Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I do not know anyone who has lived in South America who did not have their lives transformed by that continent. I do not know what it is about being below the equator in this hemisphere that makes the world seem new again.
There are so many poets who have filled the world with their verse. I recently put on Facebook a question about which modernist book was the most important. I put Trilce by vallejo and Canto General by Neruda on the list they got few votes but really these books are much more important than anything by Stein or Pound.
Canto General is the first response by Americans (We are all Americans from Alaska to Argentina) to the Spanish-Portuguese-English conquest of our world. This work that is viewed by some as a polemic- is in reality the song of the continent. Many American poets refuse to realize that we all live on this continent, that the Andes and Rockies are our spine, that the Amazon is our lungs and that the icefields of Greenland are our heads. That is what Canto General tells us that we are one and this makes the Nativism of so many "americans' so silly. As was said by the great Poet Vallejo "only the Quechua have a right to be against immigrants because they are native we are not"
Monday, December 24, 2007
1 in principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum
2 hoc erat in principio apud Deum
3 omnia per ipsum facta sunt et sine ipso factum est nihil quod factum est
4 in ipso vita erat et vita erat lux hominum
5 et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
According to the work Wiman is very ill and he has returned to his Religion as part of the that process. I have always viewed the way religion is dealt with by poets with an eye towards the sceptical.
There are poets like Peter O'Leary who write fabulous books with religious themes but tart it up the work with some Byzantine monk story or Buddhist Koan from the 12th century as if to inoculate themselves from the reality that he just might believe in transubstantiation or the trinity. There are other poets like Denise Levertov who wait until their reputations are secure to reveal their nature. I have always chosen to be honest about what kind of poet I am- experimental yes, Pound fan yes, Catholic yes. It has cost me publications but I like to be honest.
Wiman in his book however reveals his faith- not a reflection on the faith of Paul of Gaza or St Francis but faith and belief in the face of mortality and this makes for an interesting potential conversation that i would like very much to have with Mr Wiman. If Wiman is a Christian then how does this effect his poetics? Or is this a personal thing?
The world of poets as spiritual seekers seems to have vanished. There was a time when poets and other seekers were ok with the idea that a poet would also have a deep spiritual life. You look at poets as diverse as Levertov, Merton, Everson, Duncan & Eliot and you see a spiritual
sense that is lacking is much of the poetry written today. The question that I have for Wiman is his new spirituality a reaction to mortality? Or does he really believe in the Incarnation?
That is the point is it not?
The power behind great poets who have spiritual depth is that they really believe it. There needs to be something there to make the poems work or they become vapid Joel Olsteen platitudes rather than great poetry. What is it about the a Psalm sung in a Synagogue or the Magnificat or Amazing Grace sung by believers that makes it so moving and when it is sung for secular performance it is so dry?
In the end the greatest poetry every written was religious poetry, the Psalms, Johns Gospel, Dante, St Francis, John of the Cross, Rumi, the Gita, the Koran. All these works have a power behind them that other work can get close to but is not the same as the real thing. So I as I continue through Wiman's book I keep looking for the power. I don't find HISTORY in the work as I do with my poetic antecedents- Pound-Olson-Williams-Creeley-Bernstein. I don't find music either so where is the power?
It is where the rubber hits the road.
You either believe or you don't.
Mozart once said that he remained a Catholic because he could not bear the idea that he would never be able to receive communion in the great Cathedrals or that the Mass would never be said for him if he left. I would say that I remain a Catholic because of the connection that I have with my ancestors and their God.
But Wiman does not paint in bright colors like I do and like a faded fresco I keep trying to make out what he really believes? What is he saying? Why of all the books of essays this one was chosen for a Lannan did he have to obscure things to get it published? What transcendent am I to find here? Either things are true or they are not. I choose to believe in the Incarnation because I believe in God with us. I still don't know what Wiman believes but I hope it brings him peace?
Monday, December 10, 2007
Friday, December 7, 2007
Friday, November 30, 2007
Wiman is part of a larger reaction to the poetic that starts with Pound and Stein and flows down to poets today like Cole Swensen and Peter Gizzi. This poetic of collage, parataxis, experimentation and juxtposition is not appreciated by Wiman and his poetic brethern like Ted Kooser, Kay Ryan, Dana Gioia and the rest because it challenges what poetry has been and will be and creates a poetic of challenge that in the end is disturbing.
But having said all this I cannot dismiss Wiman. There are few serious poets writing in the American idiom today who take religion and the spiritual seriously. Apart from Peter O'Leary (another Chicago Neighbor) most After-Postmodern poets are more likely to write about Johannes Kepler or Beehives then religious themes and Wiman does justice to this concern and does it well. Wiman is a committed Christian- and I am a committed Catholic which while not considered Christians by Fundamentalists; we are often concerned with the same questions.
