Friday, April 17, 2009

Four Essential Books for the Jobless Poet

It is obvious to those of us currently unemployed and suffering through the rot of our current decline that we are entering a new world.

The world that produced the American hubris of the past 40 years has ended Also much of the triumphalism of American poetry and letters of the past years has become passe or anachronistic and it seems we need something new.

I wrote a few months ago that it is impossible now to be ironic in the age of Obama. The spate of 'ironic' movements from Language Poetry to Flarf that have been energized by irony and a sort of intellectual snarkiness have become dated .
Being both a poet and an unemployed business professional has given me time to think about what that world might look like. I find that the ironic does not work in the bones anymore. I find myself looking for new and old ways. I want insights that feed the current situation.
Four books that I have recently read have given me some insight into what might be possible in a new world-view. America as a nation has become more serious and frankly more scared --we need to ask more questions.

I am not interested anymore in the commentary from the sidelines. I am however interested in commentary on where we are going and what we need to understand. I have found these books helpful.

MARCOM-The Mirror in the Well

Micheline Aharonian
Dalkey Archive Press
isbn: 978-1-56478-511-4

Micheline Aharonian begins her novella Marcom with quotes from the likes of Ovid, Buber, Anne Carson, Clarisse Lispector, Octavio Paz. It is this global literature sense that informs this book. I think that Marcom in many ways is the first book of our new literary world and I hope that poets and writers read it with interest because this book bears the future.
This book which is based on a love triangle and a zombie marriage and is the best estimation of our current American situation I have read. Marcom could be called a 'sex book' or a 'dirty book' but I think in many ways it has its antecedents in Tropic of Cancer. It uses great prose, almost poetic language, to define an era. I think that when the history of this period is written Aharonian's book will be listed as seminal- forgive the pun.
The lack of moorings for the characters in this book give us a sense of the world in which we live. It just loosens everything and we understand that the old world has passed away and we are now naked in the sun with no modesty and no covering.

The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation

Fanny Howe
Greywolf Press
isbn: 978-1555-975203

In contrast to the future that is displayed by Aharonian, Fanny Howe's Winter Sun tells us where we have been. Howe's collection of essays is a description of writing and poetry as a vocation which is something that is not really a truism for most poets and writers today.

In the past many writers lived the kind of lives that allowed them to live in a vocation the way that St Augustine was able to live a lifestyle rather than a job.

Howe creates for us meditations that are almost religious in scope and show to the poet or writer what makes the vocation we share different. The poet (and she is a poet) also in the process defines a generation. She defines what motivated a group of writers from the end of the great World War 2 until today and for this I think her book will stand up as a Dénouement for generation of poets and writers that we all have loved.

The Winter Sun needs to be read along with other great books of essays or diaries. It has echoes of Shklovsky, Camus and Stein. It defines and age for us that is remote and yet near.

the five seasons of love
Joao Almino
Host Publications


One of the goals of Modernism was in Pound's phrase to "Make it New." No place in the world is more an embodiment of this mentality than Brasilia the faux city that was made to give Brazil a new capital. The city was built out of Oscar Niemeyer's vision of what a Modernist capital would look like and almost immediately the realities of the world smudged the clean rough edges.

Brazilian writer Joao Almino has been one of the most important chroniclers of this smudging. He has in his book the five season of love created a 'Romance' which is a the Brazilian word for novel. But in many ways this book is an Anti-Romance and a distopia. The love is cold and hard, the edges are rough and broken and this book deconstructs the Modernist's ideals to show us how empty we are. Ana/Diana from the five season of love embodies emptiness and questing of our time.

my vocabulary did this to me

The Collected Poetry if Jack Spicer

Edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian

Wesleyan U Press

Isbn: 978-0-8195-6887-8

Contemporary poets have created a Pantheon of poetic God's. In this Pantheon are many poets whose work is so important that it dwarfs much of what is written today. In that pantheon one poet whose entire output is small has continued to be included, Jack Spicer. The volume of his Collected poetry masterfully assembled by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian is less than 500 pages. It shows to contemporary poets and readers what a poet could be in mid 1950's America.

Ron Silliman, who has never preferred brevity to verbosity, said that this book is one of the most important books of poetry written in the past 50 years and I think he is correct. Here is a book that even an unemployed poet like myself can read and feel filled with the creativity and the sense of vocation. While Howe in her book gives us the Dénouement of this epoch here is the epoch is full flower as if we are seeing Solomon in all his splendor.

Out of destruction comes new life. When the old Roman Empire rotted away we got Hagia Sophia, Gregorian Chants, Gothic Architecture, Averroes, the Alhambra, and Rumi. These products of the rot lead to a new world. It appears that is what is happening here in our current Roman Empire. I have found meaning in these books and they have helped me to understand what is happening to our world both poetically and spiritually.

I do not think that when Augustine, Boethius or Cassiodorus were writing they realized that they were setting the stage for what was to come next. But I think that these books do something of what these late Antique/early Medieval authors did. They realize that we are entering something new and perhaps more simple. I think that this simplicity and coldness is going to be part of our future and I will return to these four books often for guidance on the way forward.

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