Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Poetry Readings and the Great Divide

Poetry has always had two sides. For every innovator using language to change the human condition there is a cold elitist assuring us that they have the secret sauce to poetic virtue. Last weekend in Chicago the City put on an event at the Harold Washington Library that was a poetry trade show and a reading. Our press Cracked Slab Books participated. Across town at the Art Institute the Chicago Poetry Project put on a great seminar series on the great poet Robert Duncan.
The Duncan event headlined Michael Palmer and Nathanael Mackey among others and was a tour de force of poetic lights. The event at the Harold Washington Library was decidedly more populist. There were Slammers galore and many of those "regional" writers who more aptly should be called "Bad" Writers. But while I would love to be counted in the Duncan crowd it is really not where i belong. It seems that many of Chicago's Duncan devotees are too fine for a normal poet like myself.
There are plenty of poets with whom the average person can identify. I have come to love Kenneth Rexroth and I have admired and loved Robert Creeley's work for many years. And of course the king of the elitists Ezra Pound. But it seems that poetry will always be divided and that is okay just so the elitists and the populists both remember that everyone else could care less about our poetic conversation.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The End of the Great Recession

Over the past year I have watched as the world has changed. Formerly stable and solid jobs and career paths have been washed away. Universities, States and Associations have seen huge budget cuts. People who I have known and admired have watched as all they knew was taken away from them. It has been a traumatic time and it continues for many of my friends and family members.
For me however the Great Recession ends tomorrow. I found a great job with a company that I admire working with people with whom I am looking forward working with and doing new things. Having said that my attitudes and opinions about life are dramatically different. When I go to a store or on line my first reaction is now to wait- not to buy- until I am absolutely sure about the consequences. I cherish things that I once took for granted and I think that my levels of seriousness and chasteness are stronger.
So as I embark on something new I begin again as a new person in many ways. The end of the Great Recession for me is bittersweet knowing that so many other good people are still struggling. I will think of them and remember where I was such as short time ago...
Deo Gratia

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Jackie Robinson Day 2010

Baseball fans are very proud of our game's history and sometimes people get tired of hearing about history. But, when it comes to justice Baseball has done much for our society.
In the 1920's and 30's and 40's marginalized new immigrant groups like Irish, Poles, Italians and Germans had heroes like Joe Di Maggio, Stan Musial, Connie Mack and Honus Wagner. It was in Baseball that the first real Latin stars were born, Minnie Minoso, Orlando Cepeda, Al Lopez and of course Roberto Clemente.
But it was in 1947 when Jackie Robinson became the first modern African American major leaguer that the world in which we live, where a Black Man can be elected President of the United States was born. 1947 8 years before Brown v. Board of Education and almost 20 years before the Voting Rights Act Baseball lead the way and we have Jackie Robinson to thank for the world in which we all live- where a Black Man can be president.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Anne Carson's Nox is a Manifesto of a Slow Poetics

I understand that at AWP in Denver that the Flarfists and Conceptualists have taken over and that is fine I just hope that they left some beer for the rest of us? Flarf and Conceptual poetry are about fast. The speed in which poetry can be created from the collage of the world and fused with the torrent that is our life today. You have to give those people credit because they are responding with art that is innovative and interesting.

In this age of iPads and Kindles many of us who are invested in the book as an object are feeling that our passion is becoming as passe as Dance Cards or Virginity. The idea that bookstores and printed books may no longer exist is chilling but we fear that it may also be true.

So Saturday, I went to Seminary Coop in Chicago's "elite" Hyde Park neighborhood the home area of our Socialist president Barack Obama (Irony and Scorn here) to buy some real printed paper books. Of course in Hyde Park their are elitists but most of those are not Socialists they are heart surgeons. I had a chance to talk to Jack Cella the boss of this subversive establishment who also has the virtue of being a White Sox fan and he pointed me to a book that is more of an art object Anne Carson's Nox.


I tend to shy away from Canadian writers. They tend to be intimidating like Lemon Hound Sina Queyra or Christian Bok but Anne Carson has always been loved by poets whom I love and so I took a look. Nox is quite a book. Unlike anything I consume on my i Phone Anne Carson's Nox requires time. Her book is like a fine meal in a provincial Italian city rather than a cheeseburger eaten in the car off the seat next to you.

"I wanted to fill my elegy with light of all kinds. But Death makes us stingy"

The book is in a fine box and it costs only $29.00 so someone at New Directions is not getting a bonus this year because this book must have cost allot to make. Nox is an elegy for Carson's brother and the whole book is filled with collage it is almost as if Ezra Pound and Joseph Cornell got together and made a book. The object makes one want to sit and peruse it and then your creative juices flow and you see that her elegy is meant to force us all to write.

"repent means the pain again"

This book is filled with collage shots, poetry of Catullus, Mary Magdalene, scripture and like a secular breviary it unfolds and her grief fills the room but also her artistry and slowness.
In many ways Carson's Nox is a manifesto of "Slow Poetry" like Slow Food it calls on us to stop and to listen, savor--- to actually touch the poetry and to ask ourselves if the poetry created by cut up or internet or Kindle or i Pad is really better or just different? Carson is doing something that has not been done recently, except by Eleni Sikeliano's California Poem she has created a poetic geography that makes one stop to listen to what she is saying.

