Monday, August 31, 2009

Taking a Break Now that the Baby's Asleep

An exercise in Youtubery and Googling.



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Reading Kenneth Patchen



The Orange Bears


The Orange bears with soft friendly eyes
Who played with me when I was ten,
Christ, before I'd left home they'd had
Their paws smashed in the rolls, their backs
Seared by hot slag, their soft trusting
Bellies kicked in, their tongues ripped
Out, and I went down through the woods
To the smelly crick with Whitman
In the Haldeman-Julius edition,
And I just sat there worrying my thumbnail
Into the cover---What did he know about
Orange bears with their coats all stunk up with soft coal
And the National Guard coming over
From Wheeling to stand in front of the millgates
With drawn bayonets jeering at the strikers?

I remember you would put daisies
On the windowsill at night and in
The morning they'd be so covered with soot
You couldn't tell what they were anymore.

A hell of a fat chance my orange bears had!


I don't know if I've ever read a more earnest poem by someone so well-known. That last line, urgh.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Poetry: Avant or SOQ

I follow Ron Silliman's blog, which is hardly news. Many people do. I like getting the poetry skinny from someone who poetry diametrically opposes my own work.Very often, his comment stream fills with relatively polite invective discussing the SOQ stranglehold on the poetry scene, or advocating for what seem to me to be various coteries of oddballs and nearly non-poets. I like that. I'd do the same thing, if I had a coterie, and I like many of the avant-garde poets I first discovered through his blog.

The thing is, despite some discussion, there seems to be no room in his scheme for a third way, for poets like me who are influenced equally by the School of Quietude and the avant-garde. Are there poets who admit to funneling their influences straight through the middle? If I had to name my influences right now, I'd name Galway Kinnell and James Wright and Kim Addonizio on one side, and Paul Blackburn,Ted Berrigan, and Allen Ginsberg on the other. I don't know what that says about me, but even the sonnet cycle I wrote under the Berrigan influence doesn't seem avant-garde, nor does any of my other work, so I'd have a difficult time placing myself among the poles. Which brings me to the point: Silliman's comments today on Jason Shinder.

I know Shinder's work--and if asked, would say I liked it--only because of a single poem that I read first in a textbook or something---sorry, can't remember where--before it had been published in Ploughshares, in their Spring 2007 issue. Today, Silliman finds himself affected by Shinder's last poems, written, apparently, as Shinder slowly died of cancer. What Silliman posts from this last book seem skilled but ordinary stripped-down poems of a kind and nature you can see anytime in various journals. Strictly SOQ, as Silliman defines it. But, because Shinder had been Allen Ginsberg's assistant, some avant-garde leeway apparently allows him to be praised, for these perfectly ordinary poems. I've read Shinder's books. They all consist of pretty ordinary-to-good poems. In other words, I'd be grateful to eventually publish the number of books Shinder did, but those books are probably not going to change anyone's poetic life. He's one among thousands, really. Except for that one thing, one poem, that I read long ago. It hit me hard. I repost it here for general edification. The poem didn't change my life exactly, but I'll always remember it.

From Ploughshares, Spring 2007:

Hospital, by Jason Shinder

While the machine sucks the black suds

from my mother’s blood and then sends it back
stinking clean into the pistol-tube nailed down

into her chest, I climb out of my shoes and slip

a cotton swab of water between her teeth,
her dentures sliding off the back porch

of her mouth. Nobody knows, never knows,

how she has to pee, wrapped in a diaper.
But can’t. The yellow eggs she ate one hour ago

already the shit in her bowels. And lonely,

head-hanging-from-the-balcony-of-her-body lonely,
darkest-passage-from-the-hairless-vagina lonely.

But brave. But lonely. Because I did not stay all night.

Because I won’t. Because I’m going to pull out
the one bone that hurts her the most and break the back

of every word I ever said to her. The world is evil, Mother,

and I am, too.

This is a great poem, for me, mostly because of its last four lines. What seems a bit too detailed and precise in the previous lines, a kind of quivery ick, suddenly comes into hard focus. Rescued from its sentiment, though, this poem would be nothing, and those late poems of Shinder's seem bereft even of poetic intent. How does one go from praising those lines Silliman quoted, to these much much better ones? And how do we judge the SOQ-Avant tension when the one side, the bloggiest of the blog-powerful avants, chooses the clearly inferior poems to champion?

More importantly, how does a guy like me find his intellectual way among people like this? I mean, Jesus.

Easy answer: I don't. I keep on reading and writing, and making up my own damned mind, growing better informed along the way.

Newish Poem:Legerdemain

I've written so many poems over the last year, since my novel leached the piss and vinegar right out of any fiction I tried to write, that I don't even remember writing this one. I'm happy, however, that the writing site I've belonged to for more than ten years, Scrawl (www.stwa.net), saw fit to publish it in the house organ, The Story Garden. Here is a link to my poem, Legerdemain.

