The Spoils: May 2012

Slowing down, slowing down, this blog is slowing down. I have a Tumblr account, so why do I keep reblogging here? (Answer: Because there are a lot of good entries being posted on WordPress by other people.)

So May saw me double the purchases I made in April; instead of one book last month, I bought two. In a couple of months, my book acquisitions will make a huge comeback, but I’d like to uphold quality over quantity once again:

My Not-Quite-Blunden Nearly-But-Not-Complete Edition

To be honest, that Keats is just a “placeholder” until I can get a more definitive and complete edition. (I’m considering the Stillinger.)

Here’s my other book purchase for May:

This is my third book by Muldoon. The first one I bought was the Oxford lectures collected as The End of the Poem, and the second was Madoc: A Mystery. I’m not sure I like Muldoon as much as I do Ciaran Carson, but I do love what little I’ve read of Muldoon. He’s definitely someone I’m interested in exploring further.

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.

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.”