Friday 30 August 2013

Seamus Heaney 1939-2013: Reax

Henri Cole:
I think of Heaney as an ethical poet, because he was very much alert to the transformational properties of poetry to console, educate, and improve. He believed writing could change things, as in the episode from the New Testament where Jesus writes in the sand and diverts a crowd from stoning a woman who has been caught committing adultery. It’s Jesus’s writing on the ground with his finger that diverts the angry mob, and, as Heaney said, “It takes the eyes away from the obsession of the moment.” Poetry, he believed, could achieve this, too.
Robert Pinsky:
When considering the lives of writers, an unpleasant truth emerges: Many of them, including some great ones, were mean or petty or worse. I’ve often thought to myself, Thank god for Chekhov, who demonstrated that a great writer could be generous, large-hearted, unselfish, tolerant. The same goes for Seamus Heaney: His understanding of other people, individually and in groups and in nations, made him a master of occasions and a supreme teller of jokes and stories. The same quality makes him a great poet. Thank god for him, too.
Heaney was a master of picking the right words, of finding, for instance, the sound of a taste, the syllable of a smell, the vowel for what a thing does (a piece of straw stuck into a spinning upturned bicycle wheel "frittered," for instance). But he also understood, warily, that words tend to want to point to one truth at a time: toward yes or no, right or wrong. He struggled in his poems to find ways of making words take more than one side at once, while he stood at the crossroads of one of history's bitterest ongoing territorial and ideological conflicts.
Patricia Craig:
He remained true to the concept of neighbourliness transcending sectarian imperatives, to the forked hazel-stick, the lamps swung though the yards on winter evenings, the cairns and drains and outlying fields and the sandstone coping of Anahorish Bridge. He forgot nothing, and took it all in. Because of him, the worlds of his childhood, of his exemplary life, of Northern Ireland, of literature in general, are immeasurably enriched. “And afterwards, rust, thistles, silence, sky.”
Dan Chiasson:
Just as a peat bog might contain an elk skeleton, a stick of butter, or the entire, snug corpse of a murder victim, the “word hoard” of English held, for Heaney, infinite discoveries. When he was commissioned to translate “Beowulf,” he said he found the task onerous until he had a breakthrough: he discovered in the Anglo-Saxon text a word he remembered his grandmother using that he hadn’t heard since—“thole,” which means “suffer.” Everything about this epiphany is classic Heaney: finding the seed of English poetry, “Beowulf,” on the tip of his grandmother’s tongue; finding a word so downcast in a memory so warm, the mingled pain and sweetness, history and the hearth.
Neil Corcoran:
For all the strength of personality manifest in Heaney's life, it is of course to the poetry that we will return. This is always, as it were, a life altogether elsewhere; and the elsewhere in Heaney is characteristically the life of memory, and specifically the memory of his childhood place, the townlands of his origins whose Irish names – Anahorish, Broagh, Toome, Mossbawn, Bellaghy – are now such an indelible part of English-language poetry, as are their accents, rhythms and people. There is a real sense in which his poetry is permanent homesickness, as the place is returned to again and again, but always with a difference, until its topography becomes the register of an immensely complex psychological, emotional, cultural and political terrain; until the place has become, in fact, in the title of one of Heaney's collections of lectures, the "place of writing".
Colm Tóibín:
He carried his fame lightly, easily. He preferred shadow to light; he preferred the half-said, careful, ambiguous remark to the big statement; he liked the slow smile rather than the easy laugh. He enjoyed company, but I always felt he had one eye on the door, and would be happy when the night was over and he could go home.
I remember on our last night together we took a drive to the manor house of Garech Browne, founder of Claddagh records and a champion of traditional Irish music. The house was set in a moody spot next to a black lake, and at the very bottom of a deep valley in the Wicklow Mountains. To my eye, it was as grand and otherworldy as it was “iambic and crepuscular,” but for Seamus it was the home of a friend—a man whom I’d meet a few years later when I was visiting Seamus just after he’d been elected to give the Oxford Lectures in Poetry. But that night, Browne wasn’t at home, and Seamus and I walked to the lake and skipped stones for a bit, and then fooled around throwing sticks into the lake, heaving them like javelins, horsing around, really: and if there’s an image that I retain from those days, it’s of Seamus in an old green sweater with holes in it, clutching in his hand a stick that he’s poised to throw, as I stand next to him with a stick that I’m also poised to throw, and Seamus giving me a look that says I know that we know how ridiculous we look, but let’s do this anyway: and so we did.

