Sunday 30 November 2014

As If It’ll Change Everything

Michael Lista traces the power of Stevie Howell's "smoldering" poetry debut to her ambivalence about poetry itself:
There’s a kind of Pascal’s Wager about Howell’s artistic skepticism; poetry may ultimately make nothing happen, but just to hedge your bets you might as well write as if it’ll change everything. And she does. It’s a testament to Howell’s artistry that even though her debut descends into the darkness of abuse, personal tragedy, mental illness and alcoholism, it never feels begloomed, as it’s shot through with the levity and light of her talent. Her ear is impeccable, and she has a gift for mimicry. In “To the free felons who run your facility,” she summons the voice of a paranoid middle-aged man looking for property last seen in 1983. In “Crunches,” she apes some Millennial Liberty Village types, up-speak and all, gearing up for a debauched Halloween: “I’m going to be a Victoria’s Secret angel/ which is neat because my name is Victoria?” And then there are the tiny moments of lyric discovery, like these two jingle-ready lines about everyone’s preferred NSAID: “Take an Advil Liqui-Gel;/ a little Lake Louise in a pill.” Watching her grandfather’s casket being lowered into the earth, she writes: “his reliquary swayed over/ a salivating hole.” It takes an artist of enormous talent to make even insatiable death sound rapturous.

Mark Strand 1934-2014

THE POEM OF THE SPANISH POET a poem by Mark Strand from Motionpoems on Vimeo.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Powerful Polarities

After editing a new selection of Anne Wilkinson's poetry, Ingrid Ruthig reflects on the hurdles—both societal and psychological—the mid-century poet had to overcome in order to pursue a literary career:
The powerful polarities affecting her life are not only evident in her poems, but also in her private journal writings. In these she could be extremely critical, and entries often reveal her frustrations: ‘Started work on several poems simultaneously about two weeks ago. The pattern is irritatingly familiar. The first heaven flowing rush—this is it! A week later the desolation of knowing that this not only is not ‘‘it," but is atrocious, has no relation, except for the odd line, to poetry. Then the slow laborious reworking.’ She also notes , ‘Have a sudden sense of impatience with the great bulk of contemporary writing of the so-called ‘‘serious’’ type. It (the moderns) is already academic and o so solemn. Those who attempt the simple are thin to the vanishing point. But the greater number, in poetry, are obscure, tortuous and torturing. They give the impression of poets flaying themselves into feeling; paraplegic poets cutting off their legs and begging the pain to come. I’m sick of all these harrowed little fellows dropping their guts on paper!’ Self-deprecating, she adds, ‘I’ve been a prime offender but fortunately am little read,’ then goes on to log recent news of her children and social visits with family and friends. Later she writes, ‘Continual contact with people exhausts my energies and leaves no power or patience for anything else.’
As a female poet publishing in the 1940s and 1950s, Wilkinson's frustration went deep:
It is clear that her preoccupations and the tensions they imposed took a toll on her psyche. She doubted, second-guessed, demanded and criticized while fully acknowledging the double-edged sword of her ‘desire to publish and the sense of horror at s elf exposure.’ She grappled with her sense of isolation and of failure as a writer, as well as wife and mother. As she strove to interrelate the bonds of family and home with those of the universal, of memory, life, death and Nature, she often despaired . The realities of womanhood could not easily be reconciled with the demands of the poetic self.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Tweet of the Day

Sunday 23 November 2014

Sunday Poem

Their revolution painted on a wall. Revolution
scent in the rust-colored dirt, and the rat-heavy
palms, and the blue diesel smaze over the former
capital. We waited. On the corner, insistent laughter.
On the corner, a turned over bus—flame bathed 
to the metal. Our tape measures cocked,
as per our orders. We were given
a belt each and a night. Mine was short-haired.
with jagged white gear teeth and a dirt-sniffing
mechanism for quicker dirt sifting 
and much data to desist. Lots: “Encada barrio…”
and “our ideas are our weapons.” Among other things.
Revolution, revolution. Faint image of the revolution’s
big man on the plaza clock. Drawn in wrought iron.
Splashed on a smock. The sounds we watched for: 
night wind cracking canvas sails; wood stick
rhythmically striking wood stick; hastily made
motorcades’ ragged sirens. The revolution?
Through our high powered geigers: twin-stroke
underbuzz of revolution’s engine; the puttering 
three-wheeled revolution; the landless campesinos
beaten by pots and pans into land and nothing
we could do. They resented our husks.
“Of two eyes one always lies,” this we knew. We planned
removing the other, replacing it with Jefferson dirt: 
dirt of the sea, empire dirt, wind down from the north
dirt, father dirt, dirt of scallions and ghost
galleons. The elephant god Jefferson. Trident
in one hand, another with axe, snake in another
and in another his reigns, steering his eight rat team, 
as through the green clouds they steam.
On Jefferson’s neck a lush green alligator hung
from a bone chain like a hymn. As always. Family
bones, yet distant; somewhat empirical and fencing
the hill, long shards of oxidized metal. There went 
tradition, bronze titan. The balcony scene:
swarms of wetblack hair surrounding
wetblack rocks on the tree-less frozen
sand expanse. Once the show trials were over
we would get to work, but quietly. Such were our orders. 
Swimming style analysis, certain constellations
notated from the tattered revolutionary cupolas’
ceilings, hands to secure a detainee’s head (placement
and number). In their revolutionary stories the sound
of dirt on animal skin drums was like the sound 
of a blinking eye roving wild in its socket was like…
Their revolution had its big man and its new man tales
of the monolith sky. We had our love.
From Congotronic (Anansi, 2015) by Shane Book

