Thursday, December 18, 2008

Speech & Poetry

We know my unshrouded contempt for the claim that 2d art is poetry.

But why?

Here might be an analogue to help:

A painter paints, but then realizes that people, when they are not looking at his paintings, are talking about his paintings.

He says to himself "ah, it is not my painting that people love, it is the experience of my painting they love -- especially the talking about it."

So in order to help people talk about his paintings, he begins to incorporate words on his canvasses. He also starts to include larger and larger explanation placards to give his audience talking points.

One day, he doesn't produce a painting at all, but a large 4x3 white canvas with 16-point type describing a painting that isn't there. Eureka! He has given his fans what they truly want!

Not the painting, not the looking at the painting -- but the shared experience of having thought about looking at the painting -- the water-cooler chat, as it were.

"But," some child says, "you haven't painted anything. You aren't a painter anymore -- this isn't a painting."

"Oh, the ignorance of youth" thinks the painter. "Of course I am a painter, I have just found the essence of painting and given it to my audience."

In all of this,
the "painter" thinks he knows best.
In all of this,
the "painter" ignores the nature of his art.

Painting is eye-candy. As long as colors and shapes are on a canvas, we will look at them. We may talk about them to our friends -- to those who can't see the colors in front of them, but the experience, the purpose of a painting is to see it. No description can do a painting justice.

In the same way,
poetry is ear-candy. We will listen if it sounds good. When we are unable to listen, we may "listen in our heads" by reading the poem -- but the experience of the poem is aural, not visual. When we move away from the aural, we move away from poetry.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

We need a new Milton

(thanks to Silliman for the link)

from the article:

"How did we get to the position, in our cultural history, where our poets are so bad? Milton supplies us with some of the answer in his great poem Lycidas, the lament for a lost Cambridge contemporary who will never fulfil his promise.

First, the lost poet is described as "a learned Friend". As Yeats and Eliot's poetry show, becoming a poet is a hard apprenticeship. Poets must steep themselves in the old stories, the old mythologies, the old culture.

Poets provide a society with its most articulate memories. Homer created for the Greeks, the collective memory of the Trojan war, just as the Beowulf poet kept alive the glimmering memories of the heroic North just as it was about to vanish."

Looks like I'm not the only crazy in the world.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Your narrative poetry?

We already know that narrative poetry is superior to lyric poetry.

I called for the writing of narrative poetry about half a year ago.

Does anyone have any to share?

Look for some from me on 1/19/9 or 19/1/9, you know, depending on your time/date preference.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Because College Football is Awesome

That's right.
Go friggin Gators.

Florida is going to beat the pee out of Oklahoma.

OU scores 2.2 times as many points as its opponents.
UF scores 3.4 times as many.

OU has allowed 319 points by its opponents.
UF has allowed 167.

So UF outscores OU by 120%, and allows half as many points.

Oh, and the average defense rankings of the teams OU has played is in the 70s. Florida's defense is ranked 9th. And they're pretty awesome against the pass.

I smell a blowout.

In an average game, Florida scores six touchdowns (44 points) and OU scores seven-and-a-half (54).
Florida allows just two (13) and OU allows three-and-a-half (25).

I'm thinking OU gets about half of its regular score (54 ppg) and Florida gets about 125% of its regular score (44 ppg):

Florida: 56
Oklahoma: 28

Go Gators!

Monday, December 8, 2008

True Believers

from Ender in Exile:

"True believers in a cause often behave in self-defeating ways because they expect other people to see the rightness of their cause if they just state it clearly enough. As a result, they tip their hand in every game and can't understand why everyone gangs up against them."


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Give thinks

In about a month, the new site will be up. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to work everything (if anyone knows how to use drupal, I am ready to be schooled) but at the very least I'll just steal some blog architecture and build the new magazine that way.

So I haven't read much poetry lately -- other than the poems I've been forced to teach my students (really, who makes these awful "literature" workbooks?), but I find myself wondering how to construct my next poetic project.

I'm planning to write a long narrative poem (big surprise there) about Korean War POWs. The problem, the one I (and Milton) always find in English poetry is how to construct the thing. The last lengthy narrative I wrote was in a bluesy sort of Beowulf-like meter that was far more accentual than accentual-syllabic. It was surely fun, and I've used it in my stalled fairy-tale project (retelling a dozen fairy tales without magic), but I'm thinking the Korean pieces will be shorter (the previous poem is 2,000 ish lines long and divided into 6 sections and the fairly tales are about 400 lines each) by an order of magnitude (about 30-40 lines). With something this short, I'm tempted to use rhyme as well


rhyme is so dangerous in American poetry. It can be gotten away with in song, because all songs are a little bit silly (or playful? better term?). I'd like to embrace the ludic in these lines but, geez, I'm talking about brainwashing and the collapse of humanity and all -- heavy -- and I'm wondering if the rhyme will trivialize it.

So I'm debating a few things -- the first is to look at some popular lyrics of the late 1940s and very early 1950s (you know, pre-rock) and play with the way they rhymed, this often involves a lot of internal rhyme and slant rhyme (assonance?), which might be awfully fun to play with.

Another is to look at the poetry that would have likely influenced the narrator. I'm thinking ww1 war poetry and the early moderns -- but I don't want to slip into the solipsistic narcissism of the moderns -- been there, done that, have 4 or 5 dozen impossible poems from it.

The final is just to play with rhymes -- nothing as insane as amphisbaenic rhyme (one sonnet in that was more than enough) -- like again slant/near/half rhyme and internal rhyme -- and rhymes in weird places. A little prep work with writing Canzones has given me a feel for internal rhyme -- but a great danger of rhyme is that it can speed things up.

So, readers, from my daily Canadian to folks as far as Indonesia, what are your favorite sorts and examples of imperfect rhyme? How do you puzzle out the difficulty of rhyme in English?

What are your favorite songs from 1940-1953?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

liquidity levity

Why have a blog if it can't host silliness every once in a while?

NEW edits as of Dismember 9th:

Bye bye, Dow!
Bye bye, GDP,
Hello, insolvency,
the economy's gonna die.
Bye bye, my money, goodbye.

There goes my money
with a guy named Wu.
He sure looks happy,
I sure am blue.
It was my money
but it's not now
'cause Congress gave it
to Hu Jintao.

Bye bye, Dow!
Bye bye, GDP!
Hello, insolvency,
the economy's gonna die.
Bye bye, my money, bye bye.

I'ma through with finance,
I'ma through with banks.
I'ma through with bailouts,
I'ma through with Hank.
You cannot tell me
inflationary cash
is gonna save our
dumb bankrupt ass.

Bye bye, Dow!
Bye bye, GDP!
Hello, insolvency,
the economy's gonna die.
Bye bye, my money, bye bye.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Long live poetry!

Politics are dead and gone, right?

Okay, probably not, since we live in a democratic republic and all, but still.

So there are 9 arteests on board for the SEEKRUT LITERACHRE MAGRAZEEN.

Two novelists, a long-narrative poet (ahem), two reglar-ol' poets , a reviewer, a theorist, and two photo-graffers. Also a webstar recording guru who I hope to have contribute some songs.

At any way it will rock.

Look for a street date of Janyerry first.


Friday, November 7, 2008

A Freudian slip of the forked tongue


"Let me close by saying that I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead."

The Dictionary:

"enormity, noun: an act of extreme wickedness"

How true, how true.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A 51st Post Retrospective

Reviewing American poetry, we find:

1) There are too few books of poetry sold in America.

2) Po-biz itself seems to be "healthy" and thrives in academia. Unfortunately, its main product seems not to be poetry but posturing.

3) Slam poetry also thrives, but in the ether. It's exciting in the sound but printed, falls down.

4) The two shall never meet.

5) Narrative poetry is neglected but tends to do well when it can get published, which is not often enough.

6) The number of "trained poets" is staggering.

7) They must be the only ones who buy books of poetry.

8) To solve this we should change the way we write and aggressively market poetry.

If you're someone who is satisfied with the state of American poetry and thinks we should just write for maybe 1/3 of 1% of the population, then I'm not really talking to you.

But if you think that the reading public (1/3 of America, or 100 million people) would read poetry if they could find anything good, if you're interested in expanding the readership of poetry, if you want to consider what your audience wants and deliver it to them with brilliant artistry, then I have three questions:

What have I left out?
Where am I wrong?
What do you think we can do?

Cheers for the next fitty,

#9: Visual "poetry" isn't poetry but rather the same thing as acrostics and comics -- for lack of a better term, propago.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blog reviewer needed

Howdy all,

The upcoming mag needs a blog reviewer. Theoretically we need an online publication reviewer -- but that could be split into two people -- one for blogs and one for rags. All the writers for the mag will have their own blog where they can post such things, but I'd also like a regular feature.

If anyone is interested in committing to writing at least one review of a literary(preferably) blog or online magazine every two weeks for a pay scale that may or may not work out, let me know. Maybe you can post a sample review as a comment to this.

Thanks all!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The State of Poetry

So this is where we stand:

empty handed.

You've got Silliman, et al bounding on about poetry that no one (or statistically no one) cares about. It's interesting, maybe it's good, maybe it's not. But no one cares, so what's the point? It's a big circle jerk.

