The Spoils: February 2013

Five titles from Birds LLC, who published Partyknife by Dan Magers, one of my favorite books published 2012 (the other is Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins):

  1. The Trees Around by Chris Tonelli
  2. Goat in the Snow by Emily Pettit
  3. The French Exit by Eliza Gabbert
  4. Either Way I’m Celebrating, poems and comics by Sommer Browning
  5. Kings of the F**king Sea, poems by Dan Boehl, images by Jonathan Marshall

So far, the only Birds LLC title I don’t have is the just-released Rise in the Fall, with poems by Ana Božičević and art by Bianca Stone. I’ll most likely order that when they also release The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather.

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The Spoils: October 2012

  1. A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (I’ve never really read this straight through, but this was cheap, and I liked the idea of having an old battered copy–it’s the eighteenth printing: I wonder how old this actual copy is)
  2. The Annotated Milton: Complete English Poems (my thesis adviser is big on Milton, and I’ve been meaning to get into Milton as well, given how important a figure he is; I just hope there aren’t too many other errors in this one, especially one as big  as “When I consider how my life is spent…” OH MAN)
  3. The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers (not just the first novel I bought in ages but also the first one I read and finished in around that time: my self-justification, apart from how it’s a cracking good story, was that I was doing research for my thesis since Keats, Byron and the Shelleys are in it)
  4. Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works (yes, at last I’ve bought this! I’ve mentioned Hopkins several times here, so I just want to link to commentaries on “The Windhover”: Mlinko’s study guide, pieces by Kwame Dawes and Carol Rumens, and this attempt at memorizing it)
  5. Shoulder Season by Ange Mlinko (reviews of the collection, poems by Mlinko, a critical essay on language acquisition, a conversation between her and Michael Robbins)

In some ways, especially with the first two, I feel like my October purchases have to do with poets I should have studied in school but didn’t.

Shabby-Old-Man Poetry, Etc.

This morning I woke up badly wanting to listen to Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman“–most likely triggered by its being the first of many wonderful tracks in the mind’s-ear-blowing playlist at the bottom of this fascinating piece on the “alternative scene” in 1990 Durban, South Africa.

Instead, I listened to “The Building” by the Mekons (and then the rest of the Lipstick Traces CD that accompanied one of my favorite books of all time, the same book Michael Robbins calls “the best book ever written about pop music”)–most likely because of how the experience in sound “O Superman” is seems to me to fit with the “sound poetry” that comprises the Lipstick Traces CD.

And then I remember discussions I’ve had with the friends I’ve made in the Creative Writing program I’m attending. Specifically, I remember talking about how my poems tend to contrast with those of my friend Shane, whose poems I feel are often intimate and quietly erotic whispering (although the two QLRS poems don’t quite demonstrate this as well as some others I’ve read).

My poems, however, I describe as the ravings of a madman on a street corner. Specifically, I’m thinking of what Greil Marcus calls in Lipstick Traces the “shabby old man with a tin whistle, standing in the rain trying to make himself heard (94)” a figure embodied in the desperation that seems about to destroy itself at the same time is is preserved in “The Building.”

Reading what Greil Marcus says about the song makes me feel both inspired and exhausted, reaching toward an ideal I can’t ever fulfill.

+++++

I’ve just discovered Brian Joseph Davis, whose most recent project is visual: The Composites, which are images of literary characters using “police sketch software.” I find that very exciting but not as much as his earlier sound-driven work, which includes a response to Marcus’s discussion of Theodor Adorno.

In Lipstick Traces, despite characterizing Adorno as “no doubt [understanding] the Sex Pistols as a return to Kristallnacht if he hadn’t been lucky enough to die in 1969 (72),” Marcus nevertheless asserts that “you can find punk between every other line of Minima Moralia (ibid.),” and that

After 1977, a spoken rant lp could have been made into an album called Big Ted Says No and it would have made perfect pop sense, and for that matter it did: listen to Metal Box by PiL, Johnny Rotten’s post-Sex Pistols band, read Minima Moralia as you listen, and see if you can tell where one leaves off and the other begins. (72-73)

Davis, in his words, “take[s] this pop wish and make[s] it come true” with four songs that use Adorno’s aphorisms as lyrics howled along to the backing of music from such songs as, say, Minor Threat’s self-titled song. Davis’s Minima Moralia is mentioned here, albeit all too briefly.

Davis’s other recordings include:

  1. Voice Over (a single track composed of 5000 movie taglines),
  2. a women’s chorale performing the End-User License Agreement on Sony/BMG’s notorious rootkit CD releases,
  3. 22 songs by the Carpenters played simultaneously as part of Greatest Hit,
  4. 10 Banned Albums Burned Then Played (from Stravinsky and Mahler to the Dead Kennedys and 2 Live Crew),
  5. passersby trying to remember the lyrics to the Beatles’ “Yesterday,”
  6. an Original Soundtrack of 20 television sets and DVD players playing the “endlessly looping musical cues” from DVD menus

The Spoils: April 2012

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I bought one book. That would be sad if that one book wasn’t:

the cover of Timothy Donnelly’s debut collection

It’s a great book though, even if I’m beginning to realize that I can’t read Timothy Donnelly‘s poetry straight through unlike, say, Graham Foust, John Beer, and Michael Robbins.

Anyway, Donnelly has gotten a lot of buzz, especially since the release of his second collection The Cloud Corporation a couple of years ago, so I’ll just link to an interview where he talks about what it was like “before he was famous” and this link has one poem and a short piece on what one might call his poetics, at least circa 2003, when Twenty-seven Props… was released.

Tony Harrison

Browsing through a copy of his Selected Poems at a bookstore the other evening, my attention was drawn to one of the poems in Tony Harrison‘s sequence The School Of Eloquence. The title caught my eye, the opening lines my ear. I started reading the poem under my breath and became so entranced I took pictures of the two pages that held “The Rhubarbarians.” Here’s how it begins:

Those glottals glugged like poured pop, each
rebarbative syllable, remembrancer, raise
‘mob’ rhubarb-rhubarb to a tribune’s speech
crossing the crackle as the hayricks blaze.

Unfortunately, the poem seems to be unavailable online, but these ones are:

“Long Distance II” is the only poem of his on the Academy Of American Poets (Harrison’s English, by the way, Leeds-born); he has none on the Poetry Foundation’s site, despite a rather lengthy biographical essay. It’s a surprisingly “clear” piece, as opposed to “The Rhubarbarians” and some of Harrison’s other poems.

His Poetry Archive page hosts four poems, including audio clips of Harrison reading them. He’s quite good, as are these poems themselves:

“Timer” deals with a dead mother, just like “Long Distance II,” but this one is a little more disturbing. It’s grim subject matter, but I strangely find it darkly comic somehow, and that adds to the effect of the poem on me. Also, the use of dialogue here, unlike the strictly monological speaker of “Long Distance II,” certainly adds layers.

“National Trust” pushes the darkness and the comedy further and adds a dose of social critique, at least on the surface, in the situation it presents of bottomless pits that are measured by lowering people into them. Harrison feels a scholar would do better than a prisoner in that regard! Something else going on here, however, adds to the poem’s depth (pun intended, unfortunately): several words in the poem refer to speaking (“hush-hush,” “dumb,” “holler,” “silenced,” “tongueless”) and there’s even a bit of Cornish (one of the dead Celtic languages, if I remember right). It certainly bears further scrutiny though I feel I must look up the references, even while the poem is enjoyable as it is.

“Initial Illumination” is the longest piece and it seems denser, even before taking its length into account. The image of the cormorant is a constant, though I’m not yet sure I fully understand the image. The poem  begins with two saints (monks?) I’m unfamiliar with: “Eadfrith the Saxon scribe/illuminator” and “Bilfrith the anchorite.” It ends in the present day, excoriating “the word of God much bandied by George Bush / whose word illuminated the midnight sky” with bombs, presumably. There’s a direct didacticism in the latter part of the poem that’s not so bad given the historical depth provided:

Now with the noonday headlights in Kuwait
and the burial of the blackened in Baghdad
let them remember, all those who celebrate,
that their good news is someone else’s bad

I was struck by something Michael Lista wrote in his review of Michael Robbins‘ Alien vs. Predator:

A typical Robbins poem (if there even is such a thing) borrows from Frederick Seidel the moral terror that formal rigour and rhyme can inspire. [emphasis mine]

It was an intriguing statement to make, but I wasn’t quite sure I understood what Lista was trying to say. That bit from “Initial Illumination” is helping clarify things though. There’s something almost simplistic about what those lines are trying to say, but the use of perfect rhyme to express it does lend it force. I don’t know if THAT’S an example of “moral terror,” but it certainly lends a certain type of “moral authority” to make that kind of statement.

“Book Ends” book-ends the Poetry Archive selection, dealing as it does with the same dead-mother situation as “Timer” (and “Long Distance II”), but focusing more on the lack of communication between the husband and the son left behind. Again, I’m not sure I fully get it, but I think there’s something being said here about class (education and socio-economic strata). “The ‘scholar’ me, you, worn out on poor pay,” the son-speaker tells his father, and it ends with

Back in our silences and sullen looks,
for all the Scotch we drink, what’s still between’s
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.

There’s a nice little bit in the poem, referring I’m imagining to the father’s habit of staring in silence at what seems to be a coal-fuelled grate heater, and the kitchen implied in the oven that “appears” when the poem begins with “Baked the day she suddenly dropped dead”:

Not as good for staring in, blue gas,
too regular each bud, each yellow spike.

This PDF contains three Harrison poems, “Timer” being one of them. The last poem, “Punchline” has a son speaking to a dead father. It’s a pretty striking piece. The first verse sets the social situation of limited options for “the Northern working class”:

No! Revolution never crossed your mind!
For the kids who never made it through the schools
the Northern working class escaped the grind
as boxers or comedians, or won the pools.

The second verse reveals the father “not lucky, no physique, too shy to joke” and so buying instead a second-hand ukelele, in the hopes of “escaping the grind.”  Unfortunately, hopes were dashed, only two chords were ever learned, and the father’s dreams of escape became a secret emblematized as a plectrum hidden awayin a “secret condom drawer.” When the son-speaker sees another old man playing a ukelele badly in the street at the end of the poem, on the very day he missed his father’s cremation, he simply holds on to his pocket change and looks away. Ah, the bitterness!

The other poem in that poem is a longer piece called Them and [uz].” I like this one for the way it alludes to “cockney Keats” through my favorite Keats poem (“Ode To A Nightingale”):

gob full of pebbles outshouting seas —

4 words only of mi ‘art aches and … ‘Mine’s broken,
you barbarian, T.W.!’ He was nicely spoken.
‘Can’t have our glorious heritage done to death!’

Poor kid. He gets his chance for payback though, with, well, Occupy Poetry:

So right, ye buggers, then! We’ll occupy
your lousy leasehold Poetry.

It’s hilarious, and apparently, I have more of his works to read. In The Harvill Book Of Twentieth-Century Poetry In English (reviewed here, with others), I have five Harrison poems. There’s “Timer” and “National Trust” but also an 8-part sequence called “Art And Extinction.” There are also two poems from “The School Of Eloquence”: one is called “On Not Being Milton,” which I should discuss with my adviser as he’s really into Milton, and a quatrain called “Heredity”:

How you became a poet’s a mystery!
Wherever did you get your talent from?
I say: I had two uncles, Joe and Harry–
one was a stammerer, the other dumb.

In The Norton Anthology Of Modern And Contemporary Poetry, there’s are more poems from The School Of Eloquence: the complete “Book Ends” (it’s apparently a two-part poem like “The Rhubarbarians”), “Turns,” “Marked With D.,” “Self Justification,” “History Classes,” and once again, “Timer,” “Heredity,” and “On Not Being Milton.”

But the crux is a poetic sequence called v. that apparently generated a lot of controversy when a televised reading of the profanity-laden poem was aired twenty-five years ago. I haven’t started reading it, but apparently, the poem starts with the poet at the graveside of his parents and will involve the miners’ strikes during the Thatcher years, etc. Something to look forward to, indeed.

For now, though, an essay on Deleuze and Guattari explaining the rhizome through Harrison’s poem, and the rollicking “A Kumquat For John Keats.” WOW.

The Spoils: March 2012

March almost went by without a purchase, despite a promise I made earlier. In the last couple of days of the month, however, I chanced upon three books I just HAD to buy as soon as I saw them:

  1. Painted Bride Quarterly Print Annual 1
  2. The Autobiography Of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes (reunited!)
  3. Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins (been waiting for this collection since 2009)

 

MADRID Impresses Me

A poem entitled “I Have Passed Too Many Years Among Cool Designing Beings” certainly gets me curious, and so I clicked and read my first Anthony Madrid poem. Then I went on Google and found several others:

  1. two poems (“Let’s Watch This Lily-Colored Devil” and “No More Epigrams Against Sluts”)
  2. four poems (“Between Myself And A Lover Of Spencer,” “In The Stones Of A Bull,” “The Tempter Will Go Us One Better,” “That She Is In Love With A Wretch Like That”)
  3. “Crows, Too, Have A Means of Purring” (hilarious reader comment near the bottom of the page)
  4. “Beneath Your Parents’ Mistress”

All of the above feature what seem to be certain trademark quirks of a lot of his poems: long lines arranged in couplets, quirky titles and a warped imagination, ending with a usually-capitalized admonition to himself (“MADRID, do you not see your poetry gives comfort to the wicked?”).

EDIT: I stand corrected. Madrid writes in the ghazal form. I’m embarrassed to not have identified it as such. I’ve yet to seriously study the form, so I didn’t know much more than the repeated elements like rhyme (qafia) and refrain (radif). I certainly didn’t know about the final couplet (makhta) containing the poet’s pseudonym (takhallus).

Not all his work proceeds this way though, “Rhymes” is composed of short lines arranged in quatrains (yes, they rhyme). Of the five poems here, despite their long lines and couplets, only one (“The Having A Rich Stock Of Wine”) features that address to himself in the penultimate line.

Based on this feature story, I know where to go next. First, Michael Robbins. Then, Anthony Madrid. See you soon, Stephanie Anderson. (Sooner than I think, this slightly variant version of the previously-linked article contains poems by all three.)

A few years ago, I wanted to get into the University of Chicago for its cinema studies faculty; now I want to go for the poetry.