Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Curse of the Cat Woman--Edward Field

Edward Field is a new discovery of mine, and here's a representative poem, both funny and odd, like most of his work that I've read.



Curse of the Cat Woman
by Edward Field

It sometimes happens
that the woman you meet and fall in love with
is of that strange Transylvanian people
with an affinity for cats.

You take her to a restaurant, say, or a show,
on an ordinary date, being attracted
by the glitter in her slitty eyes and her catlike walk,
and afterward of course you take her in your arms,
and she turns into a black panther
and bites you to death.

Or perhaps you are saved in the nick of time,
and she is tormented by the knowledge of her tendency:
that she daren't hug a man
unless she wants to risk clawing him up.

This puts you both in a difficult position,
panting lovers who are prevented from touching
not by bars but by circumstance:
you have terrible fights and say cruel things,
for having the hots does not give you a sweet temper.

One night you are walking down a dark street
and hear the padpad of a panther following you,
but when you turn around there are only shadows,
or perhaps one shadow too many

You approach, calling, "Who's there?"
and it leaps on you.
Luckily you have brought along your sword,
and you stab it to death.

And before your eyes it turns into the woman you love,
her breast impaled on your sword,
her mouth dribbling blood saying she loved you
but couldn't help her tendency.

So death released her from the curse at last,
and you knew from the angelic smile on her dead face
that in spite of a life the devil owned,
love had won, and heaven pardoned her.




Nice, eh?? I love especially the first half of this poem because it could really go anywhere subject-wise. I wish I could write something funny. As it is, my new poetry manuscript (as opposed to the four old ones) is called 'Two Crows Short of a Murder.' Funny, eh?

Friday, November 25, 2011

We Who Have Sold Out, by Bruce Embree

          We who have sold out
are working on dreams of sheetrock
and vasoline
Don't tell us we are shallow
We were denied your lonesome road
and guitar music
cursed with our own choices
which were to go to work
          Your smoky nights and poverty
they all at least pretended to care
when you took a notion to go out and lose your mind
We put on our nigger jokes and coveralls
laughed as we hated everything, ourselves especially
and had no tears
          The pretty words, carved rocks
and canvas you decorated?
We buy tigers or big eyed kids on black velvet
          Our curses are not for your freedom
or songs of protest
They are for the dues we paid
They are for turning around one morning
and finding we were nobody
          Yes we are working on dreams
We who have sold out.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

High, West, and Crooked

cross-posted from Fried Chicken and Coffee

That's how I feel right now after trying to manage my time in the last few days since I found out my chapbook Broke was going to be published (and quickly) by Didi Menendez and MiPoesias, the same folks that brought you Redneck Poems. That great news, combined with the home situation in which my wife is working ever more hours as the B&N gears up for Christmas, and the kids needing what kids need, like, uh, food, homework, interesting things to play with, and not so much TV, has given me a pain I'm just now wending my way out of. Having two books to promote at the same time is not ideal, but I'm not bitching, either. I am capital G grateful to Didi Menendez for seeing fit to pub this chapbook. And in keeping with this, here are all the links for purchase and/or download.

Here's how you can order or download Broke:

To get a print edition of Broke, please see magcloud.com:
http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/286157

To get the Kindle edition see amazon.com:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/005YDVX3G (link not yet live)

To get the Epub version see bn.com
(link not yet live)

To get the free (!) editions, visit:

Issuu:
http://issuu.com/didimenendez/docs/broke

Scribd
http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/69723727

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Appalachian Prison Book Project


The Appalachian Prison Book Project, a program that aims to rehabilitate inmates by giving them free books to read, has lost their funding and is looking for book donations. The West Virginia University Department of English is accepting donation on the program’s behalf.
The most sought after books from the program are dictionaries, auto repair manuals, psychology textbooks and fiction. And for security purposes, all donations must be paperback.

Please give to this good cause.


Thanks to Kerrie Kemperman for bringing it to my attention.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Salem Literary Festival: Poetry Crush

Here's a pic, stolen from January O'Neil's blog, Poet Mom (thanks!). I'm the hairy guy at the back, along with the much-less-hairy January, Colleen, Walnut and Jennifer, beginning from the rear.

I had a great time with this, even including the 45 steps to the third floor of the Phillips House in Salem MA, where the event was held. In the heat we all talked about our favorite poets, even admitting to some schoolboy/schoolgirl like crushes like mine for Frank Stanford.
I'm an awfully fickle reader and lover of poetry as a rule. I simply dump shit I don't enjoy reading and wait for my next pass of donations to get rid of it. But somehow my fickleness has never evidenced itself with Frank Stanford. I read and read and I never get tired. If you haven't read him, I feel badly for you.


Circle of Lorca
BY FRANK STANFORD

When you take the lost road
You come to the snow
And when you find the snow
You get down on your hands and knees
Like a sick dog
That’s been eating the grasses of graveyards
For twenty centuries.

When you take the lost road
You find woman
Who has no fear of light
Who can kill two cocks at once
Light which has no fear of cocks
And cocks who can’t call in the snow.

You find lovers who’ve been listening
For the same roosters to sing
For twenty centuries
Roosters that have swallowed stones
Out of each other’s tracks
But have never met
Anywhere on the road.

When you take the lost road
You find the bright feathers of morning
Laid out in proportion to snow and light
And when the snow gets lost on the road
Then the hot wind might blow from the south  
And there is sadness in bed for twenty centuries
And everyone is chewing the grass on the graves again.

When you get lost
You come to the moon in the field
The light all lovers soil
The sheet no one leaves clean
The light cocks are afraid to cross
The same moon woman danced under
For twenty centuries
With blood on her face.

When you get lost on the road
You run into the dead
Who have broken down stones
In their throats for twenty centuries
I saw two little crazy boys crying
Because it was morning
And when morning comes it comes
In the morning and never at night.

I saw two security police taking out a man’s balls
And I saw two little crazy boys
Crying by the road who wouldn’t go away
But two has never been a number
Because it’s only legal to pass one at a time
It’s only a drum you can carry but you can’t beat
It’s the evidence they need to make you disappear.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Another Blazevox Post

If you're a small press, you've likely heard of this tempest in a teapot already and formed an opinion. In case you haven't, Sandra Beasley makes a great deal of sense here.
If the epicenter of your annual sales model is the AWP conference, you gotta shake it up. That's right, even if you plan to have really cool swag (shot glasses!) at your table, and an offsite reading at the grubbiest hipster bar in town. We have got to stop thinking that credibility in our own community is enough (emphasis mine).
You need to bust your ass, whether you can or not, getting out there personally among the potential readers. It's not enough to be great poetry, you have to make your poems known by reading them at events and publishing them where non-writing friends and other people can see them (online, if you ask me). It doesn't take a salesperson to sell them, it takes simply your presence along with a desire to discuss what you already love.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Prosody and Other Fun Things


If you've ever struggled with meter, this place can help you out.

http://prosody.lib.virginia.edu/

I'm still here, just distanced for the moment from poetry. I'm writing two new stories for someone who solicited me, and banging away on my old novel trying to make it better for public presentation. What are you all up to?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Clare Pollard, Poet



Clare Pollard is a English poet, and new to me. I read her book Changeling, from Bloodaxe Books in England recently, and was struck immediately by some refashioning of myth that so many people do badly, but not her, thank God, as well as some stark confessional poetry that hit me even more. It's Sextonish, yes, but with a contemporary and more cynical feel. Well worth the time to track it down, this book. Go forth and do what you must: consume.

Adventures in Capitalism

Nothing is real and I want it to stop.
I cut my wrists, but the blood looks like make up.

I slump in toilets snorting cocaine
but it doesn't seem true, just a grimy dream.

I wanted to feel, so had a tattoo done.
I chose a sea-blue anchor near the bone,

then saw it in a tabloid and felt a fake.
Crashed a car dad bought me. Nothing broke.

I went to see Othello swallow a lie
and cried at the end, but it was only a play.

Read some Rimbaud, bought a black polo-neck
and a bottle of absinthe, but felt like a prick.

I whisper 'I love you' and 'Tie me down,'
but all that moan and fisting is just porn.

Signed an online petition but it made no difference.
I bought a house, but it's like playing house.

I own How to be a Domestic Goddess,
but I've never cooked from it, if I'm honest,

and the brownies and aprons are only props
and my wardrobe's a Fancy Dress box,

and I yell at everyone who cares. I hurt them
because I need something to fucking happen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

New Poem (exists for a couple days only before it poofs)

Hi. I know it's been a while. I've been unnaturally busy elsewhere, otherwise known as 'life intrudes.' Here's a new draft with an awful, obvious title. In fact, I think I'll leave it titleless it's so bad.

SEE TITLE HERE


Poem goes *poof*.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

From Bill Knott's Latest Collection Murder/Suicide

which is available for free, as all of his books are, or you can pay a few bucks for a print copy via Lulu. This is the first poem from this edition. I had not read it before, but now I can't stop thinking about it.

1946


The year Noir was born; the year Nazis hid
In monasteries to restore their force;
Peace, but peace that made some things even worse
Than they were pre-war: I was just a kid,

Hard at play, cap pistols, hooky, apples
Filched through a farm fence: then my mother dies,
Killed illegal abortion style by guys
Quoting God, his badboy lies, his bibles.

Pope Vandal burnt the last Complete Sappho
Publicly, my mother was butchered in
A secret site; their results much the same,

So I blame him and him and him and him,
All of them from Adam onwards are men,
Meaning me, meaning the worst thing I know.
Note: In 1073, Pope Gregory VII ordered the public burning of all books containing the poetry of Sappho

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

from Three Variations, All About Love, by Philip Whalen

I love this poem so much I typed it in.


I.

So much to tell you
Not just that I love
There is so much more
You must hear and see

If I came to explain
It would do no good
Wordlessly nibbling your ear
Burying my face in your belly
All I would tell is you
And love; I must tell
Me, that I am a world
Containing more than love
Holding you and all your other
Lovers wherein you
And I are free from each other
A world that anyone can walk alone
Music, coathangers, the sea
Mountains,ink, trashy novels
Trees, pancakes, The Tokaido Road
The desert--it is yours

Refuse to see me!
Don't answer the door or the telephone
Fly off in a dragon-chariot
Forget you ever knew me

But wherever you are
Is a corner of me, San Juan Letran
Or Montreal,Brooklyn,
Or the Lion Gate

Under my skin at the Potala
Behind my eyes at Benares
Far in my shoulder at Port-au-Prince
Lifted in my palm

Anywhere you must be you
Drugged, drunk or mad
As old,as young, whatever you are
Living or dying the place will be me

And I alone the car that carries you away.

Monday, June 6, 2011

44 Joy Street Boston MA--John Wieners

I guess I have a project now. Take pictures of places where my favorite poets lived. It's fun, and gets me places I wouldn't normally go. Any suggestions?






Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Charles Olson, 28 Fort Square Gloucester MA

The family took a drive today, and this is where we went: Charles Olson's Gloucester home. The remainder of these pics are mostly the view from the house, or the house itself. You'll see the plaque on the wall in a few of the shots. It was a fun trip.







If you want more Olson photos and ephemera, go here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Try Some Hayden Carruth on for Size

I know I've posted this before, but it's so damned good it deserves more web-time.


Emergency Haying by Hayden Carruth

Coming home with the last load I ride standing
on the wagon tongue, behind the tractor
in hot exhaust, lank with sweat,

my arms strung
awkwardly along the hayrack, cruciform.
Almost 500 bales we've put up

this afternoon, Marshall and I.
And of course I think of another who hung
like this on another cross. My hands are torn

by baling twine, not nails, and my side is pierced
by my ulcer, not a lance. The acid in my throat
is only hayseed. Yet exhaustion and the way

my body hangs from twisted shoulders, suspended
on two points of pain in the rising
monoxide, recall that greater suffering.

Well, I change grip and the image
fades. It's been an unlucky summer. Heavy rains
brought on the grass tremendously, a monster crop,

but wet, always wet. Haying was long delayed.
Now is our last chance to bring in
the winter's feed, and Marshall needs help.

We mow, rake, bale, and draw the bales
to the barn, these late, half-green,
improperly cured bales; some weigh 150 pounds

or more, yet must be lugged by the twine
across the field, tossed on the load, and then
at the barn unloaded on the conveyor

and distributed in the loft. I help – 
I, the desk-servant, word-worker – 
and hold up my end pretty well too; but God,

the close of day, how I fall down then. My hands
are sore, they flinch when I light my pipe.
I think of those who have done slave labor,

less able and less well prepared than I.
Rose Marie in the rye fields of Saxony,
her father in the camps of Moldavia

and the Crimea, all clerks and housekeepers
herded to the gaunt fields of torture. Hands
too bloodied cannot bear