Then you've got the Saul Williams and Def Jam poets of America. Fantastically energetic stuff that JUST DIES on the page. Dies. Is dead. Kaput. It only lives when in someone's mouth.

Why is that a problem you ask?

You'd be right to ask. You know that I view poetry as an aural art. But I consequently view written poetry like a piece of sheet music. If no one else can play your work, it's just not that important. The performer is great but the piece is irrelevant.

So I'm planning to attack this thing through a different angle. Collect a few great poets (and other writers) and collect their new work in one place. Build an audience and go from there. Which is, really, what everyone does.

So what am I doing differently?

Well it's certainly different from what's going on now. There are too many writers, too much jumble. The content in poetry magazines is so hit or miss that this obscure blog is better and more widely read than most of them.

So we pare down.

Not a bad idea. But it's only half the battle. It only proves that recognition/money can be made in this racket without the direct intervention of Universities and pass-the-hats at poetry readings. That is, that money can be made from the Word. That may be blasphemous. I dunno.

The other half of the battle is winning young readers. We need an inside person in Scholastic. They need to publish an excellent book of understandable children's verse -- or rather, tween/teen verse. They've already sort of done this with Karen Hesse, but everyone agrees that the verse is secondary/childish/crap.

Of course, I think I have a book worth publishing, but what else the hell for would I be writing this blog?

But I'd be happy to see ANY book of excellent poetry fill the hands of schoolchildren like so many copies of Harry Potter.


Also, I need some poetry blogs to read and post to. Most of the ones I find are crap. But reading and posting will help "spread the word." Maybe I should hire Obama to do this. I hear he's quite the community organizer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


So we at the Strong Verse Blog have finally come upon a candidate to endorse in the upcoming election:

Kirby Olson
of the Lutheran Surrealist Party.

Kirby's positions are ideal for a President:

"I would hate it. I would be the most shy president since Benjamin Harrison. I would never make public appearances ever! And I would do nothing at all. In fact, that's my only campaign promise.

I would do nothing at all. It's a promise.

I will continue to write entertaining blog entries, and you will get close-up photos of the White House Easter Egg rolling contest.

The only issue I have is Lyme's Disease. I will put at least fifty more trillion dollars into research on this terrible malady."

This is also partially mercenary. Kirby has offered me ambassadorships to both Barbados and the Tyrol.

Vote for whoever you want to, but if you live in a place where your vote won't count anyway (I'm talkin' to you, California and Texas) -- VOTE FOR KIRBY!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Read the insanity!

Yes, that's right, someone has gone to the trouble to take the Racter verse and apply it globally, or at least Silliman blogally. Some people view this as "a crime" but I think it's just silly fun. I like my "poem:"

"Mean as an initial"

though I wish it were longer. Oh well. Perhaps our length is based on our importance. If so, I hope it's a golf-score sort of thing.

Also, what sort of poetry/literature merch would/do you buy? T-shirts? Coffee mugs? Tell me tell me tell me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Strong Verse updated and serial query

There's a new poem up on Strong Verse (finally!). There's also a nice queue of work coming, so check it 2x a week or so for updates. For those of you submitting poems, I'll try to have responses for you by October or so.

So the serial poetry thing...

It's a given that if I publish a book of poetry, it won't sell. I think that narrative books of poetry sell better, but since Scholastic isn't returning my calls, the whole popular book thing looks dire, at best. We know this is true of American poetry in general though performance poetry seems to be able to pack in the folks.

So what to do?

I think that a partial solution may be found in a model that worked like the Dickens for Dickens. Serial publishing. Now, I can't think of any print rags that would actually touch a serial narrative poem (they rarely do serial novels any more) but I can think of (and create, honestly) online publications that would. Since I'm not vying for tenure, I'm not terribly concerned with "the shame" of publishing online. I mean, I like print and all -- books smell and feel great -- but since more people read poetry blogs than read print versions of poetry magazines (I mean, seriously, most quarterlies [even the "biggies"] have a circulation of 500 or so -- and this obscure little blog gets 300-500 unique hits a month) I have an inkling that online is the way to go (now making money, that's a question for later).

So what do you think? Who out there reads online poetry magazines? Would you come back to one weekly or twice a week if you knew a new section of a narrative poem would be up there? How long would you like the section to be?

Start the comments!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

swimming in a fishbowl, year after year

So I have poetry depression.

I need poetry Zoloft, I guess.

Instead of asking the cleeshayed and hackneyed "does anyone care about poetry?" crap, I've got a much more fundamental question:

Can you name 10 people whom you know personally (that is, in real life) and see on more than a weekly basis who have read a poem for pleasure in the last year?

Can you name five who know of at least one, living, contemporary, under-fifty, definately-not-Maya-Angelou-or-Billy-Collins poet?

Can you name two who have read a book of poetry? One?

I can't. Sure I can think of a bunch of poets I know who can do all this but I never see them. And hell, they don't count anyway. That's like being surprised when football players watch football games. Duh.

I don't know personally a single non-poet who enjoys poetry (or, rather, enjoys poetry that's not mine -- tee hee). Where are the poetry fans? Where are the crazed, helmet wearing, belly painting, tailgating poetry fans?

I would recommend we derail this pobiz of teaching people how to be poets and go back to writing poetry for the people but the sound of one hand clapping gets old.

And I'm already wearing the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

I'm thinking more on the serial poetry bit. How does a scandalous, drug-addled, tim dorsey/carl hiassen-worthy poetry romp sound? Hm?

Mags, Rags, and Blags

No links in today's post. Sunburns make me lazy.

Hey all,

Hope that the post-Ike gas price increase isn't hitting you too hard. I know you want some more mpgs in your browser. I recommend hydrogen.

So I need to get back up on the submissions ball. I hope that you've all got some nice narrative poems to work with. I know I do.

But where to submit? I've talked a bit about LochRav, OxfAm, and some houses -- but what other mags are ready to step out on a limb and publish poetry that doesn't suck?

Or, rather, poetry that people who aren't poets might actually want to read. I know that, in addition to OxfAm, the New Yorker, the Nation, the National Review, and the Christian Science Monitor all have poetry sections (i.e. poems for people who don't buy lit journals) but they generally only publish fairly short poems (I've never seen one run two pages). Anyone know of any others?

I mean, poetry journals are great and all -- but we know that no one reads them. A circulation of 1,000 -- when half of those are libraries and the other half are people who have already been (or want to be) published in the rag, what good is that? I suppose we can move toward web publishing, but (as far as I know) Strong Verse is the only online mag that actually is a paying market (and, though I could abuse my power as editor to throw up a bunch of work on Strong Verse, I think it might sully the rep a bit).

So we could try self-publishing.

I think the way to go may be what the online comics do (stop me if you've heard this):

publish regular/serial work
merch it up (woo hoo, t-sharts)
publish a book at the end

Just like the webcomix.

Think it would work?

Lemme know. That and good rags I don't know about.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A shot from the forum

Poetry Inc. is a great place.

a reply from me:

"There is no reason that a good poem cannot excite the brain as much or more than Halo 3. But the poem must engage the audience first. Audience hostile poetry (like much of the Avant Garde) cannot do this. There is nothing wrong with AG poetry per se -- what is wrong is when its cheerleaders pretend that it is the future or the Alpha and Omega of poetry.

They do themselves and their students a grave injustice (not to mention poetry and its audience) because they imagine poetry as a mystical set of Elusinian verbiage, enjoyed by the folks who "get it." They never imagine that a vast swath of humanity is waiting for their words and they the poets are the ones who don't understand."

To continue:

I understand that poets are a sensitive lot. And that we do not like to be told we are in the wrong. But we, as poets -- especially if we are not involved in popular poetry, must take a look at the most popular form of poetry (black urban/slam poetry) and ask ourselves "what does it do right?"

And the answer is:

It connects with as broad an audience as possible. It does not combat them. It engages them. It draws the audience in. It is the friend of the audience. Now, the best slam poetry also comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable -- but not before enveloping its patient victims in sounds, forms, and images they can consume, digest, and understand.

All poetry must do this. Before you can have an agenda, before you can create language, before you can pull down the walls of vanity, you must engage your audience.

You must have listeners before you can be heard.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

An Interview and a smattering of politics

Granted, it was in response to an open call I found on World Class Poetry, but Bekki Bedow found it in her heart to post my interview.

Have fun!

If you are new here, check out the important posts on the right and, if you came to read my poems, I suggest that you go here, here, here (halfway down the page), here, and here. Thanks for reading!

In other news, because I support baby-wearing and breastfeeding, the slippery devil that is John McCain may, if and only if Florida looks to be a blowout, have gotten my vote because of Sarah Palin. Dangit. I was hoping to extend my perfect record of voting for the third party.

Before Obamanations and Raising McCains attack, though, I have to remind you that my politics are just shy of being a monarchical restorationist and I'm fairly certain that the presidency is one of the least important jobs ever. Also, I'm not voting for either of those crazies if my vote might put one of them in office.

Also -- post 42! w00t!


