Friday, January 30, 2004

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Instead of getting to work, I've translated the first Severance Song into French:
La mer qui sent comme d’autre déconcerte
et me bat. Là une chemise blanche flambant sous un blazer.
Là une robe d’été tourbillone dans le soleil d’avril. Les agents d’air
soulèvent et taquinent nos habits, ils dévoilent la masse sous la forme.
Une porte se claque et les arrêts de vent. Entièrement local est notre sens de la mer:
brume sur l’Adirondacks, orge brûlant sur les Plaines,
le brouillard se tapissant parmi les points rocheux de Big Sur.
Le sens de la forêt dans le sein, dans la narine:
la terre et le sapin c’est un peu de lumière
a dispersé sur les aiguilles qui sont aussi bleues que l’eau de javel.
Luxury and calm, son visage de renard, son corps, voluptuousness
sensible des vêtements, l'amoureux synthétique
de la désobéissance de l'homme, mûr au bout, au langue—
le fruit me parlant, m’effrayé, dans un monde métallique avec nos habits.
And here's the original:
The sea that smells of another baffles
and batters me. There a white shirt blazing under a blazer.
There a summer dress aswirl in April sun. Agents of air
lift and tease our habits, disclosing mass in form.
A door slams and the wind stops. Entirely local our sense of sea:
mist on the Adirondacks, barley burning on the Plains,
fog crouching among the rockpoints of Big Sur.
The sense of forest within the breast, in the nostril:
earth and fir, a little light
scattered on bleach-blue needles.
Luxe, et calme, her vixen face, body, volupté
sensible of clothes, the manmade lover
of man’s disobedience, ripe at the tip, the tongue—
the fruit speaking me, afraid, in a world metallic with our garments.
Perhaps a more skillful speaker of French could let me know where I've gone wrong. Actually I know where I went wrong—deciding to write a dissertation. I kid, I kid.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Also new are dbqp: visualizing poetics, sodaddictionary part II (whatever happened to part I?), and Tom Beckett's Vanishing Points of Resemblance. If you're trying to decide which one to click on first, choose Tom's—he said nice things about one of my infrequent poetic forays over at the As/Is blog.

I know I had a bed here somewhere. . . .
This is why I still cling faintly to my hopes for a Dean candidacy (maybe Dean-Edwards). An acute diagnosis of our national pathology by someone paying exquisitely close attention to the language. Welcome to the blogroll, Black Spring.
They keep getting longer—twenty pages now with no end in sight. I may have to save my discussion of Gertrude Stein for another occasion and leave the stage to Lawrence and Woolf.

Bed. . . where's the bed?

Monday, January 26, 2004

Two down, one to go. My whole body aches. Somebody tell me when it's over.

Here's a flower for you from Mr. Louis Zukofsky:
Charlock per Winkle

A skein bottoms them together
brassy core crux fiery yellow
fourpetal fivepetal salver blue solitary
winkle spinggreen wellwintered leaves bright
trails creep white thyme times
fieldmustard with myrtle dogbane minor
quillet praises lacquer truemustard ox-beef
weeps uncrossed charlock bluer-winkle
Lose the 'Stache, Bro

Evidence I'm not working:

Allan Johnson
You are Allan G. Johnson! Surprise, you're a man!
You're also a radical man that talks about
patriarchy, male privilege, misogyny, gender
roles, and what the role of men in a feminist
movement should be. You're willing to call men
(including yourself) on privilege. We love you!

Which Western feminist icon are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Aaron McCollough, a gentleman and a scholar, has written back to me about the conversation on Humanophone and smoothed the rough waters of contention. More on this topic later, but now I have to go to sleep, wake up, and write my second "A" paper.

Friday, January 23, 2004

The Boy Who Cried "Blog!"

