Tuesday, February 28, 2006

It was a great weekend in extra innings. Sunday evening we had our New York engagement party at the very chic Soho House, a club to which one of Emily's friends, Mr. Benji Feldman, belongs. And I had a swell time at the reading at A & B: John Thirkield is an extremely gracious host, and I enjoyed my fellow readers, Corina Copp and Owen Sheers (who gave me a brief but surprisingly informative summary of Welsh history before the reading). And then of course there were the book acquisitions, which include:

- Owen Sheers, Skirrid Hill (available from Seren Books in Wales.) Exchanged for a copy of Selah.

- Daniel Kane, All Poets Welcome. Deeply discounted at the St. Mark's Bookshop, so go grab your own.

- Joe Brainard, I Remember. A long-contemplated impulse buy.

- Shanxing Wang, Mad Science in Imperial City. A remarkable project from an author with a remarkable bio: a couple of years after the Tiananmen Square massacre he moved to the U.S. to study mechanical engineering; while teaching at Rutgers he took some creative writing classes and something must have caught absolute fire, because Lyn Hejinian's cover blurb seems accurate:"Shanxing Wang's Mad Science in Imperial City is a work of genius. It is intended to be so, and it is saturated with the melancholy and exhibits something of the fear that genius in its machinations may produce." It's difficult to believe that this book was written by someone for whom English was not his native language; almost as difficult to believe is the fluency with which he incorporates the language of mathematics and physics (one page presents the reader with "A Poet's Representation of TTT Diagram for the Emotional Microstructures of Low Carbon Steel"). It's funny, anarchic, wrenching, and various in its forms. Here's a bit of prose selected at random:

I write Gogo's wife as he says Gilberte Goddess the black pages blending blurring banging blazing blaring bleached bluely like the birds scudding away torn by the wind across the flattened sky of the capital because this capital city is capitalized by B being the butcher's face and dressed in the purple bra of bravado of the super-lattice of inertia of impotence strings of atoms of nouns adjectives falling vertically like immortal lines in the ancient Chinese books interjection daughter dim ambiguous jade
Pretty terrific stuff, you can read a little more of it here.

- Charles Borkhuis, Alpha Ruins. A poet on the fringes of my awareness for a while; I kind of bought this because I couldn't decide which Tom Raworth book to buy, if that makes any sense.

- Arielle Greenberg, My Kafka Century. My first Action Book. She and I seem to have some parallel interests: I've also written a book that trolls the ambivalent heritage of the American-Jewish-European intellectual with a title that alludes to Kafka. Curious.

- John Tranter, Under Berlin: New Poems — 1988. Found this used at Mercer Street Books and picked it up because I'm becoming more curious about Australian poetry since I got into John Kinsella. And I'm also curious about the work of the editor of Jacket.

- Kenneth Fields, Classic Rough News. Ken was one of my teachers at Stanford; it's been a long time since he's published a new book so I thought I should snap this one up. It's sonnets or sonnet-like poems filled with wry, atmospheric, post-alcholic regret. It's almost like I'd managed to study with Richard Hugo after all.

- Joe Salerno, Dream Paintings from the Heaven of Obscurity. Okay, I bought this because I confused the author with Mark Salerno. But it's an interesting project, oddly prescient or reminiscent of Yasusada: Salerno invented a Chinese poet named Tsuei Meng Weng and wrote these "translations" of his work. I find them rather convincing, which maybe says more about my ignorance of Chinese poetry than it does about their "authenticity," so to speak.

- James Scully, Line Break: Poetry as Social Practice. I've read around in a library copy of this 1988 book; it's just been re-issued by Curbstone Press. Not the least part of its appeal is Scully's cosmopolitanism: many if not most of his touchstone poets are not American (Roque Dalton, Adonis, Tadeusz Rosewicz), who wrote/write from situations of political extremis, as our situation has become. I'd like to become a little less provincial myself—to discover resources for imagination and resistance beyond English.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Thanks to all who have expressed congratulations and good wishes about my forthcoming chapbook, both inside and out of the comments box.

Blogging from the swank hotel in NYC where Emily and I are staying as an engagement present from her father. In spite of a cold, made it out here yesterday and immediately took a 6 train downton to see the Elizabeth Robinson-Robert Kelly reading at the Bowery Poetry Club. A magical evening. First of all, while browsing the little bookstore I ran into my old Vassar friend Camille Guthrie, author of The Master Thief and a forthcoming book based on the Unicorn Tapestries, which I blogged about last summer. Wonderful to get a chance to catch up with her and to hear how her husband the poet and novelist Duncan Dobbelman (we were all three in the same creative writing class at Vassar) and their new adorable baby Pierre were doing. Then there was the reading itself. Elizabeth Robinson started with poems from her newest book, Apostrophe, forthcoming from Apogee Press. She's a master of the luminous abstract—I especially loved her reading of a poem called "Anemone," which as the poem itself says is a kind of "botanical abacus," a kind of luscious counting poem. Some newer poems came "from a persona of rage since I have no rage myself" (said completely deadpan). A poem called "Flesh," solicited for an anthology of poems about meat. A very sexy unfinished poem in "two ragged parts." Parts of a longer poem based on Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White reimagined as—hey presto!—a pastoral: "The patsoral lies diaphonous on itself." And wrapping up with some poems about having children: "Commingling is a loose term for the ocean." The BPC is an interesting space: really a bar, with a dark industrial looking stage in the back hemmed in by brick walls and what looked to be a portrait of Whitman in day-glo colors to one side. The ventilation system rattled like ice in glasses throughout Elizabeth's measured, witty, and quietly charismatic reading.

Robert Kelly was something else again. With his leonine appearance, deep and velvety voice, and the legacy of a lifetime of poetry behind him, he cut an extraordinarily impressive and yet charming figure. He makes a life in poetry look like the only life to live. A compelling reader who persuaded me as I've rarely been persuaded that I was in the presence of a genuine visionary, almost a Blake—a Great Poet. He began with a remarkable poem about Moses as stutterer from his new book Lapis that made me want to go out and buy it immediately. But I was blown away by the selections he read from another new book that is not I don't think available yet in the United States: a book-length collaboration with the German poet Birgit Kempker called Shame (you can find a description of the book, in German, here). Apparently they wrote the book in e-mail correspondence with each other and then each, though hardly a master of the other's language, translated the other's contributions. The parts Kelly read had German and English embedded in them (Germglish?) and the theme, which he claimed at one point to be the theme, the theme of the Odyssey and Hamlet and dozens of other classics of world literature, was the return of the repressed. He read from the last section of the book—a tour-de-force meditation on a shameful childhood memory, on Proust's Madeleine-as-Magdalene, on the shame of trespassing on the borders of the invisible, that had me and I'm guessing most everybody else breathless. He finished off with some selections from a self-published (for legal reasons) chapbook of homophonic translations of Celan (of course I thought of my own homophonic version of Celan's "Psalm" that's the opening poem of Selah) and a few older poems from his selected, Red Actions. As good as poetry readings get.

But the marvelous evening was just getting started, for I found myself invited out to dinner with the readers and a bunch of other poetry people, including but not limited to Camille, Kim Lyons, Gary Sullivan, Max Winter, Lisa Lubasch, Katie Degentesh, Drew Gardner, and Annie Finch, with whom I had an incisive and useful discussion of pastoral (she has an essay in the new Michigan book on decentering the self which sounds closely analogous to one of the major threads of my dissertation). It's such a heady pleasure to drop down out of Ithaca into an atmosphere absolutely charged with poetry—people living their lives by its incandescent and unreliable light. After the most delicious Indian dinner the party broke up, but Annie and I ended up wandering over to the St. Marks' Bookshop, where we goaded each other into buying too many things and talked more poetry. I've always been attracted to the idea of her work as someone who takes the formal impulse very seriously and who is deeply knowledgeable of prosody, but I haven't read it in any sustained way. That's about to change.

