Sunday, December 21, 2008

Marathon Reading at MLA San Francisco

Bulleted List

Poetry readings are like attending Sunday Mass. You attend out of obligation and hope for grace. The grace received from a poetry reading helps you move up in the purgatory that is poetry and hopefully up to a place of respect. If you are not invited to read then your ego takes a hit and you feel that you are wasting your time with poetry and you are not part of the 'in' crowd. But like a good Catholic your continue to go to the waters and hope for Grace.

Last year the MLA (modern language association) was in Chicago and Patrick Durgin and Robert Archembeau organized a marathon reading of40 poets two minutes each. The reading was kind of like speed dating. The lineup was wonderful- Barrett Watten (Homo Tweedius Poeticus), Kevin Killian (Homo Radicalus), Harryette Mullen (Homo Marvelousus) and big fat me with this company of bards;(over 40) on and on. But after about 20 minutes all the poetry kind of ran together as one big noise.

Marathon readings are not for the attendees. Marathon readings are communal exercises like going to Mass. Those who are in communion are invited to read and the communal song, like the daily office or the liturgy is conducted and grace is spread around. I have been in many marathon readings. One in Texas during AWP a few years ago went on for hours as we read outside with a nightstand as our only light in a back yard of a bar- I am sure that this year at AWP here in Chicago there will be a cacophony of readings. I am not demeaning the reading but for what purpose does a reading with 30 or 40 poets serve. When I lived in Dallas we did marathon readings for fund raising- these I understand- but who except for our loved ones really sits through a marathon of 30 poets?

During AWP 2004 in Chicago Kerri Sonnenberg did it right at her late Discrete Series. She had two nights 8 poets each night with breaks. The readers were stellar, Jen Hofer, Charles Bernstein, Pierre Joris, Cole Swenson and many more. The readings were a real celebration of the artform without the rush of 30 poets in two hours.

Having written my critique I hope you all go to the SPD Marathon in San Francisco. The reality is that SPD is sponsoring it and they need all the help they can get in this economy. But, I wonder what is the future of the reading? A few years ago the reading started to revive poetry but now in the age of the ipod and internet does the reading have a future as more than a vanity exercise?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Theotokos and Me

The Council of Ephesus held in 431 proclaimed that Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos). The council proclaimed this canon at the urging of a virgin empress, Pulcharia. Ephesus is a city of Goddess worship. For thousands of years the city held the largest shrine to Artemis (Diana) in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor was the birthplace of Goddess Worship.

So the Bishops replaced the name Artemis with Mary and converted the Temple into Mary's shrine. It is also believed that Mary died and ascended into Heaven from Ephesus and until 1923 when the Christians of Ephes the current city were expelled they celebrated this fact. That is five thousand years of Goddess worship in one place. I think that Mary is happy about this worship.

This week Playboy magazine 'apologized' for publishing and issue in Mexico which garbed a nude model as the Virgin and then 'apologized' after selling thousands of Magazines. Amid all the puritan outrage I have to say what is it about the Virgin, the Mother of God, (and another 200 names that were once used for the Goddess) that so motivates protection?

I do not think that Mary really cares and Playboy is read by old men who should know better anyway. I am sure that all the other sexism is Mexico is still there and maybe they should get outraged about that?? Mary was a young pregnant refugee and she became the object of Cathedrals there is something miraculous about that- something that a few girly pictures cannot hurt.

I have always loved the fact that in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity paganism is right below the surface. I have lived in many Catholic places where Mary and the local goddess (Pachamama, Yemanja or others) are melded into an wonderful organic mix of pagan and Christian and I am sure that Mary the Mother of God does not care about this melding. This melding is what makes us human and I think it connects us to thousands of years; back to those cave painting in France and the small art pieces made by the first Americans and it makes us human.

I have never understood the need to strip away these paganism and look for some pure religion. Even the Jews had to steal monotheism from Pharoah Akhenaten in the end. It is one big river and we are all flowing in it. Also, what could possibly be uglier than a modern mega church?

These austere stadiums with no mystery and no sensuality- this is vulgar and disgusting.

Compare those places to the great pagan Cathedrals like Chartres and then tell me where God dwells. I think he dwells in great beauty and does not care if you are born again out loud all frothing at the mouth- God just desires that you have a true Metanoia in your soul a real change of heart a real transformation that you are changed by the fact that God is with us and is one of us.

Good old fashioned paganism is ok with me and knowing that the Goddess whatever she is called has been praised for 5000 years gives me solace. So when you see an Icon of Mary, you know the one with the globe and the snake and the blue and white just remember that Artemis and Cybele were portrayed the same way and that it is in fact natural.

My people from northern Italy have been praying to the Goddess and various Gods forever. They carved their rock carvings in Val Camonica before Abraham, before Moses and Before Jesus and it is their blood and history that flows in my veins. I am a Catholic but I am also part of all of that and it is all valid and it is all organic to who we are a humans.

I celebrate the Incarnation, the bearing of God a live human being this week I continue a story that is older than I know and I keep a tradition alive- the one where God inseminates a woman- and creates something new yet also eternal.

That is what Christmas is about-- God with us-- God entering us and making us whole and new again.

God with Us


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas is a Week Away

Christmas is a week away and the economy continues
to decline.
Detroit's newspapers no longer deliver daily
Hundreds of formerly rich people have lost everything because of the Madoff scandal.
President Obama is still in Chicago.
There are presently no southerners in Pres Obama's cabinet- it is nice to have a president who does not have to pretend to like NASCAR and sweet tea- Fuck the South.
It has been said that there are too many Chicagoans in the cabinet- again I say Fuck em. It is about time.
They are rioting in Greece but for what reason i do not know.
There is a hot rock band from Saudi Arabia of four young women but no one can see their faces because of fear- when are we going to tell Islamic Fundamentalists to Fuck Themselves?
Job anxiety is everywhere but I hope the Republic Windows and Doors occupation results in something better- Job action not Job Anxiety.
Las Vegas is falling apart from the recession....
2008 is over and we have a new president
The Rio Pact countries met in Brazil this week and excluded the United States but included Cuba.
Gas is 1.66 a gallon in chicago
It snowed again
I am tired of wearing boots

Friday, December 12, 2008

Herbert Hoover Territory

Yesterday in a closed door meeting with Senators, VP Dick Cheney said
that voting down the auto bailout would put the Republicans at risk of being in Herbert Hoover Territory. That is remembered for disemboweling the American Economy and pushing our nation into a Depression.

I watched with the rest of the nation as Senators Shelby (in the pay of foreign auto makers) Senator Vitters (of Brothel Fame) and Senators from around the South demanded that the UAW give up wages for existing workers and that the UAW cut off the millions of retirees who depend on pensions and health care from that contract.