even the touch of air, even
the touch of love. I have a friend
whose grandmother cut cane with a machete

and cut and cut, until one day
she snicked her hand off and took it
and threw it grandly at the sky. Now

in September our New England mountains
under a clear sky for which we're thankful at last
begin to glow, maples, beeches, birches

in their first color. I look
beyond our famous hayfields to our famous hills,
to the notch where the sunset is beginning,

then in the other direction, eastward,
where a full new-risen moon like a pale
medallion hangs in a lavender cloud

beyond the barn. My eyes
sting with sweat and loveliness. And who
is the Christ now, who

if not I? It must be so. My strength
is legion. And I stand up high
on the wagon tongue in my whole bones to say

woe to you, watch out
you sons of bitches who would drive men and women
to the fields where they can only die.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Paul Blackburn's Statement of Poetics

What do you think?



From Modern American Poetry:

My poetry may not be typically American, or at least in matter, not
solely so: but I think it does make use of certain techniques which, even
when not invented by American poets, find their particular exponents
there in contemporary letters, from Pound & Doctor Williams, to younger
writers like Paul Carroll or Duncan or Creeley.

         Techniques of juxtaposition.
         Techniques of speech rhythms,
                                                sometimes very intense,
                                                 sometimes developed slowly, as
                                                 one would have
                         conversation with a friend.

Personally, I affirm two things:
                                                           the possibility of warmth & contact
                                                                       in the human relationship :
as juxtaposed against the materialistic pig of a technological world,
where relationships are only   "useful"   i.e., exploited, either
         psychologically or materially.

                                                                 20, the possibility of   s  o  n  g
within that world: which is like saying 'yes' to sunlight.

   On the matter of song:   I believe there must be a return toward the
musical structure of poetry, just as there must be, for certain people at
least, a return to warmth within a relationship.

However impractical that may seem in a society controlled in some of its
most intimate aspects by monstrous, which are totally irresponsible,
corporations, organized for the greatest gain of the most profit: and whose
natural growth, like that of any organism, is toward monopoly,
                     self-support, self-completion, self-
                                                                                           perpetuation,
                     and eventually self-competition and self-destruction.

       In a world that is so quickly losing its individuals, it can only be the
individuals who persist, who can work any change of direction, i.e. control
the machines, or destroy them.

   Machines can be very beneficent as means

                       to a better
                       (materially better)
                                                             life, as either
               democratizing or socializing agents.
But as a means to control for the limited number of men who now own them,

(but the president or general manager of the corporation
really owns nothing but his own salary  (and his power) so that
even the controlling minds of these gigantic corporate machines
are irresponsible. That is, not subject to the effects
                               of their own decisions)

                                                                       (and
                                                                             the personnel, the individuals
are replaceable, all the way to the top. The machine, the organisation, has
itself created the position and will function without the individual, has,
in that sense created the person to fill the 'p o s i t i o n'
                                                                          and its own needs) so that
when, in these upper reaches, the 'organisation' the machine itself
becomes master, it can only mean disaster, global and particular.

      I do not claim that a greater frequency of rhyme than is now made use of
in American poetry will, in time, set things right.

     Only that if a man could sing the poems his poets write

                                     - and could understand them - and if

     the poets would sing something from their guts,    rather than
     the queasy contents of same,
     then that man would stand a better
chance,   of being a whole man,   than
him who stands or sits and says but 'Yes' all day.

Enough man to stand where it is necessary to take a stand.

To give
and man enough to receive, LOVE,      
                                 when he finds it offered.

To take the sun and the goods of the earth, while it lasts.
                                                                                                                    and to
                             fight in whatever way he can
                                 the monstrous machines that try,   and will try, to

                                                 o b l i t e r a t e   him, for

                                                          $1 more.
from The Parallel Voyages, Sun-Gemini Press,1987. Copyright © Paul Blackburn 1954, 1987.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Review of Redneck Poems

Sorry I haven't had much to say on poetry lately. I'm writing another novel, so don't be surprised if the lull lasts for the three-four months it'll take me to put together a draft. In the meantime, Sheldon Compton reviewed Redneck Poems and has some smart things to say about it, for a guy who says he doesn't talk about poetry much.

I'm not a poet. Wouldn't know a couplet from a coupling. It's why I rarely talk about books of poetry and even more rarely write poetry, but I felt a stout and strong urge to talk a bit about Rusty Barnes' REDNECK POEMS.

In this collection of fourteen poems, there is much to appreciated in as far as poetic device is concerned. I can recognize that much, but I'll go no further on that topic. Rusty moves as easily from poetry to short short fiction to longer works to editing the writing of others with equal ease and skill.
MORE.

If you're still missing this tiny book of mine, why? It's free.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Alaska Poet John Haines Dead

He was a sane man. He left much of society behind in favor of homesteading in Alaska's interior, and he wrote great poems about nature. I say that to differentiate great nature poems from great poems about nature. There are writers who show the natural world in all its magnificence (Mary Oliver, sepia-toned) but I find Haines more, well, real. Oliver's poems seem to glorify while Haines tends more to describe, and let you draw your own conclusion. This quote is from a lengthy article in the Contemporary Poetry Review.

John Haines is well known as a writer who has communicated not only his rare experience of homesteading in Alaska, but also a view of modern society as seen from the perspective he gained there. Ever since I discovered Haines’s poetry in an anthology in the late 1980s, I have returned to it many times for its sane values and contemplative intensity. Recently I read for the first time his prose memoir The Stars, the Snow, the Fire (more memoir pieces are in the earlier Living off the Country). I was taken with his economical, clear depictions of hunting, trapping, building, and surviving in Alaska, where he lived on and off for twenty-five years, of the land and the plants and animals around him, about which he seems to know every feature, habit, and use. What a fascinating, enviable life he led at the Richardson homestead, north of Fairbanks. More.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Modes of the Lyric Poem/Matthew Zapruder


Hanging 'round the internet poetry world as I do (usually without saying much) I love to find little trails of commentary that give me new ways to think, in this case, about the lyric poem. A little gift Sean Patrick Hill at Bookslut gives us before he reviews Matthew Zapruder's Come On  All You Ghosts, this brief discussion frames Zapruder's work as a tension between two modes of the lyric poem. Since I'm not a critic nor interested much in poetics yet, I read this with great interest, since I see this essay more as the by now ages-old discussion between what gets discussed first in poetry (call it the main poetic mode) as opposed to discussion of what passes for experimentation. And curiously, it's an essay that doesn't seem to take sides (bravo!).
In the 21st century, the lyric poem has found itself in quite the quandary. But much of this depends on who you ask: if one considers the general poetry readership to be represented as a typical subscriber to The New Yorker, Poetry, or The Atlantic, the lyric poem maintains a kind of allegiance to the type of poem we’ve come to rely on for at least the past three decades, an utterance at once confessional, imagistic, narrative, or a combination of any of these modes. Of course, minus a few exceptions, most of these poets are usually numbered in the older generations, if by “older” we mean anyone prior to Generation X, though The New Yorker’s readers are typically treated to poets as far-ranging in generations as W.S. Merwin and Jack Gilbert down to Matthea Harvey and the Dickman twins.
But the young are working at their own translation of the lyric poem -- not all of them, surely, as the new return to “surrealism” testifies, imperfectly -- though it can be argued this poem has largely followed lockstep, at the very least, with the general historical trend of the lyric poem: the brief, songlike expression of the self, its world, and its feelings: the old Romantic notions of importance. We see, too, its reliance on the mid-to-late 20th century mode of incorporating images of the common life, or cultural icons, which certainly dominate the poetry of, say, the '60s on up, a poem which can incorporate Coke bottles as easily as strains of agony.
Nevertheless, the lyric poem has found itself split, a kind of dual personality that incorporates both everything that came before as well as the new (old) fascination with surrealism, as well as newer trends such as the interest in the Russian Absurdists, and postmodern language theory, to name a few. Interestingly, the elders among this generation, Matthew Zapruder for one, often leans close to a kind of poem that acknowledges the tradition in a more obvious fashion (sometimes a poet like Joshua Beckman also reaches after this tradition in a way both self-conscious and ironic, but at the same time equally serious), whereas a younger poet like Julie Doxsee or Joshua Marie Wilkinson relies less on concrete “sense” in favor of music and suggestion of emotion as the presiding vehicle.
And on another note, here is the poet himself discussing his concerns at the Poetry Foundation.
Once, in high school, I met a girl who liked very strange music. She was in art school and lived in the city. She gave me a record, and when I went back to my room in the suburbs and put it on, it sounded like a garbage truck backing up over a giant bag full of aluminum bagpipes and dead robots. I played it over and over, until the music finally made glorious sense to me. Listening now to “White Light/White Heat” by the Velvet Underground, I can’t remember what it was like to be the person who couldn’t hear that music. 
What is the purpose of literary criticism? Among other things, to guide the reader past his or her resistance. Most art, subtly or aggressively, resists the familiar. Poetry in particular suffers from this resistance, because poets take the material that we depend on to operate in and make sense of the world (language), and bend it to other, often seemingly obscure, purposes.
Readers, sophisticated and beginner, need critics to explain why and how poets are using language for these different purposes, and what those purposes might be. Our attachment to familiar language is powerful, and understandable. Without critics, we will hold on to the familiar and be unable to accept that there are other uses for language, that there is new and exciting poetry all around us. 
Critics can do one of at least two things. The first is simply to insist that something is good, or bad, and rely on the force of personality or reputation to convince people. The second is to write, with focus and clarity, about how the piece of art works, what choices the artist has made, and how that might affect a reader. Only then can the reader grow to meet work that is unfamiliar, that he or she does not yet have the capacity to love. 
Today, in American poetry, very few critics take it upon themselves to examine the choices poets make in poems, and what effect those choices might have upon a reader. As a consequence, very few people love contemporary American poetry. Many more might, if critics attempted to truly engage with the materials of poetry—words and how they work—and to connect poetry with an audience based on an engagement with these materials.
This is fun stuff to read and edifying. And it made me buy the book. It's the perfect poet-consumer nugget, all laid out for you to just click, purchase and enjoy.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Beneath the Chickenshit Mormon Sun by Bruce Embree

I've posted this before, on a depressing day probably just like this one. This poem makes me feel better. That's all I have to say on that.

It turned out worse than I thought
The champion defended his title
then Eldridge Cleaver came on
to talk about his reasons for becoming a member
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Grandma and I damn near fell out of our chairs
Went to town and got crazy drunk
Came back home, called you long-distance
after cruising and drooling Mainstreet again

This is my last wish and love poem
It is as follows
Want to hold the wake at noon with plenty of acid and rum
No friends and relatives
Ghost music by Hendrix and the Byrds
drowning all sound
as you fuck me to dust
beneath the chickenshit Mormon sun.


Links: http://www.limberlostpress.com/authors/161embree1.html

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Paul Blackburn and Sexism

How does one respond to sexism in poets whose work seems to be filled with it, like Blackburn?

The quick answer most people would give is: ignore it. Yet here I am, reading more and more, and yes, enjoying, the supposedly sexist work of Paul Blackburn and wondering why there isn't much if any criticism of his important work in the late 50s and 60s, when he served as gatekeeper and recorder of many readings which have helped establish the avant-garde presence and reading scene in New York as well as given us great historical insight into the poets associated at that time with the New York scene.  And of course I'm thinking about his poems, which kept him in the middle of things as a talent in his own right. It's not difficult, unfortunately to see why he's not read, and that makes me sad. His poetry is worth more than a few cursory footnotes to the era.

I've come to the conclusion now, after dipping into the collected poems at length, but randomly, and reading four or five of his individual books, that the majority of his work isn't sexist (unless every's man work is, which is another question entirely)but the places where it is sexist tower over every other consideration of the poems, which is really, really too bad.

In his 1968 book In* On* Or About the Premises, it takes only six poems before he sets readers back with a poem narrating through what, today, we could only describe as rape, though I'm sure Blackburn didn't think of the poem in this way. In an introduction to Parallel Voyages, a posthumous edition of some Blackburn poems the critic, poet, and friend of Blackburn Clayton Eshleman gives us an interesting way to read through this sexism, though it doesn't ultimately convince.
However, the facts, according to the poetry, seem to indicate that Paul’s sense of creative worth was exceptionally contingent upon sexual acceptance, very overtly in the case of women, and very covertly in the case of men. His antennae were lust-sensitive, and many poems are organized explicitly around an anonymous or intimately-known person who aroused him. As he approached his 40s, this point of imaginative ignition increasingly misfired, or did not spark at all, to the point that the pain of loving (himself as well as others) appears to have engulfed sexual gratification. In the chasm that began to appear as this single power gave way and divided was a morass of unresolvable childhood unhappiness.(all Eshleman quotes from http://tribute-airy.blogspot.com/2010/11/clayton-eshleman-on-paul-blackburn.html)
Well, without entering into Blackburn's psychological well-being and deciding to empathize or not with his life and outlook, I guess there's no way to read past the sexism, yeah? Bad childhood or no, a sexist is still a sexist, a poet is still a poet, but he or she has more complex reasons for their sexism, fair enough; it doesn't forgive them the point. But the Eshleman essay gives us a further nugget, in addition to the bad-childhood/bad marriage explanation.
[It] is worthwhile to think about what looked at superficially appears to be a heavy load of machoism in Blackburn’s poetry. Women are often signed, or identified, as sexual targets, and his seeming dependence on women for self-affirmation empowers them with overwhelming, sometimes menacing, psychic size.
This is another argument entirely. He's not sexist solely because of his bad childhood or unresolved identity issues, he's sexist because he's afraid of women. The logical extension of this theory might explain it all. Blackburn needs to prove his male power and rather than act on those power impulses or issues he relegates them to his poetic imagination and lets fly there, in the safe zone between poet and persona. This might work as explanation, too.

It could also be that his discussion of matters sexual (and sexist) harkens back to Blackburn's eye for detail: simple revelation of what he sees in himself and his relationships, which is part of the final points Eshleman makes.
A third kind of sexuality, and certainly the dominant one for the first half of Blackburn’s writing career, is an admiration and tender respect for what might be thought of as femininity in all forms. This motif is sounded again and again, as contact with women, animals (generally cats—the occasional dogs seem to indicate a negative male presence), and plants, and appears to envision a feminine principle as the force that provides the world with growth and beauty. When Blackburn is under the sway of this persuasion (generally in his apartment, in contrast to out on the street or in the New York City subway, he is fair-minded, masculine, and extremely sensitive.

It's true that the sexism present in Blackburn's poems became more present the older he got and the more cynical he got about his failed relationships, but we might not have seen that progression at all were it not for Blackburn's willingness to put himself on the page knowing full well the effect he might have on his readers, men and women alike. Given the time frame in which much of his work was written (the beginning tremors of the feminist movement and the turbulent 1960s) I'm pretty sure he was made aware of his shortcomings in this area, though I don't know that for a fact. How could you be unaware of the profound shift in cultural values, in New York City in 1968 especially, as centered as he was around the poetry scene?

I've come to no conclusion after all these words, sadly. I see the point: Blackburn is offensive to many people. I believe they rightly take up the cudgel against his sexism but ignore his considerable gifts and presence in poetic history, and 'canon editors' do the same by ignoring the large body of work in favor of lesser lights from the same time period. I urge them to rethink this position. In terms of his lineation alone, how the breath-line works in his poems, Paul Blackburn should be read. Whether he's read for the right reasons or not, I believe it's wrong to ignore him entirely, even if his life and point of view make it easy to do so. In youth we ignore our fathers only to find out later on that what they had to say was worthwhile in ways we had no recourse to know in our youths. I believe it's time to learn and know more about Blackburn, and to cement his place in the canon not just of the avant-whatevers, but in all of poetry.

A good first step would be another edition of his Collected (mistitled for sure, as it includes only 500 or so of the 1200+ poems Blackburn wrote) if only because the current book is organized chronologically, apart from the way Blackburn organized them into his published books. Then, maybe someone could take up a biography. Right now, as his persona non grata status remains quo, we're doing poetic history a grave disservice by not including his work, and adding further insult by not giving readers sufficient tools (like a true full Collected) to review. With these tools in hand, readers could decide for themselves how to read him.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Any Reviews?

Anyone noticed any reviews of Redneck Poems out there, or have one planned? I sent out maybe 5-10 copies to various places and people,and would like to remind potential reviewers and other people that they can get the (FREE!) nicely formatted e-chapbook by visiting either of these two URLS:



or get a cheap print copy ($5.50) by visiting Magcloud.

