On Monday, April 28, 2014 at 2:11 PM David Lehman wrote:
Harold (Harry) Crane, head of media, the most dishonest man in Jim Cutler’s entire experience of advertising, and will I lose my job as a result?
On Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 8:27 PM, Amy Gerstler wrote:
TEN Questions for the Holder of the Honorary Sorbonne Professorship of Les Hommes Fous, (david, please correct my french?):
Do you believe Megan Draper is the “new woman” and Betty Draper-Francis the old, foundation garment wearing model?
What movie is Don Draper watching at the opening of this episode? It looks like an Antonioni movie, but there is also a whiff of San Francisco about it, n’est-ce pas?
What do you think will happen to Dawn if she EVER EVER puts Don on hold again???
Is there a more heart squeezing sound and sight on television in the year of our lord 2014 than Don Draper apologizing during a late night coast to coast phone call?
Does Stan have a crush on Peggy, regardless of how nasty, brittle, self concerned, competitive and vindictive our once innocent Peggy has become? He is nicer to her than anyone else can bring themselves to be, and seems to have a hide as thick as a rhino’s when it comes to withstanding her increasingly caustic, withering remarks.
Is it a surprise or to be expected that Don is a terrible flower arranger? The impatient way he flops into a vase the bouquet he bought Megan after he flies to LA and is waiting to surprise her in her LA hideaway made the Japanese Ikebana-ist within this student of Les Hommes Fous shudder uncontrollably.
Was there something weirdly sexy about watching Betty Draper-F. drink a sip of warm, just-squirted-from-the-cow milk out of a NOT pristine galvanized metal farm pail and then hearing her murmur shyly, after wiping her mouth on the back of her hand, with a hint of surprise in her voice, “it’s sweet!”
Are not loving a parent and hating a parent the same thing (re Betty’s saddest of the sad questions to her second husband about her children: “Why don’t they love me?”)
Will Megan end up on a Twilight Zone episode, due to her frazzled chance encounter, when assailing a director she’d auditioned for, with Rod Serling?
If so, will Matt Weiner treat us to a scene from said T. Z. episode as part of an upcoming installment of Les Hommes Fous? One can only hope.
Adjunct Professor of Mad Men in Training (on her year of study abroad)
I found out about Luisia Igloria's plethora of writing exercise prompts on my Facebook newsfeed. Like many of you, I signed on to write a poem a day in April for National Poetry Month, so I was delighted when I saw that she was posting prompts as daily status updates. After I wrote a couple of successful drafts based on her exercises, I contacted her and asked if she would be willing to share about her "take" on the usefulness of writing prompts, along with a sample. Lucky for us, she obliged! Here's what she had to say:
Photo Credit: John-Henry Doucette
When I was a child, many of the stories mymother told me at bedtime were made up. Remembering this, I can see how her improvisations were important early lessons for the poet in me. I saw that "being stuck" could be perceived as a temporary condition; that anything on the road to a story (poem) was potential material; how the arrival at a conclusion or an ending did not necessarily mean finality or the last word. There was and could be infinite variation, a long corridor lined with doors to try and open; behind them was not necessarily death or dragons, but I knew that neither would there always be love or gardens.
As a woman, and as a writer of color in the diaspora, this perspective is additionally relevant to me when I consider the ways in which histories are typically written by those who have access to the most power. To improvise—and thereafter to rewrite—is to re-imagine consequence; is to wage/engage in little revolutions, is to overturn the sense of given expectation. This kind of virtuosity and openness to risk can be a source of great creative and political power. More on Luisa on the power of improvisation here.
Exclusive BAP-blog-only Poem Prompt:
Write a poem that uses as its starting point some "enshrined" depiction (as in a museum or art gallery), myth, or widely held view of a specific historical or cultural artifact, narrative, event, group of people, or figure/character.
Dramatically re-imagine/re-cast the original context or the event itself and its outcomes.
Write a title for it that partly summarizes your poem's central engagement, beginning with When... (for example: "When Eve chose to eat a bitter melon instead of the apple" or "When Magellan came ashore and decided to go native" or "When the mail order bride applied for a spot in a Ph.D. program" ).
So, why write a poem a day?
Without initially intending to do so, I have ... become fully engaged in and by the daily practice of writing poems. Not only has “running with my muse” daily made me more limber and given me much valuable biofeedback about my writing; it has also taught me many lessons about fear and anxiety, my habits (both good and bad), the many little (and big) excuses that the self seems to conveniently find when confronted with things it is afraid of and/or that must get done…
Luisa A. Igloria's books include Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (2014 May Swenson Prize), The Saints of Streets (2013), Juan Luna's Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, UND Press), Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005), and eight other books. Luisa has degrees from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was a Fulbright Fellow from 1992-1995. She currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University. Since November 20, 2010, she has been writing (at least) a poem a day, archived at Dave Bonta's Via Negativa site. She enjoys cooking with her family, book-binding, and listening to tango music.
Augury Books is delighted to announce that our spring/summer 2014 reading period opens for submissions on May 1st. This year, we will be accepting poetry manuscripts, as well as short fiction collections and creative nonfiction manuscripts. All books selected will be published in 2015. Augury Books is an independent press based in New York City and a proud member of CLMP. Committed to publishing innovative work from emerging and established writers, Augury Books seeks to reaffirm the diversity of the reading public. The editorial board is dedicated to fairness and quality of work.
Augury’s reading period be open from May 1st through July 31st and we will notify writers of our decision by December of 2014.
As always, we seek books that will surprise us--books that we will fall in love with. For us, that often means associative leaps and strong imagery, a compelling voice, and--above everything--work by writers who take risks, emotional as much as aesthetic. We are not afraid of sincerity, although with the caveat that there is nothing inherently interesting about confession unless rendered interesting through craft.
Poetry manuscripts should be 45-80 pages, not including front or back matter, and prose manuscripts should be 150-220 pages, double-spaced and not including front or back matter, as well as clearly marked as either short fiction or creative nonfiction. We welcome multiple submissions either within or across categories. All submissions will be accepted via Submittable only. If writers have questions about submissions that are not addressed on the submissions page, they should email the editors. Full guidelines and a link to our submittable page can be found here.
East flows the mighty river,
Sweeping away the heroes of time past;
This ancient rampart on its western shore
Is Zhou Yu's Red Cliff of three Kingdoms' fame;
Here jagged boulders pound the clouds,
Huge waves tear banks apart,
And foam piles up a thousand drifts of snow;
A scene fair as a painting,
Countless the brave men here in time gone by!
I dream of Marshal Zhou Yu in his day
With his new bride, the Lord Qiao's younger daughter,
Dashing and debonair,
Silk-capped, with feather fan,
He laughed and jested
While the dread enemy fleet was burned to ashes!
In fancy through those scenes of old I range.
My heart overflowing, surely a figure of fun.
A man gray before his time.
Ah, this life is a dream,
Let me drink to the moon on the river!
-- Nian Nu Jiao
Translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Taylor
With thanks to Chang Yao, who informs us that this is her favorite of the various translations of the poem she has read. "Yang Xianyi was a Chinese translator who translated many ancient and a few modern Chinese classics into English, including Dream of the Red Chamber (my favorite novel of all time), and he was also the first one to translate The Odyssey into Chinese from the ancient Greek original. Glady Taylor was a British translator, and wife of Yang Xianyi (the couple met at Oxford, where they studied together)."
A, green, the tint of absinthe dripping through
A wad of lawn clippings – E,
Chartreuse, colour that only monks can see –
I, cloudy violet with sparkling points of blue
Or paler, the fresh paint sheen of a car –
When new, easy to buy – old, hard to sell.
O, orange, the sound of a tolling bell
Travelling over town and factory, very far –
U, under clear water, underwear –
Your flight spoiled by lots of crying babies
Though all of Europe is reflected in your eyes.
You think you hear, as you brush your hair,
The howling of a kennel full of hounds with rabies.
A rainbow as you land; then a career surprise.
