Friday, December 29, 2006

Happy New Year, Mr. Shelley

The January 2007 issue of POETRY graced the
mailbox yesterday morning. After such a good run
last year, the inaugural issue of '07 features a
disappointingly weak offering in the best section of
the magazine: Letters to the Editor.

The Comment (or Prose) portion of the magazine is
not incredibly robust... though it could portend good
things-- maybe the Comment section will outshine the
Letters this year... but it has some strong suits. First
off, Peter Campion does a service to criticism by throwing
out some biting reviews. See his takes on A.E. Stallings
(where he is merciful, but does the job) and James
Fenton. After these two, I am inclined to purchase the
Hopler title. I'm beginning to really trust Campion.
Did I just say that?

Also, the conversation in this section is better than one
might think. From the Daisy Fried quote on the back,
I was not incredibly hopeful. I expected a hand-wringing
pityfest when the title "Does Poetry Have a Social Function?"
appeared. I got a good deal of that. I pictured four
thirtysomethings in L.L. Bean gear on a Vermont campus
sipping decaf teas searching for cute quips. Again, not
too disappointed from the color of the Exchange.

There was one really worthwhile bit, provided by Major
Jackson. I shall quote a bit of it:

"But anyway, let's face it: were Daisy's nineteenth-century
poet-revolutionaries alive today, they would be unemployed
and writing in obscurity. (Note: there are jobs outside
of universities, but I get your point.) They would likely be
committed to mental institutions for claims of having visions,
of the socially relevant and supernatural variety; at least
one would be labeled a terrorist or terrorist-sympathizer
for speaking against the state and/or professing anti-
Christian beliefs; another ostracized for brazenly exercising
self-proclaimed, progressive forms of natural love All, except
Keats maybe, would be ignored and cast aside as personae
non gratae by the critical, academic, and literary establishments:
no Guggenheim for you, Mr. Shelley.
"True revolutionary poets are stripped of their laureateships
or never reviewed in these pages, for some reason probably
having to do with the worn-out argument of lack of
aesthetic worth or little merit. Martin Espada, John Yau, and
Nikki Finney are just a few of many poets who write
poetry that 'embraces experience in its full complexity,' yet
their books never receive a nod in Poetry. Even when the
Establishment posthumously highlights a poet such as
June Jordan... it does so patronizingly."

Huzzah, Mr. Jackson. I feel like I'll be getting my $17.50
worth this year. The last point referenced a Dan Chiasson
review from November of 2005. One thing I adore about
POETRY is that the exchanges which inevitably come
around to the atrophy of the art under the watch of today's
Establishment could be referenced in the front of that
month's magazine... say, I dunno, page 290. (I must admit
there are a few poems I'll be going back to, mainly
the Herbert stuff.)

This month's award has to go to Major Jackson.

Keep it up and they'll make you a Colonel.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Apoestasies I.

Who does not relish in being a craft heretic? No one
I'd like to know too well. Confessions of heresy.

I find the notion of an "abstraction" too vague... to
abstract. It would seem that many writers or would-be
web critics have never looked at the bathroom wall
paint and clearly saw the shape of a whaleshark in the
chips. Then, they never credited said whaleshark with
dreams, a family, a goal. Beyond this, what of the
subatomic world?

Not only does the flower in the vase have its own
personality, so does the vase. And beyond that, the
parts that make up the vase and their smaller parts,
&c. Seems rather obvious to this observer, anyway.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Contemporary Aesthetic

I am getting weary of long lines. So many syllables, so many
    adjectives. Ever continuing lines. Though
    Though many great poems share this feature,
    it is getting to the point that
    writers are becoming enamored of it.
    Then there are modernists and LANGPOS
    and they skew towards the short line.

I like the short line. I enjoy concise, condensed,
    distilled. No more than one needs,
    no less. And modernism lives, which is
    positive. And, truth be told, that long
    line has a magic. When done right, it
    is positively Hellenistic. Yet,
    there must be an innovation on the
    horizon. You cannot innovate backwards,
    thus it becomes ill-advised to mine the
    modernists too much. But poetry
    looking like prose? It is a
    godawful development.

Even when the lines are only ten words long, it
seems that we're dealing with short margins, rather than an
interesting break pattern. Indeed, it looks in many ways more
prosy or mundane than the sprawling Whitmanian line. Of course,
there is an attraction to the mundane. It is a
stark departure from the dramatic tone set by Pound, Bunting,
and the like. But after awhile, that tends to get
a bit boring. It certainly doesn't move the medium forward.

The mix of long
and short
seems nice, though

it can appear erratic, undisciplined. And in a way, that mixture is again
quite modernist.

I have
no answers,
but questions.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ahem. Kaw.

What the Chairman Told Tom
Basil Bunting, 1965

Poetry? It's a hobby.
I run model trains.
Mr Shaw there breeds pigeons.

It's not work. You dont sweat.
Nobody pays for it.
You could advertise soap.

Art, that's opera; or repertory --
The Desert Song.
Nancy was in the chorus.

But to ask for twelve pounds a week --
married, aren't you? --
you've got a nerve.

How could I look a bus conductor
in the face
if I paid you twelve pounds?

Who says it's poetry, anyhow?
My ten year old
can do it and rhyme.

I get three thousand and expenses,
a car, vouchers,
but I'm an accountant.

They do what I tell them,
my company.
What do you do?

Nasty little words, nasty long words,
it's unhealthy.
I want to wash when I meet a poet.

They're Reds, addicts,
all delinquents.
What you write is rot.

Mr Hines says so, and he's a schoolteacher,
he ought to know.
Go and find work.


a cheerful little ditty from auld Basil to say hello again to the
blog world. a lot of reflecting upon poetry of late, its role and my
role and your role and the role of people i meet at dinner

made a bit of scratch lately from writing. that feels good,
being paid. and then i think of the hughes admonition. when he
was getting near the end, his self-diagnosis was writing
"too much prose."

innit always the question, though? get paid or write poetry.
what a thinker. i'd like to be counted alongside the other
helpless wretches writing rot, for what it's worth. apparently,
it isn't worth much.

who said that it would be?

Saturday, May 27, 2006


So, I got this idea (link through this post's title) and
rather than really think it through I just acted. Kooser
says to never send a work out "wet" because over
time 1,000 deficiencies you didn't notice during the
creative high pop up. Conventional wisdom.

If you judge from the quality of the work on this site,
that wisdom is right on the money!

But what appears are really examples of something
I'd like people to take part in. Mainly the six or so
people that visit this blog.

Not crazy about doing it on murdochspace, but
there aren't a whole lot of places so user-friendly.

Spellcheck thinks "PODSIDES" should be
"BODYSUITS." Who am I to argue?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Verse Popular

Picked up the AQR for Spring & Summer 2006 last night.
Compared to its competition on the literary magazine rack,
The Alaska is a steal. So far, Nick Flynn is the highlight in this
issue. Nick, you've got me thinking...

I haven't heard too many people assert an impending return
to dominance for poetry. Actually, I've never heard it
asserted... well, once I paid a guy outside an East Kansas
City liquor store a few bucks to say it to me, but he demanded
a 10 spot before he'd place me in the new generation's
pantheon. Once again, I'll take it upon myself to diagnose
the problem.

Issue 1: cost ratio. America is preoccupied with size. After
all, you've seen Florida. Compared to Italy, we're B-movie
status in that department. Go to any large restaurant, at
least in the South and Midwest, and you are likely to have
appetizers the size of entrees and entrees that could comfortably
feed six in most countries. Gluttony is one reason for this.
Another is that we're preoccupied with getting the most
for our money.

Why, then, would the average reading public (this could
get us into another bucket of chicken entirely) spend,
say, $20 on Star Dust?

I have nothing against Frank Bidart. Actually, I'm starting
to grow fond of his writing. I had designs on picking up
Dust, but $20?

I know that we're dealing with the economics of margins.
Compared to the new Philip Roth novel (which actually
falls into the same camp as many volumes of poetry with
its price per page ratio) Bidart is not likely to sell many books
at all. I'm not up on all the numbers, but I'm sure a resounding
industrywide success for a volume of poetry would be
a one-way ticket to the twofer pile for a novel.

I can see that changing, which we'll get to presently, but
even excepting that I count myself as one reader not
likely to buy this book. At $12 no doubt. At $15 likely.
$20 is rarefied air for my book dollar. Once we plateau
that price point I make demands not on considering a
person's work... I'd better damn well love it.
Especially when I can get 49 poets to consider further
in the AQR for $6.95.

Given the bantustan most poetry sections occupy in your
neighborhood bookmonger's, one would think FSG et al.
would be at the drawing board for a pricing and publicity
strategy. Simple logic: if you could sell 1,000 books for $14.50
or 250 for $22.00, your cost being around $6 (all hypotheticals)
which do you choose?

A crass retail perspective? Mayhaps, dearie o, but
we are discussing sales here.

This brings us to Issue 2: The appeal of poetry. Many
would-be, has-been, will-be and a few is writers would
take exception to my cost analysis and counter by claiming
that poetry doesn't enjoy the broad appeal of the novel.
Some would debate the novel's standing. Another distinctly
American trait is that we ain't much on booklearnin'.

I hear it from all sides: verse is anachronistic; poetry in
general can't keep pace with the times; outside of Central
Asia and Latin America the pacing and rhythms of the
poem are not digestible to the reading public. In a sense,
it is an agrarian art form in a technological economy.

All this has been said while placing a bookmark in the new
Howl retrospective.

When we get into the American public's appetite for
reading (or lack thereof) we are immediately accosted
by the fact that Americans just don't have time. Our society
puts no stock whatever in leisure time. We vacation less
than any European nation. Outside of the education
racket, most folks from wageslaves to stock brokers spend
a few hours a day on the highway or commuter rails
with an 8-10 hour worksteak placed in between.

When they finally get home, their energy level is somewhere
between television passivity and scouring the web for
pornography. Those who travel by bus or rail can at least
digest a newspaper or magazine. Many have books. In
the automobile the best we can hope for is a bookontape.

Now we get to it. In this hurried atmosphere the only reason
for poetry to fail is the poets themselves.

Poetry is virtually always digestible in small portions. Unlike
the sprawl of the novel or history, poetry when done well
achieves its communique within minutes.

Add to that the obvious element of rhythm and music for the
unlucky bastards chained to their automobile and there is
precious little excuse for poetry not to have a resurgence. It
is practically tailor made for our time!

"Yes, but poetry is much more difficult. This is why the public
shies away. It is daunting, it makes demands the average reader
isn't equipped to handle."

Done yet, Mr. Wright? Alright.

This argument is pretty much bullshit.

Devices such as rhyme exist for the purpose of oral transmission.
If pre-print societies can manage to gather the limbs of
their Osiris, how is it that an empire such as our own
wouldn't be able? Historically poetry hasn't been "hard."
This happens when you have a Gongorist group of jackoffs
writing to themselves for themselves.

Which is not to say that the medium should be dumbed
down. Far from it. Easily one of the most accomplished
and "challenging" poets of our time, Ted Hughes remains
very readable. A basic background in mythology will get
you far with him, and with Robert Graves. The further you
delve, the more you get. But a work such as Crow needs
little effort. You can appreciate it on a superficial level,
and how far one wishes to dig into the mineshaft of Ted
Huge's id is up to the individual. Hughes stands out, but
the reason he does (and the reason Bukowski does, and
the reason Flynn will) is that he is saying something.

Any writing, after all, is basically a way of communicating
ideas. In today's poetry world, saying something has
become a bit taboo. (See Tony Hoagland's piece in the
March 2006 POETRY for further illumination. Even
better, see Bill Witherup's letter in the same publication's
February 2006 issue.) Any wonder the public repels from
an art form so self-obsessed it forgets its original intent?

Finally, back to the page.

Brevity is the chief virtue of poetry. It is a trick, to be
sure. The single page can and often does contain multitudes.
Great writing should have layers of meaning and technical
mastery. The cats at universities should still have a reason
to dissect and deconstruct a page of poetry even when it
bothers to say something meaningful. If a reader of average
intelligence gets nothing out of it, though, you are speaking
a coded or worse yet dead language.

Even on the surface a poem will cause the reader to spend
time digesting. It is a springboard to further contemplation.
It is a medium that demands silence follow. These qualities
are essential in the public's intellectual life. Without some
time allotted for thought we end up with the society we have
now, likely even worse. But it is not the public's duty to come
to terms with the poet. It is the poet's duty to make herself
relevant. The artist does have a societal duty whether he
chooses to accept it or not. He is given time and space
not afforded to the working masses and it is only fair the public
should expect something in return for that freedom.

Yes, popularity depends upon giving people something they
can use. Utilitarian poetry does seem contradictory. (So does
a metric foot, as I've said.) Keep expanding and exploring
the possibilities within the art form. Give professional poets
something to chew on during their sabbatical. Most musicians
know that Coltrane flatted a fifth here, toyed with time there.
If that type of specialist knowledge were required to enjoy
"A Love Supreme" I doubt the album would be anywhere
near as iconic as it is.

The broad appeal is what Coltrane managed to do with about
3 words and a canvas of sound. Something our establishment
poets often fail to accomplish with pages and pages of words.

He said something.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Felt the Need

Had to say hello to Karga. It has been awhile.

It seems more and more necessary for me to return to
Jeffers as a source of inspiration. It has been said that the
age of irony is drawing to a close. Peak oil and environmental
degradation, the results of which cause shortages which
in turn fuel conflict (ah, the age of pun is alive! sadly.) bring
us to a world that cannot afford cute.

The role of poet could well return to soothsayer, or at least
to priest of magical language. Where better to find
the modern beginnings of this role than in "The Double
Axe" -- Inhumanism and narrative verse?