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?