November 30, 2005
This and That
Most people would rather eat worms than return an item to
Fry's, the "one-stop-shopping environment for
the Hi-Tech Professional". That fact notwithstanding, it's still an
amazing place, an airplane hangar-sized building stuffed with electronics,
computer and home appliance products. I visited the Campbell store yesterday
and, as usual, it took only 5 minutes to forget what I came in for as I played
with the latest in consumer robotics. I walked by the dozens of computer
enclosures, hundreds of cables, aisles of software, rooms of home entertainment
systems, clusters of espresso machines, ... and ended up in the disk drive area,
where they had 12 different 2.5" disk drives for my portable (and countless
others for workstations and servers). It was an experience curiously
similar to walking into a Las Vegas casino and experiencing thousands of gaming
tables and the scent of excitement. I get similar feelings at CostCo,
where I spotted '02 Chateau Margaux yesterday for the bargain-bin price of $100
I was just listening to President Bush's speech at the Naval Academy. Having been bludgeoned into submission, the mainstream media (including NPR) is covering this textbook example of the Big Lie as if it were news. It contains all the right stuff: mind-numbing repetition of the fact of our war against a tactic (terror), the enumeration of the various "battlefields" (Afghanistan, Bali, Spain, ...), the links between the insurgency and Saddam Hussein, images of dead innocents, a certainty of the "power vacuum if we leave", and the inevitable requirement that we "stay the course", lest we slink off as cowards leaving the "promise of democracy" in shambles. The midshipmen cheer at regular intervals. You can almost see the APPLAUSE sign lighting up behind the Commander-In-Chief.
It's a beautiful morning, here at Casa Paulsen, "high atop the hills overlooking Morgan Hill", as I might imagine the brochure reading. I'll be driving down to Santa Clara to discuss Dima's trip to China for one of our clients. Dima's passport expires in two months, and the "normal" class of renewal service at the Russian Consulate promises a new one in six months. That's the $150 passport service. There are more expensive levels of service that may get the passport back in time to apply for a Chinese visa. Like many other aspects of Russian life, bribery has been nationalized.
Jim (who should collaborate with Jeannine on a superhero series) got a new picture with his head in a halo. Josh provides a good synopsis of poetry reviews, including some by Joel Brouwer and Joshua. Jilly advises that artistic types have twice as many sexual partners (which doesn't imply more actual sex). Henry's poetry is available at Lulu. Peter gloats (to strains of Madonna) that Seattle is the nation's most literate city (heck, Denver came in 6th and Boulder is probably too small to qualify for ranking). Ron reviews The Boy Who Lived. Laurel and son are absolutely beautiful.
November 28, 2005
had a great time at my sister's ranch, Starry Nights (note the motif on the
mailbox). Except that I am about to explode and I will never eat
again. Ever. I mean it.
As is often the case in California, the discussion got around to the price of real estate this week. Like most other out-of-towners, I found myself asking my sister "That one. How much would that one cost?", usually while pointing at a 40-year old, 1400 square foot, stucco monstrosity. The answer was always a large fraction of a million dollars. That got me thinking about the enormous wealth creation that has been going on. Lots of average Joes have seen the value of their house double and triple, making them more money in a few years than their 30 years of retirement savings. Just as a rough estimate, I figure there are about 36 million people in California (I'm not sure that's counting the undocumented aliens), and let's say 10 million separate residences. Whether they are owned or rented, somebody owns them, and it's probably a person, not a corporation. Let's say the average appreciation in the past 5 years has been $250,000. That would mean the wealth creation for California alone has been 2.5 trillion dollars. For the entire nation, the number is probably $10 trillion, or about the size of the U.S. GDP. Now, what's really interesting about this is the fact that most of this appreciation has happened along the coast (though a few places, like Las Vegas, have also seen rapid house price increases). And what else do we find on the coasts? The Blue States! Heck, even in Red States, there has been a lot of house-price appreciation in the urban "blue" pockets. So, while they may detest the current Administration and Congress, Californians and Oregonians and New Yorkers have been making out like bandits on the Republicans' watch.
Apparently, I missed a blizzard yesterday that closed I-70 from Denver to the Kansas state line. Here in CA, it was a bone-chilling 59 yesterday (mwahhaahaahaa). I will be back in CO on Wednesday, however, which may give it enough time to warm up.
I notice that I wasn't the only slacker avoiding blogging this past week. I smiled to find that Seth joins GC and me in his enjoyment of quality children's literature. Eduardo points out a hot, new poet's calendar. Die Cloud is a bulldog. Good observation by Jordan: So many poets settle for a mastery of sound and tone, which are, after all, almost enough. Wow! Mike Snider and I share some history: "But the first book of poems that absolutely blew me away was Ted Hughes's Crow." Me, too. I once owned a dozen copies of it, picking them up from time to time at Powell's, but kept giving them away.
Those crazy Republicans! The fun never stops.