Thursday, August 21, 2008


Over here Allen Taylor takes me to task for writing against LangPo, performance-obsessed Spoken Word, and experiments for experiments' sakes. He rightly clocks me for taking an intellectual shortcut. Mea culpa, canis. The problem, however, with picking out examples is that I can be accused of cherry-picking. To that end, viddy the above link. It's the glory-hole of avant-garde "poetry" -- some of it is quite good as art/propago. Some of it is crap. Very little of it is poetry.

At any rate, I view this blog as one half of a debate. A debate that attempts to define poetry, resartus-style. I am, then, refuting the line of poetry that extends from Whitman/Dickinson down to Hejinian/Silliman today*. If the other side would like to show up, the comment box is open.

The side I'm defending has Poe and Tennyson and Plath. All have been shredded or relegated by the academy. The reputations of Poe and Tennyson still haven't recovered from the early 20th century. Plath is pooh-poohed as a sad little woman who wrote some good poems and a good book before she offed herself. I think the Academy does this because, if an eager young fan of poetry shows up at a college, the poet will be a fan of one of these three poets (if not all three [it took me until after my BA to discover Tennyson]).

The problem for the Academy with that is, if you're a lover of The Raven and Blackberrying and Annabel Lee and Daddy, you look at this and go "what the hell?" And if too many sincere poets (who will become alumni and critics and teachers and professors) ask "what the hell?" the Academics will get booted out on their asses.

So the Academics disparage real poetry and put in its place a false god -- experimental poetry.

The problem being, of course, that experimental poetry is so far from real poetry that, contrary to Mr. Taylor's assertion, poetry's tent really isn't big enough for both camps. My earliest solution was one of semantics: divide the world at the point of aurality. Work that exists independent of the page is poetry, work dependent upon the page is propago. Not too shabby for a first effort but the neologism/redefinition doesn't seem to be catching on.

I could propose, Mencius-like, that both schools quit the use of the word poetry until a proper poetry can be determined, but that doesn't make much economic sense (think, where would one shelve works? under Verse and Line-breaks? Goodness, who knows?) and anyway, producers of propago would have to agree with me and give up their grip on the word poetry and why on earth would they do that?

So here I sit. Writing both instructions for writing and distributing real poetry while at the same time both defining what real poetry is and what real poetry isn't. Because a recipe without ingredients is just a list.


*and there's no way that I'm saying there haven't been good poets who wrote real poetry out of this school -- but the school is so broken that it no longer educates -- it only indoctrinates.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why I am a Skeptic

So someone with whom I generally disagree (and who is a big fan of 2d art and the avant garde) gave me an excellent explanation of why I heartily dislike all things trendy, flashy, and "experimental" in poetry. She says:

"Further, intellectuals have always been skeptical; that's what they do. Bertrand Russell, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, Margaret Mead, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thorough, Walt Whitman, Charles Olsen [sic], Gary any intellectual who accomplished anything and see if he or she was not skeptical of previous work in his or her field."

Too right.
Post Modernism and the Avant Garde (good band name, btw) is the previous work in my field. Ergo, I am skeptical of it.

The work, of course, is finding out what the new work in my field will be.

Narrative long-form poetry anyone?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Continuing the thought

The whole blame thing just gets weird. Because "progressive" poets wrap themselves in the flags of egalitarianism and ars sola fide, my attacks can be labled crankery. It's tiresome, really -- the verse that I, and from what I can tell, most people prefer is dismissed out of hand as "the school of Quietude" or, in a quote directly from Silliman: "good for what it is." Their words are accepted as from on high. But if I say language======= poetry is not poetry at all but 2d art or that no experimental poet has really done anything that wasn't first famously done by Stein and cummings, or famous Spoken Word poets (like the ones in the several collections I own) would really benefit from editing, I'm expected to defend these statements with example upon example.

You know what? We live in the google age. If you aren't sure what I'm talking about, friggin google it. If you want examples, google them. Seriously. The avant garde poetry, langpo, and Spoken Word you find will almost invariably fit into the criticisms above. The defense of my criticism is the works themselves.

And anyway, instead of concentrating on blame, my concern is to illuminate what does and doesn't work in the production of poetry and to encourage the production of strong verse -- verse that is clear, communicative, and excellent.

I hope to get back to that soon. While we're waiting, google Gabriel Spera. Best poet I've seen in years.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

supposing the answer

And I suppose I will be answered by someone quoting a libertarian strain of thought -- that if the poet is harming no one, then why care?

But, of course, the destruction of language and the destruction of literature are harmful. So I will continue to call bad poets and bad schools of poetry out on this.

I may not be able to destroy the ill-built house or dig up the field of weeds, but I will certainly let everyone know who is screwing up what.

Answering a friend

A good friend of mine asks:

you're in serious danger of becoming just another "i'm a badass cuz i'm 'unfashionably' oriented in my aesthetic tastes" old-skool-wannabe crank. . .who are you making all this bluster of arguments in the service of? is it really in the service of the poor, ign'ant, under-educated, artless, lost "masses" who need a revived and truly democratic art to enrich their lives, or is it in the service of yourself and some other more or less aligned artists who feel slighted at not getting enough attention/rewards/recognition for yer hard work? or maybe you say it's both?
but who does your line really, finally end up supporting? if your line were followed faithfully through by a majority in the poetry world today, who would ultimately benefit, and who would pay?

I answer:

First, you have to remember that my problem with avant garde/language/concrete poetry is not that it exists but that it calls itself poetry. I would feel the same if I were a glass blower and some guy smashed coke bottles and made them into mosaics and called it glass blowing. It might be good, hell, it might be great -- but it isn't glass blowing. To that end, I came up with a new use for the old word Propago to mean writing that is dependent upon visuality for its communication (like Comix).

The reason that this is a problem is because so many of those canon folks you mention ARE these credentialled AG/L/C people -- and they continually present what they're doing as the only sort of poetry worth doing and that communicative, aural poetry is worthless (see Silliman's term "school of quietude). So then the only poetry that gets taught in High Schools and Colleges is difficult and reader-unfriendly and so not only do high school and college students not get exposed to poetry but (much more importantly) neither do their teachers -- even their English teachers -- who went through school after the 1970s. If you doubt me, just look at what's happened to UF in the last year or so. So I have a problem with AC/L/C poetry because its practitioners choke off the poetry that should be feeding the public.

Second, I have no problem with Spoken Word. I have lots of problems with badly written Spoken Word. The reason that this is a problem is because Spoken Word is at its heart a form of sound entertainment MUCH more than poetry (which is sound worship/communication/communion). Not that Spoken Word can't be (or isn't often) poetry -- but you can take ANY piece of writing and turn it into an effective SW piece if you are a good enough reader.

Good and great readers get a pass on spewing unschooled and ignorant lines because it's fun to listen to them. I don't have a problem with this per se, but I do have a problem with worrying that SW is too ephemeral and I think that poets (and artists in general) should strive to make work that lasts.

My main concern is not that poetry doesn't exist in the country. Of course it does. Poetry is unkillable.

The problem is that the community of poetry has been killed -- that is, the communal nature of poetry. Poetry used to be in all major newspapers. People used to read it and buy books of poetry. They don't now. And if you look at the poetry of the 19th century vs the poetry of the 20th and 21st, it's easy to see why. The poetry of the 19th century spoke to the people -- the poetry of the 20th and 21st often speaks to the elite. Where poetry has been wildly successful (Plath, Collins, Spoken Word) it's been because the poetry spoke to everyone and not just academia.

The community of poetry has been killed by tenured academics and critics who wrap their ignorance in European loan words and tired French linguistic theories. It's been killed by teachers too lazy to do any work. It has been killed by people who are afraid to do the difficult thing -- which is to write with a level of craft that would make Dante proud and at the same time write in such a way that the common reader can understand and enjoy their work.

It's easy to write enjoyable, understandable poetry. It's easy to have esoteric and impressive skills. It takes hard work to do both. That's the crux of my problem with most poets since the mid-19th century. They have either prided themselves on being accessible (Whitman, Collins) or fantastically proficient (Pound, Hejinan) at the neglect of the other, equally important skill.

Of course I want my work to benefit myself.
But what I really want is to help create a world (or at least an America) that buys more than one book of poetry for every one hundred people in a year. And the reader unfriendly practices of the academic avant garde and the resonance unfriendly (or ephemeral) practices of "popular poetry" don't help in this regard.

And this is why I'm not content to just "live and let live."

If you saw a neighbor building a house, and he was obviously building it incorrectly by, say, not putting roofing sheets on his house, would you not at least suggest the right course of behavior to him? What if his shoddy construction would patently lead not to water damage, but to a fire? Shouldn't you let him know what he's doing wrong? And furthermore, what if you lived in a neighborhood so compact that his house fire would surely jump to yours? You would still feel like you should "live and let live"?

A man was sowing his fields. Instead of sowing wheat, he was sowing tares. When another farmer asked him why he was sowing tares instead of wheat, the man replied "the tares are more interesting, even if they feed no one." The farmer then asked "what if your tares infest my wheat fields, and the surrounding wheat fields, and no one has a crop?" The man then replied "tend to your own fields, I will tend mine."

Would you let him continue to sow weeds? And before you say "but this or that poetry is not a weed!" please show me how it has fed the people.

I don't think I'm a badass. I'd like to get talented poets convinced that wasting their talents trying to please the academy is pointless when there are a hundred million reading Americans who are much more in need of their words. I'd like to get charismatic poets to see that their charm and cleverness could be polished to brilliance with a little erudition.

I'd like to see these things happen, but I probably won't -- so I hope that the poets stuck in between will find each other (and me, obviously) and begin to work toward a common goal.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Modern Aesthetics as Sola Fide

This post requires background. For Christian thought in the current State, I recomment this post and especially (as the post is quite long) this link within the post. Teh Wik can help us define sola fide. If you need more info, contact this guy. Suffice it to say that the flippant version of sola fide is "I'm saved because I say I'm saved."

This was a fairly radical notion when it was invented by Martin Luther. Indeed, it became the cornerstone of Protestantism. The traditional thought on salvation is that though "faith is the beginning of human salvation," "faith without works is dead." The sola fide folks just skip that second part. They don't have to do any work to get saved, so why should they do any work at all?

Why is this important, you ask? What does this have to do with poetry? Easy. If you did the above reading, you'll know that an de-Jesussed form of Protestant Christianity is the dominant religion in the West. Ever wonder why Barack Obama sounds so much like a preacher? It's because he is.

Since Godless Christianity cannot use sola fide to justify salvation, it uses it to justify something just as undefinable:


That's right. It didn't happen overnight. Luther introduced sola fide in the early 16th century. It began to catch on in the arts at the beginning of the 19th century, concurrent with another silly idea. It was gaining solid ground by the Victorian age and was firmly entrenched by the middle of last century.

The mantra of the artist is no longer "I am an artist because I work hard to create works of art." It is "I am an artist because I say I am."

In this feeble tautology there is no work, there is no schooling, there is no difficulty. There is only shoddy work, quackery, and showmanship.

I have often wondered what happened to craft and hard work in art.
Now I know.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Perhaps there's hope.

Silliman's blog put me on the blogroll. Woot.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Review: Ludlow by David Mason

by David Mason
2007, Red Hen Press

On the recommendation of Dana Gioia, I picked up David Mason’s Ludlow. What is an epic is called a verse-novel for, I would assume, marketing concerns.

To be brief, buy this book.

It is Mason’s tale of the events leading up to the Ludlow Massacre of 1914. Mason brings the principal characters of a struggle between miners and their bosses to life in a powerful way and tells a story worth knowing.

Mason’s craft is exquisite in both its scope and precision. Not only does he paint emotion and action in the same landscape:

So he walked upright the way they all had come,
goggles on, a kerchief tied for breathing
dust that had shaken loose in the first blast.
Swallowed in utter dark, he pushed his fear
into that very mine, and took his last steps,
a man dead set to prove he was a man (26)

he does so in a way that would have been immediately recognizable to Dante, Chaucer, and Milton – he packs in meaning as only a poem can. Mason’s “dead set” echoes not only the imminence of the miner’s death but the inevitability of the whole tragedy. A similar use of juxtaposition and word-packing can be found in the union halls of John Lawson, who says:

“We’re hoarding guns. Now the job’s to win peace.” (32)

This extends even to Mason’s choice of leading characters – Luisa Mole and Louis Tikal – Louis coming from Ludwig which means “famous warrior.” Though historical characters, Mason’s use of them to frame this battle of the Colorado Coalfield War is, at the least, serendipitous.

Mason understands throughout Ludlow that our intentions are often contradictory and what we desire and struggle for is often the very worst for us. It is an epic in the truest sense of the word, containing all that is good and evil in humanity in 200 brief pages.

Again, read it. Buy the book. Mason and Ren Hen Press deserve a reward for publishing poetry that is outside the mainstream – for publishing poetry that is readable and good. It is certainly better than any of the other books of poetry I’ve bought in the last 2 years or so. Buy this poem and praise the poet, for its triumphs and successes far outweigh its faults. For it does have faults.

The first is a strange, intermittent dependency upon the word kcuf. While I don’t want to moralize about what words you can/should use in your writing, I must admit that I’m just tired of kcuf in written form. All it does when I read it is make me think two things:

well, there goes a dozen or so people I would have sent this book to and
gosh – couldn’t he have thought of something else to write?

At any rate, this is a minor flaw. Were I Mason’s editor or reader, I would have counseled him otherwise. As it stands, this isn’t a dealbreaker for me.

The second fault is much more difficult, however.
Mason interrupts the action of the story a handful of times with speaker intrusions. The speaker laments:

By now you’ve guessed this story’s partly mine. . .
. . . I made this trip alone . . .
these are the facts, but the facts are not the story.

Ted Kooser views this as a benefit:

“Some of the most touching passages place the poet, alone at some milepost, struggling to find adequate language with which to reach back through almost a hundred years.”

I, however, echo Mason’s own view – “these are the facts, but the facts are not the story.” I am a little amazed that Mason can write and include these lines that so obviously detract from the story that he is telling. The 20th century intrusions don’t add anything to the story of Ludlow. If anything, they bog it down.

This is not to say that they don’t include some lovely writing. Mason is a master crafter, and his verse is continually uplifting to read. I think, perhaps, that he became trapped in one of his own ideas:

I have a photo of a photo pinned
on an artist’s easel. . .
The photo in the photo’s of a girl. . .
This is my image of Luisa now. . .
. . . this young serving girl . . .
Photographer and subject, bound by a cord
of silence, look[ing] into each other’s world. (136-7)

This idea of a photo-within-a-photo – a frame-within-a-frame is very post-modern and interesting, but it fails as a frame in the way Mason uses it for Ludlow. At no point does it develop the story or the characters. If Mason insisted on keeping the verse, the best solution would have been to present Ludlow in two parts – the first the epic story and the second a “poems about Ludlow” section. As Ludlow now stands, however, the organizational part of the reading mind struggles to see connections between the photographer and subject.

That's so yag!

So from now on,
if I call you a ytrid reggin-gnikcuf nwolcssa ekik kcim knihc renaeb pow wej you'll know what I mean.

Holy crap, people! Are we really gniog to stand for such assaults on our dignity! Jeez! The horror!

On a side note, cursing has never been so much fun! I think from now on all my dirty words will be written back-ards. \/\/()()--1

Kcuf off,

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why contests (and poetry publishers in general) are a sham

I thought I had blogged about this but was mistaken. Perhaps I just can't find it. At any rate, it needs restating.

Here goes:

We have a small-press contest. Its entry fee is $20. Its prize is a press-run of 500 copies of your book and $1,000. Let's say it's a fairly well-known prize and 2,000 poets enter. Our small-press has just brought in $40,000.

If we subtract, say, $2,000 for the printing (what I would pay right now for 500 books through an on-demand printer -- I'm sure an established press could do it for this much or less) and $1,000 for the prize. Heck, let's pretend that the small-press actually gets a "real" judge and pays him or her an honorarium. Let's pretend it's a real sum of money: $5,000. Let's pretend even more that our small-press actually spends $2,000 promoting our book. So we have $10,000 in expenses.

Our small-press has just made $30,000. Now, lets say our small-press is run at home while we have other jobs (or even better, it's funded by the university). What do we do with this boodle? Easy! We publish and promote 5-10 other books. Or maybe just publish 15 of them without promotion. Now we are really contributing to the poetic landscape. Hooray for us.

What's the problem here? Oh yeah, we haven't actually spent any of our own money! There's no profit/risk incentive for us to do ANYTHING. In fact, wouldn't it be awesome if we just published our friends and then talked about what great poets we all were? Yes, that would rock truly. In fact, we might not want to publish something that would sell because then we'd have to do more work (okay, that's just me being cynical but you get the point).

What we really need is someone willing to invest a sincere chunk of money in discovering and promoting poetry that people will actually buy and read. As the current market for poetry is less than .1% of all book sales in America, I'm pretty sure we have room for growth.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Private Irrelevance of Spoken Word Poetry

In order to prevent you from thinking that my concerns are solely with academic poetry, I must point out that spoken word/slam poetry/black urban poetry suffers from the opposite afflicition of modern academic AABC poetry (MAP). That is, it exists solely in the public sphere. This makes it much more prominent (and indeed, profitable) than MAP but it still doesn't make it complete.

Poetry, like all art, must sufficiently balance itself between the public and private spheres so that it:
1) enriches both the individual and the community
2) creates a dialogue between the two
3) and serves as a storage of communication and information over time.

If poetry is simply public, it will not be preserved. If it is simply private, it will not be shared. Poetry, as art, must be both.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Science and Poetry

Read this book now.
The author is Mary Midgley. She rocks.

from page 48:

"The business of poets and other prophets is not only to celebrate things, and it is certainly not to go on always celebrating the same things. Just as often, they need to denounce things, to shake us from our dogmatic slumbers, to warn us, to point to what is going wrong. Sometimes, that is, they have to act as unacknowledged legislators of the world."

Amen, momma.

The Public Irrelevance of Modern Poetry

I extend again my apologies for another extended absence. I’m into my second week of a new job as an editor. The past month has been fairly whirlwind what with getting canned, getting a new job, going to weddings, etc., etc.

