27 December 2005

A. R Ammons: more snow

[from The Snow Poems to which I am currently addicted]

can there be a dwelling for man
with no cock to cry the days
in: I hear from across the lake
in quiet spells
dogs barking or crows cawing: or,
even, though terribly early,
geese going over, high over:
in any case, it is not the
rooster, wing-thubbing and crowing:
do you not miss the biddies:
yellow butterballs
peeping about the hen’s legs
and beak:
do you dwell securely where
there is no cackle to the lay
and no offal dog neither
good Lord not even a guinea:
I need pig and fowl: company:
and the goat!
what is the flavor
of anything without
the bright-eyed,
big-balled billy: or the
fucking sheep: who can do
without it:

The book is still out of print.

26 December 2005

Wright to Silko

[from The Delicacy and Strength of Lace: Leslie Marmon Silko & James Wright Letters, edited by Anne Wright]

June 15, 1979
Wright to Silko

I am somewhat taken aback to realize that I have made more or less workable versions of exactly thirty new pieces. At least I have revised them and copied them into a larger notebook. Now they will have to lie there by themselves for a while until they change. They almost always do. A poem is a very odd duck. It goes through changes—in form and color—when you leave it alone patiently, just as surely as a plant does, or an animal, or any other creature. Have you ever read a book by someone which you know has been written too quickly and impatiently and then published too soon? Such books always remind me of tomatoes or oranges that have been picked still green and then squirted full of artificial colors. They look nice on the supermarket shelves, and they taste awful. I remember reading such books and feeling the glands under my chin begin to ache. They made me feel as though I were getting the mumps.

A. R. Ammons

Christmas (the phoniness of it) always lands me in a foul mood, so I began reading The Snow Poems by A. R. Ammons. I have read more negative comments on this book than on his others. Naturally, I find The Snow Poems delectable. A few outcroppings:

[from "Ivy, a Winding)"]

        at three I realized
        that my interpersonal relationships
considered for example as a cottonball
of interweavings and
closeness (a warmth, as of a
mother-centered, father-peripheried
group) were going to be sheared off,
cut through
and that I was going to be a bit of
lint blowing in the irrelevancies of
dissociation: as I grew older
I learned this
more thoroughly:
I write for those who have
no comfort now and will never have any:
I'm delighted that the comfortless are
a minority and
that rosy tales amble otherwise for others:
        I'm not making a fuss:
        I note the determination:
        it is a strict script
written in the injustice of
necessity: I forgive
the injustice, nearly: I no longer cry
to be another, not myself, or seldom:
you who have no comfort are welcome here, here
with the chaff
alongside the abundant reaping, among
the weeds, after the gleaners:

[from "The Hieroglyphic Gathered, the Books"]

would a collection
of clarities
be clearer than a clarity
or as the collection
grew would the
single clarities remain
clear and
a great darkness commence
to surround
or would opposite lobes of clarity
annihilate themselves
into continuum emptiness: . . .

the good of images is
that they make no
statement and the bad
is that they make (evoke)
numberless statements:

[from "Light Falls Shadow and Beam through the Limbo"]
[for you Rush Limbaugh fans]

Light falls shadow and beam through the limbo
limbboughs, short and long mixtures,
staff and heading, balling the
boughs, cluster, white bass clefs
churning rotund
thunder and up there sparkling and
bellying out
skeins and scads of treble felicities,
cones and points:
tree as music in the light,
the scoring of the permanent
a presence not regular but hastening
or not like the imagination or
the wind . . .

and though we ourselves see and do not
know what we see and cannot tell why
we are here attracted to enchantment
and scriptures intermingling substance
and light—

The Snow Poems is out of print.

24 December 2005

email difficulties

Since December 21st, I have been bombarded with spam to the degree that I may be throwing away good email along with the bad. If you have written to me and received no answer, please try again, email Mike, or post a blog comment.

Thank you.

20 December 2005

critiqued by Virginia Woolf

[Sebastian Sprott offered Hogarth Press (the press belonging to Virginia and Leonard Woolf) the opportunity to publish his novel. This is Virginia Woolf's response.]

25th March 1925

Dear Sebastian,

Your book has interested me very much, but on the whole we don't think we can publish it; though we are extremely sorry not to. My feeling is that you don't get going till rather late -- it seems as if your theme interested you, and not the people; so that in spite of the fact that the end gets an emotion which is quite genuine, it is too late to tell; and as a whole the book is not pulled off. I only give you these criticims as you asked me; honestly, I don't trust myself on other peoples novels, simply because, as I write them myself, I get my eye out. I feel that you ought to stand more on your own feet, and that at present you accept too brilliantly what other people tell you and are afraid of your own observations. But this may well be nonsense. The other point is that the public won't like the theme or understand it, which of course makes it risky from the publishing point of view. But it will be very interesting to see what you write next, though after this plain speaking we have no right to ask you to let us see it. . .

Virginia Woolf

19 December 2005

Stephen Dobyns

[from Best Words Best Order: Essays on Poetry]

Simplistically . . . how I write a poem. I have a number of aural, emotional and intellectual concerns floating with a series of images like flies circling in the center of a room. I repeat the rhythms and sounds in my head, run through the images as if through a tray of slides, and lean against the concerns as one might lean against a closed door.

The poem comes together when I am suddenly able to join these concerns together under the aegis of one idea or feeling. . . . Once the elements are joined, the rough shape of the poem comes very quickly. Then I spend months straightening it out and trying to become entirely conscious of the meaning, while moving the poem away from my personal concerns . . . to a more general concern.

17 December 2005

origins of modern poetry

In Best Words Best Order: Essays on Poetry Stephen Dobyns says Gerard de Nerval “suffered from a psychosis of reference, meaning that he felt all random events were not random but contained symbolic information capable of being understood.” Dobyns also ooldly claims, “It can be argued that all modern European, American and South American poetry derives from this poem" (translated by Laure-Anne Bosselaar and Dobyns):

Golden Verses

                                                       Everything is sentient!

Free-thinker, do you imagine only man can think
When life bursts from everything in this world?
Your freedom lightly disposes of the powers you hold,
But from your intentions, the universe is absent.

In each and every animal respect the active spirit,
To Nature each flower becomes a blossoming soul,
The mystery of love inhabits every metal,
Everything has power over you. “Everything is sentient!”

Fear, in the blind wall, the eye that watches:
Even to matter itself a voice is attached.
Never permit it serve some unworthy need.

Often, in obscure beings, a God lies hidden,
And, like a nascent eye covered by its lid,
A pure spirit swells beneath the skin of stones.

Dobyns goes on to say, “What Baudelaire realized [partly through study of Poe], however, was that the eye in the wall is a projection of the self.”

If you read or write poetry, you must own this book.

Larry Levis

[A middle fragment of a poem titled “The Letter” from Winter Stars by Larry Levis]

. . . If you want to know, I’m thinking
Of the widow with the wide eyes, Nona Laroche,
who’s dead now, & who for days after the fire,
Could still smell smoke on her clothes. . . .
Some great uncle, if the dead could shrug, & they
Can’t, would say: “They loved fast horses.”

Sometimes I almost believe her soul looks out
of the photograph, almost clears the sill
Of the eyes & comes near; though it does not ever
Move, it holds me while I look at it.
But even today, I can’t conceive of a soul
Without seeing a woman’s body. Specifically,
Yours, undoing the straps of an evening dress
In a convertible, & then lying back, your breasts
Holding that hint of dusk mixed with mint
And the emptiness of dusk. Someone put it
Crudely: to fuck is to know. If that is true,
There’s a corollary: the soul is a canary sent
Into the mines. The convertible is white, & parked
Beneath the black trees shading the river,
Mile after mile. Your dress is off by now,
And when you come, both above & below me,
When you vanish into that one cry which means
Your body is no longer quite your own
And when your face looks like a face stricken
From this world, a saint’s face, your eyes closing
On some final city made entirely
Of light, & only to be unmade by light
Again—at that moment I’m still watching
You—half out of reverence & half because
The scene is distant, like a landscape, & has
Nothing to do with me. Beneath the quiet
Of those trees, & that sky, I imagine
I’m simply a miner in a cave; I imagine the soul
Is something lighter than a girl’s ribbon
I witnessed, one afternoon, as it fell—blue,
Tossed, withered somehow, & singular, at
A friend’s wedding—& then into the river
And swirled away. Do I chip away with my hammer?
Do I, sometimes, sing or recite? Even though
I have to know, in such a darkness, all
The words by heart, I sing. And when I come,
My eyes are closed fast. I smile, under
The earth. They loved fast horses. And someone else
Will have to watch them, grazing on short tufts
Of spring grass beside the riverbank,
When we are gone, when we are light, & grass. . . .

I copied this fragment for Anne Haines, as she prepares to write about the body, and, I venture, the soul.

15 December 2005

Jean Follain, two translations


Dans l’assiete blanche
un peu ébréchée
on mange un morceau de viande saignante
la femme assoiffante
on ne la voit plus.
Sur la route bleue
puis qui devient rouge
de grand chiens passent
comme s’ils avaient
moyen d’exister
durant tous les temps
en portant collier à plaque de cuivre
au nom de leur maître
et sans peur de la nuit.

Meal (translated by W. S. Merwin)

From the white plate
somewhat chipped
a piece of bleeding meat is eaten
the wife who made throats run dry
is no more to be seen.
On the blue road
that turns red a bit later
big dogs pass
as though they had
some way of existing
in all seasons
wearing their master’s name
on their brass collars
and with no fear of night.

Meal (translated by Heather McHugh)

From the slightly chipped
white plate
you eat a piece of rare meat
you no longer see
the woman you thirst for.
On the blue road
which then becomes red
large dogs go by
as if they had
a way of surviving
to the end of time
by wearing collars with brass tags
in the name of their master
and not being afraid of the dark.

13 December 2005

What is art, now?

From Pembroke Magazine, Number 18, 1986: Gerald Bullis assays to paraphrase a segment of Tape for the Turn of the Year, a poem by A. R. Ammons:

my story is not a story—not a narrative of plot, of objective characterization, of theatrical incident—but an improvisatory meditation on how one accepts, or tries to accept, the death of the objective, heroic, guilt-accommodating universe. It is (in a way) a great story, at least in potentia, because it is the story we (meaning “I”) have to tell: that is, it is the only “story” I have to tell, so if it isn’t a great story I will, as if I were Sisyphus, suffer my lostness at home in the telling of it, more or less over and over again, alone; and if it is a great story, you may suffer it with me. It isn’t sequential because the apocalyptic universal stage (with a beginning, middle, and end) fell in. I am in the midst of the rotted shambles and, while I feel that I have a part (perhaps a major one), it isn’t in script, and there is no audience (which makes sense), and so I don’t know what to say, where to go. Yet I do feel that I should perform, if only for the weeds and other nonhuman flora and fauna, and that my performance should be undertaken with integrity and be truthful to some extent—it is impossible to say to what extent—to the ground of my beseeching, which is, all in all, pretty desolate. So my story stands still (yet: persistent) and stirs in itself (law of conservation of energy and matter: natural eurhythmy) like boiling water or hole of maggots. Sometimes when I’m not thinking the old nostalgias seem consistent with these natural miracles; but there isn’t much of that. The deus ex machina went the way of the stage. So what is there to do, to say? The objective stage—that grand mythic superstructure—is gone. Inner resolutions, countermotions, the dialectics of self (interiorized drama) remain: the means where by I may discover peace, may be brought home.

12 December 2005

Alan Michael Parker and friends

Tupelo Press has released a new anthology, The Imaginary Poets, edited by Alan Michael Parker.

In his introduction, Parker writes:

Translate a poem into English, offer a biography of the poet, and then write a short essay in which the poem, the poet, and the corpus are considered -- and make all of it up, without once indicating you have done so. Thus charged were the twenty-two contributors to this volume, who in response produced poems "translated" from eighteen languages including Dirja, Vietnamese, Yiddish, and even from Egyptian hieroglyphs, poems that may be read in the grand literary tradition of heteronyms and alter egos.

The book is marvelous, one astonishment after another. The works are funny, moving, revelatory. Here's the list of contributors:

Aliki Barnstone
Josh Bell
Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Martha Collins
Annie Finch
Judith Hall
Barbara Hamby
Jennifer Michael Hecht
Garrett Hongo
Andrew Hudgins
David Kirby
Maxine Kumin
Khaled Mattawa
D. A. Powell
Kevin Prufer
Anna Rabinowitz
Victoria Redel
David St. John
Mark Strand
Thom Ward
Rosanna Warren
Eleanor Wilner

In this holiday season, buy one copy of The Imaginary Poets for your favorite poet and another for yourself.

Ted Hughes

[from Ted Hughes: Selected Poems 1957 - 1994]

The Thought-Fox

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately at the dark snow
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp and hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

11 December 2005

Carol Peters

Web Meme

          -- Google's responses to a search for "Carol needs"

Carol needs assessment information request
Carol needs the song “When Love is Gone”
Carol needs to do her job
Carol needs to be grounded in some very basic things
Carol needs to be developed for future advancement and should seek mentoring from Louise
For Carol the task is merely to recognize a need for information
Carol needs a confidence boost
Carol needs to shut up and let Chad explain
Carol needs the NFBF tax number
Carol needs to find local vendors in Jacksonville that will come
Carol needs our continued help
Carol needs your vote!
Carol, we need to assemble and carefully examine rocks
Carol is meeting the needs of children and young adults
Carol has needs (diary of submission) (not for the faint of heart)
Carol needs feedback from all library managers regarding staff training needs
Carol is well aware of the needs of families that are moving
Carol needs only two parts
A whole new episode of “Carol needs help with the computer!”
Carol needs no introduction
Carol may be the answer to all those needs
Carol talks about the need for storytelling as part of the human experience
Carol needs to see the distribution of mitochondria in cells
Carol will discuss your needs
Carol doesn’t necessarily need a doddering old Scrooge
Carol offers effective solutions
Carol needs a Biology Lesson
Carol needs a changing community
Carol can’t really say that you NEED a root canal in this tooth
Carol needs suggestions for the next meeting
Carol needs to get closer to the target
Carol needs help with a Texas question
Carol needs a cluster of aspens shoved up her ass
Carol needs a new refrigerator
Carol needs a bone marrow transplant
Carol sits handcuffed, needs your help
Carol’s laws need to work
Carol needs to update her website
Carol is not currently enrolled but thinks she needs to look at the option
All Carol needs is a glimmer of hope
Carol needs to learn what is important in this precious life
Carol needs to know that disasters of many kinds can strike right at home
Carol doesn’t need to be endorsed by well-connected top activists
Carol is currently certified at Journeyer level

Charles Simic

[from The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems by Charles Simic]

The Little Pins of Memory

There was a child’s Sunday suit
Pinned to a tailor’s dummy
In a dusty store window.
The store looked closed for years.

I lost my way there once
In a Sunday kind of quiet,
Sunday kind of afternoon light
on a street of red-brick tenements.

How do you like that?
I said to no one.
How do you like that?
I said it again today upon walking.

That street went on forever
And all along I could feel the pins
In my back, prickling
The dark and heavy cloth.

02 December 2005

W. D. Snodgrass

Chapter 3 of To Sound Like Yourself: Essays on Poetry carries the title "Disgracing Are Verse: Sense, Censors, Nonsense and Extrasensory Deception".

This is a VERY funny (and thought provoking) chapter. I will give you a taste, but you should buy the book for this chapter alone (the others are also good).

I. Codes, Hums and Puns

"Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge dock florist. Disc ladle gull orphan worry ladle cluck wetter putty rat hut, end fur disc raisin, pimple colder ladle rat rotten hut."

Who has so debauched our bedtime story? Everything's encoded into sounds we must decipher and reconstitute! Once we recognize, under this weird linguistic getup, our heroine's little cloak and pretty red hood, we -- like the "wicket woof" himself -- are likely to exclaim, "Wail, wail, wail . . . evanescent ladle rat rotten hut!"

Still, why crack our shins on such a verbal obstacle course? Why traril this phonetically corrupted child with her "burden barter and shirker car keys" through a "dock florist" of puns and echoes to her "groinmurder's cordage." We'll only find the "curl and bloat Thursday woof" is there already, wearing "err groinmurder's nut cup and gnat gun . . . curdle dope inner bet" and "disgracing is verse." And, while the child questions his disguise, why should we be trying to penetrate her linguistic camouflage? "O Grammar . . . Wart bag icy gut! A nervous sausage bag ice! . . . O Grammar, water bag noise! A nervous sore suture anomalous prognosis! . . . O Grammar, water bag mousey gut! A nervous sore suture bag mouse!" Finally, once the "woof" has "ceased pore ladle rat rotten hut and garbled erupt," what makes us whoop with delight at that stern cautionary moral: "Yonder nor surghum stenches shut ladle gulls stopper torque wet strainers"? . . .

The language of Ladle Rat Rotten Hut -- the "Anguish Languish" -- was devised by Professor Howard Chace for the disorientation of folk tales. . . .

Such pranks come natural to poets; their mission, after all, is to create language which means other -- preferably more -- than its everyday, dictionary denotation. For recreation, they mock not only artists they scorn, like Joyce Kilmer, but even -- perhaps especially -- those they admire. Kenneth Koch provided parodies of William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, even Shakespeare: "Tube heat or nog tube heat: data's congestion." At poets' parties, the favorite amusement has long been to render classics in improbable voices: W. C. Fields reciting "Lycidas," Groucho delivering "Prufrock" -- or, as noted earlier, to sing great poems to outrageous melodies.

01 December 2005

Alice Fulton

Everyone Knows the World Is Ending
by Alice Fulton

Everyone knows the world is ending.
Everyone always thought so, yet
here’s the world. Where fundamentalists flick slideshows
in darkened gyms, flash endtime mess-
ages of bliss, tribulation
through the trembling bleachers: Christ will come
by satellite TV, bearing millenial weather
before plagues of false prophets and real locusts
botch the cosmic climate—which ecologists predict
is already withering from the green-
house effect as fossil fuels seal in
the sun’s heat and acid rains
give lakes the cyanotic blues.

When talk turns this way, my mother speaks in memories,
each thought a focused mote in the apocalypse’s
iridescent fizz. She is trying to restore a world
to glory, but the facts shift with each telling
of her probable gospel. Some stories have been
trinkets in my mind since childhood, yet what clings is not
how she couldn’t go near the sink
for months without tears when her mother died,
or how she feared she wouldn’t get her own
beribboned kindergarten chair, but the grief
in the skull like radium
in lead, and the visible dumb love, like water
in crystal, at one with what holds it. The triumph

of worlds beyond words. Memory entices because ending is
its antonym. We’re here to learn
the earth by heart and everything is crying
mind me, mind me! Yet the brain selects and shimmers
to a hand on skin while numbing the constant
stroke of clothes. Thoughts frame and flash
before the dark snaps back: The dress with lace tiers
she adored and the girl with one just like it,
the night she woke to see my father
walk down the drive and the second she remembered
he had died. So long as we keep chanting the words
those worlds will live, but just
so long, so long, so long. Each instant waves
through our nature and is nothing.
But in the love, the grief, under and above
the mother tongue, a permanence
hums: the steady mysterious
the coherent starlight.