They insisted that American automakers operate under the 'same rules' as the foreign plants in their states. It is interesting to me that their hypocrisy is not exposed. Here are the realities of the foreign plants in the USA:
  • These companies are all from nations that have national health insurance paid by taxes in their own home countries. The result is that unlike American companies they have no legacy costs.
  • These companies all receive support in terms of training and retooling in their domestic plants from their home governments freeing up money to expand globally.
  • These companies also do not have to exist in the USA under that VAT tax system in their own countries and most pay little or no taxes here.
  • These companies all received huge government subsidies from Southern States to locate there plants there.

The reality is that American companies receive none of these benefits. These American companies have had to compete for years with Japanese and European and now Chinese car makers that get all kinds of perks from their home nations. We have done nothing for our domestic industries.

That is the reason that Japan and Germany both nations that approach our standard of living still make large amounts of money from exports of cars, machinery and technical goods and America's industries are dying or dead. This is not to exonerate the automakers of their guilt but why is it that Southern Senators who are in the pay of these foreign companies can be allowed to destroy the domestic, American owned auto industry?

Why is it that these rapid anti-Union hating senators can demand that American workers see years of wage gains lost but we make no demands on foreign companies that benefit from our markets? Because it is not about money it is about a failed ideology, Neo Liberal Economics and even now in the face of Obama's ascent they will not stop their assault on the Middle Class.

The fact is that I do not come from a Union household in fact my family has always been ambivalent about Unions. But as someone who has worked globally my entire career it is unacceptable that we let foreign companies receive subsidy from their governments which I have seen with my own eyes- and yet it is considered "good" and "just" to let millions of Americans lose their jobs for some crazy idea that free markets and Social Darwinism are just.

Senator Jim DeMint said that if we bail out the auto industry their would be riots in his region.

Riots, huh?

Why is it that there is money for subsidizing water, power, roads, foreign auto plants, Wall Street Banks, in the South but there is nothing to save the economy in the Midwest and there has not been for 30 years?

It is because of an agenda that views educated, hard working, Union members as something less and views my region of the country as passe because we make things and do not push paper around.

I will say this to Senator Vitter of Louisiana imagine what your state would look like without bailouts? There would be nothing, no power, no roads no ports, yet for the Midwest there is a collective F-You- I don't see why we cannot get our tax dollars back that built everything down there?

Or would that be Socialism?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent--- Chicago 2008

We don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent--

There are pluses and minuses to Chicago's System. The minuses are the fact that everything is for sale and that we suffer under a strong corruption tax. The minuses are that because everything is for sale and corrupt and we are all cynical but I am not sure that those of us who live in Chicago want to change the culture?

There is a comfort in the fact that things can be fixed. In comparison to cities that have strong good government traditions like New York or Minneapolis Chicago gets things done while those cities dither. 8 years after 9/11 nothing has been completed in New York. In less than 4 years the Chicago Trump Tower (95 Floors) is completed. Chicago's streets are clean and services work and in New York it is a mess. The Chicago way is smashing and burley and tough and we like it that way.

The fact is that President Obama, like Adlai Stevenson and Paul Douglas has avoided the taint but he is like those other reformers of Chicago and the strong right hand. Having said that what Governor Blago did was new low. He is the king of the boodlers. We all pretend to be appalled. But this is the city of the Black Sox Scandal, Al Capone and Greylord.

The fact is that people here are ashamed of Blago because he got caught no one wants some liberal do gooder cleaning the streets we prefer the strong right hand and the tough guy be he Harold Washington or Richard j Daley. This culture gave birth to great chroniclers as well.How could Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel or Mike Royko have written in another city?

We are a city of toughness and corruption. When has this not been true? The first urban riot in American history the Lager Beer Riots of the 1840's was a riot against 'clean government' and prohibiting beer sales. Chicago likes its politics like its hotdogs full of fixings. The Chicago way is unique and corrupt. Now the whole world knows how we do our business and we sit a little ashamed- but when the lights go off to Washington-- we will return to our mantra....We don't want nobody nobody sent---

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Republic Windows and Door Protest Matters

There was a time in the United States when people worked at one company for their entire careers. Workers made things and managers sold them and people bought houses and lived middle class lives and the country prospered. Workers had pensions and healthcare and their kids went to college and life got better.

The America of that time has been systematically dismantled. Over the past thirty years the Conservative movement decided that if solidarity and stability were allowed to become institutionalized conditions in the United States that we would go down the road of European Socialism. In Europe there are laws regarding severance, vacations and workers rights. The conservative movement saw this happening here in the 1960's and so they created an idea to undermine this reality.

The idea is that what Americans really want is to have their own small businesses and control 'their own destiny' un encumbered by the state or workers rights laws. An entire philosophy was created to explain why Unions, National Health Insurance, Severance Laws, Low Cost College Tuition and Mass Transit were bad.

Moving your factory or business to the south where you can break unions or better to Mexico or China was good. National Health Insurance is bad because it takes away choice. National Health Insurance is bad for Conservatives because it controls costs and huge health care companies want to make as much money as possible. Mass transit is bad because you want people to think of themselves as individuals not as part of a group. Unions are bad because they drive up wages so what you do is keep wages stagnant but give people credit so that they do no have freedom and they use their credit to make up for the fact that they have not seen their wages rise.

The Conservative's goal was to spread the idea that we were individuals and that we all have a chance to be 'rich' someday. Why should we give our tax dollars for projects that benefit everyone? We are a society of rugged individualists not a community. If you dont succeed it is your own fault and we owe nothing to each other.

The dream of the Conservatives also came with a deep desire to destroy Social Security- the program that challenges their philosophy to its core. Since they could not destroy Social Security they created the 401K and they attacked pensions making them obsolete.

So a whole generation came to believe that if they put money into their 401k's and got alot of credit that they could parlay their home's growing value unto a nice retirement and a good life.
It appeared tht the Conservative philosophy had won. New cities built on this philosophy like Atlanta, Dallas, Charlotte, and Houston . While major older cities like Chicago and New York were doing ok, other cities like Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit were descimated. But of course the reason for their demise was the greedy unions and their bloated benefits. All seemed right with the world. The Europeans were laughed at as slow growing welfare states. They made fun of the fact that women in France get government help with maternity leave and help at home and money payments to raise their own children. We had our .com boom and then our housing boom. Our economy was filled with millionaires, on paper, and we all were buying huge homes in the suburbs. Unions and Solidarity and Community were quaint old notions while innovation and entrepenural capitalism became central to our society.

Then the house of cards collapsed. It turned out that all of it was a lie to funnel money to the top and it was a drug that kept the average citizen dumb and happy. Unlike the Europeans who have a safety net where workers know that if they lose a job they have a certain amount of severance and national health care when Americans lose their jobs they get nothing. Uncertainty set in and the whole think began to unravel. People stopped spending money and the circle of confidence ended.