Quote of the Day

Rest in peat.
Monty Ried on Seamus Heaney

Sunday 25 August 2013

Sunday Poem

Great. Another straight-faced romp in cliché. I’d give transom and taffrail
to deter more showy poets obdurate in slogging out Maritime doggerel 
for self-dashed chapbooks. Sure, my strut-sagged keel bears likeness
to the rummy guts of fishermen granddads but I sure as shit won’t miss 
another ode couched close to solipsistic sonnets on lobster traps and gannets.
I’m done in, stuck fast on the mud banks of the Avon; why care I of stanzas 
relating fateful jaunts with deckhands? First off, it’s a crock and recidivist
when chumps pen one-offs about bottomed-out trawlers. Spastic fake lyricist, 
get to the gist of this, I’ll look folk for the photo-op but for the couplets
do me a solid: tow me to the brink and sink me for a guiltless 
death at sea lest I’m blind-sided and caught sepia on some GG nominee.
From Songs That Remind Us Of Factories (Nightwood, 2013) by Danny Jacobs.


"Some little irritation gets hold of me, an idea or a phrase about an experience. Once I have a vague idea about the subject or situation, I start listening for what kind of music the poem should make—dissonant, sweet, jazzy, syncopated, waltz-like. I would love to be a able to write a poem the way Thelonious Monk plays the piano or Jack White puts a song together. Musicians have a direct access to emotion that writers can only envy."
David Yezzi talks about his writing method.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Sea Sick

Chad Pelley is impressed with the metaphor-making in Sue Goyette's new collection of poems:
In Ocean, Sue wades in metaphoric reaction to a life lived by the sea. The ocean is an image-and subtext-rich thing on the margins of her everyday life, and she plays off this, fishing fantastic parallels between the ebb and flow of the Atlantic and life itself. But this is not run-of-the-mill poetry in which the poet uses the ocean to reflect on one’s life, or the world, or our place in it—Goyette plunges much deeper than that, both stylistically and conceptually. She’s making up her own metaphorical ocean mythology in these poems, and it makes for vibrant, innovative poetry.
Chad Campbell doesn't think she pulls it off:
“Everything is connected!”, Goyette’s speaker proclaims, and yes, it is: because a world has been created in which there are no boundaries between anything—not dreams, matter, smells, senses, concepts, or memories—and their connections aren’t revealed because they are presented as fact. Goyette doesn’t have to ground or hone her metaphors, to fashion cohesive conceits, because she has created this world with a structure that implicitly excuses their failings and obscurities.
Sample poem: "The ocean is the original mood ring"

Sunday 18 August 2013

John Glassco Letters: Excerpt VII

May 7, 1974 
As you must realize, I am no longer the young man of Adolf Dehn’s drawing, being now 64, ‘bi’, and a little ralenti. But I still have the same feeling for youth and for the Paris which is its constant expression and true locality.

When you say you would like to go back ‘in time’ to the Paris of the 20’s, I can’t resist telling you that in those 20’s many of us were no less fascinated by the Paris of the ’90’s, the so-called Belle Epoque. And the people of those days had, in their turn, a nostalgia for the belle époque of Offenbach and the 2nd Empire. And the 2nd Empire doubtless looked back wistfully to the 18th century. And so it goes. But Paris itself remains. As you already seem to have divined, it is the city of one’s dreams, not of any reality: in other words, it’s what we ourselves make it, though its beauty remains.

Saturday 17 August 2013

John Glassco Letters: Excerpt VI

Foster, Quebec
November 22, 1970
I’m beginning to think the whole idea of annual literary awards is a mistake. They are so much a matter of luck (a bad book will win one year when there’s no competition, and a good one will lose the next year when there is); they tend to foster resentment and the formation of coteries; judges do favour bad authors who are young and poor over good ones who are old and rich (I’ve seen this successfully urged on a few panels I’ve been on: ‘this kid’s almost broke, you know…’). Anyway, anyone who wins a literary award these days has pretty well to go into hiding for a few weeks until the fury has died down. All awards seem to be apples of discord.

From The Heart Accepts It All: The Selected Letters of John Glassco, edited by Brian Busby.

Friday 16 August 2013

John Glassco Letters: Excerpt V

Foster, Quebec 
March 19, 1969 
I will send you the extracts of Memoirs of Montparnasse as soon as they appear in Tamarack Review. But I’m sure you won’t like them, and the whole book even less!

You see, I look on the whole real value of ‘memoirs’ as being not so much a record of ‘what happened’ as a re-creation of the spirit of a period in time. The first approach is so often simply tedious, faded literary gossip; name-dropping, disconnected anecdotes, etc. like 50% of Bob’s book; your own record, on the other hand, has the ring of genuine experience and feeling, and above all a good story-line: everyone here says so! The second approach is that of Rousseau, Casanova and George Moore. None of them felt ted to the historical truth; they were all liars and produced works of art by invention. Who cares about their lies now? Who knows, for instance, whether Casanova’s ‘Henriette’ even existed? Yet she lives. I don’t compare myself to them, naturally, but my book is in their style. And Casanova is the greatest writer of Memoirs the world has ever seen: this is the 18th century, and the portrait of a man as well.
From The Heart Accepts It All: The Selected Letters of John Glassco, edited by Brian Busby.

Thursday 15 August 2013

John Glassco Letters: Excerpt IV

Foster, Quebec 
February 11, 1967 
Your words about poets being prophets have made me think. They have sent me back to [Hector de Saint-Denys] Garneau’s Journal, and I find his ‘Notes on Nationalism’ express my own position perfectly. Nationalism is a straight-jacket, as much for those who impose it as those who are subjected to it. Also, I distrust revolutions: they end in Napoleons, every time. And, how lucky we all are that Wolfe defeated Montcalm! Napoleon would have sold all Lower Canada to the States, along with Louisiana. Instead of celebrating Montcalm as Hertel does, le grand aincu, avec ce coquelicot, là, sur la poitrine, (he was only a tough old professional soldier, after all) we should think of that young, amateur, the chinless, consumptive poile de carrotte Wolfe, reciting bad poetry as he floated down the river to Quebec. Without him, we might be burning our draft cards today. Of course he had a bit of luck, too.

Is it not time we abandoned the mother-image of Quebec, however swelling, beautiful and bountiful her breasts may be? Not herself, but her poetic image. The latter will be hard to replace, I know. As hard to replace as the image of my own beloved city of Montreal, that dear old whore whose face they are trying to lift for Expo…

From The Heart Accepts It All: The Selected Letters of John Glassco, edited by Brian Busby.
Previous letters: Robert McAlmonIrving Layton, Al Purdy.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

John Glassco Letters: Excerpt III

September 18, 1964 
Hugely flattered to hear you stole my book. This is fame. I used to steal a lot of books myself, mostly from libraries: my method was to look at the little card in the back envelope and if it hadn’t been taken out more than twice in the past year I would figure I needed it more than the public.

You’re right about this attraction for decay going too far. One could end up all misty-eyed fondling a farmer’s old rubber boot. Which is why I’m not going to write a poem about a car cemetery, though your images of old fenders, magnetos and smashed headlights are tempting. Why don’t you do it? The backward look on ruined things I have eschewed. I just look at them now, sigh and turn away.
From The Heart Accepts It All: The Selected Letters of John Glassco, edited by Brian Busby.
Previous letters: Robert McAlmonIrving Layton.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

John Glassco Letters: Excerpt II

August 11, 1957 
Dear Irving,

I’m projecting a violent attack on your poetry in the public prints, but have not all the copies of your published books.

If possible, please send me copies of all your published works (except
Here and Now and Love the Conqueror Worm) and bill me for same.

The blows will be delivered below the belt—the seat of your uncontested genius—but otherwise the amenities will be observed, within certain limits,

Best regards to you and Betty, and hope to see you soon.

Yours as always,

Buffy Glassco

From The Heart Accepts It All: The Selected Letters of John Glasscoedited by Brian Busby

Monday 12 August 2013

John Glassco Letters: Excerpt I

Jamaica Farm 
Foster, Quebec 
December 1, 1946 
The poetry I’m doing now is all of a pattern with ‘The Rural Mail’ and ‘Stud Groom’: loose lines with a definite beat, full of puns, sneers, regional expressions, and gloomy as hell. When the projected volume is finished the whole rural scene will have changed (it’s changing now), and the decayed farms and decayed people will have been replaced by cheery, brisk, mechanised, subsidised, electrified artificial inseminationists, which will probably be an improvement though rather humdrum from a limited point of view… The big problem with getting this part of the country on paper is that the landscape is so beautiful (no other word) that it looks just like the picture-postcards for nine months of the year, and it’s only for a while in the late fall that the country has a third dimension, depth.
From The Heart Accepts It All: The Selected Letters of John Glassco, edited by Brian Busby

Sunday 11 August 2013

Sunday Poem

After your father's death, you brought home
his rug. It was frayed and faded. It did not match
our walls. I explained that no, we couldn't use it
in the living room: there was no place for your father's
rug in our home. You argued for it.
I said no way.
                        You took the rug, finally,
to the basement, to the odd little room
no one used. For fifteen years
it remained there. Forgotten by me, but not,
of course, by you. The time came
when we needed space for storage and I went down
to the room; you followed. There was the rug.
Mildewed, damp to the touch. It has to go,
I said. You said no. I called our daughters
down. They held their noses, stood
beside me.
                  There was not space enough
to roll up the rug. Its bulk was so great
it took the two of us even to fold it lengthwise
in half. Its backing stiff, heavy
with memory. And I
still blind to it. 
The two of us pulled, shoved, forced.
            Got it out of the little room at last, into the dark
of the furnace room. We shunted our bodies
against it. The air filled with fibres and mould
and stink.
                We fought. I cursed, you shouted.
Over and over you said it couldn't be done. I said
it had gone in, therefore
it would come out.
                               The rug stuck at the turn
             to the stairs. I gouged at the wooden trim with a shovel.
We got it 'round at last. Rage pushed the rug up and out.
I see the scars of that struggle every time
I go to the basement with the laundry.
Dream, sometimes, that I'm
           still pushing your father's rug
through the long tunnel of basement,
                           still breathing in what it shed.
From A Bee Garden (Cormorant, 2013) by Marilyn Gear Pilling 


"I can’t think when they, or I, might have surmised I’d actually made any sort of a choice. It all must have looked, to anyone observing (especially parents), like a series of negative choices. Not choosing to continue post-secondary education, not choosing some other obvious skill set. I appeared unmoored and shiftless and directionless and probably extremely unhappy." 
Ken Babstock explains how others saw his "career choice" to be a poet.

Friday 9 August 2013

Hooking: Review Round-Up

Jared Bland:
Mary Dalton’s Hooking (Signal) offers sophisticated centos—poems made entirely of lines from other poems—that make an eloquent argument for the idea that all poems exist in relation to other poetry
Jonathan Ball:
Dalton "hooks" these lines into her own patterns with true craft, to form powerful, evocative sentiments.
Chad Pelley:
This is truly, to my knowledge, an unprecedented work of poetry, and a great one at that.
Barbara Carey:
Dalton’s stitch work is very fine: it makes for some strange juxtapositions, but they are often as evocative as they are enigmatic. In effect, the collection as a whole is a celebration of creation, and subtly links writing to other products of human making, such as cloth, braids, lace, filaments and thread, all of which are mentioned in the poems. At their best, the strung-together lines and phrases have a new, arresting beauty.

Sunday 4 August 2013

Sunday Poem

See the willows wander wondrous
in a daisy chain around the willows. 
See the willows waken wildly in the wind,
for their true love is the wind, not wiccans. 
We wallow in the shallows of a wade pool
wishing we were wise as willows, less wide-eyed. 
Allow me to mildly suggest this: be watchful
of willows, of water because while they can't
bring themselves to love us, they are there
for us just the same, and beyond us.

From Cloudpeople (Odourless Press, 2013) by Matthew Walsh.

("Willow Tree" by Su-Li Hung.)

Friday 2 August 2013

Croatoan Poetic Cell

Alessandro Porco recently pointed me in the direction of an essay by Kent Johnson where he calls Kenneth Goldsmith's theories "frankly bogus, a kind of wacky category mistake" and accuses Conceptual poetry of being the avant-garde's "new right wing." Great stuff.

But the really interesting part was Johnson's mention of an Occupy-style group called the Croatoan Poetic Cell who were implicated in "peaceful, conceptual acts of poetic insurgency" against the Poetry Foundation. Salon had a report on the rebel organization :
The CPC headquarters is a warehouse somewhere in Chicago, and it’s considerably less swank than that of the Poetry Foundation. “We have been living in a construction zone for the past three months,” says cell member Brooks Johnson. “We have a lending library here, someone is always playing music. We all sleep in the same room (the library) in a pile of unwashed blankets, couches, arms, legs. Sometimes it becomes difficult to figure out where you end and someone else begins.” The night before the Poetry Foundation reading, the group opened a bottle of whiskey and composed their manifesto. Because Ruth Lilly’s fortune came from the manufacturer of Prozac—Eli Lilly & Co.—it follows, they argued, that the foundation has been tainted by anti-poetic drug money. Indeed, the opulence of the new building reflects the kind of corporate materialism they feel has stifled poetry all across America. Swank décor, they argue, does nothing for poetry. Rather, “poetry happens when we are shaken out of our psychic, linguistic, phenomenological, and indeed even physiological compliance with the spectacle and its myriad illusory modes of reification.” 
The Youtube video above records the protest in question (during which members unfurl two banners, one of which said “What would have happened if Emily Dickinson had been prescribed Prozac?”). That event was held partly in response to an earlier staging that got CPC-sympathizer, Stephanie Dunn, arrested:
At first she only threw a cup of free wine to the floor, but after foundation employees objected, she partially undressed and started an enthusiastic make-out session with Johnson, rolled around on the floor, and at some point stole a bottle of wine. When I asked Dunn why she was arrested, she answered, “For having too much fun.”
According to one blogger, the second CPC event went rather badly as well:
Three days after Raul Zurita's reading at the Poetry Foundation, where six or seven activists of the Croatoan Poetic Cell peacefully hung banners (one of them praising Zurita and his old activist group CADA) and passed out leaflets calling for the charges against Dunn to be dropped (the cops were also called by the PF on these poets—they scampered away), the Chicago Police Department carried out a raid during a musical event on the warehouse where most of the members of the Croatoan Poetic Cell live. Property was confiscated and three people detained. Minutes after the police left, a car parked outside, belonging to a friend of those involved, burst into flames.