-- John Tranter
First published in the Times Literary Supplement, 2013
I was lucky enough to spend some time chatting with David J. Daniels, winner of the Four Way Books Intro Poetry Prize, about his new book Clean (D.A. Powell, Judge). My questions primarily deal with the ways that writing in fixed forms--in David's case, rhymed and metered quatrains--can often assist poets in tackling painful subjects they might not otherwise venture to write about. We also discussed his infuences, religious upbringing, and Whitmanesque compassion. Here's how the conversation went:
MS: Clean was a book I picked up late one night, and it kept me awake till I finished. I was tired, so that’s saying a lot. I was drawn in immediately by the opening poem, “Public Indecency.” Talk about not wasting time to shock the reader: to begin with a poem about a friend caught on camera exposing himself. It’s a bold move, not exactly standard subject matter—that the speaker is friends with a criminal. What I love about this poem is how the speaker’s reactions to this incident progress from “sure glad it wasn’t me” to “there but for the grace of God,” a kind of Whitmanian embrace and compassionate witness: Not that you were unstable / exactly; at least, I don’t think so, / and I say that, of course, as someone who / has extracted brief pleasure from strangers”. It’s straight out of Leaves of Grass,: “no two alike, and every one good”! I wondered if you could talk about how this poem evolved – the structure, the use of rhymed double-quatrain couplets, the progression from relief to, well, acceptance, and joy?
DJD: Well, first, I’m delighted the book gripped you, and I’m touched that you’ve asked to interview me. Having that line appear first in the book – “Relieved, to be frank, it was you not me” – was D.A. Powell’s decision. He insisted on it because he thought the peculiar moral stance captured an essence of the collection, about looking and exposing and public risks and being found guilty for things. My looking and my exposing. "Public Indecency" was a tricky poem to write, emotionally, because I felt nervous about further humiliating my friend who'd already been fairly publicly shamed (ruined, really, in some ways) for what happened to him. Yet I also felt an immediate sort of kinship toward him – certainly, I didn’t judge him – because, yes, as I say in the poem, I've done similar things, and then some, in darkened parks. Many closeted men have (my friend, by the way, is straight), so I also felt some grand moral urge not just to 'out' those truths but to understand and accept them. To name those acts, to give them an identity apart from how our police force would name them. This is maybe the Whitmanesque quality you're sensing, and what I hope is one of the humane motives of the book, of not just telling 'the truth' (which is risky) but of truly empathizing and calling those truths, if not holy, then understandably human and real. And among my feelings – and those of our mutual friends, as we talked about the incident repeatedly in a bar – were grief, concern, sympathy, some joking occurred, some folks rejected him, but nobody, as I recall, mentioned ‘relief’ even though, as I looked around the table, I knew we were all (in the state’s eyes) similarly ‘guilty’ for things. Is relief so startling to admit? Perhaps.
As for the strict syllabic rhymes, perhaps they offered me a more distant motivating stance, so I could propel the poem in terms apart from its subject matter. I remember drafting the poem fairly vividly, over the course of a few days, lining up couplets, tossing some aside, jotting down the word ‘jail cells’ for instance, then listing as many rhymes as possible until landing on ‘pixels’ and asking myself, How would pixels ever occur in this scene? In an earlier draft, I’d gone with ‘pretzels’ and went on this goofy tangent about kids eating pretzels innocently in a park (I suppose I’d invented some sort of pretzel stand and vendor – what rhymes with vendor?) while my friend did his business in nearby bushes.
For what it's worth, when I read the poem aloud, audiences sometimes laugh at moments I still find most tragic and sad, weirdly.
MS: “Public Indecency” turns out to be just the tip of the risk-taking iceberg in this book with its most fitting title, as one of the themes seems to be about making clean what has been deemed dirty. There’s also this sense of danger which is part of the allure – “Stared at / long enough, the night no longer // can be trusted, is filled with accident / or misplaced longing.” Could you talk a bit about how the book evolved into a treatise on revisioning what you deem, in “Larghissimo, as your “soul less salvageable”?
DJD: There’s a danger, certainly, in talking so plainly about things I’ve done, things friends have done, and so forth, things that are deemed criminal or morally unsound. As the Mommie Dearest epigraph states, This isn’t clean; nothing is clean!, just as (I suppose) nothing is fully dirty. I lived a long time in various closets, sexual and otherwise, denying, refusing to name, and I nearly destroyed a few people -- including myself – in the process because of those layers of secrecy and shame. So part of the book is about refusing to deny, of being "frank,” and maybe this makes it Confessional in a very specifically Catholic sense, except my priest ain’t alone with me in a booth. Does this level of honesty make my soul less salvageable? I hope not. I hope, if anything, that it makes me more known, that it makes the people I've loved more known, and brings us toward greater intimacy with others. Whitman again, I suppose: nothing is dirty, it's just us, often sad, sometimes criminal, sometimes very funny.
MS: There’s quite a bit of Catholicism throughout this book. We learn that Catechism derives from “the Greek kata, meaning “down,” plus / echein, more or less equaling “sound”—/ roughly, then, “to sound down,” // to make from airy music a meaty tangible, / from ether the actual gravel.” This is sort of what you do in Clean, if I have it correctly? Take the ethereal, one’s received religion and cultural norms, and render them not only into flesh, but flesh not sullied or sinful? Was that your intention at the outset, or am I completely misreading your intentions?
DJD: “A meaty tangible” – I don’t much love my own work, upon reading it in print, I’ll admit, but that phrase strikes me as a crazy, good way to describe Christ, or God taking on physical form. Outlandish, a meaty tangible. Few people, I think, would call me a Christian poet, despite the number of religious references in the book, yet I was raised in a very Christian/Catholic household, by two of the coolest, most liberal people I know. Liberal in the sense that Christ was liberal. (My dad's a deacon, and my mother works for the Catholic Diocese, far down South in one of the big states that wants to leave the union.) While I've rejected most of the Church's teachings, I remain fascinated by the carnal, by the blood and flesh of it, and I've tried to hold on to a few central Christian virtues that my parents taught me growing up, those of acceptance and compassion.
MS: Fine virtues, indeed! I think for me a big part of the freshness in this book derives from the use of vernacular and slang while writing in strict forms – rhymed couplets and stanzas. I am trying to think of others who do this. Marilyn Hacker comes to mind. And William Meredith’s “Effort at Speech,” with its Sapphics rendered into everyday speech, “Give me your wallet,” which by the way sounds a lot like “We’ve just made love in the fumes of gasoline” (“Shell Station”). But taking Hacker and Meredith’s vernacular a step further, you’ve made the choice to go with fuck, shit, and bitch. Can you talk a little about this dance between content and form, this low and high-brow do-see-do?
DJD: My friends have sometimes remarked that my poem-voice sounds awfully similar to my happy hour-voice, and I like that, if it's true! Rehashing a story with them, I often take center stage and can shift sort of wildly in conversation from earnestness to glib humor, but I hope all those different registers are true – that one tone doesn’t ring false or performative any more than another. So it feels natural to write that way, too. Hacker is certainly a major influence, although less so Meredith, whom I haven’t read much, sadly. Thom Gunn is certainly an influence, as is Larkin, both of whom make appearances in the book. Fuck, I suppose, I learned from them, along with their strict measures and near-holy music and cadences. I take the writing very seriously – I mean, I regard poetry-making as nearing something like prayer, at least in the sense of speaking to something that never answers back – so I’m often surprised to go back and see so many cuss words scattered throughout. It’s not like I’m aiming for shock value; it’s just what comes out naturally, part of my actual voice. Yours, too, I’d venture to guess. Why withhold that actual language from poetry?
MS: Point well taken, said the woman with a similar fondness for high and low diction, the Latinate versus the Anglo-Saxon. But while we are on the subject of formal considerations, I’d love to know your scheme for coming up with such dreamy end-rhymes: plastered/Xeroxed. assume/freedom, Lent/vestment, soul/salvageable. It just doesn’t seem, at first glance, like you find your rhymes in a freaking rhyme dictionary! And your slant rhyming—exposed/holes—are pure genius. What’s your method?
DJD: I’m glad you like the rhymes! As central as subject matter might seem in the book—I guess it's not one's usual poetry fodder, hand jobs and all—for me, form is what truly matters, and rhyme is one of my peculiar kinks. I mean that honestly: I get off reading Merrill just for his rhymes and syntactical wizardry -- the opening pages of Light at Sandover are, to my mind, the craziest, most joyful mouthbits of language out there, just for the sheer technical genius and sound pleasure of it. I do use a rhyming dictionary—a lot!!—and I'll often post on Facebook to friends, "I need a rhyme for Grindr" or "buttercream.” People are very generous in response.
As for the actual content, I'll often alter it to fit the next rhyme, so as I'm writing, at some point a more technical, puzzle-making spirit takes over, a kind of crossword puzzle, more than any earnest allegiance to "telling the truth," whatever that means. Many moments in the book are made up—bent, or slant-truths, I suppose—just to achieve a particular rhyme. If it rings, too, as some sort of echoing authenticity, sweet! But that's just gravy.
MS: Again, on the subject of literary devices –music! –“Hurricane David” is an auditory tour de force–“the brut, the brat, / the funnel cloud, that storm your name / dragged from the Keys / to shit kick a piece of paradise … Both bird / and burial, you rolled / from the pink-flamingoed sprawl.” It’s such a delight to the ears. I love “Whirly bird of no mercy” and “the brood, / the brave, the bravura,” not to mention “the plague, the plunge, the paddle,” and my favorite: “the lost testosterone at sea”! How many drafts did this poem go through? Do you use a thesaurus? Read a lot of Auden beforehand?
DJD: Auden, too, I should've name-dropped earlier as among my influences. I just wrote a poem about him – he was into some pretty rough trade during the Berlin years, apparently. But I don't recall reading Auden in relation to this poem specifically. “Hurricane David” was really pure sound for me, seeing how far I could sustain its patterns, varying words slightly, rearranging the letters on the page for each word to see what else they resembled. Testosterone, for instance, was just a verbal gift-from-elsewhere, as I anagrammed and played around with words like testing, lost, alone, rest, and so forth.
MS: “This is the Pink” feels like an important big poem as it takes on the issue of racial stereotyping of African-Americans—assumptions, ignorance, that sort of thing. The mugger as saint. And we learn that the word clean was spoken by, of all Biblical figures, Noah: go in, all clean. I admire the negative capability of this poem – how fitting its nebulousness, as to the color of the mugger’s skin, as to why the speaker doesn’t show up at the line-up. Again, that reluctance to condemn or implicate what could be oneself. Has this always been your natural impulse? Without getting too autobiographical (unless you want to, of course), who were your teachers?
DJD: “This Is the Pink” is the center of the book, literally in terms of page numbers, and figuratively in terms of my working through various concerns of mine, of guilt and naming, of redemption. I’d spent a lot of time cruising public restrooms for intimacy, behind the back of a woman I lived with. We’d been mugged together on our first date, and stayed together because of that for close to seven years. Flash forward to Katrina, and yes, I overheard a white bartender in Indiana make racist comments while we all watched CNN footage, watched people struggle for safety. I was stunned, and his racism and lack of humanity lingered with me a long time. So the poem works through a lot of overlapping threads: of my coming-out, of the mugging, of giving name to experience, of both the Biblical storm and the one in New Orleans (which I also don’t name in the poem, on purpose), of my own sort of endless appetites when I lived there.
By the time I re-read Genesis, for research purposes, I’d already chosen Clean as the title for the manuscript, so imagine my delight when learning that ‘both clean and unclean’ beasts were granted entrance to the ark. And God’s promise to Noah, that whatever he salvages from the storm will be his to eat. Wow! Talk about privilege. Talk about outrageous privilege! I’ve mentioned to people often that, as much as my own writing may strike them as forthright, the most brazen line in the book (to my mind) is the one lifted straight out of The Old Testament: every living thing shall be your meat. But of course, I’m guilty, too: “Mugger. Our mugger. This dumb kid.” Guilty of turning someone who’d mugged me into ‘mine’, my property, at least linguistically, so part of the poem attempts to work out my own violence. And again, yes, to empathize with the man who’d mugged me and my girlfriend, to understand the cultural deprivation he must have felt, to make that choice. And to not condemn him, anymore than I’d condemn myself or others.
MS: Thanks so much for providing some backstory. Of course, Katrina and the original Flood – they work so well together in this poem. I live for those times when I’m in the act of writing and am provided that kind of gift—like yours with Noah and The Old Testament. Call it: coincidence, synchronicity, payback for paying close attention and doing one’s research, but it’s always a feeling of luck, of privilege, I agree.
“The title poem reminds us of the other sense of this word, as in clean and sober. In it you rhyme, “Pisa” with “’please,: a,” and “St. Luke’s” with “shaky-shakes.” Talk about tough material to write about: a guy thrown in jail, then going through forced detox, but you pull it off with aplomb. Are you emboldened and buoyed (forced to say things you’d never say) by formal constraints? It seems to me the answer is yes. To an Old Queen Getting Dressed” is a gorgeously heartbreaking poem. The form seems to work as a poultice, drawing out your best lines. When did you discover that rhymed quatrains were your friends?
DJD: I love – loved, they’re both dead now – the people at the center of these two poems, and as I often do when I sit down to write, I write to them directly, trying to recapture some of their beautiful essence so that history doesn’t obscure them. Of course, they’re not solely beautiful people: they were both capable, as we all are, of terrible moral crimes. But they were also incredibly funny, at times, and charming, and deserve to be remembered.
Rhyming, as staged as it may appear on the page, might also serve as some form of authentic intimacy, or echo for me: sending out a first word that requires another to join it. Perhaps writing to the dead, as I often do, imitates my own longing to re-connect with them. I’m not quite sure. I know it would be much easier to simply ‘spill my guts’ on the page (I mistyped “spill my guys” on the page, then corrected it, although I like the error!) in free form, but in some ways, free form bugs me: it claims some sort of authenticity or quality of ‘real speech’ that I simply don’t trust. Poetry isn’t letters or news. It’s sound primarily, and highly artificial, so I guess the quatrains hold me to the task. Plus, it’s just fun, freakishly fun, to rhyme “Pisa” with “please: a”. It lets the language remain in control. I suppose there’s some sort of masochistic pleasure in writing so formally, syllabics and meters and rhymes, of letting the poem call the shots.
I also think, sometimes, stunning things can occur when we attend to rhymes and loosen our own control. Consider Hacker’s “Against Elegies,” an absolutely gorgeous poem, which begins with a brief litany of friends who are dying: “James has cancer. Catherine has cancer. / Melvin has AIDS. / Whom will I call, and get no answer?” I adore that rhyme, I find it chilling. And whether Catherine actually has cancer, versus some other disease, matters less to me than the chilling effects of that sonorous quality. I get the same feeling, of sonic pleasure, of very physical pleasure, from reading Muldoon, who is simply crazy with rhyme!
The word “clean” itself, by the way, particularly in gay culture, is somewhat pejorative, meaning negative, and thus set apart from those who are infected or (yuck!) dirty. And I’m aware of that when I use it. But in a book largely about addictions, it’s also meant in that sense of sober.
MS: This is all so enlightening—thanks for clarifying a definition of clean I wasn’t aware of. And why you prefer rhymed quatrains to “free verse.” “Poetry isn’t letters or news. It’s sound primarily”: someone should put that on a t-shirt!
Your book more than deserves all the attention it’s been getting. I can only imagine that DA Powell feels lucky to have found it/you. Have you had a chance to meet him/talk? If so, what was that like? And how was it to work with the editors at Four Way? Did the book undergo much revision from ms. to book stage. If so, what changes were made?
DJD: Four Way is a wonderful press, and I’m humbled to work with them. Martha Rhodes has been nothing but supportive and attentive and kind to me, and the staff, from marketers to in-house designers and line editors, are fantastic. I feel very lucky. They offered suggestions on arrangement of the poems, although the poems themselves, at the level of line, are pretty much what they were when I sent in the manuscript.
I’ve met D.A. Powell once, legitimately, just a month ago, in Seattle at AWP. I was standing in a circle of poets, including Matthew Cooperman and Aby Kauping, who both know Doug well, and I didn’t recognize him. Matthew was about to introduce us – you know how we all just sort of drink and linger and speak casually, as friends – when he stopped and said, Wait, you must know each other! And that’s when it hit me who I’d been standing by. Doug and I hugged, and I thanked him profusely – I’m a gusher – and yes, he thanked me, too, for writing a book that, he said, he loved so much and found very daring.
Illegitimately, I’ve been told, Doug and I danced briefly at another AWP, during one of those late-night sponsored parties. But the floor was crowded, the lights dim, no doubt Gloria Gaynor was blaring, gin flowed (I drank gin then, whiskey now), and neither of us recalls it well.
MS: Dancing with “Doug” to Gloria Gaynor late-night at AWP—does it get any better?! I’m so glad to know you got to meet the person who helped to bring Clean into the world. Wrapping things up, I’m curious to know what are you working on now.
DJD: I’m working on very little, or a few things, very slowly. Clean, from start to finish, took me twenty years to write. I’m hoping the next book arrives more quickly, although the poet Brian Barker likes to tell me just to wait and not rush. I’ve written about ten poems post-Clean, and a few have appeared in journals, and weirdly, they don’t rhyme. Well, one does, but it’s an anomaly. Mostly I’m working on a looser, longer line – despite how I praised strict forms above – reading a lot of C.K. Williams and Ammons, learning how they sustain a line. We shall see.
MS: That’s great advice from Barker. No need to rush! How cool that you are writing poems that are looser and have longer lines. I think that’s a good instinct—to do what you just said you’d never do. It’s kinda what the best poets—state they’re vehemently against rhyme, and then the next thing you know they’re extolling the virtues of terza rima. Whatever form or non-form your next poems come out in, I can’t wait to read them!
Founded in 1966, Brooklyn-based Hanging Loose Press is one of the oldest independent presses in the US. This reading will showcase the latest work from three of their award-winning authors: Meghan O'Rourke, Michael Lally, Terence Winch.
Meghan O’Rourke’s books of poetry include Halflife, which was a finalist for Britain's Forward First Book Prize, and most recently Once. She is also the author of the memoir The Long Goodbye, a chronicle of mourning written after the death of her mother. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Terence Winch's most recent book of poems is This Way Out (Hanging Loose, 2014), which was preceded by Lit from Below (Salmon, 2013) and Falling Out of Bed in a Room with No Floor (Hanging Loose, 2011). Boy Drinkers, a series of mostly narrative poems that center around religion and Winch's New York brand of Irish-Catholicism, came out in 2007. His collection of non-fiction stories, called That Special Place: New World Irish Stories, grows out of his experiences playing traditional Irish music with Celtic Thunder, a band he startedwith his brother Jesse in 1977. Terence Winch lives in Washington, D.C.
Michael Lally is the author of twenty-seven books, including two collections of poetry and prose from Black Sparrow Press — one an American Book Award winner for 2000, It’s Not Nostalgia — and the long poem March 18, 2001, jointly published by Libellum and Charta, with artwork by Alex Katz. He is also the author of Cant Be Wrong from Coffee House Press, which won the Oakland PEN Josephine Miles Award for “excellence in literature.” He has appeared in many films and TV shows and worked as a scriptwriter, or “doctor,” from the late 1970s to the early 2000s.
For directions to the library, go here.
This Friday and Saturday, the University of Southern Mississippi will welcome poets Billy Collins, Denise Duhamel, David Lehman, David Kirby, and Barbara Hamby for the 2014 Moorman Symposium.
I am glad!
My professor, Angela Ball, the university’s 2013-2015 Moorman Distinguished Professor of English, is the funny and erudite force behind this symposium that will celebrate poetry and poets from the 1950s and 1960s.
Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler were named “Poets of the New York School” in analogy with their friends and sometime collaborators, the New York School of Painters. Several years ago, Angela began to see flashes of their work in poems by poets from pastoral regions, like Mississippi. With that, she began a class for graduate students in the Center for Writers with a focus on The New York School of Poetry.
I’ve been lucky enough to take part in Angela’s class and can testify to how much is learned (and just thoroughly enjoyed, laughed at) by taking these city poets out of the city and witnessing their influence in the South. The idea for the 2014 Moorman Symposium, which will explore the similarities between poets of the South and Poets of the New York School, was born from doing just this.
Duhamel, Kirby, and Hamby are award-winning poets living in the South and writing New York School-inflected works. Lehman, a distinguished poet and a vital commentator on The New York School of Poetry, will also play a key role in the symposium.
As the featured poet on Friday night, Collins will read some of his humorous and playful poetry.
Schedule of symposium events:
May 2nd – 2 pm, panel discussion
(brilliant questions, answers & laughter)
- 7 pm, a reading by Billy Collins
(socks-being-knocked-off-edness & laughter)
May 3rd – 2 pm informal Q&A session
(more brilliant questions, more laughter)
-7 pm, poetry reading featuring Denise Duhamel, David Lehman, David Kirby and Barbara Hamby
(laughter version of multiple orgasms)
Did I mention these events will be funny (and free and open to the public)?
“We shall have everything we want and there’ll be no more dying” - O'Hara
Come if you’d like everything you’ve ever wanted!
There’s a certain book I cannot wait to read. It’s the story of a woman who stared down one of the most powerful political lobbies in America, and whose resolve and courage saved countless thousands of American families from heartbreak.
I’d like to curl up in my favorite chair with a hot cup of joe, toss the phone in a bucket of water, kick off my shoes and spend a rainy evening with my face stuck in the pages.
But there’s one little thing keeping me from reading this book: it doesn’t exist.
In 1960 Frances Oldham Kelsey was a young physician hired by the Federal Food and Drug Administration to review new drugs. One of her first assignments was to assess Thalidomide, a drug commonly being prescribed in Europe and Australia to treat pregnant women with morning sickness. Kelsey didn’t think the research results provided by the manufacturer were adequate, and refused to approve the drug for widespread distribution in the United States until more information was available.
In spite of intense lobbying from Richard Merrill, the manufacturer, Kelsey held firm. And she was vindicated when reports came in from Europe that Thalidomide had been linked to serious birth defects; some babies were born with stumps for arms and legs. Others blind or deaf. As the news spread, Kelsey was universally hailed as a hero; JFK awarded her the President’s Award for Distinguished Civil Service. She even had an asteroid named after her.
The Thalidomide incident moved Congress to pass The Kefauver-Harris Amendment in 1962, which required manufacturers to provide much more research and documentation for new drugs, and to report adverse reactions to the FDA. Kelsey was instrumental in helping to frame the language of the new law and played a key role in monitoring drug company compliance.
How is it possible that no one’s written a book about this woman? About this wife, mother of two daughters, and physician whose courage prevented an untold number of horrible birth defects? You can imagine the kind of pressure she was under, and all the horrible things said about her (and probably to her), with the huge profits at stake.
I’ve suggested to a couple of writer colleagues that they tell this story, but no go. One said I should write it myself, but I’m not a biographer. But someone needs to take this on. I’m giving the idea away for free; I just want a little love in the foreword and a signed copy. And frankly, I’m not sure how much longer I want to live on a planet where you can buy a biography of Snooki but can’t find a book about one of the greatest heroes in the history of medicine.
Dr. Kelsey retired from the FDA in 2005 at ninety, after forty-five years of service. But she’s still around, and she might be available for interviews.
So will somebody please get on this?
Molly Tenenbaum (poet) & Ellen Ziegler (artist) have been working on a very cool project over the last several months. Here's an interview with Molly Tenenbaum that shares all about it.
MS: What are you making?
MT: Glad you asked! We’re making an artist’s book* that puts archival material together with Molly’s poems about her grandparents, who were ventriloquists on the vaudeville circuit. The “book” will be a 3-D object* that contains maps of their travels across the U.S. and images of their datebooks and pages where the poems and visuals interact.
MS: Why an artist book for this collection of poems?
MT: We’ve always wanted to work together. Ellen is a maker of artist books; she’s worked with poets Frances McCue and Patti Smith (the musician, who’s also a poet.) This collection calls out for imagery, especially since the poems refer to actual archival material. Ellen’s most recent book about her ballerina mother was a natural link to poems based on my own family history.
MS: What is your process for working together?
MT: We stare at images. We read poems aloud and talk about them while Ellen moves images around on the screen.
MS: What are the thrills and advantages of joining poems and visuals?
MT: See that image at the bottom? That's what it will look like. But in the actual book, the poems will be legible. So here is the poem:
In the market
in the square
must be here
dusk and time
to go home
goes home with them
and also stays
faint in the air
even after he’s seen
the doll’s just a doll
the policeman keeps
checking all night
is the baby
under dropped rags
behind those old boards
under these thinnest of sticks
Breathe from Your Diaphragm, My
But I couldn’t find it, the belly
supposed to round out
as breath swelled in,
press in as a breath rounded out.
Mine hollowing in
as breath inched in,
and in till breath
The back of my tongue
to send tone through my nose,
my face to look one way
while saying another.
But first I must breathe
from the belly,
so never got
to the tongue or the face, so he never
said, Now, start talking.
MS: This all sounds amazing; I can't wait to see the final product. Thanks so much for providing a window into how a poet might hook up with an artist to creat something beautiful on the page/screen.
Molly Tenenbaum is the author of three poetry collections, The Cupboard Artist, Now, and By a Thread. Her work appears in many journals, including The Beloit Poetry Journal, Best American Poetry 1991, Black Warrior Review, Crab Creek Review, Cutbank, The Mississippi Review, New England Review, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, and Willow Springs. Recent honors include a 2013 4culture grant to collaborate with artist Ellen Ziegler in producing a limited-edition artist book of Exercises To Free the Tongue, her collection of poems centered on her paternal grandparents’ careers as ventriloquists on the vaudeville circuit. She also plays old-time banjo: her CDs are Instead of a Pony and Goose & Gander. She teaches English at North Seattle Community College and music in her living room.
Ellen Ziegler is a multimedia artist whose practice includes the making of artist’s books. She is currently working on a project with poet Molly Tenenbaum on vaudeville-era ventriloquism. Recent books include “El Torero y La Bailarina”, hand-typed in Mexico City, “IMBUE”, a collaboration with poet/musician Patti Smith and poet Frances McCue, and “On ‘Auguries of Innocence’” with Patti Smith. Her work is in special collections libraries of institutions and universities across the country, including Baylor, Cal Poly, Carlton College, Harvard, Mills College Center for the Book, Rutgers, University of Washington, Yale, and many private collections. She received the First Place Juror’s Purchase Award at the Brand 40 Competition in 2011. She is represented by SOIL Gallery and Cullom Gallery in Seattle; her books are represented by Vamp and Tramp, Birmingham, Alabama.
For many New Yorkers and for many who have only passed through, Grand Central Terminal is one of their favorite places in New York City.
My late father-in-law in pre-caller-ID days, with rare exception, answered his telephone "Grand Central Station, Lower Level" -- immediately charming and disarming.
Entering Grand Central Terminal from the S subway around noon on the last Saturday in April, I passed the amazing, ever-smiling counter staff at the Hot n Crusty, the usual lines of MetroNorth ticketbuyers, demographically different on the weekends from midweek's hubbub, a red-capped tour guide extolling Junior's Famous Cheesecake to an attentive circle of well-scrubbed adolescent faces, a French woman instructing her entourage, apparently not for the first time, "c'est la gare…la gare…", and a gentleman holding a Bible closed in his right hand while rotating slowly and speaking softly only to himself.
Up the gentle rise from the main floor on the 42nd Street side, in Vanderbilt Hall, the words of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton and others were being spoken, new poems were being written, and poems were being projected onto walls as the Springfest celebration of Poetry in Motion sponsored by the MTA Arts for Transit & Urban Design in partnership with the Poetry Society of America, unfolded.
On three sides of the eastern end of Vanderbilt Hall, words forming poems from the Poetry in Motion program tumbled into place in Illuminated Verse, the work of Gabriel Barcia-Colombo, sculptor, memorializer, TED Fellow and instructor in NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.
Victoria Redel had just left her post at The Poet is In booth (an inspired take on Lucy Van Pelt's The Doctor is In) and Tina Chang was taking her place behind a desk in front of a typewriter facing a line of people, which grew in her hour-long stint to more than thirty at times, each of whom had three minutes of conversation with the poet before receiving a poem written on the spot especially for them. When her hour was up Tina Chang spoke to me about her experience of the strong connections between herself and several in the line, the initial anxieties, the subsequent intimacy, openness, release, and a word she used more than once -- forgiveness. It was a full, vital energetic connection, she said, adding, "I have the sense more will come of this."
Marie Howe, Poet Laureate of New York and major source of inspiration for and creator of the two-day Springfest, sat down for the next tour, and the line grew so long that fellow poet Spencer Reece drew a chair up behind a typewriter at a neighboring table to listen to and write poems for some of the overflow crowd.
Sarah Rothberg, inspired by Jackson Mac Low's reading instructions and the coincidental purchase of a pulse monitor, created Vital Signs, that delivers, to the delight of many, lines of poetry on a screen synchronized to your pulse rate. Yu-Ting Feng's Dear Deer invites communication via keyboard with the video of Dear Deer, and your answers to its questions are incorporated into poems that you receive on a receipt-like printout. Both of these interactive works were created as part of a course at NYU entitled Poetry Everywhere, collaboratively taught by Marie Howe and Gabriel Barcia-Colombo.
Meanwhile in two other spots in the hall -- under a tent and on a stage -- John Rybicki was leading poetry writing workshops and musicians from Music Under New York (including harpist Erik Heger while I was there) were entertaining the crowd. Periodically during the two days the stage becomes the site for the HUMAN MIC, a call and response experience celebrating poetry.
Leaving Grand Central, heading west on 42nd street to catch a subway downtown for the day's next thing, lines from one of the Emily Dickinson poems Alice Quinn had just recited --The wind tapped like a tired man, and especially the word flurriedly near the poem's end -- mixed with the energy of Saturday sidewalk crowds and Sandra Bloodworth's (MTA Arts for Transit Director) observations that poetry, given the very bright, very diverse ridership of New York's buses and subways, can create intimate experiences of humanity in public places.
The event continues through Sunday April 27 at GCT's Vanderbilt Hall with more musicians from Music Under New York and more poets in The Poet is In Booth.
Madge McKeithen, is the author of Blue Peninsula (FSG, 2006) and essays that have appeared in Utne Reader, TriQuarterly, Best American Essays, and The New York Times Book Review and in several anthologies. She has taught since 2006 in the School of Writing at the New School University, is at work on several works of nonfiction, and blogs here
Unless otherwise noted, all photos were taken by Lawrence Schwartzwald and are not to be used without his permission.
Back at Louis Simpson’s house in Stony Brook, during the farewell party on the last night of the conference, a fight broke out. People were standing in pairs or groups on the huge lawn sipping their drinks and, without any hint that something was about to happen, fists started flying. When a few tried to break it up, a punch would head in their direction and they would in turn join the melee. I stood on the porch watching in astonishment with the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra and the French poet Eugène Guillevic. They were delighted by the spectacle and assumed that this is how American poets always settled their literary quarrels; I tried to tell them that this was the first time I had seen anything like that and it scared the hell out of me, but they just laughed. Looking back, I, too, have to admit that what we saw was pretty funny.
For more, click here. -- DL
I awoke on Veteran’s Day in the United States
To blue skies and a republican Cali sunshine
That made the whole town of McKinleyville
Appear lit from the inside, as if it were its own
Source of light, as if it still heard the sad music
Of its first name, Minor, and heard the minor
Third McKinley sang when he was shot through
The stomach and the pancreas and the kidney
At the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York
In nineteen hundred and one. We were talking
Poetry, my friend and me, and what happened
To the lake in Blue Lake after the Mad River
Was leveed and how McKinley was the last
Veteran of the Civil War elected President,
How he died of gangrene because the surgeons
Had been forced to operate by reflected sun-
Light and could not find the bullet. We talked
As we drove the back roads of Humboldt County
About our faith in the persistent wellspring
Of meaning and sang along with Springsteen,
Headed north to the tall trees at Prarie Creek,
Past the beachhead at Trinidad and the casino
And the Orick gas bar, past the present moment
Into our late afternoon beer at the Fieldbrook
General Store where we sat in the dimness
And recalled things that happened long before
Us like the redwood forest and the salt marsh
In Humboldt Bay, like the Pan-American Expo
Where the first x-ray machine was on display
And President McKinley reached out to shake
The hand of a man carrying a pistol concealed
By a hankerchief. “All my people are larger
Bodies than mine,” my friend quoted Agee,
“By some chance, here they are, all on this earth.”
These are the facts as I know them. McKinley
Died from a lack of light and the assassin
Was executed by electricity on State Street
In Auburn, New York, on the traditional land
Of the Iroquois Confederacy, two weeks before
A wrecking crew razed the Temple of Music.
(Poem from A Doctor Pedaled Her Bicycle over the River Arno, copyright 2011 House of Anansi)
Talking Trojan War Blues
“All the new thinking is about death,”
Robert Hass said, longingly, in a scribble
Of blackberries. I was dreaming Seamus Heaney
On the porch while the children pedalled
Their bicycles down the street,
Dragging their long, late summer shadows
To death behind them. Such tender
Desecration. Even Achilles’ horses wept
In the field of battle days before
They were made to drag through dust
Hector’s body. “Longing, we say,
Because desire is full of endless distances.”
Robert Hass said that. You can be in my dream
If I could just remember it. I said that.
My Life Aboard the Last Sailing Ship Carrying Cumberland Coal
You give your firstborn daughter
A central-Asian name
Meaning blue or water.
Years later two bluebirds alight on either arm
And an artist’s quick needlework
Stitches birds to skin
In your obsequies your fetlocks
Wing away, appear then disappear. Of course
Now you are a horse
With pale blue withers on a high Afghan plain.
What does it mean to be
Such a thing? Behind you, the blue Pamir mountains.
Before you, antiquity.
You follow a trade in lapis lazuli
From Badakhshan to the court of Cleopatra.
You see morning’s blue aurora
Alight on the Nile delta and around the eyes
Of the pharaoh. Oh.
Isis, God of sailors. Entering the Salish Sea
Pamir becalms in a thick mist
Off Cape Flattery.
The water beneath the ship is dark lapis.
You are on the yard of the crossjack working canvas.
Out of the blue
Wings of eros and agape alight in you. Deus ex caritas.
Your God is born.
The hurricane with a woman’s name that sinks Pamir
Off the blue shores
Of the Portuguese vernacular.
It all comes together in the English word
Azure. The hue of your daughter’s eyes.
Cognate of lapis lazuli.
A sailor gets on his arm for sailing the globe in three thousand years.
The horse that gathers away, appears then disappears.
Unspeakable Acts in Cars
It’s the first day of summer and we’re so happy
To see the sun and the satchel of colours it schleps
All those dark kilometres. The sky is so blue
And the sea is blue and the small islands in the sea
Are blue also. How our sun must love blue.
We have beachgrass and bull kelp and lion’s mane
And we love them all because we love the sea
Which is cold and buoyant. Friends now of seasalt
And knotweed, the mountains know all about us
And who we are when we are most ourselves.
But their blue haughty distances are no help.
We are who we are with mock orange and wisteria.
We’ve nothing to bitch about. The high cirrus
Can’t touch us. We been alive just long enough.
(Poems from I Don't Want to Die Like Frank O'Hara, copyright 2014 Baseline Press)
Jeff Latosik: History (perhaps not coincidentally my favourite poem in A Doctor Pedalled Her...) is a word that resonates more and more throughout your three collections and upcoming chapbook. I'm thinking of your own personal history and the history of British Columbia and Western Canada but also the history of poetry, art, and war that informs much of your work. I'm interested, however, about when history in the poems seems to coalesce into a simultaneous moment. Here, I'm thinking of the doctor spilling her black bag in A Doctor.... where "the whole universe explodes into place"; in SN1987AZT, where a whole life seems to flash supernaturally in front of us in a single stanza; and "In My Life Aboard the Sailing Ship..." (from your upcoming chapbook) where a sailor gets a bird on his arm for "traveling the globe in three thousand years." These are moments where history no longer seems sequential but simultaneous, as if viewed by Walter Benjamin's angel of history or True Detective's Rust Cohle, who conceives of time as "a flat circle." Have you noticed this moment in your own writing? What are your thoughts on the importance of grappling with history in one's work? And, finally, do you see the poem as particularly suited to this simultaneous view of history given something about its length, design on the page, or its own long relationship to tradition?
Matt Rader: First, thank you for this question. It's surprisingly touching to have someone ask a serious question about my work.
The simple answer to your first question is yes, I have noticed this moment in my writing. Moreover, I've consciously worked to represent this moment in my poems, because this moment you describe of history being stripped of its sequentiality is precisely what I feel history is: for me, history is not so much a series of discrete events ordered by a linear expression of time as it is a complex of forces, or currents, experienced by embodied individuals who are themselves the nexus of this complex. Which is to say, that history is what we experience in a moment.
It’s worth making a distinction here between history and the past. I'm not suggesting that the past is a subjective construct. I'm suggesting that history is a subjective construct and that history is one of the ways in which we know the past. (History is also one of the ways we know the present and the future, but more on that shortly.) It's also worth noting that I use “experience” here to express the varieties of knowing— those that are available intellectually and those that are not, those that are imposed and those sought. What I'm trying to capture with the word “experience" is that knowing itself is an expression of a moment in time through which everything is moving. That expression takes place in, and to some extent is constitutive of, the body.
History, in this sense, might be seen as an attitude toward time. I almost imagine it in that old Greek way of the body moving backward into the future. When I turn around to see what Time is before me I feel history rush up from behind to (de)construct and interpret the world.
Of course, other attitudes are entirely possible. For example, lately, I've been considering the poetic genres of elegy and ode. Formally, these genres appear to me to have very similar, if not identical, shapes. So what makes them different? Maybe an attitude towards time? In David O’Meara’s new collection, A Pretty Sight, he describes a Hanoi morning street scene: “no history but the deal, offers/and banter, the good price of fish/caught that morning/in the Gulf of Tonkin./Fuck silence or permanence./Fuck elegy. Fuck time and pain.”
With respect to your question about the importance of grappling with history in poems or art I have two responses, one personal and one observational. The personal one has to do with politics and reverence and the values historicity brings to community, its foundational contribution to solidarity and resistance, its cartography of experience, its deep central mysteries. These are some of what attracts me to the historical view. The second, more observational response is simply that history is axiomatic in all our poems. In Art As Experience, John Dewey puts it this way: “Art celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reënforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is.”
I don’t know about any intrinsic identity for poetry with respect to history, but I do appreciate the way in which the formal aspects of poems constitute an important part of their “meanings” and in this way provide another “current,” to return to a previous term, of historicity for both the poet and the reader/audience. Other arts also have this formal current available to them—I’m thinking specifically of musical composers—but this current appears to me to be especially close to the surface in poetry.
Finally, I’ll close with a couple of sentences from Mary Ruefle (from Madness, Rack, and Honey) that act as the epigraph for my forthcoming chapbook and which speak to where my head has been recently with respect to history and poems: “People who are alive are not really people because they haven’t died; but people who have been alive and then died are the whole kind of people we want to be our teachers. I really can’t explain it, being alive and all.”
Jeff Latosik's work has recently appeared in Maisonneuve. He will publish The Patent Office, a chapbook with Junction books in Spring of 2014. A full-length collection, Safely Home Pacific Western, will be released in Spring 2015 with the Icehouse imprint of Goose Lane.
Matt Rader's work recently appeared in The Walrus. He will publish I Don't Want to Die Like Frank O'Hara, a chapbook with Baseline Press in Fall 2014. A collection of stories, What I Want to Tell Goes Like This, will also be released this fall with Nightwood Editions. This summer he will join the core faculty of Creative Studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.
This week we welcome Martha Silano as our guest author. Marthais the author of four books of poems, most recently The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception and Reckless Lovely, both from Saturnalia Books. She also co-edited, with Kelli Russell Agodon, The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice (Two Sylvias Press). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Southern Indiana Review, Ecotone, Orion, and North American Review, where she won the 2014 James Hearst Poetry Prize, and online at The Awl, Terrain.org, Superstition Review, Drunken Boat, Rattle, and Truck. Martha edits Crab Creek Review and teaches at Bellevue College. David Wagoner picked her poem "Love" for the Best American Poetry 2009. Martha blogs at Blue Positive, and her Twitter handle is @marthasilano.
In other news . . .
On May 1, David Lehman is heading to the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg to take part in the Moorman Symposium on the New York School and the South. The Symposium, conceived and organized by Angela Ball, will include readings and panel discussion by Former Poet Laureate Billy Collins, David Lehman, Denise Duhamel, David Kirby, and Barbara Hamby. Find the full schedule of events here.
If you can't catch a flight to Mississippi, you have two ways to follow along with us. We'll be live-tweeting from the Symposium (@bestampo) and Allison Campbell will post here. Allison is a poet and PhD student at the University of Southern Mississippi's Center for Writers. She's explored the New York School aesthetic through poet Angela Ball's course, "Poets of the New York School and the New York School Diaspora." Allison's poems have appeared in Rattle, Witness, and Harpur Palate. Thank you, Allison!
Reviews of Evelyn Barish's The Double Life of Paul de Man have appeared in most major newspapers and magazines. David Lehman's review ran in the Wall Street Journal on March 14, 2014 and his letter to the editor of The New York Review of Books in response to Peter Brooks' apologia appeared on May 8, 2014.
This is a good time to remind readers that David Lehman's Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man is now available at Amazon as a Chu Hartley Publishers e-book. Writing in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani calls the book, "superb" and "fascinating": "It stands as a lucid and fiercely intelligent study of the disturbing implications of deconstruction, and at the same time, as an impassioned argument for a more humane study of literature." More recently, Raymond Sokolov writes that this book, "Exposes a vicious con man and his moronic followers, with thorough research, intelligence and an admirable commitment to literature. Bravo."
Ann Kjellberg, founding editor of Little Star, an annual journal of poetry and prose, and Little Star Weekly, its mobile app version, will be offering a poem every Sunday this spring. This is her second post.
I wore his hat
as if it was the rumpled coat
of his body, like I could put it on.
The coat of his hair, of his brain, its glitter
he gave it to me, something he’d worn.
He didn’t touch his dog, touch was too much,
he didn’t let her go.
I felt his hat on my head, like a hand,
though his hat was on the floor, just by my chair.
I went on drinking water
as if there was more water.
I went on living on earth
as if there was still life
like an islander my island
like a calving iceberg, air
like its glitter
by my chair
I thought I’d have to listen, hard,
I didn’t even swallow.
But nothing from you stopped.
After: Isn’t there something
Isn’t there something in me
like the dogs I’ve heard at home
who bark all night from hunger? Something
in me like trains leaving,
isn’t there something in me
like a gun? I wanted to be
loud squirrels, around the trees’ feet,
bees, coming back & back
to the wooden porch,
wanting something—and wooden planks,
wanting something. To go back into
I want to go back to you,
who when you were dying said
“There are one or two people you don’t want to
let go of.” Here too, where I don’t let go of you.
After: Down on the street
Down on the street
a man’s voice, every night at ten—
God God God I love you God
Halleluia God God
Everyone breathing hard to get through,
to get through soon to the air,
a word in everybody’s mouth—
You must have trusted some word
that time in that half-underwater cave
when you dove and came up someplace else,
and called to me, Come on
There's still time to visit Chicago's Zhou B Art Center (1029 W 35th St Chicago, IL 60609) to catch Fixations, an exhibition curated by Sergio Gomez of Zhou B Art Center (www.zhoubartcenter.com) and Didi Menendez of PoetsArtists Magazine (www.poetsandartists.com).
Fixation is an exhibition and a publication of art and poetry focused on the physical/psychological preoccupation or obsession over an object or subject. The exhibition explores the subject of fixation as a continuos and elusive preoccupation of our human experience through written and visual art. The curators invited 24 artists and 17 poets to create works based on their understanding and perception of the theme of fixation. The result is a group exhibition including painting, drawing, photography and poetry. Each work brings light to the artist's own preoccupations unearthed by his/her personal fixations. Fixation takes place in a gallery setting, print and digital formats.
Watch the video above for a taste.
This just in from our friend Kate Angus, winner of the A Room of Her Own Foundation's Orlando prize and the Creative Writing Advisor for The Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities:
The Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities is now accepting applications for its summer program. The Creative Writing program offers two week-long residency classes for adults, two guest lectures, and one weekend day program for high school students.
Summer faculty in the adult program include Vijay Seshadri, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, and Cate Marvin, co-founder of VIDA, the organization of Women in Literary Publishing. Summer guest lecturers include Meghan O’Rourke, recipient of the 2014 Guggenheim Award for General Nonfiction, and Brenda Shaughnessy, Poetry-Editor-at-Large for Tin House magazine. The summer high school program instructor is Kate Angus, recipient of the Spring 2014 Orlando prize for Creative Nonfiction from the A Room of Her Own Foundation.
The Mayapple Center creates space to cultivate imagination through artistic and intellectual cross-pollination in a distinctly 21st century climate. Artists and scholars of exceptional stature come to teach and collaborate with small groups of dedicated, like-minded participants. Located just one hour north of New York City and easily accessible by car or by Metro North, Mayapple offers diverse programs for adults and youth in a retreat environment where pressures of quotidian life are suspended, freeing participants and faculty to pursue artistic and intellectual passions. The Center is located on a masterfully designed campus whose serene lake and peaceful landscape of trees and gardens serve to inspire its residents. Activities such as swimming, tennis, canoeing, yoga and meditation promote a strong sense of community among residents, with an emphasis on mindfulness. The center’s holistic approach to artistic growth and development is also demonstrated by our dedication to sustainability. Our meals are partially prepared from organic produce from Mayapple gardens, and we serve locally-sourced food at every meal.
The Mayapple Center offers separate programs in a variety of categories for different age groups and skill levels that promote cultural and intellectual vitality in the twenty-first century. These programs include:
• Adult programs in the areas of creative writing, visual arts, music, humanities, and theatre for those over the age of 18 with two years of college experience
• Weekend programs for middle school, high school, and college students aimed to increase cultural literacy
• 30 day residencies for artists and scholars who are leading specialists in their fields
• Humanities forums that discuss the state of the arts and humanities in the 21st century and propose creative solutions to twenty-first century issues
• Study abroad programs for high school students and adults of all ages thematically targeted to promote study of the arts and humanities and provide hands-on instruction in the visual arts, creative writing, music, theatre, and humanities
• Humanitarian retreats for individuals from various human rights organizations that focus on music, writing, and art therapy; these retreats are staffed by volunteers and are tuition-
For more information or to apply to summer classes, please visit www.mayapplecenter.org
Tonight I lift my glass to Jerome Sala whose new book The Cheapskates is just out from Lunar Chandelier Press. It is a handsomely produced volume and it is bursting with the mordant wit and adventurous spirit that mark this talented poet with the quiet exterior and the secret burning rage.
I sometimes read a book of poetry flipping through the pages at random, as if reading were a form of fortune-telling. Using this method I began with Sala's Alfred E. Neuman sequence. The avatar of Mad magazine ("What, me worry?") comes at us in a "Cubist Portrait," a "Surrealist Portrait," and a "Minimalist Portrait" consisting entirely of a single made-up word: "worryry." There is also "Political Portrait" and, best of all perhaps, a "Zen Portrait" in four lines divided into two two-line stanzas:
The animating conceit of a Sala poem is characteristrically clever. His "Anniversary," a persona poem in the manner of a letter from a soldier to a spouse, and "Mother's Day," are flat in tone and oddly devastating in effect. After reading his "Hey Scorpio Mind," I felt a renewed determination to keep working on my own prose poems in the form of astrological profiles.
If Sala's humor and wit is what hits you first, there is no escaping the rage that informs such a poem as "National Security Crisis," which begins: "These days being a goon / no longer guarantees you a squad. / It's hard out there in the cudgel and tear gas business -- / even the job of your simple punch in the gut / has been overtaken by a new generation of rubber bullets!" We live in "the country of no country," he writes in another poem -- a country that resembles "an extravagant, steampunk renaissance fair." Not all here is affirmation; for all the laughter, the poems are a criticism of life, of the affluent society that needs to make "war on poverty," a phrase that can mean two opposite things.
The exclamatory utterances, the rapid changes of diction, the imaginative gambits, the fun -- all proclaim Sala to be an exemplary agent of the New York School in its current guise as a stealth activity practiced, as it happens, not only by New Yorkers like husband and wife Sala and Elaine Equi, but by those who may live in Florida, Mississippi, Alaska, California, and other places far from Bleecker Street or Chelsea.
I believe a reliable guide to a new volume of poems is a quick look at the titles of individual poems: are they interesting enough in their own right to quicken a new poem into existence? Can you see yourself appropriating the title and running with it? The Cheapsakes rewards this approach with "Now Playing at an Alphabet Near You," "Notes While Reading William Bronk," "Etymology of the 'Barn,'" "Policy Proposal," "Cross-Eyed Puzzle." I can imagine reading this book and writing a poem in response to half its contents. Jerome Sala lives in "the Republic of Wonder" and makes you feel that you are "lucky to be alive / in contemporary fantasia." -- DL
Many of you know personally what a solitary endeavor writing can be.
As my new book of poems came together, the shift from a solo project to a collaboration was as alarming as it was exhilarating. I’m extremely lucky that the people at Copper Canyon Press are my collaborators. There’s not another nonprofit press more worthy of your support.
I’m grateful for the partnership I’ve had with the the Press over the years, the most recent evidence of which is my new collection, They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full. Publishers Weekly gave my book a starred review and also named it one of their top ten poetry picks for this season.
Craig Morgan Teicher at NPR writes, “The book’s a little crazy,” and I’m in no position to disagree.
I’m grateful that Copper Canyon took a chance on this book—even when it’s a little crazy—and I hope you’ll join me in thanking them for the work that they do for poets every day, by making a donation to their current fundraising campaign.
The press aims to raise $5,000 by the end of National Poetry Month. Can you help us reach this goal?
Most of the money will be used to publish more poetry books. The rest will be used to help get my book into the hands of poetry students who actually need more crazy in their lives.
NPR also says that They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full is “too cool (or hot) for school.”
As a teacher myself, I appreciate the irony of such an appraisal, and so does Copper Canyon. That’s why we want to use a portion of the money raised during this campaign to send 400 copies of the book to college students across the country.
Not only will your generous donation fund a nonprofit press that could really use your support, it will also help us engage the imaginations and intellects of young readers.
And if you do give, I will send you a personal gift in thanks for sharing my appreciation of poetry and Copper Canyon Press. If you give $50 or more, I will sign a copy of my book for you. If you contribute $500 or more I will also send you a one-of-a-kind collage, made by me just for this campaign.
Thank you so very much!
P.S. Any gift you make to Copper Canyon Press is tax-deductible. Please give generously. Thank you!
With your support Copper Canyon Press will:
Put poetry into the hands of everyone who, like you, believes poetry is vital to language and living.
Your tax-deductible donation helps publish extraordinary poetry for a dedicated, appreciative readership.
Copper Canyon Press
PS: As a special thanks to you for your gift of $50 or more, we'll send you a signed copy of Mark Bibbins's new book, They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full. Donors who contribute $500 or more will also receive a one-of-a-kind collage, made by Mark Bibbins just for this campaign.
To dinner you bring the Scotch matching
the beautiful friends who are hatching
this glorious meal
and the glorious feel
of the moments from Time you are snatching.
There once was a man come to dinner
whose outer life stood in for his inner;
he ate with great gusto,
till his waistline did thrust-o,
and he left most decidedly not thinner.
There once were two gents from Glenlivet
who agreed great Scotch could greatly rivet
your attention and command
to the great task at hand:
life, and the friends who help you live it!
-- James Cummins
Monday, April 28, 2014
Hosted by John Deming and Matthew Yeager
Series founded in 1997 by Star Black and David Lehman
Doors open at 7:00 pm
Reading starts at 7:30pm
Admission is FREE
85 East 4th Street * New York, NY
Roger Reeves's poems have appeared in journals such as Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, and Tin House, among others. Kim Addonizio selected “Kletic of Walt Whitman” for the Best New Poets 2009 anthology. He was awarded a 2013 NEA Fellowship, Ruth Lilly Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation in 2008, two Bread Loaf Scholarships, an Alberta H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and two Cave Canem Fellowships. He earned his PhD the University of Texas-Austin and is currently an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois, Chicago. His first book is King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013).
Russell Dillon is the author of Eternal Patrol (H-NGM-N BKS 2013), co-editor of Big Bell, and author of the chapbook Secret Damage. He began life in New York, continued it in San Francisco, and now continues it further in New York.
In the classroom, in the writing workshop, the killing criticism among undergraduates is the “P” word: Pretentiousness. Some kid says it about a story with a borrowed form or a poem quoting Aristotle, and that workshop is over, that writer is dead in the water, you’ll never see that poem again. To be honest, it’s an accusation that’s leveled at so many aspects of writing—foreign words and praises, philosophic quotes, big words, little words, a code of ethics, a lack of a code of ethics, the evocation of myth (that children would be anti-myth or myth-free terrifies the hell out of me)… if pretentious means to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed, isn’t every writing teacher exhorting their student to “write what you don’t know” (which I do) encouraging pretentiousness?
I think there’s more at work here. The history of writing has been the history of reading, and for the longest time, literacy was low and attached to money, privilege, and a classical education. Montaigne knew Greek and Latin and probably that dirty dirty poem by Catullus—but his French, ugh, sounds so pretentious. In our weird idea of warped American democracy, anybody showing signs of uppity privilege looks like a hipster dickhead. “I used to love ideals, but that wasn’t cool,” D.A. Powell writes in the poem below.
And so all the work of the knower must ironically become even more encoded—elitist, even—veiled in jargon, sarcasm, and the inarticulate hero saying articulate things (Homer Simpson: “To alcohol! The solution to, and cause of, all life’s problems!” (and by the way, it is commonly believed that quoting Homer Simpson is not pretentious—but that would be a mistake)).
Prosody is a kind of encoding, an ordering of the world that is artificial, and therefore, I guess, pretentious. So then along comes free verse, which just, you know, sounds more free, like free love. But the music is hidden there, encoded, just as well.
Are there subject matters that poets ought not write about? Because they are unspeakably painful or not to be fully known and therefore the occasion of pretentiousness? Because they are uncouth, inappropriate, not for the dining room? Because a love that dare not speak its name?
I have been including illustrations all this week from a beloved 1941 book about Paul Bunyan, Work Giant. It is filled with encoded secret signals about sexuality and only the initiated, only those trained to look for it, can see Paul’s red hanky in his right pocket, the long, shaftlike neck of Babe the Blue Ox. It’s there for you to see, and when you do, you feel good about yourself a little, don’t you? That you have the intelligence and imagination to enter into the elite society of the Private Club of the Pretentious Knowers. I have created a secret club of writers who have encoded a copy of their book to me, with the elite and special inscription, “For Brian, you were great in bed.” Was I truly great in bed for all those writers? It’s a secret. Books are souvenirs, but they are also secrets that can be found out if you just take the time.
I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I do know that much of my own self-education was powered by a desire to crack every secret code—to learn every language and every system of hermetic knowledge and every secret handshake to every secret society.
D.A. Powell’s poetry pleases me because it feels encoded, full of music, and image, and memory, and emotion, sure, but a private joke, too, a joke of the society of Babe the Blue Ox is Secretly a Penis. As a gay man writing about the poetry of a gay man of the same age, can I just say that when you spend a lifetime making a routine of hiding certain facts about yourself that really ought to be evident and open, you take great pleasure for the rest of your life to cultivate irony, private jokes, and new languages. Call us pretentious.
Here is a “The Great Unrest”, a poem in Powell’s glorious new collection, Useless Landscapes (Graywolf, 2012), that is openly and secretly my favorite musing on age and desire. Let me lay in the moonlight,” he writes, and then corrects his own grammar, “lie”, and with the correction of grammar, the correction of meaning. Everything has a secret meaning, there for you to find and thrill to.
THE GREAT UNREST
You’d think, bedraggled as I am by the illness of my age,
I’d be able to lounge a little.
That I’d shut out the noise, as others do,
and I would sigh and sleep.
Let me eat Tootsie Pops, I’d think. Let me lay in the moonlight
And grow the opposite of babyfat.
Lie, I mean. Let me lie. I have had to wrestle with grammar
all my life. And what people call ideals.
I used to love ideals, but that wasn’t cool. Plus there was money to be had.
And ass. Scads of ass.
Now I forget. The principal’s your pal and not the principle.
At least I’ve retained that.
Give up your sleepless nights the man on TV said. Talking to me.
Like, how did he know?
I could have dozed through half a dozen shows and all the ads.
Even commercial noise
Might have eventually been absorbed into my dreams.
It might have become my dreams.
But it’s hard for me to lie still (lay still?) While I am getting fucked.
It’s late and you been at me all night and I hadn’t risen from it.
I was tired.
I’m even more tired.
But now I’m up.
D.A. Powell is up. Get it? Get it? Useless Landscapes is the best book to have in bed. And D. A. Powell is the best poet to ride out my guest blog this week. It’s been a filthy privilege to write about my favorite bedmates. I hope to have many more literary bedmates in the future.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.