Wednesday 30 July 2014

Chipping Away

Mary Ruefle believes each poem contains another, smaller poem. She explains:
Well, plenty of people would say that within each poem lies a larger, longer, more ambitious poem! But that's not the way I look at things. Years of making erasures has led me to another view. One thing erasure work has taught me is that no matter how much you hone something down, you can't lose the essence of what was there in the first place. A metaphor I might use to talk about this is the metaphor of a day; within each day are hours, smaller units of time, and every day has some special hour that seems to be a distillation of the day. One hour which can be viewed as representative of the day. The relationship between these two is that of the part to the whole, and in all things we have no way of ever really knowing the Whole, but we can know a part of it, and that part has to suffice. I am definitely now talking about the universe and individual lives within it, and also of the sense that every poem is just a part of something, call it a life, the poem is just one little stone, no one can see the configuration all the stones make together, but on any given day, one stone will have to suffice. For the Whole. Oh, I am talking about fractals! I promised myself I wouldn't do that! But when you think of it, in terms of fractals, those who think that within each poem lies a larger, longer, more ambitious poem, are right—the part and the Whole in the end are the same. But I am one who is inclined to chip away. You know what I love? I love haiku. It is impossible to find within them another, smaller poem. But in every novel there is a short story, and in every story a poem, and in every poem a haiku. And in every haiku there is a moment that stands for all of time. 

Sunday 27 July 2014

Sunday Poem

Last night I caught the boy I'd been
in fishnet and gutted him
on the government wharf
by the light of an oil lamp
hung from my dead father's hand. 
Above the dyke, over the road,
the town was just the same:
weeping willows, widows,
whale-stains on the cheesecloth walls
of the first houses
and an overwhelming sense
of a last breath being taken. 
The worst of it was
the ordinary blood
on the ordinary wood
and my father saying
as he gazed out to sea
"It's no good.
The companies won't pay.
They didn't pay for mine
and they won't pay for yours." 
I watched him through my mother's eyes
as he sighed and bent
to the stiffened body of our time
together not worth one red cent
to anyone and picked it up
and took his life and mine away again.
From Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief (Gaspereau, 2014) by Tim Bowling

(Photo by Barry Pettinger)

Saturday 26 July 2014


Virginia Heffernan wants poets to renounce "fetishy analog platforms" and take up poetry's new iteration: Twitter
The curiously formal verse of Twitter—bound tighter than villanelles in kimonos—is in general neither good nor bad. That doesn’t hurt its status as poetry: it is language precisely and even artfully deployed. This poetry loses and gains jobs, esteem and reputations. Wars, rumors of war, the fates of men and women hang in its lyrical balance. It costs, in short; and it pays. This is what relevancy is, maybe harder to define than poetry. Tweets are news. They are history.
Jean-Yves Fréchette, who in 2011 collected 1,001 of his poetry tweets into a book, has even coined a term for the twitter poem:
A "twoosh" is, in a sense, a perfect tweet. A tweet made up of exactly 140 characters, which is the Twitter limit. Writing a "twoosh" is using Twitter’s input matrix to create a new stylistic standard, to invent a new fixed form – as the sonnet, the ballad, the ode or the rondeau were in their time.

Cultivating Disaster

Michael Lista praises Joshua Mehigan's new book, Accepting the Disaster, for the way it "tames the chaos with technique":
Mehigan represents a vital alternative to the canard that the only way to faithfully represent the messiness of contemporary life is with messy writing, the pseudo-profundity of the self-indulgently obtuse, a pathologically American idée fixe that’s dominated the last hundred years of poetic thinking and can be traced from T.S. Eliot through Gertrude Stein, John Ashbery and so many MFA theses. “Because forethought and discretion rarely appear in my personal life,” Mehigan writes, “I like to cultivate them in my poems.” It’s precisely because Mehigan is so well acquainted with disaster and disorder that he records them so painstakingly and precisely, according them the memorability they deserve.

Sad Song

In an essay nominating Gerard Manley Hopkins' “Spring and Fall” as the saddest poem ever written, Nick Ripatrazone ponders why the form is so good at making us cry.
Poetry’s brevity and tendency toward paradox through interiority of content make it the perfect artistic vehicle for melancholy. We spend our days living and speaking in prose. Poetry is manual transmission. Poetry is an old vehicle made new. In order to read a poem, we must occupy another, more monastic space. In that sense, melancholy is an excellent fit for poetry, since the feeling is an emotional rattling. Novels have hurt me. Stories have punctured my skeptical skin. Essays have made me rethink the world. But a melancholic poem shatters me, pushes me to another emotional space. It extends my self.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Knuckleball Poetics

Over at Maisonneuve, Danny Jacobs and Daniel Renton trade some banter about new collections by Jason Guriel and Dani Couture. One of the best moments in the exchange belongs to Renton:
I do wonder if Guriel’s well-made box may be a bit of a ruse—his poems might be closer to being Chinese finger traps. That is, toys that snare unsuspecting victims who misunderstand their serious mission: to encourage us to relax our grandiose poetic posture and enjoy the play of language. Take this string of lines from “Knuckleball:" “its bottleneck— / the chewed-over / or coughed-up / or otherwise / indigestible morsel / of food for lines, / wobbly ones, / of thought.” Notice the purposely wound up syntax? The poem so mimics R. A. Dickey at the plate it practically wears a Blue Jay’s jersey.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Orphic Struggle

