Friday, November 01, 2013

Interview with Matthew Cooperman - Imago for the Fallen World


I love this book.  And the good thing about loving a book these days, is you can post something about it on the internet.  So here are a few questions and answers about the book I have the good fortune to be able to post.  We barely scratch the surface here. I hope to post more in the future.



 (More on the book here: https://www.createspace.com/4159818)
 

LR: Visually, and as a collaboration, Imago for the Fallen World is really an unusual book. How did it get started?

 

MC: The how’s really a where; the book got started in a museum, which is not unusual for me. I find museums intensely generative––the space of museums, the public presentation of art, the art of watching museum goers, the codes of viewing, curating, framing, etc, and the syntax itself of visual art, a bodily immediacy I crave. I was at SF MOMA, somewhere in the late 90s. Per a certain routine, I was wandering about taking notes, visiting some familiar pieces. I stumbled onto a regional California photography exhibit, the history of WPA Projects in California. Something about the way the show documented the scene intrigued me. Curatorially speaking, there was a parallel “text” alongside the photographs that gave lots of information about the ostensible subjects—amount of concrete poured for a given damn, amount of money the project cost, the number of people killed in the construction, the cost, say 1935, of a gallon of milk, that kind of thing. The juxtaposition of information to image, how one 'still' indexed the other in a kind of capture was intense. That got me going. And not only the juxtaposition but the manner in which the textual data seemed to be in dialogue with the images such that a category, a voice, a persona—the persona, oddly of the curator—was navigating the art. Subjects interrogating a photographic 'stills,' or a curator leading one through a hallway of experiences.

            So I started writing these poems, which were very much driven by outrage, political outrage at the stolen election that got George Bush Jr into office, 9/11, the Patriot Act, the first war in Iraq, all that, and environmental outrage at the denial of global warming, our thirst for oil, and just our culture of violence and retribution that seemed bloodthirsty. I felt frustrated as a writer because my inherently lyric voice seemed pitiful next to these problems, so a kind of poetic outrage as well. It seemed to me that there wasn't any place for these large "subjects" in poetry, or that aboutness itself was taboo. So I wrote these poems, "Still: Environment," "Still: Shooting," and so on to attempt to document something of the times. Eventually these gathered into a monster I called Still: Writing, which spawned a series of books and chapbooks (Still: (to be) Perpetual, dove/tail poetry, 2007; Still: of the Earth as the Ark which Does Not Move, Counterpath, 2011); and finally Imago for the Fallen World, which came out with Jaded Ibis in 2013.

 

LR: Was Imago always a collaboration? How did Marius Lehene get involved?

 

MC: Imago really evolved into a special node of this larger writing project. It’s a collaborative book, to be sure, but also a visual-text book in the sense that I'm obsessed with visual art, and I was always writing into topical images. If I had the chops I’d be a painter. But alas, no mad skills. As luck would have it, though, I happened to meet Marius, an extraordinary painter-assemblagist, by the happy accident of academia. He’s a prof in CSU’s Art Department. I had always felt like these poems were seeking a visual analogue, and my friendship with Marius lead rather naturally into collaboration. We like a lot of the same artists, filmmakers, etc--Dada, Kurt Schwitters, Matthew Barney, Gerhard Richter, Francis Bacon, Lars van Trier--so we started hanging out. This evolved into a collaborative arts group that we co-founded at CSU, Accidental Vestments, mostly formed of our mutual MFA students in creative writing and visual arts. It was pretty lively for about five years.

            I think our first foray into publically presenting the work in Imago was for the "Giving Attention" Conference, held at Denver University in, I think, 2005. I asked Marius to visually score some of the poems I'd written, which we then presented at a wonderful reading alongside Eleni Sikelianos and Joseph Lease. Marius understood from the very beginning how the colon functions in these poems––how it structures and frames information, syntactically marks something as a list, or alternatively, as a kind of dramaturgical cue for speech and character. And he got the play, the satiric investigation of "information" that both exposed and undermined the "subjects" of the poems His brush or his splice was remarkably parallel my line. The book's essentially collage, a collage aesthetic, and we both found that a productive way to work.

 

LR: Did Marius simply respond to the poems? Or was the collaboration more dynamic?

 

MC: It started out with Marius reading these poems, then creating slides that corresponded in some way. He got the colon, for sure, but also the kind of Google mining that these "subjects" implied. So he followed that lead, sought out the public domain, the actual visual minefield of daily life. That was really inspiring, how much he got the documentarian mode. His approach to these subjects had the effect of reopening, or enlarging them for me. So it became much more back and forth as things went on, new poems arising out of his visual field, and my sense that there might be more textures of visuality to the (already) written words. All this conversation had the effect of foregrounding the visual dominances of current media imagination, shifting the mode of the poems toward visuality itself. Looking at it now, I see how much more ekphrastic these "Stills" are than the other parts of the triptych, how they've become a kind of museum. Or maybe mausoleum is more accurate.

