Greetings from the Capital Region, 800,000- and four counties-strong. We're north of the Hudson Valley, south of the North Country, west of Western Massachusetts, east of Central New York. So now you know where I come from (or from where I come).
Anyway! Stacey invited me to post here once in awhile to pass along news of events going on and stuff that goes on. So here goes.
The Nitty Gritty Slam is the first proper poetry slam round these parts in over a decade. I've been keeping score and generally putting Frequency North support behind it. It's a combined effort with Albany Poets and Urban Guerilla Theater. We started last month, and it's been a real hoot. It's held at Valentine's, a rock club/bar that hosts lots of what has been called alternative music for quite some time now. Slams happen on the first and third Thursdays, and what's been interesting, for me at least, is that since there has been no set-in-stone slam here for so long, the work is quite strange, quirky. People read off the page. They're not overly rehearsed, as is often the case with slammers. It's hosted by a man named Dain Brammage (on right). Think about it. OK. Let's move on.
The New York State Writers Institute has an excellent line-up of writers, all top-notch, many familiar to those on the poetry world: Wayne Koestenbaum, Philip Shultz, not to mention Colson Whitehead and events sponsored by Fence magazine. Most events are held in the white concrete moon colony that is the SUNY-Albany campus, which only makes arriving at a warm room and a reading all the more miraculous.
<<< There are two kinds of people in this world: those who think the Doors are a hokey caricature of male rock stardom and those who think they’re, you know, shamans. The Doors, who took their name from a line in William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”), combined jazz chord changes and Latin rhythms with flamenco, surf, raga, blues, and psychedelia, all in one ’60s rock band, often in one song: “Light My Fire,” “The End,” “Roadhouse Blues,” and “People Are Strange,” just to name a few. The power of the Doors’ music is that it is so unabashedly arty that it begs to be made fun of, especially by older people or those who went through Doors periods themselves and are now into Steely Dan or Animal Collective or some other less embarrassing musical endeavor. >>>
Greetings from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where I am waiting for my flight to the Motor City, where I will connect to my flight home to Albany International Airport, where I will be picked up by my lovely wife and little daughters.
I’ve been on a mini-tour of Atlanta and Morrow, GA. Wednesday night, I was at Clayton State University, at a series hosted by Brigitte Byrd, who was a lovely host.
I got a hold of Byrd's latest book, Song of a Living Room, published by the mighty Ahsata Press. The collection of superb prose poems leaps from folk tales to bedtime stories to semi-autobiographical meditations on language and writing (originally from France, she peppers some pieces with full sentences in her native tongue), and general alchemic ratatouille of what she calls “lyric occupation.”
I read some new memoir stuff I’ve been working on in my sabbatical year, including, as an audible at the line of scrimmage, the tale of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to my hometown of Maple Shade, NJ. Before I read, I was told the lake in Clayton hosts two "aggressive swans" (one is pictured above), which made me giggle. I suggested that if Clayton decides to have a football team, that should be their name, shortened to "Agswanns" or something.
Brigitte and her companion Scott treated me to supper last night. We sat outside, where it was a “chilly” 64 degrees. I could get used to such chilliness, certainly in the months to come in Upstate New York.
The evening before that, I read in Bruce Covey’s What’s New in Poetry series with two better craftspeople than I: Matt Henriksen and Lee Ann Roripaugh. I’d met both poets in the past, mostly at AWP-type clustereffs, but had not heard either read their work.
Roripaugh read from published and newer poems, including one in Spam form that had this listener in stitches. Her mention of a “squirtier turkey baster” alone made it worth the price of admission. She also read a list of “squalid things,” an imitation-homage of/to Sei Shōnagon’s pillowbook.
Henriksen read from his most recent book, Ordinary Sun, a mix of prophetic and twangy poems. It was great to hear the poems in his own voice. He also read and talked about a special section he edited for Fulcum: An Annual Poetry and Aesthetics dedicated to the late poet Frank Stanford. Henriksen provides notes towards a biography, twenty unpublished or uncollected poems, fiction and correspondence. It's fascinating stuff. He was kind enough to give me a copy and I’ll continue to read it on the flight today.
