poems, mostly metrical, and rants and raves on poets, poetry, and the po-biz (with 8-string stuff)
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Category — News

Maxine Kumin, 6/6/1925—2/6/2014

I was very lucky, back in the 1970’s, to be able to work with Ms Kumin in workshops arranged by Sena Jeter Naslund at the University of Louisville. She had a tremendous influence on me at the time, and I’ve never stopped reading her work.

I’ve always particularly loved her book The Retrieval System. When I learned of her death I immediately thought of that book’s title poem and, especially, “The Excrement Poem,” which ends 

 

I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and the next.
However much we stain the world, spatter

it with out leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down
trundling off today’s last barrow-full
I honor shit for saying: We go on.

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February 8, 2014   3 Comments

What else have I been missing?

via the always thought-provoking and entertaining Arts & Letters Daily, I just read “‘An Imp with brains’: The forgotten genius of Charlotte Mew”, written by Julia Copus, at The New Statesman.

I’d forgotten Charlotte Mew myself, though after reading a bit I did recall some of her work, and before finishing the article I was off to Amazon to buy a used library edition of her Collected Poetry and Prose. I got the only one, so there’s no useful link, but there are available copies (including a Kindle edition) of her Selected Poems and print only editions of her Collected Poems and Selected Prose. But it wasn’t just the generous quotes from Mew’s poetry that brought out my debit card—Ms Copus writes wonderful, insightful prose, so I looked her up as well, and after finding this poem and discovering she’s been short-listed for the T. S. Eliot Prize, I ordered the Kindle edition of The World’s Two Smallest Humans, her latest book.

Maybe I should stop reading Arts & Letters Daily before I go broke.

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June 14, 2013   No Comments

Lewis Turco’s The Book of Forms, 4th Ed.

The book’s been indispensable for me since the 1968 1st edition (which Lew was kind enough to sign for me a few years ago) and I am very proud to say the new edition is out and includes a form I devised for Twitter and originally called a twinnet. I now call it a twiplet, and that’s the name Lew used.

In related news, I posted about the publication in the UseNet group alt.arts.poetry.comments, where George Dance noticed it and was kind enough to add the form to his Penny’s Poetry Pages Wiki. He also wrote a twiplet and posted it on the page including my definition and examples. I’ve added a link under “Poetry, Mostly Blogs” to George’s site.

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January 9, 2012   2 Comments

iPad Generation?

According to my daily Google Alert for poetry, “Poetry is ‘in the ascendant’ with young people as the iPad generation begins to reject the consumer society, according to the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. …” 

Now, wouldn’t the eldest of any “iPad generation” be not quite 10 weeks old? And in England, less than that? I couldn’t believe Duffy would make such a ridiculous statement (aren’t iPads for content consumption?), and, thankfully, she didn’t.  It’s from the lede, but iPads are never mentioned in the article itself.

I did write this post on an iPad.

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June 6, 2010   3 Comments

In Case You Haven’t Guessed …

NaPoWriMo’s not going so well for me. “The world is too much with us …” But I like 2 of the 3 sonnets, and I’ve got drafts for 3 or 4, so maybe it worked out OK after all.

In other news, Victor Keegan at the Guardian has produced a nifty iPhone app, City Poems, which uses location services to display poems associated with where you are in London. Which I am not.

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April 14, 2010   1 Comment

Poetic Justice?

I’m glad that two Supreme Court Justices have a little poetry as part of their familiar mental furniture. For many reasons I’m afraid the time is not far off when such casual quotation of poetry between important public officials will be a historical curiosity: fewer and fewer people read poetry at all; fewer poets are interested in making memorable poems; even fewer poets are interested in the techniques of rhetoric, rhyme, and prosody which can support making memorable poems; many actively avoid those techniques, distrusting them as productive of earworms, meaningless snippets that can actually interfere with comprehension of the poem — if they’re even interested in being understood.

And it seems to me possible that the line from “Stopping By Woods” is just such an earworm for Roberts. After all, he’s suggesting Souter is eager to give up his seat in order to return to “return to your land ‘of easy wind and downy flake’” – but the poem is actually a rejection of the temptation to rest in that place:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Souter’s reply, on the other hand, seems to me deeply grounded in the complex and unsettling “Two Tramps in Mud-Time.” He is grateful for the opportunity he’s had to do meaningful work — work “where love and need are one” — and deeply aware that such work is denied to many. Everything in the poem is precariously balanced: the singing bird “wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom”; in summer we’ll miss spring’s plentiful water, still we should “Be glad of water, but don’t forget / The lurking frost in the earth beneath”; there is even a sense in which his privilege is an affront to the two tramps’ lack:

They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.

And yet he continues his work.

Obviously I have no real knowledge at all either of Roberts’ or Souter’s reading habits or of their intentions in quoting Frost. But I’m sorry it’s Souter who’s leaving the court.

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June 30, 2009   No Comments

Poetry’s Ghetto

Here’s what Wikipedia, after a nod to slam and identity poetics, says about poetry in the United States:

In general, however, poetry has been moving out of the mainstream and onto the college and university campus. The growth in the popularity of graduate creative writing programs has given poets the opportunity to make a living as teachers. This increased professionalization, combined with the reluctance of most major book and magazine presses to publish poetry, has meant that, for the foreseeable future at least, poetry may have found its new home in the academy.

I’ve long argued it’s a disfunctional home, so concerned with internal politics and status that poets stuck there forget they should be writing for ordinary literate audiences, and now it seems to be going broke. I doubt there will be a bailout.

But even if university presses keep printing poetry, who besides the poets and their parents will care? Look at a pair of stats reported here nine years ago:

  1. The average print run for a book of poetry is 1,000 copies, and most titles are out of print the same year they are published.
  2. Poetry sites on the World Wide Web are, by one estimate, the sixth most frequently visited of all Web sites, well ahead of David Letterman’s Top Ten List and ’N Sync’s home page.

Nothing’s improved concerning the first item, and while I’m willing to bet a small sum that this site alone gets more hits than ’N Sync these days, even the cited article admits there ain’t no money in it.

Money, of course, is the great attraction of the university for poets. Very few have ever made a living entirely from their poetry, and the university is one of the very few workplaces where you can, at least, talk about poetry and not cause your colleagues to avoid you at lunch — though the kinds of poetry you can talk about may rather limited, and so may be the kinds of things you can say. An admiration for Longfellow doesn’t seem to be now as completely outré as it was in the 80s, but the vitriol recently heaped by some academic poets on Robert Service and his readers in discussions at the Poetry Foundation‘s Harriet blog was truly astonishing. Here’s part of one of the mildest comments:

The example of Robert W. Service is very shabby. As far as Robert W. Service goes I would be more than willing to wager that his work is NOT bought by poets during serious study, but rather by Moms and Dads buying the illustrated versions of their children. I would not hold children up as part of a serious readership of poetry, not as an example. I could be wrong but I doubt it.

Let me be clear: those who derided Service (certainly not all of the commenters, and certainly not Annie Finch, who originally posted on Plath) frequently mentioned a young readership and the existence of illustrated editions as points against him, as evidence that he isn’t valued in the academy, which means he isn’t taken seriously as a poet by the people whose opinions count, those whose views control the canon (but hasn’t the canon been burst open!?!).

Who do they think they are? Who do they think will read their poems in 30 years when most of those 1000 copies of each book have been recycled into paper picnic plates and garden mulch? Certainly not those no-longer-children who are now reading illustrated editions of Robert Service. May Google preserve them — which their presses seem unlikely to allow.

This past weekend, in Marilyn Nelson‘s workshop at West Chester, I was granted (well, I paid a lot of money for it) a revelation about just who they might be reading, and about a possible way out of the ghetto poets seem to have created for themselves. Tomorrow I’ll share that revelation — hey, I’ve blathered enough already!

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June 15, 2009   2 Comments

Happy Birthday, Maxine Kumin!

I once asked her if she thought I might ever write a real poem or if she thought I was just a reasonably clever grad student. She answered “I don’t know.” She was only at the University of Louisville for about a month-long residency, so it was probably just reasonable courtesy, but I was much encouraged.

Here is one of many of her poems I’ve loved.

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June 6, 2009   1 Comment

June 4, 1989

Students came to Tiananmen Square
To mourn the death of Hu Yaobang,
And call the old men to repair
The State they’d led to wrong.
Workers joined the student throng
And made the Square the people’s place –
Thousands and tens of thousands strong,
They gave Liberty a Chinese face.

From the Great Hall of the People glared
Faces from the revolution, hung
There to silence those who dared
To charge the State with wrong.
But now the torch of freedom shone
From the statue of a woman raised
Before them — the people’s challenge flung,
Giving Liberty a Chinese face.

Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng stared
As one man, unarmed and alone,
Despite the armored terror
Of the State’s insane wrong,
Stopped a column of tanks along
The Avenue of Eternal Peace.
He simply stood his ground,
And gave Liberty a Chinese face.

Remember the thousands dead and mourn.
Remember the State’s deadly wrong.
Martyr’s blood is never erased –
They gave Liberty a Chinese face.

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June 4, 2009   3 Comments

Not Waving but Drowning

I learned from Slashdot (yes — news for nerds!) that Google is developing something which they call Wave for collaborative work. When you ask to be kept informed of development news, they ask for a message along with your email address, saying “Write a message to the Google Wave team
(Haikus, sonnets and ASCII art all accepted)”

So I wrote them a triolet (podcast here):

What poets dream they sing alone?
Can dancers dream in measured tread
To private rhythms all their own?
What poets dream they sing alone
When every word they’ve ever known
Is borrowed from the unknown dead?
What poets dream they sing alone,
Can dancers dream in measured tread?

I’m excited about Wave for a number of reasons. I lead a (very) small team of programmers abd I play in a pretty damn big band. For both there’s a real need for better collaboration and coordination, and I’m always buying or trying software that might help — so far, none really has — and Google has got at least a few things spectacularly right. Even so, there’s connectivity problems with the band and NMCI problems at work, so I’m doubtful I’ll be able to use Wave for them.

But I also am interested in collaborative work, especially long narrative work, with other poets, and there are very few poets anywhere near where I live. I’ve done one such fair-sized project — Pardon My Dragon, a verse play written with Matthew Shindell and Reb Livingston — and the process was truly painful (the finished work less so). If Wave works, I’m looking for partners. I’m looking for partners to help me find out if Wave works.

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May 29, 2009   4 Comments