Ten Questions

For Paul Stevens. Paul was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, but has lived most of his life in Australia. In previous incarnations he has been a brickies’ labourer,fettler and sandal-maker. He studied Archaeology and Early English Language and Literature at the University of Sydney. Now he teaches Literature, Ancient History and Historiography, and has published on the Julio-Claudians, as well as poetry and literary criticism. Much gratitude to Paul for being Poet #9 of this ten-poet series and for his thoughtful responses below. Past and upcoming contributors listed here.

1. In this 2003 interview, Canadian poet George Bowering quotes Shelley: “The poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world.” Do you think the poet has a specific role to play in human affairs in this century? If so, what is it?

The poet’s specific role is to tell the truth, or to uncover the truth, as he or she sees it, using memorable and precise language. This happens in a number of ways. Poets may tell the truth in openly political poetry, as Tom Paulin has done. But when poets make poems, truth-tellings, then that has political implications no matter what the apparent subject of the poem. Politics is based on twist-speak, on the perversion of language to purposes other than truth. If poetic enactment is proper use of language, it must also be a political act – a legislation, a coding of the law, and a liberation from untruth – even in the twenty-first century.

2. Talk about the importance of poetry workshops to you as a poet – now and in your earlier development. Do you differentiate between in-person and on-line workshops?

Workshops mean craft to me. I belonged to a leather-working co-operative in the 60s where, to eke out a precarious living, we made sandals, belts and bags. We improved our standards by competing and collaborating with each other to make creative, useful artefacts of a high standard. Any opinions or advice offered from worker to worker was instantly recognisable as being real and useful or not. The result was very good sandals. That’s the kind of workshop I like. Since I first started writing poems (at the age of 14) it has only ever been the opinions of a few close friends that have mattered to me. By “friends” I mean people of a similar set of characteristics and experiences to my own – educational (formal and informal), spiritual, cultural, emotional, and so on. At first those friends were just in my immediate circle. Now I find some of these close friends in on-line workshops as well, where any opinions or advice are instantly recognisable as real and useful or not. The process is the same, though, whether online or not. But ultimately I write for myself, as a way of solving some problem or other that is irritating me. The poem is a kind of orderly setting-out of a solution.

3. Comment on this passage by former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall in his 1983 essay Poetry and Ambition: “Horace, when he wrote the Ars Poetica, recommended that poets keep their poems home for ten years; don’t let them go, don’t publish them until you have kept them around for ten years: by that time, they ought to stop moving on you; by that time, you ought to have them right. […] When Pope wrote An Essay on Criticism seventeen hundred years after Horace, he cut the waiting time in half, suggesting that poets keep their poems for five years before publication. […] By this time, I would be grateful – and published poetry would be better – if people kept their poems home for eighteen months.”

A common pattern seems to be to write the poem, then after a few drafts to offer it for the criticism and suggestion of friends, to rewrite it in the light of those suggestions, then to put it away for a while before you do anything else with it. The length of time the poem should be lagered varies, but when it’s possible to look at it from beyond the state of mind and feeling that produced it, you can start to judge whether it has legs or not. Then you decide what you’re going to do with it. But I never regard a poem as finished, and still tinker with ones I wrote years ago. Sometimes I’ll take a poem through 30 or more drafts, then put it in my reject box.

4. Comment on this passage from Why Poetry Criticism Sucks, an article by Kristin Prevallet in the April 2000 issue of Jacket magazine: “It is very difficult to write poetry criticism and not have poets feel personally maimed […]. For some reason poetry criticism does not advance the formal, intellectual, or contextual parameters of poetry. It always gets confused with the personal.”

I take the first sentence to mean that when people analyse and critique your poem, you might feel they’re dissecting a part of your life. To me criticism is just another kind of reading. If part of your intention in writing the poem was to have it read then it seems inconsistent to worry too much about how people critique it. After all, it’s only the opinions and reactions of those you respect that matter anyway. But I disagree with the general statement “poetry criticism does not advance the formal, intellectual, or contextual parameters of poetry.” Good criticism helps make good poetry. Everyone can see who is making an honest attempt to advance poetry by giving fair, informed, constructive criticism. Sometimes you come across troll-critics who are gratuitously rude and unhelpful. These people are driven by feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. They too are easily spotted.

5. Do you have an internet presence? If so, describe it and comment on the state of the poetry blogsphere. If not, why not?

I have a personal blog, the Domus Carataci, where I rant on about anything that interests me – mostly history,  historiography, poetry, recipes and general doolally. As a kind of joke against those who take publication too seriously, I started up a corrupt, nepotistic and tacky ezine called The Shit Creek Review which publishes poetry, reviews, and art, depending on the size of the bribe offered. It’s proved very popular with authors and artists of a very high standard. Unfortunately none of them has paid up the requisite bribes and favours. The Shit Creek Quality Assurance Team is investigating ways to improve the flow of bribes.

Attached to The Shit Creek Review is The Shit Creek Review Blog which I plan to develop as a more general expression of the Review’s interests and values. So clearly I’m in favour of blogs. They give people a chance to have a voice who might never otherwise have had that opportunity. Unfortunately that chance depends on access to computers, so most of the world’s population still does not have a say. But it’s a beginning. For one who loves poetry, the poetry blogsphere is very interesting, and opens the door for me to many poets I would never otherwise have known about.

6. To what degree have you been published and to what degree has that helped or hindered your development as a poet?

In my late teens and early twenties I was published in a few university magazines, but drifted away from writing poetry for a few years, even though I taught literature, especially poetry (as well as historiography), for a living. I started writing again in the nineties and was published in a couple of magazines and newspapers (and once was paid for it, too!). I’ve been published a few times online. I’ve not tried to have much published – I’ve made no more than 20 submissions anywhere since my nineties recommencement of poetics. I am a very lazy person.

7. Comment on today’s huge numbers of on-line poetry publications.

Ah! Yonder all before me lie
Vast fields of seething Botany!
Then let ten thousand flowers contend,
Let poet-blossoms thrust and fend
In fields of myriad floral hues:
The wide, wild meadows of the Muse!

- The Contention of the Flowers, Paul Stevens (1753-1789)

8. Self-publishing has become inexpensive and relatively painless. What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

I think self-publishing is great. Poets should publish any way they want. Or not. People don’t have to read your blog, or buy your chapbook. But they can if they wish. No matter what the mode or volume of publishing, the amount of real poetry will remain the same. Readers can choose for themselves.

9. What do you see as the biggest opportunity facing a poet today, as compared to 50 years ago?

My short answer is: the same as it’s ever been – to tell the truth as you see it. My slightly longer answer is: compared to fifty years ago, we have the internet. It is a vehicle for poetic transports of delight, so use it. Perhaps the internet may help revive the great days of poetry-reading practised by intellectual elites until the Victorian era.

10. What do you see as the biggest challenge to a poet today, as compared to 50 years ago?

My short answer is: the same as it’s ever been – to tell the truth as you see it. My slightly longer answer is: to resist the massive pressure for conformity of thought to which we are now being subjected. Poets and historians face the same problem here: politicians and the media are trying to control ever more rigidly what we may say, think, and perceive. You can get put in gaol for asking certain questions, or expressing certain beliefs. For example, in the UK and Australia, to say that the invasion of Iraq is one reason that motivates suicide bombers is, as I understand the “terrorist” legislation, an offence – “justifying terrorism”. Critiquing the evidence for some historical events can also land you in gaol. If poets or historians try to tell the truth as they individually see it, they can possibly be detained, or worse. I suppose that’s a bit of a challenge.

The Lines of the Hand

Fiddling with sound today, click below to hear preliminary results. I need to work a lot with sound. As a first effort, I’ve recorded a piece by Argentinian poet Julio Cortazar – something of a cop-out, but I’m being nice to myself as this is my first go. Made it I hope a tad more interesting by adding visuals — a neat movie to watch about The Line, which includes the translated text of the piece at the end. It gets a bit cheesy at the end, but otherwise an interesting watch. Feedback more than welcome – should I never read anything aloud again?

Putting off stars

the hours rise up putting off stars and it is
dawn
into the street of the sky light walks scattering poems

- e e cummings

That line-break and that no-punctuation hit me just square just right just now.

Tomorrow is looking huge and dangerous. I wish it wouldn’t.

Charcoal Man

is what (or who?) I am thinking of writing a poem about. At some point. Not at all sure what it will about, although I expect shades of pain and twisted forgotten things will feature and it will be exhausting to write.

Suddenly I feel I’ve only ever written hullo clouds, hullo sky fotherington-thomas type poems.

Ten Questions

For Howard Miller. Howard retired after 36 years of college teaching a couple of years ago. He’s been participating in Internet poetry workshops since 1999 and has been a moderator at PFFA since 2001. He’s had poems published in the e-zines 3rd Muse, Prairie Poetry, Writer’s Hood, Laughter Loaf, and The Adroitly Placed Word and accepted for The Creative Science Quarterly; he’s also had two essays published in Avatar Review. His parrot daily takes him down to the local Riverwalk just to get him out of the house. A gazillion thanks to Howard for bringing his experience to the Ten Questions table. He is the eighth of ten poets to answer the questions — the ten poets list here.

1. In this 2003 interview, Canadian poet George Bowering quotes Shelley: “The poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world.” Do you think the poet has a specific role to play in human affairs in this century? If so, what is it?

First of all, I don’t share Shelley’s ultraromantic notion of the poet as a special, privileged individual who is somehow set apart from (and above) the rest of the human race by powers far beyond those of mortal men. That, in fact, is a very damaging and misleading view (although one that appeals to some people, obviously) because it falsely asserts the poet is different from the rest of us when in fact whatever value is to be found in a poet’s work comes from her identity as one of us, a fumbling participant like the rest of us in the complex, confusing, at times incomprehensible maze of this life.

On the other hand, I think poetry (as opposed to “the poet”) has something important to offer to those who take the time and make the effort to receive it. As I used to tell my students, all good poetry (and fiction and drama) has only one real subject: human nature. In poetry we see and can learn a great deal about ourselves and other people, both those like ourselves and those very different from ourselves. That is a fundamental element of poetry and gives it a profound value for those who chose to spend time with poetry.

2. Talk about the importance of poetry workshops to you as a poet – both now and in your earlier development. Do you differentiate between in-person and on-line workshops?

I participated in a number of in-person workshops back in the late 60′s when I was a student; I found them quite helpful. Since coming to the Internet in 1999, I’ve participated in a number of online workshops and have likewise found them quite valuable. Obviously, the quality of critiques varies from workshop to workshop and individual to individual, but I owe a great deal for whatever development I’ve experienced to the knowledgeable advice and suggestions of workshop participants.

3. Comment on this passage by former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall in his 1983 essay Poetry and Ambition: “Horace, when he wrote the Ars Poetica, recommended that poets keep their poems home for ten years; don’t let them go, don’t publish them until you have kept them around for ten years: by that time, they ought to stop moving on you; by that time, you ought to have them right. […] When Pope wrote An Essay on Criticism seventeen hundred years after Horace, he cut the waiting time in half, suggesting that poets keep their poems for five years before publication. […] By this time, I would be grateful – and published poetry would be better – if people kept their poems home for eighteen months.”

Generally, my pieces undergo very lengthy gestational periods, frequently months, sometimes years. I had one piece published in 2003 that was originally written in 1969 and which I had tinkered with a number of times during the intervening years. So keeping pieces for several years is perfectly normal for me. To be completely honest, however, I have had a couple of pieces published only a few weeks after they were written; I suspect they would have been better had I kept them a while longer and fiddled with them more than I did.

4. Comment on this passage from Why Poetry Criticism Sucks, an article by Kristin Prevallet in the April 2000 issue of Jacket magazine: “It is very difficult to write poetry criticism and not have poets feel personally maimed […]. For some reason poetry criticism does not advance the formal, intellectual, or contextual parameters of poetry. It always gets confused with the personal.”

Having read Prevallet’s article and seen that she’s talking about formal literary criticism — neither book reviews nor workshop critiques of an individual’s work — I have to admit I’m not sure what she’s so upset about. In fact, there’s a great deal of very fine poetry criticism available by a number of poets and critics; I believe Rob MacKenzie mentioned Robert Hass’s book; I’d add a number of others, including Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry (Second Edition) by Stephen Dobyns, The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing by Richard Hugo, and Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft by Tony Hoagland. Yes, occasionally, individual poets’ work is singled out as deficient in some way, but that’s hardly something that vitiates astute critical observation (except perhaps for the poet so singled out). I think Prevallet’s reaction is out of proportion to the actual situation.

5. Do you have an internet presence? If so, describe it and comment on the state of the poetry blogsphere. If not, why not?

I maintain two blogs, both poetry-related. The Jackdaw’s Nest presents the work of other poets; the idea is to introduce work and poets who might be unfamiliar to others. The Compost Heap began as a place to store my own NaPoWriMo work; it’s expanded somewhat to include other kinds of poetry-related entries, such as mini book reviews (of which I hope to do more shortly).

I’m not really sure how to assess the blogsphere in general in relation to poetry; there are many, many blogs by poets, some of which are fascinating both for the poetry which appears there and the observations on poetry and the work of others, and others which are self-absorbed egofests to be avoided at all costs. I find the former to be of great interest and value, while the latter fortunately are easily recognizable and avoidable. As in all things, it is discrimination which matters most.

6. To what degree have you been published and to what degree has that helped or hindered your development as a poet?

My writing career/career falls into two sections. The first was 1966 – 1971 when I was in college and graduate school and actively working hard at writing and seeking publication. I had a handful of pieces published during that period in a variety of small poetry journals, none of which exist any longer, I believe. I largely stopped writing very much and seeking publication at all when I began full-time college teaching in 1971. It was only when I discovered the Internet and Internet poetry forums in 1999 that I began to work seriously at poetry-writing again; this time, I’ve been less interested in publication as an end in itself. Between 2002 and the present I’ve submitted around 25 or 26 pieces to various e-zines (none at all to strictly print publications as I’m just too lazy) and had 12 pieces accepted for publication. I do want to make more of an effort in the near future to have work published, largely because that encourages me to invest more effort in revision.

7. Comment on today’s huge numbers of on-line poetry publications.

The explosive growth in the number of poetry e-zines is hardly an unmixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s made it possible for the work of many good poets to get into print and reach a wide audience. On the other hand, it’s likewise made it possible for vast quantities of poor work to reach a wide audience. The problem is that the quality of e-zines varies enormously, much more than the quality of most print journals, largely because producing an e-journal is so much cheaper and easier than producing a print journal. The result is that there are many very poor-quality e-zines. The earliest recognized law of modern economics was Gresham’s Law: “Bad money drives out good.” There is some danger of the same thing happening with poetry: the sheer volume of poor work could (theoretically, at least) swamp and bury the good.

One thing that’s particularly bothered me was the extension of the Pushcart Prizes from small print journals to include e-zines 3 or 4 years ago. Since each participating journal can nominate 6 contenders for a Pushcart, the number of “Pushcart nominees” has multiplied almost exponentially overnight. There was a time when the phrase “Pushcart nominee” carried a great deal of prestige with it; today, in the wake of the huge number of such nominees (and the poor quality of much of the e-zine work so nominated), that phrase is at best debased currency. The one good thing about the situation is that the standards for actually awarding the Pushcarts don’t appear to have been watered down; the result is that those who win the Pushcart awards do actually seem to deserve them. It’s just too bad that the category of those nominated has been so devalued.

8. Self-publishing has become inexpensive and relatively painless. What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

In regards to self-publication, I think Gresham’s Law Emended for Poetry is fully operative here, too: “Bad poetry drives out good.” The large number and poor quality of self-published books on Amazon.com and elsewhere on the Internet are appalling. Whole forests have perished for nought except the perpetuation of drivel. And, concomitantly, frequently the authors of such volumes believe that getting into print any way possible is meaningful and boast exorbitantly about their achievement when in fact anyone with an internet connection and a bit of disposable income can attain such publication.

Frankly, for me personally, the only publication that matters is that which follows as the consequence of selection through an objective editorial review process: That someone else thinks my work worth publishing is rewarding. To publish my work myself wouldn’t be.

That said, there can be occasionally an advantage to self-publication: It is a way of getting one’s work out before one’s peers, gaining some recognition in the established poetry-publishing community and perhaps leading one’s work be given consideration by legitimate publishing sources in the future. Of course, it also takes a good deal of work on the part of those who choose to follow this route. I know of several individuals who have used self-publication as a steppingstone to acceptance and publication in serious periodicals and by important poetry presses. (Poets such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams began with self-published works, for instance.)

So it’s not entirely negative; but honestly at the present time the bad horribly outnumbers the good when it comes to self-publications.

Will I ever choose to self-publish? To be honest, I will likely succumb to the lure of vanity publishing eventually. *sigh*

9. What do you see as the biggest opportunity facing a poet today, as compared to 50 years ago?

There’s no question but that it’s the Internet; the vast array of resources, contacts, and opportunities available today far surpasses anything available to aspiring poets 50 years ago, or at any other previous time in the past.

10. What do you see as the biggest challenge to a poet today, as compared to 50 years ago?

There’s no better answer than Sarah Sloat’s: “the poem.”

Verse

Verse verse verse verse. I have this thing lately about knocking the sense out of words by saying or reading or writing them a million times in a row. I did this with good the other day on a post below. Did it this morning with eight (for tiresome reasons I’m not going into). And just now again, with verse. And Oxford.

How? I did an Amazon search for Oxford Books of Verse.

Whoa! That would be how many results?

See if you can read through this very small sampling of the vast number of results returned and still retain any sense of the sense of the word verse. Or the word Oxford. Or book. Or the.

  • The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse
    The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1950
    The Oxford Book of Spanish Verse
    The Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse
    The Oxford Book of Narrative Verse
    The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
    The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse
    The Oxford Book of Sixteenth-Century Verse
    The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918
    The Oxford Book of Sonnets
    The Oxford Book of Death
    The Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse 1945-1980
    The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems
    The Oxford Book of Children’s Verse in America
    The Oxford Book of Comic Verse
    The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse
    The Oxford Book of Greek Verse in Translation
    The Oxford Book of Garden Verse
    The Oxford Book of Verse in English
    The Oxford Book of Eighteenth-Century Verse
    The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English
    The Oxford Book of Irish Verse
    The Oxford Book of Satirical Verse
    The Oxford Book of Australian Verse
    The Oxford Book of Australian Religious Verse
    The Oxford Book of English Traditional Verse
    The Oxford Book of Modern Verse
    The Oxford Book of Light Verse
    The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English

Anyhow, I did all that because, as you are probably no longer interested in hearing, I found this, which I really liked and keep thinking about, on p 528 of The Oxford Book of American Verse last night, by Trumbull Stickney, whom I’ve never heard of, even if you have:

Dramatic Fragment

Sir, say no more.
Within me ‘t as if
The green and climbing eyesight of a cat
Crawled near my mind’s poor birds.

Verse verse verse.

Verse.

Fail better

Fascinating article by Zadie Smith in the Guardian on the role and potential of the self in writing. Applies to wannabe-poets as much as to wannabe-novelists, in my view. Among the things she says:

somewhere between a critic’s necessary superficiality and a writer’s natural dishonesty, the truth of how we judge literary success or failure is lost

writers are in possession of “selfhood”, and the development or otherwise of self has some part to play in literary success or failure

reading, done properly, is every bit as tough as writing

Being good

I’m trying to be a good mother, a good employee, a good boss and a good poet.

What degree of good is achievable when so many goods are sought?

PS I would also like to be a good friend, a good citizen, a good reader, a good cook, a good hostess, a good tennis player, a good knitter, a good fiction-writer.

Ten Questions

For Steven D. Schroeder. Steve edits The Eleventh Muse literary journal for Poetry West and works as a Certified Professional Résumé Writer. His poetry and reviews are recently available or forthcoming from Verse, The National Poetry Review (where he won the Laureate Prize), The Laurel Review, CutBank, and Verse Daily. Steve is the seventh of ten poets to answer this series of questions (past and upcoming contributors here) – warm thanks to him for doing so, and for the interesting texture added by his answers below to the overall picture.

1. In this 2003 interview, Canadian poet George Bowering quotes Shelley: “The poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world.” Do you think the poet has a specific role to play in human affairs in this century? If so, what is it?

No, I can’t say that the poet has a specific role to play–more like a multitude of possible roles. The relative obscurity of poetry makes the legislator role increasingly unlikely, though there’s clearly still room for exceptions from Dana Gioia (though he’s well acknowledged) to Poets Against the War.

2. Talk about the importance of poetry workshops to you as a poet – now and in your earlier development. Do you differentiate between in-person and on-line workshops?

Workshops were important in my poetic development after I obtained my undergraduate degree in creative writing. As someone who didn’t write much poetry for several years and didn’t know about the local poetry community in Colorado Springs when I started again, I found online workshops like Eratosphere and Poetry Free-for-All crucial in taking the first steps of learning about my own writing and the writing of others. They became less important when I reached a stage where the shallower readings typical of workshops were no longer necessary to pick up glitches, but most poets I know still have quasi-workshops of other poets close to them, and I still participate in a private online workshop and a local one.

There’s obviously more traffic in an Internet workshop than for a local one, and maybe a little more tendency for flamboyantly negative critiquing because of the relative anonymity and distance. Still, I think at their hearts they’re similar animals–equal portions of quid pro quo back-scratching, nasty backbiting, and genuine attempts to help with poetry. To me, the most critical task in looking for a workshop is to find one where the responders take the time to read the poem multiple times and give a true deep reading rather than “Nice images” or “I don’t understand this line.”

3. Comment on this passage by former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall in his 1983 essay Poetry and Ambition: “Horace, when he wrote the Ars Poetica, recommended that poets keep their poems home for ten years; don’t let them go, don’t publish them until you have kept them around for ten years: by that time, they ought to stop moving on you; by that time, you ought to have them right. [...] When Pope wrote “An Essay on Criticism” seventeen hundred years after Horace, he cut the waiting time in half, suggesting that poets keep their poems for five years before publication. [...] By this time, I would be grateful-and published poetry would be better-if people kept their poems home for eighteen months.”

I recall that passage. The general idea of letting your poems sit for a while and coming back to them, even if you think you have a final draft, is a good one. I do think, though, that unless you’re a big name or a self-publisher, anything you write will have such a long shelf life between when you “finish” it and when it appears in a book that you don’t have to specifically worry about holding them back–it’ll happen naturally. That belief, of course, may be based on the fact that I’m an inveterate tinkerer. Of the previously published poems in my current manuscript, I’m sure at least 50% have been noticeably modified since they were published in journals.

4. Comment on this passage from Why Poetry Criticism Sucks, an article by Kristin Prevallet in the April 2000 issue of Jacket magazine: “It is very difficult to write poetry criticism and not have poets feel personally maimed [...]. For some reason poetry criticism does not advance the formal, intellectual, or contextual parameters of poetry. It always gets confused with the personal.”

I skimmed that whole article, and it seemed too generalized to me, though I sympathize with the sentiments. In context, I think that statement is putting more of the blame on the poets taking things personally than on the criticism itself failing, and that seems at least somewhat reasonable to me. Poets are sensitive, perhaps oversensitive sometimes, and the po-biz world is small. I do see quite a few reviews, however, that blur the lines between commenting on the work and making ad hominem attacks, so it’s not a one-way street.

5. Do you have an internet presence? If so, describe it and comment on the state of the poetry blogsphere. If not, why not?

I have a poetry website, including a blog which has been up for 2 years now. The poetry blogosphere is a pretty good microcosm of both the general blogosphere and the general poetry world. Much banality (some of it still very engaging), much weirdness (some of it entirely inspired), discussion of theory (dry and otherwise), and too many outsiders dismissive of it because it’s new, without really having any idea what it’s about.

6. To what degree have you been published and to what degree has that helped or hindered your development as a poet?

I’ve been published in quite a few excellent print and online journals, though the upper tier of 20 or so print journals has eluded me so far, and I don’t yet have a full-length book out. If anything, publication has been a mild help to my development because it gives me incentive and helps me measure myself against publications of other poets I greatly admire while driving me to improve and try new things. Publication probably hurts the growth of poets who are too easily satisfied, but then numerous things would do that for them.

7. Comment on today’s huge numbers of on-line poetry publications.

Seems pretty similar to the huge number of small, low-production-value paper zines that used to be around (and still are to some extent). Some of them are good, some are terrible. The online versions theoretically have a greater reach, but I bet many of them end up having the same loyal audience of 30-40, plus the authors in any given issue. Many of the best online journals, like DIAGRAM, MiPOesias, Octopus, three candles, and No Tell Motel, do things in ways that print journals can’t while publishing eclectic and edgy poetry, and I think they do reach a sizeable audience.

8. Self-publishing has become inexpensive and relatively painless. What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

If you have the quality of work to pull it off, more power to you. The thing is, there are enough small/DIY sorts of presses around that if you have that quality of work, I bet you can find someone else to publish you and avoid the ingrained (and too-often justified) bias against self publishing. If I started a tiny press (or a journal), my emphasis would be much more on getting other people’s voices out there.

9. What do you see as the biggest opportunity facing a poet today, in comparison to 50 years ago?

The Internet, surely. I haven’t read everyone else’s responses yet, but the ones I saw said the same thing, and I can’t imagine any of them saying something else, unless they consciously avoid the answer to suggest another.

10. What do you see as the biggest challenge to a poet today, in comparison to 50 years ago?

Depends on the poet’s goals, I suppose, and I also must acknowledge I’m ignorant of exactly how the poetry world was 50 years ago, but I think the biggest issue, to paraphrase blogger Charles Jensen, is that there are more poets than ever at the table, and the poetry pie is smaller.

Scrubbing a python

This photo landed in my inbox and I showed it to my six-year-old son.

Son: “Why am I in that photo scrubbing a python?”

Me: “Excuse me? That’s not you. That’s some little boy we have never met from somewhere like Thailand scrubbing a python.”

Son: “It’s me. You’re just jealous because it’s not you.”

Please do not think that I only write about the insane things he says and does when he says and does insane things. Be assured that this kind of thing happens all the time. Posts like this are just the tip of the iceberg.

Bees and a bat

Where the bee sucks there suck I:
In a cow-slip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On a bat’s back I do fly
after summer merrily,
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

I played Ariel in a school play once. I remember vividly how much I disliked both Miranda and Prospero because I never once lost sight of the fact that they were really Claire and Philippa, a totally evil Lower VI pair if ever one existed. I also had to wear a gray leotard and prance around playing the recorder while singing Ariel’s song according to Arne. I expect you wonder, as do I, that I’m still around to tell the tale.

In Praise of Rareness

Responding to complaints that Poetry magazine should give all its space to poetry and/or much less to prose, an interesting article by Christian Wiman:

“..a strong case can be made that the more respect you have for poetry, the less of it you will find adequate to your taste and needs. There is a limit to this logic, of course, or else Plato would be the patron saint of the art. But still, an overdeveloped appetite for poetry is no guarantee of taste or even of love, and institutionalized efforts at actually encouraging the over-consumption of poetry always seem a bit freakish, ill-conceived, and peculiarly American, like those mythic truck stops where anyone who can eat his own weight in rump roast doesn’t have to pay for it.”

Surely it’s a matter of degree and some publications can be, should be, and are more discriminating than others. They set the bar the highest and that ultra-high bar is certainly needed in the industry at large (poetry being an industry, n’est-ce pas). But to apply the same high bar across the publishing board? Yeek.

Possibly he is only talking of Poetry and its ilk, though, and not positing a categorical imperative, in which case I’ll shut up.

Carpe Diem

Ode à Cassandre

Mignonne, allons voir si la rose
Qui ce matin avoit desclose
Sa robe de pourpre au Soleil,
A point perdu ceste vesprée
Les plis de sa robe pourprée,
Et son teint au vostre pareil.

Las! voyez comme en peu d’espace,
Mignonne, elle a dessus la place
Las! las ses beautez laissé cheoir !
Ô vrayment marastre Nature,
Puis qu’une telle fleur ne dure
Que du matin jusques au soir !

Donc, si vous me croyez, mignonne,
Tandis que vostre âge fleuronne
En sa plus verte nouveauté,
Cueillez, cueillez vostre jeunesse :
Comme à ceste fleur la vieillesse
Fera ternir vostre beauté.

- Pierre Ronsard

Thinking about this (translations) today and Herrick’s rosebuds, and Marvell’s winged chariot of time. Stupid philosophy, nice poems. Or maybe I’ve been doing too much financial planning lately.

Ten Questions

For Greg Perry. Greg is a recovering poet who dreams his blog grapez is publication now enough for all the googolplex of elementary particles within the well-known universe. He is also the sixth poet out of the ten who will answer the questions in this series (the questions with past and upcoming contributors here). Many thanks to Greg for agreeing to participate and for the new perspectives his answers provide.

1. In this 2003 interview Canadian poet George Bowering quotes Shelley: “The poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world.” Do you think the poet has a specific role to play in human affairs in this century? If so, what is it?

It’s my opinion that the poet has a role only if he/she can break through the restrictions of most contemporary poetry and its limiting world of publication, academics, and false postures of gentility or linguistic revolution. God knows what that role may be. I’ve only begun to figure out what it isn’t. It isn’t an insular world where only poets read other poets. It isn’t a political world where it’s who you know or where you teach or when you read or what you publish or why… Well, actually, that’s all that really matters: why you write it. After all is said and done, no one reads poetry any more. And even most other poets only read it so they in turn will be read. So why write it? If poets would follow that question to the ends of the world, then maybe they’d have a role to play while still in it.

2. Talk about the importance of poetry workshops to you as a poet – now and in your earlier development. Do you differentiate between in-person and on-line workshops?

Right now, I’ve pulled away from all workshops. I think there comes a time when you need to explore individuality without compromise. But workshops in my past have been a godsend as far as craft goes. I mostly write in meter now, and that’s something I learned while attending workshops with the Powow River Poets,  a group of incredibly talented formalists, in particular Rhina Espaillat. Later, I workshopped online at Eratosphere , and benefited from my confrontations with the editor from hell there, Alan Sullivan. Both in-person and online workshops can be invaluable. One thing about online though, you’d better bring your toughest skin because the criticism can be brutal. I’d recommend in-person for any beginner. In person, people usually have more of a heart in them.

3. Comment on this passage by former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall in his 1983 essay Poetry and Ambition: “Horace, when he wrote the Ars Poetica, recommended that poets keep their poems home for ten years; don’t let them go, don’t publish them until you have kept them around for ten years: by that time, they ought to stop moving on you; by that time, you ought to have them right. [...] When Pope wrote “An Essay on Criticism” seventeen hundred years after Horace, he cut the waiting time in half, suggesting that poets keep their poems for five years before publication. [...] By this time, I would be grateful-and published poetry would be better-if people kept their poems home for eighteen months.”

I like Donald Hall, but this is pure posturing. Write your poem the best you can, revise it as long as you need, but don’t work the life out of it, and move on. Life, and possibly the world as we know it, is too short. That poem you kept home could have done some good work.

4. Comment on this passage from Why Poetry Criticism Sucks, an article by Kristin Prevallet in the April 2000 issue of Jacket magazine: “It is very difficult to write poetry criticism and not have poets feel personally maimed [...]. For some reason poetry criticism does not advance the formal, intellectual, or contextual parameters of poetry. It always gets confused with the personal.”

Ain’t that the truth. Who knows why? I have a theory or two. Maybe some align themselves with factions looking to charge the next hill of publication. And any flak is considered enemy fire. You’re either with us or against us. Or maybe we’re just the sensitive type.

5. Do you have an internet presence? If so, describe it and comment on the state of the poetry blogsphere. If not, why not?

I’ve been blogging for the past almost 3 years and have enjoyed the experience immensely. I’ve been exposed to poetry and poets new to me. I’ve confronted what poetry means to me. In fact, I’m still confronting that.

6. To what degree have you been published and to what degree has that helped or hindered your development as a poet?

I’ve been published in several print journals. I think I gave such publication too much credence in the past. Having reviewed daily online poems last year for a few months, I’m more than aware of the disconnect between publication and quality.

7. Comment on today’s huge numbers of on-line poetry publications.

It’s encouraging. It’s democratic. It’s the future.

8. Self-publishing has become inexpensive and relatively painless. What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Same as above.

9. What do you see as the biggest opportunity facing a poet today, in comparison to 50 years ago?

The internet and self-publishing. Talk about your subliminal questioning.

10. What do you see as the biggest challenge to a poet today, in comparison to 50 years ago?

Overcoming the insular, elitist, and too political world of poets and the business of its poetry, while using the craft and magic of its poetics within a revolutionary world of immediate and democratic media, giving voice to the spirit of life in a world too bent on material things and hell-bent on its own destruction, by using the truest form of pure creation, in praise and explication of all creation, and by doing so, accepting the humble role of the wicked (good) messenger.

As high as eagles

I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.

Just reminded of that, by this.  

And: Knock on yourself as upon a door, walk upon yourself as on a straight road.

Conclusion: There’s no hope for me.

None.