Having said that, I’ve absorbed a lot of what I was reading last month. It’s a good start but not wholly O.T. What sticks in my craw, however, is a passage I’d read before (from Wally Benjy):

“The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol. Both of them, however, were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura. Originally the contextual integration of art in tradition found its expression in the cult. We know that the earliest art works originated in the service of a ritual – first the magical, then the religious kind. It is significant that the existence of the work of art with reference to its aura is never entirely separated from its ritual function. In other words, the unique value of the “authentic” work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value. This ritualistic basis, however remote, is still recognizable as secularized ritual even in the most profane forms of the cult of beauty. The secular cult of beauty, developed during the Renaissance and prevailing for three centuries, clearly showed that ritualistic basis in its decline and the first deep crisis which befell it. With the advent of the first truly revolutionary means of reproduction, photography, simultaneously with the rise of socialism, art sensed the approaching crisis which has become evident a century later. At the time, art reacted with the doctrine of l’art pour l’art, that is, with a theology of art. This gave rise to what might be called a negative theology in the form of the idea of “pure” art, which not only denied any social function of art but also any categorizing by subject matter.”

There you go. To paraphrase Mr. Benjamin (sans Marxist syntax [and please remember that I’m speaking of primarily American/Australian/British/Canadian {AABC} poetry – a lot of other English traditions are doing quite well {not to mention poetry in other languages}]): modern poetry has abandoned the social function of poetry. Modern poetry has done this by abandoning classification in both content and form.

That is, as modern poetry (private poetry) has developed in complexity, obfuscation, and tatonnment it has become impossible to classify (indeed, how often have you asked yourself “is this even poetry?”). As humans are dependent upon our ability to put things in order, this de-classification of poetry alienates it from the mass of humanity.

(To be peremptory), it doesn’t matter if poets feel their work should or does have “social function.” The fact that it obscures itself by the very nature of its nondescriptness makes any content or purpose irrelevant in the public sphere.

That’s controversial enough for now. More soon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Public Art vs Private Art

Apologies to my readers, regular and transient (howdy Madrid, Huntsville, Greensboro, and Columbus!), for the lack of posting. I've been job hunting and to Pittsburgh and back for a wedding. Now to address "the franchise approach to poetry promotion." Sort of.

While in Pittsburgh, I saw this piece. I said to my good friend (the one who was getting married, for the scorekeepers):

"You know, that piece is really interesting, but it's too ugly to be anywhere but in a museum."

He said "no, I don't think so -- I could see it in a building or in a park -- anywhere in public."

I responded that he was both right and said what I meant -- the piece was "public art" not "private art."

I hadn't done much (or any) thinking on the differences between public and private art up to this point -- I had only been aghast that poetry was so unread and marginalized. But when viewed within the context of public v private art, the clouds cleared a little. My complaint is looking to shape up this way:

Almost all contemporary, published poetry is private poetry. In order to keep poetry from being a dead art, we need to be writing public poetry.

So now I am reading this, this, and this. If anybody has any suggestions for other books to read, I'm all ears.

More when I get done reading,

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Narrative & Film

Brett says:

"Try to influence producers, screenwriters, directors, so that they start looking for movies in poetry.

Try to influence writers so that they write good, substantial, dramatic narrative poetry. "

For the first we must apparently write things called "treatments." Quoth the Brett:

"It's called a 'treatment,' and if you're going to have 1-10 pages of lines to describe the actions, settings, plots, and characters that will become a movie, it might as well just be a 'treatment,' which is superior because it is Designed For and has the Explicit Goal Of selling itself as a movie."

"You could use a poem as a basis for a treatment, if the poem had character, setting, drama, plot, etc. (much the way you would use a short story for a treatment).

Many times the best movies-from-books come from novellas and short stories...long novels are much clunkier"

I must say a jillion times thanks to Brett for the schoolin. So here we have the specific instructions for putting narrative poetry-based ideas into the minds of filmmakers. For those of you interested in the experiment -- try it with this poem. I would be delighted to see the results.
So we know what to do. But how?

I would assume that we would have to get in front of some filmmakers. Anyone know any? I know one -- but he's spending more time on plays than film. I've a good friend in the movie scoring program at UCB, but I don't suppose her contacts will develop for at least a few years.

So if you know anyone
if you know how to get these treatments in front of people irrespective of y/our relationship to them, please let us know.

For the second:

Let's each write a 10-page-or-so narrative poem. 300 lines or there abouts ought to do the trick. You can go over if you want but don't go too shy of 250 or so lines. I'm currently working on retellings of fairy-tales. An excellent starting point. Ovid had great luck with myths. I'm sure there's something out there you can try your pen at. Submit them to Strong Verse or maybe someone will want to set up a narrative poetry mag just for us -- who knows? But then we'll have a stock of poems on which to experiment. What fun!

That's all for today -- I think we're at the point in "poetry-as-basis-for-film" where we have to move into the doing and not the talking stage. So go! Do!

Next time we'll get started on "a 'multimedia, franchise approach' to poetry promotion."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Poetry, Movies, and Pop Music

Howdy! Things are back to relatively normal. Thanks to Virilelit and Ravenswingpoetry for the links.

Last time, I left with two quotes about poetry and movies. The first by a certain brilliant young man name of Aaron Shapiro.

I will resume by letting Aaron speak for me:

"If the goal is to popularize poetry, then we need more poems that can be made into movies. Beowulf, Troy. Not great movies, no ... but only that kind of multimedia, franchise approach has any chance in the contemporary entertainment market. Look what happened to sales of Neruda after Il Postino! Imagine: The Wasteland, starring Keanu Reeves and directed by David Cronenberg; The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock directed by Robert Altman, starring Anthony Hopkins!

The real problem is that the lyric mode does NOT lend itself to film at all. Narrative poems and biopics that displace the poetry in favor of the poet's life are pretty much all Hollywood can handle. Seriously, how do you shoot the Dream Songs?

Performance poetry offers a different option. We need more poetry shows. Def Jam is fine if you’re a postconfessional poet and have a sense of the melodrama slam poetry requires. And if you’re cool looking and not too avant. Kevin Young, for example, is brilliant and cool looking, and every bit as hiphoppishly lyrical as Saul Williams. But he’s not on Def Jam. Too odd, too much aggressive enjambment, and far too much terza rima. In short, too poetic.

It’s never going to beat out film, though. As a culture, we love and need our stories, perhaps more than our poems, especially since the lyric has been coopted by pop music anyway. Still, maybe we could get some poems and poets inserted into films, product-placement-wise. For example, in the inevitable American Psycho 3, instead of rattling on for hours about Huey Lewis, our intrepid serial murderer might extemporize on My Last Duchess before chainsawing his present last duchess’s face off. And Auden said poetry makes nothing happen. . ."

And there you have it.

For my part, I think that Aaron wraps up the "let's hold off on this lyric poetry crap for a while" experiment I've been proposing. See that bold hyperlink up there? the one just a few lines up? Read it again in paraphrase:

Lyric poetry has been replaced by pop music.

Now, this may be overstating a wee bit. But not a wee lot. It's pretty obvious that poetry that is short enough has always had some stiff competition in song (what the heck did you think all those ballads Robbie Burns collected were?) and when we have the revolution digitized (i.e. one is likely to have far more .mp3s than books), it's easy for short poetry (especially heartfelt lyric poetry) to get washed pretty effectively away (all that angst that went into loving poetry now has its own genre of music). What this means for me is that I'm done arguing against lyric poetry -- I will focus instead on Aaron's first three paragraphs. I will defer to Aaron's statement on this and if anyone continues to harp on it, I will simply ask if their little poem is catchier than "Dancing Queen." The sad truth is that it probably won't be.

So what to do? Before I go much further, I think we should be introduced to this theorist. Granted, B.H.O. is an interesting cat but I think what's far more interesting is those organizing principles he seems to be working with.

This clears up a second sticking point for some of my readers. Audacity and arrogance. If you want to change poetry and our perception of poetry you certainly can't do it by paying your dues and doing it the old way. The old way hasn't worked. The old way has gotten us less recognition in a year than genitalia gets in 36 hours. So if you get all bristly because I tell you you must do something or you have to do something, get over it. Those other folks certainly are wrong -- their theories of audience and subject and prosody are incoherent if existent (or free from poor readings of Derrida). My approach is at least grounded in reality -- that is, the world as it is and not as it ought to be.

So we are left with three points of work from Aaron:

1) poetry-as-basis-for-film
2) a "multimedia, franchise approach" to poetry promotion
3) a need for reexamining the performance poetry scene

For the first, I have already talked at length about the need for long, clear, compelling narrative poetry. But even relatively short narrative poetry could easily be made into a movie (filmmakers -- feel free to email me about that last link). In fact, given the constraints of the screenplay process, I think that a narrative poem as short as Palm Sunday would be an excellent choice for filmmaking -- since it is fairly brief (312 lines), there's no claim that a 120-minute movie can't "cover it all."

So that brings up the problem of catching filmmakers/screenwriters. How do we do this? Thoughts? Ideas? Because I sure as heck don't know.