Bruce Covey was a great host, and accompanying him was Gina Myers, new to Atlanta from Saginaw, Michigan, as well as a couple Emory University creative writing fellows. As readers of the BAP Blog know, Covey a super poet—a unique meld of experimental methods with and humor and precise feeling. He’s put together a nice series at Emory, which you should go to for sure.
OK. Well, that’s the news from the airport. Hope to see you soon.
"I know some will say it is a mingled language. And why not so much the better, taking the best of both the other? Another will say it wanteth grammar. Nay, truly, it hath that praise that it wanteth not grammar. For grammar it might have, but it needs it not; being so easy in itself, and so void of those cumbersome differences of cases, genders, moods, and tenses, which, I think, was a piece of the Tower of Babylon’s curse, that a man should be put to school to learn his mother-tongue. But for the uttering sweetly and properly the conceits of the mind, which is the end of speech, that hath it equally with any other tongue in the world; and is particularly happy in compositions of two or three words together, near the Greek, far beyond the Latin,—which is one of the greatest beauties that can be in a language."—Sir Philip Sidney, The Defense of Poesy
"When Ezra Pound called for the "direct, objective treatment of the thing itself," he was in some sense echoing the historicism of late nineteenth-century thought. Historicism implicitly rejects systems, whether an ideological or a theological sort; and, in attempting to understand historical events without the benefit of any transcendent framework, it tacitly accepts the end of absolute value and absolutist authority as signaled by the French Revolution, Though Pound’s polemic addressed itself to eradicating the "emotional slither" he identified with late Victorian poetry, it inadvertently limited the poet almost exclusively to the ironic mode. Since mythical elements, and expressions of direct sentiment, would be curtailed by any rigorous adoption of "direct, objective treatment," the lyric poem might well lose the chief sources of its resonance. One way for the poet to render some justice to the complexity of experience is by turning to his own divided consciousness as his chief subject and presenting the consciousness directly while ironically qualifying the mind that discovers it. Or the poet might take different, fragmentary, but conflicting views inherent in an experiential situation, relate them to one another, dampening his own intentions and judgments, and energize the poem through an ironic interplay of multiple but partial "truths." Poets, especially ironic poets, became in some sense historicists of the imagination."—Charles Molesworth, The Fierce Embrace: A Study of Contemporary American Poetry
I. That ambivalent, oblique, laconic way of speaking, it’s very self-defensive, but it thinks of itself as very up-front.
A really charming guy last night, one of the musicians, said to me ‘Hey, man, you got a really interesting voice.’ You know, I was very charmed. And he said, ‘Yeah, the way you really push it out there--you can hear every beat.’ [laughs.]
That’s terrific. That’s the way I feel it.
These words, taken from an interview with Anne Waldman in Ron Mann’s 1982 documentary Poetry in Motion, come from the most laconic of 20th century laconic American poets, Robert Creeley.
Creeley’s sound-driven poetry is in a sense halfway between Cage’s silence and, say, Michael McLure’s shaman-fire. As a twentysomething wanna-be poet commuting to Rutgers University’s Camden satellite campus, I first saw the film on a VHS tape rented from TLA Video in Philadelphia. The documentary was 4-5 years old by then, and I rented it on countless occasions, accumulating some serious late fees. Sometimes, I took the train across the Delaware River for the sole reason of hearing the clip where John Giorno yelps his poems over a prerecorded track or Jayne Sanchez duels with Jamaaleen Tacuma’s bass.
The documentary’s angle or thesis was that poetry, as a heard form, can be freed from the academy’s grip, which according to several of the featured poets, is “so hard to understand.” As someone forced to read Pound and Eliot at a premature point of my writing life, I agreed with these assertions wholeheartedly. Watching the film again, I also recall feeling that I was somehow more hip than the academics.
Creeley, a poet in academia almost all of his writing life, at first seemed staid and laid-back to me, certainly not as viscerally satisfying as the poets reading with the bells and whistles, like Ed Sanders of the Fugs, for instance, with his "musical tie." Creeley’s comments that immediately follow his reading of “Self-Portrait,” however, have always helped me appreciate the poem. On the surface, the speaker does seem rather coy, “laconic,” and “oblique” in his meaning and intention. Over the years, I grew to like the poem more and more as my ear changed; Creeley’s pauses in his performance and line, after tens of listenings, I learned, provided a perfect form for the sound and meaning contents of the poem. It indicated deeper ambiguities. Here's the poem:
He wants to be a brutal old man an aggressive old man, as dull, as brutal as the emptiness around him,
He doesn’t want compromise, nor to be ever nice to anyone. Just mean, and final in his brutal, his total, rejection of it all.
He tried the sweet, the gentle, the “oh let’s hold hands together” and it was awful, dull, brutally inconsequential.
Now he’ll stand on his own two dwindling legs. His arms, his skin, shrink daily. And he loves, but hates equally.
I am not sure if I would be interested in machine-generated poetry, or poetry at all, if it wasn’t for reading the work of Racter.
Short for “Raconteur,” Racter was touted to be the first computer program program to write a book. Called The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed, Racter’s literary debut and swan song was published by United Artists Books in 1984 and went out of print shortly thereafter. New copies fetch a good price on Alibris and Amazon.
I used to keep a copy of The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed in a desk I had when I worked nights at the Rutgers-Camden's Paul Robeson Library. I would read passages,
At all events my own essays and dissertations about love
and its endless pain and perpetual pleasure will be
known and understood by all of you who read this and
talk or sing or chant about it to your worried friends
or nervous enemies. Love is the question and the subject
of this essay. We will commence with a question: does
steak love lettuce? This quesion is implacably
hard and inevitably difficult to answer. Here is
a question: does an electron love a proton,
or does it love a neutron? Here is a question: does
a man love a woman or, to be specific and to be
precise, does Bill love Diane? The interesting
and critical response to this question is: no! He
is obsessed and infatuated with her. He is loony
and crazy about her. That is not the love
of steak and lettuce, of electron and proton and
neutron. This dissertation will show that the
love of a man and a woman is not the love of
steak and lettuce. Love is interesting to me
and fascinating to you but it is painful
to Bill and Diane. That is love!
then read something my creative writing professor recommended to me. John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror stands out a as good example, or maybe Wallace Stevens. I would then marvel at how, at least on the surface, this computer program, “written in compiled BASIC on a Z80 with 64k of RAM,” could be more inventive than my own work.
This week we welocme Daniel Nester as our guest blogger. Daniel is the author of How to Be Inappropriate, a collection of humorous nonfiction. His first two books, God Save My Queen and God Save My Queen II, are collections on his obsession with the rock band Queen. His work has appeared in a variety of places, such as Salon.com, The Morning News, McSweeney’s, The Daily Beast, Time Out New York, and Bookslut, and has been anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2003, The Best Creative Nonfiction, and Now Write! Nonfiction. He is an associate professor of English at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. He edits the group culture-slash-literature blog We Who Are About To Die <wewhoareabouttodie.com. Find him online here.
In other news . . .
Save the Date: Thursday, September 22, 2011 - The Best American Poetry 2011 Launch Reading. 7 PM, Tishman Auditorium of the New School (66 West 12th Street, NYC) Series Editor David Lehman and Guest Editor Kevin Young will be joined by John Ashbery, Cara Benson, Michael Cirelli, Michael Dickman, Farrah Field, Major Jackson, Jennifer L. Knox,Katha Pollitt, James Richardson, Patricia Smith, Gerald Stern, Bianca Stone, Mark Strand, and Lee Upton.
Tuesday, 27 September 2011 - Deemed Truly Nefarious (To Us Hilarious)": Daniel Nester, David Yezzi, Elizabeth Gold, and Ernest Hilbert read at Robin's Books, 110 South 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107 (215) 735-9598, hosted by Lynn Levin. Details here.
On May 30, 2008, in this space, Dan Nester posted about an afternoon he and Jonah Winter spent sending up the titles that adorn poetry books. The titles that occurred to them "all seemed so aggressively portentous, imbued with such fawning obsequiousness," Nester wrote. "To exorcise ourselves of the real-life titles we were mentioning, titles that shall not be mentioned here, we played a word association game wherein either Jonah or myself would think of the second word of a two-word poetry book title, which would after after whatever the other participant named as the first." The "after after" in that sentence is hard to parse, perhaps deliberately, but the list of titles that follows clarifies the idea and gives us a window into the lads' minds that day: "Technical Vulva," "Variegated Cock," "Airport Beaver," "Stiff Flowering," "Tremulous Beaver."
The best of the list formed a category of their own: "good bad titles." Such was the thought of Corey Zeller, who approached a bunch of other poets to see whether they would produce self-parodying titles on order. Zeller's objective: "to write a book of serious prose poems" borrowing the deliberately bad titles. That She Could Remember Something Other Than _________, a Nester / Winter nominee, is the working title for Zeller's collection.
Among those who have responded to the summons thus far are Dean Young ("Tears of My Shadow"), Major Jackson ("The Shoeshine Chronicles"), Nin Andrews ("Beta Male Ballads"), Kim Addonizio "What Color is Your Vagina," "What Do Assholes Want?" "My Despair"), Arielle Greenberg ("Four Thousand Short Notes on Heidegger") as well as Joe Wenderoth, Dana Levin, Tim Seibles, Matthew Zapruder, and Joyelle McSweeney. A few conclusions can be drawn. Heidegger, who figures in several titles, handily beats out Descartes as the bad philosopher of choice. Sex, body parts, and bodily function retain their ancient popularity, with Dean Young's "My Mother's Thong" rivaling Dorothy Lasky's "Sitting by Your Mom's Bush in Broad Sunlight" but topped in tastelessness by the simplicity of Peter Markus's "On the Rag."
Here are some of the titles Jim Cummins has punfully proposed:
NOSTROMOSEXUAL THE INTERPRETATION OF JEANS PRIMO LEVI'S THE LIVES OF A CELLO ALL THE PRESIDENT'S PERSONS
Jim also suggests some plausible pseudonyms, chosen from the imaginary "tablet of contents" that he has been tinkering with for years. W S Merlot pours well. With Kenneth Joch you wonders how to pronounce the surname: Jock? Joke? Josh?
Not one to shirk a challenge, I came up with titles for books, not necessaerily poetry books, that might appear in a publisher's catalog:
-- USEFUL CANADIAN REVENUE-SHARING PLANS
-- DO-IT-YOURSELF DENTISTRY, Volume 1
-- DEAD MONEY: PFIZER, CISCO, AND OTHER VALUE TRAPS
-- THE SINUS HANDBOOK
-- SHAKESPEARE'S HAPPIEST COUPLE: MAC AND LADY MACBETH
The last on this list was prompted by the proposition that the Macbeths may be Shakespeare's happiest husband and wife -- in the tragedies at least.
Speaking of Shakespeare, I thought of another such title during a phone conversation with John Ashbery. We were discussing a decision he had made and I called it shrewd. He couldn't hear what I said and asked me to repeat the adjective. Shrewd, I said, "as in 'The Taming of the Shrewd'."
Oh, the photo illustrating this post is -- Hmmm. Why don't I invite guesses from the blogosphere? -- DL
There's been an editorial change at The Paris Review -- and a good deal of controversy attending the new editors' decision to reject previously accepted poems that had not yet appeared in print. The same thing happened in 2003 but on a lesser scale and with much less of a hue and cry. Here's Daniel Nester on the subject.
On the left you'll find the cover of the Spring 1968 issue of The Paris Review (# 42), It means a lot to me, because it was my first appearance in George Plimpton's legendary magazine. -- DL