Saturday 22 November 2014

Myth Makers

For Amanda Jernigan, reports of mythopoetry's demise have been exaggerated. She singles out Mark Callanan's mermaid poems as an example of some of the broad new directions the movement is taking:
Insofar as myth is simply the narrative element in literature, the story of mythopoetry is the story of poets’ fascination with story itself, from classical accounts of gods and monsters, to the genesis stories of science and religion, to literary narratives, to pop-culture anecdotes. (Macpherson calls myth, very broadly, ‘any element in literature that has the effect of enlarging a work’s scope beyond the merely descriptive’.)
She also makes a fascinating point about how lyric poetry may, in part, be responsible for the renewed interest in myth:
But lyric poems—contemporary, written-down lyric poems—retain their fascination with narrative. And it is perhaps precisely at the point that poets move away from the longer forms we associate with epic, and toward the shorter, lyric modes, that myths in the sense of canonical stories, stories recognised within a culture by certain basic and recurring elements, become most useful to poets: because this kind of story can be referenced in a phrase, a word.
Jernigan, however, quibbles with a line from Michael Lista’s review of her recent book, and goes on to explain why he doesn’t get contemporary poets incorporating myth in their poetry. This is an odd comment, since Lista does incorporate myth in his poetry. In fact, The Scarborough’s power comes almost entirely from the perspective-altering use of the Orpheus story, for example. More than that, I would argue that Lista’s book might even show us a way past Jernigan’s fear of mythopoets being tagged as “appropriators.” Lista doesn’t practice costumey adapations or new-twist translations or skillful rehashings. Instead, myths become a re-seeing—they enter his metaphorical idiom, his line-making, his sense of self. To borrow from Eliot, Lista becomes the catalyst in the reaction that changes the myths that feed him.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Tweet of the Day

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Not to Imply Anything

By Jason Guriel

Yesterday, my poem "Reviewing a Unicorn" appeared on the Lemon Hound website. Not too long after, Natalie Zina Walschots—for brevity’s sake, I’ll go with her nom de guerre, "Natalie Zed"—Tweeted about it:

Not to imply that Zed is accusing me of plagiarism, but she does seem to want to draw a comparison between my poem (which uses surgery on a unicorn as a metaphor for criticism) and some of her prose (which also uses a surgical metaphor, though no unicorn). It looks like Zed’s paragraph was posted to the CWILA site on June 12, 2013.

Not to imply that Zed deserves exhibits A through Z—but for the record: I submitted "Reviewing a Unicorn" by email to Paul Muldoon at The New Yorker and Michael Lista at The Walrus, in December 2012, well before Zed's post. (Alas, the poem was rejected by both magazines; I have the email threads.) I also made mention of a poem about sawing the horn off a unicorn in an interview for the Fall 2012 issue of The New Quarterly, which appeared online in January 2013—again, well before Zed’s post.

Not to imply that Zed’s prose is banal, but more troubling than a Tweet that doesn't quite have the nerve to commit to its accusation is the suggestion that I would steal from a short paragraph that:
  • makes the mistake of “make it’s point,” 
  • clubs the reader with the noun “writing” five times, 
  • is content to employ the phrase “razor’s edge,” and 
  • is content to employ the phrase “keen, clever, diamond-edged writing.” (Doesn’t “diamond-edged” do the same work as “keen”? Isn’t “diamond-edged” a cliché?) 
Moreover, a cumbersome sentence like this—“She gives every piece of writing that she explores the dignity of thorough and intelligent examination, pays it the compliment of picking it apart, confidence [sic?] that regardless of blood loss it will survive the procedure”—somehow leaves Natalie Zed’s reader feeling less than confident about Zed’s command of grammar and just what exactly the author means by "it."

(Illustration by Sarah Goodreau)

Sunday 16 November 2014

Sunday Poem

While I was gone, a storm
chewed up a metre of frontage
and brought down the last of the birches 
lording over the place. The gulls are all shrieking
with glee, claiming
rain hammered the windows like bullets.

Must have been
one wild night. Like that time I woke to the ruckus
of uncles in the kitchen. Jim lurching

as he cursed the others and clung
to a mickey of old C.C. That burned going down
and fired him up. And Bob

starting in on Fred
for falling off the ladder again—smashed
at two in the afternoon, and a gallon of good paint 
wasted. Salt spray of glass as John and Ken came sailing
in through the picture window
in a furious embrace 
of brotherly misunderstanding. Another fine
get-together wrecked, and for what. I guess boys
routinely strapped with alder switches

grow into rootless men
with watermelon bellies and sweet-potato noses.
Moose eaters, wife beaters,

mean drinkers, dark thinkers,
my father and his brothers never had a chance
and then they had it coming.

It takes more than one good blow
from the north to bring them down,
but when they do fall, it’s alone and in the dark.
From House Dreams (Brick, 2014) by Deanna Young 

(Illustration by Jenny Nieh)

Sunday 2 November 2014

Sunday Poem

A stranger with the crude audacity
to stick her head inside you, look around,
she hums (a loud, obnoxious buzzing sound)
but doesn’t stroke you, even call you pretty.
She takes some pictures of your inner city,
just husks of buildings, bridges, not profound
shots of your thoughts in motion. She’s not bound
to value you as you. So you feel shitty.
And when she’s finished sounding all your parts
she’ll mount an exhibition of the shots
she’s taken of your crannies, soul-suffused
or not. The critics say that of the arts
that show the way the body-machine rots
hers is preeminent. But you feel used.
From Hungry by Daniel Karasik (Cormorant, 2013) 

Saturday 1 November 2014

“Leonard, I can’t sing”

American poet Kenneth Koch once got some unsolicited advice from Leonard Cohen:
I met Leonard Cohen on the island of Hydra in Greece where Janice and Katherine age five and I had gone for a summer vacation. And we became very good friends. We traveled also to Turkey together, to Istanbul. I liked Leonard a lot and so did Janice. We saw each other then a few times after that, it was nice and intense, but never more than a day. After some years, we were already living on West 4th Street, Katherine must have been ten by then. I ran into him on a bus. “Leonard!” I asked him what he was doing and he said, “Don’t you know? I’m a singer.” He had been a poet and a novelist. I got him to tell me all about it. I invited him over to our place and he told me I should become a singer too. I should sing all my poems. It was wonderful because you met lots of women and made a lot of money and you got to travel around and it was very satisfying to sing your poems. I said, “That’s great, Leonard,” and of course I was interested. I said, “Leonard, I can’t sing.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “I can’t carry a tune.” He said, “That’s good, that means no one else will be able to sing your stuff.” And I said, “Well okay, but also I don’t play an instrument.” He said, “You can probably learn — let’s try.” There wasn’t anything that made noise except a vacuum cleaner. I plugged in the vacuum cleaner and I thought I’d be more in the mood to sing if I stood up on a chair. He said, “Sing one of your poems.” I said, “There’s no music to any of my poems.” He said, “That’s okay.” I sang, with intermittent noise from the vacuum cleaner, “You were wearing your Edgar Allan Poe printed cotton blouse” in a hillbilly voice.
It gets better. Read the rest here.

A Volatile Dignity

Reviewing Richard Greene's fourth collection, Dante's House, Peter Richardson is wowed by the title poem:
This 32-page tour de force about modern-day Siena, Renaissance art, horse racing, growing cultural amnesia and Italian history is the equivalent of a twelve-foot lake sturgeon. You see it pass underneath your canoe but your punter’s brain takes a few moments to register what has glided past. The poem’s 29 cantos are full of observations about Berlusconi’s Italy superimposed over its 15th–century equivalent, and it brims with wry self-deprecation, sadness, merriment, raillery, loss, tourist headaches, wise locals and Greene’s phenomenally acute traveller’s eye for what makes Siena singular. 
Brian Palmu agrees, calling the long poem "utterly mellifluous and convincing" and considers it the best thing Greene has done.
The poem’s length lets Greene rummage, ruminate, travel without conclusion, stumble, misconstrue, prevail, and “rejoice” with “a power to bless”. “Dante’s House” is more expansive and more concentrated than “Over the Border”, the similarly structured long end-piece to his previous volume which won the Canadian Gov-Gen award. This poem is far more deserving of accolades, and I hope he receives them.
Edward Short thinks the book's success is due to Greene's "deeply human aesthetic":
Greene has taken up and renovated Robert Lowell’s testimonial art, where so much seems a snapshot, / lurid, rapid, garish, grouped, /heightened from life, / yet paralyzed by fact, though even Greene’s bleakest “facts” never leave us with a sense of paralysis. On the contrary, the empathy he shows his subjects reaffirms their volatile dignity.