Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Harlequin Courier

So: this

and this

and finally this.

While I'm not the first person to make the comparison, I will say I WANT ONE NOW.

Moreover, this is an outstanding device for writers:

We set the clamshell up like a book, use a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and now we are typing on pages that actually look like pages. <>

I suppose, like most good things, I'll have to wait, but it's nice that computer technology is finally catching up to my nerdy childhood dreams.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

No Joy in Gainesville

In Alabama, where the rednecks live, the crowds are drinking deep;
The 'Bama fans are sneering, and 'Bama records keep,
Alabama men are inbred, but tonight they all can shout;
For there is no joy in Gainesville— mighty Tebow has struck out.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Poem

Forgive a bit of digression. This is also not an attempt at conversion. Please do read, however.

I don't know how you are on the belief scale. I follow Jesus.

30 minutes ago, I had the worst dream I had ever had. I dreamed I, and someone else, shot the 1-year old version of my oldest daughter (she is 5) and then had to fling her on a trash heap. I was wracked with weeping. I have never felt such depth of despair and sorrow. When I woke to find her still alive, I still couldn't shake the realness of the dream, so I prayed that I might forget the dream. I was clearly told that I could not forget it, that in fact I might as well be committing those actions because right now, representatives of my country -- who I pay for and educate -- are murdering babies halfway across the world. And I could not forget it because God is angry and God's people need to know that. I then wrote a very short poem. Here it is.

No peace;
No victory
is worth a murdered child.
We've got to stop the war today.

And then I wandered down here and posted this, after forwarding it to a few friends. At 3:42 in the morning.

Peace. We have to make it happen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Problem with Providing Your Own Content

or, The Service Publishers Provide

Here, read this.

Most of you know I read online comix with a great amount of passion and frequency. Or at least now you know.

One of the best is The Order of the Stick.

Now, in the back of my mind, I've always wondered what the hell the point of publishers was. Sure, they can get distributorship deals, but so can a motivated writer.

But in googling about server problems with Erfworld (a comic given web-life by Rich Burlew, creator of OOTS), I ran across the above conversation. Use ctrl+f to find "the Giant" and read what Rich writes.

If you'd like, you can go to the GITP forums and see more of the same.

I submit the above for you, readers, why it's often bad to provide your own content.

Consumers are going to complain about, well, everything. They are also going to speculate, create fan fiction, and do all sorts of things that may (rightly) annoy an artist. When the artist is a whiny d-bag about it (as most are) this is not normally a problem. Complaints, etc. are handled through a 3rd party -- you know, like the publisher. Hell, even this site isn't published by me -- it's got the power of 1 with a hundred zeros behind it. Woot and what-not.

But when the artist is also the content provider, his all-crazy-lame-fests ain't got no filter. Two hundred years ago, Archduke Rudolph told his court buddies to ignore the crazy bullshit of Beethoven. Fifty years ago, Ezra Pound's publishers (and friends) worked to get him out of the crazy house. Publishers provide all sorts of services as far as protecting their artists from their audiences -- and vice versa.

Far be it for me to actually support some sort of intermediation, but with as batshit crazy as so many artists can be -- especially wrt their own work and responses to it, I think it behooves us as thinkers-about-new-methods-of-content-delivery who or what can do the publisher's job of being a buffer between the artist and the audience.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Strong Verse Blog: an introduction

With over a year and a half since my first post, I think it's high time for a Strong Verse primer. The declaration is good and the numbers and prosody are useful in their own ways, but every system of thought needs an introduction, so here is mine:

Forms of literature:
There are three forms of literature: Prose, Poetry, and Propago. Propago is a bit of wrenched classicism that means "literature that also has images." Ergo comix, moving words, word art, etc. Feel free to come up with a better word, but it's important to acknowledge the "new" form of literature as it takes its rightful seat among Poetry and Prose.

Definition of poetry:
Prose is easy to define. It is simply written-down language. Propago, even, is easy to define -- as I did above. Poetry, however, needs a bit of help, as evidenced by the eternal (and silly) question "what is poetry?"

Poetry is writing that is dependent upon the syzygy of content, sound, and form. In a previous definition I said "image" instead of content -- but content is far more accurate.

All writing can be art. I defined art a few weeks ago, but I'll repeat the definition here:

Art is work of quality made for the indulgence of others. Ever since Kirby's criticism, I've been trying to find a "better" word than indulgence. I don't think the word exists that conveys enjoyment, enlightenment, and sometimes punishment -- except perhaps "schooling" but that's a bit slangy for me.

This blog is concerned with oral poetry. Indeed, my contention is with the three divisions of writing that "visual poetry" is propago and should be understood and studied as such. Tl;dr -- if it's not written to be spoken, it's not poetry.

This blog is concerned with formal poetry over "free verse" poetry. Indeed, I would prefer that most "free verse" poets realize what they write is prose, stop putting it in lines and work within flash fiction, a worthy and noble cause. This is not to say that poetry cannot be written without the aid of a metrics of some sort -- note the definition is "form" not a specific kind of form. The art is in the imposition.

This blog is very concerned with the state of poetry and poetry readership in the US. Suffice to say that I lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of US poets with most of the rest falling to our failing educational system. I do not blame publishers, as I wouldn't ask anyone to throw away money. I do, however, think that the cronyism inherent in American poetry is shameful though inescapable. I'll do a 6b here and say that I generally talk about poetry in the US because that's where I am. I don't know how the "scene" works in any other country, so unless a reader wants to tell me, I'm a bit short on info.

This blog promotes narrative verse. This is not simply to be contrarian. If both quality and readership are in the toilet, perhaps we as poets need to do something different. Experimentation is tried and tired. I think we should stop naval-gazing and do something difficult -- like telling a good story in a way that sounds as good as it tells.

This blog serves as a place for reviews -- either of new literature or of poems and poets I think people ought to know about. If you'd like me to review a work, I will generally be glad to, though I will not write a negative review, as I'd prefer not to give any press to a work I find distasteful.

As with any blogger, I am prone to a bit of off-topic ranting and raving. I support no party and am against chaos and violence.

Well that's it. Weather permitting, I'd like a post or two every week. We'll see.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fixing Education

If we have a nation of non-readers (200 million or so) that is (by far more) also a nation of non-poetry readers (290 million? something like that), part of the blame has to be on the educational system -- granted, the lion's share of the burden falls on the inability of most American poets to write anything worth reading, but the soul-sucking monster that is compulsory public education needs to be addressed as well.

to wit:

G.M. Palmer's Plan for Fixing Public Education
a baker's dozen rules

1) Test all teachers on a standardized test (WISC, SAT, ACT, GRE, TAAS, FCAT, etc.). Whoever doesn't score in the 75th percentile or above gets fired (do you want people who aren't smart [not just "not dumb"] teaching kids?).