I've discovered a new blog that is sophisticated and readable (both in terms of its content and its form as webpage), Janet Holmes' Humanophone. She has a lot of interesting opinions about poetry and is an editor of one the most interesting university poetry presses, Ahsahta. But I'm distressed to have discovered it in the context of a reaction to my commodification-and-narcissism-anxiety post that accuses me of ingratitude and cynicism. Holmes' reaction (I found it very weird to see myself referred to as "Corey," but I suppose that's the convention; in any case, what's good for the goose is good for the gander) is perhaps understandable given that I seem to be setting up editors as egoistical cultural commissars asking writers for a kiss on the ring and twenty-five bucks. That's certainly offensive to anyone who does the invaluable and often thankless labor of small-press publishing, and I apologize to her and to anyone else who got that impression. I'm less willing to apologize for the anxiety I feel about the currency of recognition that I as a poet trade in; I think it's ungenerous to assume that because I have in fact received a great deal of recognition for a "young" poet that I should just shut up and enjoy my UPS ground-rate halo.

What I was trying to address in that post is the perdurability of such anxiety even for the fortunate and how the contest system might partly function as an "imaginary" reduction of that anxiety in the short run while adding to the sense of real disempowerment experienced by the submitting poets in the long run. I don't have a good alternative to contests, and I know that they make it possible for more books to be published, which is of course a good thing. The Barrow Street contest that I won is about as good as it gets, I think: there was no favoritism (I've never met Robert Pinsky and he's even rejected some of my poems in his capacity as poetry editor of Slate), the book is beautiful, and all the entrants get a copy of the winning book (hopefully not all of them will end up in used bookstores but hey, that's distribution too). What I think is more honorable, though requiring greater self-esteem on the poet's part and considerably greater financial resources on the publisher's part, is the old-fashioned mode of publication whereby you query a publisher and they read your manuscript and perhaps choose to publish it without fees or prizes. Without enclosing a fee with the manuscript the poet has nothing but the bare conviction that their work is good to justify their bothering a harassed and overworked editor with it; without a prize at the end (or the likelihood of making more than a pittance from sales) the poet is forced to confront more directly his or her motives for getting published in the first place. The publisher is more closely in contact with the work he or she is publishing, particularly because the intercessory "famous judge X" variable has been removed. One of the best solutions I've seen, which I've already mentioned, is the poets published poets model of subpress. Another good solution might be to charge a reading fee but to do the judging yourself. I'm very grateful both to Barrow Street and to Mr. Pinsky, but the fact that I didn't work with him at all in the publishing of Selah feels a little odd. I am indebted to someone I've never met; instead of the sense of community I might have discovered working with him, elder to ephebe, I am simply interpellated as an "emerging poet" by Mr. Famous.

This search for community is part of the reason I feel I must reject the priestly convictions of one of the commenters on Holmes' original post, Aaron McCollough. I don't want to reprint it without his permission, but I think what he says pathologizes my "paradoxical desires" (for transcending the system and for being rewarded by the system), rather than recognizing that this pathology is a reaction to a paradoxical system. Again, to go back to Nick Piombino's "Blogging and Narcissism" post, these are actual social problems that turn into psychological problems. McCollough's solution seems to be that one should accept one's role as unacknowledged legislator and opt out of the system entirely. On the one hand, I have some intuitive sympathy with the notion that poetry's value derives precisely from its economic valuelessness. And if I were to publicly embrace this notion while furtively applying for every fellowship and prize in sight I would indeed be guilty of cynicism. But the context for my original post was that even if poetry has no economic value, it does have cultural and social value—and in that respect, the system we have for producing poetic value (and the relations of production of poetic value) looks pretty damn capitalistic. You can try to opt out of capitalism by going to live on an island or farm and producing only what you need, but how are you going to get the land in the first place? It's impossible for an individual. It's also difficult to envision a working "cultural revolution" through which cultural recognition is distributed from each according to their ability and to each according to their needs. But I think recognition is the currency of culture (read Allen Grossman on poetry and the production of personhood) and so the best solution that I've been able to come up with is to pool that recognition with the loose community that I've found—partly in academia, partly here on the web. Which is why I wrote that troublesome post in the first place: I was responding to the pain and anxiety of "my people," which I too have felt. That's why blogging has become so important to me and to so many of the poets who I admire: bit by bit we're changing our relations to the means of producing recognition.

I hope it goes without saying that I write this in the spirit of dialogue, of expanding community, and more in sorrow at being misunderstood than in anger at either Janet Holmes (whose taste in poetry appears to be strikingly similar to my own) or Aaron McCollough (he has a gorgeous poem here at the Ahsahta webpage for his book, Welkin.
Nonetheless it appears that I am pushing a program—just look at the texts I've chosen to provide readings for the upcoming semester, the Postmodern American Fiction and Postmodern American Poetry anthologies, both from that most postmodern of textbook publishers, W.W. Norton. Not that I hold any brief for postmodernism: I love John Berryman too, and have a sneaking admiration for the early Lowell too. (Roethke I could never get into for some reason, but his buddy Richard Hugo had enough mojo going on to drag me all the way to Montana for my MFA, while he was dead, even). If there's any particular bandwagon that I can claim to be aboard, it's probably good old fashioned Modernism proper, a tent big enough to contain D.H. Lawrence and Gertrude Stein (if you stretch the canvas a little) and descendants as diverse as Ronald Johnson, Fanny Howe, Kathleen Fraser, and Cole Swensen. I'd like to hold a brief for Tony's "WHOLE HOG," and I'm no more interested in he is in meaningless pluralism. But these things are situational. The creative writing powers-that-be at Cornell are on the conservative side, aesthetically speaking, so I feel obligated to provide a counterforce in my teaching. I try not to indulge in polemics, nor do I encourage my students to burn Billy Collins in effigy. But I do what I can to open their eyes to what I think of as the still-concealed soul of twentieth century American poetry that the Hoover anthology offers us a peek at. Opening is the primary metaphor for what I want to do as a teacher. If someone were to enroll in my class who was conversant in Language poetry but had never bothered to read Plath and Wilbur, I'd send them in that direction. But for now that just doesn't seem too damn likely.

If and when I get to the point that I'm leading MFA workshops, I will have to consider different strategies. I don't want to be a mouthpiece for the avant garde, or even for the mongrels if they ever assume the dignity of a school. Knowledge is the only thing I can speak for without ambivalence is, which is why I heartily second Tony's suggested reading material. The poets I respect the most are the ones who are thinking through unavoidable because historical questions (even the sublime is historical), which means you've gotta know your history. All of it. Gee, I guess I am getting on the WHOLE HOG bandwagon. It's just that I think passionate advocacy of the work you love and think is important (including, of course, your own) is likelier to be amplified by such global knowledge rather than decreased. Not that I myself am close to having such global knowledge. But I will when I'm finished with this exam! You betcha.
I am happy to have discovered Typo Magazine.

I am even happier to have discovered this honest piece of railsplitting on the mongrelization of poetry and the supplanting of the mainstream/avant cold war (instead I gather we wll have a World Wide Web War Machine cut loose from all existing states, i.e. academia and the hilariously simultaneously Quietudinous and Obscure New Yorker and APR) by blogland's own Tony Tost.

Viva la revolucion!

And proof that James Tate lookalikes and Michael Palmer lookalikes can get along, after all.
A bad sign. . . or is it just a bad signifier?

You are Louis Althusser! You tried to bring
together structuralism, Marxism, and Lacanian
psychoanalysis. Your brilliant analysis of
ideology and the state is still widely
influential. You murdered your wife, were put
in a sanitarium, and lived the last decade of
your life alone before dying in 1990.

What 20th Century Theorist are you?
brought to you by Quizilla
One down, two to go.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Deep in the examination soup.

I wonder if Jonathan is also listening to Charles Mingus' "Tijuana Gift Shop (Breakdown)" at this moment.

Monday, January 19, 2004

I want to lift my head up from Herbert Marcuse a moment to put in a plug for my friend Brian Teare's astounding book, The Room Where I Was Born. It's a heartbreaking read, a dazzling grenade of autobiography, fairy tales, Southern gothic, gay eroticism, Catholicism, kudzu psychoanalysis, and the inextinguishable, inextricable forces of poetry and love. There are remarkably presencing scenes and narratives here, but also always a spirit that questions the premises of narrative and the difficulty of tellng the truth about one's experience. The experiences he has to process in this book are painful, even lurid, and their sheer density is matched by language that raises (lowers?) that experience to the level of myth. But that critical spirit I mentioned is never far behind. In a way the book's cover captures what I'm trying to say: a photo of a tree and its roots, the trunk above the title (like a movie star or director) and the roots (the key grip, the gaffer, the guy who does bullet squibs) beneath it. Only here it's the black and tangled roots that are the myth, while the upright tree is the luminously critical spirit of the survivor/poet. It might also be a phallus: there's some hot stuff in here, whatever your personal orientation.

Here's a little taste; one of the poems called "Circa":
when the split began
inside the thought; when

the idea—family
turned against itself,

was it father put
his spirit in a bottle?;

or mother wished him there,
a genie in reverse?—

either way he drank
and gave his fist his wife

enough to knock her up
with lullaby: tree-top

and rock-a-bye and broken
bough: from it fell

a child unbidden. She slept
for years—he found her mouth

a house and with the child
climbed inside—for years

she dreamt and this was marriage:
her long tongue a husband.

Her mind among her child—
Bleak wit skewers into myth and the strange logic of prepositions or their absence: "gave his fist his wife" "knock her up / with lullaby: tree top" "among her child." And Brian Teare is not a man afraid of semicolons. "I write out loud your sexed and crowded mouth." Check it out.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

The 'A' exam has more or less begun. For the next ten days I will be writing three 20-page papers in which I attempt to wrangle the four hundred or so definitions of pastoral that I've come up with into something semi-coherent, with particular regard to the work of Lawrence, Woolf, Stein, Oppen, Zukofsky, Olson, Bunting, and Ronald Johnson. Theorists in my blender include Marx, Habermas, Marcuse, Adorno, Lukacs, Lacan, Empson, Althusser, Heidegger, Raymond Williams, and Peter Burger. The elusive figure posed by Vergil in his Eclogues stands behind it all, launching into eternity his fantasy of a space beyond politics and economics where only nature—sex and death—troubles the shepherds. Actually there's plenty of politics in the Eclogues, but they're always a force from the outside over which song may or may not have an effect. Here are some of the most famous and important lines from the Ninth Eclogue, in David Ferry's translation:

But I was told Menalcas with his songs
Had saved the land, from where those hills arise
To where they slope down gently to the water,
Near those old beech trees, with their broken tops.


Yes, that was the story; but what can music do
Against the weapons of soldiers? When eagles come,
Tell me what doves can possibly do about it?
Hire some eagles of their own, I guess. If you're an Iowan and you're reading this, I hope you go caucus for Howard Dean tomorrow.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Tony makes an excellent point from the editor's point of view—a small, new, or otherwise marginal magazine or (probably less often) press has to submit itself to writers whose status as Authors reverses the usual hierarchy. As someone who has now had the very pleasant experience of being solicited (as sexually coded a word as "submission") for his work a few times, I perhaps should have been more aware of this dimension. But I still haven't internalized my own Author-ity and to some degree I hope I never shall. Because I too dream of an end to hierarchy's humiliations. The best alternative to artistic capitalism that I'm aware of is the example of subpress, a genuinely socialistic affair. Of course the press itself and its products must go on to compete in the same value-free zone that the rest of us do; the books don't, for example, distribute themselves. Still, it's a heartening example of poets seizing the means of production in a spirit of cherishing—of assisting each other to their individual flourishings. And of course the collective nature of subpress does not dictate that they are all producing cookie-cutter work; far from it. My old Vassar classmate Camille Guthrie's book The Master Thief is as different as could be from Hoa Nguyen's Your Ancient See Through. But of course even subpress can't help but feel like a closed and exclusive club to an outsider. As far as I know they have made no provision for members beyond the original 19. This is less a defect in subpress than it is a sign of how very difficult it is—perhaps impossible—for any single poet or single group of poets to get outside the economy of humiliation. We are left for the moment only with the consolations of friendship and affiliation—the remaining vestiges of noncommodified life.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

"[T]he rage and shame of wanting to do something this badly"

What is it that is so humilating about desire—about being seen desiring? Are we really all supposed to pretend to be self-sufficient little automata, strong and silent? For some reason I think of the persona Clint Eastwood adopted in most of his Westerns: grim, ironically contemptuous, yet somehow having everything delivered to his hand without his having to ask. Women and emasculated men (like the dwarf in High Plains Drifter) are drawn solicitously to this "Stranger" as if his pronounced erasure of all desire and affect functioned like a vacuum they were compelled to try and fill. It is a grotesque fantasy of independence, an indirect confirmation of our fear and need. The strangest thing of all is how attractive we can find a figure of pronounced and unapologetic appetite: Falstaff, Zorba, Donald Trump. They, especially the last, are also grotesques, but representative of a kind of liberation—from the class-bound strictures of good taste, if nothing else.

Anyway, Stephanie's audition, and the agony of deadlines and rejections have all led me to reflect on the terrifying unseemliness of selection in the arts. Instead of the marketplace, where no one ever apologizes for wanting to sell you a car or a Coke (maybe they should!), we have auditions and submissions (hearings and knee-bendings), seemingly unmediated scenes of judgment paid for in the coin of abjection: I want to be published by your press, I want to be in your play. We are caught in relations of production that imitate the hierarchical modes of capitalism without the medium of an unrestricted market in which our shameful need for recognition can dissipate unnoticed. The most popular alternative is to become your own cultural capitalist by starting your own press, magazine, theater company, etc. Then THEY will bow to YOU. By the way, I think one of the reasons the poetry contest paradigm is so successful is precisely because it introduces money into the equation. When I wrote $75 in checks yesterday I was covering over the presumptions I've made about the value of my work with the value of something we all understand—greenbacks. The exchange value represented by a contest fee—you pony up twenty-five bucks and we'll read your manuscript—mystifies what otherwise occurs when we submit our work to a publisher, which is the conversion of our poetry's aesthetic "use value" into a counter that we're trying to exchange for recognition. The fee mediates this like a fence (not like Fence), keeping our poetry and our desires safely separated. The suspicion most poets are prey to that their work isn't any good—that is, that it has zero exchange value in our culture—is placated by the exchange of cash. I'm not begging for anything, I'm just buying a lottery ticket—that is, engaging in a fantasy of recognition ("fame" and "riches") that is answered on the other end by a cash prize ($1,000 to $5,000). Money is the fetish on both ends of the process that protects us from having to actually submit to the market, trying to sell a product that has literally no value.

In some ways I'm rehashing Nick's compelling post on blogging and narcissism: "These are essentially actual social problems, not individual psychological problems, but these intense social problems for writers can easily and do frequently become psychological problems." (I have piratically abandoned Nick's line breaks; I realize he's trying to break down the distinction between prose and poetry, but I find prose broken into lines very hard to read.) Perhaps the best we can do is remember that these are social problems: it's not our fault that this is the system. Which doesn't diminish our responsibility for trying to change it. Blogging is one way out: at the very least a conversation like this helps, as Shanna has remarked, to spread those obscure feelings of humiliation around and so dissipate their force.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Delighted by the experience of reading the titles of the poems in Jordan's new manuscript (my favorites include "HOW TO GET STARTED, HOW TO KEEP GOING, HOW TO STOP," which strikes me as a kind of answer to Gaugin, "SPRING IN THIS UNDULY MOSHPIT COMPARISON CHART," and "THE EARTH IS SUSPICIOUS"), I thought I'd share my own. This is the TOC to what I sometimes think of as Selah's brother (sister?) manuscript, The Nature Theater of Oklahoma:

A Threat of Courtiers
Noonday Demon
A Letter to the Body
The Woods
Britons Never Will Be Slaves
The Treatment
Stage Blood on the Mouths of the Eumenides
Ingram Frizer
Here I Am in the Forest
Un Chasseur de l’Hôtel des Étoiles Aveugles
A Forest, Children, the Darkling
The Bright Attenuated Image of Our Fame
Abramowitz and After
History of the Present Idea
A Jest Falls from the Speechless Caravan
Agave Agape
True Difficulty
Desire. Facsimile. Fate
L’Enfer Est d’Autres
Fog Said
Private Life
On Our Imperfect Knowledge of Void
Loose Birch
It Is Painted, Her Motion
A Fine Romance
The Language Works Extremely Well
The Kitchen of Francesca and Paolo
No More Marriages
Dissolved Soviet
History of Flight
North, Miss Teschmacher
A Pilgrim’s Progress
Ars Hollywood
Alternatives to Ohio
Landscape with Gettysburg Address
The Sweepers
The Glooms
The Nature Theater of Oklahoma
Caliban’s Orchestra

One thing I sometimes wonder about is how and why some poets decide to provide only what I think of as section titles in their tables of contents. Michael Palmer usually does this, Norma Cole has done it—it's a pretty "avanty" thing to do. In some cases it seems organic enough. My third manuscript, Fourier Series, has a TOC like that, because I want each section to be experienced as a single movement. These are not the quatres mouvements from Fourier's book of that title, but they do derive from my very literal attempt to overlay his theory of the passions onto the map of the Western U.S.:

Four Corners
The Five Senses
The Affective Passions
The Mechanizing Passions
Manifest Destiny

C'est tout. I suppose I've answered my own question: TOCs of this nature help to unify the sections of a book into something tighter, more chapterlike. Still I sometimes detect a whiff of snobbery around the practice, as if there were nothing more bourgeois than a simple list of individual poems with individual titles. Mais oui, c'est la guerre.

Monday, January 12, 2004


A slow night at the Bookery. Browsing through various Germans. A quote of Walter Benjamin's that deserves to be more famous: "Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience."

This blog turned one year old yesterday.

Here are some bits of Novalis' "Misecellaneous Remarks":
6. We will never understand ourselves entirely, but we are capable of perceptions of ourselves which far surpass understanding.

9. Our entire perceptive faculty resembles the eye. The objects must pass through contrary media in order to appear correctly on the pupil.

10. Experience is the test of the rational—and the other way round.

16. We are near to waking, when we dream we dream.

25. Modesty is very likely a feeling of profanation. Friendship, love and piety should be treated secretly. We should speak of them only in rare and intimate moments, and reach a silent understanding on them—there is much which is too fragile to be thought, and still more too delicate for discussion.

29. I cannot show that I have understood a writer until I am able to act in his spirit, until, without diminishing his individuality, I am able to translate, vary and change him.

70. Our language is either—mechanical—atomistic—or dynamic. But true poetic language should be organic and alive. How often one feels the poverty of words to express several ideas at a blow.

86. We usually understand the artificial better than the natural.

104. The art of writing books has not yet been invented. But it is on the point of being invented. Fragments of this kind are literary seed-houses. True, there may be a barren grain among them. But meanwhile, if only a few germinate . . .
The end of his "Monologue":
But what if I were compelled to speak? What if this urge to speak were the mark of the inspiration of langauge, the working of language within me? And my will only wanted to do what I had to do? Could this in the end, without my knowing or believing, be poetry? Could it make a mystery comprehensible to language? If so, would I be a writer by vocation, for after all, a writer is only someone inspired by language?
From his "Studies in the Visual Arts" (1799):
475. On the sensation of thinking in the body.

477. The poet borrows all his materials, except images. . . .

481. Everything visible cleaves to the Invisible—the Audible to the Inaudible—the Palpable to the Impalpable. Perhaps the Thinkable to the Unthinkable—. The telescope is an artificial, invisible organ. / Vessel. The imagination is the marvellous sense which can replace all senses for us—and which is so much ours to command. If the outward senses seem to be ruled entirely by mechanical laws—the imagination is obviously not bound to the present and to contact with external stimuli.

485. Our body is part of the world—or better, a member: it already expresses the independence, the analogy with the whole—in short the concept of the microcosm. This member must correspond to the whole. So many senses, so many modi of the universe—the universe entirely an analogy of the human being in body, soul and spirit. The former the abbreviated form, the latter the extended form of the same substance.
     I should not and will not on the whole act arbitrarily on the world—that is why I have a body. By modifying my body, I modify my world. By not acting upon the vessel of my existence, I likewise indirectly shape my world.

486. The tree can turn for me into a flame burgeoning—man into a flame speaking—beast into a flame walking.

487. Everything perceived is perceived in proportion to its repulsive power. Explanation of the Visible and the Illuminated—by analogy to sensible warmth. Likewise with sounds. Perhaps also with thoughts
Friedrich Schlegel now. "Critical Fragments" (1797):
4. There is so much poetry and yet there is nothing more rare than a poem! This is due to the vast quantity of poetical sketches, studies, fragments, tendencies, ruins and raw materials.

16. Just as a child is only a thing which wants to become a human being, so a poem is only a product of natrue which wants to become a work of art.

27. The critic is a reader who ruminates. Therefore he ought to have more than one stomach.

33. The overriding disposition of every writer is almost always to lean in one of two directions: either not to say a number of things that absolutely need saying, or else to say a great many things that absolutely ought to be left unsaid. The former is the original sin of synthetic, the latter of analytic minds.

57. If some mystical art lovers who think of every criticism as a dissection and every dissection as a destruction of pleasure were to think logically, then "wow" would be the best criticism of the greatest work of art. To be sure, there are critiques which say nothing more, but only take much longer to say it. [Someone please tell me the German for "wow."]

65. Poetry is republican speech: a speech which is its own law and end unto itself, and in which al the parts are free citizens and have the right to vote.

85. Every honest author writes for nobody or everybody. Whoever writes for some particular group does not deserve to be read.

89. Isn't it unnecessary to write more than one novel, unless the artist has become a new man? It's obvious that frequently all the novels of a particualr author belong together and in a sense make up only one novel.

100. The poetry of one writer is termed philosophical, of another philological, or a third, rhetorical, etc. But what then is poetical poetry?
Finally the last sentences of Benjamin's essay, "The Storyteller":
For he is granted the ability to reach back through a whole lifetime (a life, incidentally, that comprises not only his own experience but much of the experience of others; what the storyteller knows from hearsay is added to what is most his own). His gift is the ability to relate his life; his distinction, to be able to relate his entire life. The storyteller: he is the man who could let the wick of his life be consumed completely by the gentle flame of his story. This is the basis of the incomparable aura that surrounds the storyteller, in Leskov as in Hauff, in Poe as in Stevenson. The storyteller is the figure in which the righteous man encounters himself.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Breaking the Montana Mold Department

The filiation games continue. . . :

You are Arthur Rimbaud - a vital, cannon-changing poet with a flare for tantrums.  You tend to write in a fever, and have a liking for the disordered mind.  Do't expect people to un
You are Arthur Rimbaud - a vital, cannon-changing
poet with a flare for tantrums. You tend to
write in a fever, and have a liking for the
disordered mind. Do't expect people to
understand you, for you are ahead of your time.

Which Dead Poet Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
Sign Me Up. . .

. . . to be a Mercurist, which is a school of poetry that Shanna is apparently planning to induct me into on behalf of the only actual living Mercurist, Mr. Daniel Nester. Yet I'm not so sure I should be included in the Pop Culturist genus of which Mercurist and Queenist are species and subspecies. I just don't think my actual poems have what you could call a pop sensibilitity. Hm, let's see what else is available on her list. Well, I appeared in one of the last Frequency Series readings so like Shanna I might be a Frequentist. I hope I'm not a Disingenuist, though I love the name. No Flarfist certainly... Post-Avant sure, but that's even broader than a genus in my opinion, it's a phylum or even a kingdom. I'm a fan of the New Brutalists but I don't quite believe in them—like Tinkerbell they only exist if you clap for them and wish hard. Maybe I'll be a Poeticist. That means a poet who thinks it's important to formulate (and keep formulating) a poetics for him or herself, but who is not particularly interested in party affiliations. So there.

Some great stuff in the latest American Letters & Commentary, including a contribution from yours truly that might have Mike Snider calling me a brother Sonneteer. Many poems that I've read so far stand out for me: work from Becka Mara McKay, John Schertzer, Claudia Keelan, Rosmarie Waldrop (the last two are particularly heartbreaking and thoughtful elegies for 9/11 and the American reaction to it), Jeff Baker (funny and dark), Peter Henry (this is terrific but ends a little lamely), Christina Mengert, Michael Dumanis (I met him at Bread Loaf in 2000—I should send him an e-mail), Shane McCrae, Ray McDaniel, Cole Swensen, John Greenman (a prose piece called "The Cowboy Poet" that I as a former temporary Montanan especially appreciate), and others I haven't gotten around to reading yet. A high value on wordplay generally in these poems, or else a certain kind of extended logopoeia, by which I mean a play with context and counter-context that goes beyond the individual word to the culture or cultures suggested by particular phrases and syntaxes. Maybe that goes without saying in logopoeia. For an example, here's a scarifying piece of work by a poet named Linh Dinh:
Eating Fried Chicken

I hate to admit this, brother, but there are times
When I'm eating fried chicken
When I think about nothing else but eating fried chicken,
When I utterly forget about my family, honor and country,
The various blood debts you owe me,
My past humiliations and my future crimes—
Everything, in short, but the crispy skin on my fried chicken.

But I'm not altogether evil, there are also times
When I will refuse to lick or swallow anything
That's not generally available to mankind.

(Which is, when you think about it, absolutely nothing at all.)

And no doubt that's why apples can cause riots,
And meat brings humiliation,
And each gasp of air
Will fill one's lungs with gun powder and smoke.
That's such a fine piece of engagement—not socialist realism or anything Sartre would recognize (and deplore)—instead I mean an alert and outraged listening to the gap between how we'd like to think of ourselves and the way we too often are, as it might be expressed in our ordinary language. I dig it, is what I'm saying—and I consider myself warned.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Yes, Exactly Department

From Allen Grossman's "Of the Great House":
Beautiful poems, like flowers! Beautiful
Poems—like webs, like seas working, like
Wind webbing black water blown flat with gray

Flowers of the foam. Beautiful poems risen
Against the granite cliff in waves, exploding
The flinty shingle upward through the high

Window of the tower light. Beautiful poems
That I vowed, darkening the world,
Thronging the Avenue with the sweet sanity

Of profound tone, blind beautiful poems—
My servant animals, hunting the object of
Desire equal to mind's desire of an object—

Ringing and ringing through the midnight house,
Like an harassing phone call: Who is there?
Breathings only; and, behind that, the obscure

City of perpetual cry, whose citizens are
All mute, all dying, all enraged—
Beautiful poems. Beautiful, beautiful poems.
I've been enjoying Waggish Reads Proust, a blog called to my attention by Harlequin Knights, which I've belatedly added to my blogroll. Waggish reads Proust so that you don't have to. Actually, of course, it makes you want to. I haven't gotten any further than halfway through "Swann in Love," which I was really enjoying last summer. But Adorno intervened.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Humpty Dumpty Department

From Martin Corless-Smith's poem "Nota" in his book Nota:
The authority I give to OR is always a subset of AND.

Any description of that which is becoming is thought inferior to a description of that which is.

Truth is a fiction of expression. It is the myth of the eternal in the World.

What the lyric says is not simply that I am going to die—but that to whomever reads this I am dead.

Otium cum dignitate

Matter though independently real is dependent for meaning on its relation to Spirit.


We are sisters—a lovely traveller at night
who might a taste of dying rape
a peep a piece of light hole
Champion all lame


Romanticism is the companion of Materialism.
I love this kind of thing.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

I'd put in a comments feature to make it easier to answer questions like the foregoing, but the last time I tried that my blog got real ugly. I'm not sure I can afford to make it any uglier.
Someone explain to me the whole "books received" thing. I mean, I did "receive" a little flurry of books back in November but mostly I have to buy the books I receive, or check them out of the library. Whaddyall mean by that?
Continuing my roundup of what's happening in blogland, let me direct you to this astute commentary by Dale Smith on the neoconservative (I think it's time to move this term into the literary realm where it belongs) attack on Yasusada that appears in the most recent issue of The Believer.
Congratulations Nada and Gary! If you haven't yet read one of the great literary love stories of the last century, you must pick up a copy of Swoon and catch up with it.

I'm a sucker for happy endings.
Back from two quiet days in a cabin forty minutes south of here, surrounded by woods and with a working fireplace. It was lovely the first day; the second day we began to get antsy, urban creatures that we are. But we did enjoy watching Freaky Friday on Emily's new PowerBook.

I'm linking to a couple of new blogs, the Poetry Hut Blog of Jilly Dybka and Jason Stuart's sodadictionary part II. I'm grateful to Jilly for calling my attention to an interview with Cornell's own Ogaga Ifowodo. Ogaga is a poet, lawyer, and activist who got his MFA at Cornell and is now enrolled in the PhD program. A hell of a nice guy who's survived political oppression the likes of which only enemy combatants and Immigration detainees have experienced in this country. That's a bit of sarcasm: Ogaga has survived things I can barely imagine. His aesthetic isn't mine, or anything close to mine. But as Ammiel Alcalay has remarked in the interview that concludes his book, from the warring factions, language of subjectivation that looks trite to someone raised in an atomized, individualistic culture can be thoroughly radical in the mouth of someone whose notion of selfhood is more collective. Ogaga speaks truth to power and has paid a price for doing so, and I have infinite respect for that. He's also prolific as hell.

Popular Posts