Friday 26 July 2013

Against Conceptualism: Twitter Reax

Sunday 21 July 2013

Sunday Poem

It pleases us to think the sun
redeems the logging roads with cane,
with high cicadan orisons,
with fern and black-eyed Susan. 
Picking our way amid the slash
we say blackberry rosaries,
we finger their knotted beadwork, one
for the bucket one for me,
as in he loves me not he loves me. 
Watching where we eat our prayers
the trees themselves might pity us.
When autumn comes they lose their leaves
by accident, deciduous.
From All the Daylight Hours (Cormorant, 2013) by Amanda Jernigan.

(Painting by Paul Saari)

Wednesday 17 July 2013

In The Beginning

In the face of all the talk about "late style," Deryn Rees-Jones looks for the identifying signatures of a poet's "early style":
If it is true that first books set the psychic and aesthetic blue print of the work to come, presenting a cluster of ideas and ways of thinking and feeling that will get endlessly worked through during a poet’s life, first books are also concentrations which hold within them all the pitfalls of style and the dangers of self-parody the poet might then meet in middle style of the third or fourth book. Perhaps most of all, though, the intrinsic nature of the first volume, like youth, is its refusal of its own mortality, its ability to connect a poetic past forwards into the unbounded future. In other words, a first book sets its store towards posterity while cheerfully refusing to imagine what such posterity must inevitably mean. 

Sunday 14 July 2013

Sunday Poem

for Blake Smith

I can see now that I was once quite feral.
Getting older was my education in becoming civilized.

Also, being married to you. That was the decade
of cleaning our things in the nude so as not to ruin

our clothes with all that bleach. We couldn’t replace
anything. When anything broke, it was broken. We were

broke. I bought you a bullwhip and some hot sauce
and some tiny wooden armadillos and some tropical fish

magnets that wiggled when you opened and closed
the door to the fridge. You bought me a space heater.

Like Peter Q’s Mrs. Bailey, I like to think “I had a strong
sense of what my position was and what was proper.” 
On two occasions, I shit myself: once when sick and
once when aroused. And here I’m thinking of Tess— 
not the cat we sat, but the fictional girl
hanging from the fictional tree. I appreciated it

when you reminded me how easily I can become
bored. It’s true. I do need a challenge.

A teenager is like a scarlet runner bean; it will wind
round whatever trellis you do, or don’t, provide.

Sometimes it is satisfying to make a howling sound
that comes straight from the diaphragm. You know

what the diaphragm is? Ennui. The educated say
ennui. Your father is a machinist—I know what

he does, in theory—and you can build a train wreck,
though why anyone would want to build a train

wreck is unclear to most. I get it. Baby, we’re
so private. And here I’m thinking of my grand-

mother in assisted living in Regina. Her TV
so quiet as to be imperceptible. The ghost

in her china. You are the first person I ever heard
say the word hubris. Your parents are social

democrats, your mother gave me Upton Sinclair’s,
The Jungle, and then I knew what Howlin’

Wolf meant by The Killing Floor. You took me
for sushi. I bought a plastic harmonica

in the shape of an ear of corn. The first time
you licked my pussy, I was sure; the first time

you kissed my mouth, I wasn’t. We did
everything backwards. You didn’t seem to mind.

Often I would come home from my coffee
shop job and just sob. After so much violence,

it has become radical to be a soft critic, to write
poems about horses. I bought some glow-in-the-dark

zombie finger puppets and a plastic paparazzi play set
and an antique marionette in the shape of an ostrich

called My Favorite Pet. I hoped not to suffer from
what, in certain circles, is referred to as a “wet brain.”

From The Hottest Summer in Recorded History (Nightwood, 2013) by Elizabeth Bachinsky.

(Illustration by Jon Krause.)

Thursday 11 July 2013

Poseur Alert

"One thing, though, is that I’m sincere when I say that the book was written for the glory and good of poetry. The main reason I wanted to do the book with BookThug, rather than with an academic press, is that it is intended as a gift (an admittedly difficult, even explosive gift) for other poets."

Donato Mancini discusses his survey of Canadian reviewing practices, You Must Work Harder to Write Poetry of Excellence.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Lost and Found

Shane Rhodes explores the "poetic black op" of Canadian found poetry:
That poetry can be built from the unexpected and the unpoetic that surround us has to be one of the continuing attractions of found poetry. At the same time, what found poetry has always offered to poetic practice—whether now, in the 1970s or before—is a shift away from the expected poetic building blocks of classical allusion, metaphor, simile, rhyme and rhythm to focus instead on poetry’s ability to interrogate histories and engineer a critical space for dissention, commentary and argument. With the ever evolving integration of technology into poetry and the increasing availability of interesting source material and new means of collection, sampling and manipulation, this restoked interest in found poetry—as evidenced by recent examples—is only at the beginning.
(Chair sculpture by Tadashi Kawamata.)

Friday 5 July 2013

Should the Griffin Prize Get Rid Of The Canadian Category?

Richard Sanger says no:
Forcing us poor little ankle-skaters to dress-up and play with the bruisers in the big leagues may sound good but makes no sense. That’s because every poet I know, Canadian or otherwise, is already playing in the big leagues. To suggest anything else is to misunderstand the creative impulse. We already measure our work against the very best, irrespective of where those poems come from and when they were written, and we try to write poems of our own that stand up. On the eclectic, unsegregated bookshelves of our imagination, it’s always been survival of the fittest: Only the best poems have a place on these shelves, and the rest, no matter how worthy, fall by the wayside.

Apollo Calls

Joshua Mehigan recounts his phone call from James Dickey:
We commiserated about all the flat language in contemporary poetry and the assumption that writing lyric poems is a question primarily of inspiration. He surprised me by complaining that almost no one knew anything about traditional technique anymore, and that most who did had nothing to say. He mainly wanted to talk about his generation, but he began with me, since of course I’d included a couple of poems with my letter. His praise was brazenly excessive, but also irresistible. He invited me to study at the University of South Carolina. Released by now from the exigencies of reality, I answered earnestly that I would. I felt like one of the shaky old women who has just won a million dollars in the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. Then, before the flood of adrenaline could abate, he moved on to the poets of  his generation—managing, through his dim assessment of a dozen great mid-century poets, to put any praise of me into serious question. After a while, I realized that the truth might matter less than the glee of competitive sniping. He compared Richard Wilbur to a southern girl “who moved up north for school and someone said, ‘Don’t ever lose that accent!’ and she didn’t.” He allowed that Sylvia Plath had written good poems but referred to her as “the Judy Garland of American Poetry.” He admitted that James Merrill was an accomplished poet but added that he was also damagingly overrated by “the New York Homosexual Mafia.” He paused. “You’re not a homosexual, are you, Joshua?”

Thursday 4 July 2013

Comeback Of The Day

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Mark Edmunston "Poetry Slam": Reax

It doesn't quite reach the authority of Joseph Epstein's “Who Killed Poetry?” or the rigour of Dana Gioa's “Can Poetry Matter?” but Mark Edmundson’s 6,000-word tirade against contemporary poetry, “Poetry Slam Or, The Decline of American Verse,” has ripped through the American poetry scene these last couple of weeks.

You need to be a subscriber to read the essay online, but Katy Waldman gives a pretty good précis:
Hi, Mark Edmundson, you big-time poetry troll. I am not sure where to start with you. You took to Harper’s this month to denounce contemporary American poets. You upbraided them for their “inwardness and evasion,” their “blander, more circumscribed mode,” and claimed that they cast “unambitious spells.” You scolded them for playing “small-time games” with “low stakes,” timidly avoiding the words “we” and “our,” neglecting pop culture, and refusing to offer up a “comprehensive vision,” a “full-scale map of experience” encompassing politics, childhood, love, death, society, and nature. You scorched them in aggregate and you scorched them individually: W.S. Merwin is “oblique, equivocal, painfully self-questioning.” John Ashbery “says little.” Of Anne Carson: “The title of a recent profile in the New York Times, ‘The Inscrutable Brilliance of Anne Carson,’ has it half right.” Jorie Graham is “portentous,” Paul Muldoon “opaque.” As for Adrienne Rich, “the gift for artful expression is not hers.” You go after Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Charles Simic, Frank Bidart, Robert Pinsky, and Robert Hass, even the late James Merrill, all of whom deserve pages and pages of defense (and are likely getting it: I don’t even want to think about the contents of your inbox right now, Mark). Yes, your screed was a passionate piece of writing, dripping with erudition. You quoted great poets down through history: Dante, Milton, Emerson, Wordsworth, Yeats, Frost, Plath, Lowell. You did exactly what you want today’s poets to do, which is make a sweeping, fervent argument about something that matters. Unfortunately, you are completely out of your mind.
Ron Charles takes it in stride:
Poets are pretty inured to these well-worn grievances. Edmundson admits early on that Ralph Waldo Emerson preached essentially the same complaint 170 years ago.
Seth Abramson fires back:
Because you cannot judge the poetry of any era on the basis of a case-by-case aesthetic analysis of its merits, not only because there is too much poetry written and published for any of it to be considered an exemplar of an era, not only because aesthetics is a subjective enterprise, but also because it is in the nature of aesthetics to evolve and thus for an innovative aesthetics to be underappreciated in its own time, because we do not know what poems being written today will be considered of enduring value in the distant future, because what is Great is Great almost exclusively in retrospect.
David Beispel isn’t buying it either
Edmundson laments that poets avoid speaking for the ‘we.’ Well, I will. We all say to anyone who suddenly realizes that contemporary American poetry is a mess, a botch, and a clutter of talent, that contemporary American poetry is confusing and full of mayhem and even monstrosities, that contemporary American poetry is untidy and inconvenient and exists continuously between floundering and semi-visibility, that contemporary American poetry self-mutilates, that contemporary American poetry is a swarm, a thicket, a caboodle, and (oh, I’ll just say it, for God’s sake) a multitude, well, we say back to you, Professor Edmundson, so fucking what? Poetry is an art, and art is messy. It’s messy in the making, it’s messy in the product line, it’s messy in the distribution, it’s messy in the reception, and it’s messy in its ability to please everyone, nay, anyone, especially readers who expect all poetry to be shat out as marble monuments.
J.K. Trotter believes Edmundson misunderstands the problem:
No one is forced to acknowledge Ashbery and Heaney — or anyone else — as the upper limits of American poetry. There are other poets, there are always other poems. Edmundson has described not the decline of the form, but the mechanics of celebrity, and the flawed institutions dedicated to administering them.
Susan M. Shultz thinks Edmundson's POV is too narrow and antiquated to take seriously:
I can't muster up the anger expressed by many of my facebook friends, because the poetry about which Edmundson writes is not the poetry I read (or: even if I read it, I don't read it the way he reads it). Edmundson, it seems, is a local critic. His location is east coast, Ivy League-trained, New Yorker-reading, and he as much as admits that in his essay.
Stephen Burt can’t help but sigh:
Is a poem better because it “speaks in the plural,” or because it takes a side? Is a poem better because it addresses a nation, rather than addressing the poet’s daughter, or a beautiful stranger, or God, or the poet herself? Yeats did not think so: the author of “Easter 1916” was also the author of the equally admirable, and equally ringing, and equally canny “A Prayer for My Daughter,” and—almost twenty years later—of “Politics”: “Maybe what they say is true/ Of war and war’s alarms,/ But O that I were young again/ And held her in my arms.” There’s something admirable in a call for almost any kind of poetry, because it can prompt rereading, and poetic creation; but there’s something bullying in Edmundson’s particular call for a particular kind of poetry, as if it were the king of the rest.