November 22, 2005
I once wrote a poem about poet photos that began, "Ugly, all of them", which
is clearly not the case for my talented
Jennifer Reeser, whose brief and compelling Blue-Crested Cry is in this month's
Poetry, as well as her translation of Akhmatova's Willow.
Perhaps it's the Sentimental Season, but I liked almost everything selected in
this month's issue. Fine work by Eleanor Wilner, Amanda Jernigan (from
Bats: "They billow from a hillside in Cha'am / Together, they are more
than plural"), Todd Hearon, the whimsical Nance Van Winckel, Mahmoud Darwish,
Ellen Wehle, D.W. Cunningham (with the wryly titled All Hail Glade Scented
Oil Thingy). I was particularly taken by Joel Brouwer's work,
including the quite excellent The Weakness: "Levin says, / They
have none of the weakness necessary / for love. Meaning that they
lack the baser / instincts. Of which the mushrooms are symbols."
Alfred Molina explains his love of performance poetry. Bob Kenner
describes his abnormally literate childhood ("I considered it perfectly normal
to telephone Louis Zukofsky to discuss "similes" for a sixth-grade homework
assignment") and the poetry of Wallace —
Christopher Wallace, that is, otherwise known as the Notorious B.I.G. Kay
Redfield Jamison relates her experience of using "poetry to provide young
doctors and graduate students with a deeper sense of the subjective experience
of ... depression and mania". Former U.S. Senator and governor of
Nebraska, now President of The New School takes poetry "in daily doses".
David Orr reviews the anthologies and collected works of Ivor Winters, John
Greenleaf Whittier, John Hollander, Amy Lowell, Kenneth Fearing, Muriel Rukeyser,
Karl Shapiro, and John Berryman — all books published by the Library of America
in the American Poets Project. The Letters To The Editor are largely
uninteresting, except an exchange by the obviously humor-challenged Charles
Douthat and the impish Dean Young. It is interesting to note that well
over half of the poets in this month's Poetry are there for the first time (a
statistic that is increasingly rare in other big-name journals).
I grabbed a giant tub of popcorn and a $4 bottle of water and enjoyed the latest Harry Potter movie on Sunday. I was amazed to see Gary Oldman in the list of credits, realizing that I hadn't recognized him in the last HP in his role of Sirius Black. I'm probably so used to his superb villainy (The Professional, Lost in Space, 5th Element) that I was unprepared for him to be a protagonist.
I'll miss Lewis Lapham when he retires as Harper's editor at the end of the year. His Notebook editorial this month slams the current administration and the legislative majority as adolescents playing with the country's future. There's an excellent article that notes the similarities between Thomas Jefferson's highly edited bible (he cut out all the miracles and claims to Christ's divinity) and the Gospel of St. Thomas, which many scholars think predates most of the New Testament. Steve Featherstone recalls the history of the machine gun and relates his hands-on experience at Knob Creek Gun Range, firing and comparing dozens of automatic weapons. Bill McKibben describes "scenes from China's industrial revolution", which details China's rapid conversion from an agrarian society to an urban manufacturing economy, its costs and risks. From Harper's Index: the average number of credit cards per U.S. household is12.7.
November 19, 2005
I've been to San Diego countless times in the past 30 years, visiting UCSD or
friends in the suburbs, but never actually stayed downtown. It's basically
perfect, in the mesmerized way that the lab tech intoned when viewing the
5th Element for the first time. I'm staying in a motel 3 blocks from the
bay, one block from Little Italy. Every day there's another gigantic
cruise liner in port — first the Stammerdam, then
the Dawn Princess, and today the Oosterdamm — floating hotels that carry
thousands of passengers and about as many staff and crew, rising 15 stories
above their berth. Across the bay, there's two mammoth air craft carriers.
The breeze glides in off the Pacific and the temperature has varied between 68
and 72 the whole time I've been here. I walked down to the Convention
Center, then east to pick up some lunch for Junie at the Bodin Bakery.
Snuggled among the major hotels are the commercial districts composed of
restaurants, espresso bars and real estate agencies. The occasional
antique store or beauty salon. No gas stations, no pawn shops, no
shoe-repair stores. There's a construction project every other block,
usually condominiums in the $300-800K price range. The project across the
street touts itself as the beginnings of the "tallest residential building in
San Diego". They've apparently gutted an existing building with a modestly
Art Nouveau exterior, propped up the walls with metal beams and proceeded to
fill in the middle with new construction. After hoofing it around the
Gaslight Quarter, I took the trolley back to the motel. I could have
hopped on the one that went south to Tijuana, but decided against it. Once
Junie gets done with her convention responsibilities, we'll have dinner at one
of the many restaurants in Little Italy. I love the fresh seafood here,
but I'm thinking osso bucco with a nice Barolo. The wakeup call is
at 4 AM and the plane out is at 6:20, then back home to CO, where it was snowing
when I left.
My older sister, whom I love to pieces, is hosting Thanksgiving this year and she expects me to be one of the Culinary Dynamic Trio in her efforts to pull off a "Cajun Thanksgiving", somehow (as she puts it) "in honor of the great city of New Orleans". She and her husband are recently retired on an 80-acre ranch property just inland from San Luis Obispo with horses and a Provençal stable and guest houses and a Spanish-style main house and nightly coyotes and the occasional cougar. My mom is bringing N'Orleans jazz CDs and my brother is bring Zydeco. I'm supposed to help supplant the usual mix of ham, cranberries and yams with some really spectacular Cajun cuisine. I definitely gotta get home and start paging through my cookbooks. Maybe jumbo shrimp stuffed with oyster? Blackened soft-shell crab? Jambalaya with andouille and alligator? I could just order a Cajun Turkey, but I think that would be cheating. Maybe I should call Tony for suggestions.
See, I told you this would be a puff piece. No politics, no poetry. Have a nice weekend.
November 17, 2005
off to San Diego for a couple of days. Junie's got a convention gig and my
parents want me to perform their annual computer system exorcism.
Henry think that "Science now seems lighter, quicker, sexier, than it did when I was growing up (50s-70s) : then it was somehow heavy & sad, like the industrial architecture & the lab coats - more like 1984 than moon-walks for me." That's odd, because for me it's just the opposite: science seems more corporate, large-university-grant-crazed driven, military-industrial than when I was a kid.
But the really good news is that Kinky Friedman is running for Texas Governor.
November 16, 2005
Time divulges The Secrets of Ambition, which details the
advancement of minority women in business, and the success stories of Bill
Clinton, Britney Spears, and Sean Combs, among others. Bono gives us
that stupid, almost angry, sincere look for his
www.one.org ad. Hypothesis proposed: Libby pleads guilty to
avoid dragging Cheney into the indictment morass and Bush pardons him.
Fallujah is still a threat; an Army major says: "You've almost had
insurgency Darwinism. All the stupid ones are dead". The AMA has a
new program to convince doctors not to take Big Pharma's gifts, dinners, and
outings. Meanwhile, Big Tuna (StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea)
(I bet you didn't know there was a Big Tuna) are spending millions to
turn around a slump in sales resulting from the FDA's cautions about
mercury-laden product. The Bad News: Lawmakers are looking to curb
the ever-popular mortgage interest tax deduction. The Good News: The
change would affect only dwellings over $400K. The Bad News: That's
often the price of a condo either coast. Time reviewers like The
I note that Whole Foods has discontinued selling lobsters until it can make the process more humane: "Our commitment to animal compassionate standards means eliminating unnecessary and avoidable suffering when it is possible for us to do so". I agree that it's important to keep the whole capture-shipment-storage regime humane so that we take them home and boil them alive with a clean conscience.
Been over at QED, getting reminded how many smart and funny people hang there. Check out the poetry critique to get an idea of what I meant in an earlier post about the degree to which intelligent commentary can help triangulate a poem. Also, James points out that Bush is free-falling. ALso, I decided that I liked Laugh Track so much, I put it on my list.
I may well be the last one on the planet that didn't know that Jim had picked up and moved. I think that Jonathan's response to Josh's agreement with Jordan's proposition neatly demonstrates how disparate are the goals for our poetry. Who better than Gabe to teach Theories of Comedy? I thought AnnMarie's Morse Code Poems were pretty slick, and here comes David with a new blogging dialect. I love reading Ron, mainly for sentences like this: "El Paso is where you would find one Bobby Byrd, not to be confused with James Brown’s famed sideman in the Famous Flames, but a poet who did indeed appear in Coyote’s Journal back before editor-in-chief James Koller took the publication off to Maine". How come Rebecca never fixes me lunch? Richard's birds.
November 15, 2005
It occurred to me that I had always turned left: to Longmont, to
Loveland, to Fort Collins. As my son and I encountered Route 34, we turned
right this time, and soon encountered the expansive newness of Greeley.
Ten miles of developments, dealerships and malls later we arrived at the University of Northern
Colorado's University Center for the reading. I had lost my introduction
for Jeffrey to read, and began to write out a new one in longhand for him, when it
occurred to me how much more economical bios can be: Bob
just bought a Duncan Imperial yo-yo (Octopus);
recommends the brisket (32 Poems); Bob Hicok to the best of our
knowledge doesn’t smell (Gettysburg Review).
I ended up writing a conventional introduction. Good reading, lovely venue,
scads of people. Thanks, Jeffrey.
Jen points me to a set of reviews in 42 words. Robert proposes adding an "ambition" axis (suggested by Stephen) to the aesthetic evaluation method defined by Kellogg Space. Jack does a great take on Ange's Starred Wire. Travis invites us to chat with Yuichan, the A.I. chat-bot. Mairead is not Edward Scissorhands. Jilly links us to David Orr on Garrison Keillor ("The most obvious problem with Good Poems for Hard Times is that it proposes that "the meaning of poetry is to give courage." That is not the meaning of poetry; that is the meaning of Scotch. The meaning of poetry is poetry.")
November 14, 2005
Many Mountains Monday
In case you're in the Denver area, Evan Oakley, Jeffrey Ethan Lee and I will
be at University of Northern Colorado
tonight. I will be reading my
complete with props. You can join CDY and I in the Sigma Club by
writing a poem that has that particular Greek letter in it, without
referring to a fraternity, sorority, or 6-sigma quality assurance.
If you have submitted to Many Mountains Moving in the past year and haven't heard from us, you should soon. A number of us have been reading for weeks to get back to submitters in fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and we'd like to shorten our response time dramatically to serve our submitters better. Our book contest deadline has been extended until 31 December, and you're encouraged to submit manuscripts.
Wealth magazine is interesting as ever, with an even larger number of progressive articles, which seems at least a little odd for a magazine that has ads for $200,000 watches. You can avoid embarrassing discussions with your future Mrs. or Mr. by using stealth prenuptial trusts to place your assets beyond the reach of potential gold-diggers. Vietnam is following a Chinese model of rapid economic growth, tight governmental control over most institutions, and corruption so rampant that they rate a 2.6 out of 10 from Transparency International. Amory Lovins argues that autos with carbon-composition bodies could, by themselves, cut our oil dependency in half. Good article on philanthropist Mildred Leet, who specializes in providing micro-loans to the poor in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. An heir to the Guggenheim fortune discusses the clan's plans to open museums in art-starved locales (even Las Vegas!). There's a fascinating section on "executive travel in Moscow" (including a description of their costly and byzantine multi-tiered visa system). The hot alternative investment this month is the Russian revolutionary poster, with prime examples going for 6 figures at auction (I won't dwell on the irony). Advertisers include Caribbean Residence Clubs ($250,000 for a one-twelfth ownership), Bang & Olufsen ($50K for a really nice stereo system), and Maybach (about a quarter million for this Rolls look-alike).
Jim (whose blog is N'Orleans red and black and weird today, at least on my browser) notes that the Walt Whitman Award's deadline has been extended. That is kinda strange, actually, as this is one of the 2 or 3 most prestigious first-book competitions on earth. I used to submit my manuscript every year, before I figured out that my chances were better at Powerball.
I've been reading lots of poetry manuscripts and poetry submissions lately. Lots. Hundreds. One thing that is impossible not to notice is the way that poets' publication credits tend to concentrate into aesthetic-political lumps. Poets who have been published in Southern Review often cite Smartish Pace or Virginia Quarterly Review or Blackbird, for example. We don't get as many experimentalists in the MMM submissions (though a reasonable number), but looking at any progressive journal, you'll see a lot of publication credits at Fence, ALC, Boston Review and New American Writing. That got me thinking about the vast differences in educational experiences among students in the same university. Ten years ago, I had never heard of Adorno, Ashbery or Man Ray, I had attended three major universities for 12 years, obtained two graduate degrees, switched majors among Undeclared, Physics, Economics, Business and Computer Science — and never encountered Wittgenstein once. I did take a reasonable number of social science and humanities course as an undergraduate (although my last literature course was Honors English at Annandale High School). It's curious that ostensibly similar persons (socially and politically liberal, relatively well-educated thinking people) can end up writing and liking relatively dissimilar poetry. But, maybe it's not, if we can have wandered together through the same world (and particularly one as commodified and globalized as this one) and still ended up with such different experiences.
My impish son Derek sent me an example of Biblical Indecency.
Song of the Mountain Maiden
(translated from a recently discovered poem by Pablo Neruda's second cousin)
When you turned at the cry of a hawk,
I longed to eat the edges of your ears,
like pasta shells without sauce, without even
a dusting of cheese. And when you squinted
at the light on El Retiro, my tongue prepared itself
to clean one side of your cheeks
and then the other, until the small hairs
on your beautiful chin lay down.
I’m on my way around your face:
eyes like two sides of a new escudo,
nose like a snow flower,
locks like the straw in my uncle’s rookery.
I have just noticed the stones of your toes,
the thick marble dowels of your lower legs,
and back away into the hungry night,
knowing you are worth a second poem.
November 13, 2005
A number of poets help me maintain a
Response Database, in which we track the time it takes to get a response
back from a poetry submission. We've just passed the 2,000
submissions mark, and if you'd like to contribute your submissions-response data
to help, please email me. Individual submission data are kept
confidential, of course. I've also updated the
Database, which has basic submissions data for about 320 journals.
Although I am woefully behind Jordan, I am adding slowly to my Exceptional Poems 2005 list. I was pleased to add a poem from Arielle Greenberg's My Kafka Century recently. By odd coincidence, when I was looking up submissions information for Court Green, I was pleased to see that Arielle is an editor on this publication out of Columbia College, where my son will be attending next semester. David Trinidad is also there, and Mary Jo Bang is either an alumna or an ex-prof or both, can't remember.
Dan Chiasson does the Eight Takes in Poetry this month (some of which is online), including reviews of work by Saskia Hamilton, Linda Bierds, June Jordan, J. T. Barbarese, Donald Revell, Michael Palmer, and Rhina Espaillat. Chiasson saves most of his criticism for Ms. Espaillat, charging her with "ignoring modernity", which causes (at least for Dan), some of her poems (one about Queen Anne's lace, in particular) to be derivative without her even knowing it. Chiasson clearly prefers the work of Palmer and Hamilton (and thinks that Revell's work is among the most interesting in the past two decades), but concedes that there are people who must like this kind of stuff. I would love to hear a rebuttal by Kasey, though I suspect Professor Mohammad has satisfied his devil's advocacy quota for the year in his defense of Mary Oliver. Mary Karr, one of those odd ducks (Eliot, C.S. Lewis, ...) who convert later in life, writes about poetry and prayer. The Letters to the Editor includes those who do, and who do not, think that recent reviews are "like the work of cheeky young narcissists".
The Atlantic is really outstanding this month (with the possible exception of the pastoral work of C. K. Williams). The cover article Why Iraq Has No Army suggests that we can only leave Iraq when there is a strong Iraqi security force, which isn't likely any time soon, and a problem of our own making. The smaller and more interesting piece, If America Left Iraq, argues that there will be little difference between pulling out now or later (so why not now?), because eventually the Kurds are going to want autonomy, Iraq will become a Muslim state, and the insurgency will remain. Our Faith-Based Future chastises Republicans for becoming the biggest spenders in recent legislative history, which, with tax cuts, has produced an unsustainable rate of governmental borrowing (6% of the GDP) from foreign investors and governments. Challenge Match describes chess grand master Garry Kasparov's fight to liberalize Russia's growing Moscow-based Putin-led assault on democratic institutions. In The Covert Option, Terrence Henry opines that a significant covert campaign by U.S. and Israeli military and intelligence agencies are hobbling Iran's efforts at going nuclear through sabotage, interdiction and assassination. Other good material includes: Scott Turow reminisces about his correspondence with his literary hero, Saul Bellow; Kazakhstan is booming with new oil revenue and President Nazabayev (whose powers appear more dictatorial than democratic) is promoting rapid growth of the country's recently relocated hi-tech capital in the middle of the Asian steppe. Paul Bloom in Is God An Accident? presents evidence that a predisposition toward supernatural belief is a "by-product of cognitive functioning gone awry"; there are twice as many slot machines in the U.S. as ATMs, and they take in 70% of all gambling revenue; Christopher Hitchens discusses the continuing influence of Nabokov's Lolita.
November 07, 2005
Kasey's School of Dead Kitten
Poetics has spun off a number of
discussions about craft and how it's related to aesthetics. There have
been examples of bad poems that are unintentionally hilarious, such
as Ellen Bass's
Tulip Blossoms, which Allyssa mentioned in a
TT post. Allyssa appears
to have collaborated on a blog
dedicated to Awful Poetry, a place where you "... will find some of the worst
"good" poems coming from the plumbing of professional American poems". I
think that would make a good Blog Challenge: Post or link to the worst
"good" poem you can find. The poem has to be by someone that
someone has heard of, and really bad, not just Billy Collins bad or Sharon Olds
bad (assuming that you think they're bad at all) (and no fair just using a poem
from Professor Roy).
But it has to be bad in as universally recognized way as possible, not just
"bad" because it isn't post avant enough (like having a unicorn in your
poem), or conversely because it's too PA (like repeatedly using meat as a
modifier). Actually, you don't have to post it. That would probably
get you in trouble with someone you otherwise like. For example, I would
end up posting laughably self-conscious work by poetic theorists.
I think I've finally figured out how to read Ulysses: just before bed, open up to a random page and start reading.
My workshop friend Richard brings up another good point about online poetry boards in a recent comment: "This politely ignores the reason most people post poems on poetry boards (I'm just guessing, of course): it's not to have their poems improved, critiqued, or workshopped; it's to have them read. If you choose your board correctly, you get an instant audience of dozens, maybe scores, of mostly intelligent, mostly informed readers. Instant, intelligent gratification is not to be sneered at. I'm convinced that in some of the magazines where my poems appear I often have fewer readers--and I have to wait as long as a year even to reach those. So I use both kinds of forums, and I don't see that, issues of print-permanence aside, they differ significantly." Frankly, I'd forgotten about that aspect, and it's certainly true. A highly respected literary journal (say, a Level 4 litmag) may have a print run of 2000, of which 1200 are subscribers, of which 200-500 will be libraries. There's a reasonable chance that no more than 500 people will stop to read your poem. On a small board like QED, you will find occasionally find a poem that have had almost 1,000 "reads" and dozens of comments.
More great political commentary by Seth. He's not as funny as Wonkette, but less likely to be charged with left-wing loonyism than Atrios (and definitely less whiney than HuffPost).
Now that Delay is out of the way, bullying his Republibuds to legislate pork like it's never been doled out, G.O.P. fiscal conservatives are hammering away at budget cuts. The first of these was the narrowly passed House bill that would cut $54 billion over 5 years from Medicare, Medicaid, school loans, and environmental funding. The second was $35 billion in cuts in the Senate bill that would mainly cut subsidies to pharmaceutical and medical companies (as well as authorizing oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which has nothing to do with budget cuts, but you gotta get your conservative licks in when you can). OK, so we just saved $89 billion here, at the expense of the poor schmucks who demand luxuries such as affordable health care. Wouldn't it have been easier to ease back on the record-breaking pork of the recent $286 billion Highway Bill, which " ... was stuffed with 6,000 pet projects for lawmakers' districts, including what critics denounce as a $223 million "Bridge to Nowhere" that would replace a 7-minute ferry ride in a sparsely populated area of Alaska . . . and a staggering number of parking lots, bus depots, bike paths and new interchanges"? (WaPo).
This month's Wired is ho-hummer than usual: Nobody is going to be successful melding iPods with cell-phones until Jobs realizes that the Big Wireless Companies want a cut of the download fees; a New Orleans native and amateur chemist has discovered the formula for the decades-banned absinthe, famed for its effects on 19th-century artists and writers; details on the Swiss-made robots that have replaced 5-year-old orphans in Middle Eastern camel races; two guys take on Netflix, but all of their DVD stock is pornographic; LeapFrog has spent 100 million to succeed its wildly popular tablet products with a pen that thinks.
Thoughtful post by Charles on the politics of art, reminding me that there are human values that are difficult to express in heavily ironic verse. I've been reading a lot of elliptical work lately and liking it. After a couple dozen poems, though, I wonder if it would be possible to take these modes of delivery (the flatly sexual, the intracultural references, the semi-smirk, ...) and treat subjects like the death of a spouse (or the fear of old age, or the trials of disability). Sure, you could treat them the way we used to treat people over 30 (an age we were not expecting to reach). I often wonder if some PA practitioners deride not the bad handling of the emotional, but the very idea that it is suitable for poetic discourse (the this poem has no reason to be written belief).
Good exposition on line breaks. I particularly liked Ron's characterization of Schuyler's success in preventing his "short lines [from] sound [-ing] suddenly anxious & asthmatic."
Lorna Dee directs us to What Kind of Post-Modernist Are You? Somehow, I ended up a Theory Slut, just like Lorna Dee.
Provocative, quasi-iconoclastic KittenCrit take by Thomas.
November 05, 2005
I was reading
Drew's post via Kasey and, I have
to tell you, shame bloomed in my breast, realizing how hopelessly middle-brow my tastes
have become. It's just an addiction. I realize that I
should prefer João to
Astrud, and Getz to both of them.
I know I should take down that R.C. Gorman print and put up an
O'Keefe. And just stop hitting the Starbuck's on the way home, and brew my
own Pete's Fair Trade. I'm working on it, though. I've been practicing reading
Workshop without laughing out loud.
I've sanitized my CD collection of all C&W, even Johnny Cash (though I may have
to put him back in if I discover he represents high-brow reverse chic). As
for my poetry books: of course, I've sent Simic, Merwin and Hirshfield off
to Goodwill (and everybody else represented by
Steven Barclay). I've ordered
more Creeley and Hejinian through a progressive local book store (no Amazon for
me anymore!). Now, I'm stuck, wondering what I should do with Dean Young
and Jorie Graham — they seem a little
too popular for my new tastes. And what about Matthea Harvey and Olena K.
Davis? I tell you, this new discrimination regime is a real trial.
This week's Time is about global health and Bush's second-term woes. Scooter Libby is hobbling around, as usual, on some large green lawn (why is he using crutches?). It looks like Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ, rhymes with smile) was mostly responsible for killing the Miers nomination. Italian Prime Minister and Iraq War supporter Silvio Berlusconi remembers trying to convince President Bush not to go to war. Governor Schwarzenegger tries in vain to get Californians interested in his government reform ballot initiatives, as his approval ratings drop to the mid-30's (which is still much better than Dick Cheney's 19%). The Volker-led UN Oil-For-Food investigation finds that Russian, French and Chinese firms accounted for the majority of illegal kickbacks to the Saddam regime. The first of 200 bears legally killed during Maryland's hunting season was shot by 8-year old Sierra Stiles (it was a .243-caliber rifle, and she's thinking maybe a new rug). In How Can the President Get Back on Track?, author Monica Crowley says "for too long this President has allowed his opponents to set his agenda", and "he has to rally the base" (are we talking about the same President, Monica?). There's a long article on Lewis Libby, inexplicably titled Fall of a Vulcan, in which we learn that Scooter has a "knack for fiction", which isn't hard to believe, considering the perjury indictment. Joe Klien, in The Perils of the Permanent Campaign, describes a White House that is "a bastion of telegenic idealism and deep cynicism", which acted "as if the war were a public relations problem first and a military problem second". New Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will differ greatly from his predecessor: he's a family man who tends to avoid Greenspan-speak. 18 Heroes details the contributions of eighteen men and women solving the problems of the third world. Val Kilmer will team up with Robert Downey, Jr in the crime caper, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, in which Kilmer will play a homosexual gumshoe named Gay Perry.
Jim's doing Wonder Sonnets. Pack's getting dangerously close to the sleeping kitty list. Tanya's Madame Bovary's Diary is available. Sharon's blog is worth almost a quarter million cyberbucks. Hannah does a mini-review on Wendell Berry’s “Given Poems". Cassie's got a brand new blog (yes, that was supposed to sound vaguely Brownian). Heidi proposes literary cookies. Jean in a tutu. Chris makes an interesting list of his poetic sentence types. Mike is into The Origin of Species (which is, actually, a pretty good read). Peter reveals the secret to The Pomegranate Martini. Gina directs us to Prussian Blue, the folk music pair of twelve-year olds whose lyrics are Aryan-friendly (a quote: "Part of our heritage is Prussian German. Also our eyes are blue, and Prussian Blue is just a really pretty color. There is also the discussion of the lack of "Prussian Blue" coloring (Zyklon B residue) in the so-called gas chambers in the concentration camps. We think it might make people question some of the inaccuracies of the "Holocaust" myth.")
November 04, 2005
The Frank Sinatra Factor
Among the interesting comments and blogmate posts I've read about poetry
workshops, the most surprising thing has been how many people have either
never heard of online poetry boards, or view them with disdain. An
example is David's comment:
"Now, my experience with these forums is limited and mostly second hand, but I'm
not aware of anyone serious about writing who takes seriously, or can point to a
piece significantly affected or improved by, comments from codenamed online
writers." The better boards insist on registration, real names, and real
(checked) email addresses (although, David's right, some do not and are much
more susceptible to trolls). Another example is
Jonathan's recent post: "Do you
think one of my favorite poems from Notley's Mysteries of Small House
could survive a good poetry-board hashing out? ...In a culture that puts ice in
all its drinks, it seemed odd to suppose that someone might prefer to become
dehydrated than drink frozen water. I myself would rather drink muddy water and
sleep in a hollow log, before joining one of those "poetry boards" that Jeffery
describes. I didn't know such a thing existed. It's not that I can't take
criticism (well, ok, I can't, but that's another discussion). It's that I would
never take criticism from someone that I don't fully respect. If someone liked
that Mary Oliver poem about the Cyclops poem, why would I accept that person's
criticism as valid? I would only actually take criticism or advice about my
poetry from a two or three people in this world. No offense to the rest of you."
No offense taken, Jonathan :) There are a couple of things I want from a poetry board. The first is the equivalent of a proofread (yes, you even get your spelling checked), and these are generally tactical considerations: "do you think there is any value in using the same noun in L3 and L7?"; "The title doesn't seem to add anything to the piece, Jeffery"; "I'd reconsider that first stanza, it seems pure Triggering Town". The second thing I'm looking for is an aesthetic map: who likes the poem and why. Now, the notion of focus-grouping a poem may be anathema to the visionary rebels among you, but I've found it helpful to determine if the reader is experiencing anything like what I had intended. I still don't have to change the poem if I don't want to (and often don't).
any given time, there are probably 10 times the number of poets contributing to
online boards than are attending an MFA program, and these are often
"entry-level" to "mid-level" poets looking for feedback. As for
"poetry improvement", my guess is that 90% of the poems posted are better for
the suggestions that they receive. I know mine were. Of the 60 poems
that I've had published in print journals, exactly 2 of them were not
first posted on a poetry board for comment. Sometimes, I agreed with the
critique and sometimes I didn't, but I always found it valuable. It's less
intimidating than one might think, because as you learn the aesthetic quirks of
each commenter, you normalize their critique to account for their biases.
I didn't find the experience much different than the 5 days of real-life
workshopping at Napa Valley, except that MJB was a much more experienced
critiquer than is usual on the boards, and the atmosphere was a great deal more
forgiving. Which is not to say that the poetry boards are, in the main,
harsher in their criticism. There is a range of social settings, and at,
for example, Eratosphere, even
different posting areas for poets of different skill levels. Admittedly,
there tends to be a bias toward lyrical narrative (though the work of
Ann Marie or
examples of po-boarders with experimental interests).
I wonder if some of the differences among us regarding workshopping and strategy vs. tactics is related to how we write. I tend to write from impulse, with an unrealized notion banging around in my head. I use pen and paper, writing lines or whole sections at a time. I tend to write quickly and it's seldom that a poem takes more than 3-4 days to complete. About halfway through the process, I type in what I've got and start looking at what to delete, where to rearrange. The strategy of the poem usually makes itself evident as I negotiate between what I'm trying to say and where the poem seems to want to go. At some point, strategy may even dominate the process. In fact, I'm never really sure that a subconscious strategy wasn't influencing the piece all along.
I've been trying to understand why a lot of the elliptical verse in experimental journals and published books seems so similar to me. At one level, I'm sure there's the Frank Sinatra Factor — when I was a kid, every Frank Sinatra song sounded like every other Frank Sinatra song. This is probably true of Mondrian, Brazilian music, and Italian food, for some people. I fully realize that it's my discriminatory deficiencies at work, and I'm working on improving them through exposure. I've also found that I am increasingly drawn to work I may have not understood a year or two ago (e.g., Lara Glenum, Arielle Greenberg, Kristen Kaschock and Oni Buchanan, each of whose books I'm now enjoying). If there is a sense of sameness for me to overcome, it's my sense that these and many other somewhat experimental poets share a kind of connect-the-dots approach, a theory of juxtaposed everything. I think this approach to writing is partially attractive for its unassailability. In the range of rule-following from formal verse to lyrical narrative to wildly elliptical, there is less requirement to Obey The Law and more latitude for private language. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and sometimes it works to remarkable effect. Still, I have sensed from those who defend PA in its various forms against the ravages of SOQ that it's okay to ignore the conventional attributes of good poetry (the much-mentioned economy, musicality, metaphor, et al.). Josh even questions the 'wealth of unexamined aesthetic assumptions about what a "good" poem is or should look like'. Judging from recent work I've read (some of it even elevated to the stature of a BAP poem), "what poetry is" more regularly includes pieces that sound very much like what may have been short fiction 50 years ago, or an overheard conversation, or the mutterings of a madman. I have no aesthetic problem with that, and I'm on record as believing that a poem is anything a poet says his/her piece is. Given the widely disparate instantiations of verse, it's probably natural that the question that comes after "is it poetry?" ("is it good poetry?") becomes harder and harder to build a consensus around.
I'll probably hit the 50,000 visitor mark today. Thanks for showing up, everyone.
Also, is it my imagination, or does Sam Alito look a lot like Jonathan? At
least from the pictures I've seen on his blog (Jonathan's, not Sam's).
Hey, hey. Laurel's on NPR.
Ron admits to youthful SOQ indiscretions.
November 02, 2005
I always forget how many people use Blogspot, until the whole damned site
goes kaput (like yesterday), and down goes Seth and Kristy and Tanya and Noah
and Kirsten and ...
Kasey just put up an excellent piece in weird temporal juxtaposition to my post of last night about critiquing, tactics and strategy. The post discusses the deficiencies in Mary Oliver's 1984 poem "Kitten" in an attempt to explain why it is a classic example of "bad poetry". In yet another example of Kasey's remarkable intellectual honesty, he analyzes the layout, word choice and metaphorical content of the poem and concludes that, if it's a bad poem (and we somehow know in our hearts that it is), it's bad at an über-textual level that defies microcritique (if one believes in a flat playing field for aesthetic preference). The comments on the post by the usual suspects are also enlightening, as are responses around the blogworld.
That got me to wondering whether overt emotionalism is one of the axes in Poetry Space as recently discussed by Robert, Joshua, et al. We all know poets who avoid preciousness like the plague (just had to throw a cliché in there). Among those who practice progressive verse, it has been replaced by irony — and perhaps irony is what remains when you wring every last bit of sentimentality out of a poem, what Franz Wright described to Jim as that "I-didn't-really-care-that-much
Coincidentally, Dan Chiasson is doing his Eight Takes in Poetry this month, and one of them is a review of Rhina Espaillat's Playing at Stillness. He is much less generous than Kasey. I'll give you my impressions tomorrow.
As I am so fond of saying, the only thing I really know about poetry is, occasionally, how to write it. Perhaps very occasionally. Josh takes offense apparently (hi, Josh, no offense taken anyway) to my post regarding the differences apparent to me between the blogworld and the poetry board world. I didn't mean to imply that I condone the extremes of the po-boards, and in fact, any quick check with the list of former board-mates would probably get you a consensus that I was for many years a generous reader/critiquer. I've also said many a time "this poem has too much craft and too little guile". In any event, I think Josh makes some excellent points. It is exactly the blind spots that Josh points out that makes poetry boards a less than perfect medium for critique. The focus on tactics on these boards derives from similar assumptions about any kind of endeavor (certainly literary), that you can't break the rules until you've learned what they are. Throwing the baby siblings of economy, cliché avoidance, musicality, et al. out with lyrical bathwater in pursuit of a poetic statement seems to me to be a level of craftsmanship that one should earn. If I take exception to anything in Josh's response, it's that tactics follows strategy. I'm not so sure about that, although it certainly must make sense to those whose principal interest, education and employment is in poetics. I suppose when I discover any kind of correlation between brilliant poeticists and first-class poets, I'll change my mind.
I am reminded of how many times I have heard a noted author, painter, musician on a talk show, demonstrating what a complete frigging idiot they were when they weren't doing what they do brilliantly.
Sweet Junie mentioned this morning that scientists, programmers, mathematicians and other "linear, left-brain" people are also prone to idiocy. To which I say: Yes! I wasn't being clear with what I meant, which was that being able to do something well and being articulate and compelling about its theory are two separate things (I can't tell you how many terrific math/science profs I've known who were poor teachers and miserable communicators).