Monday, August 30, 2010
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
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
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.)