The Spoils: September 2012

Rather like National Poetry Month this year, I bought only a single title during “Book Fair Month.” But what a book:

Clicking on the picture takes you to the publisher’s page, which links to several reviews and interviews that don’t include the following:

  1. Eliza Gabbert’s blog entry, who identifies the speaker in the book as “a delusional loser who drinks Natty Lite and plays video games”
  2. the Frontier Psychiatrist interview with Magers where he talks about the persona, what he really feels about Billy Collins, and other matters
  3. a conversation between Magers and Farrah Field where, among other things, they draw up the formula CHAOS + LYRIC = ACCESSIBLE EXPERIMENTATION
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Man on the Dump 2

Because I need to start closing tabs on my Web browser:

  1. Benjamin Friedlander‘s One Hundred Etudes and Citizen Cain (Friedlander interviewed by Nada Gordon)
  2. Bryan D. Dietrich’s “Gotham Wanes,” Chad Parmenter‘s Bat & Man: A Sonnet Comic Book, and Stephen Burt’s essay “Poems about Superheroes.” Samples of Parmenter’s work, though not all are sonnets:
    1. “Batman Leaves a Sonnet on Selina Kyle’s Voicemail”
    2. “Batman in the Garden of Eden”
    3. “Batman vs. Osiris”
    4. “Batman in Mr. Freeze’s Glacierworks”
    5. “Batman’s Closing Time”
  3. “These Great Sentinels” by Geoffrey Nutter is a contemporary nature poem I like. And yes, I initially thought it was about these Sentinels.
  4. Caryl Pagel’s Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death
  5. notes on Umberto Eco’s “Dreaming of the Middle Ages” and “Living in the New Middle Ages”
  6. “To Be Not Stupid” (great title) by Amy De’Ath (great name) from her collection Caribou (great song). Earlier collection: Erec & Enide.
  7. Susan Schultz’s “Memory Cards: Oppen Series” (prose poems that begin with a phrase from George Oppen’s New Collected Poems)
  8. I actually first came across Oppen’s “lyric valuables” through Hank Lazer. Here’s a review of his essay collection Lyric & Spirit.
  9. excerpt from Andrew Mossin’s Drafts of Shelley
  10. A blog entry displaying a collection of vinyl from Dischord Records.

The Spoils: June 2012

  1. American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics, edited by Claudia Rankine and Lisa Sewell (reviewed here and here)
  2. American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language, edited by Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr (reviewed here)
  3. He Do The Gay Man In Different Voices by Stephen S. Mills
  4. Isn’t It Romantic: 100 Love Poems by Younger American Poets, edited by Brett Fletcher Lauer and Aimee Kelly (reviewed here)
  5. Love-in-Idleness by Christopher Hennessy (poet interviewed here; reviewed here, here, here, and here)
  6. Mentor and Muse: Essays from Poets to Poets, edited by Blas Falconer, Beth Martinelli, and Helena Mesa (interview with Falconer about the book here)
  7. My Imaginary by Laura Madeline Wiseman (audio recordings here)
  8. Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook, edited by Joshua Marie Wilkinson (sample quotes here, eight full essays available here, reviews here and here)

Peter Gizzi

Peter Gizzi‘s name mentioned in a meeting I had with my thesis adviser (hi, sir!): did it really happen, or did I just imagine it?

Can’t verify with a brain still fried from grading final requirements, but if my adviser did mention Gizzi, asking me if I knew the poet, I’m pretty sure I would have said, “Yes, I’ve read some of Gizzi’s poems here and there, but I mostly know him for having co-edited the collected Jack Spicer.”

Kevin Killian, the other editor of My Vocabulary Did This To Me, seems, to me, a “louder” and more outrageous figure. He’s long had my attention with two collections of poetry, one of which is centered on Kylie Minogue and the other on Dario Argento.

Still, Peter Gizzi seems to have been humming in the background all this time.  Humming like a current of electricity, humming like an undercurrent of song. To whit:

“Poetry At The Threshold: Peter Gizzi Interviewed By Ben Lerner”:

Singing is a perilous business. What does it mean to be next to oneself, seeing and/or singing one’s self in time as a rhetorical figure, disembodied and refigured as an embodied line of verse? To be spoken not just in the act of writing, but to be spoken and present and remain intimately embodied in some posthumous time as well—to accept this haunted occupation of poetry?