Today I'm worn out from superlatives and resting in the hotel waiting for my sister to arrive from New Jersey. We're going to hang out this afternoon before meeting up with Emily and my parents and everybody for our New York engagement party. And after all this there's still my own reading to look forward to! Good night.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Composition Marble

Now it can be told.... my poem Composition Marble (formerly referred to here as "Kiosk/Stylus") is the winner of the 2005 chapbook contest sponsored by Pavement Saw Press! I'm thrilled, naturally. This makes the reading on Monday something of a chapbook coming-out party. Though I won't have any in hand to peddle, I will nonetheless be happy to take your money and send you a signed copy once they're available (should be a month or so). Only six bucks!

Feeling glad, feeling grateful.
Heading to New York tomorrow to do some wedding-related stuff and staying through Monday to read as part of the Between A & B series. Here's the official promo:
Poets as far flung as London, Ithaca, and Brooklyn will converge at 11th street this Monday. Don't miss it.

Joshua Corey
Owen Sheers
Corina Copp

Monday, February 27, 7:30PM
at the 11th Street Bar (510 E. 11th Street btw A & B).

Joshua Corey is the author of Selah (Barrow Street Press, 2003) selected by Robert Pinsky as the winner of the Barrow Street Press Book Contest, and Fourier Series (Spineless Books, 2005) which was the winner of the Fitzpatrick-O'Dinn Award judge by Christian Bok. He lives in Ithaca, New York, where he is writing a dissertation on modernist pastoral and keeps a blog, Cahiers de Corey: http://joshcorey.blogspot.com/

Owen Sheers was born in Fiji in 1974 and brought up in Abergavenny, South Wales. He was educated at King Henry VIII comprehensive, Abergavenny and New College, Oxford. The winner of an Eric Gregory Award and the 1999 Vogue Young Writer's Award, his first collection of poetry, The Blue Book (Seren, 2000) was short-listed for the Welsh Book of the Year and the Forward Prize Best 1st Collection 2001. His debut prose work The Dust Diaries (Faber 2004), a travel memoir set
in Zimbabwe, was short-listed for the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize and won the Welsh Book of the Year 2005. Owen's 2nd collection of poetry, Skirrid Hill is published by Seren in November 2005 and Unicorns, almost his one man play based on the life and poetry of the WWII poet Keith Douglas will be produced by Old Vic, New Voices in 2006. He currently lives in London and is writing his first novel, due for publication by Faber in Spring 2007. For more information go to: http://www.owensheers.com

Corina Copp hails from Lawrence, KS, Boulder, CO, and New Orleans, LA. She is most recently the author of the e-book, Carpeted (Faux Press, 2004) and Play Air (Belladonna* Books, 2005). Her poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming from Fence, The Germ, The Poetry Project Newsletter, Pom2, and Magazine Cypress. She is the Monday Night Reading Series Coordinator at the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, and lives in Brooklyn.

You can read her work at:


Upcoming Readings:

March 13
Forrest Gander
Karen Garthe
Thom Donovan

March 27
Special Reading for the New Anthology "Legitmate Dangers: American
Poets of the New Century"
Mark Bibbins
Timothy Donnelly
Suzanne Wise
Erica Bernheim

April 10
Elizabeth Willis
Ben Doyle
Sandra Miller
Hoping to see you there!
Still adjusting to having comments. I think I will, for now, mostly refrain from intervening in that space: it's for you, the reader. If someone says something I feel especially moved to comment on, I'll do a fresh post about it.

This shrine-bombing in Samarra may be the straw that breaks the camel's back, I fear—the de facto civil war in Iraq has become unignorable as such. Is it my imagination, or is the general stance of the West toward Muslim rage—first the Danish cartoon, now this—one of bafflement and perplexity? As if "Why do they hate us" had morphed into, "Why do they hate?" I'm not much of a postcolonial theorist, but are we simply witnessing what happens when a subaltern seizes some power for itself? But it's distressing, to say the least, that the anti-imperialist banner has fallen into the hands of fanatics whose own ambitions seem to be equally imperial. Are the moderates, in whatever scenario, here and there (the "silent majority" was despairingly invoked by pro-choice advocates in South Dakota yesterday) by definition doomed to being weaker than the extremes? What good is a silent majority if it remains silent?

"Poetry is not important. That's why it matters." Reading Aaron Shurin's campy, sad, and altogether ravishing Involuntary Lyrics, a book of "sonnets" that redeploys the end words of Shakespeare's sonnets but in such a way so that they don't rhyme—intended to, as Shurin says in a note, "unring the sonnet." I've read a little Shurin before but this the first time I've seen him work in verse instead of prose, and I like it a lot. Some of the poems have very short lines, at times just one (Shakespeare's) word; others spill over indents. They're pretty sexy too—I often envy the frank eroticism of gay poets, it seems a lot harder for us straight boys to be sexy without lapsing into creepiness or cliche. But it's the musicality and compression, usually with a very simple vocabulary, that I find most seductive. Here's "CL":
rain rain exceeds
temper for (formerly) fair May might
scream "no more!"
under sway
of wet wet how hate
no sun in sight
and no you! a bore
limpy day
hollow state
shell ill-
fitting oh hear me
stumble, Love, deeds
deeds not words the
missing skill
And here's Shakespeare's Sonnet 150, just to give you an idea:
O, from what power hast thou this powerful might
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantize of skill
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O, though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state:
If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
More worthy I to be beloved of thee.
Obviously Shurin takes some liberties—pretty sure Shakespeare never used "the" as an end word. Anyways, considerable pleasure here, "a valentine to desire" as D.A. Powell blurbs on the back.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Monday, February 20, 2006

"I think reality is being let down: its hugeness, its variety, its beauty, its painfulness." Via Rebecca.

Can't get much farther from the viewpoint I associate with Mark Nowak. Yet they both appeal to me.

Then again there's a sentence of C.L.R. James' that Nowak quotes: "The Marxist organization which understands that its function is to learn and not to teach, will find (after great efforts) that outside of production as well as in it, the new society every day, every hour, establishes itself with a massiveness, a solidity, and an infinite variety, which challenges the official structure of society at every turn."

And Bedient: "[Poetry's] ethics, if you will, consists in entering into perplexities in a spirit of urgent and courageous investigation, not of legislation. (Hence the demand for an 'attitude' can betray it.) It wishes more to live perplexities than to solve them."

Emphases mine.
A tremendous time was had by all at the SOON reading on Saturday, in spite of a fairly serious technical glitch at the start: we couldn't unlock the doors to the gallery! But thanks to some quick thinking and the kindness of the folks at Autumn Leaves Used Books and the Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition we had an alternate space within minutes and were able to hold the reading there. Jonathan Skinner of ecopoetics read first. His poems, which work at the intersection of natural and political history, describes birds and cacti and ecosystems with something of the glancing and playful yet acute attention that Gertrude Stein gives to domestic objects and situations. The result is a sense of uncanny intimacy with landscapes as dialogued with, neither symbolized nor mastered. His ear is tuned to what words warble of themselves even as they refer to warblers. He read some of his Political Cactus Poems, but the bulk of the reading was devoted to wetlands and their slow, exorable enclosure, concluding with a long and long-lined tour-de-force, "The Natural History of Levies," a painful history of the ongoing disaster in New Orleans (never mentioning the city or any of the more culpable personages by name, speaking from an undefined "we") brought about in large part from the devastation of the wetlands and tidewaters that once guarded the city from hurricanes, as well as of course serving as vital ecosystems in their own right. Natural history plus the history of development in the Gulf plus a little old-fashioned rabble-rousing: "The same government that rushed back to the capital to save a brain-dead woman's life stayed home"; "The war on misery has not yet been declared"; "None of us were willing to acknowledge how little we'd learned about wetlands." Except we in the audience had learned quite a bit. Jonathan Skinner is a poet of considerable information, and learning about the present-tense world is one of the pleasures of hearing him.

Jonathan Monroe followed up with considerable information of his own. Although he's done important scholarship on contemporary innovative poetry, he's not very well known as a poet. This should change, because the work is witty, surprising, and intensely engaged with the relation between language and networks—a crucial insight because networks, as Alexander Galloway here points out (via wood s lot) are no longer the models of utopian resistance to centralized autority that thinkers such as Hakim Bey and Deleuze & Guattari once thought they were:
The powers-that-be have developed a new awareness and are adopting flexible, network structures at very core levels. They are adopting flexible network structures not as an apology or concession, not as a sacrifice, but as essential techniques for the very processes of sovereignty, control, and organization. In other words, distributed networks have ceased being a threat to control and have become the model for control. What was once the problem is now the solution. Today, this is one of the core challenges for imagining a life after capitalism: one can no longer rely on networks as a site for imaginative desire.
This is an insight with long-ranging implications for politically engaged poetry, proving, if proof were needed at this point, that textual disjunction may merely be mimetic of the habits of power rather than posing any intrinsic resistance to them. Jonathan Monroe's poetry seems at the least highly aware of this difficulty. Many of the poems he read were reflexively about reading and writing—appropriately enough, as his main job at Cornell is director of the undergraduate writing program—and tweaked some of the pieties that come with that terrritory: "Clarity takes the horn by its bull"; "Clarity, mother of inhibitions"; "Clarity: no samba, no flair"; "Conjugation not narration turned out to be destiny." The overall impression was that of a Dadaized intensification of the old Schoolhouse Rock cartoons, if Schoolhouse Rock were reimagined as an attempt to track the sheer voracious energy of capitalism on the make. "Something may happen but generally not"; "Not wanting to belong to any club that would have us dismembered"; "No syntax is free if you do a good job"; "In the language of surfing, no surplus" (that last makes for an interesting comment on Google-poetry). Like the Jonathan before him, Jonathan Monroe ended with a long poem that told us an awful lot about the now: he says it's largely a transcription of a conversation he overheard at a restaurant in Trinidad, where he was doing research for a course focusing on the work of Aime Cesaire, Derek Walcott, Edouard Glissant, and Kamau Brathwaite. It takes the form of a hysterical monologue addressed by a white man to a black man in which he elaborates a scheme for transforming Trinidad into a global hotspot for medical tourism—a place for rich people to visit, get plastic surgery, lie on the beach for a couple of weeks, and leave. The importance of a "brand-name" medical institution like Johns Hopkins, the simplicity of luring surgeons there for a couple of years by offering to double their salaries, tax free. It was a little like David Mamet only the obscenity was all in the context; it was also very funny, even as it terrified the listener through the sheer verbal spectacle of globalization in action. Great stuff, important stuff.