In about six weeks, Vehicule Press will publish Michael Lista's second poetry collection, The Scarborough. The book takes place over Easter Weekend in 1992, when rapist and serial killer Paul Bernardo—who lived in the eponymous suburb of Toronto, where Lista himself grew up—committed his final crime. Bernardo's depravity dominates the poems, yet the psychopath himself is nowhere to be found. (Here's a good example of what I mean.) The reason for this is largely due to Patrick LeSage, the judge who presided over the case. When asked to rule on whether or not the videos of the crimes could be shown in open court, LeSage decided that Canadians could hear the tapes, but not see them. Lista has turned that comment into the formal principle of his disturbing and formidable new book. He explains his intentions in an interview from 2012:
The poems are trying to do two things at once, two things that I can’t disentangle. They need to look like psychopathy—classically proportioned, handsome, manipulative, well-spoken, charming, glib, and ultimately devoid of empathy, uncaring of their true subjects. Underneath them runs a psychotic river, the evil Alph, that they’re able to hide with their public faces. But they also need to look like the dignity that LeSage was trying to safeguard in his ruling on the tapes. You can hear the crimes, the perpetrators and the victims, but you can’t see them. The hell of this all is that after some years of thinking in it, dignity and psychopathy look formally identical to me. The form that lets the Devil sneak in is the same that lets the innocent sneak out. The whole thing is an Orphic struggle, leading something unspeakable out by the wrist into the light, without ever turning to look at it.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Rare Books

David McGimpsey is legendary for the great editions he comes across when secondhand bookshopping in Montreal. Here's a sample of his lucky finds. For more treasures, check out his tumblr page

Sunday Poem

No romantic, he warned me right off—
Cuckoo, hitch your wagon to this star 
and it’s a crow’s life, all dirty tricks
and rot-gut cuisine, snaffling up 
the last slice of pepperoni pizza. Now
I’m stuck here, tree-high, nest-bound, 
bored out of my violet-flecked head, but, hey,
someone’s got to do it, sit on these eggs. 
Plunderers everywhere. Turn your back
and a blue jay will rob you blind. I don’t believe 
in happiness but I do caw something
like joy when I see his glossiness pummeling 
the dusk-sharp distance, I do weep
glad tears when he’s winging toward me, 
road kill clamped between his beak.
Love him or leave him? You tell me. 
His cornfields and back alley dumpsters,
his thieving genius and high wire acts, 
the showy, pyrotechnic stunts.
This life with this crow—

witty as a pickpocket, shiny as tin foil.
Oh my dark carrion, circling, circling
From Summertime Swamp-Love (Palimpsest, 2014) by Patricia Young 

(Illustration by Nicholas Di Genova.)

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Unstuffy and Unafraid

In his review of The Pigheaded Soul, Brian Palmu seems incensed by Jason Guriel's dismissal of Charles Bernstein's work
This is all too easy, this macro-dumping on avant-garde poetry. I’ve expressed my disgust with a lot of it, in reviews of specific books, and in proactive poetics. But that’s the point. Books should be reviewed for what’s between the pages, not as soldiers in a long line of casualties in an ongoing war. It’d be nice if Bernstein’s poems, delightfully various and rich with sound, feeling, and sense, could’ve gotten a deliberate airing in the expanded word count. But Guriel has formed an opinion on avant-garde poetry, and has framed his argument with misconstrued examples from several poems. God knows, if that’s the route one takes, it’s easy pickings: pretentious nonsense like “Virtual Reality” won’t win Bernstein many new converts. But Guriel’s also failed to note, never mind comment on, other worthy poems, and lines of poems in All the Whiskey in Heaven.
Still, Palmu finds a great deal to admire:
Guriel’s most important attribute, however, is his writing: concise, with creative turns of phrase, surprising and apt lexical choices, skeptical, allusive, unstuffy and unafraid to stick his neck out with evaluations (Heaney’s The Human Chain doesn’t make the grade), and wide-ranging, Guriel is foremost a curious reader who’s arrogant enough to believe his opinions matter (reviewers, in general, need more of that arrogance). That I disagree with him on many of his assessments isn’t all that big a deal. At least I know where the man stands. Can a reader of criticism ask for anything more important?

Tuesday 1 July 2014

What Poetry Makes Happen

Amanda Jernigan tries to set the record straight about Auden's famous line "poetry makes nothing happen":
Auden’s nothing is sort of like the “nobody” of the medieval monks who liked to joke about a hero, named Nobody, who existed before creation, who was greater than God. As Odysseus knew, when he introduced himself to the Cyclops as Nemo, Nobody, nothing has always been a good cover for something.

Then, too, it’s a question of emphasis: poetry makes nothing happen; which is not to say that plenty of things don’t happen as a result of poetry. For one thing, poetry turns a lot of people to writing poetry. And, finally: as others have pointed out (see, for instance, Don Share writing here), we tend to quote that Auden line out of context. It is in fact a preamble, capped not with a period but with a colon, which opens out onto the following:

…it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth