loving it

Hunting for poems to read aloud and record, seeing the poetry blogosphere all new like thin fresh carrot sticks and a bowl of today’s hummus. I love you guys with all your magic spaghetti spinning dissecting celebrating rainbow poems.

Whale Sound

I have read others’ work for different publications (here and here, for example), in addition to reading my own work for different publications (e.g. here and here).

Reading other peoples’ work aloud is the most tender and respectful, and also the most careful, way to engage with it, I find.

So here’s my new idea.

It’s going to start slowly. I’ve decided I will only read and record poems that sing to me. To me. Not my stuff, though – yours.

There will be a link to text if the poems are available online, but I won’t be posting any text. Just voice.

I’ll be out looking for those poems. So don’t be surprised to hear from me soon, asking if you would let me record and post that brilliant piece of yours that ran in Magazine X last week.

“Publishing Your Incunable”

Two things about this fine under-used word:

1) Fact: Its current-usage frame of reference stops at the year 1500.
2) Probability: Its current-usage users are no more than fifteen gaunt and over-used academics.

This fine word, which you know is crying out to be commandeered into broader and more common current parlance, is anglicized Latin for “swaddling clothes” or “cradle” and can refer to “the earliest stages or first traces in the development of anything.”

OK. How about the the earliest stages or first traces in the development of a poet?

I propose that we re-coin, re-deploy “incunable” to mean “first book of poetry.”

Only one Incunable for everyone, to be referred to in endless bildungs-narratives, entered into endless Incunable Contests and cited as proximate cause in endless career-path ex-/im-plosions.

Bad News in Technology: Writing Invented

Socrates, in Plato’s Phaedrus, laments the advent of writing, saying “.. this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory.”

I heard, then, that at Naucratis, in Egypt, was one of the ancient gods of that country, the one whose sacred bird is called the ibis, and the name of the god himself was Theuth. He it was who invented numbers and arithmetic and geometry and astronomy, also draughts and dice, and, most important of all, letters. Now the king of all Egypt at that time was the god Thamus, who lived in the great city of the upper region, which the Greeks call the Egyptian Thebes, and they call the god himself Ammon. To him came Theuth to show his inventions, saying that they ought to be imparted to the other Egyptians. But Thamus asked what use there was in each, and as Theuth enumerated their uses, expressed praise or blame, according as he approved or disapproved. The story goes that Thamus said many things to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts, which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to the letters, “This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.” But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.”

(Hat tip: Joe and his comment on yesterday’s post.)

a magazine for your ears?

I love this. The Drum: A Literary Magazine for Your Ears.

The amazing thing about it? No text!

One of the questions in the recently-completed Ten Questions on Poets & Technology series was: “Technology is enabling poets today to take poetry off the page in ways that were previously inconceivable. Either comment on [videopoem X] or provide a link to and comments on a different piece of work that uses technology to take the poem off the page.”

Some respondents – most? – answered in so many words, with varying degrees of emphasis: No. Poetry belongs on the page. Poetry is text.

I’m a slave to text myself. It’s almost impossible for me to grasp a poem (intellectually, emotionally, dare I say aurally) without seeing it on a page. I can’t conceive of composing without writing, without the visual affirmation of text on a page.

One respondent, however – Rik Roots, who answered the Ten Questions on his own blog – pointed out that poetry pre-dates text by a long way, that writing itself is just another technological advancement poetry has wrapped itself around.

Rik’s response pulled me up short and made me ask – what am I missing? What does this enslavement to text mean for the way I experience poetry?

Lots of poetry journals have audio. But audio and text. Or, (in some cases), audio and video.

But what about just audio?

What would it be like to hear, instead of read, a whole issue of a poetry journal?

(This ties in somehow sorta to Amy King‘s technology idea.)

poetry contests or a 10-year apprenticeship?

The bottom line is that I believe poets seeking to break into the “scene,” whatever that means, should spend a minimum 10 years giving to that scene by doing one or several of the following: publishing a small press (chapbook and/or journal series), hosting a reading series, otherwise building community by engaging with a group of like-minded poets who both challenge and encourage you (again, via a reading series, weekly discussion, group study, exchanging and critiquing each other’s work, etc.). Call it an apprenticeship, if you will.

via New Pages

I think the “apprenticeship” concept is a valid and useful way to look at things, although I might exclude some of the above suggested elements and add others to constitute it. One element I would definitely add would be the nanopress.

desiccated twigs in the swamp of the skull

Grace Paley, what is she like? Dainty white bird bones and little chameleon’s feet that pick-pick their way all the way up you then whoa your stomach parachutes out at 13,000 feet with no permission.

And funny. She’s funny too.


What has happened?
language eludes me
the nice specifying
words of my life fail
when I call

Ah says a friend
dried up no doubt
on the desiccated
twigs in the swamp
of the skull like
a lake where the
water level has been
shifted by highways
a couple of miles off

Another friend says
No no my dear perhaps
you are only meant to
speak more plainly

– Grace Paley

la tierra del olvido

I must have dreamt about Colombia last night, because I woke up with this song in my head. From waaay back, when we would drink gallons of aguardiente and dance (on the bar for choice) until 3 am. Dancing vallenatos among others, by Carlos Vives for choice. La Tierra del Olvido, title track from his album of the same name, was a gigantic hit back then:

Where are you now, Carlos?

(And you, Luis Fernando?)


Just fell off the Poetry Foundation’s best-seller list so I went to order a copy and was told ‘temporarily out of stock.’ One reviewer calls it Anne Carson’s deeply moving scrap heap:

(…) Nox is unwieldy. It is, very deliberately, a literary object—the opposite of an e-reader designed to vanish in your palm as you read on a train. It comes in a box the size of my external hard drive, and its pages fold out, accordion-style, to colonize all your available space. More than that, though, the book radiates a kind of holy vibe that seems to demand some gesture of ritual cleansing.


Decided I must have this. Looking elsewhere for a copy now.

in praise of Difficult

There is this Rilke quote that you can find all over the internet (although sorry I can’t find where he actually said it):

What is required of us is that we love the difficult and learn to deal with it. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us.

I did find this in Letters to a Young Poet, though (letter No. 7):

Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it […]. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.

Mere assertions, really, that stand or fall less on the strength of the evidence presented than on whether the assertions happen to resonate with the audience.

Well, they resonate with me. I’m a fan of Difficult, mostly. Yes, we all deal (must deal) in one way or another with Difficult when we come upon it, or it upon us. And, yes, what is my difficult is not necessarily yours. Everyone’s difficult is different.

But we all know what our difficult is, immediately, when we see it. And then there are Questions about it.

On the tactical level: When I am faced with Difficult, do I a) run from it or b) face it? On the strategic (more important?) level – when I do face Difficult, is it because I have a) stumbled upon it or b) sought it out?

There was recently an exchange on Difficult on the New Poetry list. Poet X posted in outrage about some incomprehensible work by some famous difficult poet (Peter Manson, as it happens). (You know how it goes: This means nothing to me. How can it mean anything to anyone!? Do this artist and his/her supporters take me for a fool? Anyone could do this! Watch me do it right here! Etc.)

And someone nice responded: Poet X, The piece you quote has been taken out of context. Yes, the whole work is difficult, but worth the effort, trust me. “Difficulty,” said the responder, “is usually the entry fee for anything new (or new in one’s experience), in the arts and elsewhere. Complaining about it makes no more sense than arriving on an unknown island and being offended by the lack of maps.”

To which my hero of the moment, Bob Grumman, responded (his response reproduced here with permission):

I commend [Poet X] for at least complaining about it, the standard reaction to such stuff of mainstreamers being to ignore it. I also think he SHOULD complain about there being no maps. That is one of my on-going complaints: no critical attention paid to people doing work like Manson’s or like other poets in schools of poetry totally or almost totally unknown to academia like, yes, mathematical poetry.

Why not, I just thinkz: a college class devoted to Literary Incomprehensibilty. Start with an overview of all the great writers whose work was first thought incomprehenisible, then do Stein’s Tender Buttons, excerpts from Finnegans Wake (neither of which I yet find comprehensible, except for a few lines here and there, myself) and “The Wasteland” and maybe something else from back then). Then present students with a list of incomprehensible contemporary texts by people like Manson, Jim Leftwich, P. Inman, Clark Coolidge, John M. Bennett, Scott Helmes, and require each student to choose one text no one else will be working on and require a thousand-word appreciation due at the close of the course. Devote each class after that to discussions of the poems. The teacher should guide but not give any help of substance–for instance, he might suggest where criticism of some of the authors or writers like them may be found, and maybe ask a clarifying question or two, but leave the students on their own. Group efforts allowed, perhaps encouraged.

Goals: forcing each student to confront the incomprehensible and find ways of dealing with it; astonishing a lucky few into a capacity for appreciation they wouldn’t have believed they could have (like me, when a friend said something that suddenly made me at 18 see what the impressionist painters were doing, and caused me on my own within weeks to appreciate the abstract expressionists and all kinds of other non-representational painters I had hitherto had contempt for). But also forcing those not able to appreciate whatever texts they had to try to appreciate to say what those texts lacked, what they did wrong, what it was about them that prevented appreciation–all of which would have to improve their critical sense. Intelligent negativity counting as much as intelligent positiveness.