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