2) Increase starting teacher salary to at least 100% of local median income. Make 20-year teacher salary 200% of median income. Give salary adjustments of 10% for each graduate degree step (Master, Specialist, Doctor) earned by a teacher. Now you have a salary scale. Use it.

3) Recruit heavily in high schools and colleges, reminding potential teachers that we only work 196 days a year.

4) Create and employ a strict and permanent expulsion policy. If a kid comes to school just to fsck around, he doesn't need to be there. Which leads to. . .

5) Remove "compulsory" from public education.

6) Give credit for all classes based on nationalized, standardized competency exams. Make these exams available at all times to all students. Passing the exam (which I would hazard a guess to say means getting well over a 90%) gives you credit for the class, end of story.

7) Award various "High School Diplomas" -- General Education, Trade Education, Business Education, College Prep, Technical Prep, etc. All of these will be credit -- and therefore competency-test based.

8) Anyone 18 or under can go to any school at any time.

9) All classes are open-enrollment and capped for attendance solely at teacher discretion.

10) No school campus should have more than 500 students. When 125% of capacity is reached, the community must find and provide new housing (I hear abandoned Wal-Marts are readily available for conversion. . .).
11) All campuses will incorporate any grade-levels a teacher wishes to teach/the students wish to learn.

12) All campuses will incorporate any subjects a teacher wishes to teach/the students wish to learn. This includes all arts, trades, humanities, sciences, etc. up to and most definitely traditionally "extra-curricular activities" and sports. If a competent adult is willing to teach children how to do it and children are willing to learn and work it can be done.

13) This may be restating (5) but attendance in classes is not mandatory. We should care that students learn, not that they breathe the same air as us.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Review: The Year of Loving Dangerously by Ted Rall and illustrated by Pablo G. Callejo

The Year of Loving Dangerously

Ted Rall (author)
Pablo G. Callejo (artist)
MSRP: $18.95 ($13 at Amazon, though)

(regular readers wondering why I'm reviewing a graphic novel would do well to read this)

The graphic novel-as-memoir is as likely a choice as you'll ever see from Ted Rall. Generally a target for controversy, at least with this book Rall can quash the arguments that his work is poorly drawn -- Pablo G. Callejo's artwork is delightful and spot-on and period (1984) when it needs to be.

The Year of Loving Dangerously chronicles Rall's "annus horribilis": from the fall of 1983 to the fall of 1984 he nearly died from a vampiric wart, failed out of Columbia, and was dumped by his long-time girlfriend. In what can scarcely be termed an improvement, Rall spent the summer and a great deal of the fall bed-hopping, bumming food, and fencing typewriters in an attempt to stave off homelessness. Dangerously ends with Rall in a secure job, sharing an apartment with his coked-out pothead of a buddy, and juggling three girlfriends.

Rall intended Dangerously to be "a chronicle of desperation, of how easy it is for anyone—even a white male attending an Ivy League school—to fall off the merry-go-round of U.S.-style laissez faire capitalism." I, however, tend more to agree with Xaviera Hollander's assessment: Rall's memoir is not a "chronicle of desperation" but rather an instruction book in how Rall "exploit[ed] his looks in return for financial reward."

That is, Rall's Dangerously does not read like a map of the dangers of capitalism. It reads like a glorious paean to it. When "the system" of specialists (professors) and bureaucrats (deans) not only failed him -- but became hostile to him, Rall went underground. Employing his only remaining capital -- good looks, intelligence, and charm -- Rall "avoided the ignominy of spending a night outdoors" not once but for the better part of a year.

Rall consistently found ways to exploit the system and make a profit -- whether in bedclothes or cash -- month after month of living screw-to-screw Rall did not survive -- he thrived. Knowing that the cheaper Connecticut transportation tokens work as subway tokens, Rall ran a nice black-market exchange to double his savings whenever he could. When he had to come up with nearly two month's pay for an apartment deposit, Rall stole equipment from the corporations he seems to despise even today -- becoming a bit of a corporate robber baron himself.

Reading Rall's memoir of homelessness and desperation, I was reminded of Adam Shepard who became intentionally homeless in order to prove that with drive, intelligence, and diligence there were no barriers to success. What Rall and Shepard have that most homeless folks do not are simply those few things -- education, intelligence, and drive -- that are imperative to financial success. So reading The Year of Loving Dangerously does not give us an insight into the problems of homelessness in America -- what it does is show us that if a "white male attending an Ivy League school" finds himself in dire straits he has no damn excuse but to pull himself up out of it.

I do think that Rall's book can be exceedingly valuable (though not as he intended) in helping understand the problem of homelessness. If Rall (or Shepard) can be ultimately untouched by homelessness, then what are the inherent problems keeping others homeless? Knowing that the problems are largely internal and not external ought to serve as a guide for those who want to eradicate homelessness (and don't we all?).

I would be remiss in my review of Rall and Callejo's excellent graphic novel if I didn't mention the "graphic" part. The book, when it is filmed, will certainly garner an "R" rating. The graphic novel is a perfect medium for depicting sex. As Tom Wolfe recently showed us, there is no right way to write directly about sexual intercourse -- it comes off as either mechanical or prurient. Either a medical journal or a Penthouse letter -- there are no in-betweens. With a graphic novel, however, sex-writing just works. It straddles both poles and rides to satisfaction without stains of boredom or pornography.

As I say, The Year of Loving Dangerously is an excellent work. If I may have wanted to know more about what happened to Rall at the end, that merely shows he and Callejo did an excellent job of telling a story. As more folks read it or when this book is filmed (yes, I said that twice), I expect that Rall's exploits during his "annus coitus" will rub up a tight debate on the ownership and exchange of sex and the benefits of truly unregulated capitalism.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Defining Art

I like working definitions. Let's have one for art, shall we?

This post will concentrate on artists in the main, over what they create; as art is made by artists, they are fundamental to understanding what art is and what it is about. Familiar readers may also expect that I will mention audience a few times. They will not be disappointed.

Before I get going, I'd like to thank my friend Drew for the kernel of conversation from which this post grew. Its first iteration came at Kirby's blog (look to your right) but I'm fleshing it out more here.

The simplest -- and therefore most correct -- definition of art is this:

Art is work of quality made for the indulgence of others.

In order to be on the same footing, let's visit these words.

Unless Bill Clinton has started reading the blog, I don't think we need to treat "is," "of," "for," the," and the second "of." We'll also leave the period alone.

"Art" is defined by the rest of the sentence.

"Work" is important. Art takes effort -- generally in creation itself (as in, say the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) and in training -- though with enough training, it's possible and likely that the time required for creation will be reduced -- if nothing else because an experienced artist makes fewer mistakes. "Craft" might be a useable word here, but it frequently has anartistic connotations and "work" is the simpler word. Work, however, is functioning as a noun -- that is, it is something that is made.

