Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Redneck Poems Reviewed



Redneck Poems reviewed by Rene Schwiesow at Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene:
Edge. Rusty Barnes work will walk you out to the edge, ask you to look over, and consider whether you feel your stomach drop or your eyes water as you read. This is the real thing. Barnes grew up in rural Appalachia and his words are shot through with those Appalachian roots. Barnes creates an image that arouses all the senses in the opening of “When the Wrong Words Get Said:"
More:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Poem Draft



I can't remember whether I posted this one or not. I generally hate dislike intensely poems that are so obvious. This one has something at the end that needs more exploration, I think, but it's tough to find energy to work on it because it's so obvious. It'll disappear in a few days.



*poof

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More on my Paul Blackburn Obsession

Paul Blackburn and Lee Byrd

I'm officially and permanently obsessed.  Now I want to know where the criticism is. Shouldn't a poet of Blackburn's status and lifework have more written about him? If you, any of you reading, can give me links or info about articles of books, I'd really appreciate it.



Blackburn at Wikipedia
EPC/Blackburn
Jacket 12/Blackburn
Modern American Poetry
Poets Path/Blackburn
Burt Kimmelman on The Journals
Blackburn papers UC San Diego
Blackburn reading The Old Days
Blackburn reading at Bard
Google Books Poem of the Cid
PennSound Blackburn Readings
Joe Hall discusses The Journals

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Essay on Paul Blackburn by Clayton Eshleman

I found this on Facebook where Don Share linked to it. The author is Clayton Eshleman, the blogger is A.M.Bramhall.

The essay goes to some trouble countering the established view that Blackburn is sexist in a way that immediately draws attention to itself, and overcomplicates reading the poems. I assumed Blackburn had been assigned minor figure status in the strange way that the canon adjusts itself to new or different criticism. I see from this essay that Blackburn seems to always have been minor status, and that's too bad. The defense (Eshleman) doesn't work hard enough to change that, but I stand here saying it needs changing.

Eshleman brings out Freud in Blackburn's defense, with over-significant broken masts and purse-seine vaginas and what have you, and discusses what he calls the three modes of sexuality in the poems, a dirty joke variety which has become the standard text of discussion and includes the few poems anthologized, along with a 'turgid sexual despair' which dominates the work of the middle sixties, and last, an "admiration and tender respect for what might be thought of as femininity in all forms" in the first half of his career. The progression implies that the late-career poems are somehow less than the remainder of his work, though still important for a fuller understanding. I find the later period more interesting than the early work, frankly, but then I'm no poet-scholar like Eshleman. And the Freud is just silly.

But it's worth reading, this essay, and makes me want to pull out my collected Blackburn again.

PAUL BLACKBURN’S PARALLEL VOYAGES
The quintessential Paul Blackburn poem (“Affinities II” would be a good example) is visually speaking more like a sketch (Franz Kline was his favorite painter) than a work in oil. Lines are brisk, deft strokes resulting in mobile half-stanzas, particle-stanzas, slightly assymetrical, that tilt the poem on. Whether in Barcelona or in the New York City 23rd Street “Bakery,” the Blackburn persona is generally off-stage, activated by desire, an observer scoring nodes which the reader can connect to constellate relationship-oriented patterns. The tendency is to seek out value, or as Blackburn himself puts it in one poem included in The Parallel Voyages,[1] “the whole and the flowing,” but he is also fascinated by the extent to which humankind is derailed, and redesigned, by a ritualistic emotional and material interface. The content of this quintessential poem is spare, idiomatically erudite, and only marginally introspective. It frames itself as it tracks its own material, resulting in a page design that is quite mobile, with weighted, balanced lines and word clumps:
More:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mather Schneider's Drought Resistant Strain

I don't recall reading Mather Schneider's work before this year, but that's apparently because I don't read widely enough, as he's published something like five hundred poems. I took him first for yet another Bukowski imitator (I suppose I could ask him straight out if he thinks he's influenced by the dirty old man but I don't really care all that much, and I suspect, neither does he)but found when I read a bit more discovered he had more going for him than the Buk, namely, some humility and compassion that leavens the (often tired) attitudes toward licker and wimmen and durgs, as well as a way with phrasing that renders his work a pleasure to read. More than mere narrative, these poems at their best evince a practiced and polished lyric and an attitude toward life that looks forward to better times instead of wallowing in the past. You can find plenty of evidence of his gifts on the 'nets, but my examples come from his most recent book, Drought Resistant Strain (Interior Noise Press, 2010).

