Is might be a little better. There is an excessive reliance on the "ablative absolute" which comes to seem a mannerism.

22 oct. 2008


*Gustav Sobin. Breath's Burials. 1995. 99 pp.

I bought this for 98 cents at Half Priced books in Lawrence a few years ago. I liked the second section, "Lines from Pietro Longhi, this time around.

*Ron Silliman. Paradise. 1985. 63 pp.

I thought I might as well re-read this book while I was at it. I've owned this volume since the late 80s probably, when I was teaching at Ohio State and would walk over to a bookstore on High Street that stocked Silliman and Coolidge books as though that were a normal thing to do. From there dates my love of palatino.

21 oct. 2008


*Silliman. What. 1988. 127 pp.

Everyone's been telling me to read this book, so I dug it out of the box. I remembered the cover as being somehow purple, and my memory is partially correct: there's an extraordinary painting by John Moore on the cover, with a purplish violet sky and bay. The title of the book and the author's name appear in violet against a non-purple part of this cover.

It's interesting to see how a work that follows essentially the same pattern in its various manifestations changes from book to book. What has a different flavor from Lit or Paradise. It is somehow happier, sunnier.

20 oct. 2008


Joanne Kyger. The Wonderful Focus of You. 1979. 66 pp.

This book didn't impress me as much as the first time I read it: too many lax moments. It's a nice book to own though, pubished by Kenward Elmslie's Z press.

*Christian Bok. Eunoia. 2001. 100 pp.

I re-read this one over the weekend too. Delightful in every way.

I thought of a nice constraint: Write a poem in which the vowels appear in order, cycling around. It would be titled

"After I go up" (a e i o u)

Vocalic y could appear optionally between a u and the beginning of the new cycle.

You wouldn't have to complete the sentences at any particular point, so you could have phrases like "Erin outlasts her id. Your ad went into ugly ash." Lines could be printed in vocalic order, breaking every time on the word containing u or y. Certain words would obviously be excluded. You could use "fetid" of "weird," "evil," "your," "could" and "should." "Onus" is a good one, or "answer." "Umbrage."

*Barbara Guest. Fair Realism. 1989. 1995. 114 pp.

This is the book that made Guest into a Language poetry heroine, the first of hers published by Sun & Moon. A Personal favorite of mine as well. "The emphasis falls on reality."

19 oct. 2008

I read some books in the public library over my Fall break, as well as some from my own collection. Amazingly, I liked all but two of them.

(142) *Paul Celan. Lightduress. Trans. Pierre Joris. 2005. 199 pp.

On this reading I just read all the poems straight through in English, without looking at the German at all. It's amazing that this was not available in English until 35 years after the poet's death.

(141) *Elizabeth Bishop. Geography III. 1976. 50 pp.

This book holds up well. I never remember having read it straight through, but I knew most of the poems.

(140) *Juliana Spahr. Response. 1996. 97 pp.

This book evokes the Opraesque 90s: tales of multiple personalities and alien abductions--critically but not without empathy. I've always liked the poem "Thrashing Seems Crazy."

(139) * Jack Spicer. Book of Magaine Verse. 1966. No page numbers.

Somehow I scored a first edition of this book from Serendipity books in Berkeley a few years ago. I've always liked the central conceit of this book.

(138) Tom Clark. Air. 1970. 51 pp.

Clark is the worst poet in America. This almost made my "not even bad" list--books I read that don't even merit mention. I don't want to find comments defending him in my comments boxes. I will crush them like little ants.

(137) Jim Harrison. Locations. 1968. 62 pp.

Harrison is a good writer, but is he a good poet? I did like the poem "Thin Ice," but on the whole the book didn't stand up to the others I've read recently.

(136) *Richard Brautigan. Rommel Drives on Into Egypt. 1970. 85 pp.

I remember hating Brautigan's poetry for its facility. I have to say, though, that this is a fun book, very much of its time.

(135) *Víctor Hernández Cruz. Mainland. 1973. 82 pp.

This book seemed very fresh and musical. An auspicious start to a day of reading poetry.

18 oct. 2008


*Chantal Maillard. Matar a Platón. 2004. 89 pp.