"Quality" of course is a slippery word, but I like it better than "highest standards." Quality is the part of art that is up to the artist. Many people can make work for the indulgence of others. We generally call this the business model. The artist takes this work-for-the-indulgence-of-others, adds his or her own highest or most exacting or most demanding standards, or quality, and makes something more lasting than a double cheeseburger.

"Made" is of the utmost importance. Part of the uncomfort we feel when confronted with "found art" is the sense that no one made it. Surely this is the impetus behind the joke inherent in Duchamp's Fountain. It is certainly the difference between Warhol and Duchamp. Made also relates back to work. This made-work is what makes an artist like Christo interesting (or makes a person like Christo an artist to be less generous) -- he (and his team) put a hell of a lot of effort into wrapping those trees and walls and Reichstags.

"Indulgence" is what makes art art and not, say, food. Food is essential; art (to be religious) is adiaphoric. To some extent this is a silly argument. We, I believe, know good and well that it is the adiaphoric that makes life "worth living." By design we don't notice the essentials unless they are gone. This is, perhaps, a point where Luther erred in designing his churches -- he told them "not to sweat the small stuff" but for most of us, "the small stuff" -- the non-essentials -- are the details we actually care about. Ergo so much debate about art. But the adiaphoric nature of "indulgence" is only half of the story. I was tempted at first by the word "entertaining" or, perhaps pedantically, "edification." But these words ignore the possibility that art may shock and injure as well as delight and heal. Indulgence is, to my knowledge, the word that best encompasses all of these abilities -- "extra but desirable."

"Others" is the key to art. Way back a decade ago (in the Clinton era!) when I taught creative writing, the first thing I told my students was: if they were just writing for themselves they were not creating art -- they were making expression. Art is not art unless it is both shared and influential in some way. The observer must internalize the work to a degree that he or she has been changed enough to "possess" the work mentally and physically. This brings a tweest in, though -- not all art is art to everyone.

Art is a conversation between the artist and the observer with the work as the language. Because we look at the world differently, we value different kinds of art. Part of the impetus of my writing so far has not been to say "this art is crap" -- though surely a lot of it is -- but that, rather, "this art speaks to too few people."

So when we set out to make art, we should ask:

What work will I do?
What are my standards (desires?) for this work?
How will I make it?
What will it do for my audience?
Who is my audience?

Perhaps this is not what we ask when we begin to create an expression -- when we first write those words granted by the muse. But these questions are what we must ask ourselves when we craft our coal words into diamond art.

Intro to Poetry List

I suppose this list says a lot more about me than poetry.

"Blackberrying" by Sylvia Plath
"She Walks in Beauty" by George Gordon, Lord Byron
"Red Red Rose" by Robert Burns
"Since Feeling is First" by e.e. cummings
"Tame Cat" by Ezra Pound
"Sonnet 130" by William Shakespeare
"What Lips My Lips Have Kissed" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
"My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke
"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by John Keats
"The Lady of Shalott" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
"Sestina: Altaforte" by Ezra Pound
"Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
"Warming Her Pearls" by Carol Anne Duffy
"The Colonel" by Carolyn Forche
"The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot
"Gretel in Darkness" by Louise Gluck
"The Emperor of Ice Cream" by Wallace Stevens
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot
"In a Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound
"Mending Wall" by Robert Frost
"The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe
"Fever 103" by Sylvia Plath
"Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allen Poe
"The Journey of the Magi" by T.S. Eliot
"Home Burial" by Robert Frost
"Lycidas" by John Milton
"Usura" (Canto LXV) by Ezra Pound
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"East Coker" by T.S. Eliot

I hope to be back now after my extended hiatus. Life's been busier than poetry -- though I'm delighted to find this blog on a professor's reading list. w00t.

Friday, July 17, 2009

this blog is normally reserved for poetry

But holy Jesus how cool is this?

Some of you may know my first performance/writing love (by about a year) was music. I was a rocker before I was a poet. So when I got a text message from a techy bud about create-your-own-rockband songs I (to be all 80s) totally flipped.

I'm not sure (yet) how to abuse this for poetry distribution, but if you are in a band or just like to write music and you don't exploit the living hell out of this, there is something wrong with you.

Look for my old band's cheesy bar-blues to be appearing (since I still have all the masters on cdrom) as soon as this goes live. w00t what!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Flarfers like to insult folks I guess

Well it seems I've pissed off Christian Bok. He called me a troll on his twitter page. Tee hee.

What he choses to ignore, of course (in a lovely tu quoque sort of way), is that Kenneth Goldsmith said "Conceptual Poetry" (his caps) was child's play.

Perhaps that Kinsey Gaffe wasn't so intentional after all, eh Ken?

Can ya ken wha I mean, Ken?

Update (7/17):
I've also cheesed off Silliman. He refers to my post below as being "so pained it's almost flarf"; in the comments section, Many Zeros says that the point of my post seems to be "get your ass down to K-mart and see what [the troglodytes] want in their poetry." Close, but no cigar, Zero Mostel. Those folks at K-mart with their trans-fat biscuits don't generally read (remember, only 1/3 of Americans read on a regular basis).

It would be useful to say, go to a Barnes&Noble or mine Amazon (or just look at best-seller lists) to try to figure out what readers like. . . at the very least we need to stop writing to please ourselves or to please other poets -- no more masturbation and incest, folks!

Keep it clean! Seriously you guys, the whole idea of exogenous creativity is that we get infusions of new blood and new ideas -- we aren't getting that from inside the realm of poetry, we've got to go outside our camp, beyond the land of the backslappers and grantgivers.

Poetry for schoolkids

So how many of you know teachers?

One of the ways we can reintroduce enjoyable poetry to the mass of readers is through schools. Most schools I know of encourage their teachers to put a "what is Mr. So and So reading?" spot on their walls or bulletin boards, etc. From experience as a teacher, kids even ask to borrow such books -- especially if they're reviewed or rated.

So what's a good book of (dare we hope narrative) contemporary verse we can get into the hands of teachers (and by extension, kids)?

How do we get it to them? MLA conference?

Note: my wife is now reading the Madeline books to our daughters -- those are books of poetry. . .

Monday, July 6, 2009

Flarf and Conceptual Poetry: by children, for children

Welcome, Sillimites! Don't forget to read these too!

The good people at the Poetry Foundation have lost their minds.

This month’s issue gives lip to the ALL-CONCEPTUAL ALL-THE-TIME crowd, which leads me to believe that Christian Wiman & Co. must have dusted off some old copies of BLAST and thought the 1910s still had some interesting poetry left to be squeezed out of them.

Beginning things is an introduction by Kenneth Goldsmith, whose “essay” starts off with the falsest of propositions:

“Start making sense. Disjunction is dead.”

I’m calling bullshit. Straw man argument is straw man. Perhaps in the avant-garde world that led directly from the most unintelligible lines of the post-war modernist poems to the disjointed madness of l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e “poetry,” the refuse that is flarf and conceptual poetry counts as making sense.