Publisher’s copy: “The poems in Threshold Songs tune us to the microtonal music of speaking and being spoken.” [emphasis mine]

Aside from some great comments about punk (” I can hear Dickinson’s spiky, haunted, rebellious, and eerie tunes as punk” and “What’s “punk” in all this is the DIY reality of the homemade, the raw voice, with its asymmetries, its reaching, and its limits,” to cite just two) , the BOMBLOG interview with Gizzi also has him say

I think of poetry always as a territory and imagine sound as a sculptural element, in the sense of being held in an abstract or aural environment, as when one is listening to a piece of music. So it’s the same with the music of the poem, whether it be a kind of inspired talk or a richly coded lyrical run. It’s a sound, after all, and so you can return to your place in the world, or better yet, discover your place in the world, within the music of the poem, and that only happens in the act of listening. It’s dynamic. It clears a path for me to go deeper into my own interiority and to light every corridor and chamber and discover what’s there.

From the older jubilat interview with Gizzi:

  • “I like the word bewilderment because it has both be and wild in it, and I can imagine also wilderness inside it as well.”
  • “Again, I’m not only interested in a history of the lyric but in a more ontologically complex reality of lyric history.”

And still further back to 1998, Burning Deck’s publication of Gizzi’s Artificial Heart is accompanied by the following remarks, which seem to me a good description of what I’m trying to do in my own work:

Formally the collection is a sampling of lyric history from the troubadours to post- industrial punk: it sustains the haunting quality of a song heard from a distance, overlayed with playground noise, lovers’ oaths and cries of loss.

From the Rain Taxi review of Artificial Heart:

One telltale aspect of Gizzi’s heart is his love of music. This shines, surely, in the content of the poems: “New Picnic Time” is named for a Pere Ubu album, and “Fear of Music” after one by Talking Heads; both poems “sample” the lyrics of these band’s songwriters in seamless and engaging ways, turning their punk postmodernism to his more archly crafted ends. But more importantly, Gizzi’s impeccable sense of line and of stanza create a fine and delicate music throughout.

Gizzi’s gorgeous musicality marries his abstractly conjured imagery in a wedding of non-linear bliss, once again demonstrating that the heart of poetry, artificial though it may be, veers away from sense and always toward beauty.

Marjorie Perloff’s review of Artificial Heart has her talking about “a tantalizing new lyric mode” in Gizzi’s post-Language poetics (is she really talking about the Third Way?!) and also has her invoking Hart Crane (who tends to critically “belong” to Harold Bloom) and saying:

…the notion throughout Artificial Heart that the lyric poet is once again writing trobar clus–the allusive, oblique, hermetic lyric of the troubadours–a poetry of secrecy.

Also: Perloff’s introduction to Young American Poets, also from 1998, has her talking about Gizzi and several other poets, including Cole Swensen, in the context of “an exciting moment for lyric poetry.”

Keats and Fancy, Lauterbach and Choice

From Stanley Plumly’s “Between Things: On The Ode,” an essay from Graywolf Press’s Radiant Lyre: Essays On Lyric Poetry (emphasis mine):

John Keats perfects the instrument of the ode and in doing so creates the modern lyric, the poem that both acts out and contemplates itself–“the form of lyric debate that moves actively toward drama,” as Walter Jackson Bate puts it in his great critical biography of Keats. By drama I think Bate means literally a form of theater–a soliloquy perhaps, but more likely an internal dialogue with self involving a third thing: a bird, a goddess, a Grecian urn–a distracting object*.    …

What happens in Keats is that he takes the assumed energy and capacity of the mind and heart of the classic ode and refocuses its appeal to structure, balance, and gesture toward something more like texture, compression, reiteration. Keats fills out–or fills in–density; he transcends structure through the senses. As if structure were invisible, “form transparent before its subject,” as Bate puts it. The length of the ode in Keats is in its depth, its richness, its thickness, its concentration. Keats, in his way, invents the vertical reading of poetry, its interiority of music and meditation. (114-115)