Of all the poems about bars—there must be a gajillion—I think most of them end up being about pickups or hookups or oddball-character poems. It's refreshing to read something like the following: short, short-lined, observation-based and solidly in the moment, without being smarmy or sentimental. The final metaphor, for me, exhibits the rueful, nearly jaundiced eye of the lifetime observer, the often forced-into-humility watcher who exists in every bar I've ever spent more than a night in. "A long line of buckets/leading to a fire," indeed.


Julie at the Bashful Bandit

Your cigarette smoke curls up
like a telephone cord
to the hereafter.

Over the oval maw of a highball
a wan smile rims
a red straw.

Your hands
are like crazy
white spiders

and your drinks
are a long line of buckets
leading to a fire.

Compassion is not automatically native to poetry, as some poets believe, their dead dogs and busted-up relationships and kind wisdoms from the old man's splintered teeth notwithstanding. The true gen is in a poem like "Bad Summer."



Bad Summer

We killed fourteen copperhead snakes
one summer.

My dad helped me skin one
and make a hat band
for my black cowboy hat.

I remember a fat one
I slit at the belly
(as my mother looked on)
and out squirmed a spaghetti mess
of baby snakes
slimy and bloody
but alive.

We didn't know what else to do
but feed them
to the fire.


Though it's not a tour de force in its language or metaphor, the direct tone and straightforward recounting of events is powerful in its simplicity. I'd point to the parenthesized line as the high point of compassion in this poem. The decision to burn the snakes in front of the mother becomes the force whereon the family turns and the persona gets a life lesson by performing the unexpected cesarean-section. Little dangers grow up to be bigger dangers,the father seems to say. So burn them. In the last stanza, the first line "we didn't know what else to do" is what may be a first failing—one of many, we know—in the narrator's relationship with his parents.

In the poem "Ten Years Away," the narrative takes the forefront again. In plain language,the narrator describes home in terms of how everything has changed but nothing changes.



Ten Years Away

I come home to find my cousin Todd
won't take his Lithium,
my mother has a tissue box
in every corner of her house
and nothing but a police scanner for company,
my sister's married to a man
who wears a hunting cap at dinner, and who drinks
a gallon of whole milk a day,
Kim Hecht has taken too many vacations
with the Rainbow People
and is now able to communicate with cats and marigolds,
Shelley Macintire is now a mad
drunken nurse who hates people and breaks
dinnerware at parties,
our old house is all grown up
with vines and mean-looking grasses
and there are cages of angry dogs behind the shed
where I opened my first nudie mag,
most of the good looking girls from high school
are a mess
and a couple of the homely ones
have found their own
and most of them have been divorced at least once,
the bridge is out down
by Johnson's Hollow
and the lake where I used to skinny dip
with Theresa Ozuna
has been drained,
there's a new road to my grandpa's old house
out in the woods,
but it still looks rough,
it still looks plenty rough back there.

Though "it still looks plenty rough back there," it seems the narrator's celebrating that he managed to get away at all and recognizes how far he's come from the rough, that catalog of characters from his past who have all gone their own way and ended up in situations none of them would probably choose if they had it to do over. I don't want to say too much about the poems, so I'm going to stop now. It's not as if they require explication anyway. They're rigorously assembled and compassionate, hard and fast in some poems while smooth in others, and in general a pleasure to read. I think of these poems in much the same way as I do Jim Harrison's verse: I read Harrison,and now Schneider, to feel connected to reality when the umbilicus that ties me to this plane seems near-cut. The best thing I can say about Schneider's poems is that I want to live in the world they present, and that's no small accomplishment.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Appeal to Poetry Editors

from Poetic Asides and Robert Lee Brewer:

Dear Poetry Editors,*
For years, poets have grown accustomed to rejection in several forms (as in rejection forms) and the occasional nice note. However, there are some editorial practices that need to be done away with for the good mental health of poets, who already have their mental health called into question for working tirelessly at their craft for little or no money (myself included).
No Note
First, there's the case of editors who don't include any sort of note--even a form letter--with rejected poems. I totally understand if you can't afford to print up form rejection letters, but surely you at least have a pen that can write something on the poems. The word NO would probably convey your meaning.
No note gives poets a false sense of hope. For instance, they may think, "Hey, there was no rejection included, so maybe...maybe they liked what I sent?"
Don't laugh. Poets are a hopeful people.
Empty Envelope**
This is even more bizarre than the no note tactic. After all, the poet sent poems and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Where did the poems go? Where is the confirmation of rejection? Keep reading.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Poem Draft





It'll disappear in a few days, but it's the first one in a while, so I thought I'd post it. I'll slowly be working on poems every day this month.



