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*