Sunday 31 January 2016

Sunday Poem

At the end of the road a hunter’s hut
boarded all summer, the fraying bush
backing against it, a ragged fringe
of beggar’s ticks, rust tassels, thorns,
and boulders pushed to the water’s edge
where the graders turned.
There was no one home. 
And no one in the water. Overhead
the white threads spidered from a jet
drifted across where the evening star
was not yet shining. 
What were the words I could not use,
the thoughts I could not think to say?
The white lake shook in the early dusk. 
Something was lost we were waiting for,
summer, perhaps, or snow.
By M. Travis Lane, from The Essential M. Travis Lane 
(ed. Shane Neilson, The Porcupine's Quill, 2015)

Sunday 24 January 2016

Sunday Poem

Getting in’s all in the wrist,
a steadfast pitcher’s grip
when you let drop
your instrument
of admittance: Visa, ID,
thin plastic jimmy swiped
down the fissure with
a satiating swish
like perforated paper’s
creased swift rip, or the fission
of insight almost missed. 
If flicked just so—
technique tricking
mechanism—you’ll knock
back the spring bolt
to hear its plosive
click. Next, the creaky hinge,
bird call of ingress,
light’s tilted L edging
an inched open door.
You’ve made it, in or through;
what’s inside you wish you knew.
By Danny Jacobs, from Loid (Frog Hollow Press, 2016)

Saturday 16 January 2016

C.D. Wright 1949-2016: Reax

David Biespiel:
C.D. Wright, who passed away this week at the age of 67, was always willing to confront the most savage and tender parts of American life—from the brutality of racism to the banality of death to the dangerous bravura of the erotic. Because she was a true original—a poet who sounded like no one else, framed her poems like no one else, called forth the psyche’s archetypes and addressed the most difficult civic issues like no one else—she is being mourned by those who reject the repetitiousness, and self-righteousness, of poetic fad. But because she chafed at the limitations of the late-twentieth-century American lyric poem of anecdote—a form she mastered and toyed with in her early books—she is also being mourned by those who strive to retool its most traditional elements: emotional urgency, narrative memory, and the sanctification of the singular poetic utterance. If you write poems in the United States today, your poems owe something to C.D. Wright’s vision. And yet she was one of those poets—like Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich—it’s dangerous to imitate.
Norman Boucher:
Wright published more than a dozen books, most of them collections of poetry. But she also wrote essays and collaborated on works, such as the 2003 One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, that are not so easy to classify. An inspiration, she said, was Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans, a book grounded in documentary photography and reporting that was transformed by Agee’s passion into a searching and intimate prose poem about human struggle and social injustice. Like Agee, a fellow Southerner, Wright’s poetry and prose were firmly grounded in language and poetics but also incorporated reportage, sociological field work, and Wright’s seemingly endless capacity for empathy. “I draw on a mash of other disciplines to make it authentic,” she told the BAM in 2011.
Craig Morgan Teicher:
She was a believer in Emily Dickinson's mandate to "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." Though by "slant," both Dickinson and Wright meant something other than the kind of bias that word summons now. They advocate looking at the world from viewpoints and angles most people don't choose: Dickinson gets her eyes right into the grass to see her "narrow fellow," and Wright, too, walks right up to her subjects — such as the men and women in Louisiana prisons whose voices she channels in her masterful One Big Self (a collaboration with the photographer Deborah Luster) as well as civil rights activists in One With Others — and asks them to speak clearly into her poems.
Rich Smith:
A fellow poet-friend of mine who told me the news of Wright's death directed me to an essay Wright had written about odes, entitled, "The New American Ode." It's so smart and instructive, indicative of her own form of praise. Her ability to select the most memorable thing someone said is represented here, as is her ability to create many of her own memorable phrases. Until reading this piece, I had no idea that she was the creator of the definition for an ode poem that I've been using for several years. She writes: "The ode celebrates an occasion or individual or more frequently an individual on an occasion." Ultimately, Wright was committed to the spirit of the ode—a praise poem "in full dress." In that spirit, on this occasion, let's praise her.
Ben Lerner:
Academics and reviewers and prize committees and various admirers have tried to pin C. D. down, typically with praise: a Southern poet “of place” (she probably hated that) or an erotic poet or a vanguard innovator or an elliptical or documentarian poet, etc. Such descriptions are both briefly true and ultimately insufficient, because she was one of the most formally restless and ambitious writers in the language. Even categorizing her as uncategorizable is too easy: she was part of a line of mavericks and contrarians who struggled to keep the language particular in times of ever-encroaching standardization. I think of the messy genius of James Agee and Mary Austin as two possible antecedents for her genre-bending, lyrically charged, often outraged and outrageous American English.

Read her poem "Our Dust."
Read her poem "Morning Star"

Thursday 14 January 2016

Good Mimic

Charles Baxter recalls one of Larry Levis' little discussed gifts:
Very, very few poets are good mimics, but Larry had a great ear for it, and one of his parlor tricks was to recite the monologue of the replicant at the conclusion ofBlade Runner (spoken by Rutger Hauer), using the voice-mannerisms of the well-known poets of the day. “I’ve… seen things… you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion,” Larry would recite, first in the voice of Donald Justice, then in the voice of Richard Howard. Then he took requests. You name it (or him, or her), Larry could do it. I’m afraid that I came close to falling to the floor, laughing.