From a discussion of Coleridge on fancy from “The Introduction Of Fancy Into Hopkins’ Poetry” (emphasis mine):

Coleridge sets imagination and the human subject above fancy and the object in Chapter 13 of Biographia Literaria. While imagination concerns the active mind, will and reason to fuse the object, fancy concerns the fixity of the object and understanding:

‘Fancy, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; and blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE‘. ( BL I 305)

Ann Lauterbach on art and choice:

All artworks are, at the most basic level, simply an accrual of relationships that are the result of choices: this, not that

When we are moved by an aesthetic object, a poem or a piece of music or a painting, we experience a dual gladness: that the artist has made these choices and, by extension and analogy, that we, too, are capable of making choices…

Art serves no practical purpose, but to engage with it fully is to acknowledge the (pleasurable, if often difficult) consequences of choice at the crux of human agency. I want to suggest that artworks can disrupt the degradation of choice as the site of, and synonymous with, commodification (consumer preference) and (re)align it with the rewards of independent determinations of value—processes of aesthetic discernment and critique seen as part of a continuum across individual, social, political terrain. Choice confined to the marketplace endangers the very core of participatory democratic processes. (7)

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

In The Beginning: Questions

Two years ago, on the first day of the first graduate-level poetry workshop I ever attended, my teacher asked us to bring copies of a poem we liked. This was, I imagine, designed to be both an assignment and an icebreaker, perhaps even an introduction. For the next few days, I kept several poems in mind and tried to decide between them. At that time, this included the following:

In the end, I copped out and chose not one, but two: the Stevens and the title poem from Harvey’s collection. My teacher didn’t care much for the latter but vigorously discussed many of the formal devices Stevens employs in “High-Toned.” Afterwards, however, he warned me of the tendency in Stevens’s poetry to exclude the reader, which became one of the many ideas I wrestled with that semester as I wrote my poems and submitted them for critique during the workshops.

(To be honest, I can’t remember the word my teacher actually used to describe Stevens’s writing; I often think it was “arrogant” or “aloof,” but there are times when I feel it could be something else like “snobbish.” A year later, I would remember his point but not the word he used, when I read Louise Gluck’s “Invitation And Exclusion,” the essay in Proofs And Theories where she describes how her early “encounter with Stevens was shattering (114),” because reading his work made her feel “superfluous, part of some marginal throng (115).” By that time, I had learned to simultaneously heed and ignore the warning; though I somewhat understand where Gluck is coming from when she characterizes Stevens’s work as such, I admit to loving his poetry precisely for that very quality.)


The other question my teacher asked that first day was just as confusing: “How do you reconcile choosing Stevens and Harvey?” I was puzzled for several reasons. After all, as someone who loves listening to both “So What” by Miles Davis and, er, “So What” by Anti-Nowhere League, I considered the differences between Stevens and Harvey to be much less irreconcilable than that.

More to the point, while Stevens’s lyricism and Romanticism, not to mention his frequent use of blank verse, can make him seem arguably more conventional than, say, Pound (“break[ing] the pentameter” was Pound’s “first heave” but Stevens doesn’t seem so interested in that project) or Eliot, the indulgence in wordplay and musicality makes many of Stevens’s poems approach, limit-like, the point of nonsense.

In “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman,” it’s obvious in bits like “tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,” but many of the other lines make their sense through sound: “like windy citherns hankering for hymns,” the last two lines of the poem, and many others seem to me to form the “jovial hullabaloo among the spheres” which is the poem itself. It’s a play of sound without being nonsense, and neither is Harvey, despite how skittery the latter (and even the former) seems to, say, Tony Hoagland.

I still like those two poems I’ve chosen, although, when another teacher in another poetry workshop I took one year later gave the same assignment, I chose a different one: Ann Lauterbach’s “Rancor Of The Empirical,” which I consider a little Stevensian in theme and language. It has since become my “totem poem,” although I did have a runner-up: Chad Davidson’s “Cockroaches: Ars Poetica.”