The Spoils: February 2012

I didn’t realize I forgot to post the list of books I bought last month. Seven more books bought in February brings the year’s total so far to twelve. Still a “very good number,” I think; I’m still adding to my shelves but “responsibly,” with minimal spree spending.

  1. My Vocabulary Did This To MeThe Collected Poetry Of Jack Spicer
  2. Necessary Stranger by Graham Foust (click click click)
  3. A Mouth In California by Graham Foust
  4. Trance Archive: New And Selected Poems by Andrew Joron
  5. Madoc: A Mystery by Paul Muldoon
  6. The Waste Land And Other Poems by John Beer
  7. The Errancy by Jorie Graham

This month, I think I’ll be buying several Oxford’s World Classics, including but not limited to the “Major Works” volumes of HopkinsKeats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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Link Roundup: Weil, Wordplay, Dark Hopkins

After that mad rush of a previous entry, I’m going to take a breather before thinking my way through Jack Spicer’s “A Lecture On Practical Aesthetics.” For now, a link roundup showing some (other) recent preoccupations.

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SIMONE WEIL AND POETRY

First up is a blog entry that contains in its entirety James Lindroth’s 1987 essay “Simone Weil And Wallace Stevens: The Notion Of Decreation As Subtext In ‘An Ordinary Evening In New Haven’.”

I’ve yet to go through it fully since I severely lack context: I’ve never read Stevens’s essays from The Necessary Angel (an unforgivable insight, I know!), and my only encounter with Simone Weil is how she figures in Anne Carson’s Decreation (another review here).

Speaking of oversight, that’s the only Anne Carson book I’ve read. I’m somewhat interested in the way she uses Keats in The Beauty Of The Husband and her exploration of the theme of desire in Eros The Bittersweet, but I’ve yet to buy copies of those.

While looking through reviews of Decreation to use as a hyperlink, I found a critical review-essay on Carson’s book and Jorie Graham’s Overlord that also uses Weil’s notion of decreation through Stevens’s treatment of the idea: “Prayers To An Absent God: The Poetic Revealings Of Simone Weil.”

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PARONOMASIA, PUNS, AND WORDPLAY

Wordplay was not only how I rediscovered Stevens; it’s also a recurring device in the kind of poetry I’ve been writing for my MA, for better or for worse. (Someday, I’ll talk about how Northrop Frye’s “Charms And Riddles” works for the writing I do.)

Eleanor Cook has appeared here before, particularly for her work on, yes!, riddles, so it was a thrill to have discovered these essays yesterday, especially because of all the responses that followed:

  1. Cook, Eleanor. “From Etymology to Paronomasia: Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, and Others”
  2. Hecht, Anthony. “In Reply to Eleanor Cook, ‘From Etymology to Paronomasia'”
  3. Vaught Brogan, Jacqueline. “From Paronomasia to Politics in the Poetry of Stevens and Bishop: A Response to Eleanor Cook”
  4. Rosu, Anca. “In the Line of Wit: A Response to Eleanor Cook”
  5. Bahti, Timothy. “Palm Reading (A Response to Eleanor Cook)”
  6. Hollander, John. “A Note on Eleanor Cook, ‘From Etymology to Paronomasia'”
  7. Cook, Eleanor. “Paronomasia Once More”

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HOPKINS: DARK, TERRIBLE, DESOLATE

Although I love to read “The Windhover” aloud like Kwame Dawes, I’m pretty much a Hopkins n00b. While reading “The Introduction Of Fancy Into Hopkins’ Poetry” (an essential resource for my thesis), I noticed a reference at the bottom of the page to his “dark sonnets.” A couple of search results later, I learned he wrote these “Dublin sonnets” from 1885-1886.

Since I’ve just read “Spelt From Sibyl’s Leaves” for the first time, after I read about it in Cook’s article, and so was still reeling from the deliriously wonderful poem Hopkins once called “the longest sonnet in the English language,” I’m going to link to those sonnets Hopkins wrote during what seems, by all accounts, a dark night of the soul:

  1. “To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life”
  2. “I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day”
  3. “No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief”
  4. “My own heart let me have more have pity on; let”
  5. “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;”
  6. “Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray”

Yes, those are their respective first lines, even if the next-to-last poem is already commonly referred to as “Carrion Comfort.” I’m going to read them later, ALOUD.

Finally: Jorie Graham

After years of reading whatever I can find online by and about Jorie Graham and making do with what few poems by her I have in this or that anthology, I finally bought a copy of her now-15-year-old collection The Errancy yesterday. I’m surprised it’s taken me this far, given how I echo her twin interests in philosophy and film studies.

Although I’m not sure how The Errancy ranks with her other books, I was won over by reviews that mention Lacan and Deleuze, that listen to Graham’s “heady, improvisational music” and “accretionary syntax,” and that cite bits from her “mutated love poems.” It also helped that I’m preoccupied with errors, secrets, and lies–all those different ways one swerves away from capital-T Truth–and the very title of The Errancy certainly points to that.