For the second, I am all about this. Perhaps those filmmaking/screenwriting buddies that we are meeting right now can't use one of our narratives for a film. I bet they could have a character quote us or go to a poetry reading where our work is read aloud. This is no different from Gibson's shameless merch plugs in Juno -- except that we don't have that kind of money to throw around (and if we do, why aren't we starting a publishing company?). Moreover, we need to use the internet to disburse and promote our work. We should be reviewing as much great and good poetry as we possibly can. Also, if we come up with some popular sort of poem, why not write several of them (for instance, Palm Sunday has two companion pieces and I am working on a Civil War epic to match my American Revolution epic)?

For the third, we need two things in our poetry readings:

excellent readers and
excellent poems.

The problem is that since poetry readings are aural entertainment, listeners can often forgive bad poetry because of a good reading. We can't tolerate this. Unfortunately, like bad karaoke, you just have to grin and bear it at an open mike.

Which is why we should promote something else -- like performance poetry at a restaurant or hang-out-spot/coffee shop. We should charge admission. Before you howl about how people won't pay, check these folks out. I can assure you their events are well-attended. Having invitation-only poetry events may go against your silly notions of egalitarianism but come on. Would you pay several hundred dollars for a rock festival if the headliners were open mike emo kids and karaoke queens? Hardly.

I will tackle all three topics in turn as Spring gets sprung.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Columbus and the continuing saga

Hey all,

For those of you in the "old west," I will be in Columbus, OH! this weekend for a convergence. It (and job hunting) has been taking up most of my time this past week or so.

I will come back flush with questions and observations about our need for clear, narrative poetry.

Here are two quotes to chew on, while you wait:

"I want poetry to trump film in the public consciousness."

"Obscure novels are found all the time and made into movies, big movies. Maybe poems could do a little less with the endless personal stuff."


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Unsurprising Update

So the Abortion Art was a fake -- gosh, we're all surprised. Or not (see the note at the bottom of the last post).

It may even be worse -- some ridiculous kind of "performance art" which translates into "I have no actual talent apart from being able to shock people."

And she was the valedictorian of her high school? And Yale is giving her a diploma? Je-friggin-ez.


Fake Art

My apologies for making you read this but you will probably have seen it on the intertubes by the time you read me anyway.

Though a good friend of mine calls it "daring and relevant" I call it what it plainly is:


First of all, as I am also an educator, what professor would allow a student to so thoroughly wreck her body? As any ad will tell you, hormone drugs are bad, bad, bad for you -- they increase your risk of cancer, make you ill, etc. etc. -- would you allow a student to give herself radiation treatments and then film the growths? I didn't think so.

Secondly, and most importantly, when did bullshit like this become something resembling "art"? We in the West have confused "shocking" with "artistic" for the last 100 years or so -- perhaps that's because we've also confused "carpet bombing of civilians" with "proper way to wage war" -- hell, I don't know.

Perhaps as I poet I should eat alphabet soup, force myself to throw it up, and play poetry boggle with the results. Or better, feed it to my two daughters, make them throw up and write haiku about how industrialized food destroys our lives.

Now, I am not against shock and surprise in art -- it should challenge our beliefs -- for God's sake, I write against the status quo all the damn time. But this "shock" isn't artistic because it's not

"Wow, that's shocking -- I hadn't ever thought of that -- now I have to re-examine my values"


"Wow, that's shocking -- it's gross and why would you do that to yourself?"

The first can often be art, the second can rarely be.

Note: I am unconcerned whether or not she made the whole thing up (i.e. just used her menses and not abortions/miscarriages) -- though the latter is admittedly more repugnant, the whole idea of this as "art" is fundamentally flawed.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New Loch Raven Review

The Loch Raven Review is always a delight -- and I'm in this issue:

Don't forget to check out Mary Moore and Juliegh Howard-Hobson as well.

Yes, I know the poem isn't a narrative -- that's okay -- remember, I want a balance. That and I submitted it before I wrote the declaration :)

Have fun reading and pass it along!


Friday, April 11, 2008

A Review: pseudophakia by Julie Carter

by Julie Carter
$7.00 (print)
$0.85 (.pdf)

Among clarity, coquettishness, and loss lies pseudophakia’s poetry. A collection by Julie Carter available at, pseudophakia blends clear language with layered and complex imagery. The first outstanding poem in the collection is “Message in a Bottle,” folding the pastoral with the deconstructive beneath its stride. This is immediately followed by an unfolding in the poem “Amnestos” where the speaker realizes the past that she was is no longer the present that she is – Carter’s juxtaposition of disparate poems with similar language emphasizes the “eye within an eye” of poems implied by her title; not only is Carter a capable poet, she is a masterful arbiter of mood. This duality is expressed in her poetry’s absolute insistence of otherness.

In poem after poem, Carter re-expresses her since of being an alien mammal – especially in relation to birds – her speakers cannot see them fall, nor can they forecast birds’ flight because they are bound to the earth. If the collection is taken to be univocal (and how can it not be?), then one imagines the ur-speaker through the frame of “Focus group:”

The universe is robed
in blur for me, in edges ill-defined
and creeping closer. Even ghosts decay
into a shadow family, unlined
by my old astigmatic disarray.
And when they edge in closer, they explode
to pixel-ciphers. I can't read the code.

These poems are not merely reflections of mammals longing to be birds, but insights of a half-sighted person seeking a connection with the surrounding shadows. Through all the poems of death and loss, “The death of a saint,” “Sprung,” “Pick-up sticks,” and “Molt,” it is clear that a death is not worth grief because of the absence of the body but because of the absence of connection.

Halfway through the collection, Carter leaves her modern pastoral scenes and begins a series of fairy-tale inspired poems: “Twinkle,” “Three blind mice,” “There was a crooked man,” “Old Mother Hubbard,” “The boy who cried,” “Three little pigs,” Red riding,” and “Blue boy.” These poems are each connected by a sense of the animation and malignancy of nature – Red Riding Hood is delivered to the wolf by the trees, and Little Boy Blue is suffocated by the cows he drives daily.

The antagonistic relationship between humanity in nature marks a shift from dealing with loss in the first half of pseudophakia to the viscerality of a father/husband’s death in the second half – beginning with the poem “He ate Richard Cory’s bullet.” Each of these poems is the reciprocal of the line from “Antiseptic:” “mortality / is cleaner when there’s no one there to see.”

Carter’s final poem, “Steep,” ties itself back to “Message in a Bottle” – only this time it is not Ohio folding underneath the speaker but “the hillside flinch[ing] underneath her heel.” With this poem’s concluding lines “I brew you in the darkness of the stream,” pseudophakia becomes a massive hysteron proteron in which poems dealing with loss, interpreting loss, and experiencing loss come to us in an inversion of the natural order – with Carter’s poems we are healed before we are wounded – which is how Carter paints humanity in her book of poems named for planting the artificial in the place of the natural.

and seriously, folks -- it's 85 cents to download! Show some love!

Monday, April 7, 2008

A blog to read -- Time beat me

I can't claim I found this blog on my own (Time beat me to it, so I suppose I should thank them) but you have to read it right now. Rachel's poetry is exactly what I'm talking about -- both in form and distribution. Things could be marginally less cluttered but the basic structure of delivery is there -- that's what we need to be doing.

And my heart grows lighter every day.

What I work against

"Those who think 'Casey at the Bat' is a better poem than 'The Waste Land', God bless them, can fuck right off as far as I'm concerned."

The above quote was written in response to an excerpt from this post on a different forum.

Apart from making me sad, the quote exemplifies the very bone of what is wrong with modern poetry:

Poets forget that non-poets exist.

It's more than that, though. I get a lot of flak for being an anti-intellectual and "dumbing down" poetry. This simply isn't true. I DO NOT WANT simplistic verse -- I want verse that is at the same time deep, complex, and understandable on the first read. The problem is that people see that phrase -- "understandable on the first read" and think I mean that I don't want the poem to stand up to multiple readings. Please let me clarify what I mean:

The Divine Comedy is understandable on the first read.
It has held up to 700 years of re-readings.

Dante, Homer, and Chaucer are my models, poets who write not for other poets but for all human beings. The real problem with the above quote is that for someone to be able to enjoy The Waste Land they must first be able to understand "Casey at the Bat." I learned Casey as a kid watching the Disney Channel. I came across The Waste Land in 10th grade. If it was the first poem I'd ever seen (or, indeed, the first Eliot poem I'd ever seen), I would have run screaming from the room. But I was ready for its lovely disjointedness because I already knew and loved poetry. People who think "Casey at the Bat" is a better poem than The Waste Land are the people we should write for while writing at the same time for the people who can say such hateful things as the offending quote.

The reason for this is simple -- people of both stripes love poetry. For the lover of The Waste Land there's a thousand new books all aping Eliot. But for the lover of Thayer, we have nothing new -- that is, there is almost no poetry being written for both casual and critical consumers of verse.

This is why poetry has such abyssmal sales figures.
This is why poetry has been written off as a public art.

You cannot make art solely for artists and critics because the artist's drive for "the new" and the critic's drive for "the unique" grow the art not outward but inward, where it twists and festers. Without the public's drive for "the good," there is no balance in art -- it becomes flash and show, devoid of substance.

Much like contemporary poetry.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Oxford American

The list of literary print magazines I heartily endorse now stands at 1:

The Oxford American.

