Monday, May 30, 2005

Peter Campion Rides the Sea Camel

A few days back, the Corvus posted a
rather mean-spirited polemic aimed at
a portion of the Peter Campion essay in
POETRY. I have to admit that I hadn't
given his essay a moment to sink in
before pulling out the dagger and stabbing
at the wind.

It took me about a day to pull it. After
sleeping on it, it seemed foolish of me to
post such a thing. Not that I would necessarily
retract any statements... just that I had
liked the majority of the essay and profoundly
disliked his take on the poetry blog world.

What I found most objectionable was the
treatment of bloggers as a monolith, citing
one example (albeit a rather hilarious one)
from C. Dale's blog and interpreting it (retroactively
to boot) into the larger world of poetry blogs.

It seemed quite insulting that he would use
his position to take shots at the whole of us, most
of us not having nearly the kind of sway
he or his chosen target exhibit. Especially intimating
that this type of web-publishing facilitates
Pro Poetry careerism. This bothers me because
the blog format (and here's my first agreement
with Campion: it is a very ugly word, even in
an Old English sort of way) is precisely the
kind of web publishing that could serve to
democratize the "guild system" Campion laments.

Unlike the pages of POETRY or Ploughshares,
there is no resume requirement for maintaining
a site on blogger.com. One can post his/her poems,
ideas, criticism, &c. and have it undergo a sort
of peer review independent of a middle man. This
is a godsend in an environment of ass kissing ladder
climbing.

Though it has all the potential in the world, it does
fall short. Kind of like the Internet writ large.

I was very slow to join in on both. My initial thought
was that the "tech" world wasn't interested in
anything literary or "important" but rather was a
sort of wireless Star Trek convention and a
virtual white noise nothingness. After my first
phone bill in Mexico, I got hip. While signing up
for a Yahoo! e-mail account (this was 1998) it
shocked me quite a lot that the account names
"tarr" and "buckmulligan" had been taken.
It didn't take long to see the potential in the Internet,
even for someone who was interested only
in things literary. But, as the joke goes, "I bought
a new laptop... now I have a $3000 porno
magazine."

My point being that though there is limitless
potential for valuable information dissemination,
the primary use of the Internet has been
mercantile. (Notable exceptions abound, not the
least of which being the phenomenal archive.org.)
And like the technology that breeds it, the poetry
blogosphere is more like Campion's observation
than comfort allows.

Though I still find it contemptible for someone
on such a lofty perch should accuse the common
man, as it were, of fomenting careerism (again,
I maintain innocence on this, as I have no career
to speak of) it is hard to fault Campion on his
logic. Truth be told, there is as much in the way
of bootlicking out here in cyberspace as one might
find in an Iowa City coffee shop. And while we
all have the opportunity to utilize in the best
ways possible (See: Ana's blog) the vast majority
of "poetry blogs" seem to carry the same gravitas
as just plain auld blogs. (An exercise: visit a
poetry blog at random from Silliman's site, making
sure it is a dot-blogspot one, and hit that "next
blog" button on the top right of the screen...
judge the artistic merits of a. versus b.)

I have the uneasy feeling that Campion is quite
right that "anything's better" from an artistic
perspective. Quite a few of us have come to
that conclusion. As with everything, there is a
gray lurking between the black of the blog and the
white of Campion's cozy world. That being the
uncomfortable fact that while Campion is welcome
to pen essays for journals such as POETRY, I am
most assuredly not.

Blogging could be the best way to follow Biafra's
advice and "become the media." It is essential
that the literary magazines as they exist do not
dictate aesthetic fashion from an Ivy Tower.
It is necessary to take writing back from
the academic world. In order for poetry to
flourish... it will exist in one form or another
no matter what... the outside perspective of
people like A.D. Thomas, Alberto Romero Bermo,
and even Ron Silliman must be constantly
charging the gates. If it happens that you are
outside with only a pair of coconut shells to
feign the stampede of your barbarian invasion,
make it work. And Christina Pugh will likely
taunt you again. No matter.

"Becoming the media" has earned dividends
throughout the history of poetry. To cite
distinctly American examples: Whitman;
Pound's BLAST!; hell, even Naropa to
some extent.

I do not know if this format was intended to
be used in this manner. I am becoming more
and more convinced that it is
ill-equipped for such a task.

He'll never see the original post, but for the
sake of form: Campion, I take it back. I wish
that you'd visited a plurality of blogs and witnessed
the crying out for aesthetic virtue over
MF(A) and workshop bullshit.