*poof*

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Quick Poem For You and News of Some Upcoming Posts

Hi everybody. Long time no see. I had visitors for a week, I got behind on Night Train, the kids got sick all at once, and here I am, with no posts for a while except my self-puffery, which I'm trying to avoid (but no one else will do it; see my dilemma?).


I've been trying to restart my poetry engine by going back and forth between new-to-me poets and standbys. I'll have a short review or commentary on Drought Resistant Strain, poetry by Mather Schneider and possibly another, on an anthology called New European Poets, up on the blog soon. The latter will be a little slower in coming because I have to rethink my approach to 'criticizing' poetry, not just because of this book, but mostly. See, I'm ignorant of a lot of contemporary European poetry (among many other things), and it's so different in some ways from American poetry it's as if the two barely communicate--or have communicated--at all. And I want to communicate, in my own work, which is not the goal for some poets. I want the interplay of culture-clash and languages and class division, the red meat of the thing, whatever it happens to be. I want its skin off and guts on display so I can haruspicate. In short, I don't want to be ignorant of, well, anything, really, but poetry for sure. Dumb I can handle--not much choice in the matter-- redneck I was born with--but I sure as hell don't have to be ignorant. Anyway. Below is my favorite Frank Stanford poem. I've posted it before but I don't care. It does everything I want a poem to do.



Hidden Water/Frank Stanford

A girl was in a wheelchair on her porch
And wasps were swarming in the cornice

She had just washed her hair
When she took it down she combed it

She could see
Just like I could

The one star under the rafter
Quivering like a knife in the creek

She was thin
And she made me think

Of music singing to itself
Like someone putting a dulcimer in a case

And walking off with a stranger
To lie down and drink in the dark







P.S. after the fact: I'm not entirely ignorant of European literature. I have my own little obsessions, such as poets from the Russian-bloc countries of the Cold War, and some Soviet-era samizdat, thanks to a proselytizing teacher, Bernie Koloski, now retired from Mansfield University and the summer honors program I got kicked out of in the late 80s. But that's not much for a practicing writer and sometime academic.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Redneck Poems is Released


Hey--some biggish news today. My free e-book/chapbook is available now. It's called Redneck Poems and it's part of the MiPOesias Chapbook Series. It's available for free via Issuu and Scribd, and in print (free on iPad) for a small fee via Magcloud. It's even on Goodreads if you should find it in your heart to rate or review it: Goodreads. It's my first poetry chapbook and I hope you like it. If you do, lemme know. If not, don't harsh my buzz. Just kidding. If you tell me it sucks, though, I'll probably ball up for 15 or 16 hours and then kill something cute like a bunny. Just an FYI.

Friday, October 1, 2010

New E-Chap from Kyle Hemmings: Avenue C

I've known Kyle's writing for some time now--and was lucky enough to publish a couple stories--and he never fails to impress me. His e-chapbook from Scars Publishing, called Avenue Cfits more than neatly into the subject matter I like to read about. I'm somewhat jealous of these poems, to be honest, and that doesn't happen often. Here's the first poem in the book, the title poem.

Avenue C


1.

She gets high on diesel dust
& mute reruns of Jack Benny.
This slinky white boot Barbarella
has got a rubber soul
that stretches into angel octave,
levitates in the nightly limbo
of bong & free trade
called Avenue C.

Claiming to be owned
by 3 bipolar Kings of Funk,
she breaks glass beer bottles
in the backseat of my old Cougar
& gives herself up
at least once a month.
She doesn’t even wipe
the rivulets of blood
spelling my name
with a missing vowel.

I drive my car
on methamphetamine rage
fill everything up
on zeroes.

At the club tonight,
the D.J. looking like
some fucked-up owl on Special K,
I dance with everyone’s girl
of a thousand bar butterflies.
She twists & gyrates
to the boom boom boom
& sonic Charlies,
shouting to the world
that her body is protein & crystalline salt,
addressing that constant hunger
of dead-eyed mystics,
shouting to the world
that she’s not wearing underwear.

2.

After the artificial red smoke
& dancers with a thousand names
have cleared, he spots the old man
leaning against the piano
that the Siamese twins played out of key.
He’s wearing a flannel shirt that is just so
out of place. He thinks: the crow
must be a veteran of a foreign war
where everyone lost their left hand
& some buttons.

How much? says the Crow-man.
An arm & your left leg, says Banshee-Bob.
In the hotel room,
Crow-man pumps Banshee-Bob
as if channeling his very soul
through the only bridge-&-tunnel there is.
& tonight, neither trick or customer has wings.

When finished, Banshee-Bob looks up
at Crow-man and spots a squiggly red line
across his throat. He hadn’t noticed it
in the misty darkness of the club
that sold rum & quick-pop soul with ice.
It reminds Banshee-Bob of a snake.

But tonight, no need to call 911,
it’s just a mongoose on home turf
just a self-inflicted wound,
the snake’s eyes like tiny keyholes
into a room vacated by draft-dodgers
an old wallet photo of an Asian boy
how cold-blooded bodies can never be forgotten
except in Apt. 214d, last door on the right.

3.

My pit bull girlfriend protects me
from dreams that form scabs
under the skin. I draw a fibrous lining
around my sleep well, or live within
the chain-link perimeter of
hoping-never-to-wake-up.
But despite the subliminal waterfall
of wishes, I do.

In bed, we go down like good cough medicine.

By morning, I am cradled by the love of fur.
I recall the dream of her white teeth
that are mountains & the sun & the moon
that are various shades of her eyes.
There is no trace of a calibrated whistle.

& what I have at the end of my leash
is something that will never return
only the outline of someone
who once found me too needy
of claw & red meat.

The poem is 'streetwise' and seductive in its rhythms, doesn't depend, really, on a narrative thread, though there's a hint of one, and uses its language to describe both what's happening and what might (could? should?) happen. It's rare enough that this type of poem isn't overdone or simply embarrassing. With every line Kyle gets better and better, with tighter control on the language and images. And the damned thing is free! Go get it.

New E-Chap from Kyle Hemmings: Avenue C

I've known Kyle's writing for some time now--and was lucky enough to publish a couple stories--and he never fails to impress me. His e-chapbook from Scars Publishing, called Avenue Cfits more than neatly into the subject matter I like to read about. I'm somewhat jealous of these poems, to be honest, and that doesn't happen often. Here's the first poem in the book, the title poem.

Avenue C


1.

She gets high on diesel dust
& mute reruns of Jack Benny.
This slinky white boot Barbarella
has got a rubber soul
that stretches into angel octave,
levitates in the nightly limbo
of bong & free trade
called Avenue C.

Claiming to be owned
by 3 bipolar Kings of Funk,
she breaks glass beer bottles
in the backseat of my old Cougar
& gives herself up
at least once a month.
She doesn’t even wipe
the rivulets of blood
spelling my name
with a missing vowel.

I drive my car
on methamphetamine rage
fill everything up
on zeroes.

At the club tonight,
the D.J. looking like
some fucked-up owl on Special K,
I dance with everyone’s girl
of a thousand bar butterflies.
She twists & gyrates
to the boom boom boom
& sonic Charlies,
shouting to the world
that her body is protein & crystalline salt,
addressing that constant hunger
of dead-eyed mystics,
shouting to the world
that she’s not wearing underwear.

2.

After the artificial red smoke
& dancers with a thousand names
have cleared, he spots the old man
leaning against the piano
that the Siamese twins played out of key.
He’s wearing a flannel shirt that is just so
out of place. He thinks: the crow
must be a veteran of a foreign war
where everyone lost their left hand
& some buttons.

How much? says the Crow-man.
An arm & your left leg, says Banshee-Bob.
In the hotel room,
Crow-man pumps Banshee-Bob
as if channeling his very soul
through the only bridge-&-tunnel there is.
& tonight, neither trick or customer has wings.

When finished, Banshee-Bob looks up
at Crow-man and spots a squiggly red line
across his throat. He hadn’t noticed it
in the misty darkness of the club
that sold rum & quick-pop soul with ice.
It reminds Banshee-Bob of a snake.

But tonight, no need to call 911,
it’s just a mongoose on home turf
just a self-inflicted wound,
the snake’s eyes like tiny keyholes
into a room vacated by draft-dodgers
an old wallet photo of an Asian boy
how cold-blooded bodies can never be forgotten
except in Apt. 214d, last door on the right.

3.

My pit bull girlfriend protects me
from dreams that form scabs
under the skin. I draw a fibrous lining
around my sleep well, or live within
the chain-link perimeter of
hoping-never-to-wake-up.
But despite the subliminal waterfall
of wishes, I do.