I was book shopping last week at Seminary Coop- I picked up some Christmas reading and one of the books I picked up was Wiman's Ambition and Survival: Becoming A Poet. The structure of this book is puzzling. It is made up of essays on different topics that are laced with uncomfortably personal revelations and the poetic politic of the Neo-Formalists/Quietude. I could not help but think that this book was informed by the great Mid-Twentieth Century Catholic conversion/journey narratives of Thomas Merton (Seven Storey Mountain), Dorothy Day (From Union Square to Rome) Jack Kerouac (On the Road) and the poetry of William Everson. Unlike so many books written today on poetry or poetics there is a destination in this book and while I may not like or agree with it- we are going somewhere.
I am still working through the book but one essay that I keep going back to is one on Wiman's sojourn in Guatemala. I think Wiman and I are about the same age- late 30's early 40's and I also spent more time than Wiman, living in Latin America but it seems to be an important part of his life as is it of mine. The essay; Reading Milton is interesting . Wiman is in Guatemala one of the great fonts of poetry in the Americas reading Milton during Holy Week in Antigua.
If one does not know in Antigua during Holy Week the people make Alfombras (Carpets) of flowers and other organic matter that are kind of like Catholic Mandalas that are walked over by the procession it is one of the great specticals of this Hemisphere. So back to the melancoly. In this essay he talks about the generousity of the family he stayed with, the way they put themselves out for him- a broke poet- and it ends, sadly that he has forgotten their names.
The essay is both sad and a little disturbing. Does he mean to critique himself for his insentivity? or is he being ironic- which is not something that most Neo-Formalists are comfortable with? I keep trying to find the redemption in the essay and I read on in the book to look for that in the work.
I am going to blog more about Wiman's book because it is so different than what you get from other poetic essayists. I enjoy spending time with work and poets that I do not agree with There is a great word in all Latin languages Amplia, it means Ample in the English sense but it also means open and full and that is what reading someone you disagree with allows one to do.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
But in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 & 1997 I lived in Bolivia and Brazil and the holiday had a different meaning and I still think about those times today.
A few months ago I met a lovely young woman who is a student of my friend Poet Kristy Odelius, it turns out that she is the children of missionaries in Cochabamba and that when she was a child I met her at our annual American Thanksgiving.
Cochabamba, where I lived for 93,94, and 95 has allot of missionaries. Most of the Americans were Evangelicals there to steal Catholics from the Church. But in my work in the jail I became close to some Evangelicals and they included me a 'pagan' in their Thanksgiving meal. They were all so uncomplicated. Most Catholics in Cochabamba were leftists and they were working for justice for the poor- the evangelicals were working toward Metanoia a change of heart and moral change it was a strange juxtopostion.
There was also a woman who was an inmate who was American- in for a drug offense and I remember going to the comandant to ask for a day pass so she could eat with us. I explained Thanksgiving to him- and he explained it to me. I said this was our national festival of thanks and he said "this is a holiday where you Americans give thanks for the land you stole from us the indiginous people of the Americas" ok I am put in my place. But she was able to eat with us and
I was thankful for that.
But having said that it was nice to spend a day with Americans eating American foods and thinking about cold autumn in the hot summer of Bolivia. I was thankful to these Evangelicals with whom I shared nothing except for a Passport for including me in their meal. It remains a sweet memory.
Monday, November 19, 2007
When I was an undergrad I had a girlfriend who eventually became the noted psychologist Dr. J Krones and she and I had a running argument/disagreement about he Van Gogh effect. JK argued that it was inhumane and cruel to facilitate the art no matter how creative of mentally ill people. I argued that it is the mental illness that makes them great artists and that to medicate them would destroy their personalities. I am not so sure that I believe this anymore but I think about it allot.
Many creative people are mentally ill and many creative people use illegal drugs as ways to salve their mental illness. The moral question is do we ignore destructive behaviour because the art is so fabulous? Are we being cruel and inhumane by facilitating mental illness?
This argument could be expanded to include others who use mental illness for fabulous ends. It has been argued that St Francis for example suffered from Mental Illness and this is where so much of his power came from. In fact the Stigmata and the Poetry were borne from Mental Illness and that prayer and privation caused his Ecstasy. On the other hand Jackson Pollock was more productive when he was sober and not very productive when he was drunk. Picasso and Matisse it appears did not suffer from mental illness; but many other artists did.
So getting back the Van Gogh effect is it morally correct to facilitate destructive behaviours? Would Hannah Weiner's work have been so important if she had been under a doctor's care for her mental illness? Would the work have been so clear and clean? Would Van Gogh have created his paintings if he had been on Prozac? Was his mental illness the price for greatness?
Or is mental illness, anguish and stress needed to create great art? I simply do not know the answer to this question but I ask it all the time. It is obvious that many creative people have some sort of mental illness. Where is the line between creative/innovative mindset and destruction? Where does this lay?
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I was in the Atlanta Airport and to my delight I found a copy of a book published by Dalkey Archive Press.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Last night I went to the reading of a paper by Susan Howe, who is in my estimation- apart from Gertrude Stein and Gabriella Mistral the most imp0rtant female poet of the 20th Century and one of the top ten most influential poets in the American idiom.
I went to the reading to hear from Professor Howe. I went to hear her unique take on Stevens, who I have never liked much and Jonathan Edwards who I have not liked as well because of his Anti-Catholicism.
Professor Howe's speech was enlightening- and interesting and made me rethink these two New Englanders and what more could you want from a talk?
One of the annoyances of attending readings at prestigious Universities is that the room is filled with other smart people who like to ask long winded questions that seem always to be more about their erudition than what the poet or speaker has just presented. That was the case last night. I chose not to ask a question since I was a guest at the party- and I did not want the Professorate to know that a non member of the club was in their midst (I am sure that my 350 pound frame just blended in among the neck beards and tweed).
But Howe is so clean. I feel the same way about her that I did about Robert Creeley. She is not a faker- she is the real deal- a Poet. She may have made her money in Academia just like Stevens her great muse made his money in insurance but she remains simply a poet- nothing more and that is good company to keep.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
- "I just got to your email sorry I cannot do a blurb as I am so busy" "but please send me a copy of the book" (So this poet wants a FREE copy of the book but won't do a blurb)
- "I am currently in Hungary teaching (as if the Internet does not work in Hungary) and I cannot get to it now but send me a copy of the book" (So this poet also wants a free copy but cannot write because he/she is in Hungary.)
The question I have is why not just say "I don't want to write a blurb for you now" or " I won't write a blurb for you because their is nothing in it for me" or "You were not my student so too bad".
Poetry and Poets even the famous ones never make allot of money. Our art form is wonderfully entrepreneurial. Think about the great presses and magazines that today exist because of generousity of poets and passion for the form;
Aufgabe Magazine (e Tracy Grinnell) Kenning Editions (Patrick Durgin), Action Books (Joyelle Mc Sweeney, Johannes Gorensson), (Cracked Slab Books (Me and Bill Allegrezza), Dancing Girl Press, Antennae Magazine (Jesse Seldess), i.e. Press (Catherine Daly), Blaze Vox Press (Geoffrey Gatza), Ugly Ducking Presse (Matvei Yankelvich) and so many others are putting out some of the best work in poetry and this is all possible because of the generousity of these poets who with a little money make poetry better.
So keep an eye out for my book The Immediate Empire from i.e. press and the next time someone asks for a blurb just do it even if you are in Hungary- because it is an honor not a task to be avoided and as the Sisters used to say why not light one candle rather than curse the darkness?
Friday, November 2, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The Spanish Civil War is a seminal event for the Left and the Right during the last century. But I think the reaction to the Beatification by today's Left exposes a fault line and a hypocrisy that is very strong. It is to be assumed that everything that originates from the Right is a bad thing. If you read the many histories of the Spanish Civil War the real evils committed by the Republicans (Left in Spanish Civil War Parlance) are often diminished in comparison to evil of say Guernica- which has been painted-poet ed-and written about in a large way.
The blind spot and lack of even-handedness about people's suffering is the problem with any millennial ideology. The reality is that Right Wing Authoritarianism (Nazism, Fascism, Falangism) and Left Wing Totalitarianism (Communism, Socialism of the East European Kind) are fruit from the same tree. They both begin with the assumption that something in society needs to be cleansed to make society better. For the Fascist it might be the Jews or the artists for the Communists it is the Middle Classes or the factory owners.
In the end both result in Death.
The problems are the blind spots. For many years Roman Catholics have chosen to have a blind spot over our collaboration with Fascism, Nazism and Falangism. Catholics were also involved in many acts of Anti-Fascism but on the whole we did support fascism in Spain and in other places we gave right wing regimes legitimacy. The Catholic Church has in many places admitted what happened and Pope John Paul II apologized to Jews for our 2000 year role in Anti Semitism. That was important I think.
Another blind spot is on the Left. To this day Marxism remains a working ideology among elite professors and intellectuals. The fact is however that Marxism has killed many millions more than Fascism. It is estimated that over 500 million people have been killed by Marxists of one sort or the other. The oddity is that this philosophy that was rejected wholesale by millions in the Communist Bloc should remain the operative philosophy for many of our best minds?
While the same intellectuals are right to attack those on the Right who were in bed with or supported the Nazis; the left does not feel it necessary to self examine their ideological roots and the death that this has caused. So when the Pope beatifies Priests or Sisters who were killed for their religious beliefs there are those of the Left who view these deaths as less evil than Guernica, the reasoning for this is odd.
I guess deep down they think the Priests and Sisters deserved it??
I for my part have always favored simple Dem0cracy.
Many of my deep family relations are on both sides of this divide. I had relatives who were committed Marxists and committed Fascists and every other 'ist' under the sun. I have relatives who spent World War 2 hiding in caves to avoid the Nazis and others who volunteered to go to Russia or Eritrea to fight for Mussolini's army.
I love all these relatives even though I despise both of their ideologies. I have always felt that all of this was stupid and equally evil. I for one would not want my personal ideology tied to any group that ever operated deathcamps which Marxists and Nazis have done around the world.
In the end it is time for adherents of all ideologies, be they Roman Catholic, Marxist or anything else to be open to admitting the evil committed in their names and ask the question why? And not be afraid to admit that we do not have the answers.
Monday, October 15, 2007
It is like that great scene from an early Seventies Woody Allen movie where the tweedy academic verbosely expresses his opinions about Marshall Mc Cluen and even when faced with the actual person refuses to see how vapid is his analysis. Poetry has failed miserably at challenging political paradigms. Poets whose work is taken politically seriously are made to suffer consequences for their work. No American poets are in detention because they are not read by enough people.
Neruda, Akmatova, Vallejo, Avila and many other poets whose work called for political action or focused deep critique on their societies are few and far between. Readers of American poetry are often subjected to the ironic, hipster, or arrogantly intellectual and immediately the intellectual non-cognoscenti are excluded from the inside joke and the political challenge sinks under the weight of pomposity and ridiculous artifice.
When I first bought DeathStar/Rico-Chet by Judith Goldman I was ready to receive the kind of experience that I describe above. This book has all the fetishes of poetry that fills so many an MFAers existence. Beginning with the Blurbs which are so opaque and filled with poetspeak as to eliminate any chance that a non-poet will ever buy the book; to the dedication which seems to equate all sides as equally abused when this is frankly not the case. In entering this work something else happened that I was not prepared for… and it makes one wonder if the blurbs and dedication and other signposts are ways to lull the reader and get across another point?
The first ‘poem’ which is much closer to a Viktor Skhlovsky essay, uses collage and parataxis to bring together a work on a strange phrase “Office of Strategic Influence”. The last line of the section is “Is this Clever or Confused? 9” At this point I have not decided which it is but the use of collage so unabashedly refreshing and the density too is interesting as to make one want more from the book.
So much of contemporary poetry is either neo-formal crap or so long down the road to world salad that it is unreadable but here Goldman has taken collage and made it part of the work in a central way and caused the reader to want to continue to see what is the next bend or punch.
“Tragedy Unites: Scrapbooking a Tragedy That to remember the horrific events will be an intensely personal tragedy” This is clearly the most compelling line in the second poem Off White. This poem has it all Abe Lincoln, Joerg Haider (Austrian Nazi Apologist Politician) Mister Rogers and more and in this poem Goldman shows a virtuosity that I clearly did not expect. The fact that the poet seems to have read deeply is attractive and that she brings this to the work is a way that is not cheap or vapid draws in the reader.
The poem Case Sensitive is interesting but the work is filled with cross outs and font changes that make the work cluttered and dangerously close to parody. But then again when Goldman moves close to the postmodern ravine she pulls back and finishes strong. It would be easy to go down into the Post Languagey Ravine and stay there but Goldman does not do this again and again as if to say—“No. no, no, I am going somewhere else”
There are what you would expect from a poet of this style. There is the obligatory slam at Joseph Ratzinger and his few months in the German Army what this has to do with our current crop of petite Mussolinis is beyond me and there is also a large section of the Hamburg Line of ships and the Holocaust but strangely nothing about the Palestinians and their plight which gave us the fertile ground for the terrorism that now exists in the world.
There is also no mention of Lebanon and the destruction of that nation by American and Israeli foreign policy. This is odd since these issues are so central to Terrorism appeal and would fit into this critique well. There is also a complete lack of commentary on Islam that might have given this book even more texture but you cannot do everything and Goldman has clearly done allot here.
In the end DeathStar/Rico-Chet by Judith Goldman has flaws it sometimes gives into a kind of hipster Socialism that pervades much of After-Postmodern poetry in the USA. But if you spend most of your time in Berkeley or New York this is bound to happen. In spite of these weaknesses she does something that no book of poetry has done since 9/11; she indicts the Corporatist Junta that has been born out of the very real threat of reactionary terrorism. She takes the mask off the monster and makes us see the beast for what it is. She also does something that does hark back to the 1930’s she exposes the mass’s attraction to Corporatism which in another time drew people to Franco, Mussolini, Vargas, Salazar and Hitler.
I for one would put Goldman’s book right next to my copy of Eisenhower’s farewell address as being spot on about the reality of our current situation.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Columbus day and how it became a holiday is often lost and in these times of xenophobia and anti-immigrant feeling it is worth remembering. Columbus Day was first popularized beginning in 1866 among the Italian immigrants in San Francisco, in fact there is a Columbus Avenue that runs right through the Italian North Beach Neighborhood.
It is worth remembering that the same things that are said today about
Latin American immigrants was said about Italian Americans well into the last half of the 20th century. There was widespread racism and hatred of Italian Americans and all you have to do is look at the many Italian Americans who were lynched in New Orleans for racial reasons, Southern Illinois for labor involvement and of course the Sacco and Vanzetti trial to see how strong the racism was.
Many Italian Americans were forced to change their names and to disavow their identity because of this racism and yet hatred for European Immigrant groups is forgotten today- it is important to remember that the Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews and Slavs were hated in this country-- we were viewed as vermin and infestors of the society in the same way that Latin Americans are today and Columbus Day along with other holidays allowed us to show something of our culture to a hostile American nation.
So as an Italian American, who is married to a Latin American I celebrate the 12 of October not for who died or who were murdered by the Spanish but as a day to celebrate being an American, North, South or Central. The mixing of races and cultures that makes America from Alaska to the Tierra Del Fuego unique. I also celebrate the history of my people who left Italy poor and hungry and filled the US, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and many other nations with their best.
Whenever I hear the racists talking about the Latin American immigration to the US in a negative way I always have to remember that these immigrants are ME 40 years ago. That my 'whiteness' is fake and acquired and that there is no difference between us and to remember that we are one people.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Creeley in his humble New England way refused to speculate. The fact that Creeley died before he could win the Nobel Prize is one of the great tragedies of Literary History. Recently Charles Simic savaged Creeley in a New York Review of Books article which I have not yet read but Simic is not fit to hold Creeley's jock- nuff said.
So yesterday I am driving (actually sitting in traffic) on the way to work and listening to an interview with Nobel Prize winner Turkish Novelist Orhan Pamuk. I have always had a fascination with Anatolia and Istanbul and I have always loved Pamuk's books. Pamuk in many ways is the quintiessential Post Modern Writer. His work fuses old and ancient with new and contemporary in the same way that Phillip Johnson's architecture did when he was alive. Pamuk is the kind of writer that can assume other voices and make them his own.
During the Interview Pamuk spoke about going to his room and sitting writing for 8-10 hours a day. As a person who has to steal an hour to write from 330-430 AM each day I listened with amazement. Most poet's lives are filled with busyness because they cannot make a living at their artform. Most poets I know work full time jobs or teach in academia and so the 8-10 hour writing session is not possible.
This makes the output of many poets small. William Carlos Williams' entire poetic output is three 200 page volumes. Creeley's entire lifework is 1200 pages. It makes you wonder if poets had more time or our artform was marketable how much more poetry would be created? Many poets move into novels, Joyelle Mc Sweeney just came out with a novel as did Sherman Alexie.
If these poets have success as novelists will they return to the original artform or remain where the grass is greener??
I have always said that the difference between Fiction Writers and Poets is that Fiction writers are like cabinet makers they make something useful while Poets are like painters or sculptors the want to make you think and often they are dismissed because our society does not wish to think deeply.
In the end I enjoy Pamuk's work- and I am glad he won the Nobel Prize but the fact that Robert Creeley did not win the Nobel is one of the great injustices among many that befalls poets.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
It always seemed so fascile to me. Be it the Beats or the pace of life which is so slow or the lack of a hard edge California always seemed alien to me.
Some of the Poets I most admire, Robert Duncan for example are essentially California writers and I wish that Chicago- my hometown had the kind of literary infrastructure that San Francisco does. San Francisco has two of the greatest Chicago poets Paul Hoover and Maxine Chernoff as well as Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy...
I have been to San Francisco many times but over the past weekend I was able to steal a free Saturday afternoon and so I made a pilgrimage to City Lights Bookstore and then to Caffe Trieste. Lawrence Ferlinghetti's father is from the same valley as my mother, the Valle Sabbia north of Brescia and I also love Ferlinghetti because he nurtured Kerouac and Thomas Merton two writers that were important to me in my youth. I felt it a priority to spend some money there.
To be able for the first time to enter City Lights was a kind of pilgrimage to a great font of our poetic lives. I have to say that while it was a great thrill to go there and to buy Judith Goldman's new book of poetry DeathStar Rico-chet which I am enjoying and will review here shortly-- I could not get away from the feeling that all of this was artiface.
I have always been attracted to places with grit and edge; Rome, Sao Paulo, Chicago, New York, Istanbul and Hanoi. I have never been attracted to places like San Francisco which I put in the category with Florence, Rio, Hong Kong, St Petersburg and Sydney. All the cities in the second category are great cities as is San Francisco but they are places where polish is always over substance and where the hard and the broken are not seen.
I realize what I am writing is unfair. But it is just a sense of a place. San Francisco is a city of a sense. It would be impossible to write a book like Bellow's Augie March or any of Faulkner's books there but we did get cannery row out of San Francisco.... So I digress-- I guess I missed the red brick buildings and bungalows of Chicago when I was there and like an alien I was soothed to know that winter is coming and that my face will freeze soon and that is part of not living in San Francisco.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Sunday, September 23, 2007
"I want to pursue an intuition about the baroque as a mode of American poetry—a mode of early modernity particularly well adapted to a postmodern era which has seen an acceleration of the modern tendency to break down experience into fragments. It is peculiarly well-suited to a poetics of resistance—not in a nostalgic re-creation of some lost lifeworld, but through a radical materialism that paradoxically creates a new aperture for subjective, even spiritual, experience."
This is a quote from an essay on Actionyes (See link) by Joshua Corey who among many things is a neighbor here in Chicago and his essay-- caused me to want to blog on a Sunday morning when I should have been at Mass. The essay caused a flood of reactions and thoughts and since I am not a rational academic I just vomited my ideas on the page hoping for a discussion with my poetic betters........
The essay he wrote is provocative and needs to be addresses as the seminal work that it is in the debate on whether poetry can transform. To look towards it as a way to reconstruct the Passionate (in the Medieval Sense of the Passion Play) is worth spending volumes on. Joshua Corey has ripped open a wound in poetry here that needs to be filled with salt. Also- since Josh and I are neighbors I expect a call so we can argue and discuss in person.....
One of the problems with After-Postmodern poetry (Which I define as anything after Language Poetry) is that Passion is removed from the work and irony is the center of the work. A piece of art like the Ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila which I think is the Baroque's crowd symbol extraordinaire-- is impossible today because we have moved into a world of irony where art is to criticize but never to construct. The kind of sublime spiritual has appeared only in a few places in our times and mostly on the margins.
The Catholic Baroque was in fact a response to the rationalism of the Protestant Reformation. This debate between Passion and Reason is the key debate from Luther until Freud discovered the subconscious. Catholics do not have the luxury of deconstruction we dwell in a world of accumulation and layering. To remove one piece destroys the whole. Our age is more like the Radicals of Menno Simons who want to remove until we get to the bone....
When we look at a Neo-baroque project as a possible way out of the irony filled modes we live in today questions becomes vexing.
How do we avoid the Romantic Fascism that filled so much of 19th Century German Thought? (FICHTE for Example)
How do we reintroduce passion into an artform that has been cleansed of this sense for so long?
(and not be made fun of alla Charles Bernstein)
Much of the Modern and Post Modern world has been based in revolution versus a kind of reaction. So you have for Marxism which wants to base everything in the material and
Reaction which wished to hark back to an idealized past.... the results of all these ideas has been death... almost every tragedy in the 20th century was part of this debate,
Armenian Genocide, Spanish Civil War, Holocaust, Russian Revolution/Stalinism, WWI & II, Rwanda, Bosnia, Latin American Dirty Wars, and on and on are all based in Revanchist, Reaction, and Revolution.
How do we create poetry?? That matters that is political that is both open to real history and tradition and revolutionary at the same time?? Read this essay above and think about this does it work for us?? can we use this??? I am spending the day thinking about this.... so provoked...
"The work of these poets hints at a continuing role for both major modes of the baroque in our poetry—a dialectic of destruction and construction that keeps us in touch with the body of the word, and reminds us of the possibilities of spirit."
Friday, September 21, 2007
Of course in poetryland expressing a strong opinion is always suspect. For an opinionated person like me to express what I really feel about a poet or editor breaks the social contract of friends helping friends to write poetry that no one reads and has been written primarily for other poets. It destroys the great vanity exercise that so much of poetry has become and makes me into a jerk or worse yet gets me excluded from the social scene.
So I thought I would list ten things that make me Vomit just so I am clear with my so small blog audience- and I am clear while I am being commented on;
Vomit # 1 : I want to vomit when I have to endure poetry written about nothing but with technical skill that has been created simply for artifice.
Vomit #2: I want to vomit when poets who are independently wealthy pretend to be Marxists if there was revolution they would be the first to be executed.
Vomit #3: I want to vomit when Poets tell me how hard they work and they have an academic job at some cushy university. The real hard workers in academia are the adjuncts and lecturers.
Vomit #4: I want to vomit when presses that are vanity exercises continue to publish their friends and exclude new voices.
Vomit # 5 Once in my life I want to see a poet who does not have the pedigree getting published in a sexy journal? Where are the Jack Kerouac's, William Carlos Williams or James Baldwin's?
Vomit # 6 The complete lack of diversity of experience in poetry- where are the workers, mothers, doctors, and other poets who live life outside poetryland?
Vomit # 7 The refusal of poets to engage in politics and critique our system but the openness to remain parochial and stay within poetryland only.
Vomit # 8 The complete ignorance of the global poetry scene.
Vomit # 9 The fact that many poets read nothing but their own work or their friends where is the intellectual curiosity?
Vomit # 10 That poets do not create something new but rather want to copy others to get published by their friends.
These things make me want to vomit
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
On September 11th 2001 I had just finished a wonderful weekend with relative in Padenghe a fabulous town overlooking Lake Garda where my cousins live. It was a great day and I was in Milan making a presentation to a group of Italian leathergoods manufacturers. When we walked outside in front of the Duomo we saw on the video screens the burning towers. All I could think about was Traudi, my wife who worked in New York at that time and I could not get a hold of her. It took days to know what happened and it was very upsetting to think that she might be dead. As we were driving in the Car with my friend and agent Claudio Cottone I kept hearing the same Italian word Crollatto.
Collapse. It was a day that no one will forget.
That evening we had to go to Verona to make another presentation and we decided to go out to dinner. We had a great dinner --yet all was melancholy-- but if you have to eat anyway why not something good.
At the end of a fabulous dinner (Risotto with Funghi Porcini, Veal Chop with Radicchio and Funghi,Val Policella, Grappa, and Cafe) the owner came out of the kitchen and he looked at me and said "you may speak Italian with a Bresciano accent" which is my mother's region, "but you stand like an American" " then he said we are all Americans today-- I hope you enjoyed my food, don't worry about the bill, and then he said we will see each other again" And in the subtle Northern Italian way he affirmed me in a time of pain. A simple gesture that I will not forget.
I think that is was fitting that I would experience September 11th in the land of my Mother's family- a place so dear to me. So many people go to Italia and love the colored Italy of Tuscany or Naples but I like the working Italy of Brescia, Verona, Milan and Vicenza, the Italy of the hard nosed hardworking people of the North-- where kindnesses are genuine.
In the end that feeling from that dinner in Verona are from a time as remote as the Borgia Popes from today. George Bush decided that having the world respect and care for Americans would hurt his political chances and so he threw that all away. The America of the Marshall Plan, Berlin Airlift, Peace Corp and all the rest has been murdered by George Bush and his friends- we are now like every other empire but with a lost soul. When I go to Italia now I have to feel ashamed of our ignorance and stupidity and I pray that someday I will again have a feeling like the one I had from a genuinely kind man in Verona on September 11th 2001.
Friday, August 31, 2007
In the fall of 1985 I was a freshman at the University of Iowa and I read two books that changed my life. In many ways these books were tandem in history and they have always been in tandem for me as a poet and a person. It is the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road by Jack Kerouac and next year will be 6o years since the Publication of The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton.
Kerouac's work gets dismissed often today because it is such a male book. We have become a feminised literary scene where expressions of maleness are treated as odd or oppressive. There is nothing female about Kerouac and this has elicited negative responses but like Merton's book and the Confessions of St Augustine Kerouac's journey is one that is taken by a man into his soul and he comes out as a new creation. In reading Kerouac I realized that I could fuse my Catholic self with my poet self with my child of immigrants self and make myself something new.
While it might seem strange Thomas Merton is doing the same thing. Merton unlike Kerouac is fancy people. Child of intellectuals- bon vivant- who chooses the most austere order in the Catholic Church. His book the Seven Storey Mountain is viewed today as naive but in many ways it encapsulates a Catholic sense that comes out in other writers as diverse as Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. The romantic allure of ruined monasteries, Rome and monasticism that makes the hokus pocus of Catholicism seem romantic and real. Merton's book is again a male book but one where instead of going on the Road like Kerouac he goes into himself and contemplates.
As a 40 year old poet and professional I often go back to these books as pure mind candy. I have moved on from much of them but they remain lodestars for me and they allowed me to remain what I am a Catholic, a Poet and a questor. When I moved to South America these were two of the books I brought along and they sit with Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Guevara as the greatest inheritors of Augustine's Confessions as books of journey and questing for more than the ordinary.
Friday, August 17, 2007
I usually get up very early, like 330 AM I sit and breathe then I eat breakfast, I write, and then I work out . I am at my desk at 7 AM for work.
I have always been jealous of MFAer Pro Poets because they get so much free time. It is true that because I work in Business (I am Director of Events for a Business Publisher) I make allot more money than they do but time is always missing. I talked once to Ron Silliman about this he is another poet/business person and he feels that being outside of Po-Biz gives him more freedom I am not always sure that this is true.
I am always stealing time- like I am right now blogging- on airplanes or in hotel rooms or early in the morning to work on poetry or essays to remain engaged with the poetic and to listen for the still small voice and to create good work.
Mark Tardi always says that 'in the end the work will stand up or it wont. " I am not so sure about that? So many poets have either family money or academic insider status that their work is published more readily than work of others.
There is allot of great poetry out there but having the time to do the political work of po biz helps so much. How else does anyone explain Fence? A perfect example of the poetic dilettante magazine that caters to this world of MFAers, Pro-Poets and Biz Poets who are good at playing the game. Rebecca Wolf is a great marketer and I wish my company would hire her but as a poet/publisher not so much.
So time remains a constraint. I worked for my Dad for three years and I had allot more time to do stuff but most of it was the kind of Po Biz political stuff that really has nothing to do with poetry and much more to do with Socializing- I have ended this trend in my life. In the end I look at poets with whom I am friends who are committed to the Work of poetry and wonder why they are not recognized as readily and I wonder if the work really matters?
It is funny too because now that I own a book press people are NICER than before I get readings more easily and I get called for stuff but I doubt it is because of the WORK. In the end I wonder if those of us with less time on our hands are any less productive than the MFAer Pro Poets?
The Poet it seems in Capital Letters is dying. I look at the generation before me, Duncan, Notley, Silliman, Bernstein, and the Generation before that, Creeley, Olson, Waldman, and I wonder do any of us measure up to them? Find me a poet who is as good as Alice Notley? Or are we all made up phenomenons coming from Blogs and Websites? Who has the range of great poets from America's past, not even talking about non American poets who blow away our poetry easily.
I know who I like, Peter Gizzi is a master, Liz Willis too, Lisa Jarnot makes me proud to have been born in 1967, Chris Glomski makes me proud to have gone to Iowa with him at the same time even though we were not friends then, is their any poet more real than Joe Ahearn, Joshua Clover is a Villagevoiceesque poet but you know I cannot put his books down and I have come after much vomiting to love Joyelle Mc Sweeney's verseplay. I know that I have come to enjoy Simone Muench's tight lines and Mark Tardi's darkness-
Time- Time- Time
- if I only had more of it--- maybe I could get up at 2 AM??
Thursday, August 2, 2007
The Cubs, the embodiment of evil is the Postmodern World to paraphrase Ronald Reagan are in First Place. They seem to know how to play ball and for someone whose heart and blood in Black this is Purgatory.
In Chicago you can tell allot about a person on which baseball team they support. Cubs fans are attractive optimists, Sox fans are unattractive pessimists. Sox fans have anger under the surface, Cub fans have hope under the surface.
It separates us.
Quietly however I hope the Cubs win (while I will be rooting for their adversaries at every chance) because I am tired of the of the HBO specials and the celebrities and that aweful GO CUBS GO Song that makes me want to vomit. The loveable loser thing is disgusting and makes this White Sox fan sick.
In the end there are a few Cubs fans I respect- Like Mark Tardi and you have to respect a Southside Cubs fan; but in the end some of my deepest sports joys have come at the Cubs expense, Bartman, 1984 against the Padres (Still have my Padres Hat) it is pure joy for me but it is less joyful because I know what a World Series Champion feels like and maybe-just maybe Mark ought to have that pleasure once in his life as well....
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
I have been fortunate to know many great intellectuals, Brian Clements, Robert Creeley, Simone Muench, and Elizabeth Willis and what makes these people different from us mere mortals is that their minds are vexed and question while remaining open to what could be.
I was watching recently a show on Mark Rothko and here again do we see this openness. It is this openness that challenges and also causes revilement from the society. Our society hates thinkers we love money men and in the end we
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
The other night went to a reading at a really cool loft- lina vitkauskas read- she is so great a real poet's poet. before her some blonde woman read some syrupy-didactic poetry- it was dreadfully banal the kind of soft mushy liberal poetry that I hate with no snap and no tension just sweet mushy bread pudding. Get thee to a workshop immediately!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I was thinking about what she said however about "peace" and "love" (YUK) and I kept thinking that is really not what America is about. America is about violently creative people who are self destructive and who in the end force our society to change. Violence not Peace is what has made America, America.
This is central to our national character. Think about it- Faulkner, Hemingway, Pollock, Plath, Sexton, Merton, Dean, Brando, and on and on they represent a violent self destruction that makes America- America.
Got some Brazilian relatives staying with me this month and I always like to compare Brazil with the USA. Both big countries with histories of slavery and immigration. Brazilians are huge nationalists like Americans but the difference is the creative violence. There is lots of senseless violence in both the USA and Brazil- but creative violence is really an American thing.
It is not PC today to talk this way- most of our academic types have bought into a kind of mediocre multi-culturalism that thinks about feelings and forgets about deep meaning. But would you rather go in your bed? Or in a speeding car like Jackson Pollock- 200% alive?