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!