Friday, February 29, 2008

The Rebirth of the Journey Book

In the great tradition of journey books. Genesis, Exodus, Confessions of St Augustine, and Dante's Divine Comedy .

In American literature we have Moby Dick, The Seven Storey Mountain, On the Road, The Grapes of Wrath. Books like these are not written much today.

Whether these books are novels or memoirs there was a time when people were genuinely interested in the various metanoias of great poets or writers. There was a desire to understand what made a poet and moved them toward their art.

In recent years irony and detachment have become central to the Post Avant garde. We now do not reveal anything from our interior lives. This movement is best encapsulated by the kind of Avant Garde- Hipster poetic that began with Language/Charles Bernstein and continues today in so much of contemporary poetic practice. There are a slew of fine poets whose interior lives and texture is kept out of the work intentionally so that we are left only with the poetic and we do not get a chance to understand where they are coming from poetically or personally.

All one has to do is read poets like; Jena Osman, Juliana Spahr, Catherine Daly, Jennifer Scappettone, Joshua Corey, Peter O'Leary, Joshua Clover and many others to to see this divide. There is an opaque wall between the inards of the poet, what makes them tick, and "the work". It makes for interesting poetry but it also makes one wonder and leaves us unfilled at times.

Two new books of poetry/memoir have come out in the past six months that counter this trend and in fact revive the tradition of the journey book- be it interior journey or exterior or both. I for one hope this begins a trend toward more "there" and substance in poetry and a move toward more texture and glimpses into the interiors of the poets.

Jennifer Moxley's, The Middle Room, is a seminal work for our time I think. It is a calm memoir about the journey of a person toward poetry. I have written allot about Moxley's book here on the blog. But my enthusiasm remains strong. Moxley's poetry and her memoir is a great antidote to the depth of opaqueness that we are forced so often to endure in poetry. Her work opens up an old way. Her work is also a harbinger of a different future. It was said in the 1950's three books were harbingers of the future- On the Road, The Seven Storey Mountain, and HOWL. These three books set up in the 1950's the debate for the next years, Journeys, Tradition leading to radicalism. I think Moxley's book is important because it stands as a response to the depersonalization of our age. That is the trend that Moxley's work stands against and this makes it important.

Gabriel Gudding's Rhode Island Notebook is also seminal. Gudding has reclaimed Maleness from the fascists. Most male poets writing today are consciously neutered. Gudding makes a claim on the journey book by putting all the banalities into collage and parataxis. His work opens up a reflective quality that we do not see in poetry today. Poetry today is more apt to be filled with obscurity and not interior quality. Gudding changes all of this and makes us listen to the questing of a poet whose strengths lay in the variety of his experience.

I am not saying that the ironic hipster poetry is finished. But perhaps vapidity is finished?
I hope that those poets who wish to expose themselves the way that so many have in the past and want to open up the journey to their readers will spend time with Moxley and Gudding and learn from the mastery of these works.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wrigley Field- The Local in a Global World

In Chicago we are not terribly exorcised about the loss of major works of architecture, or the fact that our taxes are high what really upsets us is the fact that Sam Zell- owner of the Tribune and the Cubs might sell naming rights to Wrigley Field.
I admit that I am very biased- as a White Sox fan who only went to Wrigley when I was 38 two years ago and then went there to see my White Sox. I do not have a dog in this fight. But I must say that there are a whole range of lamentable things that go against the local in our global world and demean what it means for places to be unique- here is my list;
Things that Do Violence to a Sense of Place
1) The Mc Donalds on Piazza Spagna in Rome which sits one block from the Spanish Steps is this really neccessary? Do we need to sell Big Macs in Rome?
2) The Pizzeria Uno location in New York's East Village. Why?
3) The Fact that Marshall Fields in Now Macy's
4) Everything in Dallas, Texas above Lovers Lane
5) All of Orlando, Florida
6) The Kentucky Fried Chicken on Nanking Road in Shanghai
7) Starbuck's in France
8) The Mc Donald's that Overlooks Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.
9) The fact that most local bookstores are closing.
10) The Fact that I can buy the same food everywhere.
While I do not like Wrigley Field or the Cubs, I remember what is was like to have Comiskey Park torn down- that wound was not salved until October of 2005, a World Series will do that.
But the loss of place and uniqueness is one of our great losses.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Moxley X

