Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why We Should Go To Readings

Check out this excellent piece on the importance of reading series by the inimitable Courtney Maum.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

With Rough Gods

I'm happy to announce the website for With Rough Gods is live!

Keep checking it for all your With Rough Gods needs!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

With Rough Gods--coming soon!

Hello all!

A happy announcement to say my first book, With Rough Gods will be coming out in January, 2012.
Look for more information at Jagged Door Press.

Here are two poems from the volume:

Aphrodite & Hephaestus

Ariadne & Theseus

Order early, order often!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

CPRW Review: Broetry

Today is the formal beginning of my critical relationship with the Contemporary Poetry Review.

Many of you may have noticed, if at all, that there have been no reviews since February.  I have actually written three reviews since that time: they will be appearing at the Contemporary Poetry Review.

The first is here: a review of Brian McGackin's Broetry.


Though I don't foresee reviews continuing to appear here, I will still weigh in on matters large and small. Thank you for your support of me as I began my foray into reviewing.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Have you laughed yet today?

Because you will.

(thanks, reddit!)

Footnotes and Ebooks

So the New York Times presents an interesting question today:

What will ebooks do to footnotes?

The author laments that footnotes being relegated to endnotes is destructive.  I agree.

But HTML has shown us what needs to happen with footnotes: hyperlinks.  Now, this isn't yet possible in all ebooks because all ebooks aren't for presentation on touch screens.

But they will be.

Solve the problem now, even with the clunky cursor system of the Kindle and you get folks used to the idea of hyperlinked footnotes and expecting that sort of interaction when capacitive touchscreens are the norm in ereaders.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Art & God

Over at Lutheran Surrealism, Kirby posits that:

Art is a personal dialogue with God.

It's a fine idea. Perhaps finer than he intends.

Humans are, by nature, observers--"pattern makers" as Grendel calls them. So when we see art--that result of a dialogue between the artist and God we impose a pattern upon it.

This pattern becomes our experience of the art.

It's been said that art is in fact a conversation between the audience and the artist mediated through the artifact.

I think, though, that this discounts the importance of the artist in creating the artifact in the first place.

I'll be one of the ones leading the charge to tell you that, once the artifact exists, the artist wanes in importance, approaching insignificance--but it is the height of ignorance to claim the artist is never important--or rather is not of primary importance.

So that conversation with God is the spark. The reception of the inspiration from the muse. Art is born.

Then the artifact exists. If it finds and audience it becomes a second art--the art of communication between humans.

Between the divine and the human to between humans is the distilled story of creation--renewed each time an artist lifts his chisel, his keyboard, his paintbrush, his bow, his pen.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Academic World: a Conversation

So through reddit, I got into an interesting conversation with R.S. Bakker over at Three Pound Brain.

I think you'll enjoy it.  I am.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Laura Miller is an Ignorant Nazi

So thought it fitting to print this drivel today:
"some classics are painful enough to ruin reading forever"


No,  No, Laura Miller.

Some teachers and some children and some parents are ignorant enough to ruin reading forever--but that's not the fault of the books.  Some writers are painful enough to ruin forever, too, but that doesn't stop them from writing.

In her tiny, ill-conceived screed, Ms Miller chastises Beowulf, The Lord of the Flies, The Pearl, Animal Farm, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, A Separate Peace, and Ivanhoe.  The comment section gets far worse.

Now let me be the first to say I was underwhelmed by A Separate Peace.  I wasn't really interested in "Brinker's salient buttocks" or anything else that happened at that private school.  I also set my copy of The Pearl on fire in seventh grade.  I don't like Ivanhoe or Oliver Twist, either (or Hardy or Austen or most pre-20th century novels [except Victorian children's literature--that stuff is the truth]).

But Beowulf is amazing.  Read the Heaney translation.  Read the Old English aloud.  Beowulf. Is. Amazing.  Sure you've got to do some frontloading as a teacher to make kids understand it but so what--that's your job?  

The Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, and A Tale of Two Cities are all great reads--again requiring work on the part of the teacher--but honestly none of that really matters.  What matters is that Laura Miller doesn't get it.

Because one of your jobs as a high school English teacher is to teach kids how to extract information from texts they couldn't care less about because they are likely to have to do that for their entire professional lives.  That's the point.

So I'm sorry, Ms Miller, if you had a bad English teacher (or string of them) who couldn't make the books come alive for you--but grow up.  Threatening, suggesting, or joking about banning books is bad form in the extreme.  Not only does it make light of the very real past and present evils of censorship but it also adds fuel to the fire of future censors.

Before you open your big keypad next time don't.  Open a book instead.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Quiet Passing of R.E.M.--a Eulogy

In the fall of 1996, when I was 18 and didn't know the first damn thing about the publishing world or copyright (and precious little about writing), I was convinced that my liberal use of song lyrics (and especially R.E.M. song lyrics) in my poetry would get me in trouble when I got big and famous. O for the ignorance of youth. . .

Anyway, I called directory assistance for Athens, Georgia and got the number for Jefferson Holt, the longtime legal council for the band (yes, I was fan enough that I knew nerdy things like that)--I called him right up (nb: I either have no shame or huevos grande--or a little of both).  I got his wife, who said he was no longer working with the band (this was not yet common knowledge) but that I should call Bertis Downs, the manager.  I did and, after my questions about "getting published real soon" or whatever bumkin junk I said, he told me to send my stuff along and they would check it out.  Like a nerd, I did.  He called me back some weeks later and said the band thought it was fine if I quoted them.  Now, I've no idea if Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe ever saw my work--I doubt they did--but the story ought to tell you a bit about how I felt about R.E.M.  I was the "buy every album on vinyl, tape, CD, and special release CD, go to the first-or-midnight release (Monster, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, and UP) kind of fan.  Unfortunately, they only toured once that I could see them (I wasn't going to see them without Bill Berry--sorry, gents) which had done the previous fall with my ex-girlfriend who (for all I could tell) hated me though I still madly loved her--things got really uncomfortable when Michael Stipe told us all to take our shirts off.

My first R.E.M. experience was listening to "It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" on a church road trip when I was 12 or so.  Unfortunately, that was 1990, and the radio and MTV were full of Madonna's "Vogue" and Wilson Phillips "Hold On."  But then came that day when I was glued to my MTV and a dark set appeared, rain drizzling and people ducking and then the clear knife of a mandolin.  I had no idea what I was listening to--or if I even liked it--but I had to keep listening; every time (which wasn't a lot in '91--yet) "Losing My Religion" came on MTV I watched.  My mom got me a CD player for Christmas and I ordered Out of Time out of the BMG music club (along with some dozen other awesome [Men At Work's Business as Usual] and awful [I think there was some Bryan Adams in there] albums).  Unfortunately, the CD player had a program function, so I just made it play the songs I liked.  I pined for new albums by Nirvana and Pearl Jam, whose tracks made the rounds later that year but had to pay that big BMG bill first.

In my freshman year, however, I got involved in a band, The Actual Size.  My bandmates, Tommy and Loyal, came over to my house and went through my CDs--and thought I was a dork until they came across Out of Time.  They asked how I liked "Belong."  I didn't know what they were talking about.  They made me listen--it was amazing.  We listened to the whole album.  Loyal then played Green and Document for me.  I was hooked.  Hooked more than my friends were, in fact.  Though The Actual Size had long since broken up (in a parking lot, close to a woman throwing bottles at her man wailing "I love ya but you're scarin' me!"), we spent that Christmas in Tommy's huge house, playing pool and drinking Crystal Pepsi.  I gave Loyal a copy of Murmur.  By this time I had bought all the albums on tape or CD (Automatic for the People had just come out and excuse my hipster, but I loved "Everybody Hurts" before there was that cool video) and was in the process of tracking them down on vinyl (Neil Young told us that everything sounded better on vinyl).  I dreamed about them going back out on tour so I could catch them live--it would be just like Pop Screen!

Sophomore year I dated Sara (a senior--aww yeah), who was a bigger R.E.M. fan that I was.  She completed my early music education (everything pre-Blues and Bluegrass), filling out my knowledge with bootleg concerts of Stipe and Natalie Merchant, Sisters of Mercy, Morrissey, "Kinko the Kid-Lovin' Clown," and The Velvet Underground.  We found a pink album called So Much Younger Then with songs like "I Want to be a Narrator (for the Jacques Cousteau Show)" from some unnamed 1980 show.  That homeless summer I crashed on the couch of my buddy Kris's Air Stream in a Cuervo and clove-induced haze and listened to my vinyl Life's Rich Pageant more times than there were mosquitos in the air.

When Monster came, I was ready--I learned "What's the Frequency Kenneth" on guitar (with the help of my bassist), wished I could get a star t-shirt, skipped school to buy the album on the day it was released (we didn't have midnight release parties in Tampa yet--at least not for R.E.M.), and even learned the words to "Tongue"--I was overjoyed when they said they were finally going to tour.  Even the aforementioned awkwardness didn't stop me from enjoying the show (and getting the set list).

The story was pretty much the same with New Adventures but as a better guitarist, I sat down and figured out all the songs myself--if I had had faster internet access and typing skills, I could have tabbed the whole thing out for everyone on day one--falling slap in love with "Electrolite" and hoping it spoke of the new direction the band would take.  I played it with confidence at open mikes and apartment concerts--it even "got me the girl" once (though not "The Girl"--she doesn't really like R.E.M.).

Though I didn't think the band would survive Bill Berry's departure (after all, he had written "Perfect Circle" and "Everybody Hurts" among other songs), I looked forward to the release of UP.  I was running a pirate radio morning show at the time and we played, critiqued, and analyzed each track.  Though it was a good album with some fun songs (I still love "Lotus") it just wasn't R.E.M.  The other Mike of the Mike and Mike morning show quipped "well, they're just falling into the Depeche Mode maxim"--the limit of a band sounding like Depeche Mode approaches infinity as the band progresses in age.

Reveal came out and it was awful.  Maybe it was good music, you might think so--but it wasn't R.E.M.  The soul of "Don't Go Back to Rockville" and "So Fast, So Numb" had died.  Around the Sun was worse.  They tried with Accelerate and I tried to love it but the songs faded as fast as they lasted--and sounded like they were written that quickly as well.

I didn't even know they released Collapse Into Now earlier this year.

While it's true one can grow out of a band (much as I used to love "Ghost" by the Indigo Girls I can't even approach that level of angst as a happily married father of three--it's simply laughable) I think R.E.M.'s announcement today proves what everybody knew in 1998--R.E.M. wasn't a band--or at least wasn't a great band--without Bill Berry.

It's not that I'll miss them--you can't miss what hasn't been fresh in 15 years (half the band's life)--but I do mourn the passing of what could have been.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to Begin the Begin--and end with a Perfect Circle.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our Fellows

In case you haven't heard, A. E. Stallings and Kay Ryan have just been announced as MacArthur Fellows for the Class of 2011.

What does this mean for poetry, especially the poetry that we promote?

 First I have to say that if it weren't for Alicia (A.E. Stallings), I wouldn't know half of what I know. In the middle part of the last decade, when I got professionally serious about poetry, I sought out some "leaders" to figure out where I should go for instruction and publication. Alicia was the most helpful of many helpful people and directed me to the Eratosphere, which helped me hone my critical and metrical crafts.

But what do Ryan and Stalling's awards mean for not just me but all of poetry?

First we ought to note that Kay Ryan's award comes on the heels of her Laureateship (2008-2010) and Pulitzer (2011). This doesn't detract from her award (and, honestly, Ryan does such a good job of writing that not much should detract from her awards) but it does "place it" in meaning for poetry--here we are, adding more laurels to the queen. Nothing wrong with that and I'm glad it's not going to other, similarly aged famous female poets whose work I prefer slightly above the average grindcore album. Ultimately it's the less surprising of the two awards--but here's to hoping we get some more amazing work out of Ryan from it!

Stallings' award is more from left-field. Though I would argue most working poets are familiar with her work, Stallings' doesn't have the mountain of accolades (nor the name recognition) Ryan has. Part of this is the beauty of the MacArthur foundation--good for them for supporting A. E. Stallings.

But what's more important is that Stallings is, if I may wrench a term, a "compleat poet." Her works run the gamut from light verse to the scholarly-and-accessible to complex undertones (see "The Ghost Ship" along with the other poems there) to translations (hello? De Rerum Natura? AWESOME). Her work is vital and alive and valuable. If anyone's going to out-Fagles Robert Fagles in the 21st century or contribute that verse to our common life and the lives of our children's children, Stallings is a heavy contender.

Moreover, perhaps of the utmost importance, she is a master of form.

Her receipt of a major award (which I hope is the first of many) signals the end of our obsession with the poor flattery of prose we have allowed "our poetry" to become. I, along with many, applaud it. Congratulations, Alicia.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Poetry Contest at Lutheran Surrealism

For those of you looking for a nice place to share work, check out this "contest" at Lutheran Surrealism. LS is a delightful little blog where a tight-knit community spars about religion, poetry, and politics. Hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Well, this is serendipitous.

Poetry Post-9/11

Hello neglecterinos!

If all goes well, reviews from me will start popping up at the Contemporary Poetry Review any day now.

I thought I would need to shutter the blog in respect of their publishing schedule and a new, grueling pace of work.

Since, however, they publish on a traditional-publishing model, I think it's best I get back to the blog for some unadulterated poetry commentary.

First I think we might as well start off acknowledging our new calendar. Conveniently we have the 9/11 attacks to encourage us to look at "the new millennium" as an actual turning point and not simply a calendrical one.

We live in a world of blogs, smartphones, viral videos, and a bunch of other junk that it's pointless to say and makes me look like a bit of a fuddy-duddy.

I'm not, however. But most poetry publishers are.

A search on Amazon tells me that the most popular books in poetry are all e-book editions. Even the books that are popular in hard-copy have audio and e-books available.

But those are all published by "the big guys" and the problem with "big guy" publishing is that the poems are generally tepid at best and more like lukewarm sugar-coated kitty litter in practice.

What of the small presses (even the big ones)?

A search on Red Hen Press gives me lots of books to buy but none to download, either to read or listen to.

I don't see any electronic versions on Graywolf Press's site either.

The micro-presses I'm most familiar with don't offer such things.

Now, I would love to be wrong.

I would like, you my readers, to say "this! This small press publishes e-books and audio-books along with their traditional books."

Because if I can't find that then we have witnessed another gaping hole in the quest to deliver great poetry to the people (and specifically the American people): there's no outlet above the "mere blogosphere" yet below the giant publishing houses to deliver quality work.


Recording studios do this all the time--every band with a recording has a way to buy that music electronically.

Why don't we do this with poetry?

In a world where skyscrapers can be knocked out of the sky, why are small presses still holding on to hard-copy books?

Anyway, that's what's on my mind this morning.

I've changed this blog a dozen times since I started writing. We'll see where this new iteration takes us.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Only Thoughts on the Subject

Are from another's pen:

Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Palmer on Poetry: 197.3 December 2010

December's copy of Poetry has been sitting with a Cross been stabbed through its unfinished pages since my last review post. This has been partially because of the business of the season (Thanksgiving-through-New Year's Day is a festive blur in the Palmer house). But I have two other, mostly unread, copies of the magazine staring at me and AWP glancing over its back at me from two weeks' time. I'd really rather have as many reviews as possible done by then (especially as I'm now flying and not taking the train).

The December issue is called "The Q&A Issue" and covers a scant Baker's Dozen poets (though really that number is reduced as three of the poets are dead Italians here translated by Geoffrey Brock). According to the Poetry Foundation website there was another Q&A issue in April of 2010 (prior to my subscription starting). I hope these don't become a trend but judging from some of the letters-to-the-editor in the February issue, they just might. For my part, I found the majority of the question-and-answer sessions to be extraneous at best. Indeed, they're the reason it took me so long to get through the issue as most of the readings were a slog.

Volume 197
Issue 3
December, 2010

Michael Robbins
Paula Bohince
Tom Pickard
John Tranter
Charles Baxter
Jane Hirshfield
Clemente Rebora
Giovanni Pascoli
Attilio Bertolucci
David Roderick
Linda Gregerson
Vijah Seshadri
Sina Queyras
Belle Randall

There are no gravestone endsheets in this issue.

Apologies for the earlier post. Blogger was having problems today. That was a draft. I don't have much to say about this issue, but I want to get to January and February.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Review: Terminal Diagrams by Garrick Davis

Terminal Diagrams
by Garrick Davis
2010, Swallow Press, $13.56 ($5 ebook)

It is possible that in Terminal Diagrams we have been given a rare bird--a collection of poems that seems at once Christian and reactionary (as in rejecting this modern age). I believe that Don Colacho would be fond of much of this work.

This is not to say the collection is flawless--indeed, like the sinners that it drinks with it has flaws and, I would argue, is aware of them.

One is alerted to the "different" nature of this book from the very cover--we have Mr. Davis and a lovely lady coming out of a gleaming Maserati--made more gleaming by the book's silvered cover. It is telling that a collection of poems that as objects on the page look unflashy and full of "quietude" that the cover and content should be so unashamedly forceful.

The first poem is the book's epigram, in which we find the terms "mechanical," "pandaemonium," and "sotto-voce." Unlike many, this is a useful clue to the contents of the poems within--wefind in the collection a syzygy of the temporal, the canonical, and the classical. Though Davis's poems engage Eliot more than Milton, the Revelation imagery that presents itself in the volume's final poems stretch his depth of influence to a refreshing pandaemonium.

In the poem's second epigram we are told by T.E. Hulme about "the relation to machinery" that "vital art" must reconcile in this modern age. Though this epigram serves the first poems well, by the end of the volume it clear on which side of modernity this book's bread is buttered.

The opening poem "Ultramodern" gives us in the first two stanzas a hint of what I find most expertly done by Davis, that of the apt word, phrase, or juxtaposition. Even in a poem that I might otherwise find middling, there is a gem so perfect that it requires a reevaluation of the text surrounding it.

In "Ultramodern," people are "paid/to sit and wait for someone to speak" but they only listen "when the clock says they can leave." If you've not experienced this, simply call an 800 number and try to get help--either from human or machine. The poem continues in its description of our modern maladies, from lights that "switch night to utter asphalt" and "tabloid lines" that "plead/This Is Not A Hoax!"

Indeed it is not. I would like to add that the poem ends with what I would call one of Davis's flaws: "Who shall stand in the wrath to come?" Here Davis chooses shall over what, by all modern and alliterative rights, should be "will." It feels as if Davis here is choosing propriety over poetry--but it may be simply choosing the past over the present; either way it's a note too far.

"New Bohemia" is one of many poems in which Davis seems to be both channeling Eliot "at the absinthe-hour, I scribble these lines" and, inexplicably, me "a black-leather dandy of nightclubbing" (though my unpublished work--so unless Mr. Davis is a mind reader, I suppose we have just tugged on the same invisible literary lines). With its final "orphan of the oracle," Davis taps in to the "fatherless sons" vibe so present to a post-Fight Club world.

"Lila" and "At the Underground Club" are solid works that stolidly tell of the process of aging without achievement; again the pre-Ash Wednesday Eliot is never far from the surface in these poems.

"Metal Machine Music," with its title cribbed from Lou Reed, gives us "the pre-millennial tension" of "blips and beeps/instead of notes" and introduces us to the important symbol of "muzak," here "a muzak-of-the-spheres." Muzak, that elevator symphonist, runs throughout Terminal Diagrams, reminding us of the artlessness of modern art.

"Aubade" is a bit of a misstep, with its "flesh deflating" too very. I did find the end of the poem, the "piece of its mirror/in which I can't see anyone alive" to fit well with the book as a whole, but in the collection it seems out of place.

"Techno" and "Pastoral" are workable poems, with the possible criticism of "or what is left of it" being redundant--again the endings, especially escaping "the horizon's/fine thread of telephone lines" connect the poems to the book. "Unrestricted Development" is one of Terminal Diagram's many short poems, all of which are pleasurable and many profound.

"Cost-Benefit Analysis" and "Disaster Report" are two excellent pieces that from cubicles and the evening news put fire to the meaning and value of modernity--it is in these poems that the "mass market appeal" that seems so inevitable in the prior works is first challenged.

"Drive Song" is one of the first poems that I delight in, though it is a despairing delight as the poem tells us of the "choked tears in driveways" of those "charged and mortgaged to the marrow."

"The Art of Drifting Through Los Angeles" fully plants Davis's work in Eliot's "Unreal City"; though Eliot would never have chose, in 1922, LA, it seems clear that the city, in Davis's view, has built itself upon "The Waste Land." Speaking of waste, it is in "On Passing the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant" that Terminal Diagrams begins to embrace its symbolic structure, adding "Moloch" to the mix. The biblical allusions arrive in the second half of the collection, and modernity becomes place, and finally overshadowed, in the context of the past.

This symbolic structure continues in "Christmas Shopping at Horton Plaza" where the season, stripped of meaning, is rebuilt "by thin ladies" "as acolytes." The poem has my favorite description of Davis's commercial world, which I will simply quote:

The eye of God peers from its dollar,
On each indulgence bought at the mall.

As I stroll and sing an ad-jingle
a plane, towing brand-names, blocks the sun.

Next follow "Zone" and "Revelation," two of the collection's stronger works. It is in Zone, which we are told is "after Apollinaire," that Eliot rears his head (or shows his own influences) and that we get what is, perhaps, the collection's clearest line:

I lived like a fool and wasted my life.

"Revelation" is simply spot-on from start to finish. In it we are "entertained to the end" by the devil in the cables. This sentiment is continued in "Deus Ex Machina," wherein "time is kept by launch code and fuse" and "science is a liturgy," in "" where we are "awaiting/a glitch in the millennium," and "While Reading the Revelation of St. John the Divine, I Turn On the Television," where "each day the world holds by a hangnail."

This despair is brought to its conclusion by the collection's eponymous poem. In "Terminal Diagrams," "one cannot buy the letters," and "history now belongs to the vanquished." Here Davis demonstrates clearly the inescapable dangers of this machinery Hulme warned us of--"box-office receipts form our Bulfinch" and "we have old episodes for classics."

"Gone" are "beautiful manners," "tradition," and "foundations." The poem calls for "some Jonah" but is convinced that no prophet is coming or would ever again be heard.

The poem, and thus the collection, ends with two of the most delightfully enigmatic lines I have read. They work with both the poem and the collection as a whole:

I see the end is near, the flashing signals,
As that last man, crossing the Rubicon.

I have in my notes three questions, none of which is it possible to answer--and that may be the value of the entire work that Davis has presented us with:

is this poem finally embracing the loss of all that is beautiful? That is, does the collection end on a 1984 note? Do we love modernity? That is, is this last man crossing the Rubicon simply aware that Caesar has already crossed (and Sulla and the Gracchae before him) and that there is no going back?

Is it simply the acceptance of the inevitability of the conflict between past and present and the rugged willingness to join that conflict?

Or, finally, is it one more soul climbing Parnassus? What was Caesar fighting--to change or preserve?

As a classicist who cut my poetic teeth on modernism, I must say I dearly love this collection. It does what all good poetry--what art--must do--it presents the world in new ways and, as poetry, translates the unspoken words bound upon our modern tongue.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Hello all,

I'm headed to DC this afternoon for my 3rd trip to AWP.

Come visit me Saturday at the UNOPress table.

I will do my best during downtime (does that exist) to finish these gall-darned reviews I have.

See you in the cold!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pay for your books!

My friend Adam Deutsch of Cooper Dillon Books has a post on selling books of poetry.

My favorite part(s):

Shouldn't the sale of books keep their books in print?

and from Gandhi:

Institutions maintained on permanent funds are often found to ignore public opinion, and are frequently responsible for acts contrary to it.

Happy reading!