While the US invested in Wall Street workers paid them millions to move paper around other nations especially in Asia and Europe invested in infrastructure and manufacturing. The leading exporter in the world by value of products is Germany not China. After all the money and all the leveraged buy outs and all the downsizing America is weaker and our people have no confidence in their financial safety.

So now what about Republic Windows and Doors here in Chicago? 200 mostly Mexican American workers are demanding that they receive their severance and vacation pay and prescribed by law. A lender the Bank of America cut off credit to the company but yet recieved tens of millions of tax payer money.

The workers did something that I think will be as important for the American Labor movement as the sit down strike in Flint in the 1930's or the Haymarket Square Riot of the 1890's they refused to go away. They occupied the factory and refused to be ignored. They said we refuse to be ignored and we want justice, imagine Justice in the America of Rugged Individualists?

For 40 years American workers have been ignored. When the cities of Flint, Michigan, Newark New Jersey, Gary, Indiana and Galesburg, Illinois were allowed to collapse with no help from anyone no one really cared about all those workers. And instead of protesting and refusing to be ignored the workers moved away or took less or went to work at Wal Mart because they did not want to be a 'burden' on anyone. They did not protest.

The Workers at Republic refused to do this and they have set a marker for other workers. The ideas of Milton Freedman, Ludwig Von Mises, and Arthur Laffer are as dead as the ideas of Leon Trotsky.

Where do we go from here?

President Obama, your move.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Poetry Readings in the White House?

President Obama announced today that he wants to bring culture back to the White House. He specially mentioned Poetry Readings.
What kinds of poets will President Obama invite?
I would be interested in knowing what my fellow poets think should be the poets invited?
Here are my choices for the first reading;
Alice Notley, Mark Nowak, Peter Gizzi, Harryette Mullen
Tell me who you want to read at the White House

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Over the past few months my life has become filled with anxiety with the economy. I have watched as friends and colleagues have lost their jobs and then watched as few of them have found work. We are entering a new and mean world and that world makes much of what I see in poetry less than serious in contrast. It is hard for me to concentrate.

It seems to me that this is an axial time in history while I am happy about Barack Obama's victory it seems to me that he is swimming against a tidal wave. I see it in business no one is buying anything and no one is interested in investing. The trickle down effects are evident everywhere.

I keep wondering about the past few years. The Internet and Housing Bubbles, the outsourcing of jobs to Asia and Latin America, the war in Iraq and 9/11. Seems clear to me that powerful forces are making decisions that are hurting literally billions of people and no one has any say over those decisions.

Michael Moore was on TV last night and he said something profound. When the bankers and money people came to congress they were helped immediately, when the Auto industry came for help they were chastised. Sure the auto guys made mistakes but worse mistakes than Goldman Sachs? The fact as Moore put it the auto guys make things. Their workers are not suit wearing elites from New York and Chicago and Charlotte they are working people and those people do not matter in America.

As we go into Christmas I see the anxiety everywhere. The fear of loss and losing everything. I see in my own family retired people watching their life's savings go up in smoke. A recent New York Times article said that within 10 years college will be so expensive that no one who is middle class could afford it anymore. It makes me want to scream "stop" and ask why?

The reasons are simple really. The elite's will always get what they want because they have power. The rest of us will pay for that power. The guys on Wall Street may be losing billions but they are all still very rich- when US Steel lays off workers they take away their pensions and severance and those workers lose everything.

I hope that President Obama remembers the regular people and I hope he understands what is happening to the country and the world. The new world order is here and it looks allot like the 1930's. I do not know what the solution is to this problem but what I do know is that many people I know will never have the lives they once had.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Jack Spicer's Collected Poetry

Buy the Book

I was first introduced to Jack Spicer and his poetry when I was involved with the Synthetic Poets of Dallas, Texas in the late 1990's. My compatriots had been influenced by him so I read him and was not moved at that time. I am a thick and sometimes stupid person-but Spicer's work is in many ways more like a slow virus than a major epidemic and I became very sick with the virus.

As one grows as a poet or person the work slowly breaks down the rocks and creates a new canyon. In "My Vocabulary did this to Me" the Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer from Wesleyan University press two poets, of equal import to Spicer, Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian delve into this man's seminal work and give us something that is rare in poetry today, a sense of the poet as revolutionary and conservator at the same time. Spicer like Gizzi and Blaser are forging new landscapes and this book does much for our understanding of the monument of the work.

There is something very Gnostic about Spicer and his friends Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser. In many ways these poets are Seminal in the original use of the word. Seminal comes from semen and the Gnostic orgiastic ritual where in the purity of that sexual ejaculation was viewed as the way to return to the Divine and bypass the Earthy Demiurge. In many ways Spicer is of this mentality he helps us to bypass the Demiurge and return to poetic divinity.

There are many great poems in this book. One of my favorites is They Murdered You: An Elegy on the Death of Kenneth Rexroth. I am a huge Rexroth fan and so when I first found this poem I read it out of my affection for Rexroth but this poem is so much more than a tribute.

"I will never again climb a mountain, read St. Augustine or go to bed with a woman"

Without wishing you were there Kenneth Rexroth"

In this poem Spicer both critiques and lauds Rexroth and he also encapsulates a poet's life his Obra in a short poem. He brings together poetry, jazz and religion "Each of whose tones perfectly overlays the other" And Spicer goes on to laud and critique Rexroth and his political verse and in the end he defines influence and image and makes us see both what Spicer views as his ultimate concern and his gratitude to an older poet.

Later in the Collected Works they give us Golem from 1962. His poem begins October 1, 1962 with the Dodger Giant playoff for the National League pennant. The first stanza is all about baseball the second is a devastating critique of early 1960's middle class ness. the fourth stanza however is something worthy of Plato or Augustine;


Everything is fixed to a point.
The death of a poet or a poem is
fixed to a point. This House, that
Bank Account, this Piece of paper
on the floor. That Light that shines
there instead of elsewhere.
Appealing to the better nature of
things. Inventing Angels.
Inventing angels. The light that
that light shone shone there
instead of elsewhere. Each
corner of the room fixed in
an angle to itself.
The death of a poet or a poem or
a piece of paper, Things
Fix themselves.

In this stanza Spicer ascends to a poetic depth that is not normally found in the American idiom. There are few poets who have written in our nation's poetic life who can get away with what Spicer did and be taken seriously. Spicer does this without flinching.

What is amazing about Spicer and this is also true for Williams is that their collected works are so small. Williams for example is less than a 1000 pages including Paterson. Spicer is perhaps 1500 pages. Yet his influence along with Robin Blaser and Robert Duncan continue to enlighten things. It is not the quantity but the quality of the work that is evident here.

The sense of the Gnostic in these poets was illustrated well in a book by Peter O'Leary The Gnostic Contagion but it is in reading the actual work that this neo-Gnosticism comes to the forefront. Spicer has been viewed along with Duncan, Blaser and Creeley as proto-Language poets. They are the Austrolopithicines of the Language revolution of the 1970's and this might be true but I think more so Spicer and his SF Rennaissance friends are the culmination of a great tradition of heroic poetry.

From this peak the break down of the work caused new stones to be created and among these is Language Poetry but the work here is more is heroic and seminal in a Gnostic way.
Gizzi and Blaser have created a great valedictory for Spicer and we can hope that Lisa Jarnot's long awaited biography of Robert Duncan will do the same for his work.

In the end though these San Francisco Renaissance poets and Spicer's work in this book are towering as to make much of the poetry we are all writing seem like broken shards to their great marble masterpieces.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The End of American Dominance

The National Intelligence Council has published a report about the end of American dominance within the next 20 years. Of course from where I sit- I feel like I am watching this decline before my eyes. It appears that the great house of cards has fallen and now we need to ask ourselves questions.

I have been impolitic and perhaps a little bit too irascible over the past couple of posts. The fact is however that the separation and lack of engagement with the seething mass of people by most poets bothers me. I look at a poet like Whitman and I wonder who cares now about real people.

When pundits say that President Obama is going to be like FDR and we need new New Deal. Lets hope that President Obama is as wise as Franklin Roosevelt. Because we need it...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Inside Jokes, Giggles and Self Absorbed Poets

Near to my mother's hometown is the Vittoriale of Gabrielle D'Annunzio. In many ways the Vittoriale is the kind of house a poet would design it bears all the narcissism that is so much a part of our art form.

The home has everything original folios of Dante and Shakespeare, Marble reliefs of the greatest italian poems. A bathroom that is to say the least poetic and a battleship jutting out
of a mountain.

As a small child I would go the Vittoriale with my Grandparents we would make a day of it lunch, Gelato, Vittorale, Nap.

In Italy poets, even Fascists like D'Annunzio are held in high esteem. When I Published my first book of poems that was a moment of pride in our house. Being an artists was something to be respected. In the valley where my mother is from artists and poets can get a free ride and their lives are allowed to unfold as they see fit. It helps being in one of the world's most beautiful places as well.

I often think about D'Annunzio and his narcissism when I am at poetry readings. How many poetry readings have I sat through where inside jokes and giggles are the norm. I have sat through work that is just filled with self absorb ion and giggles. I wrote earlier this month that I thought that the reason for Flarf and also Ironic Poetic is now in question because of the election of Barack Obama as president. I also questioned the validity of the Obscurist trend that is embodied by a couple of poets here in Chicago but is part of our larger poetic reality. I was excoriated for these comments both on line and in emails to my personal account- I especially like being excoriated because I know that I have hit a nerve which means people are thinking.

I have stopped going to many poetry readings. The reason is that there is so much 'inside' baseball. I have sat through Flarf readings where everyone sits there-trying to understand and a small group sits in the corner and giggles at the insider jokes. I have sat through readings where the poet has to explain that he/she is using this source material from a 9th Century Zen Koan rather than letting the world speak for itself. I go back to what Mark Tardi said to me once that the work will stand or fall on its own merit no matter how obscure or 'clever' you make it.

As we move into a new age- and I do believe that it is a new age-we see global forces redefining what we are to be. I recently read the new issue of Sibila a Brazilian on line magazine published by Regis Bonvicino. He wrote a mostly laudatory essay about Obama. But just a year or so ago he and Charles Bernstein while in Brazil wore Abu Graib inspired hoods to a poetry reading. They used that tragedy as a backdrop to their poetry. This was an easy way of appearing provocative but what now? Bonvicino and Bernstein used our national political tragedy as a vehicle to contextualize their poetry and to appear cutting edge. This is what poets should be doing but what do poets do now?

In a response to an earlier blog post Dave Pavilich (I think it was Dave) wrote that really nothing has changed and that during the Kennedy Administration other bad things happened. He also defended the obscurist tendencies of some poets. But is poetry to always be inside baseball? Is it always to be some rarefied conversation between MFA's and other smarty pants? OF course the poets who dwell in the obscure are there for a reason that is where they can matter. But shouldn't poets try to do more?

I think about Vallejo politically active, intellectually curious, poetically spectacular. There is a poetic that really speaks on many levels to a time and place. Does the poetry we have created do this? Shouldn't we ask it to do more than be an insider club or a marginal retreat for academics and sycophants?

As a person who works in business rather than academia I see what is happening around our nation clearly. Companies are firing people, money is drying up, people are losing their homes, we are a nation filled with uncertainty. I do not know if irony and inside baseball gigglefests are what we need now? I do not know if poetry that is about obscurity is where we need to be?

I keep going back to older work. I look at poems like Mauberley and the Wasteland or even Patterson and I see depth and texture. I see poems about something and I see poems that are teasing out the sense of a time and place. I think that techniques like Flarf are interesting just as Language writing is interesting but I keep asking myself is this what we need now? Is cleverness and insider poetry what needs to be written?

Or should we be about more?

So much poetry now is written for the margins because it is in these micro communities that a modicum of success can be achieved by a poet. Look at the SPD catalogue lots of communities are represented but where is the working class writing, and where is the world writing?

Does anyone in the academy care about the working class? Studs Terkel just died two weeks ago would SPD have a section for someone like him? Does anyone is poetry really care about in the words of Kenneth Rexroth getting their nose in the armpits of the people?

So I guess again I bellow from my fat belly and ask does any of this matter?

As I spend time with old literary friends mostly for solace; Rexroth, Sorrentino, Augustine, Williams, & Vallejo. I continue to look amid our current poets for this kind of depth and texture.

Is poetry just about our own narcissism? Or is there more to be written? What happens when the nation and the world continues to go into a deep economic downturn?

Do we continue to giggle at our own cleverness?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama's America the Death of Irony and Mediocrity

Josh Corey- mentioned a recent post of mine about
Obama and the end of irony in our poetics. What I think is a deeper question is that poetry and poetics have been dominated by two tendencies in recent years- fascileness and a fixation on the obscure.

The fascileness in poetry is embodied by the Flarfists and other nonsense poetry that substitutes chance for craft. Chance of course is a great tool in art. I for one am a huge fan of Jackson Pollock and much of drip painting for example began in chance and it has grown into great art. But having said that you do not get great craft from chance.
It is hard for example when looking at a great piece of architecture to separate the craft of the work from the form. Many times in poetry there is an elitism which simply removes so much of the potential audience as to make the work a secret of the know club rather than art or even communication.