 

LR: The book is excessively quotative. It’s rather maddening. What’s with that? Are you okay?

 

MC: Cultural Schizophrenia, substances, a need for Zaum. It’s really the build up of a specific time, a chronicle of a decade, the dark occasion of the millennial turn. It’s both what people have to say, are saying about a given “thing,” and a way of representing the breadth of any act of representation. Talk poetry all the time. The book’s like a garbage heap, or an archive, with all the voices piled together. The way things ‘go viral’ in our time means the sources of statements—or the veracity of ‘facts’—are always moving at light speed. Benjamin’s entourage has its own reality show, or, to quote from Balzac, who himself is quoted early in The Arcades Project (one of the inspirations for the book), “The great poem of display chants its stanzas of color from the Church of the Madeleine to the Porte Saint-Denis.” I love the spatiality of all this, literally hi/low. And I hope Imago captures some of that journey from the sacred to the profane.

 

LR: The design of the book is really interesting, too. Can you tell me about working with Jaded Ibis, how you came to reside there?

 

MC: I'd been shopping the book around a bit, had sent it to Sidebrow, Siglio Editions, Ugly Duckling Presse, and got some good feedback, but no takers. I knew it would require a really special press, and there aren't too many of those visual/text houses, so I was getting a little nervous. But as luck would have it, I was at AWP, in Washington DC, and I ran into an old friend, Doug Powell, who was sitting with the poet Sam Witt. I knew Sam slightly, really liked his work, and in fact had interviewed him for a job he'd applied for at CSU. We got to talking, and he described this new press he was the Poetry Editor for, Jaded Ibis. From what he described, it sounded perfect, so I sent it there. And indeed it has been perfect.

            Ultimately that meant working with the Editor and Publisher, Debra DiBlasi. She's really visionary, not only a cutting edge aesthetic, but a master of new media technology, the platforms by which any kind of work might be delivered. Jaded Ibis books all work from multiple iterations––e books, black and white editions, four-color fine art editions, and an object d'art subscription series produced out of the books. Regardless of whether they are collaborative to begin with, each title includes visual art by a notable artist or artists, and an audio track or tracks of music, spoken world, or sound art. Fine arts editions incorporate a variety of materials that conceptually reflect the content of the book. I can only tell you where I'm at, which is mid-stream; the black and white and fine art editions have now been published, but we're working on the music and further art iterations. It's really amazing, like no other press I know.  

            What I like, too, is the way in which working with Debra and Sam has itself been collaborative. Once they got the original manuscript, the conversation changed the book. I had some vague idea how I wanted it to look, or at least how pages needed to juxtapose, but Debra really shaped that into something I could not have anticipated. For instance, I love the weird, high key acid green in the color edition, and the way that color functions as a bleed on each of the pages. It really pops, and underscores the satiric play of the writing.

 

LR: Could you talk about the form, or better said, the forms of the book?

 

MC: Whatever merits the book has, they are, to my mind, ultimately formal. I figure content will take care of itself, either you're interested or you're not. But something instructional happened in the accommodational need of the writing. As statistics, people, places, events, quotes, historical contexts, etc, entered the poems, the challenge was always to represent them. A visual crisis. Mimesis doesn’t cut it in such a fast-moving world. Hence collage. And so what is the particular tone of a subject. Or how does a list distill, distend. Or who is speaking all this information. The syntax of all that capture became an impulse to scan, to incorporate. A paradox of moving stills. This also came out of my reading of Husserl, whose insight into earth, into ground—that it is the foundational principle of all our senses of space––is really quite profound. He says "the original ark of the earth does not move." It is, as object, as body, prior to any conception of space. I used that phrase as the title of the Counterpath book, and it's continued to haunt me. The dominant form of Imago are these "Still" poems, which have long strings of information, examples, mashups, quotes, speakers, etc. That put pressure on the index, and the equational balance that the colon offers as punctuation. It’s a list, but it’s apposition, metonymy. Epic catalogue becomes daily catalogs, inboxes and mailboxes…stuff. It’s hard to breathe, but there’s something democratic in that, too. I’ve always loved Ammons’ Garbage. It’s totally American, garrulous, spatial, concerned with its body. In my case that impulse has pushed away from the lyric to prose, which accounts for the line—mine—if you want to call it that. The book’s line spills right up to the bean counter. 