And before you all leap to join this site, it is decidedly not a place for everyone. All trolls are allowed, and it's like the Hotel California. Once you get in, you can never leave. Almost no one gets kicked out. I have left it in a huff many times--and probably will again--but I come back. Why I don't know.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bill Knott's Imp

I've been in the woods all week. I ripped a tick off me; now I'm thinking about Lyme disease. Fun stuff.

But look at this awesome clever bastard of a poem Bill Knott wrote. I wish I'd taken another class with him fifteen years back. I might have never written another piece of fiction, though(the world rejoices at the potential, I'm sure).

IMP

as i sd to my
the darkness sur
always talking i
caught maybellene
at the top
of the hill drive
he sd for christ
sake john why
can't you
be true i sd but
john was
not his name
his name was not
sd his name
no not was
never his
name i was not
his john though
as i was
motivating
over the hill i
saw him come his
cadillac sitting
like a ton
of lead sd sur
why not i caught
john at the top
of christ i
sd christ which
was not his name
maybellene mary
i sd which
was not his come
why can't you be
true drive he
started back do
ing the things
he sd john he
sd christ my
cadillac you
used to do what
can we do
against it why
can't we be
true for christ
sake look out where
yr going john
was not his name
came yr going
not look out
where not his
not no one
to witness to
adjust drive he
maybellene mary
i caught at
the top of the
cross was not
the darkness sur
creeley sur
berry sur
rounds us shall we
and why not
why can't you
be true drive
he sd for
christ sake you
can't be true
why can't can
we do against
and why not buy
maybellene a
goddamn big
car a god
cadillac to
witness and
adjust no
one to drive
he sd for
buy buy look
out why
can't you true
at the top of
the hill as
i sd to my
name which was
not why can't
why can't you
be true

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

MIstakes and Craft and Gabriel Gudding

This is one take, and an interesting one, on how poetry ought to be thought about and taught, in an interview with with Gabriel Gudding originally on MiPOesias. His book Rhode Island Notebook knocked me the fuck out, made me think more/better about my own work, made me want to work.

You're a professor of English at Illinois State University. Presumably, you teach writing workshops. For the benefit of our audience, what, in your opinion, are the most common mistakes made by aspiring writers? How do you help them to improve their craft?

Way I see it it’s a great privilege to get to teach something as important as creative writing and literature. Because of this, the words “mistake” and “craft” don’t come out of my mouth. Those categories have no place in my pedagogy: I strongly feel these are terms of schooling -- schooling in the Illichian sense, in the sense that “schooling,” as opposed to education, destroys souls. So, I try to disabuse students of the notion that the categories “mistake” and “craft” can have anything to do with writing. Lot of these kids come in to our classrooms very shut down. I really feel they don’t need a teacher talking about mistakes. “Craft,” though a wonderful idea, is what German novelist and linguist Uwe Poerksen calls a plastic word: it connotes far more than it denotes, such that it has become more a tool with which to yield power and status and less a word that communicates, aids, teaches.

In fact I tell my students to welcome the experience that they had initially label “error”: do not try to avoid error; embrace it, use it, transform it. All rocks are broken rocks: once a young writer twigs to that insight, she’s home free.

More here.
A note I feel ought to write: I am not a professional or even a hobbyist critic or reviewer; I am not learned in theory and criticism; the shit scares me off; I know more about fiction than I do poetry; yet I've always written poetry despite calling myself a fiction writer. So take everything you read here with generous amounts of NaCl. I read a lot of poetry, though, from all over the aesthetic map,and I like to say dumb things about it while I work out how I feel and what I've taken from it. I hope there are people out there in the same straits. Maybe they'll like this blog.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hello and Welcome

This is, or will be, a blog primarily about poetry: mine, yours,and everyone else's. I'm going to republish my poems here, talk about things related, favorite poets, po-biz, angst. I won't promise consistent updates, as I go through stages where I don't write poems, but you should see posts fairly frequently. And as I re-read this, I see I misnamed the bar. It's the Shipwreck Lounge, on Revere Beach. Ahem. Proof your work, poets.:-/

The following poem appeared in Barn Owl Review Issue I.


The Shipwreck Bar

I'm watching a drape-eyed girl,
callused fingers stretched
like paper over thin bones,
the star attraction in this bar
but this isn't one of those poems,
where there's some forlorn girl
and some hard-bitten guy
bouncing their tricks off each
other like quarters into an empty
shot glass or pumping each other
for information while her tiny
bare beach feet kick softly against
the runner. It's a poem about the
illegal bets being made all around,
the evening sun letting down outside,
and the bread-smell of Budweiser
in a cold long-neck bottle,
the scrape and craw of wooden barstools,
and most of all, it's about the way
the night negates possibility at the same
time the opportunities expand,
when that ship that's been creaking
on the wall seems to be coming in
again for you and for all your friends,
and it's about that drape-eyed girl
leaving the bar alone and walking
on the beach searching for stray kelp,
seeing a stray mutt,
and finding some old toy she left behind,
or something burning in the night mist,
something only she can know about,
something the world doesn't want her to have.