Tuesday 29 September 2015

Not Reading

Can refusing to read a book bring us pleasure? Dan Piepenbring thinks so.
There are writers we instinctively, permanently dislike: not only will we never read them, we will quietly relish the not-reading, finding in it a pleasure that can occasionally rival reading itself...all of us harbor, somewhere, a list of those toward which we feel an inexplicable animus. At the top of my list, ironically enough, is Charles Bukowski, who Jones singles out as “a voice from hell with the talent of an angel.” I have for many years now actively enjoyed not reading Charles Bukowski. I want to say with conviction that Bukowski is not so much a voice from hell as a voice from Hell-Lite™, a kind of flimsy, adolescent imitation of true misanthropy—but I have no evidence to furnish in my case against him. How could I? I’ve never read him. All I know is that I’ve listened to a tepid Modest Mouse song about him; I have spoken to a stranger at a bar who told me she’d “snort his words off the page,” if she could; and I’ve sneered at the cover of Ham on Rye in a Park Slope Barnes and Noble. If you asked me to mount a cogent defense of my antipathy, I’d have to say something pretentious like “I find his role in the culture banal.”

I can muster the same scorn for Chuck Palahniuk, Chuck Klosterman, and probably a handful of other Chucks, too. (Don’t get me started on the Jonathans.) And I’m not above taking pleasure in the fact that I’ve never read Danielle Steel, though I have no grounds to take pleasure in this, and it leaves me wide open to charges of elitism. I can’t be stopped. It’s like a perverse form of that old Greenspanian irrational exuberance.

Then there’s the larger circle of books that arouse mere indifference in me: the top three novels on the New York Times’s hardcover best-seller list at the moment are fine examples. Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See—I have no plans to read any of these. Each has, through the vagaries of the marketing process, done something to recuse itself.

Monday 28 September 2015

True Cosmopolitan

James Pollock, who recently edited The Essential Daryl Hines, describes the moment when his enthusiasm for Hines' poetry began to take hold:
Once I had tracked down all his books of poems, and read them all from cover to cover, I realized I had found the strongest Canadian poet of his generation, and one of the strongest Canadian poets of the twentieth century. Having just read, and been thoroughly persuaded by, Timothy Steele’s argument for the power of metrical verse in contemporary poetry—in his 1990 book Missing Measures: Modern Poetry and the Revolt against Meter—I was excited to find a compatriot who was so much more sophisticated and skilled in his prosody than any other Canadian poet I knew, even Jay Macpherson. And his knowledge of and engagement with such a wide range of poetic traditions—ancient Greek and Latin, Spanish baroque, Elizabethan, French, American—revealed him as a true cosmopolitan, a perfect antidote to the literary provincialism I’d winced at in so much Canadian poetry.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Real People

For Jess Taylor, creating characters begins with what comes out of their mouths:
When I first was writing and reading furiously, I decided that I had no interest in representing people who didn’t speak like real people. I wanted to represent people as I saw them, as they really existed, as they existed in my mind. Part of this is an attention to slang and other colloquialisms and part of this is really getting into the skin of a character, letting their perceptions affect the language. It might not be how everyone speaks, but it should be how that character would speak...I want to be true to these characters, I want them to be real and for the readers to understand the characters on multiple levels. For me, creating this illusion or effect starts at the level of language.

Friday 25 September 2015

The Shock Absorber: Twitter Reax

Altered Reality

Michael Crummey discusses his early days, mainlining poetry:
It was an altered reality I was experiencing, I guess, unaided by pharmaceuticals. I was stoned on images and poems that managed to mean without surrendering easily to explanation. The two lines of Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” never failed to give me a little jolt, though I couldn’t parse why something so slender managed to suggest so much depth. There was an ocean below that simple surface where critters I couldn’t name were at work. I felt them moving down there.

Even in a poem as clean and cutting as Irving Layton’s elegy for his mother—“and her youngest sings/While all the rivers of her red veins move into the sea”—I felt myself lifted out of the bare facts, or pushed beneath them, to something subtler, more nuanced, closer to the real. In the poems I fell in love with, some truth the world itself only hinted at came, nearly, into focus.

Looking back, I think I was too green to have more than an inkling of what I was reading. But that intimation—naive, inarticulate, confounding—approached the mystical. And I’m still after that as a reader, the place where meaning shimmers like a heat-haze over the world’s everyday presence; seeming, at once, to rise from the details of our lives and to exist beyond them; to almost and nearly say who we are, and why. Which seems to be as much as the world is willing to offer by way of explanation.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

The Mulroney Poets

Jacob McArthur Mooney calls “The Mulroney Poets”—the generation born between 1984 and 1993—the "most consistently interesting and deepest and most outrageously ambitious group we’ve ever seen." He has two theories why:
One, they have the opportunity, if they wish to take it, to be completely over the idea of “Canada.” We spent a long time in the literary culture of this country trying to figure out how to be simultaneously liberal and nationalist, and it didn’t work out because that’s an inherently bullshit position. The first big generation of Canadian writers, the boomers and their slightly older siblings, fought on and on about that. Dennis Lee is a hero of mine and a good friend but the battle he supposed in geopolitical terms in, say, Civil Elegies, or the one rendered in ecological terms by Farley Mowat, those have all been lost. These Mulroney kids are coming into adulthood at a time where the moral and environmental apocalypse being furthered by Canada is greater than the one being furthered by every other Western country. They are coming up in the only period in any living person’s memory where the Canadian Prime Minister sits to the right of the American President, and so much of that disco nationalism stuff demanded a Good Canada/Bad America dialectic. Which is no way to build a national culture, as it depends on the cultures of other nations to exist. So I would say that, though they are inexorably fucked in all the meaningful economic and moral ways, the end of a cultural Canada does them a lot of good as poets. There’s a bigger world out there.

And secondly, there’s a bigger world out there. I think that this group is so used to the repetitive smashing together of cultural products: near and far, high and low, old and new, that the reach of their metaphors can be so much more ambitious and natural than for poets born even a few years earlier. A lot of this is the internet but it’s also the Internet of Thoughts, you know. It’s how those technological gadgets reconfigure the brain if you’re young enough to be born into them. Juxtaposition is finished, I think, it doesn’t exist anymore. So you get crazy shit happening out there with people like Kayla Czaga and Michael Prior and Vincent Colistro (or Jessica Bebenek or Liz Howard or all those people in Vancouver) where an amount of figurative reach that might seem showy or performative for even our more culturally-literate older poets (McGimpsey, Rogers, Babstock) just flow off the tongue and there’s no ta-dah attached, it’s just culture speaking.
(Photo of Vincent Colistro)

Sunday 20 September 2015

Sunday Poem

This little piggy went to market
shrink wrapped on a mattress
of styrofoam. His friend was a real
downer, so she stayed home,
confined to the sow-shaped cell
of the side she dropped down upon.
In her last act, she came out—a closet
Houdini—by escaping the stock yard,
fodderizing her flesh and tunneling
out the gullets of her pen-mates.
“This isn’t roast beef,” effused
the unamused consumer fuming
at the smokehouse, who slid his plate
of pork belly back across the table.
He was starved. And which piggy
could have gotten by with none?
Only the forever underdone one
with its cord freshly cut, popped
like a wet pea from a flesh pod
while mom was quartered
and portioned at the slaughterhouse.
Hungerless, this little piggy lay
still for its transplant to a vacuum
-sealed womb of formaldehyde.
In high school, he and I met
at the scalpel’s tip. With my fingers
deep in the incision I had slit along
his chest, I huffed, puffed and pawed
the stick walls of his ribcage back
until they snapped. Inside, the pearly
maggot of his trachea glistened.
It wriggled it like a digit as I stroked
it with my latex-mittened finger,
riding its length like a road going
nowhere, no cry to sound us home.
By Katie Fewster-Yan, from The City Series: Fredericton 
(ed. Rebecca Salazar, Frog Hollow, 2015)  
(Photo by Kourosh Keshiri)

Friday 18 September 2015

Mallarmé’s Hand

Jack Hanson reminds us that Stéphane Mallarmé's effect on English-language poetry was, and is, profound:
Broadly speaking, Mallarmé’s influence in Anglophone poetry cuts two ways. The first and most prominent is the heritage of the Symbolists, a combination of religious and philosophical preoccupations with a deep concern for musicality and rhythm. The latter of these is in part what makes Mallarmé so difficult to translate. The nearest English equivalent to my mind is Wallace Stevens, a poet whose work is in constant conversation with his French predecessor. (Consider the task of translating even Stevens’ most famous poems, such as the “Emperor of Ice Cream,” which opens, “Call the roller of big cigars, / The muscular one, and bid him whip / In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.”) Through the American Modernist quadrumvirate of Stevens, Frost (with his insistence on the “sound of sense”), Pound, and Eliot (though, true to form, he cited the more obscure Jules La Forgue as a decisive influence), Mallarmé’s hand can be seen in all of what might be called “mainstream” poetry of the 20th century.

The other strain of Mallarmé’s influence comes down through the more experimental line in Modern poetry, from Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams to such diverse practitioners as Surrealists like André Breton, the Language poets, and, in our own time, the nascent movement of digital and computer-generated poetry. This loosely defined nexus of formally and conceptually experimental poets, who often relate intensely in their work with other art forms, can be traced directly to Mallarmé’s final work, Un coup des Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard.

Genuine Primitive

Jeffery Donaldson admits his early ambivalence about John Thompson's poetry:
I’ve been slow, lazy even, in coming to Thompson’s work. I felt I understood his place in the big picture. He was gathering up the energies of the Poundian Imagist and Vorticist movements from the teens and twenties, shaping a hybrid sixties expression of them in familiar nature poems that were complicated by cryptic psychological interventions. The quintessential Canadian themes were there: bone, wood, axe, hammer, chopping, digging, the underground root, the buried specimen. It is the work of a genuine primitive looking to build simple sustaining structures out of the materials of nature. I felt I understood the experiment: the poems were an exploration of the spare style (“laconic, controlled, percussive,” is Sanger’s excellent formula) leaning in the direction of the private, enigmatic, and recondite. I was stuck between feeling that his poems were either too hard or too easy, that I didn’t have the patience for either, and didn’t in any case know how to decide.
He seems to have come around—a little:
It may be that Thompson left us the best key to his poems in the title of his first book, At the Edge of the Chopping There are No Secrets. Thompson tried to work at the edge of the chopping, to find a way of getting words to say something that they weren’t already going to say. To chop away at their own underbrush, make new clearings. Poems that cut and split and pile: breakings-off, severances; out of it, a whole assembling. What is rightness but that feeling of astonishment when the axe falls keenly, just so?
(Photograph by Thaddeus Holownia of the Jolicure woods, site of John Thompson's former home)

Alphabetic Instability

Kaie Kellough, who creates complex verbal soundscapes with his voice, explains his fascination with the alphabet:
i like that the alphabet is a linear 26-step sequence that we have all so deeply internalized (digested?) that reciting it happens naturally, as effortlessly and thoughtlessly as a biological process. consequently, when that sequence is ruptured, or parts of it are rearranged, when suddenly the recitation halts as it advances and riffs backward, or sounds the letters out of their “natural” order but in a way that is much unlike spelling, and that doesn’t in fact spell anything, the effect on the person hearing that rupture/recitation can be very profound. it can reach to the core of a person’s relationship to language, and i think that that level of human engagement, through language, is one of the reasons why we produce poetry and is one of the aims of poetry. and this is further interesting to me because it tells me that any similarly profound engagement with language might require—or at least can be achieved by—destabilizing the familiar structures and mechanisms of language. creating a climate of systemic alphabetic instability…

Sunday 13 September 2015

Sunday Poem

The only thing left to deal with is our addiction to being killed by monsters.
What was all the hating over?
Christmas sneaks up like a rusty train.
Sit still and see if you can feel your cerebrospinal fluid pulsing.
Thoughts get in deep like drains and infections.
Sky isn’t just air anymore.
What if you die before the next Star Wars comes out?
Slush crunches like knuckles on day six.
Children imagine that at night their toys come to death and have tea parties.
We cling to our most useless things like grudges.
Solar powered forgetfulness.
Our habits are dollar stores that sell us our own plastic shit.
What if sickness is the only homunculus?
A tether runs from each free man to the satellite watching him.
Vaccines hang in their ampoules and dream of escape.
If there’s one lesson life has taught us all it’s to not don’t be a rock star.
Leaf through The Divine Sitcomedy.
Stats show SubQ RFID chips increase the frequency of worker implants.
A closet filled with wedding dresses filed in ascending size.
Which towel should I use if the hypothetical mess I need to clean is blood?
The mind can be a couch or the space under it and still come up with the same thing.
Artificial intelligence is a framed doctorate diploma.
The angry woman has her own reasons as well as her mother’s.
Beauty is a bunch of organized holes in the face.
I need to stop buying beer so I save enough money to do the things I want like buy beer.
Hang on a moment while I look at photos of this new spider.
Blowjobs are the Rome of everything after Rome.
Only desperate people actually believe they’ll be better by Thursday.
I’ve lost track of what favourite even means.
Smooth jazz is God’s peristaltic grumble.
What if we are flown like kites from a ground beyond the grave?
Restart the stop-time of this moment with trumpet blat and a James Brown scream.
Vice screws itself tight around your head.
The end happens when the poisons reach the children.
Wallpaper everything with Ebola maps.
How many times do I have to tell Paul Celan I’m sorry?
Joy lasts as long as distraction.
Listen to the background hum of the dishwasher.
What will happen when Santa figures out how to spread our sins among the whole family?
Everyone is one measure or another away from jackass.
This year I’m giving the gift of shutting the fuck up.
From Diversion (ECW, 2015) by George Murray

Monday 7 September 2015

Memory of a Stanza

Dahlia Lithwick—who, as a student, was forced to commit to memory sections of MacbethThe Tempest and Hamletdefends learning poems by heart, despite how useless the task may appear at first:
I am not that old, but I fear that I couldn’t memorize another poem for love or money or a guaranteed A anymore. I can barely memorize my Facebook password. But I do know that at more than one turn in my life, I have stumbled backward into a memory of a stanza or a phrase that suddenly made the moment briefly beautiful, and connected, and deep. And that the dogged memorization of hateful poems, which sucked mightily at the time, later became the template for sorting the serious from the silly, before we knew what silliness really was.

Ghastly Bosh

As part of a North American speaking tour, Oscar Wilde gave a talk in San Francisco on March 27, 1882. In the audience was Ambrose Bierce, well-known as a biting—and cruel—satirist. Bierce wasn't impressed by what he heard and, five days later, published an attack on Wilde in the magazine The Wasp
That sovereign of insufferables, Oscar Wilde has ensued with his opulence of twaddle and his penury of sense. He has mounted his hind legs and blown crass vapidities through the bowel of his neck, to the capital edification of circumjacent fools and foolesses, fooling with their foolers. He has tossed off the top of his head and uttered himself in copious overflows of ghastly bosh. The ineffable dunce has nothing to say and says it—says it with a liberal embellishment of bad delivery, embroidering it with reasonless vulgarities of attitude, gesture and attire. There never was an impostor so hateful, a blockhead so stupid, a crank so variously and offensively daft.

Sunday 6 September 2015

Sunday Poem

I open the door to find a storm.
Twenty rooks busy at worms
abandon the green hillside and disappear

in the branches. Even animals who know
their place in the system will hide.
Leaving the trees, they reach

dissonant suspense. It’s a long overture.
With no help from their elders,
they beat their wings and squawk.

Most animals and clouds choose to live
in a thunderstorm with their familiars.
No story I could tell you about

them would do justice.
Still, it’s in our nature to ask them
to repeat their gestures. Birds, clouds,

and other vulnerables
flutter in the wordless present.
Any moment now, they’ll break

character. They teach me how
to behave. I have no double.
They don’t say a thing. 

By Nyla Matuk, from New Poetries VI (ed. Michael Schmidt and Helen Tookey, Carcanet)