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

Oh jeez …

Double jeez, really.

First, I’m two days behind on the 30 poems for April, and that’s a rather mournful jeez.

The second jeez is more of a WTF: in the course of his review of Gary Gutting’s Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960, Christopher Bray writes that Gutting considers Theory to be, like poetry, “unparaphrasable and never fully explicable.”

Well, sure. Paraphrases of poetry aren’t poetry, and Bray follows that immediately with “I dare say I’m not the only one who finds Foucault and Derrida’s coiling, arrhythmic stodge anything but poetic.” But does that mean Gutting would think a transcript of a conversation with an untreated shizophrenic to be like poetry?

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April 5, 2011   No Comments

Courtly Love

I kind of love Dahlia Lithwick, who writes about the Supreme Court over at Slate. How could I resist this?

Sheldon E. Richie represents New Process Steel, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg soon pins him over whether a group with a quorum of two is the board or an agent of the board. Justice Stephen Breyer asks what happens if the board of five delegates its power to three and then one of them dies. And I feel myself transported, just as you are doubtless being transported right now, to that one college lit class where pretty girls with long black hair talked wispily about Keats’ “Endymion” while a solitary fly buzzed against the window pane. …

The whole article is here.

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March 24, 2010   No Comments

After Long Silence

I don’t have much to say, but I think that’s because I’ve been silent. Not writing is not the way to get writing done.

Poetry, of course, goes on its merry way with or without me—via Arts & Letter Daily comes a piece which The Chronicle of Higher Education deigns to let non-academics read (have I mentioned just how despicable I find the access policies of JSTOR and Project MUSE?), “The New Math of Poetry”, which estimates that 100,000 poems will be published this year in English-language literary journals alone. Hey, if The Writer counts as a “literary journal”, 0.001% of them are mine already!

But even though very few people will read any significant portion of those 100,000 poems, people do still talk about poetry, often in surprising contexts. Scientific American, for instance, in an article on the enteric nervous system, has this:

“The second brain doesn’t help with the great thought processes…religion, philosophy and poetry is left to the brain in the head,” says Michael Gershon, chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, an expert in the nascent field of neurogastroenterology and author of the 1998 book The Second Brain (HarperCollins).

See? Poetry gets some respect. And even the technical stuff shows up in odd places: here is Joshua David Stein reporting on the Winter Olympics in Salon (you’ll need to click on “Continue Reading” at the bottom):

If the Ski Jump is the haiku of the games, the compulsory ice dance is a villanelle, a sport corseted so tightly with rules and regulations that the gasps of creativity are remanded to grow through the cracks.

I personally find villanelles rather useful machines for forcing me out of my mannerisms, and I think I’ll write one this week.

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February 24, 2010   4 Comments

Wild Geese

I haven’t seen much notice of Vice President Joe Biden’s appearance at the World Trade Center site on September 11 this year. He read Mary Oliver‘s poem “Wild Geese,” and I am grateful for the choice. Not that Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets — though she is very good — but that the Vice President, and maybe in particular this Vice President, chose such an apolitical and non-combative poem, a poem, finally, of joy, a rejection of despair and of anger, to read on such an occasion.

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September 13, 2009   No Comments

Subject Matter

My apologies to those of you still checking in — I’ve been caught up in an endless parade of nothing much interspersed with arduous cat-vacuuming, and I have no excuses.

Especially considering a pair of pieces I found on the web today: Robert Pinsky at Slate on “Alexander Pope’s ‘Epistle [to Miss Blount, on Her Leaving the Town, After the Coronation]’ and the art of making poetry from normal, banal, petty life” and a Foreign Policy blog entry on patriotic poetry from the People’s Republic of China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

I mean really.

As Pinsky notes, Pope’s poem gracefully and successfully challenges the notion that poetry must be concerned with high something-or-other. It “wakes me up,” he writes,

enlivens me, in a way remarkably different from many poems by George Herbert or Emily Dickinson or Wallace Stevens. This poem is social. It is written in the social form of a letter. Art here elevates the social into a more intense realm, just as another work might elevate sexual desire, piety, or admiration for a landscape into a transforming intensity.

There’s too little of such poetry today, and even “plagued with headaches, or the want of rhyme” I should have been writing in the spirit of such work over the last month and half instead of just grumping around. I like making such poems — that’s not a claim that I make poems like Pope’s in their literary value — and here’s one old one, an epistolary sonnet I wrote about a recipe for garlic soup I found on another poet’s blog (no longer available):

Grateful Sonnet

I never used to wonder how to ease
My joints on winter days I’d walked too far,
Or not at all, or not enough to please
My doctor, or only to the nearest bar.
That’s 40 feet. I’m broke. That’s for the best.
And, better still, I’m stiff because the bay
And river, one due east and one due west,
Are both about an hour’s walk away.
I chose the river so the sun would warm
My back and spare my eyes as I returned.
Of course the clouds rolled in, but did no harm
That garlic soup cannot relieve, I’ve learned.
So thank you, Carlos, for the recipe—
True comfort food, a sovereign remedy.

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August 4, 2009   No Comments

What Happened To My Snappy Title?

from a Salonreview of a red-band trailer for the upcoming Jennifer’s Body:

Being forced into a generic container might be the best thing that could happen to [Diablo] Cody‘s overly precious writing. As my college poetry teacher used to say, it’s always easier to write good sonnets than good free verse — and this particular sonnet has a naked high-school demon-cheerleader in it.

A few things:

  • A review of a trailer?
  • Once you can write a sonnet at all, it is easier to write a good sonnet than it is to write good free verse — because the form itself, when well-handled, does a lot of work for you.
  • For the same reason, I don’t think the best possible free verse poem of 140-or-so syllables could ever get as much done as a really good sonnet.
  • Who says poems have to do work?
  • Now I want to write a sonnet with a naked high-school demon-cheerleader in it.
  • But I have to work, so the sonnet has to wait.
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July 7, 2009   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

Supreme Poet

From the Christian Science Monitor via a Google Alert for the word “poetry,” I learn that Justices Roberts and Souter said farewell to each other with letters quoting, first, Frost’s “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening” (Roberts to Souter) and then his “Two Tramps In Mud Time” (Souter to Roberts). Pretty fabulous, especially because the references are, not exactly casual, but they’re not announced – Roberts quotes six words with no attribution, expecting Souter to just know the line, and Souter does. He responds

You quoted the Poet, and I will, too, in words that set out the ideal of the life engaged, “…where love and need are one…”

And that capitol ‘P’!

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June 29, 2009   No Comments

“a wild sustenuto of the heart”

Meghan O’Rourke quotes a poem by Jack Gilbert in her mostly favorable review of Cristina Nehring’s A Vindication of Love. The book as reviewed, and to some extent the review, come close to arguing that love without risk is too narrow and likely unsatisfying — with which I agree — and that a lack of occasional failure and messiness is evidence for a lack of risk-taking — with which I heartily disagree. And I have a poem to quote as well. The full text of Richard Wilbur‘s “For C.” is reprinted at the Poetry Foundation; here is the last two verses:

We are denied, my love, their fine tristesse
And bittersweet regrets, and cannot share
The frequent vistas of their large despair,
Where love and all are swept to nothingness;
Still, there’s a certain scope in that long love
Which constant spirits are the keepers of,

And which, though taken to be tame and staid,
Is a wild sostenuto of the heart,
A passion joined to courtesy and art
Which has the quality of something made,
Like a good fiddle, like the rose’s scent,
Like a rose window or the firmament.

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June 25, 2009   No 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