In bed, we go down like good cough medicine.

By morning, I am cradled by the love of fur.
I recall the dream of her white teeth
that are mountains & the sun & the moon
that are various shades of her eyes.
There is no trace of a calibrated whistle.

& what I have at the end of my leash
is something that will never return
only the outline of someone
who once found me too needy
of claw & red meat.

The poem is 'streetwise' and seductive in its rhythms, doesn't depend, really, on a narrative thread, though there's a hint of one, and uses its language to describe both what's happening and what might (could? should?) happen. It's rare enough that this type of poem isn't overdone or simply embarrassing. With every line Kyle gets better and better, with tighter control on the language and images. And the damned thing is free! Go get it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

David Huddle and Brian Brodeur

Brian Brodeur's How a Poem Happens recently had an enlightening Q&A with poet David Huddle, a part of which I'll paste below. This entry, and the whole blog is worth a long look.
Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?
 Tough question. I used to claim I thought about audience only after I had finished the piece of writing and had begun to wonder where I should send it. In recent years, however, I’ve been writing with my students, and in that case I’m writing for the immediate audience of the writing class where I will present my poem alongside the other poets presenting theirs. I do still like to think that I don’t write “to” any particular audience. This is sort of like confessing that one is somewhat promiscuous but one is not a complete slut.
I'm not familiar with Huddle's poetry, but I will be pretty soon, you can bet, based on the quoted poem in that entry.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Franz Wright's Drafts

Just a quick note. I thought this presentation deserved wider audience. It contains discussions and drafts of one of our indispensable poets, to my ear. There's an interview linked within, which I've pulled out to the front, here. Reading his best poems make my internal organs contract, all at once. They're signs of witness, as well as signposts toward--and somehow working against--the sort of life that most of us have. They give us something to look up to and strive for.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What I'm Reading and More on Ted Berrigan

I am reading these books, in no particular order. I leave them at the bedside, by my laptop, in the library, in both bathrooms, and on the shelf of cookbooks in the kitchen, so's I always have something to read when I have time away from the kids. Yes, bathroom time is included in that.

Daddy's by Lindsay Hunter: This book will scalp you and make you like it. I just got it today and dipped in here and there. Go get it now.

Talking in Tranquility: Interviews with Ted Berrigan: Pretty much what it says it is. These interviews deal significantly with the Sonnets--even at the end of his life the first thing interviews talk about are the Sonnets--and I can't imagine that was pleasing for him, though he handles the questions every time without showing how many times he's been asked about them. That's a good skill to have.

Paterson, by William Carlos Williams: I got tired of not knowing Paterson, so I'm reading it. Jury's still out on quality assessment, though I haven't put it down bored, like I have with some other 'important' books(Cantos, anyone?).

The Livelihood of Crows, by Jayne Pupek: Jayne died recently, and I hate that I missed telling her how really good this book made me feel, and how good she was.

The God of Loneliness and Failure, by Philip Schultz: a Pulitzer winner I knew nothing about until a couple days ago. I love these plain, plangent poems.

The Name of the Nearest River, by Alex Taylor: excellent Appalachian stories. If you like the grit, go get this one.

A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter: I had to quit reading this before, I think, though I really enjoyed what I'd read up until the time something--I think the last kid being born :-)--made me put it down.


And speaking of Ted Berrigan, Isola di Rifuti has some nifty points of view and discussion of the new book of letters I mentioned a few posts ago. Here's a taste.