Sunday 3 January 2016

10 Most Popular Sunday Poems from 2015

  1. "Armadillo" by Ben Ladouceur 
  2. "The Book of Materials" by Jeff Latosik 
  3. "Longings Brittle as the Crooked" by Chad Campbell
  4. "This Little Piggy" by Katie Fewster-Yan
  5. From "Arrondissements" by Daryl Hine
  6. "Half" by Michael Prior
  7. "Mermaid" by Alessandra Naccarato
  8. "By Way of Explanation" by Raoul Fernandes
  9. "The Wound" by Zachariah Wells  
  10. "Aschenbach in Toronto" by Don Coles
 (Buildings in Winter by Martha Markowsky)

School of Quietude

If you want to win an argument, says Kim Fu, don't write a poem:
Poetry is a difficult medium for argumentation—to explicitly try to make a rhetorical point, change people’s minds, or convey information. I find the “argument” often sneaks up on you, by first engaging you in a different way, at an aesthetic or emotional level, or by journeying through a parallel or metaphor that seems far afield. It’s a strange, slow, trusting way to make a point. That can be especially refreshing in the polarized, 24-hour-news-cycle, internet-thinkpiece era, where everyone is constantly yelling at each other.

Saturday 2 January 2016

The Base of Poetry

Reviewing Helen Vendler's new collection of essays, The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar, Jack Hanson identifies one of the critic's core principles:
She moves as swiftly or as slowly as the material demands, locates the poet within a concrete tradition (elsewhere she compares Stevens’ bird to Keats’ nightingale), and touches always on what she refers to as the “base of poetry,” that is, emotion. Her request that the reader imagine herself living out a poem’s metaphor succinctly illustrates Vendler’s commitment to the belief that poetry, and art in general, spring forth from life, not as a political or even educational exercise, but as part of human experience, and that indispensable to enduring art is the reflection of life’s central concerns.
He also touches on her generosity:
She is at once willing to follow merit into poets whose work is, as she has said elsewhere, “uneven,” and also to rave, as an ostensibly “objective” critic or scholar (or even reviewer) might not. Where a Harold Bloom or a George Steiner (her most famous contemporaries and certainly her equals as readers of poetry, if not, in some cases, slight inferiors) might not devote much time to say, Hughes or Ginsberg, given the much bigger poetic fish to fry, Vendler digs in and finds worth where she can. It takes an unusually gifted reader, having once established Hughes as “not a major poet,” to go on to claim that his is a “poetics of announced reciprocity,” and spend pages on the several short, gnomic poems that exemplify this quality, which is so often passed over by the poet’s political disciples. It also takes an unusually enthusiastic and confident critic to engage in a long discussion of titles and their import, as she does for A.R. Ammons, whose canon, she writes, “to our grief, has now closed.” The heart wants what it wants, and what reader has not fallen in love with a poet?

The Hum of Prize-Culture Machinery

Adam Crothers reports back on a recent reading by Don Paterson:
‘Poetry readings aren’t gigs,’ Don Paterson corrects himself in the course of an anecdote; but as from-the-page poetry readings go, this feels gig-like before it even begins. Advertised as a night of ‘Sonnets and Songs’, the event is to feature Paterson performing on guitar as well as reading from his (largely) acclaimed 2015 collection 40 Sonnets. And before he enters the room, the modest setup of cables, pedals and amp waiting in the stage area of the low-lit room cannot but invoke the buzz of a music venue. When a roadie comes on with an electric guitar a couple of minutes before the event starts, the invocation is surely complete.

That roadie, though, is Faber poetry editor Matthew Hollis; the low-lit room is the event space of Faber’s Bloomsbury headquarters, with plenty of the publisher’s books, including pricey Faber Members editions, on sale; and if this is a gig, it’s fair to suggest that it’s a corporate one.

Paterson has his detractors: there are, for instance, parts of Cambridge where speaking a word in his favour is akin to spitting into your interlocutor’s soup, and coming from that town to London for this event I wonder how far the suspicions of various anti-Paterson friends and acquaintances might be confirmed by proceedings. The notion of a poetic ‘mainstream’ is silly, but, to indulge the term briefly, this event is a mainstream publisher’s promotion of a mainstream poet, and if it wants to defy expectations of status-quo box-checking it has work to do.

Hollis’s laudatory intro doesn’t help, although it tries to. Supposedly when Paterson’s first collection appeared in 1993 it shook up the ‘white, male, middle-class, Oxbridge-educated, mostly dead’ world of contemporary British poetry: this is far from persuasive, and not only because, as Paterson acknowledges, he’s not exactly none of those things, nor was he. And, frankly, looking around at the forty- or fifty-strong audience, one hardly has the impression that all of human life is here gathered. Such is the nature of a Monday-night Bloomsbury poetry reading, perhaps; but it does make the suggestion that Paterson is effectually anti-establishment seem rather shaky. When 40 Sonnets is described by Hollis as ‘career-making’, it might be countered that the attention paid to the book merely expands upon that paid to the two decades of preceding career; when it’s described as ‘forward-looking’, it’s hard not to hear ‘Forward-looking’ and the hum of prize-culture machinery.