Pleased to Meet You: Juliana Leslie

The joys of discovery! I’ve never heard of Juliana Leslie before I came across the following tweet from “Poetry’s Cross-Dressing Kingmaker” (I just love that)

Stephen Burt‘s recommendation didn’t disappoint. Clicking on the Everyday Genius link, I immediately fell in love with the first two lines of “Confluence,” the first of four poems by Leslie:

A patient feeling I heard you say
a patient mouth absorbs the spark of a secret train

Leslie writes great opening lines, and when I say “opening lines,” I don’t only mean this poem and the other three (“Softer More Radiant Signal,” “Two Ideas,” and “Two More Ideas in a Different Mode”). I’m talking about how all four “parts” of “Confluence” have great openings. And middles. And endings.

Let me correct myself then: Leslie writes opening great lines. More examples:

Actually, after reading the prose poems John Gallaher shares here, Leslie writes really beautifully, whether in lines or not. Rob McClennan’s review of Leslie’s debut collection offers more samples of her prose poems and lyrics, both short and long.

Now I’m itching to buy a copy of More Radiant Signal AND its follow-up, Green is for World, scheduled for release this November. In the meantime, I’m going to look for more of her poems online and will just leave you with this short video of her reading some poems.

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Poetic Discursiveness and Lineated Prose: Some Questions

Though his discussions of J.V. Cunningham’s “Epigram #1” from Doctor Drink and Frank Bidart’s “Golden State” in the essay aren’t bad, I find Robert Pinsky’s “Two Examples of Poetic Discursiveness” rather unconvincing on a conceptual level. I’m not sure I can do better and perhaps the problem’s with me when I fail to understand how he proceeds

  • from identifying the contradictory senses of “discursive” in how it “describes speech of writing which is wandering and disorganized” but “can also mean ‘explanatory’–pointed, organized around a setting-forth of material (133)”
  • to reconciling those opposites by referring to the figure of “motion over terrain…going through or going over one’s subject” (to which he adds, “Such a method tends to be inclusive; it tends to be the opposite of intuitive,” which confuses me partly because I’m not too clear about the relationship he makes between “inclusive” and “intuitive”)

And I can’t quite articulate why I’m so bugged when the preceding discussion finally leads him to describe “poetic discursiveness” as:

It is speech, organized by its meaning, avoiding the distances and complications of irony on one side and the ecstatic fusion of speaker, meaning and subject on the other. The idea is to have all the virtues of prose, in addition to those qualities and degrees of precision which can be called poetic (ibid).

When I think about it, perhaps this is rooted in differences between Pinsky’s poetic and mine. The promise I see when he asserts, “Much of the work of the so-called ‘New York poets’ could be described as mock-discursive (134)” is defused when he follows that with: “Moreover, much of the memorable writing by these poets seems to emerge when there is the least amount of ‘mock’ statement, the largest element of open discourse (ibid.).”

And I guess I also had some problems of expectation. I thought Pinsky would look at something that would illuminate, say, Zukofsky having been “moved by the fact” of how Stevens’s “music thruout has not been impaired by having philosophized (97).” I also thought Pinsky might address the common problem of poems that seem more like “lineated prose,” but that doesn’t happen either.

Now if I could do it, that is, if I could go through the subject matter of poetic discursivity, to, as it were, discourse on discursivity, I’d like to look into:

  1. John Ashbery’s “Definition of Blue”
  2. portions of Frank Bidart’s “Advice to the Players” and the whole of “Young Marx” (both found near the bottom of this page)
  3. Matthea Harvey’s “I Would Have Stayed,” which lineates the sentence from Giorgio Vasari that begins with “The vinedresser of the Belvedere having found a very strange lizard…”
  4. Butterflies, Lineated,” where Jeffrey Robinson lineates a phrase from one of Keats’s letters, with other examples of such “found poems” here

I’m one of those willing to quote “without irony” from the Ashbery poem, so I think I’m missing something when I read it, as I do, with a straight face. The same goes for the prose portions of Bidart’s “Advice to the Players. “Young Marx,” however, apart from “attribution of source” at the end, does gain something from the lineation, as does Harvey’s poem and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Robinson’s lineation of Keats.

So, once again, lineation, and what it does to syntax, especially the syntax of prose. It’s also a matter of diction as well, I suppose. The result is some kind of “discursive transformation,” I guess, but what kind? And more importantly for people who write poems, how?

Meditations on the Untimely: Thinking Through My Thesis

This morning: I checked out the newly-uploaded special issue of Screening the Past. It’s theme? “Untimely Cinema: Cinema Out of Time.”

Last Wednesday: I tweeted the following to get it out of my head and see how it grows:

Last weekend: I picked up my copy of Deleuze’s Wake: Tributes and Tributaries, this time to read the essay “Minor Writing and Minor Literature.” I’ve gone through bits of it before, enough to recall a remark near the beginning of the piece about how Deleuze’s “concept of minor literature has been of some use to students of postcolonial, ethnic, minority, and marginal literatures (63).”

I’m still reading it to see exactly what Bogue proposes as “some [of those] use[s]” in the hopes it can help me articulate my thoughts in response to some remarks made here. For now, I’m struck by Bogue’s description of how Deleuze writes his histories of philosophy almost like an extension of the spirit of Nietzchean Unzeitgemässe: 

Rather than offering a narrative of the development of ideas, arguments, positions, and so on, he describes the functioning of specific problems and sets them in resonance with one another through the unfolding of the problems proper to his own thought. In this manner, Deleuze creates his own precursors…and brings them into a kind of untimely, interactive coexistence within the problems he articulates. To the extent that Deleuze himself is successful in formulating genuine problems, his thought should disrupt conventional narratives of the history of philosophy, and his accounts of others’ thought should bring into existence an idiosyncratic, untimely network of precursors that constitutes an “antihistory” of his own thought.” (67-68, emphasis mine)

Because I haven’t read much by or even about Deleuze*, I can’t quite assess whether or not this is more Deleuzian than Bogueian, though I trust that it is and can be both. What’s more important for me right now is how, in many ways, this “antihistory” of “my own thought” is the approach I want/need to use for the critical essay of my thesis. As what should ultimately be a statement of poetics, I have fundamental difficulties getting there from my preoccupations with what can be called “discourses of newness.” Now, it seems clearer, if no less contentious or difficult:

What I need to do is an antihistory of my writing, at least those poems I’m including in my thesis.

* The only Deleuze I’ve read is “Literature and Life,” the essay Bogue cites as where “the larger theoretical assumptions that feed into the notion of minor literature…are neatly summarized” through its description of “the function of literature in terms of stuttering, becoming, fabulation, and visions/auditions (70).”

Also, though I’d like to say Ronald Bogue’s essays are engaging, I’m a little hesitant because this isn’t a book I’ve read straight from cover to cover. I leaf through it, going through its essay on death metal (!) or bumping into/against Bogue’s claim that “[a]ccording to Deleuze, the basic linguistic act is not the phoneme but the statement (énoncé), or speech act (110).”

Another time, I read “Deleuze, Foucault, and the Playful Fold of the Self” to give myself a chance to understand more than two pages of Deleuze’s book on Foucault, which I’ve owned for more than a decade already (excerpt here). I really want to understand the dynamic between Deleuze and Foucault. Maybe I can get another book, but I’m scared I might end up leaving that unread as well.

For now: thesis!

The Spoils: August 2012

  1. The Mooring of Starting Out: The First Five Books of Poetry by John Ashbery
  2. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination by Wallace Stevens
  3. Romanticism by April Bernard
  4. Savage Night by Jim Thompson
  5. Daydream Nation (33⅓:) by Matthew Stearns
  6. Rid of Me (33⅓:) by Kate Schatz

Is this my favorite Michael Robbins poem? It’s hard to say because I pretty much like all of them. But this is probably what I’d recommend to first-time readers, even if it’s the last poem in his collection.

This month for Poetry 365 we’re highlighting Michael Robbins’ defiantly inventive debut  Alien vs. Predator.  Described as “equal parts hip-hop, John Berryman, and capitalism seeking death and not finding it,” these 55 strange, darkly funny poems are as impressive for their formal precision as they are for their frenzied name checking of everyone from Auden, Frost, and Yeats to Nirvana, Star Wars, and M*A*S*H.  So check out this University of Chicago grad’s brave new collection, sample a poem below, and make sure to stop back next month for Poetry 365.

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