Acquired a couple of chapbooks from the Palm Press stash Jonathan Skinner brought with him: Mairead Byrne's An Educated Heart, which I'm looking forward to, and Mark Nowak's ¡Workers of the Word, Unite and Fight!, which largely consists of two provocative essays: a lacerating critique of the corporate facade and heart of the new Open Book literary center in Minneapolis and a longer essay, "Neoliberalism, Collective Action, and the American MFA Industry," which actually spends less time attacking the latter than it does on providing a blueprint for unionizing and/or fucking with chain bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. The last section is a poem with a fairly explanatory title: "Better Dead Than Bound to Be Read (Bookselling in America at the Millennial Turn)." Provocative stuff: it's hard to argue with this description of the American MFA industry (Nowak always italicizes it), which cuts to the heart of the justifiable resentment that has mostly found misdirected outlets like Foetry:
The relations of production within the American MFA industry, as well as the larger neoliberal language industry outlined above, replicate the sharp divisions and stratifications present in the relations of production in the global economy. An elite and highly paid miniority who control the practices and processes of the industry reap the bulk of the economic (and socio-cultural) benefits while a vast popular- or working-class majority struggles on temporary (part-time, adjunct, or annual) service contracts, substandard wages or graduate "stipends," unavailable or unaffordable healthcare, and related symptoms common to the larger processes and practices of neoliberalization.
And then there's this bit:
As a consequence of the industry's overproduction of graduates, an advertisement for a single one of these [tenure-track teaching] positions will regularly elicit hundreds of applicants. Likewise, many publishers now regularly fund books and journals through contests that charge exorbitant "service fees" for merely reading (aka, "servicing") a submission. Largely non-unionized service workers at Kinki's, OfficeMax, and Staples assist largely non-unionized creative writers in the preparation of these job applications and manuscript submissions.
Nowak's answer to this unten(ur)able situation is not to attack individual writers but rather to advocate for collective action: for workshops outside the university situation (and where possible directly attached to unionization drives both inside and out of the language/culture industry), and by implication, reading and publishing collectives. "One question at hand is whether the American MFA industry is capable of producing anything other than the neoliberal writer. If it is not (as I am arguing here), then delinking the writers' workshop from its academic institutional framework becomes a more imperative cultural adjustment than attempts to reform the industry from within its academic institutional framework." Revolution trumps reform. But it's not that simple, is it? After all, as the other quotations from the essay imply, most participants in the American MFA industry are workers, not capitalists, even if they are struggling to become capitalists; they teach comp, pay the exorbitant entry fees, go into debt, and occasionally come together for collective action within and without the workshop. The problem—and the most brilliant thing about Nowak's analysis is the continuity he observes between the micro-literary political economy and the macro one—may largely be one of self-identification and class consciousness. It's hard to think of oneself as a cultural worker within the university environment, especially an elite university environment as found here at Cornell. But that doesn't mean that isn't precisely one's role, or that one can't reach out to others in the same situation and find ways large and small to challenge the neoliberal assumptions that undergird the academic institution one is a more or less alienated part of. Still, most of us want to identify with the bosses and the haves. It seems supremely difficult to be what one is: to acknowledge how small a part we have as individuals in a destiny conceived of individualistically. There is no strong tradition of collective action for the grassroots of my generation to grow out of. Yet I have a growing sense of the intensifying desire for such action and such consciousness on the part of myself and my peers. Nowak quotes Adrienne Rich:
I want to read, and make, poems that are out there on the edge of meaning yet can mean something to the collective. I don't believe it's only the isolated visionary who goes to the edge of meaning; I think the collective needs to go there too...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Things were getting screwy—so I'm trying a new template. Yikes.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Farewell, Barbara Guest.
So far, so good.
Trying comments again.
I don't have anything new to say about Kent Johnson's Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz, but reading through Ron's comments field I discovered a poet who calls herself Lilac, and who has a blog: Carmen Is a Cat. She's apparently a Muslim who divides her time between Beirut and Arizona and her poetry is fierce and strange and exceptionally provocative, impossible to drop into the tired old left- and center-left slots that are accorded to the American post-avant and mainstream poetries respectively. I get a sense of real personal risk reading her, akin to what I feel reading Kent himself—whose book of epigrammatic insults about you and me is forthcoming and sure to raise a shitstorm. How rare to encounter a poet you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, whose writing is proportionately compelling. It's good to be made uncomfortable once in a while.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Paul Hoover has a blog, and he has a posse named Performance and Silence.
- Kasey Mohammed's lime tree wins my vote for Blog That Requires Reading. Case in point: his post responding to Jon Leon, and the accompanying comments.

- And looky here, as advertised: Kent Johnson's blog.