My wonderful brother got me a subscription for my 30th birthday (this Thursday -- geez!). There are four poems in it -- "College Town" by Beth Anne Fennelly, "Rainout" by Robert Parham, "Quarterback" by Brooks Haxton, and "Baseball" by John Updike. Just amazing work all around. Not perfect but damn close. Read this magazine.

If you would like my endorsement counter to go up, send on the subscriptions!

Monday, March 31, 2008

What holds us back?

You may have stumbled on to this blog through a lot of places. Half of them try to gut what I'm saying and the other half seem interested. Apart from a general rise in the quality of Strong Verse submissions, I haven't gotten any written feedback. Certainly none in the way of a narrative poem.

I was talking with one of my good friends (who doesn't have a site I can link to, though she teaches here) about this and she said that perhaps poets are afraid to fail.

Perhaps, she said, the reason that poets hide behind the cool Lou Reed shades of impenetrability and the avant garde is that poets are afraid to fail.

After all, the coolest thing about being cool is that no one knows what you're talking about. That's why obscure bands and poets and artists are the very coolest thing of all -- no one knows about them. To make this worse, all the cool cats know all the other cool cats -- and think, like China, that once they know a thing it is known. I.e. if the norms don't know about it it don't matter because they ain't cool.

So, it's cool to write poetry that Nora Roberts, JK Rowling, Walter Mosely, and Stephen King-o-philes will never read or care about because that's what makes the poem cool.

Let me tell you something, poet.

You. Ain't. Cool. (fifty thousand dollars in monopoly money if you can tell me what poet popularized that desecration of syntax -- the one word sentence)

You know why you ain't cool? Because you write poetry. You are a nerd. You are such a nerd that if you don't know the answer to the above challenge you are looking it up right now. That's right. Nerd.

And I know, I KNOW that nerds want to be cool. How? Because I am a nerd.

Guess what? We aren't. We don't play football, we don't sing in rock bands. We don't release rap albums after we're dead. Nope. We just write down fancy words and most of us don't even read them out loud.

This is not cool.

So get over the post-modern desire to be a hipster. You aren't avoiding failure because you're cool -- you are embracing failure because you've isolated yourself so much that your work is completely marginalized.

Americans spend as more on porn every day and a half than they do all year on poetry. You know what this means? This means that the poetry being produced in America is 1/216 as interesting as poorly lighted chickenheads doing the a.t.m. for cash.

You, Mr. and Ms Hipster are not cool. In fact, you are lamer than porn. Seriously. You've got issues.

So what to do about it?

Here's an exercise.

Think about the average American reader. If you aren't sure what this is, imagine that you have never listened to NPR, read the National Review, set foot in Whole Foods, yachted, or gone out of the country. It's okay -- you're only imagining things. You are the average reading American. You graduated High School. You probably went to college. You did not major in English. Heck, you probably skipped the liberal arts all together. You wrote some poetry or had a boyfriend or girlfriend who did. You loved nursery rhymes and Shel Silverstein when you were a kid. You even liked a few poems in your high school English class. Maybe. But then you took Honors English or some required college class where the teacher threw Pound and Ginsberg and Stein at you and pretended they made some obvious sense. This poetry thing was crap. You might have gone with that boy or girlfriend to a "poetry reading" and listened to some Emo kids mumbling into their shoelaces and calling it poetry. This poetry thing was definately crap. Then you got old, you raised kids, and you're sitting in the doctor's office waiting for the Dr. to see your kid with the fever and the snotty nose. You pick up a New Yorker. You see the poem, it's utter nonsense. You remind yourself to read the new Stephen King -- the one where he sets it in Florida -- because you've got to get the taste of meaninglessness out of your mouth.

This is the reader we need to reach -- the reader we're writing for. Don't EVER tell me "I just write for myself." If that is true, then why on earth have I seen your work? Did someone steal it and send it to me? No? Oh that's right, you gave it to me. If you're just writing for yourself, why show your work to anyone?

So you have to write for someone. Don't write for the cool kids -- the hipster empty poets. They clap because they're terrified of silence.

Write for someone who actually exists. Write for someone who might hate your work.

Write for real people.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Why experimentation doesn't move me.

I suppose that I feel about most modern poetry the way I feel about string theory

which, to quote from a master, signifies nothing.

Sure, people, I know it's interesting work. It's a lot of fun to erase words and pretend you've written a poem or to master the villanelle. Experimentation is important -- it stretches the art, lets us know what can be accomplished. It's fun! But it's not what sustains art. Yes, I understand you're enjoying yourself,

but so are self-pleasuring monkeys at the zoo.

And while wanker monkeys are funny to look at, they don't propigate the species.

To steer back from the impending allegorical trainwreck, let me simply say the following for clarification:

I am championing narrative poetry not because I hate lyric poetry or because I think that no one should write it.

I am championing narrative poetry because I know that stories connect more immediately with people than descriptions. And what I want poetry to do, more than anything else, is connect with the most people it possibly can. Because I know that right now, today, the majority of American readers (approximately 100 million people) aren't reading that much poetry. They certainly aren't buying it. I think that we, as poets, need to stop blaming publishers or readers and start looking at what we are doing wrong. The most minute distillation of this that I can say is --

I believe:

that we need to write better poetry


that our poetry needs to connect with as large an audience as possible.

Many people believe that the two goals are irreconcilable. I say bull. We need to challenge ourselves to write poetry that is as experimental, difficult, and intricate as anything the most calculating language poet/modernist/post-modernist can dream of that is still readable by the majority of Americans.

Isn't that a far greater challenge than just being a Jackson Pollock of words?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wishy-Washiness in Poetry

Oh Crist.

Note: most of this post has nothing to do with Eliot or his lack of depth -- just how poets respond to each other.

So I'm a browsin' on them interwebs and I come across some ridiculousness about Eliot having a lack of depth. Apart from this being utterly ridiculous, people were disagreeing with idocies such as:

"I think poetry is too personal to dismiss any one poet as overrated. If it doesn't speak to you, then it doesn't, and I don't believe you should force it. But don't look down on other people who do see beauty in the words."

Seriously -- Oh Charlie Crist what is wrong with you people?

Perhaps much of the problem lies here, but surely we CAN NOT believe that poetry being "too personal" makes it immune to all criticism? The above quote represents everything evil and rotten about today's poetry.

Wishy-washies think that every fart is sacred, especially when it comes at the end of a pen. This applies not only to their own egotistical fartings but, in an insane sociopathic form of egalitarianism, to every one else's farts as well. Even when you can tell the work stinks to high heaven, there is still some onus to labeling it as excrement.

Why is this?

Apart from the reference above, I think it has to do with two ideas:

One -- don't insult the establishment. I have just done this. Ronnie is pretty much established. You don't want to do this because they control all the gates of publishing and the keys to the kingdom of being a "poet." This is hogwash. If you are unsure of this, read below.

Two -- that saying, out of hand, "this work is terrible -- it is not only not poetry but it is not even literature" somehow means you "don't understand" the work. Let me tell you -- if someone has to explain their poetry to a literate person (one of the 100 million Americans who read 2 or more books a year) then THEY ARE DOING SOMETHING WRONG. Perhaps they are not writing poetry. Perhaps they are clouding their lack of talent in the smoke and mirrors of academia, shock value, and pretension.

Perhaps the Emperor has no clothes.

The problem with this approach is that, as I have said before, once "anything" can become poetry, "everything" is poetry. Which means that nothing is. Just like Syndrome wanting to give superpowers to everyone, the dilution of what poetry means means that poetry means nothing.

So -- for today, after you read this blog and send it to your friends and continue the discussion about how to revive narrative poetry and kill off all the over-formulaic lyric verse we have now,
think about how we can disengage ourselves from the weak-language of faux-egalitarianism and begin to write criticism in a way that has meaning.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Declaration on the Revision of Poetry

Dear poets,

Modern poetry is sick. It's dying in its hospice bed and we should walk away from its cranky carcass before the stench of colostomy and muscle rub leaves us brainless. It's not like we're in the will anyway.

From the image of its corpse I propose a new direction for poetry. For the last century we've been tied into a strangulating mode of creating, producing, and promoting poetry. To wit: Artsy poets write impenetrable crap; Artsy journals with tiny circulations publish it (Poetry has a circulation of 30,000 – why do we want our work in it? Not because we want readers), no one reads the publications or the poems in them, and the publication line on a CV gets artsy poets jobs where they teach impressionable others that accessible poetry is evil and their excrement is the only rose worth smelling.

I propose, instead, the following solution:

To change how poetry is made, consumed, and thought of. This means altering the production, distribution, and acceptance of modern poetry. I will deal with each aspect of the solution individually.

1: Production

To change production of poetry we need to shift toward narrative verse. This is an easy task, as nearly all poetry published today is lyric poetry. Almost no one is writing or publishing narrative verse. This alone can explain the marginal state of modern poetry because people love stories. They crave them. They pay billions of dollars a year on movies, cable bills, novels, and video games just to experience stories. But they don’t turn to poetry. Why? Poetry can tell a story with such power that the reader or listener's body chemistry alters to fit the rhythm of the line. Nothing else can do this. But people don’t think of poetry because poetry no longer tells stories; it no longer entertains; it has become art for a dying art’s sake. When we ignore narrative verse in favor of the lyric we are depriving poetry of its natural audience.