42%.

Check and mate.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Any port side cabin will do.

Anyone for sonnets and shuffleboard? -- Blogoview

RE: Charles Jensen's Blogoview

After much deliberation, the decision is
quite simple: The QE2.

How could it get any better than that?
At sea all year, but not cleaning a galley!
Besides, most of the runners up were on
the Turkish, Scottish, Icelandic, Norwegian
or Italian coasts.

Ah, the QE2. Comfort and viking.
(Ya' know, Nahm, the word "weekend"
comes from "viking" because they used
to go pillaging and such on Saturdays.)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Pork Barrel Poetics?

I should just put a permanent link to Peter's
site, as it is getting all the action these days!

As to the memorization "bees" I think it would
be useful to limit finalists to Shakespeare's
Sonnets and sudden-death to best rendition
of Twain's Ode to Stephen Dowling Botts.

Someone had misgivings about all the competitions
being an East Coast thing. In the NPR story,
Levine (I think it was him) commented on
the uselessness of studying why people in
Amarillo don't read (I can't remember the
poet he used as an example, but let's say)
Komunyakaa.

Well, shucks (drawing circles in fresh topsoil
with three year old shoes) I guess that
we ain't much for fancy booklearnin' out
here West of the Hudson. If'n we was,
we wouldn't'a said no what to all that
money we was'a promised by them thar
folks from the Poetry Foundation thang.
Is Conway Twitty in New Letters
this month?

I must take issue with him that brung me
into the sphere in the first place (sorry, I know
that isn't fair to out you on your role
bringing evil into the blogworld!) for this comment:

"It's not a matter of marketing or raising awareness,
it's one of developing a literary culture. Poetry is
perhaps losing because its value is understated or
ignored within our culture, not because poets or
publishers are doing anything wrong. "

Et tu, A.D.?

To paraphrase Cioran's take on Claudel:
"That is enough to wake the Sillimanist
sleeping inside every man."

(Sorry, I can't resist a Cioran reference!)

I'm with you up to a point, but poets and
publishers have a disconnect with the public
in part because of things like the Amarillo
comment. FS & G could put a little more into
pushing poetry, as could just about every
large house. Seems to me that: a) poetry occupies
the same territory in publishing as news
does with the networks... a loss-leader that
they feel is compulsory due to historical
precedent; b) unlike prose authors, poets tend
to view the universe in an academicentric
manner. Again and again I say it, what is there
to relate to?

I was talking to the editor of a poetry journal
on a radio show some months back, and
she seemed to be completely oblivious to the
existence of Alan Dugan. He's only won
the NBA, Yale Younger Poets, &c. and happens
to be one of the few relevant big ticket
poets out there. I would suggest that if the
Nick Flynns and Alan Dugans of the world
were representatives of poetry in the States,
people would be reading a lot more of it.
Frankly, many of the most recognized writers
of verse are a bore.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

This quiz I liked

After discovering that I was Iceland,
Catch-22 and Camus, Peter's blog led
me to my favorite (and likely most
accurate, concerning temperament)
result:


S. T. Coleridge
You are Samuel Taylor Coleridge! The infamous
"archangel a little damaged!" You
took drugs and talked for hours, it's true, but
you also made a conscious choice to cultivate
the image of the deranged poet in a frenzy of
genius. You claimed you wrote "Kubla
Khan" in an afternoon after a laudanum,
when you pretty manifestly did no such thing.
You and your flashing eyes and floating hair.
And your brilliant scholarship and obvious
genius.


Which Major Romantic Poet Would You Be (if You Were a Major Romantic Poet)?
brought to you by Quizilla

Friday, May 20, 2005

A Sick Feeling

Fucking dial-up.

After finally getting May's POETRY and
attempting to post a reaction, which was
around forty paragraphs and included
various takes on class issues, Cornell West,
academic reform, the NEA's soldier-poet
project, the dearth of variety in the prestigious
publication in contrast to the perceived
aesthetic free-for-all which some letters
lamented, and also how that relates to
the class status of MF(A) Poets and
city reporters (which included what I thought
to be a rather witty "Bob Novak served
in the Civil War" quip) I hit the "save" button
and received a white "Page cannot be
displayed" page.

Lost.

Fucking dial-up. The venomous outpouring
of profanity has caused rain in my house.

Well, shit, then. I'll be concise, as my spirit
has capsized.

