Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Long Lost Leprechaun of Irish Lit

Austin Ratner profiles the once-celebrated Irish writer Joyce called his "spiritual twin":
This much is known: he was very small as a child; when he grew up he was still so short that one journalist said he was no taller standing than sitting; others called him a leprechaun, and he didn’t much like that; he told a cartoonist, “Eh, you want to caricature me, eh? Well, the Almighty beat you to it.” This too is known: notwithstanding his diminutive beginnings, great men would come to worship at his feet. The Irish playwright Seán O’Casey called him “the jesting poet with a radiant star in his coxcomb.” Eugene O’Neill asked him to name his children and soOona and Shane O’Neill got their names. James Joyce asked him to complete Finnegans Wake should Joyce himself go blind. He published plays, novels, stories, and poems, including a series of them in The New Yorker in 1929, and his voice once pervaded the Irish airwaves like rainbows south of Skibbereen. This so-called leprechaun with a voice “nimble as a goat’s foot,” as one commentator puts it, was called James Stephens.
And he could be prickly:
It was in a 1915 essay in The New Age entitled “The Non-Existence of Ireland” that Joyce’s influential champion Ezra Pound dismissed Stephens as “a mild enough writer.” It enraged Stephens, who wrote a bitterly funny letter to The New Age deriding Pound in doggerel form. Stephens concludes that having written Pound’s name, he had to go “fumigate” his sullied pen.

Cultural Archaeologist

August Kleinzahler doesn't sugarcoat the challenges of reading Christopher Middleton's poetry:
Middleton's poetry will seem difficult and unfamiliar to the American reader accustomed to magazine verse and the work of Creative Writing's more popular personalities. It is aggressively, unapologetically intellectual, often allusive, and is apt to make assumptions about the breadth of the reader's knowledge that are, well, somewhat generous. The difficulties, though, are not the kind one might encounter in the work of Pound, say, or David Jones. They are more often folded into the logicoithe poem, which can seem baffling, even secret. Middleton is a cultural archaeologist, raising ancient artifacts and finding likenesses. He is often a philosophical poet, in his fascination with time and the phenomenological, by which I mean in the complex ways of perceiving and thinking about how we perceive. He is not anecdotal and certainly not confessional. Poetry, for Middleton, is very much involved in the act of retrieving in language the imaginative experience or moment, letting it find its own pulse and exfoliate on the page. It detests "reportage" or "brute discourse"; it wars against "languishing idioms." It is improvisatory.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sunday Poem

At the end of the road a hunter’s hut
boarded all summer, the fraying bush
backing against it, a ragged fringe
of beggar’s ticks, rust tassels, thorns,
and boulders pushed to the water’s edge
where the graders turned.
There was no one home. 
And no one in the water. Overhead
the white threads spidered from a jet
drifted across where the evening star
was not yet shining. 
What were the words I could not use,
the thoughts I could not think to say?
The white lake shook in the early dusk. 
Something was lost we were waiting for,
summer, perhaps, or snow.
By M. Travis Lane, from The Essential M. Travis Lane 
(ed. Shane Neilson, The Porcupine's Quill, 2015)

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Sunday Poem

Getting in’s all in the wrist,
a steadfast pitcher’s grip
when you let drop
your instrument
of admittance: Visa, ID,
thin plastic jimmy swiped
down the fissure with
a satiating swish
like perforated paper’s
creased swift rip, or the fission
of insight almost missed. 
If flicked just so—
technique tricking
mechanism—you’ll knock
back the spring bolt
to hear its plosive
click. Next, the creaky hinge,
bird call of ingress,
light’s tilted L edging
an inched open door.
You’ve made it, in or through;
what’s inside you wish you knew.
By Danny Jacobs, from Loid (Frog Hollow Press, 2016)

Saturday, 16 January 2016

C.D. Wright 1949-2016: Reax

David Biespiel:
C.D. Wright, who passed away this week at the age of 67, was always willing to confront the most savage and tender parts of American life—from the brutality of racism to the banality of death to the dangerous bravura of the erotic. Because she was a true original—a poet who sounded like no one else, framed her poems like no one else, called forth the psyche’s archetypes and addressed the most difficult civic issues like no one else—she is being mourned by those who reject the repetitiousness, and self-righteousness, of poetic fad. But because she chafed at the limitations of the late-twentieth-century American lyric poem of anecdote—a form she mastered and toyed with in her early books—she is also being mourned by those who strive to retool its most traditional elements: emotional urgency, narrative memory, and the sanctification of the singular poetic utterance. If you write poems in the United States today, your poems owe something to C.D. Wright’s vision. And yet she was one of those poets—like Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich—it’s dangerous to imitate.
Norman Boucher:
Wright published more than a dozen books, most of them collections of poetry. But she also wrote essays and collaborated on works, such as the 2003 One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, that are not so easy to classify. An inspiration, she said, was Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans, a book grounded in documentary photography and reporting that was transformed by Agee’s passion into a searching and intimate prose poem about human struggle and social injustice. Like Agee, a fellow Southerner, Wright’s poetry and prose were firmly grounded in language and poetics but also incorporated reportage, sociological field work, and Wright’s seemingly endless capacity for empathy. “I draw on a mash of other disciplines to make it authentic,” she told the BAM in 2011.
Craig Morgan Teicher:
She was a believer in Emily Dickinson's mandate to "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." Though by "slant," both Dickinson and Wright meant something other than the kind of bias that word summons now. They advocate looking at the world from viewpoints and angles most people don't choose: Dickinson gets her eyes right into the grass to see her "narrow fellow," and Wright, too, walks right up to her subjects — such as the men and women in Louisiana prisons whose voices she channels in her masterful One Big Self (a collaboration with the photographer Deborah Luster) as well as civil rights activists in One With Others — and asks them to speak clearly into her poems.
Rich Smith:
A fellow poet-friend of mine who told me the news of Wright's death directed me to an essay Wright had written about odes, entitled, "The New American Ode." It's so smart and instructive, indicative of her own form of praise. Her ability to select the most memorable thing someone said is represented here, as is her ability to create many of her own memorable phrases. Until reading this piece, I had no idea that she was the creator of the definition for an ode poem that I've been using for several years. She writes: "The ode celebrates an occasion or individual or more frequently an individual on an occasion." Ultimately, Wright was committed to the spirit of the ode—a praise poem "in full dress." In that spirit, on this occasion, let's praise her.
Ben Lerner:
Academics and reviewers and prize committees and various admirers have tried to pin C. D. down, typically with praise: a Southern poet “of place” (she probably hated that) or an erotic poet or a vanguard innovator or an elliptical or documentarian poet, etc. Such descriptions are both briefly true and ultimately insufficient, because she was one of the most formally restless and ambitious writers in the language. Even categorizing her as uncategorizable is too easy: she was part of a line of mavericks and contrarians who struggled to keep the language particular in times of ever-encroaching standardization. I think of the messy genius of James Agee and Mary Austin as two possible antecedents for her genre-bending, lyrically charged, often outraged and outrageous American English.

Read her poem "Our Dust."
Read her poem "Morning Star"

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Good Mimic

Charles Baxter recalls one of Larry Levis' little discussed gifts:
Very, very few poets are good mimics, but Larry had a great ear for it, and one of his parlor tricks was to recite the monologue of the replicant at the conclusion ofBlade Runner (spoken by Rutger Hauer), using the voice-mannerisms of the well-known poets of the day. “I’ve… seen things… you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion,” Larry would recite, first in the voice of Donald Justice, then in the voice of Richard Howard. Then he took requests. You name it (or him, or her), Larry could do it. I’m afraid that I came close to falling to the floor, laughing.

Sunday, 3 January 2016