Another fixation is on the obscure. We have a large school of Obscurists here in Chicago. Poets like Peter O'Leary and John Tipton who are great at Craft. These are good examples of Obscurists poetry. They tend to be elitists and are drawn to very peculiar minutiae as fonts of the work. O'Leary for example will use medieval Byzantine monastic tropes, Tipton will re translate Ajax and so the poetry instead of being nonsense like Flarf and instead of being left to chance is very controlled. The control however protects the poet from engaging with the world as it is- rather the poet constructs his/her cathedral and dwells in it in a kind of sacred mystery.

So why do these two tendencies present a problem for poetry as we move into an age where irony is challenged?
I am convinced that many poets retreat into obscurity or fascileness because they are insecure with their place in our society. During the Bush era it was easy to think of oneself as John the Baptist or St Simon of the Pillar standing against the barbarians. But in the age of Obama how does a poet do this and remain a prophet and not a frothing at the mouth lunatic? The problem is that poetry is filled with people who have peculiar gifts. Most poets are not in the business of big things and we are woefully low on poets with big projects. The result of this is that poets retreat into obscurity or fascileness because it is easier than engaging with the world.

So Obama presents for poets a challenge. We are already marginal --but does poetry as an artform want its innovative and experimental self to become anachronistic? I have argued for a long time that poetry needs to reach out to the greater world of poetry for answers. Even a nonsense/ironist poet like Charles Bernstein has done this with his great interaction and work with the Brazilian poet Regis Bonvicino.

Having said this I think that it is time for poetry- especially of the experimental variety to move out of the shadows into the light. I think that best model for this type of poetics is a place like Brazil. In Brazil most poets are engaged in a greater dialogue with their society. There are fewer readers of poetry in Brazil than there are here in the USA but many of the poets are about big things.

I just translated RETRATO TOTÊMICO DE CLAUDE LÉVI-STRAUSS by the Brazilian poet Sergio Medeiros. In this work Medeiros weaves Strauss, Scriabin and Ives into a work that has challenged silences. None of these subjects are particularly Brazilian but the work itself harkens back to not only Iberian writing but to Guarani and the Jesuit reductions in its complexity. (the work will appear in the next issue of the magazine Mandorla) When I look at the work that some of these Brazilian poets are doing- with its depth and layering I think this is where poetry in the USA must go.

We must move away from a poetry of shallowness. I would use poets like Duncan, Olson and Creeley as models but also the linguistic strength of a poet like Stein would do as well. We cannot as an artform remain in this world of throw away poetry and throw away opportunities. The moment we are in with a new president and a new age before us offers as chance to open dialogue with global poets and also to our past. A past not without irony but also a future with a big project.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What Has Changed... 1928-1968, 1968-2008

Before 1928 no Roman Catholic had ever run for President. The nomination of Alfred E Smith
the Governor of New York ushered in a new America. The America of White Ethnics, Catholics, Jews and Labor Unions.

There would never have been FDR without Alfred E Smith. Most Americans today do not know who Smith was but he was essential to the America that came later. Before Smith most progressives came from the country like William Jennings Bryan after Smith they came from places like New York and Chicago.

From Smith's nomination until August of 1968, forty years the New Deal coalition of Catholics, Jews, Working Class Workers, Poor Southerners, Blacks and Intellectuals dominated American politics. On the streets of Grant Park that coalition was destroyed. Southerners and most Catholics left the Democrats and for the next 40 years they voted for Republicans. The Nixon-Reagan coalition was almost unbeatable.

Alfred E Smith was done in by bigotry and hatred of Catholics. The Republican coalition was done in by the Bigotry of the Republicans toward immigrants somewhere Al Smith is smiling.
It has been discovered that a huge amount of Hispanic and other Immigrants and their families voted for Barack Obama. The hatred of Immigrants by the Republicans and their allies has created a new coalition. One that Al Smith would recognize and feel right at home in again.

On Tuesday a new coalition was born. Barack Obama, African, Irish, son of immigrants, Chicagoan, Hawaiian, has created a new world. In many way Obama has done another thing he has made it impossible to demonize people for their skin color in national elections and for this he is a world changer.

Silvio Berlusconi the president of Italy made a racist remark about Obama being tanned. While 'the knight' is a moron he does embody a kind of bigotry that is rampant in many places where culture is equated with race. (Europe, China, Japan, Korea other places). My family comes from the north of Italy in Brescia and in the little town where my mom is from a person like Barack Obama is very alien. In Chicago my hometown in America Barack Obama is our favorite son.

That says something about America doesn't it?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Poets and Poetry in the Age of Obama

I have been thinking alot about poets and poetry in the face of what an Obama presidency means over the past couple of days. For most of the past forty years poets could default to the counter cultural because of the political realities of the United States. Poets could retreat into a corner with other poets and create complete poetry worlds insulated from the big bad world. Poetry has become almost like Kabbalah or Scrabble rather than a grand art form. Either a secret practice or a odd craft.

It has been an easy default for poets to exist as ironic cynics who live juxtaposed against the corporatism and conservatism of the past 40 years. In fact if you look at poets who have built much of their street cred around irony and cynicism (Charles Bernstein comes to mind) a sense that their work is dated and anachronistic in light of new realities becomes a real question. How do we read the Girly Man poems with Barack Obama in the White House? It almost seems as out of date as reading poems about Mc Carthyism.

It is not that we are entering the sacred Millennium with Obama but what we are entering is an age where many of our values as poets are embodied in our President. I go back to an earlier post where I talk about Obama being a member of Seminary Co-op here in Chicago. Obama is a serious reader and is more intelligent than most poets I know- this could not be said for Bush or Clinton. Where do we as poets position ourselves how can we be social critics when the President embodies much of what we desire for America? Where do we find our edge? Do we move into the kind of navel viewing that so many poets prefer? Do we retreat into the academy as so many poets are wont to do? How do we engage now with a new and better world where our irony and cynicism don't really compute?

One of the things that has embodied so much of contemporary poetry is a focus on irony and cynicism. You see this in so many poets today the irony of Flarf or the hip poet writing of many young women poets even the crypto marxism of Language poetry. The reality of this poetic sense is that you can live life as a kind of drive by shooting where you leave your slugs in society and drive off to your next kill. Since none of us have ever had a president with whom we believed (In the way Americans believed in JFK or FDR) how do we now relate? Do many of our poetic projects become redundant and in need of revision?

I think that it is important for poets and other creative people to ask themselves the question of what we do next? Do we as a creative community continue to dwell at the margins- doing work that is ironic and cynical but marginal? Or do we rethink our poetic project and begin to believe again that poetry can be trans formative? How do poets whose whole lives have been spent in irony and cynicism learn new ways of being poets?

In the end this is a dialogue for the poetry community to have with itself but lets just say that with the age of Obama the time when a poet can get away with the Girly Man poems is past and we need a new paradigm of poetic conversation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Obama Means for Poets

On the day I was born, May 14th 1967 African Americans had been using the same water fountains as Whites in the south for two years. I have witnessed bussing, White Flight, Willie Horton and Law and Order pleas within my lifetime. I have also witnessed the election of an African American president.

What does this mean for poets?

I believe that in many ways it destroys current paradigms of poetry built on irony and inside baseball. So much of our current poetry is vaguely political, ironic and cynical. How is one cynical and ironic in front of President Barack Obama? We poets need to look again at what we do and realize last night the world has changed, for the better. We are entering a new world and one where we as Americans are not reviled in the world. How will we deal with that?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Few Hours

We are a few hours away. This morning I voted and saw a little miracle. A African American family, Mom, Dad three year old. They voted and the father took the child's picture and told him "remember this day".

It made the day for me.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What if Obama loses?

What if Obama loses?

Last night traudi and I went for a walk in Oak Park, IL where we live and almost every home had multiple Obama signs. If Oak Park is along with the Senator's own Hyde Park the Obama heartland. Our area is 35% African American, we are also a neighborhood filled with Chicago White Ethnics, Fauxemian liberals and Cosby Show blacks. Oak Park is a place that those like Sarah Palin views not a Real America.

We in Oak Park do not live in the 'real america'.

It is ironic we live in Open America because we live less than a mile from what was once ground zero between Real America and Open America; Cicero, Illinois (the hometown of Al Capone). In 1967, the year of my birth, the Italian, Bohemian and Polish whites of Cicero stoned Martin Luther King as he marched for Open housing. That was 41 years ago. Cicero also welcomed George Wallace, Richard Nixon and many others it was the home of the angry white ethnic urban backlash. Within a block of my house are areas denuded of people from White Flight in the 1960's and 70's. But today all these neighborhoods White, Black and Hispanic are voting for Barack Obama.

What has happened?

Cicero, Today once the city of backlash is multi-ethnic, Hispanic, White Ethnic and Black and in the Illinois Primary in February went 82% for Obama. Can you imagine in 1967 yardsigns with a black man's name in Cicero? Well I am looking at them and believing that Open America can beat Real America. Just maybe?

So now after all the donations, phone banking, and struggle could Barack Obama lose? Well in a word yes he could. The fact is that the America of Barack and Michelle Obama is alien to many but it is the America most of us dwell in today.

Imagine what might happen tomorrow?

Michelle Obama's family is desended from Slaves. Her children are descendants of Slaves. Barack Obama recently at a Chicago restaurant was thrown car keys one of the diners thinking he was the valet. This family will become the first family and make Open America a reality. Dr King's Dream writ large.

Do We live in Open America. Or 'real' America?

There are millions of Americans who view Open America as alien America. The America where Blacks, Hispanics, Euro-Americans, Women, Gay Americans and more meld and build a new place is alien to them. Open America is the future but does that future come tomorrow? I am beside myself with anticipation.

Are we going to let "real America" defeat "open america"?

It is fitting that in the week that Studs Terkel died that another son of Chicago is trying to bring to the fore the Open America. Have we changed enough? Georgia GOP senator Saxby Chambliss sent an email to his supporters telling them "the other folks are voting". The other folks are voting- will this be enough? He was referring to the African Americans in Georgia but he was also referring to me.

In the end it is 24 hours before the first election of the 21st Century or the last of the 20th. It is our choice.

Do we want Open America or Real America?

We can hope...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Barack Obama's Southsider and President

Last week I was at the world's greatest bookstore, Chicago's Seminary Co-op chatting with Jack Cella the General Manager. Jack is one of those great people that make Chicago the best place in my estimation to live in America.

Jack runs what is for many of us the best place in Chicago the fabulous Seminary Cooperative Bookstore which in an age of Amazon and Digital books still has the warm glory of a great bookstore with the whole of humanity within its walls.

Jack said something to me that is profound. The sem coop is a membership bookstore. We as members all own the co-op and one thing that I share with our (hopefully) next president is membership the Co-op. I think that this says allot about Barack Obama that he is intellectually curious enough to be a member of such a place. Then I began to think about the other places on the South side that are part of Obama's life.

The great sadness for us who are Chicagoans is the the next president will leave us for Washington. But if you want to experience a little of Barack's world here are some places that he loves; Apart from Seminary Co-op which for me is the best place to visit in the city here are some other places;

Medici Pizzeria in Hyde Park which is right next to 57th Street Books (Part of Seminary Co-op) has tee shirts that say Obama Eats here. I once say Obama eating there and I wish I had had the guts to ask for an autograph!

US Cellular Field Every White Sox fan is proud that Barack is one of us. He does not belong to the Cubs and he has chosen to proclaim that he is one of us... when you come to Chicago go to the Southside for what Obama said is 'Real Baseball' White Sox baseball.

Frontera Grill Obama loves Rick Bayless's restaurants and so do I come and eat Tacos and think about Barack.

Negro League Cafe near Barack's (Or President Obama's) house is this memorial to the great Negro Leagues.

Barack is a Southsider and a Chicagoan and hopefully this son of Chicago my hometown will bring to Washington what is good about our town. Chicago is a place we produced Studs Terkel, Nelson Algren, Nat King Cole, Buddy Guy, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, Richard J Daley, Harold Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Enrico Fermi and Milton Friedman. We are not the stereotype we are a great city and great hometown for our next President.

Barack we are so proud of you....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Barack Obama and Wealth

Much has been written and screamed about lately about Barack Obama and 'socialism'. The fact that Mr Obama wants to spread around the wealth of our society is viewed as a Marxist evil while greed and the concentration of wealth are viewed as "American" and "free". Keeping ones money is a mantra for the Republican candidate. Most of the self professed Republicans are "christians". What that means we do not really know? But we know what Jesus had to say about what he demands from his followers on this score. Does what Jesus demanded jive with what McCain is proposing?

Matthew 25, 31-46 New Jerusalem Bible

31 'When the Son of man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory.
32 All nations will be assembled before him and he will separate people one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats.
33 He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.
34 Then the King will say to those on his right hand, "Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome,
36 lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me."
37 Then the upright will say to him in reply, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome, lacking clothes and clothe you?
39 When did we find you sick or in prison and go to see you?"
40 And the King will answer, "In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me."
41 Then he will say to those on his left hand, "Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you never gave me food, I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, lacking clothes and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me."
44 Then it will be their turn to ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or lacking clothes, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?"
45 Then he will answer, "In truth I tell you, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me."
46 And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the upright to eternal life.'

Does it sound like Jesus would vote for John McCain and the monied class? Or Barack Obama? What would Jesus do? It seems to me that this answer is clear. The world Christian is used by scoundrels throughout history. But in fact the "christians" who have run the Republican party are truly Goats to use Matthew's words.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Experience Brazilian Poetry in Chicago Audio

Everyone please access the on line audio from the Experience Brazilian Literature in Chicago event held last month here in Chicago

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ignorance and this Week's History

I got some great feedback about my Ignorance post of a few days ago from Guillermo Parra, Johannes Gorensson and Patrick Durgin. All three of these poet/editors are part of the global choir they are leaders. They are all examples of the exception to the rule poets who are well read and global in their mindsets.
It would have been great to get feedback from members of the "Poetic Class" who continue to live in their cheerleaderlike micro world. But those poets are too busy telling each other how great they are.... But those poets will continue the great poetic roundtable of self strokes.
MarkNowak's XCP
Mark Nowak Facebooked me today. I have always been a huge Mark Nowak fan his poetry is great- in the way Nelson Algren or Walt Whitman are great he is an innovator and a person of the people. I wish there were more Mark Nowak's and less "Poetic Class" Cheerleaders around.
His magazine XCP is great it is one that I would love to get some poetry in someday. Here is another poet who does not spend allot of his time looking at his own navel.
We are in a week of history. It looks good for the election maybe, just maybe Barack Obama can pull this one out? I will add this to my prayers and good thoughts.
Peter Cole's Book
I just finished Peter Cole's Things on Which I've Stumbled. It is interesting because this book has all the pretentions of a New Directions Poetry book. His book of translations of Poetry from Islamic Spain came out to great acclaim although I found some of the translations lacking that wa a great book. His poetry is Medieval and Experimental at the same time but not pretentious like some poets of this ilk.
Camus Notebooks
I am glad I bought the book it goes well with Camus' Notebooks 1951-1959 that I just finishes that was just satiating in its richness. Is there anything better than Camus? I can't think of anything better.
Stanford Literature Podcasts
I downloaded from itunes the Stanford University podcasts. What a pleasure. I worked out the other day to Marjorie Perloff talking about Ezra Pound is there anything more relaxing? Everyone should go get these podcasts they are free and great.
So lets see how the week completes itself. Maybe this Severian moment in America's decline will be ended? Or do we continue to decline? Is Obama our Vespasian or our Diocletian? Time will tell?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Those Who are Not Ignorant

I wrote a post last week about the ignorance of world-poetry by most American poets. I have often complained about presses and poets that are so myopic that they choose to publish and read only narrow poetry by their friends.

For every Ugly Duckling Presse or Circumference magazine that chooses to highlight the broad world there is a Flood Editions or Denver Quarterly that chooses to highlight a narrow parochialism.

Having said this there are poets and presses that need to be highlighted.

  • Patrick Durgin's Kenning Editions for example has done a yeoman's job of highlighting innovative and global writing and their new book by Laura Solorzano translated by Jen Hofer is a must read.
  • Aufgabe Magazine and Litmus press published by E Tracy Grinnell annually does more for global literature than most University Presses. the latest Aufgabe on Italian poetry edited by jennifer scappettone is the best anthology of contemporary Italian verse currently in print.
  • Mandorla edited by Kristen Dykstra does more for Latin American writing than most presses. Mandorla has brought some of Cuba's most important poets to American audiences for the first time.
  • Ugly Duckling Presse from New York does a great job of highlighting Eastern European and othe global writing.
  • The website Action Yes edited by Johannes Gorensson is prob. the best website for translations and global literature.
  • The Brazilian magazine Sibilia edited by Regis Bonvicino is a great vehicle for American, Brazilian and European literature.

It is important to note that all of these efforts are independent non-profits. They need donations and support. So the next time someone asks you for money for a good cause- give to poetry and support these presses.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Destruction of Books

"Our History is revealed by what we destroy as much as by what we preserve" this is how Fernando Baez's A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern Iraq.
Of late amid all the economic angst and fear I have found solace in something old and tried- serendipity.
In the age of and online shopping I still find my best books by the serendipity of shopping in a great bookstore.
In Chicago we are blessed to have what I think is the greatest bookstore in the United States, the Seminary Co-op. ( Sem Coop is one of those places where one can find books by everyone from Origen and Horace to Mark Tardi and Peter Gizzi it is in short a great place.
One of my favorite spots is the 'front table' in which Jack Cella the magnificent General Manager places the 'most important' and 'most interesting' books for his bibliographically famished customers. On that table I found two books that satisfy and challenge a poet and a reader to be more.
The first book I found was Alberto Manguel's The Library at Night from the Yale University Press. The book is organized by chapters The Library as... the chapters are really interesting and in this book one description that really held me in thrall was his description of the library in the Theresinstadt Ghetto. If their exists a more moving story than the one Manguel shares with us about Jacob Edelstein's last moments on Earth I have not read it anywhere.
Manguel's book talks about many other things including the National Library of Argentina of Jorge Luis Borges. Manguel is an Argentine and this sensibility fills the book. If you love your library this is your book it takes one away from the banal to a time when time slowed and libraries determined cultural currency. Thomas Merton once said that when he passed a Church he felt like it was a reactor of holiness pulsing and filling the world with grace. I think Manguel's book says the same thing about Libraries and how they fill our world with grace as well.
The second book I found on the table later in the month was Fernando Baez's A Universal History of the Destruction of Books. Baez is the director of Venezuela's National library and his book is chronicle of great crime. He starts with Sumer and ends with Iraq in fact going around the world to chronicle the history of the destruction of books. The book starts talking about the great literate societies that sit at the base of our world. Sumer,China, Israel, Egypt and Greece.
For any lover of Books to hear the stories of the destruction of the libraries of the Hittites, Alexandria and the Egypt makes one wince.
Once we leave the ancient world we move into the middle ages. The time of Lindisfarne, Constantinople and Baghdad. In fact the book also talks about how the children of Lindisfarne (Catholics) Constantinople (Orthodox) and Baghdad (Muslim) proceeded to go out to the world and destroy libraries of Pagans, Native Americans, and Hindus. The saving and destroying of books leads us to pain and anguish about all that has been lost.
What is truly great about Baez's book is that it has short information packed chapters that bring you back to libraries. You want to sit with Rumi or Averroes or Aidan of Lindisfarne and watch them create and save books. Yet this book is about their destruction and the slow pain of this book leads us up to our present day and to the greatest evils of Communism, Fascism and Materialism.
Every child in the West has been brought up with the cliche of books being burned by Nazis. Even Indiana Jones movies have had this image. But the real import of the destruction of books by Nazis and Communists and others is that the openness of ideas which filled the world. It has been said that the Jews and the Germans were two peoples who believed that 'good culture' was important. The death of European Jewish culture and the destruction of Jewish libraries in Poland is one of the greatest crimes of human history. It presaged the destruction of 6 million people.
Baez's book ends with the destruction of libraries in Iraq. Finally he lists the greatest book crimes The Nazi Bibliocaust of 1933-45, Savonarola's Destruction in Florence in 1498, Huang's destruction of Chinese books in 213 BC, Mongol Destruction of the Baghdad library in 1258, the destruction of the library of Alexandria in 48 BC, the destruction of the Cordoba library in 980 the destruction of the Bosnia Library in 1992, and finally the destruction of the Mayan writings in 1562 and the burning of the Library of Congress in 1814.
This book makes one wince at the loss but it also makes real what matters. Ideas and the people who create them is what matters and this book talks about that reality. "Where they have burned books they will eventually burn people" Heine's great quote is writ large in this little book that anyone who loves books should run out at buy... now.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fear Factor

Over the past two weeks the world has changed. Like August 1914, September and October 2008 will be remembered as the time that the old order passed away. Before September
assumptions bourne out by 60 years of post-war thought were in place.