1. I think I would win a humor contest with
Franz Wright. (See: Wright's letter to POETRY
and my "Perfect Submission Letter" entry.
Though I'd argue mine had more humor,
his was, to be fair, a lot funnier.)

2. What is the deal with Atsuro Riley?
Could someone please explain his overwhelming
appeal to the editors?

I'm going to compose on the typewriter now.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Unrevised, &c. Poem 18

On the Grave of Theo Van Gogh

Fearlessness is an attribute
We value too much.

When engaged in struggle,
A tenet of Islamic fatalism is that
One cannot kill a man who doesn't fear death.

When engaged in struggle,
A tenet of Parliamentary procedure is that
Any press is good press.
And films can win elections,
And allow a candidate to speak.

When confronted with these,
You will be swallowed.

But the Muslims who do not fear death are dying in droves
And the Parliamentarians are chanting eulogies
And your fearlessness in the service of Our Lady of the BBC
Is rewarded with blades scewering skin,
Eating the heart like vultures.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Newspeak Continued

Alright. I was in a bit of a rush this morning.

Following up, the Studio 360 program (or
programme, if you prefer) was replete with
yet more hipster banalities. One wonders if
Miss Wilson is an actress playing the part of
the "GenX sarcastic slacker." Someone said
that all bad poetry is sincere. If this is the
determinating factor, I suggest Wilson take
up poetry. She is in no danger of penning
anything wrought with sincerity.

This came on the heels of the recent Newspea....
I mean, Newsweek, retraction.
It would almost be humorous, were it not for
the fact that the claims of an "unreliable unnamed
source" didn't sound so identical to the
backpeddling in reportage of the Abu
Ghraib torture cases. All over NPR one could
hear the question-and-answer volleys
about whether or not people in the Muslim
world believed the allegations vis a vis the
Guantanamo Qu'Ran flushing scandal.

People in the Muslim World???

This is to say that Westerners had any reservations
regarding this scandalous behavior. With verified
tales of female officers mocking menstrual blood
and smearing it on the faces of Muslim men
in captivity as a tool of dehabilitation, it is hard
to imagine that holy books weren't desecrated.
That would be a story.

The two are more related than this Corvus could
possibly put into words.

On the one hand we have Cintra Wilson (and just
about any novelist going around these days, excepting
the old guard) and on the other the mainstream
media. In the case of cultural writing, which is
run by around five multinational conglomerates,
we have individuals so immersed in solipsism,
banality and pop-Kulcher that American fiction
has been rendered.... well, I suppose it is best
to say that it has been rendered. This novelistic
Alpo is reviewed by the major media outlets, who,
to be fair, are owned by as many as five multinational
conglomerates, and then moves on to the next page.

And what is on the next page?

Currency crises in Ecuador.

Oh. Wait.

The rendering of further prison abuse as a non-
story. I'll bet the brass at Newsweek is facing
east and washing feet in hopes that no one at
the concentration ca.... I mean, detention centers,
was using one of those rare picture capturing
cel phones! That's how Abu Ghraib happened,
after all.

Sixty Minutes recently featured Dr. Frankfurt,
who has attained best-seller status for
On Bullshit. There doesn't seem to be a time
in recent memory more worthy of calling
bullshit on television, publishing or the
university. Let us read from Network,
Chapter 3 Verse 19,
"I'm Mad as hell..."


Well, here's one for today:

"I call Bullshit."

Calling all Writers Educated in Newspeak.... A Prelude

If you didn't get a chance to hear Bill Moyers
(my wife and I pronounce it "Moy yae") at the
Media Reform convention in St. Louis, link above
and stream away! You won't regret it. For an
analogue vibe, I caught it on CSPAN 2, though
I don't know whether or not it will be on again.

That Moyers speech bookended my day. I listened
to it in the car at 9 AM and finished with the
video version from 11:10 to 12:15. Nutshell:
PBS is fucked. Consolidation is close to complete.
In this airwave version of Risk, all the red men
are lined up surrounding our (by "our" I mean
residents of the U.S. regardless of political
affiliation) humble troop in Brazil... and they've
four sets of dice.

In-between these gasps of fresh air was
more of the usual. NPR's Studio 360 featured
the opinions of "writer" Cintra Wilson.

Anyone that heard it may know well what I'm
talking about. If you've seen the Simpsons with
Hullabalooza, you know precisely the irritating
intonation patterns ("This guy's cool."
"Really, or are you being sarcastic?"
"I don't even know anymore.") Miss Wilson
seems so obsessed with appearing hipper than
thou that she seems to forget how bloody
irritating it is to listen to her.

More to follow on Wilson, Moyers and
the omnipresent conglomerates. At the moment,
I am late in picking up my 1952 Olympia
from the shop. If I run late, I may be compelled
into typing on this tunnel vision machine
for another week.

Nostrovia.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Thanks, Jeff

I am now a big Jeff Bahr fan. Adopting Ted Hughes.
Huzzah.

BUT ROBERT GRAVES IS STUCK IN THE
FOSTER CARE COLLECTIVE! NO ONE TO
ADOPT THIS BOUNCING BUNDLE OF
MYTHOS? (Hey, I spent my $30 on stir fry,
Kirin Ichiban, truffles from Andre's and a
cigar. Priorities.)

AND MY MAIN MAN ERNESTO CARDENAL
ISN'T EVEN ON THE "FIND A POET"
LIST. WHAT, POETS.ORG, IS THERE NO
ROOM FOR THE NICARAGUANS? I DIDN'T
SEE DARIO EITHER. I SEE HOW YOU ARE,
ACADEMY.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Relevance

Yesterday I composed an entry based on something
that I find very amusing. The premise, in essence,
is that of a heavyweight bout for the title of poetry.

Not in the sense of "greatest poet" or "wittiest wordplays"
or any of that business... The battle proposed was one
where the two primary camps of modern poetry
have a representative square off in prosodic pugilism.
My example was Ernesto Cardenal vs. Ted Kooser.

It seems to me that today's poetry (in English as well
as most European tongues) is divided into two
groups better illustrated by their social policy leanings
than by stylistic trappings. They seem to be traceable
to a reverence for or an acrimony towards Mr. Ezra Pound.

The Pro-Pound, or Protoimagist if you will, is best displayed
by Cardenal. The Nicaraguan priest seems the obvious
evolution of the Poundian aesthetic. From With Walker in
Nicaragua to Cosmic Canticle, he has evolved a distinctive
writing style that reminds one very much of Auld Ez.
The commitment to verse as a vehicle of historic
transmission and social welfare may not have started with
the lanky Idahoan, but one could make the case that
in our century he is the place to start.

The Non-Pound, or Tosser, can be found in practically
every American university. Billy Collins and Ted Kooser
are certainly UnPound. This is not to disparage either
man's work (though I'll admit the Tosser title is a cheap
shot) or to single out Poet Laureates, though that is
a nice bonus. Simply put, the SoQ have both feet
firmly planted in the soil of Iowa City or Cambridge.

After reading Kooser's Poetry Home Repair Manual,
the thing that stayed with me from the minute I
laid eyes on it was the declaration that "poems are
triggered by catchy twists of language or little glimpses
of life. The poet's ideas might emerge while he or she
is playfully writing about, say, the appearance of a
stack of storm windows lying in the grass or the way
in which a praying mantis turns her head to look
at the mate she's about to eat." What is with the
fucking storm windows and barn planks?!?

Confession: I have composed many poems which
were inspired by the actions of insects and
arachnids. I will come back to my perceived
difference in due course.

Getting back to Ted, then.

That first sentence sounded an awfully lot like
some sort of quietudenal code. "Twists of
language" and "glimpses of life" signify to this
reader the bigger by smaller aesthetic. The
world-weary hipsterism (though I have not
seen Kooser documented wearing either a
large belt buckle nor a snap-button shirt from
Urban Outfitters.... I think Collins read in that
outfit once in Santa Cruz, though) is, I suppose,
the root of our UnPound types. It says to me
that "bombs dropping on hundreds of thousands
of innocent civilians for the purpose of lining
the pockets of the Multinationals that run
the U.S. and by extension the U.K. are too
obvious. The true poet is beyond this,
and by focusing on the little things, he or she
shows the expansiveness of his or her versifyin'
mind."

This focus on the small seems to have taken
over the American poetry scene. The only American
poet I know of speaking with the force of even
Les Murray is Dugan, and Dugan's been around
quite some time.

The argument between "schools" or more precisely
the very definition of poetry harkens once again
to the Epic vs. Mundane debate. I would posit
that the Protoimagist school is progeny of
The Kalevala, Gilgamesh, Homer, Villon and later
Pound, Ginsberg, Cardenal and even Graves.
The role of the poet in this mindset resembles that
of the first satirists in the line of Bion or the West
African griot. That role is the transmitter of history,
mythos, the singer of battles and the Complete
Mind. Seems far more demanding a job description
than that of the focused student of writing.

Possibly SoQ (or MFA) is a deficient bastard. The
people we see debating poetry's audience, popularity
and relevance with the most hand wringing are these
men and women. I don't see where the confusion comes
from. Could it be that most Americans couldn't care
less about the triste trysts of Sharon Olds?
I plead guilty to broken record, but what precisely
does anyone outside of Loaf, Iowa, &c. share with
those inside? They eat, shit, sleep and fuck.
But most people don't have the time or inclination
(thankfully) to attempt art out of that. The solipsistic
urge displayed borders on nauseating.

Not that there isn't a place for the biographical
poet. Graham and Larkin would defy a claim
to the contrary. Put simply, though: if you choose
to make yourself the primary subject of
your work, do us the favor of living a life
worth telling us all about. Boiled down even more:
I don't give a shit about your yard, even if there's
a dead wren lying amongst the storm windows.

How could this be avoided, considering the
push towards creative writing programs
(proudly alien in Britain, I might add) and
how does poetry become relevant in the States?

A few suggestions:
1. Though it is desirable for poets to be
treated like rock stars, it isn't a good thing
at all to start thinking like them;
2. If the university system urges you to
get that narcissistic bugger of a writing
degree, don't let your schooling get in the
way of your education;
3.The best poetry is universal. This means
a bigger audience and possibly even more
money. (I stress "possibly.") It isn't a
mystical sect of the initiated gathering in
groups over sixteen ounce Americanos
laughing derisively at the expense of
that mythical "Red State Voter."
Alienation breeds contempt, and Professional
Poets of America limit the scope of
their audience further by suggesting that
the scope of their audience is limited
as a result of the intellectual deficiency of
the public at large. I can't say whether or
not an American Zero Hour would be picked
up by FSG or even City Lights. I will guarantee,
however, that it would outsell every other
book of poems released this decade.

Bold as it may be, my prediction is that
American poetry has the option of coming
home to Pound or dying on the vine. Verse
in the twenty first century needs to be
larger in scale than that of the latter half of
the twentieth.

Historians, Prophets and Madmen only need
apply.

Follow-up: I still take umbrage with the
mantis bit, though I focus largely on the
insect, reptile, arachnid world, &c. It seems
to me that focusing on, say, an ant when
viewed with Cartesian beer goggles is
derivative while viewing the plight of
that ant in respect to ahimsa is in line
with larger themes. The concept of
other animals existing solely for the the
purpose of metaphor seems again to
be a small and self-centered way to view
the poem or the world. The problem is that
it is not necessarily looking outward, but
incessantly inward. A good piece of advice
I got from Vic Contoski was to take out
every "I" in one of my poems. This seems to
extend well beyond that individual capital
letter.

Cheers.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Matter of fact, I want you to find me TWO horses....

So, this is how David E. Kelley feels every couple of years!

Well, the humble grackel has been forced into temporary
hiatus due to some... hmm... let's say issues related
to moving. Does anyone know why setting up DSL for
an in-town move takes so bloody long? I crunched the
numbers, and there's no amount of video downloading
that could make up for the initial week allowed for
setup, or the following two due to general apathy.

The upside being that I've done odd things like taking
walks and finishing books. It is difficult to quantify
the amount of time one can dedicate to reading when
the tele and internet are not interfering.

Among numerous others, read Kooser's home repair
manual (yes, there are thoughts to follow on that,
Smithers) and On Bullshit, a PhD. type book whose
principle virtue is that it is in itself the epitome
of bullshit. Mr. Frankfurt has a well-developed
sense of humor. I'm still deciding whether the
punchline was worth the set-up.

Highest recommendations on Mrs. Shafak's
Saint of Insipient Insanities (Araf) though the
ending is lacking. It is still a wonderful insight on
a certain type of immigrant life in the States.
I could pick and discuss a few other weaknesses,
but I will give this Turkish author a pass. Nearly
every book has flaws unless your name happens
to be Sam Clemens, but few released lately are
worth the time. This one was for me, though I
have the contemptible habit of reading half a
book and letting it breathe for a month or two
before finishing it.

Phony Tony won again. On behalf of the
People of the United States, I'd like to welcome
our bitch back. Don't step outta' line 'less
you want five cross the head, girl.

Bis Spater.