feckless and froward

Two words that caught my fancy today. These are great words. Froward is a big favorite with the King James Version of the Bible, viz:

Proverbs 6:12 – A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.
Proverbs 16:30 – He shutteth his eyes to devise froward things: moving his lips he bringeth evil to pass.
Job 5:13 – He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong.

Oddly enough, feckless doesn’t show up once in the KJV.

There must be some other relationship between them.


Cinnamon Cardamom Clove
Pineapple and Red Berries
Bergamot from Calabria
Tunisian Orange Blossom
Magnolia from China
Egyptian Jasmine and Turkish Rose
Sandalwood Peach Caramel
Raspberry Chocolate Cocoa Beans
Amber Vanilla
and Musk

(fragrance notes of Courtesan by Worth; via Perfume-Smellin’ Things)

Not saying that I would like to wear the perfume (in fact, probably not), but what a lovely list of ingredients and with so much potential. That review could be a million times better written. If I were a perfume-maker, I’d hire a poet to write my website reviews.  I’d present them as poems. A good perfume *is* a poem. (Remembering these posts: Lessons for your poem from Perfume FAQ and this found poem.)


Ten Questions: Ron Silliman

And we have Ron Silliman! Ron looked at both the Ten Questions on Poetry and the Ten Questions on Publication and decided to go for the former in his responses, which most definitely works for us. Warmest thanks to Ron both for his participation in this series and for his generous linking to the responses of several participants in the Ten Questions on Publication series.

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?

Poetry is the only art form that can make use of all the possible dimensions of language and one of its historic functions has been to make us aware of these domains of meaning, especially those that fall outside of the narrow band of denotation. What the potential consequences of this awareness might be are very different according to where one is in the scheme of things. A white male in a failing empire has a very different social role than that of a young woman in Nairobi, but poetry is something both can use to make sense of their lives.

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?

I’ve never done an on-line workshop so have no grounds for talking about those. I was a student in workshops at San Francisco State in the 1960s – my teachers included Jack Gilbert, George Hitchcock & Wright Morris – and I’ve led some workshops from time to time, at UC San Diego, at Naropa in its summer writing program, and at Brown.

I also ran a writers workshop in the San Francisco Tenderloin from 1978 through ’81. It was open to any neighborhood resident and was certainly the only class I’ve ever been involved with that had a no guns in class rule – that’s one of those rules you institute the instant you need it. “Oh, Bob, we have a no guns in class rule. You’ll have to take that back to your place and then return without it. Thanks. That’s great.” I invoked that there more than once. The funny thing is that of all my various workshop experiences, the most real writers came out of this one – Tom Hibbard, the late Mary Tallmountain. Roberto Harrison participated in the workshop shortly after I turned it over.

The value in workshops is simple. Likeminded people get together to discuss their work. College in particular is a time when young people can get their parents to pay the freight to allow them to focus on something like poetry for a few years. It can get you to New York or San Francisco, which itself can be more valuable than the workshop itself. It ensures you a few regular readers, some of who may become friends.

At San Francisco State, I benefited more from just hanging out with Jack Gilbert, which I did a lot, than from his workshops as such. He lived just down the street from me across from the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. I remember once playing a very intense game of ping pong with him while we were visiting someone on the psych ward at San Francisco General Hospital, back in 1967, the two of us volleying while Jack talked about how poetry functions very much like table tennis. That may have been one of my most useful moments as a student there.

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.”

Donald Hall has a point. When I was starting out as a poet, back in 1965, I sent my work out the instant I thought it was done. 98 percent got rejected, deservedly so. But then Poetry Northwest and The Chicago Review and TriQuarterly and publications like that began to accept things and I ended up spending the next several years making all of my mistakes in public. This is why, I hope, that there will never be a Ron Silliman Complete Works edition. I do plan to go back to the writing before The Age of Huts and pulling together a volume of unrejected works, but they clearly will be a minority of what got written during that first decade.
At this point, nearly four decades later, however, I come pretty close to Hall’s admonition myself. It often takes me years to finish a piece, or I will finish one in the notebook and let it sit for a few years before typing it up. Anything I’ve published that looks like anti-war poetry, for example, is from the first Iraq war under Poppa Bush, not this thrashing about by Baby Bush, either in Afghanistan or Iraq.

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.”

Because poetry is a relatively small community – there are almost certainly as many people who breed dogs for show as there are poets in the US, and the bird watchers would trample us if they wanted to – it’s hard to give out negative comments to a specific book without generating a lot of ad hominen tsouris in return. There are so many good books of poetry, that I see very little need, for example, to focus on the negative on my blog. Why bother?

On the other hand, there is a categorical difference between my discussion of a book by a poet and fulfilling discussion of the “formal, intellectual, or contextual parameters” of poetry. Start there and use names only as reference points and you’ll get a completely different response. I’ve been able to insert several relatively new ideas on my blog – post-avant, school of quietude, new western / Zen cowboy – some of which have taken on a life of their own, but I’ve done it by discussing the idea, not necessarily pinning it on a single book.

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

My blog will receive its 1.6 millionth visit today (May 1). Last Monday, visitors clicked on over 5,000 links on my site. My internet presence is much larger than I ever imagined it would be.

When I got started, back in August 2002, I was looking for a way to get some things off my chest. I was also looking, ideally, for a means that would allow poets to discuss things of interest to them, not unlike what happens at the bar after a reading. There were only two or three other poetry related blogs out there when I started – Laura Willey, Joseph Duemer & maybe Mark Woods. But that was about it.

Today there are thousands of poetry blogs – ranging from the completely serious to the completely not. It provides for a more effective & diverse way for poets to discuss matters of direct interest to one another without going through the funneling influence of an academic review process. In a world in which the MFA mills turn out a couple of thousand new young poets each year & there are less than six dozen available teaching jobs, this is really an absolute necessity.

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

When I was a very young poet, I found myself being drawn toward the kinds of poems I could get into journals. I could write a moderately passable imitation, say, of an Alan Dugan poem and a lot of publications – especially School of Quietude organs like The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Poetry Northwest – tended to publish what they already recognized. I had work accepted by Poetry by the time I was 21. What this actually did was to convince me that writing like that was just too easy. It’s really what drove me to explore poetry more deeply, eventually leading me to the work of people like Bob Grenier & Clark Coolidge. My writing improved dramatically in that I was engaging the language on many more levels & yet the journals that had accepted my work earlier suddenly all dropped me like a rock. That was an instructive experience, to say the least. For the next few years, I published only in little magazines relating to the poetics that were just emerging in the early 1970s, such as This and Roof.

But after the appearance of Ketjak in 1978 that changed. Since then, I’ve been able to publish everything I’ve wanted to. When The Alphabet comes out later this year, I will be in a position of having all my mature work as a poet available in book form – The Age of Huts, Tjanting, The Alphabet – roughly 1,500 pages worth. I’m conscious of just how fortunate I am.

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

When you have a minimum of 10,000 publishing poets, a failing world of independent bookstores that are not anxious to take on little magazines, and a new medium that enables e-publications to appear for the fraction of the cost of a print journal, this is just inevitable. The real problem comes in trying to get people to look at and read the work on-line.

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

I think it’s fine. Self-publishing really demands self-discipline on the part of the writer, though. The value of an editor is simply that second set of eyes.

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

The richness of the literary community itself. In the 1950s, in the US, there were only a few hundred poets and you were either part of a group or completely isolated. There were only two cities in the entire country that could sustain a true literary community, San Francisco & New York. Now, you can see vibrant scenes all over the place.

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

Differentiation – how do you stand out from the masses of what’s already being written? It’s probably easier to gain a small, dedicated audience for your work, but I think it’s much much harder to take that next step toward a broader audience, the kind that will ensure that publishers will want to take on your work.


Ron Silliman has written and edited 30 books to date, most recently participating in the multi-volume collaborative autobiography,The Grand Piano. Between 1979 and 2004, Silliman wrote a single poem, entitled The Alphabet. Volumes published thus far from that project have included ABC, Demo to Ink, Jones, Lit, Manifest, N/O, Paradise, (R), Toner, What and Xing. The University of Alabama Press will publish the entire work as a single volume in 2008. Silliman has now begun writing a new poem entitled Universe.

Silliman was the 2006 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, a 2003 Literary Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and was a 2002 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Arts Council as well as a Pew Fellow in the Arts in 1998. He lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two sons, and works as a market analyst in the computer industry.

Read more about the 30 books Ron Silliman has written or edited here and here, and more about Ron Silliman in this recent interview on Rob Mclennan’s blog. And in case you’ve been living on Jupiter the last few years, Ron blogs at Silliman’s Blog.


Ten Questions on Poetry: Standing Page

murder in the cathedral and other English things

Yes, I’ve been a lame and bad blogger lately, busy trekking back and forth across southern England touching brief base with various family members and old school/university friends, mainly in Kent and Hampshire. Incredibly, first time ever in Canterbury Cathedral, what was I thinking, what was I waiting for. Everyone needs to go there. And stand on the very spot upon which Thomas a Becket was murdered. Creepy and somehow insane to stand on those very flagstones and think about Henry’s very knights bursting through the door and Becket kneeling there verily praying. I headline here with the Eliot but actually the Jean Anouilh treatment is what I know best and like most.

After that, lots of lovely things in Hampshire, but especially the New Forest and especially the heathland in of the New Forest, made me all homesick for Dartmoor again.

And trees. I’ve developed this thing about trees over the last few years. Trees of Asia. Of Colorado and Arizona. Of Virginia. Of East and West Africa. Of England.

And so I’m noticing oaks, and beeches and silver birches and alders and ash trees and willows and laburnums and Scotch pines. Trees are so bones-of-the-earth and they all speak Tree, wherever they are.

Ten Questions (2): Reb Livingston

1. Describe your publishing trajectory. Where did it start? Where is it now? How long have you been at it?

I just spoke about this a few days ago to some Marist College undergrads, it’s a tale of ups and downs, some unexpected “successes” and plenty of rejection. I started writing poetry in college during the early 90′s and published a couple poems in undergraduate publications at Carnegie Mellon. But aside from that, I didn’t place a poem in a magazine until 2000 when Ed Ochester accepted one for 5AM. I sent my work out for years, feeling daunted and hopeless. Of course, the way I went about it was why. I sent my poems to all the wrong magazines; places that didn’t publish work in the same vein as mine — or places I wasn’t familiar, never read. That’s a recipe for failure and I cooked with that pretty much my entire 20s. Some people have to learn the hard way. I’m one of those people. Now I send poems out only to places I read and admire and sometimes to places that solicit work. My poems have appeared in a few “biggish” places like Best American Poetry and American Poetry Review, some kinda-well known online and print magazines and a slew of not-so well known places. I still get rejections (most recently last week) and probably always will. That’s just the way it is. Four-plus years of editing my own online magazine, No Tell Motel, taught me not to take any of it personally. As for books, the Whole Coconut Books Chapbook Series published my first title, Pterodactyls Soar Again, as an online chapbook in 2006 and that same year, my micropress, No Tell Books published a collaborative chapbook I wrote with Ravi Shankar, Wanton Textiles. Along with Molly Arden, I edited two anthologies for the The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel series. My first what they call “full-length” poetry collection, Your Ten Favorite Words, came out very recently from Coconut Books. Currently I’m in the midst of creating a manuscript called God Damsel. The further along I get into it, the further from finished it becomes. Coconut Books expressed interested in publishing that too, so that’s likely where it’ll end up, when it’s ready. If for some unexpected reason Coconut doesn’t take it, I’ll publish it myself with No Tell Books. I no longer feel beholden to other publishers’ whims and circumstances. I know how to put together a book. There’s no reason I should spend hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars in contests and reading fees for something I can do myself.

2. What would you do differently if you had to start all over again?

I would save my money and not send to any book contests whatsoever. Bye bye $1500. What do I have to show for it? A handful of the “winning” books, most of which I don’t even care for. I could have published two books for that amount. Also, as I mentioned above, I would be more selective and knowledgeable where I send my work in general. Bye bye hundreds of hours of my life.

3. Why did you start seeking publication? Why do you continue?

I wanted readers for my poems. I continue because I still want my poems to be read. That’s pretty much it. I don’t teach. I have little interest in teaching, so I don’t have a CV to worry about. It’s freeing because I can publish wherever I want, including self- publishing (which I believe more poets should consider, not as defeat, but as taking control of one’s work, how it’s presented and distributed).

4. Does your relationship with your work change after it is published and if so, how? How does the concept of publication affect your writing in general?

Not so much, I’ll stop revising a poem when I think it’s ready to send to magazine, but later down the road it’s fair game again. When it’s time to put together a book, the poems (whether published or not) are each examined for editing, changing and scraping. I’m an obsessive reviser.

5. Talk about putting a chapbook together. How have you done it in the past, how would you do it differently now? Why are chapbooks a good thing or not a good thing?

Pterodactyls Soar Again is a pared-down, tighter version of an unpublished longer manuscript, Home-Schooled by a Cackling Jackal. Once the chapbook came out, I had no urge to continue searching for a home for Cackling Jackal. The fact that it’s online and free meant it got (and still gets) a lot of readers. That pleases me very much. Ravi and I collaboratively wrote Wanton Textiles on and off via e-mail for over two years. It’s a print-chapbook and sadly hasn’t sold particularly well, in fact it’s No Tell Books’ most dismal seller, by far. On the bright side, I probably gave away 100+ copies and it’s received a few good reviews. In the end it was a way to get the work out there, although definitely not the most cost-effective yet it didn’t exactly break my bank either. That’s the beauty of ch(e)apbooks. I guess I don’t really understand the question of whether or not chapbooks are good or bad. Some books are good things, others not so much. I don’t see how length, distribution or the production process has any determining factor in that. Unless the pages are made from the skins of kittens.

6. What’s your advice to someone putting together a full-length poetry manuscript for the first time? Share your thoughts on the importance (or not) of narrative arc in poetry manuscripts.

Put together the book you believe needs to be put together. If that book needs a narrative arc, super, if not, why bother worrying about it? To fit some trend? If you’re worried about trends, fashion or popularity, for God’s sake, don’t waste your time with poetry. If a poem belongs, include it, if not, don’t. Don’t feel beholden to include poems that were published in “biggish” places just for the sake of your Acknowledgments page. Several people asked why I didn’t include “That’s Not Butter” in Your Ten Favorite Words. I’d tell them because it didn’t fit with the collection, it’s from Pterodactyls Soar Again. They’d look exasperated, like I was the silliest idiot in the world blowing my big “chance.” I don’t follow that logic. That particular poem reached more readers than I ever imagined. If somebody read that poem and wanted to read more of my poems, I don’t see how not including it would in any way be discouraging. Even if that was the case in some freaky poetry reader dimension, a couple sales is not enough motivation to clunk-up my book with something that doesn’t belong. I suppose that all leads up this advice: don’t treat your poetry like it’s a commodity. You’ll be selling it short (hah!). Poems aren’t commodities. Poems don’t make anyone money. So when you’re creating your book, listen to your inner artist, not your inner capitalist. If your inner capitalist knew what he was talking about, he’d be telling you to write a self-help book or something for Penthouse Forum.

7. Do you personally market your publications? If so, why and how, and do you enjoy it? If not, why not?

If you mean do I do readings, speak on panels, link to my books from my websites, try to cajole people into reviewing my books, send out e- mails asking friends and family to buy them, agree to participate in interviews such as this one — then yes, most certainly. I do it because I want people to buy my books. I want people to read them. I also want my publisher and my own press to recoup the costs of producing the books. I do enjoy giving readings and participating on panels, usually, but I find it to be psychically draining and often must take breaks.

8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers are… not necessarily evil although usually irrelevant and not particularly interesting. Big-name poetry publishers tend to be interested in the bottom-line since they’re all owned by massive corporations. They’d sooner publish a terrible book by a pop star than take a chance publishing a fantastic collection by an “unknown” or what I really mean to say is an “extra-unknown” because even well-known poets are pretty much unknown. I don’t pay too much attention to big-name publishers because as a busy mom I don’t find much of what they’re doing to be worth my time. Besides, how many poetry books are these “big-name” poetry publishers even putting out in a year? Less than a hundred, I think. Why do they keep coming up in conversation? They’re barely applicable.

9. Small- and micro-presses are… the publishers of poetry. Small and micro-presses publish the overwhelming majority of poetry in the U.S. They’re run by people who care about poetry and who find ways to finance and publish it whether it’s from acquiring grants, getting support from universities and institutions and often, out of their own pockets. Some small presses finance their operations with book contests. I’m not so crazy about that, but don’t begrudge them. It’s hard out there being a poetry publisher.

 10. Describe the ideal relationship with a publisher and the relationship with a publisher from hell.

An ideal relationship with a publisher would be like a happy marriage: nurturing, harmoniously working together to bring and raise that baby in the cruel cruel world. Having a publisher from hell would be like an unhappy marriage where your partner doesn’t hold up his end, is absent more than he’s around, is a control freak or gives his sweet sweet love to everyone but you.


Reb Livingston lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and son. She’s the author of Your Ten Favorite Words and co-editor of The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel anthology series. Also she edits and publishes No Tell Motel and No Tell Books.


Previously on Ten Questions:

1. Kristy Bowen
2. Reginald Shepherd
3. Carolyn Guinzio
4. Nate Pritts
5. Sam Byfield
6. Neil Aitken
7. Edward Byrne
8. Rachel Bunting
9. Brent Fisk
10. Ivy Alvarez
11. Michaela Gabriel

Coming up:

13. Ron Silliman, May 8

Answers posted by others to their own blogs:

Rik Roots
Rob Mackenzie
Steve Schroeder
Cheryl Snell
Kate Benedict

Standing Page