            But then there’s the relief, the need for one. As things went on I began imagining the earth itself as a character, something hidden in plain sight. That really intrigued me. We all assume earth, its manner and appearance, but very few of us have ever seen it, that planetary figure from space. Is it solid ground or is it spinning? No first person, who's to say? That paradox stunned me, a kind of intense loneliness to this assumed being. So I started writing the earth letters. Those are the "_______ Planet" pieces, which are both direct in their prose address, and elegiac in tone. Hopefully that works as an apt counterpoint to the poems.

 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

TOP TEN LIST

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Top 10 List of Top Ten Lists On Poetry



These lists that have been coming out recently of “poets who make me care about poetry” or “advocates for poetry”, I’m sure you’ve seen them (or some of them – I’ve seen four so far [links below]).  I’m not adverse to lists.  And lists, by and large, don’t hurt anything (unless someone takes them seriously, of course).  They are made to impress, to be consumed, to give some props. 

I remember, when I was young, how much I enjoyed The Book of Lists.  And there’s SPIN magazine that’s always having a list of something or other.  And there’s Buzzfeed, and their cotton candy lists of pop ephemera.  I make some lists myself, mostly lists of albums (I’ll make another at the end of the year).  I tried for several years to make lists of books of poetry, but I found I very quickly couldn’t keep up. 

And that’s what each of these lists (below) reveals, as well.  No one can keep up.  The secret number ONE of all of these lists is the narrowness of the vision of the person or persons making the list, and how little anyone can know of “what’s going on,” so Seth Abramson’s list of Top Advocates of for American Poetry (2013) swells to 200, and still feels incomplete.  Bill Knott makes the list but D.A. Powell doesn’t, that sort of thing.  And then there’s the now and then Scarriet lists.  And what is an advocate, anyway?  Is Anne Carson one?  Is President Obama?  And the word TOP makes the rest of us feel like failures, you know?  We'd better get moving.  Start advocating.  So, here goes:
Three Books Of Poetry I've Read This Week That You Should Read (Or You're Missing Out On What Makes Me Believe In Poetry This Week) In Alphabetical Order By Title:
 
The Fabulous Bilocation of B. Lee (chapbook) - Jen Tynes
How We Light - Nick Sturm
IMAGO (for the fallen world) - Matthew Cooperman / Marius Lehene
 
These lists, in the end, are possibly helpful (if they get someone to go check something out and find something new and good, as I hope you go check out the three new and good books I listed above) and fairly useless when they attempt anything larger, but even so, useless isn’t the worst thing that could happen.  At the very least, as these lists proliferate (containing names of people I've never heard of), I’m reminded of how little I know of a lot of what’s going on . . . and that’s interesting, because it means a WHOLE LOT of things are going on.  And that IS a good thing.  (Including a list I'm compiling of all the people who are annoyed by poetry lists.)

The Top 200 Advocates for American Poetry (2013)
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/the-top-200-advocates-for_b_3750440.html

The Ten Most Influential People in Poetry Today
http://commercialpoetry.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-ten-most-influential-people-in.html

A List of Things to Ask Yourself When You’re Making a List of Poets
http://flavorwire.com/408365/a-list-of-things-to-ask-yourself-when-youre-making-a-list-of-poets

23 People Who Will Make You Care About Poetry in 2013
http://flavorwire.com/406950/23-people-that-make-you-pay-attention-poetry




The only way out is through.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

ON THE WRITING OF POETRY


 
If There Are Rules To This Who Made Them And Why
 
 
 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Gen-M Literary Metamodernism


Seth Abramson has an essay up on literary Metamodernism (defined here: http://www.metamodernism.org/) over here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/on-literary-metamodernism_b_3629021.html.

Here’s the opening sentence:

It’s not so often anymore that we read a book of poetry and think to ourselves, “This poet means exactly what they say.” 

+

I’m still thinking about that sentence.  I’ve been thinking about it a day or so.  I know (kind of) where Abramson is coming from, but I still can’t grasp it.  Is there a feeling, then, that as we read most books of poetry (new poetry, I’m imagining?) we get the feeling that this poet doesn’t mean exactly what they say?  I can see that, I suppose, but it’s not really a question that comes to my mind while reading a book of poetry.  I guess it does in a book where that is a foregrounded question, when it’s way up front, but I don’t usually think to myself “does this poet mean exactly what is being said here?” 

It’s an interesting perspective, but I don’t share it.  That problematizes my reading of the essay, as I can’t quite ride with the anxiety for authenticity that permeates the rest of the piece.  But I can understand that if one does have that feeling, that the poetry one is reading doesn’t mean exactly what it’s saying, then I can see what Abramson is getting at. 
Maybe it’s a generational thing, and I’m slipping out of generational relevance.  It happens to us all. 

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Albums of 2013 (So Far)


Here are some I like quite a bit:

1.The Flaming Lips – The Terror (This is an important album, reimagining sound and structure in challenging but always interesting ways – The songs aren’t always as successful as they might have been in a more conventional setting, but the landscape The Flaming Lips have ventured out into here is largely unexplored.)

2.The National – Trouble Will Find Me – Seriously, these guys just do what they do better than anyone else.  Wonderfully listenable, musically as well as lyrically. 

3. Son Volt – Honky Tonk – Reinterpreting the classic Bakersfield sound into a more Indie, 2013 sensibility.  Basically, it's Farrar doing what Farrar does best.

4. She & Him – Volume 3 – I was surprised at how much I’ve liked this album, as I’ve not paid much attention to volumes 1 and 2.  Going back, I still don’t love those albums, but this one strikes me.  It’s that classic 60s girl-group sensibility, but it’s smarter, and more clever. 

5. Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record – Though I don’t like it quite as much as her first album, Last Summer, I still like this one quite a bit.  Friedberger (half of The Fiery Furnaces), has a way of making it seem she’s just talking, recollecting, in her casual, (mostly) low-key songs. 

6. Atoms for Peace – AMOK – It’s not as good as most things Thom Yorke has been a part of over the last 20 years.  I can’t tell if I like it because it’s actually good, or if it’s because I’ve been a Radiohead/Yorke fan for so long.  Maybe someday I’ll know. 

7. Eluvium – Nightmare Ending – There should be room in everyone’s album collection for (mostly) instrumental music such as this and the next album, Peals’s Walking Field.  I’m thinking of John Cage’s conversation about how music must be able to fit into its time, and these two albums fit seamlessly into going about my day. 

8. Peals – Walking Field

9. Junip – Junip – Not as strong as their first album, but, like their first album, it’s a different take on contemporary indie music.  Prog elements lightly through an acoustic veil, or something like that.  I like them a lot. 

10. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – We The Common – Thao Nguyen has one of the best voices in indie music.  She has a dry delivery that’s both playful and highly controlled.  And the songs set it well. 

11. Phosphorescent – Muchacho – I don’t why this album wasn’t in the top five.  Maybe it’s me?  Looking at it, they’re playing to that Phosphorescent strength.  And they do it well. 

12. Camera Obscura – Desire Lines – Tweegasm!  Everyone must have a twee album or two in their collection.  Camera Obscura is a great choice. 

13.Brass Bed – The Secret Will Keep You – Maybe this is a bad way to praise this album, but this is the album Wilco should have made instead of what they’ve been doing over the last decade. 

14. The Reflections – Limerence – They do the retro-contemporary mash up very well.  Parts ELO and Gerry Rafferty but not in a bad way.  In a good way.  It’s as if the 80s had something to teach us.  And, although I don’t like descriptions like this, I like this album a lot. 

15. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City – I’ve never liked Vampire Weekend, and so I’m quite surprised I like this album.  Of course, I hate several things about this album, but I love several other things about this album.  Color me conflicted. 

 

Other albums of interest

 

Jarret/Peacock/DeJohnette – Somewhere – Excellent three-piece run through and messing around with pop and jazz classics.  If you like your jazz laid back and cool, this is a must. 

Nigel Kennedy – Recital – Unclassifiable mix of old jazz and classical played on the violin.  I thought I was going to hate it and I didn’t. 

Pat Metheny – Tap – Metheny plays Zorn.  It’s OK.  If you like either one, you should probably like it. 

Rodrigo Amado Trio – The Flame Alphabet – If you like free jazz, you should really like this.  It got on my nerves pretty quickly. 

The Great Gatsby – While you’re skipping the movie, please also skip the soundtrack. 

David Bowie – The Next Day – It’s his best album in ten years. 

Camper Van Beethoven – La Costa Perdida – I was hoping to like this a lot more than I did. 

Eels – Wonderful, Glorious – Again, I was hoping to like this a lot more than I did. 

Iggy & The Stooges – Ready To Die – Who knew?  They can still bring it.  Worth a listen. 

Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost – Wow, how much I no longer really like Iron & Wine. 

Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle – If you can get past how much she sounds like Joni Mitchell filtered through Nick Drake, it’s a good album. 

Local Natives – Hummingbird – If you like your indie music fairly light and wispy, Local Natives . . .

Yellowbirds – Songs from the Vanished Frontier – . . . and Yellowbirds . . .