So Ron Silliman linked to my Blog- that is amazing.
So I continue to read this Moxley book and I continue to use it almost as a Biblical Text. The way that a Monk uses the Brevary to meditate on his vocation. I meditate on mine and I am challenged as a poet to be more as a Catholic is challenged to be more by reading the lives of the saints.
The work has a juvenile quality; this is not normally found among poets of our generation X. I am reminded of that section in Merton's Seven Storey Mountain where he describes American colleges in October all being fresh and all lassitude removed from the air. That is what Moxley is doing she is giving a crispness to her work and so it is not narcissism but rather reflection.
So many of our contemporary poets are enamoured with irony here I am thinking of Judith Goldman, Jennifer Scappettone, Rebecca Wolfe whose work is filled with irony but as if it is to protect their souls from examination. We want to know more about the interior life of these poets but an opaque wall is there keeping us out. We should not get a chance to see what kind of soul produced the poems.
While in Moxley's memoir we get a glimpse into a soul it is as if Gertrude Stein wrote a mid career biography an answered questions. I go back and read Moxley's work and the context makes all of it work and seem so much more important.
I am convinced that when literary history is written and they ask what it was like to be a poet in this time when poetry is essential and irrelivant to the greater society this book The Middle Room will be cited in a way that will be essential to understanding the screwed up literary world where hipsterness and mediocrity is rewarded and good work is marginalized.
When in the future they ask why were the mediocrities revered they will look at Moxley and say here in that time was a poet who mattered and whose work will endure. She has set the tone for what comes next.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More on Moxley's Autobio

I continue to read Moxley's book during my lunch breaks and before bed. I am moved continually by how different we as poets today are different from our antecedents.

Poets and other artists before our contemporary times could dwell on the margins and reengage with poetry or other artforms after a fine gestation. Today the contemplative is not the goal of most poets. The goal of most poets is to be engaged via the net, small presses and social contacts so that you can continue to be relevant to the poetic conversation. As if quiet would cause us to become more irrelivent if this were possible?

The life that so many poets have lived in the past where poetry was important to their lives but they also lived apart from poetry is gone forever . There are no more William Carlos Williams or Wallace Stevens because their lifestyle could not fit into the contemporary poetic paradigm. We need always to be engaged.

Moxley in someways is a bridge- and as a GenXer she is emblamatic of this "bridgeness". I continue to read this Auto Bio and I keep thinking about all the 'activity' I am involved in regarding poetry and how little of it has to do with the work. Moxley's 'work' has always been well crafted and insightful. I think often about the various women poets (The way pollock called Lee Krasner a damn good woman painter) who embody this sense.

I think as I continue to read Moxley's work I am impressed at her depth and interior life and how strong it is compared with recent poet memoirs I have read like Christian Wiman's book of essays that have a certain separation from depth and the interior while Moxley's work is depth and feels sometimes more like I am reading the Confessions than a memoir of a woman of my own time and my own space.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Browsing as Adventure

It has been announced that the BBC Worldservice will no longer broadcast to Europe, last year they cancelled service to the USA. I realize that this is the result of the internet and that the Service sells programming to outlets like NPR stations but it is a sad day.

I can honestly say that my first encounter with the world as a young person was with Shortwave radio. When I was in High School I broke a leg and (this was 1981) I had a Shortwave that I began to listen to allot because of an injury. I was mesmorized to listen to Radio Moscow, when Russia was still the enemy, Radio Havana and of course the BBC. I could actually discover a new country and listen to other opinions. When I lived in Bolivia after college I looked forward to listening to the Voice of America and BBC just to get more news. The days of Shortwave and unfiltered news are gone forever.

The BBC catalyst lead to so many things for me as a person. My sense of the world began to be shaped by listening to the odd nations and capitals on shortwave. I remember once I got a
QSL card (reception report confirmation) from Radio Vilnius in Soviet Lithuania and what a thrill that was for a kid from Chicago.

I think that it is the loss of seredipity and adventure that is destroying young people today. Bookstores, Radio Stations, Record Stores have all been either destroyed or narrowcasted. The chance for young people to find something out in a chance way has been removed or reduced by the world we live in now. We all have our 'playlist' and our 'presets'. I think there is something missing. I still find it a thrill to go to a really good bookstore and find something totally unexpected. My wife often complains about not being able to really browse and find a new piece of music because most of the good music stores are closed.

In the end chance meetings and chance encounters are being missed. Like getting lost on a drive and finding something new. We are poorer for the loss.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Poets of My Generation

The greatest poets of my generation are women. Catherine Daly, Jen Hofer, Elizabeth Willis, Lisa Jarnot and most perfectly Jennifer Moxley. There must be something about those of us born between 1964 and 1974; maybe it was the drugs our parents took? There are some male poets who deign to ascend to these heights, Gabriel Gudding, Chris Glomski, Joshua Clover, others but all the good action is with female poets I think and we men are really the handmaids to their Sappho.

The fact that so many of our parents were in transition and that our generation sometimes called Generation X has given poetry something new is often ignored or worse. We still live in a poetical world dominated by Baby Boomer narcissism. Many of our poetic lodestars come from this world but I think in the long run the quiet juxopositional poets of our generation will be remembered well when so many periferal Language Poets will be recalled only for their oddness. All the Cyber Poetics of today would not be possible without those of us who grew up with Pong, Atari, Reagan and Hair Bands.

The other day I picked up the Middle Room by Jennifer Moxley. Moxley has always been a challenge for me. When I compare myself to her it is like an ordinary banal Catholic (me) being compared to St Francis- in all things Moxley is a superlative and her poetry is important but this memoir is something else it encapsulates a generation of people who are often ignored.

I am only half way through the Middle Room but when I read this juxtoposed against Christian Wiman's new memoir- Moxley and Wiman are the same age- I am struck by a commonality between them even though their poetic sense is opposite-

the sense of the world as a drawer of broken things.

The one thing that defines Generation X it is that the world is a drawer of broken things. We are a generation that bridges and our poets do the same. We are trying to put back together a world and to understand what has been lost and adopting what has been found.

If you look at a poet like Elizabeth Willis and her book Meteoric Flowers she too is bringing together a drawer of broken things and trying to make sense- to construct something that satisfies. Catherine Daly's book DA DA DA does the same fusing Catholic culture with postmodernity but putting together broken things and the questings of Jen Hofer in Mexico is a perfect mixing of the broken all these poets seem to be doing this.

Moxley's book is so personal.

Disturbingly so.

The Italian poet Andrea Zanzotto once said that the most unnatural thing is to smell the perfume of someone else's lover. That is what reading this book is like. I almost feel like I am violating some secret or some private thing in reading the book. But as a poet who is approximately the same age I can feel the memoir because it is part of my history. Moxley has captured the sense of so many of us who are in our late 30's and early 40's.

The Middle Room is in short a spirituality of poetry that has been lacking in our generation. I have found that I like to read Moxley's book along side Gabriel Guddings Rhode Island Notebook to get both a female and make sides of a generation that is too often ignored while the young hipsters dialogue with Charles Bernstein and Ron Silliman. Moxley has done what Gudding did he captured Maleness for our generation Moxley has captured Poesie for our generation and it is a book that does more than just divulge it encompasses as well.

Moxley has given us a book that gives us a sense of Metanoia.

A change of heart towards literature and poetry. I am going to continue to blog on this book because I simply cannot put it down --it is like reliving my own history and the history of a generation.

I will return to this book in the near future....

Friday, February 8, 2008

Barack Obama- the Democrat's Ronald Reagan

In an interview with the Reno newspaper Barack Obama said that "Ronald Reagan was a transformative Political Figure" he was attacked for this by Mrs Clinton but in reality I think that Obama is Progressivism's Ronald Reagan and that is what galls Clinton and her ilk.I write this as a convert from Reaganism.

I grew up and went through college as a Conservative of the type that made Reagan's majority in the 1980's. I came to my progressive values only after a three year stint working with the poorest of the poor in Bolivia if I had not done that I would almost certainly still hold those ideas but what Reagan did in the 1980's is instructive for today.

What propelled Reaganism and "Conservativism" was resentment against change packaged well. The people who made Reaganism a majority were northern Catholics (of which I am one) and southern Evangelicals. Both of these groups were effected adversely by the 1960's. Northern Catholics "fled" from treasured urban neighborhoods for the suburbs. This is my history. If someone in your family has ever said "this neighborhood used to be like this" you are part of this generation.