Ted Berrigan, writing about The New American Poetry, 1945-1960 (out of Dear Sandy, Hello):
The final literary matter I wanted to talk about was the Grove Press anthology. . . . I thought I’d tell you some of the writers in the book that I liked most. Robert Creeley’s short poems seem very interesting to me. He often says very good things in a very good way. Brother Antoninus writes very good poetry, I think. I like Ginsberg’s poem called “A Supermarket in California,” and his other things too. I like Gregory Corso some of the time, and some of the poems he has in here, like “Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway” I like a lot. I like Barbara Guest a little, and of course Koch and O’Hara and Ashbery very much. I like Gary Snyder’s work, too. I like some of Michael McClure’s work, but like his books better than selected poems from his books. I think that John Wieners is very good, and sometimes I like Ron Loewinsohn and Dave Meltzer. Personally, I think I can write better than many poets in the book, but I can’t write well enough to satisfy myself yet.
Bravado of the up and coming. Lacking (one obvious hole): Olson. (Though one notes, too, Berrigan’s own sense of what Olson call’d a “saturation job”—“It doesn’t matter whether it’s Barbed Wire or Pemmican or Paterson or Iowa”—:
I’ve always found that to sustain myself in any project it was important that I talk about it, write about it, make voluminous notes, even if I discarded them all later. But the discipline of forcing oneself to study onesubject consistently, for a certain amount of time every day, is great. It gives you a realization both of how much can be accomplished through reason and discipline, and of how much cannot be accomplished that way, but rather must be blundered into.
Echoing O’Hara’s cautionary note regarding Olson’s “sometimes rather cold” approach. See O’Hara’s conversations with Edward Lucie-Smith, particularly the succinctly measured cut of: “Olson is—a great spirit. I don’t think that he is willing to be as delicate as his sensibility may be emotionally and he’s extremely conscious of the Pound heritage and of saying the important utterance, which one cannot always summon up and indeed is not particularly desirable most of the time.”) (O’Hara’s remark made in 1965, Berrigan’s sense of what “must be blundered into” is found in a letter dated March 25, 1962. He reports a card in reply to the letter he’d sent O’Hara—“Dear Ted Berrigan: Boy you certainly know how to cheer a person up . . .”—though the two’ve still to meet. Evidence of parallel sensibility.)
More

Monday, August 30, 2010

Best of the Web Nomination

I just got news from Helen Losse at the Dead Mule that she'd nominated my poem "How It Begins" for this anthology. Thanks to her, and to the Mule. You should go read the other fine work on the site, and get to mine (you"ll have to scroll a bit) when you have time.

Dear Sandy, Hello: Letters by Ted Berrigan



I mentioned this book a couple weeks back and just now saw this interview with Berrigan's close friend Ron Padgett on Harriet, originally published in PW.
Poet Ted Berrigan's close friend Ron Padgett co-edited Dear Sandy, a collection of letters the young Ted wrote his wife when she was institutionalized by her parents for marrying him.

What was your relationship with Ted while he was writing these letters?
We were both living in New York on the Upper West Side, but I was keeping my distance from him. Although we saw each other and there was no overt hostility, I was feeling a bit cool toward him during that period.
How do you think all Ted's interests in writers and artists come together in these letters?
They combined in several ways. First, in a general way, that is, as an affirmation that art and literature really do matter in one's life. Ted was encouraged by all the great art he was seeing in New York and all the books he was reading. In a more literary sense, he was studying his favorite writers and artists from a technical point of view and trying to apply what he found to his own writing.
By free associating so much in his letters, do you think he was exploring a state of confusion?
I suspect that he was using his letters to Sandy partly to find out what he thought and how he felt. Sometimes you can't do that until you try to articulate it and, in doing so, you stumble, free associate, and try out ideas to see how they sound out loud, so to speak. When you have the privacy that letter writing allows, you're willing to let your mind go and be more open than if you were writing for the public, of course. The letters allow us to see so intimately inside the mind and heart of a poet and to see how intense he is about it all, how single-minded he was and how he devoted himself to this peculiar art of poetry. So no, I don't think he was confused. He was quite determined, actually, defiant about his position as a penniless poet in a society that had no use for such a person. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ever Wondered About Poetry Bestsellers?





Jim Behrle lays it out for you.

Weekly, the good folks at Harriet put up a post that links back to a list of poetry bestsellers. Where does this list come from? Is this a Publishers' Weekly bestseller list? Does the Poetry Foundation create a list? The word "bestseller" is a dicey supposition to begin with, across any genre. The New York Times bestseller list does ask many bookstores to report their own bestseller lists to contribute to the numbers. But a New York Times bestseller doesn't usually mean more customers bought #1 than #2. When a warehouse at a distributor replenishes another warehouse at a chain, that could count as bestseller numbers. And it's up to the individual reporting store to decide how to report to the New York Times. If a reporting store had events that particular week with Carl Hiaasen and Sloane Crosley, guess who will be at the top of their Bestseller List? Neilsen's Bookscan does not take into account sales at Walmart or Sam's Clubs or most independents. Many small independents either don't have the ability to report or don't wish to share sales info with potential competitors. Do Amazon sales # compute in people who buy new books used by some of the small stores that sell on Amazon? Probably not.
To look at a Bestseller List one assumes that all books were equally represented as possibilities for sales. But most of the Bestseller games are won in brick and mortar environments in Stock and Placement. Which is why the list Harriet highlights is filled with major publishers, the Bukowskis and Mary Olivers. These are the books generally on display, with more than one copy. Not the lone copy of a poetry book that is spined out in a small poetry section. If a publisher pays for a book to be well-displayed it will be in the major chains and some smaller indies. More.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Can't I Leave You, by Ai



Speaking of great poems this time, from Poetry 365--


You stand behind the old black mare,
dressed as always in that red shirt,
stained from sweat, the crying of the armpits,
that will not stop for anything,
stroking her rump, while the barley goes unplanted.
I pick up my suitcase and set it down,
as I try to leave you again.
I smooth the hair back from your forehead.
I think with your laziness and the drought too,
you’ll be needing my help more than ever.
You take my hands, I nod
and go to the house to unpack,
having found another reason to stay.

I undress, then put on my white lace slip
for you to take off, because you like that
and when you come in, you pull down the straps
and I unbutton your shirt.
I know we can’t give each other any more
or any less than what we have.
There is a safety in that, so much
that I can never get past the packing,
the begging you to please, if I can’t make you happy,
come close between my thighs
and let me laugh for you from my second mouth.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Letters to Yesenin #3


Last night, in a reaction to some new meds, all my joints exploded with a pain I can only describe as burning from within. I felt like shit and knew I wouldn't sleep, so I picked up Letters to Yesenin by Jim Harrison, a book I reread every year or so to remind myself to stay alive. Last night was the time; I grabbed it and a bunch of John Wieners (check out the new EPC page on Wieners) for my dark night of the soul. It's a great life-affirming read though every poem is more or less about suicide. I think this poem is from 1972 or 1973, as it describes events from the 1972 Olympics.


Letters to Yesenin
3
I wanted to feel exalted so I picked up
Doctor Zhivago again. But the newspaper was there
with the horrors of the Olympics, those dead and
perpetually martyred sons of David. I want to present
all Israelis with .357 magnums so that they are
never to be martyred again. I wanted to be exalted
so I picked up Doctor Zhivago again but the TV was on
with a movie about the sufferings of convicts in
the early history of Australia. But then the movie
was over and the level of the bourbon bottle was dropping
and I still wanted to be exalted lying there with
the book on my chest. I recalled Moscow but I could
not place dear Yuri, only you Yesenin, seeing the Kremlin
glitter and ripple like Asia. And when drunk you appeared
as some Bakst stage drawing, a slain Tartar. But that is
all ballet. And what a dance you had kicking your legs from
the rope–We all change our minds, Berryman said in Minnesota
halfway down the river. Villon said of the rope that my neck
will feel the weight of my ass. But I wanted to feel exalted
again and read the poems at the end of Doctor Zhivago and
just barely made it. Suicide. Beauty takes my courage
away this cold autumn evening. My year-old daughter's red
robe hangs from the doorknob shouting Stop.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Poetry Bomb


Here's a prosaic poem. I tried to do something with the repetition, as you can see, and I'm sure it doesn't work right now. I'll force myself to recast it at some point, but the sentiments are there so when my wife stumbles over my blog as she sometimes does she can read it. Like a poetry-bomb, except it'll disappear in a couple days.


*poof*

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Book to Look Forward To

I yanked this info from the Poetry Foundation blog, Harriet. It's a starred review, too, so I'm very much looking forward to reading it. I love poet's letters, but I wonder if any contemporary poets are archiving their emails for posterity. I doubt it, and that's too bad. The interwebs have shortened not only our attention span but our capacity for those long conversations letter-to-letter and closer to the heart than the short coldness of email.
Dear Sandy, Hello: Letters from Ted to Sandy Berrigan, Ted
 Berrigan, edited by Sandy Berrigan and Ron Padgett, Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $19.95 paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-56689-249-0 


In 1962, poet Ted Berrigan (The Sonnets) was an unknown New York writer. While visiting New Orleans, he eloped with 19-year-old Sandy Alper. Suspecting Ted of drug use, Sandy’s parents “became frightened and irrational” and had her involuntarily committed to a mental ward, although after a few months, Sandy managed to flee with Ted. By 1969 the couple was divorced. This volume vividly preserves their young love through Ted’s letters to Sandy while she was institutionalized--packed with rage, frustration, and thoughts about writing--and Sandy’s responses, reporting on her reading and the little dramas of the mental ward. Seventeen years after Ted’s death, this volume “validate[s] my presence in Ted’s life,” Sandy explains somewhat wistfully. According to Padgett, Ted’s letters reveal “much of the emotional turbulence that helped infuse The Sonnets with such energy and drive.” “It’s time for less warm tears and more cold fury,” writes Ted, transporting the reader to a time when a passionate and impulsive young woman could be committed for behavior contrary to social norms. Even those unfamiliar with Ted’s poetry will be fascinated by the drama inherent in this collection. 20 b&w illus. (Oct.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

More on John Wieners



Just a quick note on John Wieners, via Silliman.


Between Visions:


I printed a few paragraphs from the essay below in My Year 2004 in a piece devoted to Marjorie Perloff, in whose course I first encountered the work of John Wieners. The essay was one of my first attempts to discuss contemporary poetry, and it reveals the graduate-student environment in which it was written. The essay was written at a time when postmodernism was just beginning to have an impact on literary texts and my own notions of postmodernism, moreover, were highly influenced by the course for which I wrote the essay, which would ultimately result in Marjorie Perloff’s important study, The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage.

Consequently, I had decided not to republish the piece until news came last week that Wieners had collapsed on a Boston Street and died a few days later, on March 1, in Massachusetts General Hospital. Without any identification upon him, he lay in the hospital for several days, hooked up to a machine, until a worker traced a prescription in his pocket to a local pharmacy. Soon after, the hospital connected with John’s friends Jim Dunn and Charles Shively, who sat with him as he died.

I first met Wieners in the mid-1990s when Raymond Foye, who had edited Wieners’ Selected Poems in 1986, introduced me to him at a small press book fair in New York. I had previously communicated with Wieners and had published some of his poems in my 1994 volume, From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960-1990, but I don’t believe John ever knew of the essay below. Nonetheless, he recognized my name, and, although he looked like a street derelict with his three-day beard and torn and ripped clothing, he spoke—as Fanny Howe described him—like a Southern gentleman: “Sir, it is so very nice to meet you,” he slightly bowed. The paradox was memorable, as if one were witnessing a true-life character out of a Damon Runyon novel.



I believe that I met him again a year later at the same affair, which I attended briefly for several years out of a sense of affiliation with these very small presses similar to mine years before. I believe Raymond invited him there each year—where he stood out as a sort of unexpected celebrity—to sell books and signatures that might bring the destitute Wieners a few needed dollars.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ariana Reines

is someone whose poems I admire very much. Part of the attraction seems her complete willingness to try anything to make the work bold and memorable. The poems follow no discernable form, look like average-to-bad free verse on the page--random line breaks, simple language-- it seems to me, and on first read you might find it easier to chuck them than face them straight-on, but that would be a terrible mistake. As Gardner said of Robert Penn Warren, read it again. Her books include The Cow  and Coeur De Lion, and she also translates Baudelaire and Jean-Luc Hennig.



Here's one from Everyday Genius.


from THE PALACE OF JUSTICE

when my boyfriend called the cops on me
i waited in my room for them to come
i waited a half hour and then another half
hour
this naked whiteness i could contrive to cleanse me
officer i am in love and now my lover hate me
always having dreamed of being a monk in a cell
if i eat celery for ten days and with an ether commingle
i could sit in the seat of rocks and razors
standing on one foot for ten years near the gingerlight
where the lees of my mind would fizz and then unto heaven sail

everyone i know beats up their lover and their lover beats them up
and the cops come and the cops go and sometimes someone passes a night in holding
i saw a shade pass across his face when he said he loved me
and he would not tell me what that shade was
i’m just a lover officer
but they never came though later they would come for him and i looked at my computer
and the internet was so depressing
then you wrote me a message like
call me sometime
and i think i chatted like how about right now
and you were like
yeah
do it
call me right now
when you walk in the rinsed orange light
shining like rotting tangerines picking up a deck of cards
low mean cards a low mean deal
twos and threes of clubs
which is pretty much what we got
blood is a spangle
bright colors are hidden deep in the body
fruits impossibly moist
trees blow out their hair along a furrow
i’m sick of eating beans in ugly light
i should not have spent my friend’s money on a miniskirt
but this is the future
the insects are dead in the cupboard
and dead on the floor
and i left one over there
quivering
alongside a clot of strawberry jam
to write this down

the small ones and the fat orangeish ones
they die through the holes in the ceiling
and they live and die upon me no matter how much love I make
sleeping like promises when I have to go
to sleep against the future which is not
going to come to term today and not tomorrow either
why would you sit down and write it
this is the total experience
we’re too big to fail