Villagers – {Awayland} –  . . . and Villagers . . .

Night Beds – Country Sleep – . . . and Night Beds do it quite well.  Worth a listen. 

Natalie Maines – Mother – Turns out she’s an excellent singer.  These are mostly covers, including a strong take on Pink Floyd’s “Mother,” but she brings a lot of energy.  A standout is “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over.”  It’s a must-hear. 

Scout Niblett – It’s Up to Emma – It got on my nerves after a while, but in small doses, it’s good. 

Yo La Tengo – Fade – I keep thinking I really like Yo La Tengo, and then it turns out, they’re just OK. 

 

Remasters/Re-releases Of Note

 

1.The Breeders – Last Splash – What a great album.  Just what a great album that was.  LSXX, they’re calling this, and it’s WELL WORTH the time.  Live versions, alternate versions, extra songs.  All good to great. 

2.Paul McCartney & Wings – Wings Over America – This was just about the last time Paul McCartney was good.  It’s a much better way to remember him than most everything he’s done since. 

3.David Bowie – Aladdin Sane – Too bad this came out right after The Next Day.  It reminded me just how much better Bowie was 40 years ago. 

4.The Flaming Lips – Zaireeka – OK, well, mostly this is for the vinyl lovers, but it’s out again.  Still, if you haven’t heard it, you should try sometime.  I have the MP3s, and made my own stereo mixes using Audacity.  Worked pretty well, though I had to mess with some of the tracks a bit and delete a few.  It doesn’t translate to stereo as well as it translates to a large listening party. 

5.Four Tet – Rounds – If you missed it last time (ten years ago) it’s OK to keep missing it.  But if you remember it, then it might be fun to take a listen to the anniversary edition. 

6.John Coltrane – Sun Ship – Just about my least favorite Coltrane album, and now with alternate versions and studio chatter.  If you like Coltrane’s late period, go for it. 

 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Benedikt on changing


Here’s a little blip from Michael Benedikt on changing one’s mode, or method, or style.  It’s not that he’s saying something earth-shattering that’s interesting to me here, but that he’s saying something very basic that I think can be easily forgotten by poets/writers/artists, etc.:

Partly it’s an attempt to get at all the corners of one’s consciousness, to use all the resources that you have.  You pursue an idea as far as it goes, and when you begin to feel that it’s weakening, that it won’t carry the thrust of what one feels and thinks, you try another route.  And sometimes those routes appear to be opposites, but they are contained within, hopefully, the same mind and have some kind of internal consistency.  And, if one dare use the word, integrity. 


 

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Hamilton's Dark Dreambox


Through a glass, darkly

I really can't stress enough how much I like this book. At moments I get a similar feeling to that feeling I first got when reading Michael Palmer's SUN for the first time.

This is a must read. If you like it or not is beside the point of what Alfred Starr Hamilton was trying to do with language.

Thanks to The Song Cave editors (Ben Estes, Alan Felsenthal), Mary Austin Speaker, and everyone else who had anything to do with this.


Here are a few poems: 


SUMMER

 
Why didn’t you say an inkstand
Why didn’t you say all of this was for the blue sky
Why didn’t you say a sheet of writing paper was for a cloud


 

JANUARY PARLOR

 

But a snowflake stayed on one’s lips
I talked to a golden jar of white roses
That stayed in the January parlor

 

A CARROT
 

I wanted to find a little yellow candlelight in the garden

 

WHERE RESIDES THE SINEWY LIZARD

 
At the back of the skull Tonight I knew of the House
That lodged the living muscle that clung to the starlight

 

HOME OR ABROAD

 

Why didn’t you say the stars were in her eyes
Why didn’t you say the cloud was over the sun
Why didn’t you say every cloud has a silver lining
Why didn’t you say the sun comes shining through
Why didn't you say you were for peace

 
Why didn’t you stay home
Why didn’t you say there was thunder over the grass
Why didn’t you count the stumbling blocks over again
Why didn’t you say your elbow was on fire
Why didn’t you say you were for freedom

 
Why didn’t you say you were stupefied
Why didn’t you say you were dumbfounded
Why weren’t you confounded
Why didn’t you say the sun was for the looking glass
Why didn’t you say a cloud just now has passed over the looking glass

Monday, April 15, 2013

We survived another year of the Pulitzers. I guess.

Wa wa wah:


http://www.pulitzer.org/citation/2013-Poetry

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Michael Benedikt: "To live alone is to be immensely in charge of the silence."


The Benedict Project continues! Follow the link below to The Bakery for an announcement, along with a baker’s dozen poems. I hope you like them as much as I do. 