(I should also mention that Emily Galvin, Graham’s daughter with James Galvin, has published her own collection with a strong basis in mathematics, also an interest of mine, poetically speaking. I think I should read James Galvin’s work sometime, just to complete this little family circle.)

I’ve posted a link to this interview before, pointing out Graham’s remarks about Michael Palmer, but this time, I think I’d like to paste the relevant excerpt here, as a reminder to myself about the work I’m (supposed to be) doing (all emphases mine):

keeping the song alive is keeping alive a world in which song is possible. You have to keep hope alive. Any kind of truth you might arrive at that hasn’t contended with hope is going to be very partial. [pause] Michael Palmer is very interesting in that regard. He has extraordinary music. I think he’s learned better than anyone the Stevens trick of making the poem disintegrate on the surface but stay totally alive musically. To me he’s very important in that regard. The way he uses repetition. The particular way he will bring certain images back without that turning into structure. Pure desire kept alive in the act of writing by the way fragments recur.

I also like how Graham talking about silence (“Making the silence come awake in the poem is important to my process. The silence – or anything else that resists the impulse to imagine, own, transform.”) leads her to a really brilliant disquisition on her use of the poetic line, one where I’m hard-put to emphasize any idea as more important than another:

…lines of breath-length, say, lines that contain up to five stresses, sometimes feel to me like measures that make that silence feel safe. A silence that will stay at bay for as long as it takes to get the thing said. Writing in lines that are longer than that, because they are really unsayable or ungraspable in one breath unit for the most part (and since our desire is to grasp them in one breath unit) causes us to read the line very quickly. And the minute you have that kind of a rush in the line (emphasized perhaps by the absence of commas and other interpretive elements) what you have is a very different relationship with the silence: one that makes it aggressive – or at least oceanic – something that won’t stay at bay. You have fear in the rush that can perhaps cause you to hear the fearful in what is rushed against.

What you feel – this is Romantic of course – is the pressure of a silence that might not wait until the end of the line to override you. And so you have to rush those words into it. In this new book, I’m writing mostly in traditional lines again, with less counterpoint from such prose-length units. But the calm assurance of the standard English line has always interested and troubled me. In Erosion, the line-length tended to be much smaller than the norm. The voice in that book was, in fact, so aware of the overriding presence of the white space that it just tried to mash words into that space. With great pressure. To create the sensation of that gravitational weight. Sternness. Solemnity. As if to build cell by cell a fabric that could take the weight of eternity into it – like human tissue.

And here’s a bit from a poem that isn’t in The Errancy but in a later collection called Never. It moved me this morning when I read it, out of the context of the entire poem:

from the 2002 collection Never

from "The Taken-Down God" by Jorie Graham

Jorie Graham On The Region Of Unlikeliness

In this excerpt from a 2003 interview with Jorie Graham that appeared in The Paris Review, she talks about several of my preoccupations–autobiography, parenthood, lineation, philosophy in poetry, addressing the reader, confession, etc–and how they played out in her collection Region Of Unlikeliness:

INTERVIEWER

In Region—after using works of art, then myth, in the previous books—you turn to autobiography. The poems were all your own stories, at that point. Why was that?

GRAHAM

Perhaps because once you’re a parent, you enter into a completely different relationship to time. History becomes dominant, and then, perhaps, personal history becomes dominant. You are suddenly at that point where facts—both the facts that your child is learning, and the facts of your life your child wants to know, needs to know—become important. You become a bit of story that needs to be told.

INTERVIEWER

The lines in these poems are shorter. Why?

GRAHAM

Many things made the line shorter. Once you begin talking from the position of being a social creature, you go back to the line in which social discourse takes place, the pentameter. It’s a more exterior line, which, since Shakespeare, we associate with people speaking to one another. On either side of it stand more unspeakable lines—longer lines for the visionary; shorter and more symmetrical ones for song, spell, hymn; and shorter yet for the barely utterable, the shriek, the epitaph.

INTERVIEWER

And the second line?

GRAHAM

The indented line became a very useful place to negotiate and control the music of the poem. I was still very interested in the sentence, in the kinds of energies the sentence awakens—desire for closure, desire for suspension of closure, desire for simultaneity in a stream of temporal action that defies simultaneity. I guess I still am. For example, what happens along the way of the sentence that you’re in the process of undertaking, the thing you can’t put alongside but that has to actually happen in the sentence as a “dependent” phrase? If you’re telling the story of your life, in a way, or if you’ve gone back to autobiography or history, you’re in a place where sentence-making is connected to time, as opposed to those epiphanic escapes from time which would employ a different kind of syntax—in Erosion for example.

INTERVIEWER

So, the indented line . . .?

GRAHAM

The indented line allows you to modulate the sentence and keep it capable of carrying so much without collapsing. It’s all a matter of freight carried to speed of carriage, to mangle Frost’s quote. It gave me a kind of lift—and three musical units: the full line; a shorter fragmentary line that condenses stresses on very few words (often words that would never carry a stress—prepositions, articles, conjunctions) words that if stressed truly alter the nature of what the actual inquiry of the poem is; and the “landing,” the oftentimes single word on the left margin, which takes the strongest stress of all. Those “landing words” gave me a kind of propulsion that made a rather long poem continue to feel like a containable lyric utterance. I wanted to pack a lot into the lyric, but not go beyond its bounds. Some have written that I wanted to expand what the lyric could do. I just want the hugeness of experience—which includes philosophical discursiveness—to move at a rate of speed that kept it (because all within one unity of experience) emotional. Also, often, questions became the way the poems propelled themselves forward.

INTERVIEWER

And that does what to the reader?

GRAHAM

It brings the reader in as a listener to a confession? A poem is a private story, after all, no matter how apparently public. The reader is always overhearing a confession.

Tweet Lookup

When I hit Google with a search string from the tweets that appear on my timeline, it leads me to wonderful wonderful things. To wit:

Read Paul Celan’s entire poem here.

http://twitter.com/#!/MichelleMcGrane/status/111131540926365696

From the W.S. Merwin interview conducted here.

Palmer’s poem is at the bottom of this blog entry and Jorie Graham talks about Palmer and poetry in general here.

Man on the Dump

I don’t really like doing blog entries like these, but I’ve got more than seventy tabs open on my browser–excluding this one!–so I really need to unload some links here. This blatter of grackles certainly needs a place:

  1. The University of California Press has made a lot of their 1982-2004 publications available online. This link to the general list has Christopher Beach’s excellent ABC of Influence: Ezra Pound and the Remaking of American Poetic Tradition at the top. Unfortunately, not everything is accessible outside UC campuses; to cite one particular disappointment, Charles Olson’s Collected Prose is inaccessible where I am.
  2. If the first link was about digitizing books that first appeared in print, Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2 is digital literature from the get-go. It’s a resource so rich I almost feel like weeping at the site sight of it. There’s only one item there I’m familiar with, which I highly recommend: Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern’s compelling Façade. (From the 2006 archive, here’s “Star Wars, One Letter At A Time.”)
  3. I’ve already posted “Great Gatsbys” from Hark! A Vagrant on my Facebook wall, but here, I’ll throw in instead a three-part series derived from Nancy Drew covers. As someone who absolutely adores Kelly Link’s “The Girl Detective,” you can imagine how much I enjoyed cartoonist Karen Beaton’s work.
  4. I want to read Stephen Burt‘s Close Calls With Nonsense, but I’m very pleased that its title essay, which is about “how to read, and perhaps enjoy, very new poetry,” is available online. It should be said though that the online version is of 2004 vintage, so one needs to adjust one’s expectations with regard to the use of the term “very new poetry.”
  5. For another take on 20th-century poetry, which may still be applied to much of the work done now in our 21st century, here’s an essay I’ve always enjoyed reading: “Parentheses and Ambiguity in Poetry of the Twentieth Century.” Choice quote: “The parenthesis in poetry might be better termed ‘par-antithesis’ for it expresses, through being the private space for a poet’s thoughts, a tangential movement to the rest of the poem, even whilst being integrated in it.”
  6. Mary Ruefle’s “On Erasure” contains fresh takes on what is becoming a somewhat common though still marginalized approach to poetry, but she comes up with a fresh take that begins with an anecdote of mishearing, includes a distinction between writing a poem and making poetry, and a conclusion pointing to erasure as “part of our lives.” That sounds irredeemably cheesy, but her Fernando Pessoa epigraph hints at what she means: “Everything stated or expressed by man is a note in the margin of a completely erased text.” (That sounds almost Heidegerrian, doesn’t it? But then, I would think so.)
  7. Two from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, one of my favorite Web sites and certainly my favorite humor site: “Martha Ballard, Enlightenment-Era Midwife, Reviews Mötley Crüe, A Musical Group” and “Ten Excerpts From A Magazine Found At A Philly Gentlemen’s Club, Reformatted As Love Poems” are absolutely hilarious. (Here’s something even funnier: the autocorrect feature of PhraseExpress, an autotext utility installed on my computer, placed umlauts on “Mötley Crüe,” as is proper.)
  8. Poems about Freud: “In Memory of Sigmund Freud” is a typically moving elegy from W. H. Auden, while James Cummins’s “Freud” is a typically winking example of the contemporary sestina (Cummins also wrote a witty barb of a poem called “To Helen Vendler and Jorie Graham at Harvard” which targets Stevens scholarship). And then there’s Peter O’Leary’s “The Collected Poems of Sigmund Freud.”

(“Where was it one first heard of the truth? The the.”)

Five Online Essays

…whose tabs I’ve now closed on my browser, though I still have to read them:

  1. “Kristeva and Poetry as Shattered Signification” by Calvin Bedient
  2. Philosophical Aphorisms: Critical Encounters with Heidegger and Nietzsche by Daniel Fidel Ferrer
  3. “Zarathustra and the Children of Abraham” by James Luchte
  4. “The Wreckage of Stars: Nietzsche and the Ecstasy of Poetry” by James Luchte
  5. “Confessionalography: A GNAT (Grossly Non-Academic Talk) on the ‘I’ in Poetry” by Rachel Zucker