Here in non-navel-gazing-land, however, it doesn’t. Yes, yes, Mr. Goldsmith, we can see in your poetic examples that “whole units of plain English with normative syntax, [have] returned.” However, as Noam Chomsky so wonderfully pointed out, “plain English with normative syntax” doesn’t always make sense.

Nor can this poetry in any sense be said to be “juncted” (I suppose “coherent” is the word here). Mohammad’s “Poems About Trees” makes as much sense as an R.E.M. song crossed with a Pollack painting. Seriously, folks. Why are you kidding yourselves?

Let’s find out.

Goldsmith goes on to talk about “[feeling] language again” and the “delight” and “joy” it brings. He compares C/F poets to children wrecking things. Well perhaps he does know who he’s kidding. A “movement” which can produce such beauties as “I Google Myself” (I thought it would be impossible to do worse than the original; color me incorrect on that count) is nothing more than a bunch of children playing at poetry.

When I saw Mohammad speak at AWP this year, he went on and on about how he made “sonnets” out of nothing but anagrams of Shakespeare’s originals. My question now, as then, is “what’s the point?” By his own admission they were not good poems. Why waste the time?

Because Goldsmith has here committed a Kinsley gaffe. These poets are, in effect, children running around the island, doing as they please. It explains a lot, especially that heated, “we’ve got sharp sticks” look whenever you bring up reality or getting off the island or why we got here in the first place and isn’t that a boat right over there?

So in his first paragraph, Goldsmith does get at some truth: conceptual/flarf poets are children. Considering 1) that I’m a grown-up writing for folks who’ve little interest in living in Neverland and 2) Uncle Shelby’s books have the corner on the “kids’ poetry” market, I’m tempted to just point this out and let well-enough alone.

Except Goldsmith opens his next paragraph with this doozy:

our immersive digital environment demands new responses from writers.”

The hell it does. Perhaps Mr. Goldsmith has never put down his Adorno and McLuhan. I neither know nor care. What is nails-down-the-chalkboard (is there a German word for that?) infuriating, however, is that Goldsmith continues, saying that C/F poetry is attempting to solve the problem of “what it means to be a poet in the Internet age” and answer the question “why use your own words when you can express yourself just as well by using someone else’s.”

Perhaps the irony is too deep for me. Maybe all these poets understand that they’re aping Ezra Pound in 1914. Or maybe they know they’re following in Duchamp’s footsteps, somehow pissing on new ground.

If not, however, let me answer these questions without having to resort to Conceptual and Flarf poetry. Question the first: “what it means to be a poet in the Internet age.” It means what it has always “meant” to be a poet – that you communicate through verse while at the same time “purifying the dialect of the tribe.” To use appraisal language, poetry is the “highest and best use” of language. We are its creators.

Answering the second question is even easier. You are always using someone else’s words. Admitting that, rather – being deferential to that, simply means you are an immature poet. Of course, we’ve already covered that, thanks to Mr. Goldsmith.

The real question is what does “this” mean in a world of 4chan memes and instant distribution? “This” of course, being the whole of writing and publishing and reading poetry. According to the current issue of Poetry, it means that hack writers can get their work and mini-manifestos published in a canonical rag. If all you’re interested is wrecking and playing, I suppose that’s enough.

What this new technology really means, however, what these Conceptual/Flarf people continually miss, is that there is now nothing between the poem and the audience.

There’s that nasty word I keep employing. That’s correct, y’all. What it means to be a poet in the internet age is not that you can more rapidly act like Burroughs and do cut-up poems, but that your poems have instant access to readers. To an audience.

You don’t have to be friends with the king, or the rich guy down the lane. You don’t have to blow your poetry professor. You don’t have to get a publisher drunk at a poetry conference.

You just set up a booth and go. No cost.

Now obviously this has worked in the favor of those crazy Conceptual/Flarf/Avant Garde/whatever Ron is calling them this week poets. I mean someone has to be going to those websites, right?

But all those folks have done is found themselves. Conceptual/Flarf poetry is the Rule 34 of literature. If you like amputees and gore, well, there’s an audience for you full of other folks who also have a disjointed sense of what writing is.

But what about that untapped audience for poetry? Is it 30 million Americans? 100 million? We don’t know. My guess is one-half to one-third of current American readers. Certainly it’s more than the 3 million we’ve got today. But one thing is sure – we aren’t reaching them and no one knows how to.

Why don’t we know? Because we’ve been given the most powerful publishing tool since Gutenberg and all we’re doing with it is turning walnuts into pigeons.

We should be ashamed.

Or, rather, we should be changed.

We must find what people like – what they’re “buying” if you can call it that – and make it for them. And make it in the most brilliant way possible – and when they buy it, they can find all the subversive, artistic things we’ve done. This is art, folks. Impenetrability and flash never make art. Expertly created work can. Art is work, not play.

When Mr. Goldsmith and his lost children understand this, maybe their work will grow up too.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

West Chester debriefing part 1

West Chester was fantastic.  My brain is still full of information and swimming with crazy poetry.

If you didn't go -- and you're a poet who reads this blog -- you NEED to go next year.

Here's a breakdown of the weekend as I saw it:

I arrived late on Wednesday (missed the damn banquet, etc.) but got to meet Quincy Lehr and David Landrum and a few others of Eratosphere fame.  Woo hoo -- free wine.

On Thursday I wandered around for a bit, talking with Davids Yezzi and Mason and Mad Dog Gioia who has a memory for conversation that bespeaks one qualified to climb the ladder of governmental arts.  

Chatted a bit with Donald Hall about Hall's interviews with Pound.  Hall told me Pound's assessment of his political activities was that "he may have been a bit off base."  All poets should be so aware.

Class started, a lovely jaunt on poetry in the classroom with the verse wonder-twins of tag-team wrastlin: the Pythoness of Poetry Moira Egan and the inimitable Rhina P. Espaillat.  Thursday night I brought my mandolin and strummed up with Michael and Krys, Mike teaching me more in 10 minutes about the mandolin than I had learned in 10 years of owning one.

Friday brought more classes and a jaunty private chortle with critic-god Christopher Ricks ("how about Beckett? He's quite good too, what?") whose lecture reminded me why I wanted to go to U Boston for grad school when I was a wee sophomore.  

Friday night birthed full-on bluegrass with the Mike & Mike show, Yezzi-brand Banjo, and harps from as far away as Scotland.  Oh 'twas glorious.  After having my Glenrothes stolen (tha bastards!) and Yez and I riffing on the banj till 1, I strolled up to Ernie's room and è stato un colpo di fulmine -- I met the impossible Jillian.  A bad Christian girl with matchless skills in reimagining religious texts, I found a sure conspirator.  We all boozed it up in Ernie's room till 4 or so, drunkenly reciting remembered favorite poems.  Ah, poetry.

Saturday we wrapped things up, I bought two of JAE's books (expect reviews swoon), and we went to the (indoors, unfortunately) picnic.  Heather and the girls were supposed to join us but were caught up at the Adventure farm and so arrived after most everyone had left.  No matter, everyone who met them now knows my girls rank on the cuteness scale at at over 9000 yottaharo (Haro Kiti [that's Hello Kitty, y'all] being 1 unit of "cute" -- most of your standard lol-fare rates on the kiloharo range,  a megaharo would be Hayley Mills in Pollyanna, a petaharo  Momo-tan, and my friggin adorable daughters are off the yotta, yo -- but I digress).

Saturday night brought more booze and schmooze but in a cramped ballroom, so of a decidedly less-fun flavor.  I did have a great discussion with Our Photographer (ha!) Daniel Lin that will (I hope!) bear fruit.  Once most people started to leave, I did do some confabbing with the Mason (who tried to pour me a straw), J. Allyn Rosser (that's Jill to most of us), and The Jillian. Oh and Sam Gwynn and I liberated booze from the bar while Yezzi ran interference.  w00t what!

All-in-all a fabulist's formalist dream.  I await next year with open feet. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Review: Shannon by Campbell McGrath

Shannon: a poem of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

2009, Ecco
$23.99 (well, $17.99 at amazon...)

Campbell McGrath's Shannon is perhaps the first serious attempt at mythologizing America written after the deconstruction of the twentieth century.  It is "a poem of the Lewis and Clark Expedition," an imagining of the sixteen days Private George Shannon spent wandering alone and lost on the prairie, a found horse in tow, trying to reconnect with "the Capts. & the Corps of Discovery."  Told in a free verse style that combines the best of Pound and Olson, George Shannon's hallucinatory travelogue praises both the newly purchased America of 1804 and Shannon's dream of the America to come.

McGrath wholeheartedly embraces the zeal of the early 19th century vernacular in his poem, giving us an sectional-epic -- a descent into hell.  But hell for George Shannon is filled not with flame and demons but hunger and buffalo.  Shannon begins his journey full of wonder for the "fine & open country" but when he realizes the "pure foolishness" of setting out alone with "but five balls" of shot, he begins to worry.  When he realizes he cannot find "the good Capts.," he falls into despair.

His lost days recounted in verse, Shannon muses on the "wind-torn lands flung to the horizon" being molded into states of the Union.  He wanders half-starved through Lewis and Clark's West, finding prairie dogs, antelope, beauty, and everything but his lost Expedition.  As he lays down, exhausted, hungry, and ready for death, Shannon imagines the future of the land on which he will perish.  

Though he sees a land populated by his countrymen, he knows that the West will always belong to the buffalo.  Indeed, Day 13, "the buffalo-god" section, is the surreal zenith of the poem, Shannon embracing the ever-present and seemingly sacrosanct buffalo.  Shannon knows that no matter how many "indians" die, no matter how many Americans die, their bones buried in the soil, "numberless generations" must die "to claim this land from the buffalo."  

Shannon is not being naive.  He is aware that "[his] countrymen / Will populate in numbers these fulsome plains."  But what Shannon understands is that the land itself -- its lay, its soil, its soul -- belongs not to man, but to the buffalo.  McGrath, writing from two centuries out, has the benefit of knowledge -- once returned to the plains and prairies of the West, the bison (for no one today calls them buffalo) thrive and grow, as if taking possession of what is obviously theirs.  But it is through Shannon that we know that irrespective of the highways we cut, the water we pump, and the acres we claim, the land only gives itself to the buffalo.

Having failed to find his Expedition, Shannon is ready, like a good soldier, to sacrifice his life for his Union.  In his final prayer, he gives his body to the land, to stake a claim of ownership:

My name is George Shannon
& I bequeath my remains
To seed this land
With American bones.

While on the prairie, Shannon walks into a deep reverie, a journey of realization and discovery.  McGrath, thankfully, doesn't abuse Shannon's thoughts with anachronisms.  There is no room in Shannon's "country of herds" for post-colonial worrying.  The only hand-wringing McGrath allows Shannon to engage in is the theological sort.  Shannon, with his distaste for the "sanctimony" of "Parson Macready," rejects the church and acknowledges that he never "will come to believing," knowing the reassurances of the Parson that his brother John died to fulfil God's "mysterious ways" are nothing more than "the palaver of a Kentucky card sharp / Caught bluffing."  

But at the same time, Shannon sees "the flower of which Jesus even was made" in a dogwood, and questions the nature and scope of God, even as he contemplates the scope of America's new West.  This struggle between the platitudes of the clergy and the majesty of experience was not only something we find to be true as historians of post-revolutionary America, but was viscerally true, with great men like Franklin and Jefferson trying to define belief against rationalism.  A struggle Shannon would have been wholly aware of and keen to participate in as an educated man.  

Here is where McGrath's writing shines.  In being unafraid to recount a historic episode not as it would be today, gussied up with dusty costumes or dissected in dry volumes, but as what it must have been like that summer of 1804, McGrath allows us not only to have the voyeuristic experience of historical fiction but, and far more valuably, to question and understand what internal struggle is.  By freeing George Shannon's journey and turmoil from any agenda, any contemporary-ism -- McGrath's frees his verse to carry the reality of conflict, the scarcity of hunger.  McGrath shows us the truth in Shannon, not what we wish the truth might be.

To be fair, there are parts of Shannon I do not love.  In his more Olson-ish moments, McGrath dandies with typography and repetition.  While these parts certainly work within the poem, such sops don't excite my reading tongue.  I also wish that McGrath were interested in meter, as the "rhythm and breath and musicality" he employs in his free verse lines are no more exciting than any unmetrical lines written in the last few decades.  I doubly wish this, as Shannon is a powerful poem, but one from which I have remembered the story far more than the verse.  

But these are small and biased complaints about an otherwise excellent and compelling work.  McGrath understands as a poet what it means to give himself to the poem.  Giving himself, he has given us a text, a poem that points the way towards a poetry that does not serve its master, a poetry that is not trapped in thought and academia, but a poetry for the people.  A poetry in which history and truth and beauty are held for riches, and shared freely with the world.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Silliman on School of Quietude, Oxford, and Academic Poetry

Hoo boy.

First let me say that I care neither for Prof. Walcott's alleged sexual indescretions nor for who has what post at Oxford (unless, of course, they are offering me a post -- in which case I accept).

I do, however, care for the framing of this whole "schools of poetry" thing.  At the above link, Silliman refers to both Walcott and Padel as School of Quietude poets.  Certainly I would place them in the world of oral poetry (Walcott, of course, gets a nod as a narrative poet, too).

Now, I've read Omeros.  It was all right.  I would recommend other narrative poems first, though in making a study of contemporary narrative/epic poetry, it's pretty invaluable.  Padel came on to my radar at the same time she came on to yours -- that is, a couple of weeks ago.  In reading the poems she has available on line, I am willing to say she's not a favorite of mine.  Here's a bit from her "latest poem":

At night the savannah comes to claim me.
Thirty females and their calves
in search of a leader. Shaggy manes

down each nape. White bellies, white cheeks 
and that dagger of kohl down the nose.

Kind of that "truncated prose without transistion" school of writing "poetry."  Not that we haven't written it -- but jeez, the featured poem on your website?  Oh well.  Perhaps more "School of Boringtude" or, more accurately, "School of Academia" -- but more on that in a minute.

No.  What really gets my goat is this quote from Silliman:

The surprise is not that the School of Quietude is ruthless in its practice of power politics. That has been its hallmark forever – beginning with a century-long pretense that it represents the whole of poetry, rather than just an anti-modernist / premodernist sliver within a far larger spectrum. No, the surprise is that the SoQ is so very bad at it.

Well of course he's surprised, as his school of avant garde is so good at it.  They circle the wagons, close ranks, and defend their territory with such predictability one thinks they must be orchestrated (though they don't appear to be -- unless there's a kool-aid distributor I've missed).

The real culprit here is not School of Quietude or Avant Garde -- but academic poetry.  As I have said, academic poetry creates these cancerous and mutated growths of "verse" unsupported by market economics.  Even the patronage poets were subject to the whims of the market (even if the market was a noble and his guests).  Academia, however, with its system of tenure and captive audiences, is about as anti-market as you can get (guess that's why everyone in college is a Marxist. . .).

This means that there are no real-world consequences for writing bad verse.  As long as your work fits within a certain mold and you hobnob with the right folk, you're in like flynn.  No matter that your books don't actually sell -- and therefore no one reads your work, you can get acceptance as a "poet" and fleece wannabe poets out of tuition and workshop fees.  Now, this is a great system to get in on, for the established poets.  It's a terrible system for poetry, however, and we've seen the 20th century take poetry from the lips of the masses to the quips of asses.  

It's time we wrote not for tenure but for people.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Everyone's a little bit racist sometimes"

It seems that a certain Judge has watched Avenue Q a few too many times:

Apparently, holding sexist and racist views like Sonia Sotomayor will get you a nomination to the Supreme Court -- and here I thought the best way was to be a lapdog or a friend to torturers. . .


“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” said Judge Sotomayor.

To remind us of where we should be:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

But that's what happens when you politicize things.  Just like folks politicized literature -- and as now we're stuck with this awful dreck (really, just search the links in the archives y'all) masquerading as poetry, we are stuck with this awful dreck masquerading as progress.

To quote GnFnS:

Things are seldom what they seem,
skim milk masquerades as cream. . .

update: she apparently is not a fan of free speech

Thursday, May 21, 2009

West Chester Poetry Conference Coming Soon!

Hey all,

Just wanted to let you know that I'll be at the West Chester Poetry Conference coming up in 3 weeks.  Woo!

After going to my poetry in the classroom workshop, I hope to be bumming around with a mandolin, a bottle of booze, and a stack of poems.

Good times.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Narrative Poetry Saves the Day; it's not vizpo, langpo, orpo, forpo, and freepo -- it's narpo.

or, Why Poets Should Tell Stories

So I've been wandering in the wilderness for a bit.  Like any good sojourn, it's refreshed and refocused me.  Not a bad thing 'tall.

We've also had some great visitors here.  Check the comments section for a handful of generally genial folks taking me to task for clarity and specifics.  Good stuff all around.

And I've been reading poetry -- first the folks I met at AWP, then the free books I got at AWP, and lately a few books that have been mailed for review (though I didn't review them -- nothing good to say and whatnot) and of course narrative prose as well. 

No narrative poetry, though.  I've read through a dozen or so books of poetry and the only one that even attempted a sort of narrative was half a collection of episodic/thematic sonnets; nice, but. . . (there's a review forthcoming, but in Florida English).  

So, folks, we know the point of this blog is to work towards a revival of poetry.  Namely to save poetry from its poets -- to turn our focus as makers of poetry, as artists, from our shoes to our spectators.

I believe that one of our greatest audience-reaching problems (book distribution, discussed here and here, for starters) is in the business of being solved.  Espresso Book Machines, by the way, are located here.  Check one out and check back in with us!

So the technology is keeping up with us.  The writing, however, is not.

I've talked before, at length, about narrative poetry.  

I've also had, since starting this blog, the opportunity to come into contact with a great many good poets.  Follow the links or just look to the right for even more.

Problem is, not many folks actually know them.  I was talking to an old prof over drinks at AWP and we surmised that the only people who read poetry anymore are those who write it and that there are approximately 4 writers of poetry for every 1 reader (I forget where he got the writers number from but it was about 10 or 12 million Americans).  I, of course, know why the readers number is so low.

Of the four above writers and the four poets to my right, only two of them are writers of longform narrative poetry (that I know of -- Kim Addonizio also wrote a novel) and, not surprisingly, they have the greatest amount of google hits (by a factor of 5 & 50 over the next two most popular).  Except for Mr. Philp, all the poets have far fewer hits than even regional and genre prose fiction authors.  I'm sure that their sales numbers are all smaller (by definition of poetry sales being utter shite), though I haven't been so gauche as to ask them specific sales numbers (yet -- we may get friendly enough at West Chester Poetry Conference, where at least 3 of the 8 will be).

Hits, of course, don't mean everything -- but they do mean how distributed the poet's "name" is (which still means less than a lot as even Mr. Philp is dwarfed by a Stephen King or JK Rowling -- both of whom are dwarfed by Harry Potter, Lost the TV show, American Idol, and porn -- priorities, priorities. . .) and how familiar the public is likely to be with said name.

Speaking of, I got berated at an old blog for being concerned with poets and not their poems.  Well first, I like poets for their poems; but more than that, we have to realize we live in a world of brands -- and we always have.  Brands are nothing more than commericalized authority (and, really, hasn't authority always been commercial?) and as such, we should respect the impact that a name makes.

Back on topic,

Why is narrative poetry so important?

The answer is simple -- memory.  I read Yezzi and Addonizio and Spera's and Barenblat's work and really liked it.  The only poems I "remember" are one by Yezzi and one by Spera that were very short (40 lines?) stories.  Yet I can quote at length from what happened in Mason's Ludlow, and can get people interested enough in the story to want to read the poem.

And there it is.  How can I get people interested in Kim Addonizio?  "Hey man, there's this poet and she writes some really fun verse -- a lot of it is catchy and risque" or Rachel Barenblat "so there's this poet and she rewrites a lot of the Torah -- really great updated religious poetry."

Note -- I'm not trying to write bad copy here, I'm just saying that the best thing I can say about them without having their poetry in front of me is a generalization of what their poetry is "about" -- or not even about, since lyric so often is about ephemera -- or what their poetry does.

Not very exciting -- except to a poet. . .

A story, on the other hand, gets everyone excited.  Readers are hooked in by stories, not writing ability, or more important, writing style.  If they find a good story, they'll read it.  Not to beat a dead horse, but look at Dan Brown.  Interesting stories propped up by bland and formulaic writing -- but not only does he "sell," but the VATICAN talks about his work.  

When was the last time the Vatican concerned itself with a book of poetry? 
We are missing out on something big, folks.

To pick up on that something big, we need to start writing stories in verse.  They need to be stories people will buy into written in verse they can read and understand.  It would be best if people loved the stories and the verse was memorable and moving.

Obviously the second part is most widely accomplished through rhythmic verse (whether metrical or accentual doesn't really concern me at the moment -- but we need regular beats).  Rhyme (at least in English) is an arguable factor.  But we need that backbeat rhythm to really really kick em in the heart of rock and roll and get them reading poetry again.

I've said before, we don't need to generate original stories.  In fact, it may be best that we don't while there are so many stories to mine.  Mason's Ludlow is a prime example of that -- as are the Iliad and Odyssey and even Paradise Lost.  Indeed, historical non-fiction (of a sort) is the home territory of narrative poetry and it's a shame we gave it up.

So, write narrative poetry for the connections;
write narrative poetry for the memories;
write narrative poetry!

Update on the Espresso Book Machine

So the Guardian numbers were a bit off.  I talked today with the good folks at On Demand Books and the New Orleans Public Library, where an Espresso Book Machine is currently located (the others are here).

Here's what I found out:

There are three versions of the EBM 2.0:

Two black and white models with different printing speeds:

The Turtle (35 ppm) for $75,000
The Rabbit (105 ppm) for $95,000

There is a color version as well:

The Leary for $100,000

Each version has a color printer for covers, but the Leary prints interior color as well.

There are currently 15 installations, with more coming.  Each unit has between 7,500 and 20,000 sales per year.  At a cost of $.01 per page (as the website says), with a book cost of $10, a 300 page book makes $7.  Split that even with the author and you're making $3.50 a book.  Charge more and, well, you make more.  That means the machine pays for itself in less than two years at a good rate of sale (assuming you're selling the books for cheap).  

But the cool thing was talking to the New Orleans Public Library.  They've taken a non-mercenary approach with their EBM and use it to make low cost books for children's programs, local geneological societies, and scholarly and creative journals.  Which reminded me that I should have thought about small presses.  A few small presses could get together and buy an EBM and control their own destiny (bwa ha ha), especially if they were located in the same area.

So that's my EBM update.  If anybody has $75-100k, I've got room in my house for one :)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Kindle, Real Books on Demand, and the Future!

So Amazon's Kindle is pretty amazing.  Now, I linked to the (as of yet) unavailable DX version because the new format makes worlds more sense for no other reason than it reads .pdfs natively.  

Last week, I linked to a revolutionary little machine that's like the Univac version of a Kindle and a printer (can you print from the Kindle? I don't think so but you should be able to -- add that compatibility, y'all!), the Espresso Book Machine.  I lightly said it could save poetry.

Here's how it can.

First, the Espresso needs to be coupled with something like the DOA technology of Music Point to add real nice e-functionality to its products.  

Secondly, a coffee house needs to pony up the 250k or so it would cost to get such a double-machine.

Thirdly, have great and wonderful readings both live and memorexed playing all the time. 

So Instead of having to carry stock (the yearly inventory in any small bookstore is likely upwards of  that 250k figure anyway -- and that's a one-time investment), you sell books and cds (with the books on .pdfs and recordings of the readings) on demand, especially those of readers performing at the venue.  

I've seen great readers at a good venue sell upwards of a couple dozen CDs and a dozen or so books, 3 or 4 readers at a time (so say expect 100 -- 200 titles to sell if you know what you're doing).  If the pricing scheme makes any sense, you could expect, as a venue to make $500-$1000 on book/cd sales on a good show (mind you, this is in "the world's biggest small town," and we aren't really known for our arts scene) add to that ticket sales ($1000 or more -- wait, you aren't charging for your poetry readings?  Why not?  Build expectations, y'all!) and 3 shows a week for a year pay off your machines.  Don't you have 3 shows a week?  Why not?  Get people out for your amazing poetry shows!  I ain't no Barnum and Bailey, but someone has to be.  Where are you, dammit?

This new technology also solves more than a few problems of poetry distribution.  Poetry is no longer "back-shelf" material.  Hell, even if your bookstore is supported by sales of Sue Grafton and the latest DaVinci Code, you hardly have to advertise those.  The reason they're in the front is because that's what people look for.  With that space freed up by the Print-O-Matic 9001, poets can be showcased.

Also, there's no such thing as "out-of-print" or "rare"; books are just available.  So that copy of Johnson's Ark is no longer $50 from a used bookseller.  Pound's A Lume Spento is a nice, even $10.  

But let's not forget about that Kindle.  With native pdf support and a USB jack, you can sell ebooks at readings.  And since the Kindle supports mp3s, you can sell readings, too.  You can sell those for way cheaper, using a computer set up for just such a purpose, getting (maybe) a dollar or two kickback from the author for using your venue & technology.

In fact, if you're totally punk rock, you could set up a Kindle account (not a hard thing -- if you've got an Amazon account, you've already got one) and set the price of a poem (or the poems you're going to read) to $.99 -- then tell folks in the audience (who all have Kindles in this dream scenario) that if they buy that poem (or poems) you'll give them a $2 discount on their merch purch (like a free dollar, man!) -- then you've got an audience who's reading along with you.

Totally rocking.

Well, that's enough fanboy fantasy for now.  Let's all go out and buy a Kindle!  Who's got $500?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

framing Oral Poetry vs Visual Poetry

In some of the comments in my last big post, people took me to task about renaming the actors in a poetic debate.

My intention was not to rebrand "School of Quietude" and "Post-Avant" as "Oral Poetry" and "Visual Poetry,"

my intention is to reframe the debate.  The problems that exist are not between the new and the old, as Silliman seems to think -- there's no rebellion here.  

The problems that exist are due to a critical impasse that has become a funcitonal and increasingly financial impasse -- so they're problems that need to be dealt with.

The impasse, as I've said is not new and old, but apples and pears.  They look sort of the same.  Their trees look sort of the same.  Heck, they're even members of the same subfamily

yet some people are devotees of apples and some of pears.

Some people like both.

But if you were a food critic and you couldn't distinguish between the two, there'd be a problem.  If you were a seller of fruit, and didn't know a bartlett from a macintosh, you'd hear about it.  If you were a customer, and the pears were in the apple cart, we'll, you'd go and pick up some of those novel oranges you hear everyone likes so much.

Now for some of you, you may be horrified that I'm speaking of poetry as if it were a commodity.

Well, it is.  It's art, yes -- but you've got to sell it to the people.  If you believe all art should be free and that no one should profit from it, please go start your own website and put all of your work up on there.  Good luck with that. . . If you aren't willing to do that, then you should ask yourself what makes you uncomfortable talking about the marketization of poetry.  

Marketization is important because that's partially how something thrives among humans -- why are there more cows than tigers?  Because cows taste really good.  If tigers tasted like bacon, we'd have tiger farms across the nation.  Now, this isn't always the case -- creating something commercially with no regard for taste usually gives you wal*mart white bread, pop 40 radio, and Billy Collins.  I'm not arguing for that.  What I am arguing for is that poets start to pay attention to the fact that they are producing not just art -- but a product as well.  Every other artist does that.  Jeez!
(back to the point)

And since marketization (of which criticism is a large part) is so important to the survival of poetry, we as poets owe it to ourselves, our audience, and our art (that's in reverse order of importance, btw) to really codify what the heck we're doing in such a way that it becomes conversate-able (that is, something that folks can talk about).

Ergo, instead of looking down our noses at the "inferior" poets who don't write what we think is the Platonic Good of poetry, we can see that they are not inferior -- simply other, and we can embrace them as another facet of art.

So to close with simplicity, there are two forms of poetry:

Oral Poetry:
Poetry whose meaning is independent of seeing its words on the page.  Though placement on the page may be used for reading guides, a written oral poem is essentially a piece of sheet music.  Any change in the words' placement will likely not result in a substantial change in the poem's meaning.

Visual Poetry:
Poetry whose meaning is dependent upon seeing its words on the page.  A visual poem is not like a piece of sheet music but a work of two-dimensional art.  Any change in the words' placement is likely to result in a noticable change in the poem's meaning.

Fair enough?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Now with Twitter

So I guess I'm a twit now.

It had to happen, I suppose, as I explore the realms of figuring out how to distribute poetry.

Well, I have to hand it to old Silliman, his plug sextupled the blog traffic yesterday.  w00t!

More later, I am trying to beat out a Korean POW Blues Epic:

in my memory / I build these verses
where only death / can tear them down
tuned on rhythm / I can't forget them
in North Korea / my blues are brown

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Skipping High School

Can we finally admit that American public education is largely broken, outdated, anachronistic, and unnecessary?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

School of Quietude vs Post-Avant is really Oral Poetry vs Visual Poetry

Update: go here for a definition of Oral and Visual Poetry

I've visited this topic before, but Silliman got me thinking today.

He mentions that he chose the term "School of Quietude" to piss someone off.  That he was hoping a young buck (or doe?) would do the work of defining the "movement."

Lots of people say there is no "Quietude" movement.  I would agree with them but add that there's not really a post-avant movement either.  There are several schools within each group.

But each group can be more easily and accurately divided by a name change.

the "School of Quietude" writes oral poetry

"Post-Avant" folk write visual poetry.

The difference is pretty simple.  Oral poetry can survive without the page.  It may have some interesting graphical trickery (like Dante's acrostics) but it fundamentally sounds like a poem.  It sounds good.

Visual poetry may also sound good but has part-to-all of its meaning tied into its existence as physical text.  Take Johnson's Radi Os, for instance.  Even the parts of the poem that work out loud are dependent upon Johnson's erasure of Milton.  The work can't leave the page.  All the work on Ubu fits this mold as well, likewise flarf and all the myriad things you can learn about by reading Silliman.

I don't wish any ill-will on the visual poets.  I'm simply not one of them.  I tried for a while -- if I still had my high school poetry notebooks you could see juvenilia rife with visual traps and tricks.  Perhaps that's where my low opinion of visual poetry came from -- it was something I could do (with panache) at 15.  

But come, those of you who felt "School of Quietude" as an insult.  Tell the world we are oral poets.  Noisy poets.  Poets out loud.  Poets of voice.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A different historical view

So this really has naught to do with poetry

But imagine yourself as a historian 500 years from now.

How will you see the USA? We mention "end of empire" as if it's an inevitability -- but then we think -- heck, Rome lasted a gabillion (okay, 1100 to upwards of 2000) years -- as a realy & influential nation, it probably had a good 6-800 year run. First in Rome proper and then as Byzantium. Which gives me pause.

England was the dominant power in Europe/the World since the defeat of the Spanish Armada until the end of WWIish. Certainly by the end of WWII they had handed the mantle to us (that's US), a former colony (and a rebellious one at that).

Those of you unfamiliar with the history of Rome might not know that when power began to be shared in the East and West (co-Caesars and co-Augusti and all that -- if you really want to get the digs, go here) there was conflict. War even. And that the (new) Eastern (part of the) empire felt free, independent of, and more progressive than the Western one. And that after a while, all the stuff done in the West simply came out of the East.

We've reversed that, of course, but I think it might be best from a future-historian view to look at the US as not separate and distinct but simply the Western United Kingdom.

Then our seemingly rapid descent into decadence makes much more sense.

and I'm proud to be a Western United Kingdomer
where at least my water's clean
and I won't forget my British folks
who made up laws for me. . .

Monday, April 13, 2009

Abuse of power


It seems that not even in my hometown can people avoid acting out of fear and insanity.

Not the way to behave, folks.

Damn the internet and damn politics

You know, Dante and Cavalcante still managed to meet in the middle and write some damn good poetry.

Even if their religion and politics were at odds (to say the least) they were drinkin' buddies.

But you sorta have to do that with your neighbors.

As we grow apart, first in urban-to-suburbanization, then in electronic group isolation, we lose that familiarity.

When I was at AWP, I don't think I met a person with whom I didn't get along. Heck, I'm buddies with Susan Schultz, whose politics and aesthetics probably couldn't be farther from mine. Of course, I took a class with her, which helped.

But then I look at all of this poorly written, shame-faced, shambling false poetry out there and my blood pressure rises. It gets worse if I ever take the time (which I do too frequently) to read the prose justifications of said poetry (note: if you've got to write a justification/explanation for your poem, it sucks; Eliot just wrote the notes for The Waste Land in order to get it to near book length -- quit being an imitating iguana). Worse still if I read the naive political views of so many of the authors (seriously, folks -- did you ever read your history books? Wikipedia has a fine collection of historical facts; perhaps you look at them for a mo').

I know, from the writing of The Declaration last year that the reverse is true. There was a tiny storm of poo from some circles. Actually, I know someone who stopped talking to me because of it ("know I am not your ally" says he).

What gives? Do we all need 3D printers/replicators and video chat so we can get drunk together?

How do you create a sense of community among people with disparate interests but who aren't in one place?

Is it even possible?

Perhaps that's the question of the next few decades. . . what diverse communities can we build when no one has to live together?