And please spread the word. His story could be the story of any of us. 


 http://www.thebakerypoetry.com/from-time-is-a-toy-a-special-feature-on-the-work-of-michael-benedikt/

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Cinderella - Alfred Starr Hamilton

This wonderful poem from The Boston Review:
http://www.bostonreview.net/

Which also includes a web-only interview with Chris Martin and a review of Carson and Bang, and more.


Alfred Starr Hamilton
Cinderella


 were you ever a little reindeer
 out in the clear
 not too tiny a reindeer
 but a little reindeer
 and the way was clear

 were you ever a little reindeer
 out in the rain
 not a big rain
 but a little rain
 and the way was clear

 and you had your umbrella with you
 not too big an umbrella
 but a little umbrella
 and your name was Cinderella

 wonderfully you were invited
 to a ceremony
 not too big a ball
 but a little ball
 and you had your umbrella with you

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Miguel Hernández - Lullaby of the Onion

Don Share saying something like, "Aw, don't take my picture..."
 

Far and away my best AWP moment (as the conference itself goes and why it was created in the first place) was Don Share reading his translation of Miguel Hernández's poem “Lullaby of the Onion.”  What to say.  Well, number one, I'd never heard it read before.  And number two, after it, when he said his own poems were not going to be able to stand up to it, I wanted to stand up and say, that's OK, none of our poems will either.  Here it is:

Lullaby of the Onion
Miguel Hernández

(dedicated to his son, after receiving a letter from his wife
in which she said she had nothing to eat but bread and onions)
Translated by Don Share from Miguel Hernández
http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/nyrb-poets/miguel-hernandez/

The onion is frost
shut in and poor.
Frost of your days
and of my nights.
Hunger and onion,
black ice and frost
large and round.

My little boy
was in hunger's cradle.
He was nursed
on onion blood.
But your blood
is frosted with sugar,
onion and hunger.

A dark woman
dissolved in moonlight
pours herself thread by thread
into the cradle.
Laugh, son,
you can swallow the moon
when you want to.

Lark of my house,
keep laughing.
The laughter in your eyes
is the light of the world.
Laugh so much
that my soul, hearing you,
will beat in space.

Your laughter frees me,
gives me wings.
It sweeps away my loneliness,
knocks down my cell.
Mouth that flies,
heart that turns
to lightning on your lips.

Your laughter is
the sharpest sword,
conqueror of flowers
and larks.
Rival of the sun.
Future of my bones
and of my love.

The flesh fluttering,
the sudden eyelid,
and the baby is rosier
than ever.
How many linnets
take off, wings fluttering,
from your body!

I woke up from childhood:
don't you wake up.
I have to frown:
always laugh.
Keep to your cradle,
defending laughter
feather by feather.

Yours is a flight so high,
so wide,
that your body is a sky
newly born.
If only I could climb
to the origin
of your flight!

Eight months old you laugh
with five orange blossoms.
With five little
ferocities.
With five teeth
like five young
jasmine blossoms.

They will be the frontier
of tomorrow's kisses
when you feel your teeth
as weapons,
when you feel a flame
running under your gums
driving toward the centre.

Fly away, son, on the double
moon of the breast:
it is saddened by onion,
you are satisfied.
Don't let go.
Don't find out what's happening,
or what goes on.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Another AWP another opportunity for Tony Hoagland to almost get it right and then blow it


R236. Camouflage and Capitalism: The Intellectual Appropriation of American Poetry, Sponsored by Alice James Books. (Laura McCullough, Tony Hoagland, Kathleen Graber, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Peter Campion) Alice James Books presents Tony Hoagland on the state of American Poetry. Hoagland will present an essay on poetry as camouflage, as something smuggled into the culture and how the poetry community hides behind the overintellectualization of aesthetics.  Kathleen Graber, Reginald Dwayne Betts, and Peter Campion respond, offering assessments of the current condition of poetry in this dialogue and debate moderated by Alice James Books board member, Laura McCullough.

So this was the panel description.  It was on Thursday.  There were several takeaways: 

The essays were all interesting and I hope they’re being published somewhere, as none of the presenters, I believe, read their entire papers.  Maybe Kathleen Graber did? 

To begin, I have sympathy for Tony Hoagland.  He’s a humanist.  He advocates a human approach to art with which I reflexively feel kinship.  But then he starts talking, getting specific, and I start to cringe.  His opening essay, which I’m not going to be able to summarize (I should have recorded it.  I even thought about it.), had a few different points, some of which, as I said, I generally could go along with, but specifically, or when he added examples, I found disagreeable.  The other presenters did a pretty good job of deconstructing them, so again, I wait for the recording to surface. 

Basically, here are the main points, which Hoagland admitted are not final, but are open (opening) questions: 

1. Soul is a bad word in workshops and in discourse on poetry, and has been supplanted by “intelligence.”

2. Wisdom is a bad word in workshops and in discourse on poetry, and has been supplanted by “intelligence” and “cleverness.” 

3. Poetry, under these pressures, has gotten too “intelligent” and lost its humanity (or something like that), as evidenced by a poem example from Ben Lerner. 

4. The university system is largely to blame. 


There is, as with most essays on poetry, some truth to Hoagland’s claims.  One can always find, as Peter Campion agreed, some bullshit poets out there.  But I have to echo Campion when he says that he was (as I believe Kathleen Graber and Reginald Dwayne Betts also noted) unaware that “soul” and “wisdom” were terms non grata. This is a major flaw in Hoagland's thinking, taking an example (this time a casual conversation with a friend about poetry, where the friend uses word like "dumb" and "stupid" in disparaging some poets) and then conflating it to be a general method.

It seems to me, at times like this, that Hoagland is laying his perceptions of what’s going on over the reality of what’s really going on.  We all do this, sure, but when Hoagland does this by proclamation in a large public setting, he’s setting himself up. 

His premise/premises, in my experience, are simply wrong.  (Right in some places in some poets, but wrong as a generalization.)  And also, his assertion that the “thinky,” “overintellectualization” of contemporary poetry can largely be laid at the feet of academia (we mostly have academic jobs, therefore we privilege academic discourse in our poetry) I find to be severely reductive. 

Hoagland’s arguments, while not without merit, rely on strawman props, which became all the more ironic after Peter Campion delivered his spirited reply to Hoagland’s essay.  At that time, as Campion went last, Hoagland, visibly angered, demanded the microphone for a rebuttal, and delivered a direct attack on Campion (first briefly praising Kathleen Graber and Reginald Dwayne Betts) as a symptom of what’s wrong in contemporary poetry and criticism, and specifically charging him with having committed an immoral (maybe he didn’t say "immoral," maybe it was more like “unconscionable” or something similar) ad hominem attack on Hoagland’s primary source, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, by Lewis Hyde. 

Basically, Campion’s argument went like this: beware the call for “soul” and “wisdom” in poetry, because these terms (and he was NOT saying that “soul” and “wisdom” are bad things, by the way, just dangerous as criteria) can lead one to make value judgments on poetry from outside the poem itself, for example, the way Lewis Hyde dismissed the work of John Berryman because of his “moral failings” (specifically alcoholism). 

It seemed a valid example to me, but it upset Hoagland. 

If the panel had ended there, with just the four essays (and without the Hoagland mic-grabbing finale) it would have been an interesting swirl of positions and thoughts, but as it stands, it’s now another example of Hoagland’s thin-skinned, aggressive nature.  I left the panel thinking only of Hoagland vs Campion, while the interesting and valuable thoughts of Kathleen Graber and Reginald Dwayne Betts were almost completely effaced from my memory. 

I hope, as I said above, that the essays (or the recording) will appear somewhere.  I’d love a chance for those who weren’t there to weigh in on the ideas (not just Hoagland's outburst). If I get the opportunity to see them, I'll link to them or post what I can, as there's a lot of interest (some of it being Hoagland's ideas) that I'm not remembering.  

PS:

Someone made a comment on this post (right around comment 80) to ask why I keep “attacking” Tony Hoagland on my blog.  The person then when on to suggest I do something else with my time, making a joke about my “soul.”  This reminds me that I should clarify my position. 

This is what I wrote in response:

Well, I guess that needed to be said. But from my point of view, it’s more like “Why does he keep hammering at this?” This paper is another version of “The Elliptical Poets Have Ruined Poetry” that he’s been doing for years. I don’t get the luxury of choosing my “targets.” What Hoagland says with a broad brush against a type of poetry I admire forces me to respond.

I have never (to the best of my knowledge) attacked Hoagland’s poetry. Responding to his attacks is a responsibility, just as, for him, making the attacks against a type of poetry he thinks is “bad” is his responsibility. For the health of my real soul, I must respond. I will continue to say my piece to his. Just as you’re tired of hearing me go on, I’m tired of him going on. I’m tired of the fight. But, you know, as he has said:

“I'm not one of those people who eschews value judgments of our art, who beams benevolently on all examples of all aesthetics. I believe that judgment is an accessory and an accomplice of taste. I myself love to make and to contemplate descriptive pronouncements of aesthetics. At their best, expressions of judgment are enlivening; they offer the authentic challenge of accuracy and discernment. Critical proclamations offer an audience—readers or listeners—a compressed, potentially illuminating descriptive summary of an artist or a work of art, to verify or disagree with.”

If he’s sincere in this, then a response should be welcome, and disagreement allowed. You can accuse me of whatever, but you could also accuse him of a vendetta against Ben Lerner, for example, who is his only example in his paper on “what’s wrong with contemporary poetry.” After the presentation, he said that Peter Campion was also what’s wrong in the conversation about poetry. If he’s allowed to continue to hammer away at what he sees is wrong in poetry, I must also be allowed. I don’t think Tony Hoagland is what’s wrong in poetry. He’s just saying his piece. What’s wrong is the large microphone he gets, and the deference paid to his accusations.
 

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Laurel Review at AWP 2013 Table S-3

Hey there!


So, are you going to AWP?  Well, if so, The Laurel Review will be at Table S - 3. That will be on the second floor. We'll be selling subscriptions. One year for $5.00 and two years for $10.00 (plus a chapbook!).

Here's a link to the maps:

https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/bookfair_floor_plan

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Next Big Thing

How about we soften that a bit to just something more like "The Next Thing" or something. So the tagging that's going around asking questions about what people are working on next finally ended up tagging me (Though I have to admit it was more like "Who wants to be tagged?" and I said "I guess I do.") Now I get to go tag five people!


Hit play!


What is your working title of your book (or story)?

In a Landscape. 

Where did the idea come from for the book?

There was no idea, really, not at first.  I sat down one day after having written a lot of poems where I didn’t use the first person, and I thought it might be nice to try a direct address to the reader, a kind of pretend conversation or something.  Something about what was happening that day, full of the names and places and dates, and what I thought about, what my views were on all manner of subjects. 

That’s what I thought over time, but on day one, I just sat down to write in the first person, and I’d just finished re-reading John Cage’s SILENCE, so I put on an album of his compositions, titled In a Landscape.  I titled my poem that, out of convenience, and when I felt like that poem was over, I started another, and used the same title, just to keep things simple.  I was several poems/sections in before I realized what I was doing. 

In the final say, it’s a book-length poem in 71 discrete sections, each titled “In a Landscape,” and numbered and presented in compositional order (with a couple shufflings due to bad book-keeping), and each composed while listening to that album.  I wrote mostly in the mornings, and then added to and tinkered with them here and there over the last couple years.  When I add something, I usually go ahead and put in the new date. 

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry (though one could call it memoir, or diary or essay, if one felt like thinking of it that way)

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

As it would be a documentary if it were filmed, I’d have us all play ourselves, but maybe with stunt doubles for the ify parts.  “Actor re-creations.”   Maybe Martin Freeman, the guy who plays Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit could play me, but they’d have to thin his hair out a lot.  He doesn't look anything like me, but he plays exasperated well. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A person at middle age is thinking about children, friends, family, music, books, films, love, embarrassment, the dead, God, and lunch, while trying not to make anything up. 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? (if this applies - otherwise, make up another question to answer!)

It will come out through BOA in 2015

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

October 2009 through December 2009

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Maybe Lowell’s Life Studies, because of the theme?  But that makes me sound like I’m puffing myself up, so I’ll kind fo take it back but leave it in anyway.  Other people are doing really interesting things right now with stories and parts of autobiography in poetry: Kate Greenstreet, Craig Morgan Teicher, just to name a couple.  But probably the book it has the most in common with is John Cage’s SILENCE, specifically his use of autobiographical anecdotes here and there in a cut-up, methodically random way. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It was, I think, a direct reaction to working with G.C. Waldrep on the book Your Father on the Train of Ghosts, which was collaborative, and written mostly in the second person.  After that, I wanted to do something completely different, as did he.  This is one of the things that ended up happening.  We both wrote book-length poems!

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Maybe some samples?  Here are several sections of the poem in one place, which maybe gives one a feeling for it:


And then, as context: In late 2009, spilling over into 2010 and onward to now, I’ve felt a bit splintered.  As I’ve worked on the autobiographical, essayistic, In a Landscape, I’ve also taken little detours, culminating in three additional manuscripts, and a collection of selected poems by Michael Benedikt that I’m editing with Laura Boss, that I worked on during a period of forced not-writing. 

One of my manuscripts is similar to the poems I wrote before Your Father on the Train of Ghosts, titled Radio Good Luck.  The other two are different, I think, than anything else I’ve published.  The first is titled At Last the Festival Will Pay for Itself, and a little series of those poems can be found here:


And another completed, but untitled, manuscript that I’m calling When We Squinted Our Eyes It Looked Just Like Morning.  A few of those poems can be found here: