People often ask, "So how's the poetry scene in Rome?" and of course there are two very different answers. I'd say the Italian poetry scene is pretty lively, with a lot of young and/or energetic poets who also edit, publish, write criticism, and give lots of readings in various venues around town. In fact, one of our friends, Marco Giovenale, and several other Italian poets, will be giving readings sponsored by Poets House in New York in May. So go if you can!
The answer to the other question, as to how the English-language poetry scene is doing, well, let's say it's a work in progress. But progress is being made. Just the other week, for example, I was able to welcome my house-guest Claudette by saying, "We're going to a poetry reading tonight!" We took the #3 to Trastevere and walked over the wobbly-cobbles to John Cabot University. There, Carlos Dews artfully introduced Robert Polito, who was reading from his new book, Hollywood & God, which, if you don't already have, you should go out and buy.
Word (in every sense) comes from The Guardian that Russell Crowe composed a poem to read at Sunday night's Empire Film Awards ceremony. After receiving an "actor of our lifetime" award (!) (wouldn't that describe any actor during our, ah, lifetime?), Crowe whipped out this bit of verse:
I am celebrating my love for you with a pint of beer and a new tattoo.
Imagine there's no heaven.
don't know if you're loving somebody. To be a poet and not know the
trade, to be a lover and repel all women. Twin ironies by which great
saints are made, the agonising pincer-jaws of heaven.
If you can
walk with crowds and keep your virtue, walk with kings but not lose the
common touch, if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all
men count with you, but none too much;
yours is the earth and everything that's in it and what's more, you'll be a man.
It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your breath away.
Hmm... (This is me back again, not Russell Crowe.) John Lennon, Kipling, and the Bee Gees as quotations; the you/tattoo rhyme, those "pincer-jaws" of heaven... It's only words, and The Guardian wasn't letting on whether they took the audience's collective breath away.
Colleague Viggo Mortensen made reference to Crowe's "unfathomable literay aspirations." But hey, if Michael Madsen can publish a book of poetry, who's going to tell Ye Bearded Phone-Thrower he can't write verse?
A reader asks: What can be done to save the financial system? How seriously should the individual take the national economic crisis?
There are some obvious steps we can take. Many economists agree on these: -- Banks must lend to individuals or organizations that are good bets to pay back the loan in full. -- Reasonable collateral must underwrite transactions on derivatives. -- Underwriting standards should be strenghtened and enforced. -- Allocate additional funds to FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Company) to strengthen confidence in savings accounts. -- Clarify accounting rules applicable in all states. -- Reduce the number of foreclosures by restructuring mortgage debt, adopting "rent-to-own" options or whatever it takes.
Our man on the Street has these tips for individuals:
"This is not a good time to quit your job. If you are steadily employed and are eligible for a tax-deferred investment plan for a portion of your salary, maximize it; you get the full benefit of dollar-cost-averaging and you limit your risk, with obvious tax advantages. There are bargains out there right now. "Sell neither your house nor any blue-chip securities unless you absolutely have no choice. "If you have credit card debt, pay it off right away. Make that your number one priority. Put yourself on a budget. Treat the while business the way an alcoholic treats the twelve steps: soberly and seriously. "It is only sensible to proceed cautiously at a time like this, but I would disregard alarmists who tend to extrapolate from current conditions and discount the possibility of change. "In the short term, be patient. Have confidence. We've been through bad crises before and, if necessity is the mother of invention, we're about due to have some invention. "Read poetry. It has the best cost-benefit ratio of anything in the culture."
The podium of the KGB Bar was
graced with the presence of two audacious poetesses last night, Sally
Ashton and Nin Andrews. Happy synergies between poets marked the
evening in the form of prose poem play, persona pieces, and bursts of
laughter from the crowd. Both are often funny, yes, but always with
Some highlights: Ashton took us on her search for the real
Sally Ashton, asking what’s in a name in so many ways. She
introduced us to the myriad doppleganger Sally Ashtons of the internet,
and pondered what a person is, exactly, on the Web. Technology surfaced
subtly throughout her work, text messages following rapture,
Confederate hoopskirts rubbing up against gas stations.
Having risked a student riot by refusing to deliver an orgasm
(poem) at a recent reading, Andrews played it, er, safe this time,
regaling us with the climactic Yes (in the voice of a kind of
orgasm maven), as well as detailing the troubles of having a talking
pussy, in a decidedly female tribute to the surreal and sexy boldness
of Henri Michaux. With poems from Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum she gleefully took us to the absurd and metaphysical place the language of physics seems to long for.
We were also treated to a first taste of books-to-be. A lyric "I"
circles and returns to the enigma of a haunting donkey’s voice in
Ashton’s prose poem series, Her Name is Juanita (forthcoming
from Kore Press). Andrews’ voice blossomed with a Southern twang in
poems recalling the power of superstition and Catholic school health
class, soon to appear in the collection Southern Comfort (from
There was an eerie micro moment when Andrews described her father’s
belief that every twenty minutes, we trade places with the dead (those
moments when a group goes suddenly silent). The trade is necessary so
the dead will be familiar when we meet them. The giggling crowd had
just gone suddenly silent a moment earlier... If we did indeed trade
places with the dead, it made the return to the living all the better,
with a drink to follow in the red room and something warm and close in
the air, made of words.
O flaked ice, I'm so lost without my Maker's Mark.
Angina, transport me into a private room at last
to take the corner off of today,
smeared with the heart tissue of angels, Live!
With the tweezers of tiny heroes,
"pull Apollo crabmeat"
from the legs of the breakdown republic ---
anemic royalty hurling a full Coors
at Amerika, auburn curls wicked tight &
cheekbones flushed with tidy adventure.
A plague on both your brownstones!
I can feel this elite in the Ethers & in the land of Coca~Cola
but tonight I was "corrected" at the gym & felt shame.
A column of coral flame shot up
like Vikings with powder room vapors,
starkers (blush!) amid the puffy axioms of existence.
Made stiff by the Krypton syrup in all I touch
that blossoms into the cold sick throb of
"WTF are you trying to do? WTF are you trying to do???"
I know nothing I have nothing I got nothing to say but
"I carelessly build a creepy future life."
My "Art as Activism" class is in the middle of studying the 1950's. We've been watching the terrific 1982 documentary, The Atomic Cafe, a collection of army training and civil defense films, contemporary interviews, and speeches, which really gives my Millenials a sense of the what living with during the Cold War was like. Those of us who remember "Duck and Cover" drills will also remember Burt the Turtle. Here's the original 1950 film, shown to school children all over America.
This civil defense film, "Survival Under Nuclear Attack," was directed at adults. (I was horrified to discover that it is narrated by Edward R. Murrow.)
If you refer back to the first post you’ll see I was a bit wounded. Sick’ish wounded.
Midwest bound, photo finish flu bug down and out finish. I stuck two poets and their work which I admire greatly as the buffer between then and now … the revelations are at hand (if you go back to the previous post you might find some young students tangling with Mr. Kadela and Jack McCarthy).
Newsweek via the National Endowment of the Arts reported that poetry is on the decline. I’m not sure what that means: on the decline. And I don’t necessarily want to go after that line; I don’t want to yell about book sales, monopoly book chains, an inaccurate reading of Plato booting the poets out of the Republic, or all of the rest (the ‘e’ world is so very foreign to me, I still kill chickens to turn my computer on [this post cost four feathered friends] so I couldn’t possibly touch the issue of what the world wide web has done or not done for poetry). The only semi controversial note I’d like to add to the whole discussion is that my teacher blood starts to heat up a bit, my spidy sense seems to waver high, and my vamp toothies seem to lower in recognition of an old truth: If there is a problem and you keep teaching with the same people in the same way with the same assessments than there can be no change. Tis not the fault of those who are being tested it is the others, the us. I like Dana Gioia, former chairman of the NEA, I like Stephen Young of the Poetry Foundation, I love to read and have marvelous interactions with titled poets, but if different results are desired, maybe it is time to try different people and different methods. They are out there, they aren’t hiding. And they are rather good at what they do … the breathing and living of poetics.