Here's the book that one the Premio nacional de poesía a few years back, before Olvido. The title poem is really amazing, with two voices going on at the same time.

René Char. La palabra en archipiélago / La parole en Archipel. Trans. Jorge Riechmann. 1962. 1986.

I've never been able to get into this book. I'm reading it in Spanish translation by my friend Jorge Riechmann.

17 oct. 2008


•Ron Silliman. The Age of Huts. 1986. 150 pp.

Early, briliant Silliman, before the Alphabet. "Sunset Debris" is a long prose poem consisting of questions. Then comes "The Chinese Notebook" and "2197," the latter a series of poems in which the same material gets reconfigured in a variety of forms.


To read poetry in greater quantity is to reconfigure one's qualitative relationship to the genre.

16 oct. 2008


Jim Harrison. Plain Song. 1965. 69 pp,

This is a very ordinary book from the 1960s, published by Norton. I read it in the public library today to take a break from reading student papers. It might have seen good for its time, kind of in that realist branch the deep image. I didn't care for the use of phrases like "glisten with sweat" and "plummet to the earth." I would never use phrases like that except ironically. Still, not a bad book by any means.

15 oct. 2008


*Michael Palmer. Company of Moths. 2005. 70 pp.

I liked this book considerably more than the first time around. The overt echoes from Wallace Stevens are enchanting.

William Bronk. Silence and Metaphor 1975. 58 pp.

A mid-career and densely philosophical book from Bronk.

14 oct. 2008


*Silliman. N/O. 1994. 107 pp.

Two sections of the Alphabet, "Non" and and "Oz," are collected in the volume, published by Roof.

The various sections of this long poem were not published by one publisher. Nor were they written or published in sequential order, A through Z. I acquired the parts that I own in different places and at different times, with no particular interest in being "completist." I don't even have all my Silliman books in one place. In short, my experience of this work is rather discontinous, fragmented. I suppose i could buy the complete work between two covers, available now, but what would be the fun of that?

*Octavio Paz. ¿Águila o sol?. 1951. 118 pp.

I've had this book for years--in fact I just discovered I had two copies with different covers--but this is the first time I've read it from cover to cover. It's surrealist inspired prose-poetry.

Reading poetry like this makes me feel grounded, connected to the real stuff.

*Aaron Kunin. Folding Ruler Star. 2005. 61 pp.

I wasn't that interested in this when I first got it a few years back. Allowing it to age on my shelf for a bit has brought out its flavors. I like the formal conceits of it--five syllable lines in stanzas of three, poems mirroring each other with the same title, no puncuation other than parentheses. It's the perfect book to read straight through in half an hour, as I've just done.

12 oct. 2008


*Olvido García Valdés. Esa polilla que delante de mí revolotea. 2008. 444 pp.

This second one percent of the 9000 books is taking me a bit longer, especially when I read Collected Works like this one, with a preface by our friend the Uruguayan poet Eduardo Milán. I got this from Spain a few days ago--a copy signed and dedicated to me by the author, which was nice. Finally I can see her development in sequential order--some of the earlier books I didn't know as well if at all.

This poet is all about subtlety and nuance. "The moth that flies about before me." I am sensing an article coming on...


9,000 books. So 1% is 90, 10% is 900, etc... I define a book as anything between two covers, so a chapbook and a collected works both count the same. Most of my reading is in the standard 70 pp. books. Two books are not mentioned by name in the series, because they didn't register with me, but they still count toward the total. When I finish I will write the book about it, like the guy who read the encyclopedia or the woman who read the OED cover to cover.

Raúl Rivero. Herejías elegidas. 2003.

This Cuban poet, who's been on the outs with the regime since 1991, writes in the colloquial style of many Latin American poets. I bought this book in Madrid once right after he came there to live--after spending about 20 months in jail in Cuba.

"Acaban de avisarme que he muerto/ Lo anunció entre líneas la prensa oficial"

9 oct. 2008


Juan Carlos Mestre. La tumba de Keats. 1991. 112 pp.

This is one of long rant of a poem with some moving moments. Written in Rome and inspired by Keats's tomb, among other things.

*Anthony Robinson. Brief Weather & I Guess a Sort of Vision. 2006.

