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?