Thursday, January 31, 2013

Speaking of knowing what you're talking about. . .

Now here's an interesting (paper on a) study.

Here is the actual study.

The important information (for us writers) is this:

"When thinking about a positive past event, people should be happier when they describe it using the imperfective aspect (which brings them mentally closer to it) than when using the perfective aspect.  When thinking about a negative past event, people should be sadder when they describe it using the imperfective aspect (which brings them mentally nearer to it) than when using the perfective aspect."

That is--if you want to make someone feel a past emotion (or event) more keenly, use the imperfect (he was dying). If you want that to be more distant, use the perfect (he died).

Not that we don't "know" this intuitively--but we don't always create what we intuit and it's important to know from a neurological standpoint why we should make certain decisions as a writer.

Also, think about what Meursault would have been like had he said "mother was dying yesterday" instead of "mother died today." Whole different ballgame, I think.

Is it too much to ask to know what you're talking about?

I just read a review on a book of poetry by a mentally ill writer. I won't link it or reference it beyond the following quote:

"The arithmetic of language is unsolvable."


I sigh because this statement is nonsense. First of all, if we're going to apply the term arithmetic to language then we're going to get into linguistics which, though non-trivial, is certainly solvable.

But that's not really the point. The point is that the essay waxes philosophic about mental illness and writers and seems wholly ignorant of any current research regarding neuroscience. People with schizophrenia frequently create arresting art. Etc. etc.

If you want to know about the mind as it relates to art, I recommend starting not with philosophers, but with Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary (note: that goes to a .pdf).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Religion in a comic

say nothing at all and love someone

Brief Reviews: Gabriel Spera and Laura Walker

The Rigid Body
Gabriel Spera
Ashland Poetry Press, $15.95

Laura Walker
Apogee Press, $15.95

Here are two books that are radically different.

Spera's work, which I have praised before, is a lovely balance between tightness and expansiveness. Like each poem really wants to have these huge Whitmanesque lines but Spera's sensibilities rein everything in.

Unlike Standing Wave, however, Spera seems a bit freer in The Rigid Body, loosening up, namechecking works, borrowing, and generally having as good a time as he can have. Now, if you guess from his Randian Hero author photo (or is it Jobsean Hero?) or the general tenor of the poems, you might not think it's that much fun. Indeed, my one complaint is that Spera is a bit serious. But who isn't these days?

Anyway, it's a good book. My personal favorites are perhaps his two most clearly allusive poems, "The Hive" and "The Forsaken Cry." "The Hive" recalls Plath, both "Blackberrying" and The Bee Poems:

Something must've died, I figured, judging
by the orgy of fat black flies
that smudged the air. But no, they weren't flies,
but bees. . .

And "The Forsaken City" is a riff on Auden's Musee des Beaux Arts with a dash of Dante and modern torture thrown in:

About torture, they were all wrong,
the old masters, how little they understood
its tactics and procedures. . .

Get it, read it, love it.

Now, on to a book I ought not to like if you follow what I tend to say about poetry, Laura Walker's Follow-Haswed. It's an erasure book, like Ronald Johnson's Radi Os. I mention Johnson because I've not seen a better example of the style of erasure than his reduction of Paradise Lost.

Erasure is a trick, sure. But it can result in some nice literary moments. Follow-Haswed has many of these. The concept of the book is that Walker took entries from the OED between "follow" and "haswed" and erased erased erased until she came up with something rather poetic.

"go" has stuck with me:

[bees] are reddy to flye
that when they
they make a great humming
from their word
I lost
from their word
I lost him

Walker does a good job of finding the Eliot/Cummings element within the OED. As it's made up mostly of quotes supporting the usage of the words, I don't see that this is terribly surprising but, as I say, it can be nice. Indeed, I thought I would just hate the book but it rises above the cuteness of found poetry techniques to make some art.

And isn't that what good form is? One doesn't like a sonnet because it rhymes or a villanelle because it repeats lines. Nor should one like a poem because it is an anagram of Shakespeare's sonnets or something gleaned from computer printouts. One should like a poem because it's good poetry. Walker does that--and that's something to be praised.

Sylvia Plath's Bee Poems

It's insane that these poems, the correct ending of Ariel, aren't easy to find online. Here you go. NB: with the exception of the final line of "Arrival," each stanza should be five lines. Apologies to Sylvia for formatting difficulties with her longer lines.

Sylvia Plath's Bee Sequence:

The Bee Meeting

Who are these people at the bridge to meet me? They are the  villagers—
The rector, the midwife, the sexton, the agent for bees.
In my sleeveless summery dress I have no protection,
And they are all gloved and covered, why did nobody tell me?
They are smiling and taking out veils tacked to ancient hats.

I am nude as a chicken neck, does nobody love me?
Yes, here is the secretary of bees with her white shop smock,
Buttoning the cuffs at my wrists and the slit from my neck to my knees.
Now I am milkweed silk, the bees will not notice.
Thev will not smell my fear, my fear, my fear.

Which is the rector now, is it that man in black?
Which is the midwife, is that her blue coat?
Everybody is nodding a square black head, they are knights in visors,
Breastplates of cheesecloth knotted under the armpits.
Their smiles and their voices are changing. I am led through a beanfield.

Strips of tinfoil winking like people,
Feather dusters fanning their hands in a sea of bean flowers,
Creamy bean flowers with black eyes and leaves like bored hearts.
Is it blood clots the tendrils are dragging up that string?
No, no, it is scarlet flowers that will one day be edible.

Now they are giving me a fashionable white straw Italian hat
And a black veil that molds to my face, they are making me one of them.
They are leading me to the shorn grove, the circle of hives.
Is it the hawthorn that smells so sick?
The barren body of hawthorn, etherizing its children.

Is it some operation that is taking place?
It is the surgeon my neighbors are waiting for,
This apparition in a green helmet,
Shining gloves and white suit.
Is it the butcher, the grocer, the postman, someone I know?

I cannot run, I am rooted, and the gorse hurts me
With its yellow purses, its spiky armory.
I could not run without having to run forever.
The white hive is snug as a virgin,
Sealing off her brood cells, her honey, and quietly humming.

Smoke rolls and scarves in the grove.
The mind of the hive thinks this is the end of everything.
Here they come, the outriders, on their hysterical elastics.
If I stand very still, they will think I am cow-parsley,
A gullible head untouched by their animosity,

Not even nodding, a personage in a hedgerow.
The villagers open the chambers, they are hunting the queen.
Is she hiding, is she eating honey? She is very clever.
She is old, old, old, she must live another year, and she knows it.
While in their fingerjoint cells the new virgins

Dream of a duel they will win inevitably,
A curtain of wax dividing them from the bride flight,
The upflight of the murderess into a heaven that loves her.
The villagers are moving the virgins, there will be no killing.
The old queen does not show herself, is she so ungrateful?

I am exhausted, I am exhausted—
Pillar of white in a blackout of knives.
I am the magician's girl who does not flinch.
The villagers are untying their disguises, they are shaking hands.
Whose is that long white box in the grove, what have they accomplished, why am I cold.

The Arrival of the Bee Box

I ordered this, clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it.

The box is locked, it is dangerous.
I have to live with it overnight
And I can't keep away from it.
There are no windows, so I can't see what is in there.
There is only a little grid, no exit.

I put my eye to the grid.
It is dark, dark,
With the swarmy feeling of African hands
Minute and shrunk for export,
Black on black, angrily clambering.

How can I let them out?
It is the noise that appalls me most of all,
The unintelligible syllables.
It is like a Roman mob,
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!

I lay my ear to furious Latin.
I am not a Caesar.
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.
They can be sent back.
They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.

I wonder how hungry they are.
I wonder if they would forget me
If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.
There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,
And the petticoats of the cherry.

They might ignore me immediately
In my moon suit and funeral veil.
I am no source of honey
So why should they turn on me?
Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.

The box is only temporary.


Bare-handed, I hand the combs.
The man in white smiles, bare-handed,
Our cheesecloth gauntlets neat and sweet,
The throats of our wrists brave lilies.
He and I

Have a thousand clean cells between us,
Eight combs of yellow cups,
And the hive itself a teacup,
White with pink flowers on it,
With excessive love I enameled it

Thinking "Sweetness, sweetness."
Brood cells gray as the fossils of shells
Terrify me, they seem so old.
What am I buying, wormy mahogany?
Is there any queen at all in it?

If there is, she is old,
Her wings torn shawls, her long body
Rubbed of its plush--
Poor and bare and unqueenly and even shameful.
I stand in a column

Of winged, unmiraculous women,
I am no drudge
Though for years I have eaten dust
And dried plates with my dense hair.

And seen my strangeness evaporate,
Blue dew from dangerous skin.
Will they hate me,
These women who only scurry,
Whose news is the open cherry, the open clover?

It is almost over.
I am in control.
Here is my honey-machine,
It will work without thinking,
Opening, in spring, like an industrious virgin

To scour the creaming crests
As the moon, for its ivory powders, scours the sea.
A third person is watching.
He has nothing to do with the bee-seller or with me.
Now he is gone

In eight great bounds, a great scapegoat.
Here is his slipper, here is another,
And here the square of white linen
He wore instead of a hat.
He was sweet,

The sweat of his efforts a rain
Tugging the world to fruit.
The bees found him out,
Molding onto his lips like lies,
Complicating his features.

They thought death was worth it, but I
Have a self to recover, a queen.
Is she dead, is she sleeping?
Where has she been,
With her lion-red body, her wings of glass?

Now she is flying
More terrible than she ever was, red
Scar in the sky, red comet
Over the engine that killed her—
The mausoleum, the wax house.

The Swarm

Somebody is shooting at something in our town
A dull pom, pom in the Sunday street.
Jealousy can open the blood,
It can make black roses.
Who are the shooting at?

It is you the knives are out for
At Waterloo, Waterloo, Napoleon,
The hump of Elba on your short back,
And the snow, marshaling its brilliant cutlery
Mass after mass, saying Shh!

Shh! These are chess people you play with,
Still figures of ivory.
The mud squirms with throats,
Stepping stones for French bootsoles.
The gilt and pink domes of Russia melt and float off

In the furnace of greed.  Clouds, clouds.
So the swarm balls and deserts
Seventy feet up, in a black pine tree.
It must be shot down. Pom! Pom!
So dumb it thinks bullets are thunder.

It thinks they are the voice of God
Condoning the beak, the claw, the grin of the dog
Yellow-haunched, a pack-dog,
Grinning over its bone of ivory
Like the pack, the pack, like everybody.

The bees have got so far. Seventy feet high!
Russia, Poland and Germany!
The mild hills, the same old magenta
Fields shrunk to a penny
Spun into a river, the river crossed.

The bees argue, in their black ball,
A flying hedgehog, all prickles.
The man with gray hands stands under the honeycomb
Of their dream, the hived station
Where trains, faithful to their steel arcs,

Leave and arrive, and there is no end to the country.
Pom! Pom! They fall
Dismembered, to a tod of ivy.
So much for the charioteers, the outriders, the Grand Army!
A red tatter, Napoleon!

The last badge of victory.
The swarm is knocked into a cocked straw hat.
Elba, Elba, bleb on the sea!
The white busts of marshals, admirals, generals
Worming themselves into niches.

How instructive this is!
The dumb, banded bodies
Walking the plank draped with Mother France's upholstery
Into a new mausoleum,
An ivory palace, a crotch pine.

The man with gray hands smiles--
The smile of a man of business, intensely practical.
They are not hands at all
But asbestos receptacles.
Pom! Pom! "They would have killed me."

Stings big as drawing pins!
It seems bees have a notion of honor,
A black intractable mind.
Napoleon is pleased, he is pleased with everything.
O Europe! O ton of honey!


This is the easy time, there is nothing doing.
I have whirled the midwife's extractor,
I have my honey,
Six jars of it,
Six cat's eyes in the wine cellar,

Wintering in a dark without window
At the heart of the house
Next to the last tenant's rancid jam
and the bottles of empty glitters--
Sir So-and-so's gin.

This is the room I have never been in
This is the room I could never breathe in.
The black bunched in there like a bat,
No light
But the torch and its faint

Chinese yellow on appalling objects--
Black asininity. Decay.
It is they who own me.
Neither cruel nor indifferent,

Only ignorant.
This is the time of hanging on for the bees--the bees
So slow I hardly know them,
Filing like soldiers
To the syrup tin

To make up for the honey I've taken.
Tate and Lyle keeps them going,
The refined snow.
It is Tate and Lyle they live on, instead of flowers.
They take it. The cold sets in.

Now they ball in a mass,
Mind against all that white.
The smile of the snow is white.
It spreads itself out, a mile-long body of Meissen,

Into which, on warm days,
They can only carry their dead.
The bees are all women,
Maids and the long royal lady.
They have got rid of the men,

The blunt, clumsy stumblers, the boors.
Winter is for women--
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanish walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.

Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It's so cold in Poetry we gotta get down on Poetry

Perhaps you are familiar with the youtube sensation songs "It's so Cold in the D" or "Friday."

Like, I ain't linkin' to them. You know them anyway.

It's so Cold has over 6 million views.

Friday over 40 million.

The highest poetry video I can find? Something from Def Jam with about 2 million views.

What gives?

I like poetry and all but when we can make a poetry video that gets more traction than a video ironically watched by hipsters and loved by the masses well, then we might be able to look A. Petri in the face.

Monday, January 28, 2013

10 (Better) Reasons Poetry's Not Dead

Here I responded to a list of ten substandard examples of great American poetry.

I was then called out by my friends at the Cambridge Writer's Workshop to produce my own list. I ought to be wholly arrogant and just say my book, With Rough Gods, but I assume you folks are getting tired of that. Besides, there's better work than mine that was published in 2012.

So let me give my own ten reasons poetry's not dead in America, with explanations.

#10: Poetry jams/slams/open mikes.

Yes, you're going to hear a pile of offal verse at one of these. But that "pile" is the very reason poetry isn't dead in America. It may be a bit soured by our off-base educational system and the industrialization/academicization of poetry but it's alive and kicking in the trenches which is where it counts most. In a similar vein:

#9: Poetry journal slush piles.

Lit magazines get somewhere between 10-1000 times more submissions than they can publish, let alone want to publish. If we assume (from my own experience as an editor and making up numbers anyway) that 75% is crap, 20% is okay, 3% is good but doesn't work and 2% fits the publication, we can again see that folks are writing and writing and writing. Now, are they reading? Well--let's look at the best of what they have to read and then ask some questions about why they're not reading it.

#8: Broetry by Brian McGackin.

No, it's not Tennyson. But who cares? Broetry is the most fun you'll have reading poetry as an adult. It's like Shel Silverstein's Uncle Shelby books but a bit less mature and secure. Whatevs bro. Read it and have a good time. Laugh out loud when you read a poem. When's the last time you did that?

#7: Sixty Sonnets by Ernest Hilbert.

Sixty Sonnets is to Broetry as The Story of O is to Fifty Shades of Grey. They're both about the same sort of characters but Hilbert is being literary whereas McGackin is simply enjoying himself. What does this mean, exactly? It means that Sixty Sonnets, while not having as broad an appeal--and perhaps getting a chortle and not a guffaw--is more rewarding for folks that stick with it and has more lines that stick in general.

#6: Annie Finch.

Instead of including one of Annie's books, I'm just including Annie. If I had to narrow things down to books, I'd go with her two latest: Among the Goddesses and A Poet's Craft. I haven't reviewed APC yet but if you want to learn about poetry and don't need an MFA (I would like to need my MFA: anyone got a spare low res job?) you'd do better with your money to buy A Poet's Craft and go to conferences. Anyway, Among the Goddesses is a book you can give to a wide swath of people who are interested in literature and get them to realize that narrative has a place in poetry. Wonderfully good stuff and we are indebted to the good Dr. Finch and her work in and with American poetry.

#5: Ludlow by David Mason.

Narrative poetry is the best selling poetry in America. That's because narrative poetry includes books like Ellen Hopkins' Crank. Now, Crank is not good poetry but Ludlow is. And, at least last I heard, Ludlow does very well for Red Hen Press (more on them later) and Mr. Mason (unless it's Dr.--let me know, y'all). But the book is good for poetry. It's a good story. It's good verse. It's a great read.

#4: Red Hen and Cooper Dillon Presses and CPRW and E-Verse Radio (and those like them).

Red Hen Press is undoubtedly the best small press for poetry in the US. Their books are of consistently high quality and, even better, books of poetry you want to read.

Cooper Dillon Press is my favorite micropress and one of the best. Each book they put out (3ish a year) is fantastic AND Adam Deutsch's outlook on editing and publishing is refreshing.

CPRW is "the best damn poetry review online." Excusing natural bias, I implore you to take a look at Garrick Davis's wonderful production of reviews, analysis, and excellent thinking on poetry in America--you'll see it's alive and well.

E-Verse Radio is an eclectic collection of music, poetry, stories, and lists. One gets the idea that it's what a modern literary magazine ought to be. I hope that more journals like it take root.

There are literally hundreds of small and micropresses and wonderfully quirky literary American journals out there. The problem is not one of existence but of distribution and advertising. I think this is in part because as intellectuals we overvalue our own knowledge and not the advice of ad/PR people who are, of course, inherently evil. But maybe that's just me projecting.

#3: Writer's Workshops, Conferences, and MFA programs.

Look, I know that these are just as much a part of the problem as they are part of the solution. But you can't discount the power of the "po-biz." Do I think that these outlets and conduits could be better arranged to serve poetry and the people and not poets and pocketbooks? Absolutely. But there are programs out there that, at least as far as I can tell, do this. Even a corporo-advertising behemoth like AWP is full of greatness if you're willing to separate the wheat from the chaff.

#2: Harlot by Jill Alexander Essbaum.

I debated just saying "Jill Alexander Essbaum" but I really, really want you folks to read Harlot. Maybe with a huge phallus and naked lady on the cover it's not for everyone. But really it is. I don't think there's an adult who has breathed who can't identify with the words between its sheets.


#1: Olives by A.E. Stallings.

This book is so good it hurts. If I were Bill Gates rich, my foundation would buy copies of this for all of you. I would call Amazon and say "hey, tell me how much it would be to send a copy of Olives to everyone who has ever bought anything from you guys" and then gladly pay it. While Olives isn't perfect as a book of poetry--it requires the reader to have a familiarity with poetry and so, like Harlot, isn't perhaps the first book of poetry one should read--it is as close as a book has gotten in decades. When I read Olives, I felt precisely like Peter Buck as he wrote regarding song "Crazy" by Pylon:

"I remember hearing their version on the radio the day that Chronic Town came out and suddenly being depressed by how much better it was than our record."

Read Olives. Read everything on this list. Go to every event. Participate in poetry. You'll see it's alive and well--and by these very actions its readership and influence will grow and bloggers won't feel the need to declaim its death.

Kickstarters ARE good for literature

Well, folks--we got funded.

195% funded.

While that's not enough to add a professional photographer or fly in a special guest, it ought to be enough to throw a heck of a party.

Start your Kickstarters, people. Get literature done.

Friday, January 25, 2013

People, don't try to prove Petri *right*!

So everyone's getting in on the Petri act (indeed, I was a day late).

The folks at Flavorwire have weighed in as well.

The problem is, as near as I can tell, most, if not all of those books suck.

Now granted, I don't have a copy of any of them in front of me--but what I can glean from Amazon and Google is that they're filled with the everyday sort of poetry one finds so forgettable--the kind of verse Petri was (rightly, though impolitely) complaining about.

Indeed, the first book is praised for "stalks the borderlands of English and Spanish, fabulist and realist, here and there, with a backpack filled with shifting identifications — Chicano, gay, abnormal — that spill out into the sand" which tells me that the writer for Flavorwire is apparently more interested in people and labels than poetry.

Now, I'll say that I at least found the Powell and Dennigan books interesting enough that I'm leaving their names here so I can remember to look up the works more in depth--but really, all that claptrap is forgettable goo.

Now, maybe it appeals to poets--but Petri's entire point is that poetry is irrelevant outside of the world of poetry.

Praising books that answer to that call is not helping anyone.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pope it up, y'all!

From teh Popez:

"The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young," Benedict said in his message. "Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there."

Dag, yo.

Why poetry should sound good even if it's never spoken

Yes, that's right.

Poetry should--poetry MUST--sound good. Even if it's never read aloud.

Why, you ask?

Well, just read this nice sciency article on how we read "silently."

It's not terribly new information (though this study may be a more definitive presentation than previous speculations) but it's terribly important to remember:

When we read we speak internally. Poetry is inherently an aural art form. We cannot forget this.

Petri, Poetry, and Propriety

One good thing about the Coronation of Obama I (when did this become such a thing? Bush II?) is that, owing to the inclusion of an inaugural poet, folks are talking about poetry, even if to decry its usefulness.

In that vein, I'm sure you've already read the engineered-to-get-all-ten-million-US-poets-to-generate-ad-revenue hit piece on poetry by one Alexandra Petri.

Ms Petri's first relevant piece of information:

"There are about six people who buy new poetry, but they are not feeling very well. I bumped very lightly into one of them while walking down the sidewalk, and for a while I was terrified that I would have to write to eleven MFA programs explaining why everyone was going to have to apply for grants that year. The last time I stumbled upon a poetry reading, the attendees were almost without exception students of the poet who were there in the hopes of extra credit. One of the poems, if memory serves, consisted of a list of names of Supreme Court justices. I am not saying that it was a bad poem. It was a good poem, within the constraints of what poetry means now. But I think what we mean by poetry is a limp and fangless thing.

Poetry has gone from being something that you did in order to Write Your Name Large Across the Sky and sound your barbaric yawp and generally Shake Things Up to a very carefully gated medium that requires years of study and apprenticeship in order to produce meticulous, perfect, golden lines that up to ten people will ever voluntarily read."

My good friend Jessica Piazza rightly said on her book of the face that, fundamentally, Ms Petri was correct (if a bit rude). If one only knows about Contemporary American Poetry (CAP) from what is praised in the press, taught in survey courses (when they were in college a decade or so ago--or worse: high school), and bandied about at bookstore poetry readings one would likely get the impression that poetry is:

"generally in free verse, although it could be a sonnet, if it wanted. It describes something very carefully, or it makes a sound we did not expect, and it has deep layers that we need to analyze."

I've written extensively before on why this is inherently a problem with CAP--but that was five years ago. 

Since then I have discovered a few things about poetry in America today.


Poetry's position in the traditional publishing world is absolute garbage--and not without reason. The best selling living American poet (*) is Billy Collins (or was last I checked--Mary Oliver may be on top now). He has sold about a quarter of a million books of poetry during his lifetime. Ender's Game sold that many this year. Fifty Shades of Grey sold (I shudder) six million copies. Why? Because poetry's not as interesting? Well, I think that we have to at least admit, poets, that we're not doing a very good job of marketing. But I think also we aren't doing as good a job of entertaining. The collection Hot Sonnets is at least as sexy as 50SoG and I daresay Jill Alexander Essbaum's Harlot is a hot mess sexier. But, if you followed those links to Amazon you'll see the inherent problem with poetry distribution. Hot Sonnets, at least for Amazon, is unavailable--or, you can get it for $215. Harlot is $15. Neither book is available as an ebook. 50SoG is $9 (for an order of magnitude more text--irrespective of quantity vs quality). Nine dollars.

Now, I understand the economy of scale preventing the availability of Hot Sonnets and Harlot as cheaply available traditional print books. But why aren't they print-on-demand? My own With Rough Gods is POD and so is Jill Alexander Essbaum's The Devastation. But Jill's book isn't available through Amazon. Why? Because the publisher isn't interested in dealing with Amazon. Now, I dearly love Cooper Dillon press--they're one of the best micro presses in the country--but to not have distribution through Amazon seems just silly. It's where people go to buy books. That and real book stores (my students are forever complaining that our local Barnes & Noble doesn't have X edition of Y book--I keep reminding them to go online) which will have to be addressed at a later date. Moving production to POD (with distribution through all available channels) eliminates this problem of unavailability (though it can clearly reduce profits--hell, WRG only costs $4 per author copy but I only get $2 when Amazon sells it--insert eye roll).

But it still doesn't address the more important question: why aren't these books available as ebooks? It's not *that* hard. Take a .doc, save it as .html, open it in Sigil, format it as an .epub, and then convert it in Calibre to every format you need it in. Then distribute away.

Why don't we do this? Partially (if not wholly) it is because poetry publishers are either 1) huge conglomerates who don't care but still publish "names" for recognition or 2) small publishers who are still dearly in love with the idea of "making books" and not "distributing literature." Note: I'm not even going to touch the distribution of literature-as-performance which is offered to us by the ubiquity of distributed video.

So that's the production side of marketing addressed--but not the marketing side. TV and Radio and Magazines exist to sell ads. Movies are replayed on TV to sell ads. Movies also exist, like plays and novels, to sell themselves. Poetry needs to either get more entertaining or figure out how to sell ads. Either way folks need to get out of their own navels and write better poetry. We need to take Longfellow as a model, not Zukofsky.

Of course, most poets reading this immediately are no longer interested: how DARE I tell them what to write? But you know what? Yes. I am telling you what to write. I am telling you to expand your boundaries and horizon--to get over yourself. To find out what actually WORKS in poetry to get the most people in and try writing that for a change. Give it your own personal stamp but do what works. Of course, one has to find that.


Poetry is still being taught incorrectly in schools. If we taught watching movies or listening to music the same way we insist on teaching poetry it would be no wonder if folks turned off their eyes and ears.

Part of this is overzealous teachers. In their NEED to make sure we know that "poetry doesn't have to rhyme" they make it seem like good poetry never rhymes (or doesn't any more). Because "poetry doesn't have to have meter"--and hasn't for the better part of a century in schoolrooms--they don't teach meter and they were in turn not taught meter so they couldn't if you convinced them they should. So kids just get some dribbly crap thrown at them and then the teacher acts as if they poem holds a secret message that must be unlocked.

If you are a teacher and do this, stop. If you know a teacher who does this, tell them to stop.

Here's the "secret" to teaching poetry:

Poetry is supposed to sound, if not "good" at least "interesting." Read it aloud. Don't let the kids read it unless they're good readers. Or if you do, immediately read it afterward. If you're not a good reader, you probably shouldn't be teaching literature.

Poetry has no room for context. So yes, allusions must be explained.

Poetry uses figurative language. So yes, one must talk about what the metaphor "means."

BUT "what the metaphor means" or to what the allusion refers are simply things that expand the purpose of the poem. Imagine them, not as messages to be decoded, but as a word you don't know. If you saw a piece of writing with "concupiscent" in it and didn't know the word, you'd look it up. If a book referred to the Boer War and you didn't know about it, you'd look it up. Now, frequently in prose there's room for context--but poetry doesn't have that. It demands the reader bring that. But once you understand the allusions and have at least thought about the metaphors, there's not anything "secret" to do. You can "get" the poem. Maybe it's about love. Maybe it's about memory versus love. Maybe it just sounds good (though we hope not) but if it "has deep layers that we need to analyze" then something is wrong. Specifically because of that word "need."

But part of this is the problem of the poet as well.

The word should be "want." A poem should be able to draw you in but also be enjoyable in one experience. You know, like any bit of litertainment. There are folks that see a movie once. There are folks that see a movie a hundred times. The same with novels. Why should we as poets expect only the second group and attempt to cater to them (if we actually think about catering to anyone except ourselves)? Why shouldn't we also think about group one? I.e. if your poem must be analyzed to be enjoyed you're doing something wrong.


The world of Contemporary American Poetry is lush, diverse, lovely, and alive.

Excellent performances (as well as terrible ones) can be found at poetry readings. I recommend, Ms Petri, that you seek out poetry readings that are regular occurrences, not one-offs for a professor's new book. 

Some of the best poets writing today are writing in meter and rhyme. Indeed, when I started writing I was pretty anti-meter and rhyme. Of course, I was also fifteen. By the time I discovered form, rhyme, and meter several years later I felt for sure "I was the only one." And then I discovered folks like A.E. Stallings, Kim Addonizio, David Yezzi, Erica Dawson, and David Mason. And then I was lucky enough to meet them (note: this isn't actually luck, folks--go to a poetry conference like AWP or West Chester and you can meet them, too!). It's not just that they're nice people. 

They're great poets. I've reviewed several books here. I wish I had the time to review more. Anyway, Ms Petri--if you're reading this--read those poets and the others I've already mentioned. You'll find that Contemporary American Poetry is far more diverse than you've been lead to believe.

That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. I continually say we need, as poets, to tell stories. The grip the lyric mode has on Contemporary American Poetry is destructive. We ought to also explore illustrated poetry distributed similarly to webcomics. We can do more. But, Ms Petri, it would help if you used that passion not to excoriate poetry but to support it.

It is likely that you didn't know there was poetry worth supporting. But there is. Those folks I mentioned. Those books I linked to. The reviews I've done. Read those books. Discover that poetry is alive and well. It can and will be stronger. More folks should and will read it. It needs to adapt, not die.

Would you, instead of being "harsh" be helpful?

I do hope you will.

(*) actually the best selling living American poet is Ellen Hopkins, the author of the Crank series. If anyone knows how I can get an agent to look at one of my two verse novels without first publishing my own prose novel (as that seems to be the model), fill me in.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"She was a monster actually."

There's some Plath buzz going on this month. No real reason why--it's not like the 50th anniversary of her suicide is rapidly approaching or anything. . .

Anyway, the Guardian interviewed Olwyn Hughes, Plath's literary executor and she apparently couldn't help defending her brother, Ted:

She was horribly unjust both to her mother and to Ted. And I'm sick of reading that he left her for Assia – that's all you get whenever his name is mentioned. Assia. But Ted didn't walk out.

It was actually a friend of Assia's who told Sylvia. She rang her up and thought maybe she was helping her, or wanted to warn her, or something, I don't know. But this person had no idea how on edge Sylvia was. That she wouldn't be able to cope with this information. And so when Ted next went down [to their house in Devon] she was in a rage and threw him out.

I wish the newspapers would get it right. He didn't even know that Sylvia would find out about Assia. He'd done everything he could to be very discreet. It was just one of those things … And of course Sylvia, when she did hear about it, it reminded her of all her terrors about abandonment and everything else. She wouldn't listen to anything but separation and divorce. But he didn't leave her for Assia. That's just not true. He was actually staying on friends' floors in London until he got a little place by himself. He certainly wasn't living with Assia.

Oh and she took all the money out of their bank account. She was a monster actually.

Hm. A wife and mother finds out her husband is sleeping around, she kicks him out, and takes all their money out of the bank account. Sounds like a set of best practices to me. But maybe I'm not British enough. Stiff upper lip, what.

I will take this opportunity to remind you that if you've not read the excellent Ariel: The Restored Edition, you've not read Plath properly (unless by chance your only introduction has been Crossing the Water). I'm sure this can also be done online, but I don't have the resources at hand to link to. At any rate, Plath is our best employer of phonemes in poetry, so I suggest you forget about the mythology and read the verse. Of course, that's what I recommend for reading anyone.


Is manslaughter man's laughter?
It depends on what your definition of is is.
If the love fits you mustn't quit.


I see
I touch
I feel

Is ee
It ouch
If eel

Is the above a poem, why or why not?

Fundamentally, what does poetry do? Not, by the way, what do we want poetry to do. But what does poetry do?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

James Franco's "Blue Being": an explication

So James Franco is the biggest thing to hit poetry since Jewel and Tupac.

I am torn now as I was torn then--I really want these famous people to be good poets.

Really I do. I remember being disappointed picking up (actually just seeing the title of) A Night Without Armor and just being wholly underwhelmed by The Rose that Grew from Concrete.

So when Actor-turned-Poet James Franco started popping up all over the blogo-twitter-facebook-sphere I was trepidatiously intrigued.

And then Eyewear (linked above) published his poem. I'm not convinced their lineation is correct, so I'll take out the extra spaces. Feel free to send corrections:


by James Franco

There is a surface
That we all make together
And the wild man
Seems to pop through

Like a line dancer out of step
And others start complaining
That he doesn’t know the moves
And he’s stepping on everyone’s toes.

There was a man named Mike
Who called my father five times a day.
You’d hear each burdened voice of the family
Shout across the house,

Daaad, it’s Mike.

At dinner my father often explained
That Mike saw demons.
They spoke to him,
He thought they were real.

I pictured a flaming blue being
Entering the dingy room,
And sitting by Mike
On the gray sheeted bed.

Part of me can hear William Logan's voice crawling through my ears: "what damned surface? how do we make it together? You expect the reader to believe this bullshit? No reader is going to buy this. Quit telling the reader what is and what isn't."

But I ignored William's advice for a while so let's skip that, shall we (note: he was at least partially correct).

The title: "Blue Being" (let's forego the all caps). It's ambiguous and playful and sonic but it's also cliched. Both words. "Blue" and "Being" are struck right out of some Beat-Ashbery mashup. Again, though, they sound nice (and it's better than the possibility of the reverse: "Being Blue").

The two opening stanzas don't give us anything the transcendentalists already hadn't--and folks have said it better before. There's an interesting colloquialism regarding line dancing--one assumes most poets are too uppity to know the boot-scootin' boogie and may even scoff at the electric slide--but if one's attempting to secure a broader readership, I can see the appeal of gutterizing one's metaphors. The problem is that it's not a terribly interesting symbol. The out-of-step line dancer. I think it implies we're having more fun that most people say we're having. 

Having said that, I must address the damned word "seems." Franco--and all poets--should know better. As Pound said, either it is or it isn't. A little decisiveness goes a long way.

Then to this Mike fellow. Would the father have to "often explain" that Mike saw demons? Wouldn't that be something you'd likely remember?

Then the image of the "flaming blue being." 


Like, folks, not even the promise of the hint of a description. And it's in a "dingy room." Franco is demonstrating a serious need for the "show, don't tell" lecture. 

The poem's not good. It's not terrible. I've read terrible poems. It's just not good. I could see it getting a chuckle or two with a well-timed reading at a poetry jam but unless Mr. Franco is releasing a YouTube series instead of a book he better get serious with his verse.

I hope for his sake and that of Graywolf Press the remainder of his book's poems are superior to this one. Otherwise The Strongest of the Litter will turn out to be a runt.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Why modern education doesn't work in one Wikipedia article

Dunbar's number, folks. We have schools that are 10-20x this number.

Bad juju.

James Franco: Phile or Phobia

I've a lot of friends who really hate the idea of James Franco The Poet. I don't think they necessarily hate Mr. Franco himself--but they're Francophobes when it comes to poetry.

David Shook interviews and micro-reviews Franco here. I think there are three important things we discover.

1: Franco is not a terrible poet. Shook quotes him:

My bus is muscular;
A brontosaurus
With a tiny brain
That is me.

Looking out.

While this quote is hardly enough to inspire full criticism, I do love "my bus is muscular." That's proof of at least the potential of a good ear.

2: Franco has some valuable thoughts on poetry's place among the other literary arts:

"Poetry is not more universal than film. Film is the universal language. So is music. But poetry is too bound up in particular written languages to be universal. And because it often uses language in more intricate and complex ways than prose it is harder to translate. It is a great conveyer of emotion, but lyric emotion, meaning emotion bound up with imagery and written language. Film and performance can convey emotion much more directly than poetry, but poetry can reveal more complex emotions than performance. It can put the reader inside a character’s head in ways that film can not."

3: The publication of his book in 2014 will be interesting.

I, for one, hope that James Franco uses his name recognition to help poetry in general and not just his own name recognition. His reading list of poets was a bit scant and I've got several suggestions for him. Are you interested, James Franco? Let me know.

Kickstarter: great for comics, great for poetry?

I put up a link yesterday to my Kickstarter: Film The Best Reading and After-Party Ever!

But I thought maybe you don't know what Kickstarter is.

It's a site that facilitates "crowdfunding" or "crowdsourcing" of projects. You donate to a project of your choosing and get rewarded for that donation. In my project's case, you're helping me to make a film and documentary of what promises to be an amazing reading in Boston. The rewards go from a .pdf of poetry to editorial help by amazing poets to a huge collection of signed works.

Please help us out!

The readers are:

Annie Finch
Erica Dawson
G.M. Palmer (me)
Heather O'Neill
Jessica Piazza
Michael Bobbitt
Nick Courtright
Rebecca Lindenberg
Tara Skurtu
Thaddeus Gunn

Thanks for your support!

Thursday, January 10, 2013


I rather enjoyed Duotrope's search and sortability function.

Not enough to pay for it, though.

This is not the model we want to promote, folks.

I can't help but think that part of their problem comes from folks using ad-blocking software. Folks: advertising pays for a lot of the internet. Don't block revenue streams unless you like paywalls.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Kickstart my Art!

Help me fund an awesome documentary and reading in Boston!

Are you stymied because you’re spending too much time trying to defend and extend your old poetry in the face of game changing trends?

In reading a Forbes Article on the indisputable fact that Jeff Bezos is a rockstar, the end caught my attention:

"Don’t ask customers what they want, instead give them what they need.  Customers may be on a trend, but they will frame their requests in the old paradigm.  By creating new trend-promoting products and solutions you can capture the customer and avoid head-to-head competition with the “old guard” titans selling the increasingly outdated solutions.  Don’t build better brick-and-mortar, make brick-and-mortar obsolete.

So, what’s stopping you from growing your business like Apple or Amazon?  What keeps you from being the next Steve Jobs, or Jeff Bezos?  Can you spot trends and provide trend-supporting solutions for customers?  Or are you stymied because you’re spending too much time trying to defend and extend your old business in the face of game changing trends."
How do we artists answer this call? How long can we ignore webcomics and video delivery of literature?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Regulation is bad m'kay?

Just a reddit reposter today, folks.

Of course, rules and regulations play a hell of an important role in the creation of poetry.

The difference is between "natural" rules and externally imposed ones.

On music, visuals, and perception

Here's an article about interesting study on how our emotional perception of auditory and visual stimuli are similar.

I've not read the actual study (PNAS paywall) but I'm intrigued--I also wonder how reading literature (which is audiovisual) and reading poetry and--even more--reading comics would play into this (if at all).

There's a lot to be learned about how cognition works with what we read (and experience, etc.).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fairy stories?

I've posted a lot regarding narrative poetry.

I've been interested for a long time in folk tales and fairy stories.

Which leaves two questions:

1) is anyone interested in reading narrative folk/fairy poems


2) is anyone interested in publishing them?

I'm half determined to publish them only with illustrations but lack the skill to do that myself, even though the webcomic economic model seems to work for a strong pack of writers.

I would love to read some commentary on this.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Videogames are an entertainment apex predator?

There's an interesting article over at Penny Arcade today.

The relevant part is at the end:

Videogames are, in entertainment terms, an Apex Predator; nothing else compares to them, minute for minute, they deliver brain chemicals at an unprecedented rate.  They’re pure HFCS, and the other things you fill a life with don’t deliver those squirts with the same regularity.  It’s a matter of acclimatization for people maturing in this environment.  In the end, I can say with confidence that books are right out, and movies; dubstep and porn gifs will be all they have left.


I don't know precisely how 1) true or 2) good this is.

That is, as someone who grew up a console kid, I tell you now that videogames, at least for me, just got boring. Rock Band was the last thing I had a lot of fun with. The videogame I play the most now is Androminion--and that's because I like playing the card game. I use my XBOX to play Netflix.

My kids would all rather watch movies or read than play videogames. Even that alligator-water game.

I suppose both Mr. Holkins and I are operating out of a pile of confirmation bias but I would surmise that if the assertion is true then we'll see a backlash akin to the organic/slow food movement. 

Regarding how good it is--well, we know (and seriously, studies continue to pile out) how bad a diet of straight sugar/HFCS/etc. is turble for you. I'm interested in Holkins' knowledge of this and the fact that he says right before the quote "I don’t think videogames are a social ill." He is, of course, referring to the tragedies regarding school shootings and kids playing video games (which folks is stupid but not because desensitization to violence doesn't occur; it's a stupid argument because other factors and warning signs are far more important in the scheme of things--much like guns are "to blame" because they're easily accessible, etc.) but it's clear from his analogy that they're some kind of ill.

Unless he's going to argue that all entertainment is an ill which is odd given his choice of job.

Wiman leaving Poetry for Yale

From the horse's mouth.

I wonder what the developments at Poetry will be from this. Don Share as the head?

Who knows? Shakeups can be lovely.

Subversively Perverse

Poetry's use in a collapsing society

I think one can argue that the current civilization of Western-based American-hegemonic society is headed towards some sort of reset.

It may be catastrophic or it may not be.

But what does art--and of course for this blog, poetry--have to do with such widespread events?

I mean on the one hand we don't have a lot of great literature from the late 5th century A.D (or the 18th century for that matter--especially when one is discussing creative literature).

But we have a great deal of great literature from the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D.

Both were times of mass upheaval and disruption with regards to the way a civilization was put together.

At the birth of the Roman Empire, however, there wasn't a wholesale collapse of civilization, simply a "changing of the guard." At the very least this means there were better record keeping and distribution abilities--hence our having such literature extant. But it's not as if 470 A.D. were wholly without literature. The writings of the Christian Patriarchs from the period are fairly extensive--but it doesn't have the same creative verve.

There's some discussion of this (especially with regards to, say, the literature of the English Civil War) in McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary, a book I still need dearly to review--but which you should read immediately--but I don't think it quite grasps all of the sociological reasons for the creation of art (as it was outside the scope of the book anyway)

Can we as poets somehow shape events or are we merely recorders? Can we make the transition safer? Can we stop it altogether? Has art at all shaped the law-abiding nature that both provides for our fashion of civilization and plants the seeds for its destruction or was that done by breeding and capital punishment? For sure The Aeneid impacted Roman society, but does research exist regarding that impact?

What does what we write have to do with the world? What should it have to do with the world?

I think we ought to answer (or at least try to answer) these questions if we want poetry to again see the light of relevance.