America & Europe and the system set up after World War 2 functioned. People who had saved and invested for the past 30 years and are now retired were secure and their were problems but they could be over come.

It appears that that world is gone.

I am 41 and for most of my life I have worked in Business Publishing and events. I look around having survived the .com boom, housing boom and various recessions and I cannot find the intestinal fortitude to know what to do?

My parent's are losing their retirement savings.
My company is constricting.
My neighborhood is full of foreclosed houses.

The fact is that America is in decline and the whole thing appears to be unraveling. Because of greed and financial mismanagement and deregulation the world that was constructed in the West is coming apart. As we look at the new powers in the world, China, India and Brazil we realize that much of the liberal openness of Europe and America is now ignored or distained.
We are in the new world and fear reigns.

I watched a You Tube of a Mc Cain rally where the people beyed at the candidates spewing hatred the way Germans did in the late 1920's . This type of world in the 1930's led Germany to Hitler and America to Franklin Roosevelt. I wonder what choice we will make now? Do we still have a Roosevelt in us?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

That Ignorance is Restraining

That Ignorance is Restraining

“Americans are too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture"Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures "The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."

With this quote Horace Engdahl the permanent secretary of the Nobel Prize for Literature dismissed American literature and the possibility of an American winning that prize. This quote caused much uproar and indignation among the American literati. How dare a Swede criticize America’s literary relevance and importance?

Imagine anyone suggesting that our writers are not worthy of the Nobel Prize?

I think that this quote caused such an uproar because in short it is true. I do not often interact personally with fiction writers but I do interact with Poets many of whom are ‘important’ in American literary parlance. I think that the structure of our literary culture in America leads to this Restraining Ignorance. While this I do not know if this is true for Fiction writers it is often true for American Poets.

Many American poets are trained in “creative writing” which means that their education is in how to write rather than in what to read. The result of this training is that their literary knowledge of poetry and prose in English, much less in other languages is very thin indeed.

Also, because most of the people who can afford to take two or three years to ‘study’ creative writing are from a particular social class and because graduate study is often a luxury whole parts of American society that might be more open to the world are excluded. When it comes to international writing very few American poets have any interest in global writing or poetry.

Most American poets know nothing of poetry outside of their particular small insular community and this is reflected in their work. Many American poets dwell in the poetry subculture which is concerned with poets, writing for other poets getting published by small presses run by poets, and getting reviewed by other poets. There is not much room in this subculture for the larger world.

In the United States, the world’s largest book buying market, the number of presses and magazines that give space to global writing and poetry are so small that I can list many of them here; Aufgabe Magazine and Litmus Press, Mandorla, Burning Deck, Ugly Duckling Presse, Circumference, Dalkey Archive Press, Action Books, occasionally the Chicago Review, occasionally the University of Texas Press and occasionally the University of California Press. The combination of the insular hothouse of American poetry and the lack of translations is slowly suffocating poetry in America into some sort of replay loop .

The fact is that most American poets do not have any interest in global writing or poetry as evidenced recently by a group of events that I organized here in Chicago recently. I guest edited a Brazilian section for the New York magazine Aufgabe which does a fabulous job of highlighting a global poetry scene in each issue. I was honored to translate and guest- edit an issue on Brazil in 2007.

The Brazilian consulate general and Litmus Press which publishes Aufgabe magazine invited four very well known Brazilian poets to read in Chicago. The four poets who read, Paulo Henriques Britto, Virna Teixeira Sergio Medeiros and Maria Esther Maciel are well known globally and inside Brazil. We organized three events in this city over four days. We advertised and publicized the events widely in Time Out, on all the poetry list sites, Facebook and via email lists. I figured with over 50 poets who have published books in the past five years here in Chicago they would jump at the chance of seeing four well known poets from one the world’s most important poetry communities.

The first event was organized at Northwestern. Professor Reginald Gibbons did a great job on that campus and we had a great turnout of people interested in global poetry. The event itself was a success The fact is however that no one from the local Chicago poetry community chose to attend that event in Evanston. The students at Northwestern were great and Dr Gibbons was great and the poets were honored to spend time with them.

The Second Event was at the University of Illinois at Chicago and it was also well attended by non poets. Some local Chicago poets of note did attend, Garin Cycholl organized the reading and Christina Pugh who is with the Poetry Foundation and poets brought her class, Francesco Levato and Chris Glomski also attended the event. This reading had a good crowd and I was very thankful to UIC for hosting it.

The final event we produced at the Harold Washington Library Center was on a Saturday Afternoon. It was also well attended with many people from the local Brazilian community but the number of Chicago poets who attended was small, Patrick Durgin William Allegrezza, Melissa Severin, Kerri Sonnenberg and a few others attended.

By my count about 10 Chicago poets of note chose to attend the readings over the four Brazilian poetry events. In fact of the approximately 100 people who attended these three readings only 10 were local poets of note. I think the local reaction attests well to the insularity of so many. This level of interest is indicative of the state of poetry and poets- to say nothing of literature in a major city in the United States.

Many American poets exist within a poetic hothouse. They live insular lives in which they get published by friends they knew at grad school. Their work is often reviewed by ‘critics’ with whom they are friends. The result of this is a poetic culture of insularity that approaches a clique. There are very few American poets who choose to dialogue globally.

You can count on two hands the number of poets in the United States who care about global literature and translation. Poets/Writers like Charles Bernstein, Jennifer Scappettone. Tracy Grinnell, Sawako Nakayasu, Jen Hofer, Patrick Durgin, Douglas Messerli, Pierre Joris, Kristen Dykstra and others are rare exceptions to a hard rule of ignorance of the wider world. Most poets in the United States would rather exist within their poetic hothouse. If you want to see this culture in action come to Chicago in February for AWP where itwill be in full flower.

To expect insularity from Americans is understandable we are an insular people. Iff you wonder however why an American poet will not be the winner of the Nobel Prize this year don’t blame the poor Swedish bureaucrat who spoke the truth- blame the poetic culture in the USA which is often insular and ignorant of the outside world.