If you like rural-based poems of sex, violence or shelling peas, or the visceral feel of mud in your toes, you might like this little chapbook. Here's part of what one reviewer liked--

from Rene Schwiesow at the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene blog:
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.
Or you can check What to Wear During an Orange Alert

The term "redneck" has many different meanings. There is the humorous Jeff Foxworthy parody, but there is also the hard-working rural farmer and fresh air image that is tied a little closer to reality. I'm not sure why Rusty chose that word to represent this collection of poems, but I feel he almost uses it affectionately. Sure there is mention of cut-off jeans, halter tops, beer, shotguns, fights, and of course cows, but in each of these poems there is also something that is universally relevant. Be it young love (or lust), a father's fears, neglect, or lose, the poems are power, moving and real.
Rusty is a master of capturing the darkness in everyday life and magnifying its effect. Just as in his short story collection Breaking It Down (Sunnyoutside, 2007), he brought the rawness of rural America into a structured and controlled setting. What is unknown is if these are observations or scenes pulled from imagination, but nonetheless Barnes yet again pulled me into his world.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Book-Counting Games

I don't read nearly as many books as this guy, who is the single most widely read person on the continent, probably, but I read more than my fair share, usually in bed from midnight to three am. I can get most or all of one book into my brain during that time, if it's fiction or non-fiction, but then I don't really enjoy it (reading fiction) the way I used to, pre-academia. I don't get what Steve (see aforementioned link) calls the 'element of submersion.' I'm always reading with one eye to craft. But the point of this post is to say that I'm going to list what I'm reading every week or so to keep track (and so I can add to Goodreads, which is still good fun for me). I may comment further, I may not. You can still count on periodic longer posts detailing or discussing what I'm reading on the 'nets in regards poetry.

So, in 2011 so far, and via the blessings that are used bookstores online, I have read these books:

Against the Silences, Paul Blackburn, poetry
Deep in the Heart of Texas,Wyatt Wyatt, novel
Halfway Down the Coast, Blackburn, poetry & photos
this gone place, Lisa J. Parker, poetry
Wolf Face, Matt Hart, poetry
The Men's Club, Leonard Michaels, novel
Sylvia, Leonard Michaels, false memoir
Bluets, Maggie Nelson, poetry

Most of these are shortish poetry books. I'm not tackling more novels until mine is finished.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Field Goal Dialectic by Daniel Pritchard



This is a sweet little nugget I ran into on Twitter.


“Can’t you even tell a good tree from a poor tree?”
— Lucy Van Pelt, A Charlie Brown Christmas

Lucy puts the football down and then pulls it away at the last moment, leaving Charlie Brown sprawled across the lawn. Time after time, Charlie commits to the kick whole-heartedly, despite all evidence that the game is rigged. He’s going for the touchback. He throws himself into the task. Lucy cheats him. He tries again. Lucy pulls the ball away again. It’s downright sociopathic.
Anyone who was a good, productive worker at the beginning of 2008, but finds themselves on unemployment today — that “pre-paid vacation for freeloaders,” as Ronald Reagan so quaintly put it — probably feels a great deal of sympathy for poor Charlie. Those who side with Reagan probably find it funny. This football scene is a sort of paradigm for capitalism: a system of fairness, merit, and opportunity that easily, often, and by its own rules, implodes. When poor Charlie misses the ball during the homecoming game — again because Lucy pulls it away — it isn’t Lucy who gets the blame.
The fa├žade of working class life has changed dramatically for most Americans over the last three decades. Working people are more likely to hold a service job today than a factory job, and to interact daily with people from across the economic spectrum. Opportunities for conspicuous consumption have been extended to small town and ghetto by malls and the Internet. Distinctions of high and low culture have all but been erased. Families of every income level watch “Survivor.” In talking about poetry and class, we’re trying to pin down social classes that are in more flux than usual, even by shifting American standards. Assume from the very beginning that this is, at best, a seriously flawed discussion.
Let’s think about being “poor” for a moment. Lucy contrasts the idea of a “good” Christmas tree with the “poor” one that Charlie bought. Here it’s unclear whether she intends poor in the sense of low-quality or in the sense of low-class. The tree is both. (Does it have to be both?) That in itself is telling: poor meant “not wealthy” long before it meant “of low quality,” and the pun is ingrained in American speech. The use of “good” is interesting as well. Much of the English-speaking world might use “nice” or even “fine” to impart a level of quality (although I would bet that the more American good has taken hold). The word good carries with it a whole array of ethical connotations, and Lucy’s is a uniquely American contrast: good things (or people) are not poor in either sense of the word. The so-called (and inaccurately-named) Protestant Work Ethic value system is reflected in / imposed by the language we casually useMore: