I've started a project of 33 poems based on girl friends and relatives I've known who were an influence on me in some way.
The first ten so far are a combination of relatives and friends from grade school.
I've started a project of 33 poems based on girl friends and relatives I've known who were an influence on me in some way.
The first ten so far are a combination of relatives and friends from grade school.
I’ve continued with explorations of digital poetry as I'm still interested in how readers process narratives, multi-sensory experiences and the playful and participatory. I'm also getting my mind blown by the frame busting.
I’ve just started to read the textbook, New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories, edited by Adalaide Morris. It's just as nerdy as you would expect but I'm really lovin it.
I also recently tried to introduce a digital novel into my Difficult Book Club (more on that below). Before I mistakenly chose the books we read, I tried to contact a few members of the Electronic Literature Org to find out what they might recommend for introducing to book-bound club to electronic literature. But I consistently received no response so we picked a PDF novel with a image archive and the group choked on it. They hated it. Granted the execution of the narrative wasn’t very good, but they weren’t even interested in the concept of it or the opportunities for escaping the limitations of their chosen media.
Since then, I’ve received a copy of the digital novel Wallpaper (now touring in art installations in Europe) but I haven’t been able to run it yet, finding too many technical limitations from one computer to another. You can see some online “short stories” from the story's creator at Dreaming Methods. Click 'Portfolio' in the top menu.
Monsieur Big Bang and I are also going to tackle House of Leaves shortly after we finish the Gormanghast novels. I know this sounds more like The Masochist’s Book Club than just The Difficult Book Club but you can peruse our evolving reading list.
I’ve also been reading more about poet Stephanie Strickland. Here is a good example of her work: “Sea and Spar Between”
The poem is based on Emily Dickinson poem “each second is the last” below:
Each Second is the last
Perhaps, recalls the Man
Just measuring unconsciousness
The Sea and Spar between.
To fail within a Chance –
How terribler a thing
Than perish from the Chance’s list
Before the Perishing!
Unlike Emily Dickinson poems, this one is 225 trillion stanzas long (yeah, you heard that right), impossible to read fully which is part of the point. It’s still fun to “skim across the surface” of it and experience the responsiveness of your computer mouse as the poem’s stanzas flutter away. You can use your A and Z keys to zoom in and out.
Here is Strickland’s essay from the Poetry Foundation website, “Born Digital,” where she lists 11 ways to identify and conceptualize digital poetry.
I’ve also come across The Iowa Review Web that seems worth exploring, an online journal of digital pieces from 2000-2008. Browse the archive: http://thestudio.uiowa.edu/tirw/vol9n2/judymalloy.php
These three recent reads also classify as difficult if you're feeling adventurous.
A Poetical Dictionary by Loren Green (Amazon)
When I first started to read this, I gave up. I wasn’t in the mood to read something that slowly. It’s all timing with these difficult books. A year or two later, I started again. This is a short book and well worth the effort of going slow with but its only 42 words long. Fascinating if you’re in any way into etymology (or the study of words). Word nerds, dictionary nerds.
Don’t skip the preface, it’s full of prose poetry. Beautifully printed, pronunciation tips that are pure poetry, historical word history followed by lyrical explorations of the chosen words. A sprinkling of dictionary abbreviations I had to look up…I’m no dictionary snob. So observant. We should all do this exercise with our favorite words.
Don’t miss the charts at the end! Never have I found charts so moving.
Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History by Franco Moretti (Amazon)
I read this book and then lost it in my book-stuffed house (which makes me a hoarder). Google Books explains this book well,
"The 'great iconoclast of literary criticism' ("Guardian") reinvents the study of the novel. Franco Moretti argues heretically that literature scholars should stop reading books and start counting, graphing, and mapping them instead. …For any given period, scholars focus on a select group of a mere few hundred texts: the canon. As a result, they have allowed a narrow distorting slice of history to pass for the total picture. Moretti offers bar charts, maps, and time lines instead, developing the idea of "distant reading" into a full-blown experiment in literary historiography, where the canon disappears into the larger literary system. Charting entire genres - the epistolary, the gothic, and the historical novel, he shows how literary history looks significantly different from what is commonly supposed…”
Not everybody's chosen literary vantage point but it is well-suited for a data-obsessed culture. And there are some surprising trends you can see when you look at data from outside the matrix (and contemporary lit criticism is nothing if not a matrix). This book is not for the faint of heart. It’s a data set story and my eyes glazed over more than once. That said, it’s a revolutionary look at how the novel has evolved…using real data. A new story emerges.
Some examples. Click to enlarge.
Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson 1980 (Amazon)
A common theme in the American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (2013) with a few of the language poets represented were comments around the failures of metaphor in language and the capricious pursuit of newly minted metaphor.
Lakoff and Johnson’s book is lots of theory but the book dissects how metaphor is absolutely ingrained not only in our language but in the very way we conceive of abstract ideas, even simple ones. The authors categorize orientation metaphors (happy is up, sad is down), motion metaphors, war metaphors.
Metaphor construction is a “fundamental mechanism of the mind” and one that language poets like to toy with. Could we communicate without them?
Yesterday I even came across the 2012 Lexicon Valley podcast on the same topic, episode #23, "Good Is Up." One listener to the show commented that "much of language is fossilized metaphor.” A very metaphorical response. The podcast covers Lakoff and Johnson book and also interviews James Geary who has probably a much easier read on the topic, I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World. (How the paperback is more expensive than the kindle version, we'll never understand.) But Geary says every 1-25 words. The differentiate between literary metaphors, intentional metaphors and unintentional so ancient and subconscious metaphors. During the podcast, the hosts quote from three poets. In trying to describe metaphors of time, Bob Garfield, (who you may recognize as the host of NPR's national show "All Things Considered") found this quote from Ralph Hodgson poem "Time, You Old Gipsy Man"
Time, You Old Gypsy Man
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?
Mike Vuolo found this quote:"Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day" from Pink Floyd’s lyrics to “Time” to which Bob replied, “Okay you win; I am a nerd loser.”
The culture positioning between songwriters and poets is constantly happening.
Later Mike Vuolo quoted Virgil: "But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail," (I could not find a good source for that translation). to explain the metaphors of time as movement, where time moves forward (for humans who walk forward) and from left to right on line graphs, which takes us back to Graphs Maps and Trees!
The literary magazine Ploughshares recently published a piece about the British poetry movement Martianism, the "playful blend of metaphor and misapprehension, employed to bring the familiar into sharp relief...invoking the ordinary with an otherworldly air."
"Martianism rejected [the] austere interpretation of both life beyond and lived reality, drawing instead on the traditions of surrealism and Anglo-Saxon riddles to approach the unknown as an invitation for possibility."
British poets involved in the movement included Craig Raine, Christopher Reid, and David Sweetman.
For more discussion on the emotional aspects of Mars exploration, check out Why Photographers Commit Suicide, poems about manifest destiny as it has continued, in our own reality, beyond the continents of Earth. Much of the material, based on Michael Collins' 1990 Mission to Mars, moves farther into areas of loneliness, relentless advertising and broadcasting, human legacy, and life without our non-human relatives.
I love to see poem used to illustrate non-literary concepts in academic papers. I blogged about this in 2012, Using Poems for Research Projects.
So I'm thrilled to be in a CNM course on Mindfulness where our teacher, Beth Giebus-Chavez, opens each class with a poem that describes a concept where learning that week. It's awesome! The poems get at the topic from another angle, or a substrata that the academic papers, videos and mp3s, discussions and journalings can't reach. The poems are not only examples of mindfulness but they are the very practice of mindfulness.
Here are the poems we've covered so far:
In one of the live lectures on Mindfulness, we also covered this poem, "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" By Portia Nelson.
I'm a big believer that you don't need to fork over money to an eBook designer to create an eBook version of your poems. That is, beyond what you will spend to design your physical book. There are many poets out there insisting poetry can't be designed for electronic book reading. But I've been reading books of poems on my Kindle for years now. And if they're priced right, I buy books of poems on my Kindle I normally wouldn't buy in print. This usually happens when I want to test out a new poet or when I want to read a book but not necessarily "collect" it on my bookshelf.
There are special formatting issues for poems on eBook. Some special indenting creates problems, but over the last few years these issues have been overcome by some lit-minded, html-savy people who are generous enough to share their tricks with us.
Your Poetry eBook, Quick and Easy Formatting for Kindle by D.L. Lang is a great start for newbies. It's cheap and quick and informative for any poet who wants to stay up-to-date on how their books are made.
Looking to Read
Publishing by Gail Godwin was recently reviewed in Entertainment Weekly, whose review tells us the book “explores the writer’s shifting place in the publishing industry’s disheartening transformation—from a place where tweedy editors spent years nurturing gifted young writers to a marketing machine where authors must now come with ready-made personal brands.”
The Frank O’Hara Project
I just finished my first big experiment in reading someone’s collected works at the same time I read the biography. This idea started when I finished Edna St. Vincent Millay’s biography and then started her selected poems having forgot all the anecdotal stories from the biography.
I decided to slowly go through Donald Allen’s collected tome of O’Hara while reading City Poet by Brad Gooch, or as Monsieur Big Bang like to call it, that big book by The Gooch.
I started at the end of 2013 and finished just before Christmas in 2014! It took a year of bedtime reading!
I loved the biography and how its stories and poets overlapped with my studies on local Santa Fe poets over the same time-period. For instance, one line of the biography declares how O’Hara despised Vachel Lindsay.
The collected poems were a bit of a slog, containing over 400 pages of small printed verse. Many of his experiments were interesting at first but tedious after many incarnations; but I felt by the end of it I had my own personal little selected list of gems.
In any case, his famous poems are famous for a reason.
A Mutable Place by Virginia Corrie-Cozart, 2003: I found this book when I was in Oregon for my family reunion, specifically at the town museum in Bandon-by-the-Sea. My mother grew up one town down the coast from Bandon in Port Orford. This book provided exactly what I was looking for, poems about the coastal towns of southern Oregon.
But this book provided many other surprises. Tom Crawford, who I met at the Institute of American Indian Arts two years ago, was listed in her acknowledgements as a mentor. And not only did I get a glimpse of the location which I was looking for, but Corrie-Cozart is my mother's age. So I felt these poems matched my mother's own stories of her pre-teen and teen life: the food, the crafts, the weather, the local birds, the school memories, the pathways childhood takes.
At first I felt some of the poems dissolved into detail lost from any kind of point, but they grew on me. The first sections on childhood seemed like image streams but later sections were more narrative.
Specific poems that reminded me of my mother dealt with piano lessons, leaving the coast for state college, sunlight and cold mornings, the Coquille River, scenes on the beach, young girls on horses, logging trucks, pig tails, blackberries, cribbage, and versions of back-country meandering I imagine my own mother taking. Interestingly Corrie-Cozart leaves the coast of Oregon for one poem where she contemplates southwestern desert landscapes as seen on a jigsaw puzzle she's working on. My mother married and left the coast for the first time to spend 13 years in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
We also find poesm about the big Bandon fire and the Oregon caves. Many of the later poems deal with memory and order. The final section are contemplations on aging, illness and the death of close friends, similar issues my own mother is working through these days.
Another purposes of the blog is to discuss books of poetry in a way that will match readers up with books based on topic areas. For instance, my mother doesn't love poetry. But if ever there was a perfect book of poetry she would likely enjoy as a gift, this is the one.
The Internet has made the world a mess of information. The issue is finding what you need. Poets can find readers if they market their poems by subject.
Mom, if you read this, you know what you're getting for Christmas.
Honestly, I feel like I’ve been on a run of very good books lately. Even the poetry ones. Is my mind more open? Because I start out very skeptically with them all.
Like the others, I wasn't impressed with the first poems in this book; but then I caught on to some cryptic but sinewy connections floating through them that were quietly compelling. In a minor way, this is a book about Weise's disability. But more so, this is a book about the end of an affair.
Weiss takes a Joni-Mitchell-like "both Sides Now" approach to studying this illicit affair. All the while I was reminded of the One Story Magazine short story I received last month called "Meteorologist Dave Santana" by Diane Cook. Both pieces were snapshots of 'the other woman' or the woman trying to become 'the other woman' and the struggles for actualization or dissolution of an affair.
The book contains alluring and modern titles like “Decent Recipe for Tilapia.” In it's survey of bad relationships, the book reminded me also of Lisa D. Chavez and yet it didn't contain quite a likewise white girl’s rage against Chavez's Chicana-rage, but the poems are raw in their own way.
I loved the long poem sequence about finches. I found the section titles unoriginal. We could have dispensed with them. This book also threads in some pop-culture lite, taking on things like Skype. This book was like 50 shades of goodbye to an affair with some bonus material, like the ingenious poem about the politics of being a disabled poet via overheard criticism.
This book, the Walt Whitman Award winning book, was part of my membership upgrade. This 2013 winner was Chris Hosea with Put Your Hands In. John Ashbery picked the book so you know it’s gonna be languagy. In fact, Ashbery’s comments on the back invoke the Armory Show and the avant-garde.
I love Ashbery. I truly do. But the Armory show was in 1913. It’s officially 100 years old and we continually invoke it like it can still qualify as avant-garde. News flash: it can’t. It’s so far from being modern you want to smack something.
That said, I didn’t hate this book. It even started with a great quote by Paul Blackburn: “The dirty window gives me back my face.” I get that.
For me, language poems and their techniques only work for so long before I want to start seeing a through line. Drifting in the gaps is only a condition I want to be in temporarily before I get bored with reading a list of fragments compiled. But Hosea's poems usually end with a kind of semi-glue like his chaos wants to settle by the end. There are 11 pieces of writing around family, a somewhat form that seems like an attractive practice. The poems about being gay have impressive energy.
This is also not a suburban book. His streets are full of drugs, fucks, motels and the homeless.
I loved the poem "All You Can" (about eating) and loved his "Poetry is the cruelest month" cleverness in “The Great Uncle Dead” and any commentary he had to say about poetry, such as in "New Make:"
… Joe wants
to free poetry from
deliberate space of wail
conveys a need for hugs
one more future among none
I also liked the end of section 5 of "Songs for a Country Drive:"
the safety blanket
over your head and say some
smart words about
the last ten books you read
I feel Hosea tells us the whole point of his languagist adventures in the last lines of his book
ending section 6 of the same poem with:
…I’ve been told if there is a riptide
you let it take you
out and then on
a diagonal you
It's amazing what you find when you search the Internet for poetry news, how many mainstream publications are indeed writing about poetry and the latest dramatic data on eBook and Indie publishing.
I've been reading endless amounts of back-and-forth criticism surrounding the infamous poetry wars and depressing debates on what the "role of the poet" should be. Forget about the style and content wars, the very role of the poet is contested.
Should the role of a poet be a witness? Should the poet's role be to challenge the limits of language? Should the poet's role be to explain cultural phenomena? She the poet be a peacemaker or instigator? Should the poet's role be beyond any conceivable role?
The thing is, this debate is based on a false premise. We shouldn't conceive of poetry as a role at all. We should conceive of it as a tool. And a tool that can service many roles: culture critic, language manipulator, witness to world events.
Poetry is not a job description. This is why we get so hung-up about it, why the idea of it attaches itself too precariously to our sense of identity.
And this is what causes all the idiotic mud-wrestling.
Last week I caught up on some poetry podcasts. It really makes the time go quicker but it's difficult to scribble down notes while walking.
Recently (10/29/2013) the PBS NewsHour podcast interviewed Billy Collins. They quoted him as saying, "the problem with poetry is that it encourages the writing of more poetry."
Wow. I'm going to find it harder to defend him now when my other poetry compadres attack him for being a sell-out. I don't think he is but I guess he's a stage hog. Implicit in that comment is the belief that there’s not enough room for the likes of all of us. We're all the “more guppies crowding up the fish tank.” He did have something interesting to say about Alice Fulton’s. He said she put the fun back in profundity.
Recommended: I just subscribed to the podcast of The Missouri Review and listened to the episode interviewing the editors of Electric Literature who also publish a free online journal called "Recommended Reading" that is updated every Wednesday. They talk about the future of online journals and how they compile their recommended list of fiction and what they look for in new work (stories that pop versus preciousness). They say there's and "endless crop of great work" out there.
Not Recommended: I tried listening to an episode of a podcast called The Broad Pod but I didn’t like it. This is mostly readings of science fiction by women.
Highly Recommended: Indie Feed continues to please. The 4/28 episode interviews British poet Anthony Anaxagorou. View his site: http://anthonyanaxagorou.com/
Recommended: The 1/19 episode of PBS NewsHours podcast was about physicians who embrace poetry. This reminded me of the Scottish Poetry Library's project to provide poets to doctors. This podcast interviewed a doctor in Boston and doctor/poet Raphael Compo about his new book, Alternative Medicine. View his site at: http://www.rafaelcampo.com/
They talk about how metaphorical language is used by both poets and doctors who need to communicate complicated issues with patients. Doctors also use poetry to reconnect with the feelings of their clients.
I love any discussion of poetry being used for practical purposes, such as helping doctors reconnect with their own practice.
Loved reading The Hungry Ear, Poems of Food & Drink edited by Kevin Young. This book does something I've been saying poetry should do: present around a subject of study. This could be the way into non-poetry-readers hearts and minds. I mean, who doesn't know a foodie they can give this book to?
Scientists would likely love science poems. Artists would likely love a collection of ekphrastic poetry, welders would love poems about welding. And foodies would love poems about food. Because they love to eulogize food. And bingo! Poets eulogize stuff. Foodies would love to dig deeper into the nature of food with this book, love to think beyond the cookbook, beyond essays about food or cultural food studies. This book is full of (figuratively) juicy little spirituals about food.
Poetry can spread if the gifts of poetry are presented around a subject.
I did wonder about the order of the poems. You'd find three onion poems in a row. I can't decid whether or not that was a good thing (variations on an onion) or too much onion (the poems weren't stirred up enough).
But there are many beautiful poems here, many new to me (Joy Harjo's ode to the kitchen table "Perhaps the World Ends Here") and some old favorites (Tom Lux's "Refrigerator, 1957" to William Carlos Williams' "This is Just to Say"). My favorite section was one called Short Orders about restaurant food.