I was supposed to write a blurb for this book at one point, but the first line is "i don't need your praise! i have self-loathing to work on!" So I felt it didn't really need my praise. Many of the poems take place during the AWP convention in Austin a few years back, at which I was also in attendance.

The book still doesn't need my praise.

*Takashi Hiraide. For the Fighting Spirits of a Walnut. Trans. Sawako Nakayasu. 20008.

As the outbreak of ideas is pushed to zero, there is a white explosion. I am inclined to call this, and only this, poetry.

Me too.

This book is the freshest thing I've read in about 100 years. It's like Ponge... a little. That's the only thing I can come up with. The attention to beetles and spiders...

The translation is excellent. (What do I know?) Excellent, that is, from the point of view of the English-speaking reader. I didn't have the usual problem of balking at the translations.

Nathaniel Mackey. Splay Anthem. 2006. 126 pp.

Mackey is a poet who does have his style together at the level of the word phrase and line. He writes in the Olson / Duncan tradition of late modernist long poem, and this book would reward more study than I can give it right now. I guess where I come up against my personal limitations is in the question of buying into the whole mythopoetic narrative. There seem to be a group of travelers going from one place to another and exploring historical topoi. I should be interested in this, since it has jazz and Spanish history, even an isolated Lorca reference. The problem is in enjoying the verbal play of the particular sections while keeping track of where the poem seems to be going. The verbal density doesn't necessarily work well when threaded on that larger structure. which tends to a certain diffuseness. I might quote several lines that are impressive, but maybe less impressive in the context of huge expanses of similar passages.

(Another New Directions imprint.)

8 oct. 2008

My self-interested Nobel prediction is ... Antonio Gamoneda. You heard it here first. Of course, if he does win, I'll seem remarkedly prescient. If he doesn't ... well, just forget I said anything.

Forrest Gander. As a Friend. 2008. 106 pp.

Here's another New Directions book, a short novel about Les, a charismatic and roguish poet. The part narrated by a friend and admirer whose actions lead to Les's death, Clay, is the best section of it. The concluding two briefer sections are somewhat anticlimactic.
Changes in popular music

1. Recording. The distribution of music changes from buying sheet music of pop song to play / sing at home to buying a recording of someone else playing / singing it.

2. Microphone. Permits a more intimate, less overpowering vocal style. (Bessie Smith to Bing Crosby.)

3. Upright bass gives way to bass guitar. This one is huge. Suddenly the bass becomes a dominant element instead of being in a supportive role. All the rest of the music can get louder too.

4. Shuffle rhythm gives way to straight 8th notes as the dominant rhythm. The end of "swing" as dominant paradigm. See #3.

5. The LP. Permits the birth of the "album."

6. Other changes in recording technology. Multi-track recording, sampling. Digitilization. Other shifts in distribution (file sharing, etc...)

What else would you put on this list?

I've been listening to Orrin Keepnews podcasts. Very informative.

Nathaniel Tarn. Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers. 2008. 102 pp.

Here's another New Directions imprint. I'm ashamed to say I didn't know Tarn's poetry before now, although the name has been familiar to me for many many years as a translator of Neruda. I have a problem with poets who aren't stylists. Poets whom I can't appreciate at the level of the word, the phrase, the line. I understand Tarn's Rilkean imagination in a poem like "Of the Animal." I see a blurb from Hayden Carruth--another poet I cannot appreciate at the stylistic level. So that makes sense: I probably miss Tarn the same way I miss Carrruth. My radio doesn't pick up that frequency; I get a lot of garrulous static, too much noise and not enough information.

Peter Cole. Things on Which I've stumbled. 2008. 95 pp.

I was sent some books by New Directions to review so I thought I would incorporate them into the 9000 books of poetry project. Cole is an earnest poet. His reflection on translation reflects Benjamin's influence:

Translation aspires, clearly, beyond its words,
beyond what it renders, beyond even--if through--
sense, yielding or wielding, blunders and wonder,
erasing our notion of a sacred uniqueness
(the original), as incarnation of what was heard.

I wouldn't see "erasing our notion of a sacred uniqueness" as a line of poetry. Maybe the prosaic awkwarkness is meant to convey the awkward, embarrassed status of translation itself.

I found at least one poem, so far, I like quit a bit:


The rain coming down in winter
when I was younger--
say by twenty years--hit the stones
in what seemed then like a sexual manner,
as though its cold ran through my bones.

Now, the room is warmer,
and my bones, too, are no longer
what they were--or even, in places, my own.
The inner seems both less and more
within, and the moments are hours

in which what was and is is sewn

I think of Creeley, for some reason. You wouldn't think that last line would work, but it does.
This is one of my more popular poems. i don't know anyone who doesn't like it, in fact. Whether it is "about jazz" is questionable:


If I had a dog I would name him Illinois
We would go to the park and meet pretty girls
And other pleasant, down-to-earth people
I would not be allergic to him; life would be good
We would listen to NPR and the BBC World Service
And to Illinois Jacquet at Jazz at the Philharmonic
A real cool cat
A dog more cat than wolf

7 oct. 2008

Though I've written some myself, I'm not fond of poetry about jazz. I can't think of a poem about jazz I like--even one I've written myself. I hate that second hand quality it has, that kitschiness. In the poetry of the late Hayden Carruth, for example, I never recognized my jazz. It's funny, that proprietary interest. You want to get up and yell "No, you don't understand!" But of course that's wrong.

The closest I've come in certain poems of the Thelonious Monk Fake Book, like this one, published two issues ago in The Hat. :

We See

Miniscule royalties come due
whenever anyone thinks of you.

They accumulate in pools.
Gnomes come by at night and collect them,

apparently. They go to fund
municipal improvements.

But of course, it has nothing to do with jazz per se, aside from taking its title from a Monk tune. You can't borrow your jazziness from jazz.

3 oct. 2008

I've never liked poets who are valued for their so-called 'humanity." In fact, insofar as I recognize that as a valid category at all, I take it to be more of a negative. When I don't understand why a particular poet is a poet at all, that is, when I don't understand why a poet who for me does not exist poetically is admired by anyone at all, I usually find that it is a case of a poet mostly valued, by others, for "humanity." Often the people reading the poet cannot even read the poet in the language in which he or she wrote. Certain Eastern European poets are big on so-called "humanity."

This might me a failing of mine. Maybe I am not "human" enough?

1 oct. 2008

Nobel Prize Odds:

Claudio Magris 3/1
Adonis 4/1
Amos Oz 5/1
Joyce Carol Oates 7/1
Philip Roth 7/1
Don DeLillo 10/1
Haruki Murakami 10/1
Les Murray 10/1
Yves Bonnefoy 10/1
Arnošt Lustig 14/1
Inger Christensen 14/1
Jean Marie Gustav Le Clezio 14/1
A.B Yehousha 20/1
Mario Vargas Llosa 20/1
Michael Ondaatje 20/1
Thomas Pynchon 20/1
Thomas Transtromer 20/1
Antoni Tabucchi 25/1
Assia Djebar 25/1
Cees Nooteboom 33/1
Ko Un 33/1
Margaret Atwood 33/1
Alice Munro 40/1
Bei Dao 40/1
Carlos Fuentes 40/1
Gitta Sereny 40/1
Milan Kundera 40/1
Peter Carey 40/1
Chinua Achebe 50/1
Cormac McCarhty 50/1
Harry Mulisch 50/1
Ian McEwan 50/1
James Ngugi 50/1
John Updike 50/1
Mahasweta Devi 50/1
Umberto Ecco 50/1
A. S. Byatt 66/1
David Malouf 66/1
Ernesto Cardenal 66/1
F. Sionil Jose 66/1
Herta Müller 66/1
Marge Piercy 66/1
Maya Angelou 66/1
Willy Kyrklund 66/1
Adam Zagajewski 100/1
Beryl Bainbridge 100/1
E.L Doctorow 100/1
Eeva Kilpi 100/1
John Banville 100/1
Jonathan Little 100/1
Julian Barnes 100/1
Mary Gordon 100/1
Michael Tournier 100/1
Patrick Modiano 100/1
Paul Auster 100/1
Rosalind Belben 100/1
Salman Rushdie 100/1
Vassilis Aleksakis 100/1
William H Gass 100/1
Bob Dylan 150/1