Far be it for me to dispute Newsweek, but I can’t escape poetry. I have a very limited ability to communicate with others. The spaces in between is closer to my mark. I was watching the documentary ‘GreyGardens’ about Jackie O’s aunt and cousin (Little Edie). Mother starts a scene with a discussion about the color of the ocean, something she has stared at for 50 years, “I’ve never seen it that color before.” It reminded me of Jodie Foster in ‘Contact’ when she transports to another planet and responds back to Earth, “They should have sent a poet, I don’t have the words for the beauty” (faux pas quotation marks on that one … used for dramatic effect, less for utility [Jeremy Bentham be damned]). Not to be outdone by Mother, Jackie O cousin Little Edie starts a debate about freedom, her desire to have stayed in New York City v. the East Hamptons many, many moons ago:
I was going to sing the praises of the two poets I put on the site last night, but I think a former student of mine might have a more interesting, subjective opinion (look at the bottom for a response from his blog [also a former student of mine]):
From the blog ‘A Modest Construct’
I recently had the benefit of attending a live performance by one Jack McCarthy. I’d seen Jack perform once before, when Mark Eleveld gamed him into performing a set at my old high school back in 2000 or 2001. In fact, Mark got a lot of his published poets to perform at local functions.
At this particular reading—which ended up being a small and cozy affair—I managed to feel like an ass by starting to request a certain funny poem that I remembered from 200X (specifically, “Car Talk II”), having him guess that I was asking for one of his flagship poems—a bait-and-switch that lures you into chuckles and then emotionally devastates you with the last stanza—and then essentially saying, when everyone was breathless and silent from the last lingering line, “No, do the funny one—you know, the car thief one.”
I say this not to highlight my social gaffe, or underline my ability to seem like a knuckle-dragging philistine, but rather to illustrate that Jack McCarthy wields a variety of poetic weapons. In fact, I remembered the sad, devastating poem as well, but had decided gainst requesting it in fear that the venue—a bar, albeit a nice one—wasn’t appropriate.
McCarthy is such a damned intriguing mix: his delivery has shades of George Carlin—the barest hint of an accent, a certain matter-of-factness, and a wry, depracating wit—interplayed with an incredible tenderness. One gets that he is full of love—for his wife, his daughters, his father, his mothers, his experiences—and also a world-weary cynicism so often held by a person of Jack’s age.
