30 April 2008

William Carlos Williams

[from The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams, 1948]

And so for the event of the evening, supper with James and Nora Joyce, at the only place at which Joyce would eat, the Trianon.

Joyce was not a tall man. He had a small, compressed head, straight nose and no lips, and spoke with a distinct, if internationalized, Irish accent. He would take no hard liquor, only white wine, a mild white wine, because of his eyes. He was almost blind from glaucoma. It was a wonderful evening, Nora, a sturdy one, hardly said a word.

Joyce, who was working at that time on the early Dublin parts of Finnegans Wake, was particularly anxious to talk with Floss, because she was Norse-speaking on her mother's side and the Norsemen had played a great part in Irish history.

We were all drinking white wine out of courtesy to Joyce, who, as he talked, went to fill Flossie's glass; but his aim was poor, the wine going beyond onto the table until she moved her glass into a position to catch it and so saved the day.

As we started to drink another round, Bob McAlmon, who may have been a little tight, proposed, "Here's to sin!"

Joyce looked up suddenly. "I won't drink to that," he said.

So Bob took it back with a laugh and we all sipped our wine again silently.


Bob [McAlmon] told me of an incident which happened during a train ride he had had with Hem[ingway] on his way back from Spain a year before. They had stopped and the passengers had alighted for a breath of fresh air. Beside the track was a dead dog, his belly swollen, the skin of it iridescent with decay. Bob had wanted to get away from the stink as fast as he could, but Hem would not. On the contrary, he got out his notebook and began, to Bob's disgust, to take minute notes describing the carcass in all its beauth.

"I thoroughly approve," I said.

Autobiography of William Carlos Williams (A New Directions Paperbook)

27 April 2008

poetry contests

[from Ron Silliman's blog]

I think for a lot of young writers, in particular, especially those coming out of MFA mills (and especially the programs that don’t quite “get” contemporary poetry, which is to say most of them), I think the transition to becoming a practicing writer can be a daunting, even crushing task. It’s when most people stop writing. They find that the context they had for poetry in school no longer exists in the “real” world and don’t know how to build one out of whole cloth. These are the people for whom contests exist, and it’s why I think they’re ultimately damaging. For one thing, the odds are preposterous. For another, unless they actually know the work of the judge, and know who the judge is, there is no way to ascertain if there is any reasonable expectation of even being competitive. They send in their money and their manuscript, they hope and they can feel crushed if they lose, sometimes again & again & again. Where if they would just get together with their friends and publish one another, they would be making enormous headway much more quickly. And their books would be reaching the right audiences. Which is (again) why it’s far better to have a volume published by Pressed Wafer, if you’re a New England poet, than in the Yale Younger Poets Series.

26 April 2008


Hakalau stairway, originally uploaded by johnbryanpeters.

25 April 2008


[from Ovid's Metamorphoses, translated by Charles Martin, 2004]

"We'll show you girls just what real class is
Give up tryin' to deceive the masses
Your rhymes are fake: accept our wager
Learn which of us is minor and which is major
There's nine of us here and there's nine of you
And you'll be nowhere long before we're through
Nothin's gonna save you 'cuz your songs are lame
And the way you sing 'em is really a shame
So stop with, 'Well I never!' and 'This can't be real!'
We're the newest New Thing and here is our deal
If we beat you, obsolete you, then you just get gone
From these classy haunts on Mount Helicon
We give you Macedonia — if we lose
An' that's an offer you just can't refuse
So take the wings off, sisters, get down and jam
And let the nymphs be the judges of our poetry slam!"

Metamorphoses: A New Translation by Charles Martin

21 April 2008

Caroline Conway

Hunter College Reading Series @ KGB Bar

Caroline Conway (poetry 2007), Manijeh Nasrabadi (creative non-fiction 2007), and Kym Ragusa (creative non-fiction 2007) will read Wednesday, April 23 from 7:00-9:00 PM at KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street, between Bowery and 2nd Ave. The reading is FREE.

Caroline Conway co-edits the online journal RealPoetik with Ana Bozicevic-Bowling. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in LIT, New York Quarterly, ology, luzmag, and the Outside Voices 2008 Anthology of Younger Poets.

17 April 2008

Ron Silliman on William Carlos Williams

[from Ron Silliman this morning, re judging the William Carlos Williams Award for the Poetry Society of America]

Thinking of Williams & his relations to presses & to kinds of poetry gave me a template for thinking through these 19 volumes. His idea that the function of art is to create additions to nature, to make of the world a more abundant place, seems to me almost the baseline of what should expected from a poet. If you’re only going to write poems that look just like the poems that existed before you got here, what is your value? All of the nineteen volumes move poetry forward in ways that should make a reader optimistic about poetry, even on a blood-drenched planet that is devouring the last of its major natural resources.

16 April 2008

Dan Albergotti

[from Dan Albergotti's Boatloads, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, selected by Edward Hirsch, 2008]

Still Bound

Still here, and every morning it's almost a surprise
that the sun might come, that it could happen again.
This is how it is. The eagle arrives each day,
but not for my liver. Instead, she comes for my heart.
And it's still agony every time, although I have learned
by now how not to scream. Most days, she lights
on my shoulder, clenching her talons in the flesh,
and right away begins ripping down into my chest,
her head like a cold hammer, tail feathers brushing my nose.
She pulls the heart out in long, thin strips, and flies away,
and I imagine her feeding the dark flesh to her young.
Yet some days, she will light on the rock beside me
and step softly up onto my chest. She will pace along it, stop,
cock her head, and stare into my eyes. Her own dark eye
will bloom wide. She will slowly blink, then lower her beak
to my skin and begin a gentle tearing until her small tongue
is pushing at the shell of my heart. She cuts it out clean
those days and almost seems sorry to leave, to fly off
as my hollowed chest burns. But she does. She flies up
and disappears into the distance, though I can make out
the dwindling speck of her in the great sky for hours.
The day is long. The day is long when you're growing a heart.
Still, look at how the sun falls behind that far peak,
how it glows like one steady eye gazing only here,
how it makes those colors burn and emanate where soon
it will be purely black, how it can make a gift of fire.

Dan Albergotti will be reading at 3 PM on April 17th at the Waccamaw Center for Higher Education in Pawley's Island, SC.

The Boatloads (A. Poulin, Jr. New Poets of America)

William Carlos Williams

[from William Carlos Williams's introduction to The Wedge, 1944]

A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words. When I say there's nothing sentimental about a poem I mean that there can be no part, as in any other machine, that is redundant . . . Its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character. Therefore each speech having its own character, the poetry it engenders will be peculiar to that speech also in its own intrinsic form. The effect is beauty, what in a single object resolves our complex feelings of propriety . . . When a man makes a poem, makes it, mind you, he takes words as he finds them interrelated about him and composes them -- without distortion which would mar their exact significances -- into an intense expression of his perceptions and ardors that they may constitute a revelation in the speech that he uses. It isn't what he says that counts as a work of art, it's what he makes, with such intensity of perception that it lives with an intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity.

The Wedge

[from William Carlos Williams's Selected Poems, 1985]


are the desolate, dark weeks
when natures in its barrenness
equals the stupidity of man.

The year plunges into night
and the heart plunges
lower than night

to an empty, windswept place
without sun, stars or moon
but a peculiar light as of thought

that spins a dark fire —
whirling upon itself until,
in the cold, it kindles

to make a man aware of nothing
that he knows, not loneliness
itself — Not a ghost but

would be embraced — emptiness,
despair — (They
whine and whistle) among

the flashes and booms of war;
houses of whose rooms
the cold is greater than can be thought,

the people gone that we loved,
the beds lying empty, the couches
damp, the chairs unused —

Hide it away somewhere
out of the mind, let it get roots
and grow, unrelated to jealous

ears and eyes — for itself.
In this mine they come to dig — all.
Is this the counterfoil to sweetest

music? The source of poetry that
seeing the clock stopped, says,
The clock has stopped

that ticked yesterday so well?
and hears the sound of lakewater
splashing — that is now stone.

Selected Poems

15 April 2008

Jorie Graham

You can read Part I of Jorie Graham's lastest collection, Sea Change, at the Harper Collins website by clicking on the Browse Inside button.

If you can make it, I'll see you at Jorie's reading at 7 PM on April 28th at the Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA.

13 April 2008

Jorie Graham

Jorie Graham has a new book, Sea Change, available in print and on the Amazon Kindle.

Deirdre Wenger interviews Jorie Graham at phillyburbs.com. This excerpt from the end of the interview:

DW: What would you suggest to people who are aspiring to be writers and poets? Do you have any advice on how to achieve their goals.

JG: I hate giving advice. But if I take a stab at it today — today I would say: read. Read complete works of poets, to learn what a whole poetic “idiom” is. Also walk, look, smell, taste, touch, listen. Get your body back. Try to make yourself use all your senses every day. There is a vast amount of “information” that is coming at one from sources one doesn’t even know exist. Get outside. Find the strange — not the weird, but the mysterious. We all need to work on staying awake. This is a somnolent era. Growing more so. We need to work hard, pretty much all the time, to achieve moments of presence and wakefulness. Also, avoid living too much in the conceptual intellect at the expense of your body — the “thinky death” Berryman calls it. Undergo poems before you jump to interpretation. Wait till it is absolutely necessary to begin to think “about” the poem, or what it might “mean." Your own or someone else’s.

Also, write as if there is no satellite to transmit your words. Write as if you are writing something that could be dug up out of the sand . . .

12 April 2008

John Ruskin

[from John Ruskin's The Stones of Venice, 1851]

Observe that the value of this type does not consist in the mere shutting of the ornament into a certain space, but in the acknowledgement by the ornament of the fitness of the limitation; — of its own perfect willingness to submit to it; nay, of a predisposition in itself to fall into the ordained form, without any direct expression of the command to do so; an anticipation of the authority, and an instant and willing submission to it, in every fibre and spray; not merely willing but happy submission, as being pleased rather than vexed to have so beautiful a law suggested to it, and one which to follow is so justly in accordance with its own nature. You must not cut out a branch of hawthorn as it grows, and rule a triangle round it, and suppose that it is then submitted to a law. Not a bit of it. It is only put in a cage, and will look as if it must get out, for its life, or wither in the confinement. But the spirit of triangle must be put in the hawthorn. It must suck in isoscelesism with its sap. Thorn and blossom, leaf and spray must grow with an awful sense of triangular necessity upon them, for the guidance of which they are to be thankful, and to grow all the stronger and more gloriously. And although there may be a transgression here and there, and an adaptation to some other need, or a reaching forth to some other end, greater even than triangle, yet this liberty is to be always accepted under the solemn sense of special permission, and when the full form is reached and the entire submission expressed and every blossom has a thrilling sense of its responsibility down to its tiniest stamen, you may take your terminal line away if you will. No need of it any more. The commandment is written in the heart of the thing.

The Stones of Venice

09 April 2008

Sandra Meek

Reading by Sandra Meek
Poetry Society of South Carolina
7 PM, Friday, April 11, 2008
Second Presbyterian Church
Charleston, SC

Sandra Meek won the 2006 Dorset Prize for her poetry collection Biogeography. She won the Peace Corps Writers Award in Poetry for Nomadic Foundations, as well as the Georgia Author of the Year in Poetry, which she won again for Burn. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, Colorado Review, and many others. Meek was awarded Editors' Choice for the 2002 James Wright Award given by Mid-American Review. She is a professor of English at Berry College where she teaches creative writing and contemporary literature. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana from 1989 to 1991.

[from Sandra Meek's Burn, 2005]

Reentering Atmosphere

Evening's laddered with ash, jet-line of pale
unraveling silk: primitive web, all axis and latitude. There's

in entropy. Which is why
there are so many flights all ending in runways, blinking
dotted lines, a jumpsuited man

wielding an arrow of light. Reassuring,

really, how night chisels the spectrum
to five shades of bone; how even the fly's

eight-paneled world shutters down
room by room in the spider's mid-air collision

of geometry and the aesthetics of hunger. If prayers were certain
to be heard, what

gravity they would take — the targeted
news of the hour, like yesterday's

civil war in pixels: refugees crouching in a landscape
of sand and static. The pattern's always been broken by one

off-colored bead signaling

mortality, the true believer. Now
the space shuttle has landed, earth's blue marble safely

rattling about one crew member's dreams.
Outside the bedroom window, a million newly hatched souls

swarm the streetlamp. It's still summer, and someone

is out late for a walk. The earth pulls from beneath
the road's tar strip like swamp mud, quicksand
in a bad movie which nevertheless

made him weep, even back out in the parking lot sun.


08 April 2008

Sandra Meek

[from Sandra Meek's Nomadic Foundations, 2002]


Even the next day you wouldn't
answer why — and I knew I didn't
know you, the smell of beer a rotted
halo around you saying I didn't know
what I was doing,
pushing the rock
into the mouth of your cave
by removing yourself from your
self the way this chameleon tries to lean
away from his body on stiff legs
and hopes I don't see him
there in the dust, the mottled greens
and browns of his skin,
eye raised on its cone
like the eye into the volcano
long dormant, no smoke or flame
down there, just darkness and air
enough to feed the flame if ever
it should return, the burn, the flash
of recognition, as when I remember
writing the other night, how the page gleamed
like damp skin in the candlelight, like
my skin, my face, and your voice
a knock at the door went

Nomadic Foundations

06 April 2008

Cole Swensen

[from Cole Swensen's The Book of a Hundred Hands, 2005]

The Hand Thinks

There's a hand that thinks, that lies inside, that lines the hand that

and it thinks: "While tying a knot, you can utterly forget, you can
(can be thinking of something else at the time)
                                    that muscles have a memory all their own
that lives again a braided time
                                                 I tie.

what without you lives. The life of fingers
mutiny that doesn't even bother.                    The hand, ever prior
avatar of architecture: archlessly, each one

is a frame.
There's an empty frame on the wall         and the hand is the sky
that opens the wall.

The Book of a Hundred Hands (Kuhl House Poets)

Jonathan Williams

[from Rivendell Issue 4: Native Genius, Spring 2007]

A Chorale* of Cherokee Night Music as Heard through
an Open Window in Summer Long Ago


*screech owl/hoot owl/yellow-breasted chat/ jar-fly/cricket/carolina chickadee/katydid/crow/wolf/Beatles/turkey/goose/bullfrog/spring frog

[this is a half-rendering; the typography is the other half; buy Rivendell to see this and other wonders]