- MoveOn.org is asking its members if they/we should be opposing right-wing Democrats. I said yeah, and added the following as a comment:
This is not an easy choice--while MoveOn supports my basic values, I'm not at all certain that we've been effective. And didn't this organization get its start supporting Bill Clinton, who in any other civilized country would have been viewed as a center-right figure (for his actions, not his rhetoric)? I'm not at all sure ideological purity is something we should be enforcing, but I also want to stand up for progressive values. If Hillary runs, what will she stand for beside the bare minimum of electability? Thus my vote, which at least opens these questions up to scrutiny; the other option only closes them.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The spa was sinfully luxurious: my favorite part came on the first night, when we arrived exhausted and immediately went to the outdoor hot tub. There's something magical about simmering oneself in hot water while snow falls around and on you. Had a massage, finished the second George R.R. Martin book. I'm well and truly hooked now. Plotting is not a skill to be scorned, and Martin is an expert at moving many pieces around on his chessboard so that they collide in satisfying and sometimes surprising ways. Plot was my greatest weakness when I was trying to write fiction, and many avant-garde fictionists don't seem to be particularly interested in it. Is there something about a complex and interesting plot that's extrinsic to the strongest writing? Martin's sentences are certainly nothing to write home about: he happily resorts to cliches. The other thing he's good at, which is the most crucial element of a successful fantasy/speculative fiction novel, is assembling the details of his world. For much of the first volume I felt like he'd just emptied a bargain bin filled with the detritus of Arthurian legend, LeGuin's Earthsea novels, Robert Silverberg's novels, Dune (what are maesters but mentats? And it turns out there's an ecological note to Martin's world after all: the lost Children of the Forest and the godswoods in which the trees have eyes, destroyed by imperialism), and of course more than a sprinkling of Tolkien. But gradually his world has filled out and come to seem real, and I'm invested in the fate of the various characters, however archetypal they may be. Plus it has the vividness of melodrama: the villains are truly villainous, while the heroes are noble but sometimes uncertain of what the right thing may be in an increasingly dark and treacherous world.

On the poetry front I've been reading Joshua Marie Wilkinson's fantasia on the life of Egon Schiele, Suspension of a Secret in Abandoned Rooms, and Karla Kelsey's brand-new first book which just arrived from Ahsahta Press, Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary. Very beautiful writing in both books, though not very similar in style: Wilkinson assembles a kind of travelogue in which the paths of himself, Schiele, Wittgenstein, and others criss-cross Europe; Kelsey is a practitioner of the high lyric abstract which I find so very seductive. Still, at the momentt I'm still preoccupied with the place of beauty in poetry, particularly my own, and the desire to mess it up a little bit, to attack its narcotic properties. I've been following the back and forth about flarf with this in mind: I'm no flarfist, but I admire the subversive energy of the project, the daring of setting out to write deliberately bad poetry so as to put our received ideas of "the poetic" into question. It's become a genuine movement, and the evidence of this is that critics (like Dan Hoy and Jane) and assorted flarfists are now struggling to control its reception. This is the final gesture by which a movement or poet or technique becomes canonical, I think: after this it's all consolidation and textbooks. Which does not necessarily negate flarf's subversive potential; but I think the energy behind flarf, the desire to upset the apple-cart, is bound to move on toward something else now. May already have moved on to something I'm not yet aware of. In the meantime a slightly more conservative poet like myself is still trying to discover in what ways I've been impacted by the flarf carnival and whether I too might not want someday to be King of the Beans.

A last thought on Legitimate Dangers: to me it raises the question of the necessity of discovering one's own poetics. To join an anthology like this is to permit one's own poetic to be overlapped by the editors' conception of their own project, however well or badly that project is articulated. Of course an anthology is only a snapshot of a moment that's over long before that anthology hits the bookstores, much less lands in a student's hands; a poet's poetics can't be separated from the slow or rapid unfurling of his or her career, which is why it means something to talk about "early Olson" or "late Ashbery." At the same time, I suspect many poets find the imperative to construct a poetics to be oppressive, while those in contact with one or more aesthetically cohesive communities often succumb to consensus and groupthink and team-choosing. When I become a teacher to poets, as I probably eventually will, how will I approach this? With a couple of exceptions, my academic poetry education utterly neglected this question, but instead tried to absorb me and my fellow students into its un- or underspoken hegemon. I've often thought the best way to be a good teacher is to have strong opinions oneself: to unapologetically present one's own views as openly and fully as possible, so as to provide your students a firm point of orientation from which they can plot their own necessary deviations. But now I'm starting to think that's demanding too great a sacrifice from me as a poet: my poetics too are in constant flux, though there are certain constancies and convictions of long standing. The only solution may be de-hierarchizing the workshop I lead as much as possible, and presenting myself as another learner, albeit one with more experience. Fathers are depressing, Gertrude Stein said. I'd rather not be anyone's Nobadaddy.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Snow's falling quietly, like this blog.

This is important. Like Ron, I hope it will be the beginning of a conversation about innovative poetics and race. And yeah, why no Chuck D?

Finished A Game of Thrones, liked it enough to move on to A Clash of Kings, though the writing is only workmanlike and the story mostly a pastiche of every other fantasy novel I've ever read. In fact it closely resembles Dune but without the ideas about ecology. Why bother? Partly because it's good fodder for the D&D game, a form of collective storytelling which suffers, I think, when overly concerned with originality. The players enjoy living out archetypal moments from their favorite books and movies. At the same time, it's their story, and so unique. A lot of pleasure can be obtained from this sort of repetition-with-a-difference. But there seems an incommensurable gap between this kind of pleasure and the pleasures I take from writing and reading poetry. Maybe I contain multitudes.

Emily and I are off to a spa for a couple of days to soak in hot tubs and take a break from wedding planning.

Buying my plane ticket to AWP today.

Monday, February 06, 2006

There was a climactic and gruesome battle in the D&D campaign that I'm running: I'm struck by my taste, and facility, for lurid details and complicated plots. Why is this appetite so wholly divorced from most of my poetry? Well, okay, I've sometimes permitted myself the odd lurid detail, as here. Is more integration possible? Or should I just start writing fantasy novels on the side?

Teaching and grading, grading and teaching.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Oh, phew.
Blogs committing suicide? What is the rhetorical function of this? Are these, like real-life suicide attempts (and suicide of one's avatar can never really be more than an "attempt"), some sort of cry for help?
On Reading Drew Gardner's Petroleum Hat and David Larsen's The Thorn

For a long time I used to go to bed quite late at night, screen memories of sex and violence smeared across my eyes.

For a long time I confused nostalgia with the poetic impulse as such.

Trying to wake up now.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A note to self, a useful paragraph excerpted from Brandon Taylor's Collage: The Making of Modern Art:
It is to the brilliant Shklovsky of the St Petersburg Opoyaz group, himself a master of overstatement, literary inversion and ironic play, that we owe the most succinct formulations of the basic idea of creative "deformation" by which cliche is avoided and the world of images and words appears suddenly sharp and unfamiliar. The twin processes of "laying bare the device" (obnazenie priema) and "making strange" (ostraneiya) function in Russian Formalist theory to separate both an image and its material from their habitual contexts. To Shklovsky, "laying bare the device" meant both letting the commonplace infiltrate the sophisticated and vice-versa (examples were to be found in Tolstoy and Lawrence Sterne, as well as in French Cubist collage). The results were explosvie: the invasion of the sophisticated by the simple provided a link with a European pastoral tradition reaching back to Virgil, while the overlaying of simplicity with complexity (of diction, rhythm or reference) brought with it the possibility of parody and the burlesque: a quantum leap from the routine concern with the metaphorical image that had suffused Russian symbolist art and literature for a generation. To Shklovsky, faktura was a quality of both poetic writing and visual art. "Density [faktura]," wrote Shklovsky, "is the principal characteristic of this peculiar world of deliberately constructed objects, the totality of which we call art."

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