The sense of resentment led these Reagan Democrats to vote against their own interests because of fear. As they voted for Reagan and earlier Nixon their whole world was destroyed by their 'new' party as unions and industries were gutted by 'free trade'.The other group, Southern Evangelicals were propelled by fear of Blacks who now had their freedom of a sort in the South. They also left the Democrats for Reaganism because of the profound disrespect that Progressives had for the military after Vietnam.

These two things led to Reagan's strength in the South and the realignment of the South into the Republican Party.What Reagan did for these two groups was make Republicanism which was anathema to Urban Catholics and Southern Evangelicals palatable.

These two groups once pillars of the Left because of their support of Unions and Franklin Roosevelt left the Democrats and became part of Conservatism and Republicanism. This is what was meant by Barack Obama by Reagan being a transformative figure.Barack Obama is the Democrat's Ronald Reagan and I would argue that 2008 is like 1976 if the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton she will lose the way Gerald Ford lost in that year.

In order for progressive policies to become enacted in this country we need a broad consensus. This consensus is forming. People want government to advocate for them against a global business community that does not care about them or their interests. People want a healthcare system that is open to them and people want to get ahead.

All of these things are becoming impossible for average Americans. In order to overcome the demonizers and the pundits (the same way Reagan overcame the liberal columnists and liberals in the 1980's) Progressivism needs someone who can sell the message to the country and that person is Barack Obama.

If Democrats want to realign the nation and transform the country the way Reagan did in 1980 they need the right candidate. Democrats cannot make the mistake the GOP made in 1976 and nominate a moderate with little appeal. Democrats need to nominate a transformative person, Barack Obama.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Obama's Problem with Latinos.

I realize that this is a poetry blog. But until the White Sox open spring training I am watching allot of politics. I am supporting local senator and White Sox Fan Barack Obama and I have been thinking about what last night meant to our nation.

It is a great thing for America that Obama and Clinton are fighting it out for the nomination. One of the disturbing things however is something that if you live in a multi-ethnic area you already know there is enmity between Latin Americans and African Americans.

I live in Oak Park, IL if you draw a two mile circle around my house you encompass the Austin neighborhood of Chicago which is completely Black, the Villages of Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park which are mixed White Ethnic and "Fauxhemian" and Berwyn and Cicero which are predominently Latino. In Chicago like in the rest of America Latinos and Blacks have a rivalry and this is playing out in the presidential election this year and may in the end cause change thwarted again.

It is Latin Americans that are making the difference for Hillary Clinton and I think it needs to be asked is this political affinity or racism? Barack Obama is the child of immigrants and he understands what that means for policy yet he is getting a low percentage of Latino votes. He is young and attractive and much more marketable nationwide with independents but he still loses Latino Votes across the board.

Having lived in Latin America for a large part of my life I know that there is a profound skin color hierarchy in those nations. If you watch Spanish language television it is normally the whitest Latinos who are on TV and on newscasts, there are few if any Black Latinos on those channels- especially when you understand that Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Rep, Venezuela, and Colombia have large black populations. The fact is that in Brazil where my wife is from there are over 25 words for skin color most of them being used to avoid using the word "Black" for people and this is a profound cultural marker.

The question is will this campaign result in President John Mc Cain? He actually did better among Latinos in Florida than Obama did among Latinos anywhere in the USA. Even in Illinois Obama only got 52% of the Latino vote. Will change be stopped by a progressive movement
cleaved by ethnic and racial divisions?

It is too soon to see that will be decided in Texas in a few weeks. But as it stands we may be looking at President John Mc Cain and a 100 years of war in Iraq and elsewhere because people are voting their comfort rather than their interests again.

In some ways Latinos are acting as a group much more like Italians or Jews have in the past in America. It seems that a choice is being made that Hillary Clinton is more palatable than a Black man who is the child of an immigrant father. These choices were made before by other ethnic groups and have resulted in a stifling of change because of comfort.

It remains to be seen what the future holds but if I was John Mc Cain I would be looking for a Latino running mate to guarantee victory in November and to thwart the change that the powerful want so much to stop.