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.

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

My Rambling and Personal Context for Jack Spicer’s “A Lecture On Practical Aesthetics”

From Ann Lauterbach’s “Introduction” to The Night Sky:

…I have a desire for a practical aesthetics, wherein connections to the making or appreciation of forms have direct application to daily life, and daily life in turn inflects and conditions how to relate to the forms, artistic and otherwise, of the world. This shifting reciprocity is central to these writings. (4, italics hers)

I’ve read those words several times before, and based on what else I’ve been reading deeply these days, Lauterbach’s words resonate with, say, those of Michael Palmer from “Octavio Paz: Circulations Of The Song”:

The first stirrings of vanguardism…can be found in the theoretical matrices of German and English romantic theory, with its revolution of forms, its conflating of genres, its collapsing of life into art and art into life.”  (108-108, italics mine)

I also think of Wallace Stevens and the constant not-as-simple-as-it-seems dynamic of reality and imagination animating much of his work, and how it seems on one level to fit within the art-life scheme but, and I think this is important, not on others.

And then I think of Jack Spicer.

During the Vancouver lectures Spicer delivered shortly before he died, the poet was asked how Stevens fits into the notion of the serial poem Spicer discussed in detail in the second lecture. You can hear the question and answer on the audio clip embedded on this page, but here’s the quick answer: Spicer doesn’t really think “Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction” or “The Man With The Blue Guitar” conform to his ideal for the serial poem.

Spicer sounds a little unsure though, at least enough to somewhat concede a little and cite Transport to Summer (incidentally, the collection where “Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction” is found as the final poem) as coming close to what Stevens was trying to do in Harmonium. He’s unsure enough to say “I don’t know” before discussing instead what one may call the academic context of reception of Stevens (more on this later) and admitting that the term “serial poem” isn’t really very strong.

The first interesting point here is the emphasis on the book as the serial poem itself, which seems to me a play of scale (book = serial poem) similar to that found in a Symbolist like, say, Stephane Mallarme, whose “Crisis Of Verse” (PDF) ends with the following paragraph equating word with poem:

It’s an idea compelling enough to have been echoed in Hart Crane‘s “General Aims And Theories”:

(I’ve left out the part of “General Aims And Theories” that led to this sentence, but it’s worth reading for the explicit link Crane makes between the Romantic and the Symbolist when he mentions Blake and discusses matters in terms of innocence and experience.

The latter word, by the way, bears a rich set of etymological associations, one taken up by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, from which that footnote was taken, and by Lauterbach, who not only writes within what she calls a “poetics of experience” but also links that word with the experimental.)

Nowadays, Spicer’s book as serial poem idea no longer seems so radical if, instead of grounding it in the dictation from a Martian radio–a science fiction update of traditional occult sources of the poetic as may be found in, say, Williams Yeats and Blake–we instead think of it in  pragmatic terms. “The book as project,” for example, or what Natasha Sajé calls dynamic design and the structure of books. Also, the requirements of an MA thesis in creative writing.

So despite Spicer having it out with the Romantic tradition, when he offers the figure of the poet not as

a beautiful machine which manufactured the current for itself, did everything for itself—almost a perpetual motion machine of emotion until the poet’s heart broke or it was burned on the beach like Shelley’s—instead there was something from the Outside coming in

there seems to be a more complicated relationship going on between Spicer and Romanticism. (As an aside: I’m amused and shocked that Spicer would use as an example Shelley, who for Michael Palmer

represents a radical alterity, an alternative to the habitual discourses of power and mystification by which we are daily surrounded and with which we are bombarded. He represents a poetry of critique and renewal, rather than of passive re-presentation, a poetry which risks speaking to the central human and social occasions of its time, yet speaks from a decentered and largely invisible place. It exploits the margins to speak as it will, out of difference, rather than as it is always importuned and rewarded, out of sameness. (204)

But there’s something else going on here, and it has to do with the academic discourse framing Stevens in 1965. Right after Spicer tries to half-heartedly discuss the aesthetics of Stevens’s work by means of the serial-poem question, he says the following oftquoted remark, expressing with more conviction why he “distrusts” Stevens:

The awful thing I’ve noticed about Stevens that I’ve noticed is that everybody in English departments who hate poetry, which is just about everybody, loves Stevens. I liked Stevens a great deal more before I saw that. You get somebody you know very well just hates poetry, like some people hate baseball or French movies like I do. You know there’s just a real weird hatred. Well, they always like Stevens, all of these people. And the more they hate poetry as it is in the process, the more they like Stevens. So although Stevens moves me, I’ve gotten more and more distrustful of him.

As strange as it may be to connect Spicer and Louise Gluck, I can’t help but remember how she also feels a similar distance towards Stevens, assuming of course that distrust can be rightly considered distance and a lack of intimacy and nearness. I think it does, somewhat, and that’s where an interesting dynamic of agon takes place.

I found Aliki Barnstone’s essay on Hart Crane moving precisely because she struggles against Crane and herself: “My intent when I began this piece was to defend Crane, but as I reread, I found myself recoiling. I’d never written about a writer I wasn’t in love with, and now I’d fallen out of love with Hart, viscerally.”

Similarly, I like it when a struggle with Stevens takes place in poems by, say, John Berryman, Terrance Hayes, Cole Swensen, or Frank Bidart. (I guess, for the sake of consistency, I should also say that I like my bitter struggle with what seems to be a Bloomian preoccupation, despite some misgivings I may have about some of his critical judgments.)

And so, I go back to beginning, though I’ve digressed so much that I’ll have to talk about this in another entry.

That bit from Lauterbach at the very top? The “practical aesthetics” she italicized and which she links to her “poetics of experience”? That rang a bell with me when I read it recently, because just before I did, I read an early Jack Spicer poem where he struggles with Stevens from an aesthetic, rather than discursive, perspective. It’s an apostrophe to “Mr. Stevens” and the repetition of that address at several points in the poem sound to me like a snotty punk kid doing an “Officer Krupke” spiel.

The title of Spicer’s poem? “A Lecture On Practical Aesthetics.” Emphasis frigging mine. But I’ll write about this next time. This has gone on too long.

Two Roberts, Gentlemen And Refinement

Robert Archambeau’s “Why You Are Not A Gentleman” is already in itself an erudite and highly engaging piece, but its impact was further reinforced by my having just started reading The Triumph Of Vulgarity: Rock Music In The Mirror Of Romanticism by Robert Pattison (no, not who you’re thinking of).

I’ve just started reading the latter but have already had several exciting encounters with the insight with which Pattison talks about, for instance, the vulgar or pantheism. Here’s one of my favorite passages, so far:

Refinement, the mode in which favor and grace have apprehended the world, has always made a point of filling the imagined vacuum of vulgarity with reasoned civilization. The Romantic revolution proclaims that the apparent emptiness is in fact infinite energy that needs no refined tinkering. 

It’s a simple thought, but whatever the logical validity of this argument, it certainly feels right to me, as I think about my thesis.

(And if we’re talking about gentlemen and vulgarity, I just can’t resist embedding the video to a song released the year I graduated from high school, a song I loved then and still love now, though it’s been years since I listened to the band:

Desperately Seeking Sources

Based on the critical project I’m currently exploring, having to do with my own personal poetic participation in the dismantling of the opposition between Romanticism and Modernism in order to embrace them both (call it postmodernism, or maybe not), I wish I could find the full texts of:

For that matter, I also want Howard Nemerov’s “The Difficulty Of Difficult Poetry” in full. The libraries I have access to over here? Not so helpful, unfortunately.

My Own Private Book Fair

I didn’t hit the Manila International Book Fair this year, after nearly two decades of perfect attendance and profligate spending. I did feel a little bad, but only a little, because I did manage to amass several titles recently, including a hugely discounted online order that arrived over the weekend.

Two of those were “free”:

Ann Lauterbach’s Hum was a title my wife bought me, which joins my copies of works like On a Stair (another review), Or To Begin Again, and the essay collection The Night Sky: Notes on the Poetics of Experience. Lauterbach not only impresses me but has impressed on me, and if I had to name the poets most important to me, she would be one of those I would immediately cite (along with Jack Spicer).

The other “free” title was from my Dad. He doesn’t really get poetry, but he’s been on an online ordering binge for some time now, not just for himself but for his circle of friends (and their children). So when an extra copy of Poems for the Millennium III: The University of California Book of Romantic and Postromantic Poetry turned up, that went to me. I’m very pleased with it, because I do want to “reconfigure Romanticism” in the same way co-editor Jerome Rothenberg intended this anthology to do.

The rest of the titles–all seven of them–were part of an online order that only cost me US$ 37.38, an online order consisting of:

  1. The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction by Dean Young is a new title in Gray Wolf’s “The Art of…” series of books. I’m pretty sure this will inspire and/or reinforce my own poetic beliefs and convictions.
  2. After a Lost Original by David Shapiro is one of two hardcovers, and it’s hard not to get excited over blurbs calling Shapiro’s 1994 collection “a dark divertimento of his underlying themes of multiplicity and doubt.”
  3. Boss Cupid by Thom Gunn is the other hardcover, eventually the final collection of someone described in the blurb as “the quintessential San Francisco poet, who is also the quintessential craftsman and quintessentially a love poet, though not of quintessential love.”
  4. You are the Business by Caroline Dubois is a title I only encountered after I searched for the books of Cole Swensen who translated this collection of prose poems. It’s earning good reviews online (one and another), and I’m attracted for its use of movies in general and Blade Runner and Cat People, in particular.
  5. The Face: A Novella in Verse by David St. John is also about movies, though not always reviewed favorably (this one is somewhat mixed, though ultimately positive). Still, as a book-length narrative work of poetry, it’s a form I’ve wanted to explore in my own work. Samples are available here.
  6. Hard Evidence by Timothy Liu is again a collection thematically centered on desire, with an additional point of interest being his being of Chinese descent. Surprisingly, until I started reading Singaporean poetry, I was never really interested in seeking out work written by Chinese people like myself.
  7. Listening to Reading by Stephen Ratcliffe is a collection of essays (many of them available here) on contemporary experimental poetry, but its presentation of “two different kinds of writing about poetry–‘critical analysis’ and ‘performance'” certainly push the envelope of traditional criticism. Since the book “pay[s] particular attention to sound, shape, and the relation of sound/shape to meaning,” this will certainly be essential reading.

With this much to preoccupy me for the moment, I’m almost (but not quite) ashamed to say there are still (at least!) a couple of titles out there calling to me. There always are.