I woke up 4 AM from a dream of coining a Latin verb the way men who have gambled their lives for a chance to serve God actually make words up in the bowels of the Vatican in order that pronouncements might be made in a dead language about occasions of sin implicit in emerging technologies
I am writing this at 10:17pm, central time, outside of Chicago (I will reveal place at a later date). I had planned on putting together a big 'how-do-you-do', but I have become somewhat ill, Midwestern flu style. I wanted to do a 'Who are you', Ah! That's the question. The answer is: I don't know,' existential faux pas via Mickey Rourke via via Charles Bukowski via x 3 Barfly style, but the short is, I suppose, that my name is Mark Eleveld and I am a high school English teacher. I have edited two fairly well selling anthologies of contemporary poetics, the non-traditional slam world as well as the academic world, called 'The Spoken Word Revolution' and 'The Spoken Word Revolution Redux' (Redux stolen from Updike's Rabbit series ... 'tis the title of one of the Rabbit books which is also made fun of by one of Updike's characters in a later book as being a silly title for a book [by the way, by and far the scariest books I have ever read on contemporary life, Mr. Updike's Rabbits, holy cow]). I have also written my fair share of book reviews for the wonderful American Library Association Booklist Magazine (who doesn't love libraries and those who run them?) and a couple of other newspapers/magazines, and currently produce a poetry radio show called 'Slam the Radio' on Sirius/XM Radio Book Channel 117/163. (Lot of bio above for a humble high school English teacher; I'll try to be less self-involved as the week goes on.) Oh, I am friendly with the greatest, best looking small publishers in the poetry business, EM Press (www.em-press.com). So, recent sickness has lead me into the solitude of my garage, my man room ... my little get away from the way. I have been engrossed in too many good Vanity Fair (I know), New Yorker, Rolling Stone issues to have a healthy endorsement as a Chi kid, but as a counter I have been reading the hell out of Roberto Bolano (http://www.amazon.com/2666-Novel-Roberto-Bolano/dp/0374100144/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238384258&sr=1-3). And I have some really fun tunes and films that I've been wetting the palate with. Ok. I'm sick. Please believe me. Here is some poetry to read and listen to(since this is a poetry blog and all) ... a quick thanks to David and Stacey for allowing me to do this. I look forward to a fun week of self-reflection, deprecation, healthy nonsense, and uppity aesthetic battles. Let's talk about poetry baby. I'll be more with it tomorrow, I promise. But I'm leaving you with the goods this evening.
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) has been called “the greatest minor poet in the English language.” There’s plenty of competition for this curious distinction, but the case for Marvell is strong, especially if you like ambiguity and elegance in equal measure. Marvell happens to be one of the great mystery men of English letters. He had a gift for foreign languages, was an avid fencer, and lived a shadowy life on the continent that led to speculation that he was a spy or double agent. For twenty years he served as a member of parliament. He did not produce a large amount of poetry, but what he wrote was, as Spencer Tracey said of Katharine Hepburn’s anatomy, “cherce.” Probably Marvell’s most famous poem is “To His Coy Mistress.” Never was a declaration of lust more logical. Carpe diem: We won’t be young forever, so let us make merry while we can. But Marvell develops the argument as one would a syllogism. He begins with wild hyperbole. If we had “world enough and time,” he would woo the maiden “ten years before the flood” and not mind if she should turn him down until the second coming. But with the inevitable “but,” the tone changes drastically from genial to threatening: “But at my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” And now Marvell warns the lady that someday “worms will try / that long-preserv’d virginity” of hers – a grim image you’d not expect to find in a seduction poem. The stanza closes with a sarcastic couplet for the ages: “The grave’s a fine and private place, / But none I think do there embrace.” The third and final stanza clinches the argument as the lovers clinch. The image of the lovers rolled into a ball concludes the poem in an outburst of violence. But the violence is contained; Marvell pushes the couplet to the breaking point: “Let us roll all our strength and all / Our sweetness up into one ball, / And tear our pleasures with rough strife / Through the iron gates of life.” T. S. Eliot liked the image so much that he lifted it for “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” When Oliver Cromwell returned to England after subjugating Ireland in 1650, Marvell greeted him with “An Horatian Ode” that set some sort of record for calculated ambiguity. This stately, grave ode can be read as straightforward praise of the conquering hero who had beheaded King Charles I and would, as the poem predicts, go on to suppress the Scots. But subtle critics have propounded the opposite interpretation, contending that the ode has a secret royalist agenda and is deeply critical of Cromwell. And so this mid-seventeenth-century poem became a perfect object lesson in mid-twentieth-century literary criticism. Read Marvell’s “The Garden” for his double vision of paradise lost and paradox gained: “Two paradises ‘twere in one / To live in paradise alone.” Before you declare your disagreement with this proposition, consider the mathematical metaphor Marvell employs. And then re-read the first three chapters of Genesis. Possibly no one, not even Pope, wrote couplets more complex and witty than Andrew Marvell. -- DL