Friday, August 29, 2003

Why isn't this man our new laureate? No can take leak on leaf!

Thursday, August 28, 2003

I'm again intrigued by Henry's attempt to chart the constellations of contemporary poetry—his now tripartite division appears to be:
School of Quietude = contemplation = intellectuality = Kant's theoretical reason? = "the way things are"

post-Langpo = activity = irascible = Kant's practical reason? = "the way things oughta be"

NY School = pleasure = sensual = Kant's aesthetic judgment? = "things changed upon the blue guitar"
Henry claims that these emphases, most especially the post-Langpos, miss the point when they confuse contemplation with complacency. It's true that the one does not necessarily imply the other, but I do think that another word for contemplation—reflection—shows how reflecting on the way things are in heightened language (the typical stance, I daresay, of most any poem picked out of this month's Poetry) merely reflects the same terrible world back at us, only stilled and made bearable by that stilling. So I don't quite buy it. Of course, no mind, let alone a poet's mind, can function without making use of all three of these basic faculties. Of the three I think I'm the least interested in contemplation, seeing it as the most firmly planted foot of the triangle—what person sitting down with a piece of paper and a pen escapes the contemplative attitude, even if what they produce intends an effect of either revolution or momentary pleasure? (Consider how ultimately unimportant the length of time spent, the labor expenditure, is to the quality of a poem, or rather to the quality of the reactions it causes.) The perhaps irreconcilable gap that I worry over (like a dog with a bone) is that between irascibility and sensuality: revolutionary pleasure. That's why I'm a sucker for the ideas of someone like Marcuse or Fourier; that's why I'm devoting the next two years of my life to thinking about the outmoded genre of pastoral.
I don't much like "creative writing" either, Jonathan. Here's what I wrote on the syllabus I handed out to live, breathing students today:
     A student asked, “Do you think I could be a writer?”
     “Well,” the writer said. “I don’t know. . . Do you like sentences?”
     If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, “I liked the smell of the paint.”
                   —Annie Dillard
This is a course in imaginative writing. I prefer “imaginative writing” to “creative writing” because all writing is creative to some degree, but not all writing is devoted to seeing the world freshly, to discovering unexpected relations between things, or even to creating entirely new worlds. The material with which we’ll be making these investigations is language, which unlike paint or musical notes has the property of both being something (a combination of sounds, an arrangement of letters) and meaning something. Playing with language on both of these levels is as necessary to a writer’s education as fooling around with different colors is to a painter, or improvising a melody to match a rhythm is to a jazz musician. A writer can create a great deal with his or her language: characters, images, emotions, dialogue, settings, a sense of time’s passage, and of course plot and narrative. But cultivating a sensitivity toward the stuff of language itself—words and phrases and paragraphs and sentences, syntax and diction and punctuation—comes first. You must like the smell of the paint.
It's true that this doesn't wholly evade the basic dorkiness of "creative writing." On the other hand, since this is not strictly a poetry course, I don't want to substitute "poetry writing," even though I'm convinced that poets have the best possible attitude and orientation to language and acquire muscles thinking about the materiality of language that can be enormously useful to a prose/fiction writer. Anyway that's what I'm telling my students.

One of my goals, at least for now, is not to censor myself just because there might be students reading this blog. Which is kind of like trying to find the right note to hit when you run into a student at a bar or something, especially after you've had a couple of drinks.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

A belated welcome back to the inimitable Heriberto Yepez. His unpacking of the myth of Arnold Schwarzznegger is worthy of Barthes.
I've created a new blog, Aunt Walt and Uncle Emily, to be used in teaching my creative writing class, which meets for the first time tomorrow at ten o' clock. See you there in spirit, fellow bloggers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Adding three new blogs to the blogroll, today: poet and Soft Skull impresario Shanna Compton; a feminist scholar and devotee of poetry whose name or pseudonym is Cleis and whose blog is Sappho's Breathing; and fellow Cornellian, poet, and bird enthusiast Sean Serrell. Hep hep.

Now for that pesky paper I'm supposedly presenting in exactly one month's time.

Monday, August 25, 2003

A customer has ordered the second volume of The Notebooks of Leonardo di Vinci, and what a treasure it is at $22.95 from Dover Editions. Here are some things I've found at random:


   Describe which muscles disappear in growing fat, and which become visible in growing lean.
   And observe that that part which on the surface of a fat person is most concave, when he grows lean becomes more prominent.
   Where the muscles separate one from another you must give profiles and where they coalesce. . .


   Of the cause of breathing, of the cause of the motion of the heart, of the cause of vomiting, of the cause of the descent of food from the stomach, of the cause of emptying the intestines.
   Of the cause of the movement of the superfluous matter through the intestines.
   Of the cause of swallowing, of the cause of coughing, of the cause of yawning, of the cause of sneezing, of the cause of limbs getting asleep.
   Of the cause of losing sensibility in any limb.
   Of the cause of tickling.
   Of the cause of lust and other appetites of the body, of the cause of urine and also of all the natural excretions of the body.



   Our life is made by the death of others.
   In dead matter insensible life remains, which, reunited to the stomachs of living beings, resumes life, both sensual and intellectual.


   Here nature appears with many animals to have been rather a cruel stepmother than a mother, and with others not a stepmother, but a most tender mother.


   Those who are annoyed by sickness at sea should drink extract of wormwood.


   To keep in health, this rule is wise: eat only when you want and relish food. Chew thoroughly that it may do you good. Have it well cooked, unspiced and undisguised. He who takes medicine is ill advised.



   That the earth is a star.


   The sun does not move.


   How shadows are lost at great distances, as is shown by the shadow side of the moon which is never seen.

Geological Problems


   Why do we find the bones of great fishes and oysters and corals and various other shells and sea-snails on the high summits of mountains by the sea, just as we find them in low seas?


   You now have to prove that the shells cannot have originated if not in salt water, almost all being of that sort; and that the shells in Lombardy are at four levels, and thus it is everywhere, having been made at various times. And they all occur in valleys that open towards the seas.


   From the two lines of shells we are forced to say that the earth indignantly submerged under the sea and so the first layer was made; and then the deluge made the second.

Topographical Notes


   The Germans are wont to annoy a garrison with the smoke of feathers, sulphur and realgar, and they make this smoke last 7 or 8 hours. Likewise the husks of wheat make a great and lasting smoke; and also dry dung; but this must be mixed with olive husks, that is olives pressed for oil and from which the oil has been extracted.


   Circumfulgore is a naval machine. It was an invention of the men of Majorca.

Naval Warfare

A Method of Escaping in a Tempest and Shipwreck at Sea

   Have a coat made of leather, which must be double across the breast, that is having a hem on each side of about a finger breadth. Thus it will be double from the waist to the knee; and the leather must be quite air-tight. When you want to leap into the sea, blow out the skirt of your coat through the double hem of the breast; and jump into the sea, and allow yourself to be carried by the waves; when you see no shore near, give your attention to the sea you are in, and always keep inyour mouth the air-tube which leads down into the coat; and if now and again you require to take a breath of fresh air, and the foam prevents you, you may draw a breath of the air within the coat.

On Flying Machines


   Just as on a frozen river a man may run without moving his feet, so a car might be made that would slide by itself.

Philosophical Maxims


   Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than with the imagination being awake?


   Nature is full of infinite causes that have never occured in experience.



   Avoid studies of which the result dies with the worker.


   The water you touch in a river is the alst of that which has passed, and the first of that which is coming. Thus it is with time present.
   Life if well spent, is long.


   Every man wishes to make money to give it to the doctors, destroyers of life; they then ought to be rich.
   Man ha smuch power of discourse which for the most part is vain and false; animals have but little, but it is useful and true, and a small truth is better than a great lie.


   If you governed your body by the rules of virtue you wuold not walk on all fours in this world.
   You grow in reputation like bread in the hands of a child.
A quote from an article/review of Bruce Andrews' Lip Service by Bob Perelman (read the whole thing here:
But making polysemy the definitive horizon of reading makes for a peculiar link between poetry and the world. It grants the writing project as a whole a locatable politics, while any single moment of writing is beyond specific statement. Any potential friction between the whole and a local phrase or passage is eliminated. It’s a convenient idealism.
This is part of the trouble I've sometimes had with Finnegans Wake and the ways in which we read it: any discussion of the "meaning" of a particular part of the text quickly collapses into the horizon of polysemy. Between the narrow skeleton of the "plot" that critics have more or less been able to agree upon (i.e., the chapter we've been reading deals with a children's game between Shem, Shaun, and a number of little girls with colored panties) and the larger world or horizon of the book's situation as an anarchic condensation of language and Irishness, the actual flesh is difficult to distinguish or at any rate to say anything meaningful about.

Can you tell I'm revving up for the semester? I'm getting excited about the assault I intend to my students' literary expectations, and hoping that I really can do something to help them become writers who are both more conscious of the social/political/economic context that they're inside of and more unconscious as well. That is, to open them to the unlimited possibilities that are revealed when you suspend the itch toward meaning long enough to let language find its own meanings. It's a dual education and I can at least make them aware of the importance, and the mutual dependence, of the two paths.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

After a long hiatus, I'm throwing my head back into the discussion-of-poetics ring. Henry Gould has done a quick analysis of the two major strains to be found in "bloggosphere poetics" and the division he's come up with strikes me as useful if not understood too rigidly. I think it's interesting to map the equally schematic "expressionist-constructivist" model onto post-NY School and post-Language, because Henry has established a link between a deliberately casual, "minor" approach in the post-NY School strain whereas the post-Language folks are committed to bringing about major changes in "socio-political circumstances"—which is surely not a minor ambition, though it comes prior to what we might hastily call aesthetic ambitions. So there's an interesting switch here: the expressionist position, which we've largely come to associate with the enormous ambitions of High Romantic poetry, now belongs to a self-consciously playful and "social" "minor literature" (that last phrase of course invokes a certain socio-political agenda, but one uninterested by definition in becoming "major"), whereas the more constructivist ceci-n'est-pas-une-poeme post-Langpo approach has moved the historically marginal position of "experimental poetry" squarely into not the mainstream, but a desire to remake the mainstream and the socio-political networks of relation upon which that mainstream depends.

The missing link in this dialectic might be the post-Black Mountain strain, if there can truly be said to be such a thing: projective verse strikes me as being the most influential and comprehensive attempt to realize the properties of language qua language within a distinctly geographical-historical consciousness (constructivism) while at the same time grounding that language within the speech of a particular body at a particular moment, whose personal rhythms and personal history shape the ways in which perception is both recorded and enacted by that language (expressionism). The question I then have is: who are the heirs of this kind of writing? Is there a second- or third-generation Black Mountain style of writing, or has that strain been fully divided and assimilated into the post-NY School (perhaps by way of the San Francisco Renaissance) and post-Language modes? Whoever these folks might be, this strikes me as being at least one way of thinking through the New American tradition toward a mode or modes of writing that preserves high ambition (both politically and aesthetically) and the mapping of new social relations (both on the micro-blog level and on larger scales)—writing with the full strength of the old utopian impulse behind it. I haven't been the most careful reader of Henry's poetry (Stubborn Grew et al) but I wonder if he would consider himself as being aligned with or at least sympathetic to the strand of tradition I'm talking about. I also wonder where I would situate myself. There's a certain relief I associate with the "minorness" and chattiness of poetry a la NY School—certainly I'm most eager to introduce that kind of writing to students who think of poetry as being both "heavy" and impossibly remote from their own everyday lives. But I'm still sympathetic to the Language project and I feel that its importance is undeniable and unignorable. Another way to rephrase the dialectic: Language poetry provides the necessary negativity (I've just started to read it but Barrett Watten's chapter on negativity in The Constructivist Moment seems enormously useful for thinking about this) but it's the NY School (most obviously and urgently through its queer and feminist exponents) has proposed a positive, or a manifold of positivity, which points toward the new kinds of relation that might come to exist in the wake of the "clearing" action performed by Language poetry. Which may just be a wishy-washy way of wishing for a big tent; I don't know. Of course it's the constructivist moment, not the destructivist—my reading of Language poetry is undoubtedly too reductive. Must think more on it. In the meantime it's an unbelievably beautiful day, my sister is visiting, and my dog is sitting mutely by the door in a pose of inexpressible longing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

I've been working doggedly on my syllabus for the creative writing class I'll be teaching one week from tomorrow. I'm trying to organize it along slightly more interesting principles than "Metaphor" and "Point of View"—though in fact both of those will be topics. But I'm trying to spice up my narrative section by calling it "Desire and Narrative," just as an example: when somebody wants something, there's a narrative. Unless of course they get it right away; that's why there aren't many stories about the McDonald's drive-thru. (Letters to Wendy's is another kettle of fish.) I'm also going to have my students do their own blogs. I know, just what the web needs, right? But it might be a useful way of making them feel more immediately integrated into the writing world, or at least one of its layers. Half of them probably already have their own blogs, anyway. The author is dead; long live the bloggers.

Some students will no doubt read this blog, which is okay or ought to be. I'm trying to understand how to build a classroom that will be centrifugal without necessarily having a center that is held in place by authority. Many creative writing teachers make themselves or their own personalities or charisma-effects into the very ground of the class, because they don't trust or believe in that the "discipline" of creative writing provides sufficient grounding. A chemistry professor doesn't have to do this. I'm trying to imagine myself as less of an authority figure or even as a coach and instead simply as a more experienced writer who has access to perspectives students 19-21 years old aren't likely to have discovered yet. If I succeed, I wonder if such a stance will be transferable to the literature classes I'll eventually teach, where there is a recognized discipline (though also in its way worthy of scare quotes) for me to stand upon. Hm and hm again.

Any must-read suggestions for my course packet? It's fairly eclectic: a little John Cage here, a little Bobbie Ann Mason there; a heavy sprinkling of Ashbery and O'Hara; a dash of Harryette Mullen and Lee Ann Brown, and some Pound cake. You have till tomorrow morning to send your suggestions.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Eugene Ostashevsky is my new god of poetry. Here's an excerpt from one of the poems up at Octopus, "The Book of Pets":
C. The Awakening of the Self

“I’m Little Pete,”
Little Pete keeps repeating.

Shut up, Little Pete,
Or I’ll give you a beating!
It's even better in context. Read Eugene.
The summer is ending! Run for your lives!

What a glorious day we had yesterday—cool, breezy, sunny. We lay in the back yard, coughing slightly from time to time, while the dog wriggled his legs in the air, as if we didn't have a care in the world. When in fact I have to teach my first creative writing class on Thursday the 28th and I haven't finished my syllabus yet, much less assembled all the reading materials for my course packet. Then there's the little matter of that still-unfinished paper to be presented in Birmingham just a short six weeks from now. Feeling slightly Zen about it all—it will get done. But when is the question—I've been working at the Bookery almost constantly. Here I am again, in fact. And my sister is coming to visit all the way from Marin County on Thursday. That basically leaves me tomorrow afternoon and Wednesday and Thursday afternoon to finish my syllabus and make some progress on the paper. Yipe. Yippers. Yoicks.
Check out the work of fellow blogger Aimee Nezhukumatathil and myself (along with some other fine people—Eugene Ostashevsky, Matthew Zapruder, Matthea Harvey, Cate Marvin) at the new Octopus Magazine.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Yesterday afternoon around four o' clock I finally put the much-marinated pork loin into the oven to roast and went back to struggling with the introduction to my Stein-Lawrence paper (I've foolishly chosen to introduce my topic with a discussion of Shakespeare's Sonnet 54, "O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem" which has made the whole thing unnecessarily complicated). Taking a break at the NY Times site I read the breaking news of power outages. Oh well, I still have power. Doo-da-doo.... Half an hour later the screen zaps out (I'd saved everything, thanks) and that accursed pork loin is sitting in a cooling oven (I'm convinced the power outage was the result of God's wrath at my serving trayf). And is the Finnegans Wake group still coming to my house?

It all worked out. I finished cooking the pork on the grill and it was delicious; we have a gas stove so I was able to whip up the potatoes and asparagus; everyone came over and we sat around the table and ate by candlelight, with what was perhaps an entire gallon of French vanilla ice cream and blueberries afterwards. No Wake discussion, but it was fun anyway—at one point we got onto the discussion of what the venereal term for bats is (as in a flock of seagulls, a murder of crows, etc.) and Sam got my copy of James Lipton's (yes, the incredibly irritating guy from Inside the Actor's Studio) book An Exaltation of Larks and entertained us with some of the entries. We especially liked
A plenitude of freshmen
A platitude of sophomores
A gratitude of juniors
An attitude of seniors
A fortitude of graduate students
An avunculus of alumni
A clamber of assistant professors
A tenure of associate professors
An entrenchment of full professors
An ex cathedra of professors emeriti
Never did find the bats, though. A little before ten the power came back on, which makes us a good deal luckier than most of the people in New York City. The most important thing is that damn pork loin is out of our lives. The next time we entertain I'm serving corned beef.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Just heard two songs on the radio that made me sublimely happy: "Hackensack," by the Fountains of Wayne, and "I'm from New Jersey" by John Gorka. The Fountains of Wayne especially are the poets laureate of the state of mind I grew up in:
And I will wait for you
As long as I need to
If you ever get back to Hackensack
I will be there for you.

Emily and I are feeling much better, thanks. We're gonna feed the pork loin to my Finnegans Wake group tonight. They'll eat anything.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Now Emily's sick with a bad cold. Our dinner party this evening isn't happening; anyone want a pork loin? It's already marinated and everything. We've also got piles of asparagus, new potatoes, and other things neither of us can eat right now.

No doubt you're familiar with the instant Poetry Generator, which generates first lines for poems. But they're always pretty boring because the syntax is always the same: "In the X the something something does Y." Far more interesting--almost always a little parable in itself--is what gets produced by its sister site, The Story Starter. Here are some random results from that site:
My main character/protagonist is a male. My main character is a wine taster. An archetype present in my story is Orphan. A key object or symbol in my story is a skull. My story will be set in Belgium. My story is about doom.

My main character/protagonist is a female. My main character is a cartoonist. An archetype present in my story is Hercules. A key object or symbol in my story is a cue card. My story will be set in a landfill site. My story is about independence.

My main character/protagonist is a female. My main character is a zoo keeper. An archetype present in my story is Demon/Goblin. A key object or symbol in my story is a leash. My story will be set in Niagra Falls. My story is about sadness.

My main character/protagonist is a female. My main character is a bull fighter. An archetype present in my story is Dionysus. A key object or symbol in my story is spectacles. My story will be set in an attic. My story is about vanity.
Try it out!

Sunday, August 10, 2003

I'm sick! Not long after finishing my turkey sandwich at the Bookery Friday night (it was a good sandwich, did it do this to me?) I began having these weird stomach cramps, and they've knocked me down good--also running a low fever. So instead of doing the six-million things I need to do I'm in bed with the air conditioner running and surfing around the web with my new wireless card. Sounds fun but it ain't worth it, my stomach hurts. Emily is taking amazing and angelic care of me. She just came in to offer me chicken broth. Love is grand.

So I thought I'd finally see what if anything I had to say on the topic of pursuing both creative writing and scholarship in grad school. For me one has fed the other. When I applied to grad schools in the fall of 1996, living in my little studio off of Last Chance Gulch in Helena, Montana, I avoided any school that seemed to have a significant scholarly requirement. If they wanted a critical writing sample more than five pages in length, forget it. Critical writing and research seemed far too much like real work--even as an undergrad I'd stayed on the creative writing track which, at Vassar anyway, meant you could graduate with honors in English without ever having written a paper more than fifteen pages long or ever having heard Jacques Derrida's name. Ultimately I chose Montana because they only required you to take one graduate literature seminar and because they would have me teaching right away--I wanted all the teaching experience I could get. Plus I was coming to love Montana and knew that if I left it for graduate school there was little chance I would ever return there. So in the summer of '97 I moved a hundred miles west to Missoula and decided to get my one and only seminar out of the way from the git-go--a class taught by Prof. Casey Charles on "the sonnet."

The odd thing about all this is that it makes me sound like a slacker--which I felt myself to be. But at the same time I had a lot of notions in my head about form and rigor which probably derived T.S. Eliot's essays. I often wrote in forms and I had a certain disdain for the generic free verse I saw in the only magazines I was really aware of at the time (things like Prairie Schooner and Poetry Northwest). I also believed in being well-read in "the Tradition" (which I had largely gleaned from The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Third Edition) and was surprised at how little of it my fellow MFA students seemed to have read. They were probably better versed in contemporary writing than I was, but it still seemed to me inexcusable that they hadn't read the metaphysicals and Dickinson and Robert Browning. I hope I didn't make myself too insufferable. Anyway, I arrived at Montana as this curious hybrid of slacker and rigorist, and what happened almost immediately was that I discovered my appetite for the latter far outweighed the fear and neuroticism that had kept me the former for so long. The sonnet seminar was fantastic--in addition to taking us through the centuries from Petrarch to Marilyn Hacker, every week he introduced us to a new theorist: Derrida, Foucault, De Man, Butler. Heady stuff. For the first time I began to feel that I might have some aptitude for thinking--I'd grown up being told how smart I was by everybody, but I never felt that smart. I knew a lot, which wasn't at all the same thing, and when it came to what I knew about literature, politics, geography, etc., quantity had always trumped quality. (My favorite books when I was ten or so had titles like "2000 Facts.") Now I was presented for the first time with counter-intuitive systems of thought that illuminated new possibilities for me both as a reader and as a writer. I began the long drift toward "experimental" writing that semester. And in the spring, I signed up for another seminar, and another. I ended up getting an MA with a speciality in Renaissance Literature along with my MFA in creative writing. And it was that MA that brought me here to Cornell, just as the work I did in creative writing took me to Stanford for a Stegner Fellowship in 1999.

There were only a few full-time graduate students in literature at Montana--there's no PhD program there and so most of the students for grad seminars had to come from the MFA program. I think that helped me feel more integrated as a student, because I'd see many of the same faces in both workshop and seminar. And I found the two different tasks, the two different modes of thinking, reading, and writing, enormously generative for each other. I never understood the complaints other MFAs sometimes made about the academic requirements--how many times did I listen to someone at the Union Club or Al & Vic's lament that "all I want is time to write"? I'm convinced that I wrote more and better poetry than I would have if I hadn't been jumping through the hoops for my master's degree. Later, when I was gloriously unencumbered by academic requirements at Stanford--when I had time to write in spades--I found that I missed the stimulation created by the imperatives of scholarly work. Of course I read, and enjoyed being able to read whatever I wanted and not just what was on a syllabus--poems, biographies, art criticism, histories. But I was sliding back into my habits of indiscriminate absorption--the desire to know everything--while forgetting what it meant to struggle with a text and emerge from it with a hard-won insight that subtly revised all my previous thinking about sonnets, or the meaning of "objectivity," or some other doxa that I'd absorbed without realizing it in my short lifetime of reading.

Cornell has been the right choice for me. It's very different from Montana, of course, because here there is a clearly defined PhD program alongside the MFA program and the two have cultures that rarely overlap. I go to the Lounge Hour MFA readings but other than that I tend to identify with the PhD camp. On the other hand, I don't even identify with that group because Cornell is not the undisputed center of my intellectual life as I suspect it is for many of my fellow grad students. Maybe it's just because I'm 32 and have been in so many other schools, but my work life is centered around my work and not Olin Library or Goldwin Smith Hall. What is my work? Having written a master's thesis on Christopher Marlowe, I originally came to Cornell thinking I might build a firewall between my poetry and my scholarship; I might be drawn to post-langpo writing as a poet but as a scholar I was interested in Shakespeare and Milton. That's changed as I've realized that the questions I want to answer (or rather, to ask) about other people's poetry are the same questions I want to ask about/with my own. What is the place of the ethical in writing? In what ways does the desire for utopia express itself? What, if anything, can be built on the foundation of the endless play of the signifier? What role is left for beauty? Isn't it still Romantic? And I think that's what I'd recommend to others who were pursuing the dual path of poetry and scholarship in the academy: use its resources, all of its resources, to address the questions that are most fundamental to you. It's fun to have a secret identity, but really: Batman with his vigilantism and Bruce Wayne with his philanthropy: aren't they both working on the same thing? Or maybe Superman's a better analogy: righting wrongs as Superman, and trying to make sense of the world--the world Superman has made possible, whose wrongs he can never completely make right--as Clark Kent.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Okay, it's official: I'm making a full epic ten-day excursion to Birmingham and beyond. Got my ticket and a reservation for the duration of the MSA conference at a charming (for Birmingham) little B&B in someplace called Acock's Green; spoke on the phone to a woman there named Margaret who was incredibly warm and gracious, putting me instantly at ease. According to the Frommer's website they even serve organic produce at this place. The rooms are probably small, but they can't be smaller than the room Emily and I had in the Hotel Place des Vosges in Paris spring of 2002 (Nada has made us both very nostalgic). That was a perfectly lovely experience—I highly recommend it—and although I'll be lonesome this time at least there'll be motherly Margaret down at the desk.

Where should I go once the conference ends? Wales? The Lakes? Edinburgh? East Anglia? Stratford-upon-Avon is just south of Birmingham if I want to be touristy. On the border between England and Wales there's Hay-on-Wye, which is supposed to have more used bookstores than any other town in the world. My dream would be to follow in the footsteps of Ronald Johnson and Jonathan Williams as they in turn followed the footsteps of Wordsworth and a number of other interesting English characters. I read the book that came out of that experience, The Book of the Green Man, this morning, and it was so purely beautiful that it made England, or rather the fantasy of England, real for me for the first time. Up till this point the trip seemed rather drab and businesslike in my mind—I mean Birmingham, or "the Brum" as the guidebooks insist on calling it, is not exactly a romantic destination. Now through Johnson's eyes I have the countryside, the hills and mountains, the rain, Grasmere, the Wye River, and other sights before my eyes the way I had cafes and arcades luring me on the trip to Paris. I only have five days or so after the conference, which would make it impossible to really follow Johnson and Williams (I'm also inspired by Richard Holmes' great book about biographying, Footsteps, which I read half of going to and from Chicago), but it would be marvelous if I could at least get onto their trail for a bit.

Gina Franco, who sent me a helpful nudging e-mail urging me to take the full trip this morning, still wants me to say something about the MFA/PhD split as I've incarnated it. Maybe I'll write on that this evening at the Bookery when I tire of poring over guidebooks.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Yesterday after a lot of head-scratching and plugging and unplugging things I set our house up for WiFi. Now any loser with a laptop can sit in his car outside our house and surf the Web. On the other hand, I was able to browse for airline tickets while sitting on the couch watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy last night. Cool!

Feeling a bit panicky these days—I'm trying to finish a paper on D.H. Lawrence and Gertrude Stein that technically was due last December (yikes) and which I'm supposed to present an abbreviated version of at the Modernist Studies Association conference in Birmingham, England at the end of September (double yikes). So in addition to immersing myself in Lawrentia and Steiniana I'm trying to decide how long a trip I can afford. The conference is from Thursday the 25th to Sunday the 28th; my presentation, naturally, is on the very last day. The question is, do I then stay on for two days, see what's doing near Birmingham (the Rough Guide to Britain insists on calling it a "conurbation") and then head home and try to teach my class the following day? Or do I stay on until Sunday the 5th (missing my birthday on the 2nd, but how often do you get to say you were out of the country on your birthday?) and try and get up to Scotland and/or the Lake District on very very little money? We report, you decide. I'm leaning toward the latter in the spirit of adventure, but how much adventure a person with my debt-load can afford is open to debate.

Here's the abstract for the paper that I sent the MSA people. Naturally the paper in its current incarnation bears much less resemblance to it. In particular, I've come to see that Stein and Lawrence's approaches to the erotic (or to speak more broadly, the life drive) are in fact principally formal, making the form/content distinction I set up there much too crude.
Abstract for "Roses of the World: Erotic Authenticity in Stein and Lawrence"

O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give.
—Shakespeare, Sonnet 54

The rose, as a figure for evanescent beauty and the pleasure-in-pain of the erotic, is one of the originary signifiers of lyric poetry, traditionally linked with that poetry’s Petrarchan task of apostrophizing and immortalizing a beloved. But as Shakespeare’s Sonnet 54 demonstrates, when poetry takes up the rose of eroticism it can literally kill the thing it loves: "And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth, / When [your beauty] shall vade, by verse distils your truth." Poetry "distils" the "truth" or authentic essence of the young man beyond the bounds of his natural life, but this distillation, this intensification of the experience of the love object’s aura, comes at the cost of that life: "Of [roses] sweet deaths are sweetest odors made." The sonnet reveals the violence intrinsic in poetry’s attempt to describe the essential being of its object—the "im" in "immortalize."

Lyric poetry’s capacity to dialectically destroy the thing it loves in the act of preserving its authentic essence becomes a central problem in the work of Modernist poets already wary of language’s capacities for violence and reification. In this paper I want to take up the figure of the lyric rose as it has been used, problematized, and interrogated in the poetry of two Modernists not often linked together, D.H. Lawrence and Gertrude Stein. On the surface there would seem to be little or nothing in common with the roses that figure prominently in a cluster of early Lawrence poems (the poems "River Roses," "Gloire de Dijon," "Roses on the Breakfast Table," "I Am Like a Rose," and "Rose of All the World" from his 1917 book Look! We Have Come Through!) and Stein’s most famous utterance as it first appeared in the 1913 text "Sacred Emily": "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." Our response to these disparate roses is governed in large part by the formal qualities of the texts in which they appear: Stein’s text exists on some borderline between free verse and the prose poem, whereas Lawrence’s poems tend toward rhyme, with three of them resembling traditional ballads with their rhyming quatrains and roughly iambic pentameter. Blooming out of the insistently paratactic and repetitious motions of "Sacred Emily," Stein’s deconstructive rose would become the model for late twentieth-century L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, while Lawrence’s rose poems seem to look backward to the Victorian models he so emphatically rejected in his novels. These differences are real, but I argue that Lawrence and Stein are mining the same vein of ore: both use the figure of the rose with a full consciousness of its place in the tradition of English poetry and a desire to transform and revivify that figure as a means of instantiating an authentic and bodily eroticism into their writing. Both see roses as rhetorical figures for the erotic, figures that have become as reified and dead as normative eroticism itself, and both want to bring the rose, and the erotic life associated with it, back to life. To put it crudely, Lawrence’s retrieval of the rose from the genre of nature morte takes place on the level of content while Stein’s takes place on the level of form. But both writers, writing as poets, are working to fulfill complementary poetics of "more life" that are as congruent in their ends as they are disparate in their means.
I have a headache.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

A dog nobody has had before has sighed.

Monday, August 04, 2003

These corrections just in from Jeremy, who I apparently just missed being able to meet in Chicago along with his charming and brilliant wife, Becky: 1) His cousin is only writing the Silver Surfer, not drawing it. But that's the important part. 2) O'Hare is north and west from Midway, not whatever it is I said.

Over and out.
I'm back. It all happened as I predicted. My family's a lot of fun, actually, once you get over all the noise and crosstalk. We ate: Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches on Thursday; whitefish, lox, and the best bagels on earth with cream cheese for Friday brunch (here's how you make the best bagels on earth: butter them, then broil them, THEN put on cream cheese, onions, tomato, cucumbers, and the aforementioned lox and/or whitefish, yum); fried chicken and potato salad while listening to Bernstein's "Kaddish" and Beethoven's Emperor Concerto at an outdoor concert hall in the rain Friday night; lunch with just Emily and me at the Art Institute Saturday (she had a lamb salad, I had a chicken penne pasta plate); dinner at an amazingly good Greek place in the suburbs called Yanni's (best grilled shrimp ever, plus lamb kebabs and about four different things you can eat with pita bread consisting primarily of garlic).

Then there was yesterday: up early to deliver my sister to Midway, then racing back west and south to O'Hare, where we made our flight (I had one of those Starbucks panini sandwiches for lunch; they're actually delicious with roast turkey and pesto and dried cranberries) and then sat on the runway for two hours while thunderstorms romped across the Midwest. Missed our connection, of course, so the weekend ended with an ignominous dinner at the T.G.I. Friday's in the Pittsburgh airport and then a 10 o' clock flight which got us home to the dog by 11:30. Whew.

It might interest Jim and others to know that the cousin of one of my oldest college friends happens to draw and write the new Silver Surfer. So if you want to try and influence the plot of the new series you'll have to talk to me.

Good to be back. If only I could stop thinking about food.

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