I think that slowness is something Poets are yearning for just look at the fashion of Lorine Niedecker recently is there any poet who embodies slow poetics more?? I think that by losing slowness and downplaying opaqueness poetry has become more gimmick than art in Nox Carson avoids that trap. Now if we could just get the FlarfistConceptualists to do the same to slow down a little and force us to spend time with the work then maybe the next big thing in poetry could begin again?

So go out and buy Nox by Anne Carson, turn off your i Phone, shut down the computer and sit on the couch with a cup of coffee or a shot of grappa and read it... slowly



Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kenneth Goldsmith's Amazing View


"This new generic horizon rising before us is one so saturated with embedded calculation that it sucks almost every prior mode of literary production out of view. A new ecstasy of language has emerged, one of algorithmic rationality and machine worship; one intent on flattening difference: meaning and nonsense, code and poetry, ethics and morality, the necessary and the frivolous. Literature is now approaching the zero degree of blunt expediency — a chilling, thrilling, almost Darwinian opportunism in action. Writing it appears, at this scale at least, is dead"

I admit that I read the Harriet Blog and the Poetry Foundation website in secret. It is out of jealousy at not being able to contribute to it that I read it. With this envy in mind I am amazed by some of the poets who are highlighted. Sometimes posts make me think and challenge me to be more as a poet.

Over the past year or so I have withdrawn from poetic socializing as I have descended into the self absorption that is the Great Recession. I am more worried about surviving the deluge than jousting with poetic adversaries. I have not had the emotional energy to debate and I have concentrated on translations and writing while I have tread ed water and hoped that I survive this flood of despair and wreckage.

This morning on Facebook- I read Christian Bok's critique of Kenneth Goldsmith's post on Harriet. I have to admit that I think that Bok is the worst kind of poetic elitist. There is a whole world of poets whose work is simply academic masturbation and I usually find his work painfully self serving along with many of his poetic friends. Goldsmith on the other hand I have found interesting and unlike Bok he usually writes things that are profound.

I needed to read Goldsmith's post. So I found it on line....

Goldsmith expounds on the use of technology and modes of literary production in a way that I think is important. He uses the term "blunt expediency" as a hinge for the article. I think that this is the opposite of where we really are in poetry. He talks about the new ways poetry can be consumed and created and also the fact that poetry is no longer built around the book or the great work which is a shame for us who dream of re writing the Cantos.

The fact is that Poetry, the art form which I practice and love, is pretty close to the most irrelevant art form in the American artistic idiom today. Poetry has never had the place in American society that Painting (Pollock, De Kooning, Rothko), Novels (O'Connor, Faulkner, Hemingway) or Theatre (O' Neill, Williams) have held but poetry has often been the art form that lead the way.

In the past poetry and poets have been in profound dialogue with our society and been forerunners of what society could become. If you look at the last great Economic disaster of American life, the Great Depression, we see poets serving this role. Langston Hughes, Kenneth Rexroth, Gwendolyn Brooks and many others were echoing the times they were living in and challenging the society to change.

They used new mediums to do this work. No one can convince me that Film and Radio were not as revolutionary in 1925 as the Internet is today. Global poets like Vallejo, Alberti and Neruda were using their great gifts to expose Fascism years before it was an important issue for most ordinary people. This is a role that has been abrogated by most American poets. While poets in places like Mexico (Laura Solorzano) and China (Bei Dao) are in that place.

As a poet who does not dwell in academia but one who dwells in the non academic business world most poetry appears to be precious literary gymnastics created by academics and intellectual thrill seekers. So much poetry today seems simply written to impress other academics or to appear "innovative" when in reality it is simply artifice.

Goldsmith compares Poetry to the new business cycle where most people are disposable.
As one of those who was disposed I think that poets and poetry need to ask another question why do they write? And why does it matter? Does anything they are doing have a purpose or is it simply to self-serve ego and self worth?

Our society is transforming from one set of assumptions to another. The growing dominance of China and their model of unfettered Capitalism with political and academic oppression is taking hold in many places in the world.

Poets are regularly imprisoned in China. In China Poetry is a political act here it is not. The Chinese model is taking root and is having a profound influence on places like Brazil, Indonesia and many nations in Africa. We are living in an age where the ideals of Freedom that have defined the West since 1945 are in retreat and a new norm that is best embodied by China's new high speed train to Tibet are becoming ascendant.

Yet most American poets are choosing to remain within the crumbling tower of Academia doing poetic gymnastics for their friends not dialogueing globally or choosing to move outside their small restricted world. The Internet has made this worse since it kills serendipity and causes people to read only sites they agree with. Yes, we can read poetry from around the world on line but how many Americans do this? I would venture I know all of them.

The issue is not that poets who dwell in the academy are not essential and broadminded, Sina Queyras, Jennifer Scappettone and Mark Nowak are academics but their work is about allot more than pleasing that audience. But are poets using technology to create a poetic hot house where they do not have to challenge or dialogue with the rapid change around us?

The issue is why poets and poetry tolerate artifice and weak writing no matter in what form it takes? Why is it that we do not demand from our poets more? Why is it that the technology is used as an excuse to accept narrowness and lack of breadth?

Poets need to ask the question why do they write? Not how they write. Poets need to understand that the world is changing and that the new world being created will not be friendly to poets.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day---- 2010