KATHLEEN ROONEY (3/2)
Birthday love to the Countess Kathleen!
End over end on the trampoline!
Purple and orange and yellow and green!
With BIRTHDAY LOVE to the Countess Kathleen!
Again thanks to Stacey Harwood for this opportunity to air my stray thoughts. . . I am a reader of poetry, get BAP annually, but write very little. . .mainly prose poems like the ones I read by french poets like char or reverdy though not in their league of course. . .I am an American, Chicago-born, in that line everyone quotes from Saul Bellow, a very smart fellow. . "everyone" in that sentence being a case not of rhetorical dishonesty but acceptable bullying. . . "I" am bullshit but so are "you" and "we" and "they" -- you have a soft spot for Chicago, especially Wrigley Field. . we like our Calvin Klean jines. . .they say that the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach and behind him stands a succcessful woman. . .Bullshit. .Today my mind is on bullshit. . .also the Ukraine and Outin. . .Outin being a niice typo for Putin. . .who played a weak hand well (Syria) and a strong hand even better (Ukraine). . .at least he no take off his shirt yesterday. . .maybe he and BO should arm-wrestle for the Crimea. . .but you really want me to write about the movement to ban cursive in schools. . . which is a foolish decision . . as Yeats once wrote . . "but one man loved the pilgrim soul in you" . .I read the newspaper and I think "bullshit". . .I watch the news and I think "bullshit". . . it's bullshit even the word "bullshit" is bullshit even people who say they have great "bullshit detectors" are bullshit. . .or they are bullshit artists. . .a bullshit artist is either a fake artist or an artist who specializes in bullshit. . .there are great bullshit artists and lesser ones. . .the last of the great bullshit artists was either Derrida, Susan Sontag, or Andy Warhol. . let me take a minute to salute the American tax system, which can beat a computer at chess. . .please illustrate this piece with a picture that is either irrelevant, insulting, or fattening.. .that's what happens when c'est la vie meets c'est la guerre . . .bullshit. A fart in your sleep. You know who the hell you are. -- Walter Carey
Anyone who visits this site knows I'm mad for ballet and am a devotee since childhood of the American Ballet Theater, which performs regularly in New York City.
Some of my favorite poets were inspired by ballet: Marianne Moore, Frank O'Hara, Hart Crane, Edwin Denby, and Denise Levertov, to name a few. The similarities between the two art forms are clear to one who loves both. To paraphrase poet and critic Jack Anderson, both seek to create something which is uniquely itself, something which can be expressed in no other terms.
Because of this love, I was sad to learn that balletomane Carley Broder, the sister of a close friend, died on February 25. I want her good works to live on in the form of support for Project Plie, an initiative to increase racial and ethnic representation in ballet and diversify America’s ballet companies. Won't you join me? You can find out more about Carley Broder and make a much appreciated donation here.
The frog at the edge
of the pond sits poised to leap.
All's quiet. Then: splash!
The butterfly dips
its wings in aroma of
gorgeous wild orchid.
First you see the pond.
Then you hear the belching frog.
And then comes the splash.
No one on this road
but me: it must be autumn
in the dark country.
Frog at pond's edge sits,
waits, ready to make its leap.
Not a sound. Then: splash!
The spring night vanished
while we talked among cherry
blossoms and petals.
The pond is tranquil
but for the frond where the frog
leaps into its splash.
Winter blows its white
storms across the hills: even
monkeys need raincoats.
Even in Kyoto
How I long for Kyoto
When I hear that bird.
[versions by David Lehman]
AWP is influencing the city of Seattle! Just a few blocks away from the Washington State Convention Center we noticed a poetry reading taking place in the dog park. We also noticed some great finds at the bookfair and learned that writer’s block can be cured with a little bit of chocolate, courtesy of Writers’ Workshoppe Imprint Books.
Other things that we tasted in Seattle today that the rest of you might enjoy can be found at Purple Café and Wine Bar. We definitely recommend these menu items: The Quinoa and arugala salad: mixed quinoa, arugula, roasted butternut squash, le puy lentils, pickled shallots, toasted almonds, parmigiano-reggiano and lemon vinaigrette, and the Pan Seared Skuna Bay Salmon Sandwich with tomato,english cucumber and house tartar.
We appropriately stumbled across Buster Simpson’s art installation on 1st Ave and Virginia Street on our way back to the hotel. I hope Sammy the dog didn’t do his business here.
Sam Taylor is the author of two books of poems, Body of the World (Ausable/Copper Canyon Press) and Nude Descending an Empire (Pitt Poetry Series, forthcoming), and the recipient of the 2014-2015 Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship. He is an Assistant Professor in the MFA program at Wichita State University.
Q: Tell me about your forthcoming book, Nude Descending an Empire.
A: It develops the lyrical voice of a citizen-poet engaged with politics, history, and the urgency of our contemporary moment, especially its ecological urgency.
I wanted to find a poetic voice that could speak into history, speak publically, imaginatively, and nakedly into being alive right now. Living amid global information—and interconnection, and perpetual crisis—I felt it was important to allow “political” concerns into the work in a way that reflected the extent to which they seemed an integral, even an existential, part of one’s consciousness in being alive now.
Q: The title is fascinating, especially because it situates the poems in relation to the artistic revolutions associated with cubism and literary modernism. Do you see the book as an extension (or revision) of the work of modernist poets like Pound, Eliot, etc.?
A: No, that’s not really what the title is about for me, although I do love the modernists (and cubism, and surrealism). In some way, in fact, I find contemporary poetry deluded when it considers itself beyond the modernist age. Compared to the monumental originality of Eliot, Apollinaire, W.C. Williams, and Gertrude Stein, the inventions that have happened since seem paltry. The Apollinaire of Calligrammes or the Williams of Spring and All still read as more innovative and fresh today than most contemporary avant-garde work, and so much work seems to recycle what these and other modernists already did a hundred years ago.
But, the book is titled Nude Descending an Empire for other reasons, at least as much as “reasons” are what determine any title. Titles usually come to me out of the collective ether, and I say yay or nay, or maybe. My first book had no good title until I did a five-day hermitage in the mountains with that as the express purpose, and on the third day the title came to me (yes, on stone tablets), and I knew it was right—and then for the last two days I just ate almond butter and walked among the elk. Nude Descending an Empire came to me much the same way, although while shuffling through the rooms of my house in Wichita, and it felt right because it seemed to connect all the aspects of the book: the poems of political engagement and empire; the poems of hyper-modernity; the poems of wilderness and ecological crisis; the poems of sexuality and naked intimacy of self.
What the allusion does invoke for me, however, is the international character of the book’s sensibility. I have probably been influenced by international poetry as much as by U.S. poetry. Poets like Yehuda Amichai, Garcia Lorca, Yannis Ritsos, and Paul Celan have been quite important to me—or the Milosz of “Dedication”—but beyond the influence of individual poets, the character of international poetry—its more bodily-voiced, emotional temperament and its faith in the possibilities of the citizen-poet—were collectively inspiring to me. As you know, poetry is seen as having a greater relevance in many other societies. The poets of Mexico are respected figures whose opinions are consulted about public issues; the USSR viewed its poets as so dangerous that it killed or oppressed many of them; and, many countries have appointed poets to diplomatic posts. I like the idea of a poet as someone who might get up in the middle of a parliamentary meeting and talk about how sad his chair is. I like the idea of poetic discourse having a place in national, political discourse. Of course, perhaps that’s just an idea.
You probably didn’t think I could say so much about the title, but the title is also rather brash, which fits many of the poems. The book is dominated by a bold, direct, public voice speaking into history, speaking into a crowd. But, beneath that, there’s also a real diversity of style within the collection—perhaps seven or eight different kinds of poems—and, for me, the cubism of the title ultimately comes into play as a metaphorical figure for this diversity, for all the different angles of stylistic approach.
Lastly, the title takes a classic aesthetic artwork title and fucks with it in order to remind us that empire is the basic condition in which most art that we know (including ours) is produced. Some might see a critique of modernism and its apolitical temperament in that, but that would be simplistic to me, especially because the dadaists and surrealists, with whom Duchamp is most closely associated, were themselves committed to politically engaged art. But, regardless, I can sympathize with both the desire for artistic political engagement and the desire for pure aesthetics.
When I started the book, around 2005, I was very much reacting against the aesthetic isolationism that had reigned in U.S. poetry in the eighties and nineties. Of course, so were many other poets at the same time, though I would not see their work until much later. The character of U.S. poetry has swung back to political engagement, but at the time I thought I was going it alone. I’m not sure that I can imagine ever not writing in both modes at different times—the engaged and the purely aesthetic. I guess I have a problem with only practicing aesthetic isolationism, with not engaging at all with the real conditions in which one lives.
Q: As you mention, your book engages many pressing social issues, which range from the current environmental crisis to the global economy to the rise of social media and technology. To what extent does poetry constitute a form of activism, a resistance to mainstream culture?
A: This is a huge question, and one that I’ve thought about a lot, so I have a lot of thoughts but no simple answer. Poetry is poetry, and activism is activism would be one answer, and to continue with such half-syllogisms: Poets can be activists, and activists can be poets; perhaps, activists need poetry, and poetry can inspire activism. But, I am wary of looking to poetry to directly do the work of activism, and even more wary of it intending to do such work.
No doubt, a poem’s presence in the world can have effects that cannot be anticipated. Everything that is part of the world influences the world somewhat, and in this sense everything is “active”—a tree or a book or a song—one never knows who it will affect or how. A powerful poem will likely affect people, and people in turn will do what they do, participating in, or “changing” the world. If we consider everything—any created object or piece of language of any kind—as an active force creating the world (and perhaps we should), then perhaps poetry is directly a form of activism.
But, a poem cannot, in my opinion, set out to achieve a particular purpose and still be a poem. That’s part of what makes something a poem: Unlike everything else in the world, it is not trying to achieve any particular outcome—no outcome other than that mysterious outcome that is a poem. If it is trying to make something happen, then a poem will not happen. And, this is what is responsible for so much “bad” political poetry in the world, which usually is not poetry at all, but propaganda.
Yeats said we make rhetoric out of the quarrel with others, and poetry out of the quarrel with ourselves. I don’t entirely agree with that. One can easily make poetry out of an argument with the world, but one cannot make poetry at all if one believes one has the answer before one sets out into the poem. The difference between propaganda and poetry, as I see it, is that propaganda knows what it wants to say from the beginning and poetry does not. Poetry discovers it along the way and is surprised by it. It requires Keats’ negative capability. I also think Frost’s “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader” is an impeccable touchstone for political poetry.
Auden’s statement too that “poetry makes nothing happen” is hard to improve upon. This is what makes poetry different from almost every other activity in the world, which is trying to make something happen. But, poetry isn’t an absence of happening; it is a magnificent happening that is apart from all practical, utilitarian goals. The “nothing” poetry makes happen is not an absence, but the wonderment that brings the world into being, that makes everything happen. I think Lao Tzu says something about the center of a wheel being “useless” and yet being absolutely essential for the wheel. I’d say that’s analogous to the relationship between poetry and activism, between poetry and active efforts to preserve and foster the flowering and freedom and justice of life.
As for the question of whether poetry is “a resistance to mainstream culture,” I think it is part of the culture; and, while it’s often a fringe minority part, poetry is also often the vanguard of the culture (though it can also, ironically, be the rear guard). The age of the poetic image heralded the 20th century. Confessionalism in the sixties, seventies, and eighties was presciently ahead of the curve of reality TV and the memoir-craze of contemporary literature. Allen Ginsberg, whom I quote in the epigraph of this book, has amazingly become part of mainstream culture; he’s featured in Apple ads for god’s sake. He was a radical communist, investigated by the FBI, who wrote absolutely in resistance to mainstream culture, and yet amazingly he is now mainstream culture. Gay marriage is legal in many states, and marijuana isn’t far behind. We will see the ultimate triumph of his “pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York.” And, Walt Whitman’s radical philosophy that was shocking even for Thoreau and Emerson, the most enlightened men of his day, is now a commonplace of new age spirituality. Great poetry is a vanguard of the culture.
Q: You spent some time as a caretaker at a wilderness refuge without phone, electricity, or internet. How does this inform the book?
Well, there are certain poems directly about it, but I think it’s everywhere in the book. I lived there the better part of three years, and during much of the winter, the refuge was snowed-in and deserted. It was not unusual to go a week or two or three without seeing or talking to another person. It was a profound experience of the world as it exists before the introduction of human meaning. Between having this direct experience and reading a lot of history at the same time, I came to feel that the basic assumptions of our civilization are basically insane. I came to see our ecological crisis as the fulfillment of a long history of violence, domination, lies, alienation, and insanity—in one word, empire—and I think the book suggests that a livable future requires that we wholly inhabit our body-heart-mind and charter a new paradigm. When I left the mountains, I was extraordinarily sensitive to all the noise and creations of the 21st century, so the experience was central to that aspect of the book as well. In other words, from this experience of transcending meaning and being immersed in the natural world, the collection looks out on the hyper-modernity of our age and engages with urgent social and ecological contexts.
Q: I've already seen an early draft of your third book, which is stylistically innovative in its use of erasure and footnotes. I know that you're also experimenting with other kinds of word art. What are the advantages of working across mediums?
Well, to some extent, I think all these projects use the same medium: words. But, I like different styles and approaches because that’s just what art is to me. I don’t relate to doing the same thing again and again, writing the same kind of poem for fifty years. I understand writing the same kind of poem three or four times, or maybe even twenty times, but once I have really got it, then I want to do something else. Different kinds of poems are like different kinds of creatures, or different kinds of experiences, and I like a world with a great diversity of creatures. Eliot says:
“Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate . . .”
(“East Coker,” V)
I want to find the words for the thing I don’t yet have the words for. I started writing this experimental third book because I was pursuing some truth, and that was the only way to pursue it. It began with a very simple lyric poem that seemed perfectly successful, but I was dissatisfied with its easy emotional statement and closure. I didn’t feel that it had reached the truth. So, it gave way to a sequence that kept getting more complicated because that was the creature I was pursuing.
As far as working with different materials, there are a few reasons for that. One is that—in the context of a visual culture in which language is mass-produced, commercially sponsored, and driven toward emptiness—I want to find new ways to resurrect the power of words, to confront viewers with text in new ways. I also simply identify as an artist first, an artist who happens to primarily use words. Another reason is that I am horrified by the overproduction of “poetry,” and the more people who do it, the less I want to do it, or to do it in that way. And, yet another reason is that I think we are moving beyond being a book-centered culture into a post-literate, or image-literate age. That’s not to say that I think books are going to die out or something. I think there will always be books, and I think I will always write books, but I am interested in using words in public, spatial, and visual ways as well. Really, I guess it all just comes down to seeking forms to express what you have to express, or to add to the world what you are hungry to read or see.
Q: What else should readers know about your forthcoming collection?
It was co-written with Bob Dylan. Also, it gives great foot massages, and it will keep all of your secrets to itself.
Either that, or, as Ben Lerner said, that: “The relation between the lyric I and the lyric poem / is like the relation between a star and starlight. . . Some lyric poems become visible long after their origins have ceased to exist.”
Read a poem from Nude Descending an Empire here.
Picture taken at Pike Place Market
AWP was rockin’ Seattle’s downtown area today. We found poetry all over the clean sidewalks of this wonderful city. There were so many caffeinated writers in and out of the Washington State Convention Center and their words and energy busted out of those conference rooms and onto the street; it was almost lethal. Boom!
We hope everyone is eating well while in and out of the bookfair, readings, and panel talks. We could recommend lunch at Pear Delicatessen and Shoppe. Try any of their sandwiches, but we can specifically vouch for the Tuscan Tuna Fish, Market Veggie, and Egg Salad. Also, they have a great Clam Chowder. For quality and quickness, this is the spot. Lunch trumped dinner on day two of AWP. We were with a bunch of Italians from New Jersey and New York and went on the hunt for a little taste of home. And instead, we got a little taste of doo doo. Without meaning to be too negative, we must say that the Italian restaurant was a no go. Too much pepper and the pasta was frozen or boxed (except the gnocchi). What did we expect from a place that is not owned or operated by Italians? Can’t win them all.
We did find a visual art gem. Do take a walk to Seattle Symphony located at 200 University Street and get a look at this beauty:
Our night cap was provided by keynote speaker Annie Proulx and Shawn Wong who primed the stage with humor and insight into Seattle living. Keep an eye on AWP’s website for a recording of her address. She packed the house.
It is undeniable that creativity is one of the most important aspects of any profession. For an artist being creative is a matter of life or death. If you are not creative, you can't be an artist. Music emerges from silence, poetry from a white page, painting from a blank canvas. The artist brings to life ideas, sounds, images, giving form to that which was formless before. Yet that silence, that blank page or canvas - it is not empty, it is full of infinite possibilities.
I remember the first time I performed a piano concerto with an orchestra. I was 8 years old and very excited. Standing backstage, I was waiting for the orchestra to finish tuning. The chaotic, wild roar of the symphony orchestra tuning felt miraculous to me; it was my blank canvas as it contained limitless possibilities of music-making.
But the world of infinite possibilities can be also frightening, confusing and intimidating. The blank page can glare at you and leave you incapacitated, immobile, shrinking with each passing minute. How can one deal then with limitless freedom when everything appears possible, yet full of invisible walls that stifle your imagination?
The craft of an artist (and here I mean any artistic expression, be it a musical composition, literature or visual arts), requires building forms, structures within which a work of art can operate, the frames of space and time which it can inhabit. It involves creating certain restrictions within which the work can be free to emerge, and against which it can rebel, in other words, creating frames which can be altered, but nevertheless allow for creative thought to flourish and realize itself.
So, how does one sustain creativity in art when the Muses themselves are known for their disloyalty and fickleness? In my case this involved acting against the advice of my teachers, and following my calling against all odds.
I began playing piano and writing music when I was 4 years old. Soon my teachers presented me with a Solomonic dilemma: "Do you want to be a composer or a concert pianist?" I was told that in our age of specialization one cannot be both a virtuoso performer and a serious composer so I had better choose soon and focus." When I was 12, I wrote my first opera, which was staged and toured in Russia. When I mentioned this opera to my piano professor, who was a wonderful teacher by the way, he said rather sternly: "I don't want to hear anything about it. I don't care what you do in your spare time as long as long as it doesn't take away from piano practice."
Perhaps as a reaction to this, I started writing poetry and prose. Soon enough, my publishers informed me that I can't be publishing both poetry and fiction, that doing so would only confuse the readers and I would not be taken seriously. At the Juilliard School in New York, the pressures to choose only grew. Even today, after countless performances worldwide and with more than 100 compositions published, some of my well-wishers are still concerned that I may be spreading myself too thin. My response to that? I started creating visual art. As always -- I could not stay just with the paintings. Quickly I added mixed media, photography and sculpture.
It's not that I have not tried to limit myself to one form. And heaven knows, even one career in music is hard enough. But every time I tried to do so, the weight of a blank page became unbearable and I would feel depressed and accomplish less than when I allowed myself to fly freely with the child-like approach that everything is possible. My friends think that I am a workaholic, but I am not. I am a chronic procrastinator, always guilty of not doing something else. Yet somehow everything gets done with illusory effortlessness.
Experiencing art through its different forms helps to gain a fresh and unexpected perspective. Often we are unable to see what is right in front of us, but through the metaphor of art we recognize our own face. This is why a melody or a line in a book can move us to tears, as it becomes personal, and through sharing this experience we realize that we are not alone. Often enough, by immersing oneself in art, one may find solutions for seemingly unrelated problems.
And one more thought. There is no such thing as progress in art. Art does not follow the principles of Darwinism, at least not qualitatively. Picasso is not better than Rembrandt, Stravinsky is not better than Mozart, Pasternak is not better than Dante. Art changes and evolves so that the artist becomes an instrument and representative of his time. In one of his early interviews, Steve Jobs said that all his work will become obsolete by the time he is 50. Unlike art, technology becomes outdated almost overnight. Any scientific discovery, with time, will be found either obsolete or incomplete, whereas a work of art can remain relevant and whole throughout centuries.
In our fast-paced ever-changing world, art reminds us of our humanity, of that which is timeless and always relevant. Art communicates through the universal language of human emotions and thus, while representing its time, it is also capable of transcending it. Music of Mozart, words of Shakespeare, paintings of Da Vinci continue to inspire us, to move, to touch and to transport us beyond our daily routine; they are as powerful now as when they were created. Through these works we continue the dialogues between the centuries, as we individually attempt to answer some of the essential universal questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What happens when we die? Why is there so much suffering, cruelty and war? These are the unanswerable eternal questions that define our existence. In the cosmic frightening vastness of silence of these unanswered questions, and facing the perpetual terrors of history, it is Art and Culture that become the frames allowing us to justify our existence and creatively flourish in any field we choose. Our art and culture give meaning to our lives and become our legacy.
I know the price of Silence
When on the threshold of sound,
It congeals in the contour of emptiness
Blends with the beating heart.
The air is charged with fear
And opens into voiceless space.
Hypnotized by incorporeality,
The wind unfurls its wings in dance.
Silence parches the mouth
As I catch it on my lips,
Mesmerized by the muteness of sound,
The dreary whiteness of the page.
Guest edited by Denise Duhamel, The Best American Poetry 2013 represents a diverse array of literary styles. Indeed, the poems included in the volume range from numbered lists, couplets, and prose blocks to lyric verse. What's impressive about this volume is the variety of not only poetic forms that are represented, but also the assortment of publications and poets that are included. By culling pieces from web-based publications (The Awl and Plume, for example) as well as from both emerging and established poets, Duhamel has thoroughly contemporized this classic anthology, rendering The Best American Poetry compatible with twenty-first century values and aesthetics.
With that in mind, the anthology is at its best when inherited literary forms (couplets, the lyric, etc.) are brought into new syntactic and thematic contexts. Frequently, the work in this anthology places received forms of discourse in dialogue with "circus elephants," "snipers' bullets," and "DVDs." Consider Mark Jarman's piece, "George W. Bush,"
How much is anyone whose heart speaks for him
responsible for what his heart has told him?
The occupation of the heart is pumping
blood, but for some it is to offer counsel,
especially if it has been so changed
all that it ways must finally be trusted.
What's fascinating about this poem is that Jarman invokes a received form (the lyric) to discuss the contemporary shift from religiosity to scientific inquiry. In many ways, Jarman positions the poet as an observer of these cultural shifts and schisms, suggesting that he or she holds a mirror to culture. I'm intrigued by Jarman's re-envisioning of the lyric "I" as communal, and so the lyric is no longer rooted in individual subjectivity, but rather, it becomes a collective form of address. The Best American Poetry 2013 is filled with poems like this one, which re-envision what is possible within inherited literary forms.
Along these lines, the work included in this fine anthology often conflates antiquity with modernity, portraying even the most commonplace experiences as historically sedimented. For many of the poets included, we bear the weight of history with us, even as we traverse a contemporary landscape. Consider Traci Brimhall's "Dear Thanatos,"
I found the wedding dress unharmed,
my baby teeth sewn to the cuff.
There's a deer in the woman, a moth
in the chimney, a mote in God's one good eye.
I'm fascinated by Brimhall's presentation of the wedding dress, which appears as cultural artifact, a tangible vestige of a complex and difficult past. In much the same way that the bride bears her "baby teeth" with her on the "cuff" of her dress, Brimhall suggests that we carry myth, ritual, and history with us in even the most commonplace endeavors. The anthology is filled with poems like this one, which prove as thought-provoking as they are finely crafted. With that in mind, The Best American Poetry 2013 is an engaging, carefully orchestrated, and balanced snapshot of the contemporary literary landscape.
Can't be at AWP 2014 in Seattle? We've got you covered. Check in here for regular posts by Nicole Santalucia and Deanna Dorangrichia. In addition to covering the conference activities they'll pass along recomendations for where to dine and spend your leasure time.
Nicole Santalucia received her MFA from The New School University and will receive her PhD from Binghamton University in 2014. Nicole founded a literary outreach program in 2011—The Binghamton Poetry Project—and continues to work as the Project Director. She teaches creative writing and literature at Binghamton. Her poetry and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, 2 Bridges Review, Paterson Literary Review, Bayou Magazine, Gertrude, Oklahoma Review, Zymbol Magazine, Flyway Journal, and others. She is the winner of the 2013 Ruby Irene Poetry Chapbook Prize for Driving Yourself to Jail in July (Arcadia).
Deanna Dorangrichia studied at the Art Institute of Boston and Binghamton University where she graduated with a BA in Studio Art. After almost ten years of living and working in New York City, she is back in Binghamton, New York dedicating her time as a visual artist. She has been published by the Inquisitive Eater and her work appears on the cover of Driving Yourself to Jail in July (above) as well as on the most recent issue of the literary journal Harpur Palate.
For up to the minute news, follow us on twitter @BestAmPo .
What is one to do after registration is complete for AWP? Stop for a snack of course. A short stroll later, we found ourselves at Belle Epicurian, a café and French patisserie.
We recommend this cafe to grab breakfast pastries, desserts, sandwiches, salads & soups made from natural and organic ingredients (1206 4th Ave.). A strong cappuccino and almond croissant later and we were sugared up, caffeinated, and ready for AWP’s Opening Night Awards Celebration where the winners of the George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature and the Small Press Publisher Award were announced. Congratulations to Maria Mazziotti Gillan, recipient of this year’s George Garrett Award and One Story, recipient of the Small Press Publisher Award!
Stay tuned! Deanna Dorangrichia and I will be posting live from AWP these next few days.We will be talking mostly about food and where to eat in Seattle. We believe that getting to know a city happens through the food it serves and it's also a means of comfort and familiarity when adventuring into new territory. AWP attendees should remember to eat a good meal before entering the crowded venues. In order to ingest your AWP experience you’ll need to stay caffeinated, hydrated, and well fed.
Oh, and our hotel is right across the street from the Seattle Public Library (1000 Fourth Ave.) just a few blocks from the Washington State Convention Center, a perfect getaway from the masses. And, we have a pet fish in our hotel room. Appropriately named Tanker, this gold fish is on our AWP journey with us!
More photos and AWP 2014 Seattle to come from Deanna and Nicole. Maybe you remember us from 2011 when BAP blogged about our wedding (if not, check us out here) We are still married and we are still bitches.
A year ago, Green Mountains Review Online featured, in a four-part series, Evanescence: The Elaine Race Massacre. The article, which I wrote, describes a forgotten massacre of more than a hundred (maybe even hundreds) of African-Americans in the fall of 1919 in Phillips County, Arkansas, along the Mississippi River Delta. The massacre resulted in a 1923 Supreme Court decision, which gave life to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution (equal protection and due process under the law) and helped pave the way for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In Evanescence I portrayed the personal conflict I experienced in discovering, during my research, that my maternal grandfather, whom I adored (and who adored me) and with whom I lived for several years from age one, upon my own father’s death, more than likely joined in the massacre. He lived most of his life along the Arkansas Delta, as did I for most of the first two decades of my life.
During Black History Month this February, speaking on more than one occasion about the Elaine race massacre, I was often asked to concentrate on the personal conundrum of my grandfather Lonnie’s participation in the event. On the face of it, the rendering could purely be factual, as much as I discovered of a credible nature; however, in the larger sense, while I could indeed conflate the convincing pieces that led to the conclusion that Lonnie took part in the massacre, I could not reconcile my love for him and his apparent views about and role in racism, as practiced in the Arkansas Delta by whites during the first part of the 20th century.
Young children do not have the wherewithal to calibrate direction from a moral compass for the placement of their love. When protection and habitual endearment are present, children do not adhere to any such standards at all and will, without qualms or conscience, show affection to or receive affection from racist and saint alike. At the same time, I realize my response to Lonnie would have been entirely different had I been older and known of his violence and racism; with age, our moral compass filters and refines the focus of our affections. I would, of course, not choose to share my life with a racist, but, as a child, one doesn’t have the option to make that choice.
In my examination of the period in which the massacre happened, I recall the references to the Arkansas Delta as the heart of darkness, and it may have been – with my own grandfather’s propensity adding, in good supply, no doubt, to the pool of darkness that spread murderously and perniciously over the land. Yet, he was always kind to me – much kinder than virtually anyone else. So, I cannot reconcile the two – it would be false, serpentine and artificial. But maybe he couldn’t reconcile the two either. He was who he was, and now that he has been dead for several decades, I can only ponder the questions – with the answers secluded and forever distant. Still, I know unreservedly my own path to the Elaine race massacre was, in part, to discover a slice of him that eluded my awareness and baffles my personal conscience.
In August, 2012, I traveled from my home in New York City to Phillips County, Arkansas to explore the site of the massacre – maybe even to find that a note of reconciliation with Lonnie lay in the Delta land. I was joined by a director from the University of Arkansas Center for Arkansas History. As we surveyed the killing fields and adjacent areas in the fierce and thick summer sun and Arkansas humidity, guided mostly by the eerie notion of a concealed necropolis underfoot, two striking and related conclusions sprung to mind. First, little change to most of the landscape or along the narrow, dirt roads had taken place over almost 100 years. Second, no one ever intended to set any historical reminder in this place – a marker of explanation, a monument, a memorial of any kind – for notable exposition so future generations could know, with a degree of certainty, that several whites and an untold number of African-Americans died in these humble and unremarkable fields and in like spaces within Phillips County as part of one of the most important racial conflagrations in our country’s history.
In my quest to sight an existential piece of Lonnie among those unnamed and silent ruins of the Elaine Race Massacre, I had, after all, concluded that history can be doubtless. Too much and too little abided in the fields and fury of Phillips County for Lonnie and me to inhabit any amicable turf there – too much intervening and unsympathetic time, too much dismay as I turned the leaves of record, which bore too much descent and strife and turpitude, too little comity, too little heart.
J. Chester Johnson is a poet, essayist and translator. Johnson has published numerous volumes of poetry, most recently St. Paul’s Chapel & Selected Shorter Poems (second edition). His writings have been published domestically and abroad and translated into several languages. He has also composed many works on the American Civil Rights Movement, six of which are included in the Civil Rights Archives at Queens College (New York City). Find out more about J. Chester here.
Emma Bolden is the author of Maleficae, a book-length series of poems about the witch trials in early modern Europe (GenPop Books, 2013), and medi(t)ations, forthcoming from Noctuary Press. She’s also the author of four chapbooks of poetry -- How to Recognize a Lady (part of Edge by Edge, Toadlily Press); The Mariner’s Wife, (Finishing Line Press);The Sad Epistles (Dancing Girl Press);This Is Our Hollywood (in The Chapbook) – and one nonfiction chapbook – Georgraphy V, forthcoming from Winged City Press. Her poetry has appeared in such journals as The Rumpus, Prairie Schooner, Conduit, the Indiana Review, the Greensboro Review, Redivider, Verse, Feminist Studies, The Journal, Guernica, and Copper Nickel. Her work has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily’s Web Weekly feature. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Georgia Southern University. You can find her online at A Century of Nerve. Earlier this week, I had a chance to ask Emma a few questions about her forthcoming book.
Q: Tell me about your new book, medi(t)ations, which is forthcoming from Noctuary Press. How is it different from your first book, Maleficae? How is it similar?
Formally, there are a lot of similarities between medi(t)ations and Maleficae. Both are book-length projects: in Maleficae, the poems link together to form a narrative about a woman was both worshipped and persecuted for being a witch; though not exactly narrative, the poems in medi(t)ations also build an arc that follows the out-of-body-like experience of severe illness. I see Maleficae more as a poetic sequence, while I see medi(t)ations more as a book-length poem composed of fragments that can also be read individually. The experience of writing both books felt very similar as well – in both cases, the process of writing felt, for lack of a better word, oracular. It felt as though the language just arrived, in these small little fragmented gifts, which was, I suppose, because the material had been living inside of me for so long. I crafted both books in pieces, allowing the fragments to live in draft formation until other fragments accreted around them. In both cases, it took me a long time to figure out how the poems should inhabit the printed page. I’ve always been a very couplets-and-structured-stanzas-with-no-funny-business-please kind of writer, so I felt very surprised when I found that in order for the poems to work, I had to allow more white space into the poems. I had to allow the white space around and inside the poem, as well as the non-couplets-and-structured-stanzas-funny-business-all-the-way placement of the words, to speak as loudly as the words themselves. At the center of both books lies the idea of silence: the silence of fear and the silencing of women in Maleficae, and the silence of illness, of an inability to articulate the ultimately inarticulable relationship between the bodies we inhabit and the selves that inhabit our bodies, in medi(t)ations.
Q: I find it fascinating that the title of the collection, medi(t)ations, lends itself to many possible readings. From the very beginning, the reader is asked to participate actively in the process of creating meaning from the text. Do you see the title as guiding the reader, establishing how he or she should engage with the collection? How do you envision a reader inhabiting medi(t)ations?
Though I’m not tech-savvy enough to create computer code myself, I’m absolutely and possibly obsessively fascinated by electronic literature. I first started reading Stephanie Strickland as a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College, and I’ve been awed by the stunning shifts in her work, both in terms of language and the use of technology to create multivalent, amorphous texts that themselves shift with each readings. In her essay “Born Digital,” Strickland states that “[t]oread e-works is to operate or play them (more like an instrument than a game, though some e-works have gamelike elements).” The reader’s active involvement in reading is necessary to the piece, and each encounter with the text yields a new text. When I read this article, I was excited but at the same time terribly disappointed because, I’ll be honest, sometimes Gmail is too complicated for me. I definitely can’t write code, so I began thinking of ways that I could replicate the effects of e-literature on the page.
Technology did give me a helping hand when I started the project. I often used my Kindle, and the predictive text feature soon moved from an annoyance to an inspiration. The suggestions would spark new connections and images in the text, and they helped me to make leaps from idea to idea, word to word, stanza to stanza. As I started assembling the fragments into a manuscript, I started to realize that if I arranged things on the page in a certain way, if I used punctuation and spacing and white space in a certain way, I could allow for multiplicities of meaning within and between each fragment. The title is definitely meant to serve as a hint about the formal structure of the poems, which contain multiple meanings in terms of the fragments themselves and the ways in which the fragments relate to each other. The fragments are both independent meditations and pieces that act out the process of mediation, of working together to develop a thematic resolution. The title also indicates the layers of thematic meaning I build through the poem: they are both meditations on what it means to live inside of a human body and a series of mediations between the self and the body itself.
Q: Your book resists genre in ways that are altogether new and exciting. The collection reads at times as lyric essay, poetry, and flash fiction. Along these lines, the work is at turns narrative and formally adventurous, using the page as a visual field. What are the advantages of moving through genres, rather than committing to only one of them?
Thank you for this very kind comment about my work! I think that it’s essential for a writer to practice their craft in multiple genres – and, perhaps even more essentially, to explore the spaces between genres. While studying for my comps in graduate school, I read Alicia Ostriker’s Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America. It is no exaggeration to say that Ostriker’s book changed my life. Every sentence felt miraculous, as if someone had finally articulated something I thought no one could articulate, especially myself, though I’d been trying all of my life as a writer to do just that. Early on, Ostriker writes that “women writers have been imprisoned in an ‘oppressor’s language’ which denies them access to authoritative expression.” I was particularly struck by Ostriker’s assertion that women writers are imprisoned not only by expectations of content but also of form – and, by extension, of genre. At the time, I admit that I felt too afraid to write creative nonfiction, so I practiced Ostriker’s theories in my poetry. As I grew less afraid as a writer, I found myself moving to other genres and, ultimately, into the liminal space between genres – and in that space, I found myself freed. There, I could create my own language, my own form, my own genre; by taking command of genre, I was able to take command of my words and come closer to the kind of authoritative expression Ostriker describes.
Q: When reading your collection, I was impressed by the way you so gracefully meld personal experience with literary theory. I was reminded of Freud's writings on the relationship between the mind and the body, as well as Kristeva's feminist epistemologies. I'm very interested in the way that medi(t)ations addresses these ambitious philosophical questions while remaining carefully grounded in the tangible details of lived experience. Would you describe medi(t)ations as an application of theory and philosophy to everyday life? Along these lines, what is possible for you in poetry that isn't possible in the realm of academic writing?
I was pleasantly surprised to hear this because this is very much what was happening in my head, but it’s often impossible to tell if one has transferred what happens in one’s head to one’s page. I spent much of my undergraduate career studying Freud and the relationship between the mind and the body. I first became fascinated with the idea of hysteria when I took a class on Ibsen at the University of East Anglia. I’d read The Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler time and time again, so much so that I’d memorized most of both plays, but once I’d heard my professor lecture on hysteria, the plays became completely new. It was a concept that fascinated me: the idea that social and psychological factors could manifest themselves in physical illness through a series of symptoms that expressed in a non-verbal way what women were unable to express verbally. I was also fascinated by what seemed to me a cruel corollary to this idea and a devastating counter-effect of Freud’s work as a whole: women were – and are -- so often maligned by the medical community, so often told that their physical symptoms were the manifestations of psychological or emotional issues, that physical illnesses were – and are – often untreated. I remember being especially struck by Elaine Showalter’s exploration of these parallel ideas in Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media. While I understood and agreed, to some degree, with her analysis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as a nexus of physical symptoms with psychological and emotional roots, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy with this idea and with the fact that physical symptoms were denigrated as emotional issues. This perhaps came from personal experience: at the age of 12, I was diagnosed with a form of dysautonomia, a malfunction of the central nervous system that led to symptoms such as dizziness and fainting – symptoms also associated, in Freud’s time, with hysteria. It took over a year to receive this diagnosis, as doctors assumed these symptoms were psychological and not physical in cause. After I received this diagnosis, I learned very quickly to not tell doctors that I had dysautonomia, as they often waved it away as a psychological or emotional problem, much like Showalter described the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Seven years later, my father was diagnosed with the same condition (though it took only a few days for doctors to diagnose him). Then, everything changed: I was finally able to tell doctors that I had dysautonomia – as long as I mentioned that my father had the condition, too. I never experienced the same kind of doubt from my doctors again. Since I had several female relatives with the condition, it was clear that this changed because I now could say that my father – a male relative – had dysautonomia.
I think that this propelled my interest in studying hysteria and Freud’s theories from a feminist lens: I saw that the ideas had very real and very long-range consequences. As a senior at Sarah Lawrence, I focused on these ideas in all of my classes: I took a class on talking cures, developed a visual arts project based on Muybridge’s photographs and Charcot’s often-exploitative work at the Salpêtrière, and explored these ideas in a chapbook of poems. Through these projects, I studied verbal and visual representations of the female body, tracing the history of the seemingly ubiquitous idea that illness in the female body is a symptom of weakness or psychological trauma. I noticed one pervasive theme: the idea of impersonalization. It felt very often as though these theories about women were about their bodies, and not their selves. I found that in case studies and in the theories they supported, women’s personal lives, experiences, thoughts, and physical symptoms were summarily ignored in privilege to the theory; the theory was primary, the person secondary at best. The poems in medi(t)ation are an extension of this study and an exploration of how those ideas have manifested themselves in my life. I chose to explore these ideas in creative writing as a way to resist the impersonalization of theory in academic writing. It felt vital to explore theory in this very intimate way, to see how theory plays out in real human experience, and poetry/hybridity gave me a way to replicate the experience, a structure that individualizes the experience.
Q: What else should readers know about your forthcoming book?
I’d like readers to know that their presence, their practice in reading and thinking and feeling, is, in a lot of ways, the most important component of this book. Their involvement – in terms of assembling and re-assembling stanzas, sections, and sequences -- is necessary to the work, so I thank them in advance for that.
An Excerpt from medi(t)ations:
the purpose of pain is
good record keeping
then pain is given
purpose a pulse
into mean -ing (&
when she is I
am lying I am my
own line & my
spine makes a
center of it
divides &) divides
a skyline stark & bloom
-ing & all
(through the summer I
felt her a buzz the blur of our voices winging through wires the blur of power skating/escaping (our language) (our lines) suffering
is pain inflicted until meaning for this body there is no give & receive there is no actor & action is a pulse translated to meaning a pulse is a wound transmogrified (see: we
are always defining) (see: away & / or decay)
there is no love in re- mains
pain isn't what's haloed
or hailed pain is an in-
stead a white locus of
light &/or of focus
she said that she was
resolute she took e-
very morning a blue
pill of sky & what was (it
was then that
the darkness re-
vealed itself as
sparkle a remark
-able pattern we
were both look
-ing &) longing
the key in my palm (I
was driving) this
all (& when I was an
other) who could
have another this (when
my eyes worked
because) pain is its own
wordless language there
are no words & pain
being its own vocabulary
she (lost her faith
in speech & tongue) to
she lacked was
a word for symptom so she
used symphony she lacked
a word for symphony so
she used certainly
here is a lacuna of light a stellar set-
up for a self- portrait here
is the spot of light I sit to paint myself
&/into portrait & pain is
the picture in which I am not I
(there is here) (light but no
light that is) I (there is
no eye &) there is no I there (is
no use nor) you see (here her
free- dom ringed
round with posies
see teeth & squirrel
as song) (see
the lacuna of lac-
king) the mathematics
of being tattooed to
each cell as/if proof
of her bones
the eye without seeing has its own me-
aning the eye without seeing trans-
formed to un-
meaning (I lacked the
bitter & -ness
so I used mean
) (she had a
arbitrary as any
number /or face
/or) in fact
did she give our truth to
that car & what did
its windows say un-
derwater what green
threaded hairs were hers
(/or mind /or
mine /or) dreamed
(subliminal as in behind the lid as if
any question isn’t its own asking
the spine is a straight line of forgiving
which is implied even in forget (usage:
here in the halo we breathe water here in this
halo we breathe water) as
belief is the work
the mind begins
because the body
began its workings
Who says poetry makes nothing happen? Sharon Mesmer sends along this article by Kirby Olson about how Marianne Moore's little-known "The Camperdown Elm," pictured below, helped save Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
Am I leaving anything out? Send your highlights to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write them in the comments below.
(photo of David Lehman (c) W.T. Pfefferle)
Up on the /kin/ site, David Lehman's Self-Interview plus poems:
What are you working on?
A sequence of thirty sonnets entitled “Ithaca.” I have lived in Ithaca, New York, part time or full time, for more than thirty years. In the Odyssey, Ithaca is the hero’s homeland, his origin and his goal, to which he returns following the Trojan War and all the subsequent perils, hazards, and temptations Odysseus endures.
Are you drawn to the Homeric epic for reasons beyond this coincidence of names?
It is as Virginia Woolf writes, explaining her attraction to Greek tragedy: the spirit of the ancient Greeks "has nothing in common with the slow reserve, the low half-tones, the brooding introspective melancholy of people accustomed to living more than half the year indoors." And I love the Odyssey.
Why the sonnet form? And why thirty of them?
There’s a reason the sonnet is historically the greatest lyric form in English tradition. It’s extraordinary what you can do within that precise fourteen-line structure. Twelve lines are too few, sixteen too many, and the unequal distribution of the sonnet’s fourteen lines into two asymmetrical stanzas allows you to make the rhetorical shift or pivot that is crucial to your argument or theme. The sonnet sequence gets you to do at least two things at once, because each sonnet must stand on its own and as a unit in a larger whole. In 1987, I finished “Mythologies,” a sequence of thirty sonnets, each consisting of seven couplets, and it went on to win a prize at The Paris Review and to anchor my book Operation Memory. I had the model of “Mythologies” in mind when I began work on “Ithaca” two years ago. Each was undertaken at a crossroad in my life.
What is the biggest problem you face as a poet?
Can you put that in a more intellectually respectable way?
I used to think death was an extension of the reality principle. Then I began to question that assumption. I felt that reality and necessity were two different things. I recalled that Freud’s thinking on the question evolved to the point that he introduced the idea of a death impulse, a drive toward death. Death is the end of life whether you define end as finish or as aim.
For nearly five full years you wrote a poem each or almost each day. Do you still do that?
Maybe I will try that again sometime in a more limited way. Recently I conducted an experiment in the opposite direction: for thirty days I maintained radio silence, refusing to write poems even if lines occurred to me.
In your New and Selected Poems you have new translations from Guillaume Apollinaire and Henri Michaux. Are you making more translations?
I’ve done about twelve or fourteen of Baudelaire’s prose poems and I mean to keep going. A couple of years ago, I translated one of Baudelaire’s most famous prose poems, “Enivrez-vous” (“Get Drunk”), just because I needed it for a dinner toast and was dissatisfied with all the many translations I had read. Alan Ziegler liked my effort and chose it for his new anthology of poems and prose in short forms, Short. Around this time, my friends Jim Periconi and Cheryl Hurley organized a Baudelaire soiree and invited me to take part. I said yes and went to the shelf and picked out Baudelaire’s Petits Poemes en prose, an old favorite of mine. (Way back when, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the prose poem.) The best translations I could find were done a hundred years ago by Arthur Symons and are a bit creaky. So I thought I’d try my hand at it. I started with “Le Mauvais vitrier” (“The Bad Glazier”). Believe me, it is a major challenge to render a work like that into clean contemporary idiomatic prose that manages nevertheless to convey a flavor of Paris in the 1850s. I got totally involved in it, worked on it for weeks, draft after draft. The next few came with less struggle, but by its nature translation is approximative; there are no definitive translations, which means that every time you look over one of your attempts, you feel like making an adjustment.
You are on record saying that you turn to “Tintern Abbey” when your own spirits flag. What about the same poet’s “Immortality Ode”? Do you agree with Wordsworth that for the inevitable loss of “the radiance which was once so bright,” there is adequate compensation “in what remains behind; / In the primal sympathy / Which having been must ever be; / In the soothing thoughts that spring / Out of human suffering; / In the faith that looks through death, / In years that bring the philosophic mind”?
In Leah Umansky's beautifully written and poignant first book, Domestic Uncertainties, readers will find failed courtships, nineteenth century novels left in ruins, and the "nomenclature for what is left." Presented as an extended sequence of hybrid genre vignettes, which use elements of poetry, flash fiction, and lyric essay, Umansky's finely crafted collection presents a provocative matching of form and content. Frequently invoking Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and other nineteenth century fictions by women, Umansky gracefully situates these female writers within the context of twenty-first century post-genre writing, a thought-provoking gesture that proves at turns reverent and destructive.
I find it fascinating that these hybrid genre pieces simultaneously inhabit and revise literary tradition. The work of nineteenth century women writers is no longer forced into male forms of discourse, but rather, Umanksy forges new possibilities for representing and depicting women's lived experience. For instance, Emily Bronte's famed characters, Catherine and Heathcliff, appear in fragmented, elliptical, and thoroughly postmodern prose. These stylistic choices suggest that as Adrienne Rich once argued, women should not write in literary forms that are hostile to them, but rather, should seek out new possibilities for representing their experiences. Consider "What Literature Teaches Us About Love,"
And after death there is no heart. And after death there is no unknowing for what could've been there is only what is. And there is only what has. And Love. Always Love.
I'm intrigued by Umansky's treatment of the poem as a space in which intervention into literary tradition becomes possible. Just as she re-imagines Wuthering Heights from a fragmented, postmodern stylistic standpoint, Umansky presents each poem as a theoretical act, an active engagement with the work that came before her own. Domestic Uncertainties is filled with poems like this one, which read as both conversation with and revision of received wisdom.
Along these lines, Umansky's appropriation of received forms of discourse for novel purposes proves to be innovative and engaging as the book unfolds. By presenting the reader with mislaid dictionary definitions, multiple choice questions, and fill in the blanks, Umansky calls upon the reader to assume a more active role, allowing them to participate in the process of creating meaning alongside the poet. In many ways, this also constitutes a radical and thought-provoking revision of the nineteenth century tradition that she has inherited. Umansky writes,
Larger than life; epically grand. Just give me the extra mile! If you call it a _________________, it's a __________________. You define what is familiar. Don't the homophones all sound like "you?" Make me: everything.
Here Umansky's innovative use of form leaves space for the reader's imagination, allowing them to situate their own experience within the narrative that's being presented. I find it fascinating that Umansky has revised not only the nineteenth century novels she references, but the relationship between artist and audience that these texts embodied. Here the reader appears as collaborator, an idea that not only destabilizes meaning within the text, but affords a wide range of possible interpretations, each one as rich as the last.
Purchase Leah Umansky's Domestic Uncertainties here.
Just as the sheer quantity of John Ashbery's literary criticism surprised even the poet's fans (see his Selected Prose, 2007), so too the poet's translations from the French: they fill two volumes, one devoted to prose, the other to verse. Farrar Straus and Giroux will publish in April. Edited meticulously by Rosanne Wasserman and Eugene Richie, the books are rich in the enthusiasms of a maverick sensibility who did more than anyone else to put certain important French ecrivains -- Raymond Roussel, for instance -- on the map.
Ashbery spent ten formative years in France, mostly in Paris, having won a Fulbright in 1955. The critics, always quick to categorize, relegated him to a category as flexible as it is ill-defined: surrealism. And if there were a literary house of lords, surely he would be dubbed Sir Realist and be seated in the front row of the opposition party. He did in fact translate important works by Paul Eluard and Andre Breton, including such of their collaborations as "Le Jugement original," one of the highlights of the brilliant "collaborations" issue of Locus Solus #2, which Kenneth Koch put together. "The Original Judgment" is like William Blake's "Proverbs of Hell," only more so: "Let the dreams you have forgotten equal the value of what you do not know." "Adjust your gait to that of the storms." "Never wait for yourself." "You have nothing to do before dying.'
But Ashbery was always less interested in surrealism proper, if that is not an oxymoron, than in "hybrid" poets who deviated from the dads of dogma. I love his translations of Max Jacob's prose poems and believe that Le Cornet a des (The Dice-Cup) would garner deserved accolades if presented as a separate volume as Ashbery's versions of Rimbaud's Illuminations were a couple of seasons back.
Ashbery has a special feeling for Pierre Reverdy, whose poems were in Frank O'Hara's pocket on the day he spent his lunch hour walking elegiacally in midtown with Jackson Pollock's recent death on his brain ("A Step Away from Them"). Reverdy's poems have since found their way into a lot of other pockets, perhaps because in his leaps and enigmas he seems so pure an example of the French poetic sensibility that recommended itself so strongly to midcentury Americans eager to stray as far from the Eliotic throne room as they could. Ashbery's versions of Reverdy's prose poems (such as "Heavier," "From Another Shore") and verse ("Surprise," "That Memory") make the ideal introduction to this unusually compelling poet. Reverdy's lines seem able to detach themselves from the whole. Or rather the whole of a Reverdy poem consists of lines that arrive from different points of origin and coalesce as mysterously as a drop of water:
The stars came out of the water
A ship passed flying low
The line at the horizon from which the current was coming
The waves laughed as they died
No one knows where time will stop
I have barely touched upon the treasures in the poetry volume of Ashbery's Collected French Translations and I have not even mentioned the highlights of the accompanying book of prose.
The introductory essay by Rosanne Wasserman and Eugene Richie, with invaluable information, biographical as well as bibliographical, appears in the new issue of The Massachusetts Review (Winter 2013) with an admirable Ashbery collage ("Corona" from 2011) on the cover and with his translations of poems by Pascalle Monnier and Yves Bonnefoy.
KGB Monday Night Poetry is pleased to present...
Mary Jo Salter + David Lehman
Monday, Feb. 24, 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
David Lehman is the author of many collections of poems, including New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013), Yeshiva Boys(Scriber, 2011), When a Woman Loves a Man (Scribner, 2005), Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man (with James Cummins, Soft Skull Press, 2005), and The Evening Sun (Scribner, 2002). Among his books of non-fiction are A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Shocken Books, 2009) and The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets(Doubleday, 1998), which was named a "Book to Remember 1999" by the New York Public Library. He edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006), and is the series editor of The Best American Poetry. He is on the core faculty of the graduate writing programs at the New School and New York University. He lives in New York City and Ithaca, NY.
Mary Jo Salter was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was educated at Harvard and Cambridge and taught at Mount Holyoke College for many years. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, including A Kiss in Space, Sunday Skaters, andA Phone Call to the Future: New and Selected Poems, all from from Knopf. Her most recent volume is Nothing by Design. Also the author of a children's book, The Moon Comes Home, and a coeditor of The Norton Anthology of Poetry, she is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and lives in Baltimore.
Richard Siken’s poetry collection Crush won the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, a Lambda Literary Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, Conjunctions, Indiana Review and Forklift, Ohio, as well as in the anthologies The Best American Poetry 2000 and Legitimate Dangers. He is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, a Lannan Foundation residency, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His second book, War of the Foxes, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2015.
Q: Tell me about your forthcoming book, War of the Foxes.
RS: The poems in War of the Foxes address the problems of representation in three arenas: painting, fable, and math. All three attempt to make languages out of symbols, representations used to describe the world. And all three succeed and fail in different ways. I wanted to explore the Socratic Method of question and answer, the Scientific Method of hypothesis and measurement, and the Poetic Method of association and analogy.
Q: Your first book, Crush, was published in 2005, and readers have been eagerly awaiting your second collection. Why was it important to take a long breath between the two books? What does time make possible for the artistic process?
RS: For months after I finished Crush, I felt like I had nothing left to say. Or even a way of saying it. I had talked myself out completely. I began painting again, not vey well, but since my paintings were never very good, and there was no hope of making them good, I was liberated from the pressure of an audience. I became silent. I squeezed the tubes and pushed the colors around. I did have more to say, I just couldn’t -- at the time -- say it with words. This was a crystallizing moment, and led to the lines:
Blackbird, he says. So be it, indexed and normative. But it isn’t a bird, it’s a man in a bird suit, blue shoulders instead of feathers, because he isn’t looking at a bird, real bird, as he paints, he is looking at his heart, which is impossible.
Unless his heart is a metaphor for his heart, as everything is a metaphor for itself, so that looking at the paint is like looking at a bird that isn’t there, with a song in its throat that you don’t want to hear but you paint anyway.
The hand is a voice that can sing what the voice will not, and the hand wants to do something useful.
As for time making things possible, and the long breath between books, I can’t say anything useful. Writing and publishing are different. I write when I want to, I share when I want to. They rarely match up and they have -- for me -- very little relationship to calendar time. I wish I had a better answer. I thought these poems were worth reading and I was ready to share them.
Q: What drew you to the prose poem as a literary form when writing this collection? What’s possible for you in prose that’s not possible in lineated verse?
RS: In Crush, I used the second person extensively, in an attempt to make the reader complicit in the situations of the poems. I didn’t want to repeat that strategy, so I was left with first- and third-person: I and He. The fables are in the third-person. They have characters doing actions. They have multiple speakers. It was too confusing to break the lines as well.
There are many reasons to break a line. For me, a line break makes a friction between the unit of a line and the unit of the sentence. The fables had enough friction and complexity. When the earlier drafts were lineated, is was an layer of distraction that added nothing interesting. I think -- I hope -- that the fables use enough of the other strategies of poetry to satisfy.
There are lineated poems in the book as well. Since they move forward with a single lyric “I” instead of multiple voices, I found that the line breaks were useful to pace the thinking and the saying.
Q: How did your life as a reader inform this new collection? Would you situate War of the Foxes in the context of different literary influences than you would your first book?Why or why not?
RS: That question would take years to answer. I like theories and criticism and schools and influences -- and it’s important to know if you’re on a branch of art that bears fruit -- but really I don’t want to know the answer regarding my own work. I can talk seriously and with investment about anyone else’s work, but I’d rather someone else place mine in a larger context. The Pre-Raphaelite painters, god bless ‘em, didn’t know that Raphael would come along and they would be named and placed in history retroactively. There’s a charm to the injustice of it. How astouunding it would be, to be considered something that lead forward into innovation and greatness, rather than being a rung in a predictable ladder. It sounds grandiose, of course, but why not shoot the moon? Especially if the idea gets you out of bed when nothing else will.
Q: What else should readers know about your forthcoming book? What do they have to look forward to?
Oooof. Another impossible question. So, a story instead:
Several years ago my father’s health began to rapidly and then his wife died. We had been estranged for over 25 years, even though we live in the same town. I was faced with a problem: did I want the opportunity to punish him or did I want the opportunity to keep striving to be the man I want to be. I ended up moving in with him and giving him daily care. Was he my enemy? No. What was he? My opponent. We disagreed, we argued, we held our ground stubbornly. And so, another crystallizing moment:
You cannot have an opponent if you keep saying yes.
And yes, even years later and I was still really really deeply angry. He was an awful person and he taught me how to be awful person. But everyone has problematic relations with their parents. I couldn’t produce, or even imagine a first-person lyric “I” that would able to sing this or talk about it in any interesting way. So I turned to strategies of fable:
The hunter sinks his arrows into the trees and then paints the targets around them. The trees imagine they are deer. The deer imagine they are safe. The arrows: they have no imagination.
All night the wind blows through the trees. It makes a sound.
The hunter’s son watches the hunter. The hunter paints more rings on his glasses. Everything is a target, says the hunter. No matter where you look. The hunter’s son says nothing, and closes his eyes.
This week we welcome Kristina Marie Darling as our guest author. Kristina is the author of seventeen books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and a forthcoming hybrid genre collection called Fortress (Sundress Publications, 2014). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She is working toward a Ph.D. in Poetics at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo. Visit her online at http://kristinamariedarling.com/
My thanks to Stacey Harwood and David Lehman for inviting me to blog my thoughts from time to time. . . . . I am proudly contrarian. You tell me the conventional wisdom and I will instinctively take the opposite position. . .For example I believe that a good cover story is "Can Men Have it All?". . and the next time I hear the words "double standard" I am going to say "how come elite schools like Wellesley and Bryn Mawr can stay single sex?". . .The new SI swimsuit issue is on the stands, fans. . .I love porn... In a New York elevator the other day I heard a woman, in her young 20s, say to a slightly older woman "Thanks for femsplaining that" and then both of them laughed as if I wasn't there . .I spent an hour trying to rhyme that line and came up with "Do these jeans make my ass look fat?" . . .If you were the NY Review of Books and your cover announces an essay on "The New Populism," would you illustrate it with (1) a caricature of a bespectacled Harvard professor who became a US Senator from Massachusetts, or (2) a young black man in a hoodie, or (3) a couple of guys pulling on a beer at a truck stop, or (4) Taylor Swift? . . .I believe that a true intellectual prefers John Ford to Jean-Luc Godard . . . A fake intellectual attacks Woody Allen for not making movies about black people. . .I like the line in a movie where a pompous executive apologizes to the employeees he is firing and asks them what else he can do and somebody answers, "You can die". . . I don't remember which movie. . . Maybe some reader will know . .Fuck the Olympics. -- Walter Carey
So good to talk to you again! Much have I traveled in the realms of gold - though not overland, nor by sea. Just Brooklyn and the realms of gold. Still, many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
A coupla times I felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men Look'd at each other with a wild surmise — Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
So yeah, sorry I've been a little silent, was on the peak in Darien. I'm bragging and much ashamed for it, but I have been using thinking to thwart actual deaths, and am moved by it. Still broke, if anyone's counting, as I've bitched about here over many a hitch, but happy anyway.
Have a look at my new website and some fascinating, moving responses to my new book against suicide, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. (Maybe peek at my new poetry book too: Who Said, Copper Canyon.)
Anyway, was reading a great newish poet, Anthony Madrid and felt like I had to rush to share some with you:
I TOO HAVE BEEN TO CANDYLAND
I TOO have been to Candyland, but I found myself missing the death cult.
I missed the spectacle of the wounded bones being opened and instrumented.
Bill Varner, when he was still just a boy, wrote a stunning line of Arabic verse.
He wrote: “The crescent moon is a scimitar; the sun, a severed head.”
¡Gran cantar! and this, when he still had to keep his books in a locker!
And he’d never even held hands with a girl—God! Penn State in the 1980s!
In those days, we all sat at the feet of a pig poet, deaf in one ear. One of these
Dreadful “white-haired lovers”—oh, but he knew how to touch fire to fuse!
That little stick of fire apt to launch a poetic career! But what is it now?
Merely a billowing cloud of humidity floating out of a tree.
Every turtle, snake, and bird is “born again”—oh, isn’t that so? The first time,
Out the fêted cloaca—and the next, through the top of the shell.
The “I” is Greek, the “it” Italian, and Dickinson is our Ghalib. But that
Ridiculous piece of dirt you’re kissing on can never be anything but.
Shut your eyes to what a worm he is, concentrate on his caress—but know
Every half-truth is bound to call up its suppressed synoptic double.
Close your eyes and moan softly, your head full of packed cotton—but know
Every hidden camera’s cockpit must one day be delivered of its black box.
This is from Anthony Madrid's 2012 first book, I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say. The whole book's great.
Love to you all, even the mean one. I can almost hear the thaw! Soon we will be miserable, but warmer! And perhaps intermittently delighted by the sun. Don't kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on February 22, 2014 at 11:58 AM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (1)
--Wandrers Nachtlied (1780)
Over the hills
Comes the quiet.
Across the treetops
No breeze blows.
Not a sound: even the small
Birds in the woods
Just wait: soon you
Will be quiet, too.
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.