Part of the reason has to do with today’s imbalance of lyric and narrative poetry. Lyric poetry is poetry that describes objects, feelings, and abstract concepts. Examples range from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet CXXX” to Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” to Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” to Ashbery’s “Just Walking Around.” Narrative verse is poetry that tells a story – from Poe's “Annabel Lee” to Jarrell's “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” to Forche’s “The Colonel” to Homer's Odyssey.

Poetry traditionally has had its greatest and widest appeal when there was a balance between lyric and narrative verse. No such balance exists today. In the pages of the major poetry journals you will find many pretty words and almost no stories. Month after month, quarter after quarter, publications print variations on the same ideas and wonder why their circulations remain insignificant. Readers are drawn to stories in a way that descriptions and ponderings can never match. The power of narrative verse keeps them reading and teaches them how to read poetry, so that they may enjoy both narrative and lyric verse. When there is no substantial volume of narrative verse to entice readers, interest in poetry subsides.

While an overemphasis on lyric verse is not the sole problem of contemporary poetry, it has allowed poets to ignore not only the structure of narrative but any structure at all. In writing narrative verse, we must never fall into the trap set by modernists and sprung by language========= poets and new formalists – that how the poem is saying something is more important that what it says. It is this emphasis on form and formlessness at the expense of content that drives away the lay reader of poetry. We can avoid this trap by committing our narrative verse to five points:

Our verse must:
be clear
be timely
be memorable
be in the common tongue
bring us together.

For our verse to be clear it must be fathomable on the first read. This does not mean that our verse cannot be complex. Indeed, it must be unless we wish to be some soulless versifier. But complexity is only a part of the picture. If no one can possibly understand our poems without a decoder ring, we’re doing it wrong. Most readers don't want to decode poetry – they just want a good story. If a good story is there, they will read it. If it can be peeled and peeled, revealing layers like Eliot's multifoliate rose, then we have done a good job.

For our verse to be timely, it must be relevant to people working and paying and living and dying right now. It must depend on neither allusions from mythology, nor private experiences but be firmly secured in the present. Personal demons and classical gods may be important and relevant to the poem-at-hand but they are without meaning if they cannot be made relevant to the reader.

For our verse to be memorable, it must be beautiful, both in sound and image. If we aren't writing our poetry with an ear for how it sounds out loud, we aren't writing poetry. Furthermore, if our beautiful word symphony doesn't make any sense, we're writing music, not poetry. Poetry is the syzygy of image, sound, and form – all three must be in balance to have a poem. We must also strive to make our poems ring in the ears of our audience. We should ask ourselves and our first readers “what lines from this poem are memorable?” Then we should work our words until its lines stick in our readers’ heads like hooks in a pop song.

For our verse to be in the common tongue, it must be written the way we speak. Why do we eschew contractions in poetry? Why do we embrace archaic reversals or literary paper language? No one speaks that way – and as poetry is in many ways a perfection of speech, we must reflect and perfect current speech patterns. Listeners should hear our poetry and tell themselves "this is the way I would speak."

For our verse to bring us together, it must be uplifting. This is not to say that that we can't tackle difficult or deep or depressing subjects, quite the contrary. What poetry should do is present difficult subjects in such a way that hope is offered to the world. Remember that “The Waste Land,” for all its bleak obtuseness, ends with a prayer that all will be well. Poetry cannot be uplifting if it is engaged in self-referential navel-gazing. Solipsistic, pretentious, and inscrutable poems serve only to confuse, confound, and drive away readers.

2: Distribution

Print is not dead. It is, however, brainwashed. Less than three million books of poetry sold last year. Mainstream publishers rightly ignore it. Moreover, small poetry presses are entirely subsidized by universities, endowments, and/or contests. This means they are beholden to the establishment and to publishing arcane academic poems. They don't care about accessibility, the public, or promoting what they publish because their survival doesn't depend upon these things.

Luckily, we are left with the internet, a largely maligned section of publishing with the academy – but we aren't trying to get tenure; we are trying to change poetry. The internet affords us a much easier way to distribute poetry in its natural form – as audio. We can create videos with text to accompany readings, embed .mp3s of readings into web pages – there are nearly limitless ways online to bring poetry back to what it should be – something that both sounds and means good.

If you worry that internet publishing means we won't be getting paid for our poetry or able to control our copyrights, then you need only to look at,, or These websites wholly support their creators through distributing creative content. People will pay for good content. Just like Radiohead's In Rainbows, distributing content for free only means that more people will come in contact with your work. If it is good, they will find some way to reward you – buying shirts, hitting a paypal donation button, etc. Any of these nontraditional forms of payment far exceed payments by poetry publications. Strong Verse is perhaps the only online publication that pays its authors ($10 a poem) and The New Yorker, the highest paying poetry publication pays only $150 per poem. Allowing our audience to pay us directly for our work will, even with a handful of readers, easily outstrip these token payments. But don't worry about money – worry about your work and your readers.

There are five major internet outlets for distributing poetry:


Emails are a simple and effective way to get our poems out to people. How many forwards do we get a day? Though we don't read most of them, what if one of them was the opening lines of "The Charge of the Light Brigade"? Would we keep reading? Would we pass it on? A great poem is certainly better than a story about how Barack Obama doesn't say the pledge or how someone’s cousin made money by forwarding “this very same email!” If we make a list of our contacts and send them a poem, they can keep it or not, but we may delight our friends and relatives with our words. We shouldn’t deny them the chance to love what we say.

YouTube is its valuable because we can harness its unique power to distribute poetry in its primal, aural form. The accompanying visuals can be anything – us reading, a background with text, a "poetry video" – it doesn't matter. What does matter is that YouTube allows us to get great poems into the public mind. If people will watch a father singing about his kids to the tune of "Canon in D", they will listen to a well-written, body-moving poem – and forward it to their friends.

We should each have a blog (I have two). We should comment and post on our blogs and forward them to others, digg them, etc. We should also find other poetry blogs and comment on them, contact their authors, and present our ideas. If we are not communicating with the world of poets, we cannot change poetry – and if we are not communicating with the reading public, we will never convince them that poetry has changed.

We should be promoting accessible, narrative verse on poetry forums. But we must be careful in a world of flame wars not to engage or defend ourselves against the blind and the stupid. We can’t get caught up in pointless arguments – if it is clear that the people in the forum don't care what we have to say, it is time to move on without looking back.

"Websites" covers a lot of ground. This category can be broken into networking websites – like,, and; publishing websites – everything from to; filter websites like and; and personal websites.

With networking websites like, we can find like-minded good writers and show them the world is not wholly against them. We can also distribute our poems to friends who will, especially with encouragement, forward them on to their friends. If we can just make a poem as interesting as a survey, we will have hit gold.

Publishing websites as a category is best divided into new and established sites. We should create our own publishing websites in order to directly control the distribution and promotion of our work. Established poetry sites, like Strong Verse and Loch Raven Review may be responsive to our work and reviews. Large media sites like and National Review Online will be interested in any content that will bring new users to their advertisers.,, and are websites that allow users to popularize web content by sharing and voting up interesting sites. These filter websites are a great tool for spreading the word. If you have a personal website or edit a publishing website, adding digg and reddit buttons to your site will help increase your visibility. A concentrated effort by even a few dozen readers will get our poems linked on these pages – and every time someone clicks that link and finds a beautiful, clear, narrative poem, we will have gained another reader.

Personal websites are, of course, your website with your name – (not that I've done anything with it. . .). These should be biographic with links and texts of poems we've already published (we should distribute new content through the above channels). These are best suited for disseminating information and philosophies – controlling what we say and believe before others can do it for us.

3: Acceptance

Once our work has begun to take hold in the world of readers and writers, we can begin to work toward canonization, that is, formal acceptance of clear, narrative verse. This will be a difficult process, as a great part of the Modernist ethos was the denigration of accessible, narrative poetry.

Canonization is achieved through two different ways. The first is textual – reviews, scholarly papers, etc. The second is positional – faculty postings, leading workshops, etc.

Written canonization begins with simple praise of our work and distributing it to as wide a readership as possible. After this begins, we can write and elicit reviews of our work. Reviews should be seen two ways. First we should make an effort to review each others work in online and print journals. This has been a core tactic of all literary movements. We should also work to get our poems reviewed by established critics. This will increase both our work’s legitimacy and visibility. After reviews come scholarly papers. These range from informal college essays to theses, dissertations, and books of critical theory. Though we may not have much control over this last category, we may be able to influence friends currently in school to look our way for research material.

Parallel to these written forms of canonization are inclusion in conferences and workshops, positions on the faculty of universities and textbook selection committees, and inclusion on textbook and anthology creation committees. Here we can directly influence both writers and readers in a much more direct way. Canonization is a far-away goal, to be sure, but any steps we can take – from writing reviews to teaching others to getting on textbook committees will be invaluable.

This will all be a lot of work, I know. But if you're dissatisfied with the empty poems you see touted as fresh and new – if you want to work to make poetry relevant to the two hundred million Americans who read, email me and let's get started discussing how to do what needs to be done.