Thursday, January 31, 2008

You've Put Off Writing Long Enough

He was continually greedy for the stars
and chunked belief with an ax called god
night’s beautiful throat
more thorn than shadow
entered the sepulcher of all he shot
and grey were the ochre crosses of his days.
He slept at night a tender sleep
warmed his spirit in a needle’s womb
boiled a compass to make a tear
wandered the calendar of a yellowed year
and fought in horror the waiting deep
lining moonlight with his fence of sighs.

Miracle of Apples

Someday the apples will be liberated, the pear
will start a revolution and the banana will
commit suicide, rather than be executed. In tense meetings,
the cantaloupe has come up with a new political system.
It exists at the center of an ovoid universe, on a long summer afternoon.

You dream of secret conversations that drip with sticky, pink juice.

Yesterday, the pomegranate gave a speech and received a rousing ovation.
But at midnight, patrols of vegetables rode through town,
plastering posters of the banana on every available wall.
Grapes everywhere were deceived into joining the
knives, forks, dishes, mugs, and even a glass of wine.

Now dinner has descended upon me.
They will lead me to my ordinary death,
as real as the breath of a cannibal.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The snooze award goes to the poet Louise Glück. How this Pulitzer prize-winner reached the heights she has is a mystery on par with missing planes in a certain northeastern region of the Caribbean or how the ancient Egyptians managed to lift tons of stone in desert heat to construct, without mortar, structures that have lasted centuries. Glück also won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Academy of American Poets Prize, numerous Guggenheim fellowships, and was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States (2003-2004). It may be that she is an award-winner because her poetry is such a non-issue. It offends no one, possesses no memorable lines, does nothing to re-invent the language, and uses the most prosaic, flat language imaginable. It lumbers in a boring fog. I stumbled across this excerpt from one of her poems at the Poetry Foundation Web site.


On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry,
the boys making up games requiring them to tear off  the girls’ clothes
and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer
and they wanted to exhibit them, the brave ones
leaping off  the high rocks ,  bodies crowding the water.

The nights were humid, still. The stone was cool and wet,
marble for  graveyards, for buildings that we never saw,
buildings in cities far away.

On cloudy nights, you were blind. Those nights the rocks were dangerous,
but in another way it was all dangerous, that was what we were after.
The summer started. Then the boys and girls began to pair off
but always there were a few left at the end , sometimes they’d keep watch,
sometimes they’d pretend to go off  with each other like the rest,
but what could they do there, in the woods? No one wanted to be them.
But they’d show up anyway, as though some night their luck would change,
fate would be a different fate. . .

Emotion recollected in tranquility? Wordsworth must not have meant for his prescription to result in a state of catatonia. When compared with the poetry of someone writing at the level of Anne Sexton it becomes clearer how Glück is just riffing. Sexton used enjambment to create momentum or stop it, interesting or shocking imagery, abrupt shifts in tense and perspective, and touched upon universal themes that resonate in the imagination. Writers like John Ashbery also churn out consistently surprising lines that take the reader someplace unexpected. His diction is like watching fireworks in a barely remembered dream. The laxness of Glück’s lines don’t give the reader the impression that the poem necessarily even requires any line breaks. It could exist just as easily as a block of prose. The experience she points to isn’t overly sentimental, which is the main fault of most bad writing, but she provides annoying over-direction. Poets like Pierre Reverdy knew that the human mind is able to make many unseen connections when presented with an outline with lines missing. Poets like Glück provide too much information. Poems are objects that shouldn’t explain themselves. The narrative aspect of poems like this override what poetry is. Poetry is figurative language that uses techniques like parataxis, metaphor, rhythm, enjambment, alliteration, imagery, apostrophe, personification, allusion, and other elements to give language a spatial quality. Poetry isn’t the medium used to convey information. That’s why we have newspapers.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A masque/ Beyond the planets.

The Poetry Foundation Web site is a tad bit wheezy, but I get a kick out of the idea of "celebrity poets." Call me the romantic capital "r," but I do believe that to a certain extent poets are born and not made. What I would term "Lizard King" syndrome drives fans of celebrities to pick up their books of poetry to get a taste of the inner-most thoughts of those said celebrities. I'm being sincere when I say that whomsoever felt any comfort in books like Touch Me by Suzanne Somers is welcome to it. I'm somewhat of a populist in that I hope those who come to poetry do so for many varied reasons and it's been a blessing and somewhat of a curse for me, so I do hope that poetry provides something more than an intellectual game for those who read it. As a 14-year-old I remember very clearly buying No One Here Gets Out Alive and reading for the first time about Jim Morrison's infatuation with the writing of Arthur Rimbaud. I don't criticize those who would scramble to buy a book of poetry by Alicia Keys. The best thing that can happen to someone reading poetry of any kind for the first time would be that it spurs something to happen. If the reader of Ally Sheedy's or Billy Corgans' poetry goes on to become whatever it is they feel they need to be then all the better. Poetry isn't about an experience it is an experience. At the very least it's been proven that reading poetry increases ones ability to think abstractly. Wallace Stevens would be the prescription if that's the goal. Just don't ask me to ever give up my treasured copy of Listen to the Warm by Rod McKuen. It's the Plan 9 From Outer Space of poetry.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My upcoming readings ...

Feb 1 - DVA Gallery, 2568 N. Lincoln, Chicago, 8pm

May 1 - Observable Books Reading Series, with Ken Rumble and Matt Freeman, 7260 Southwest Ave. (at Manchester) Maplewood, MO, 8pm

June 8 - Chicago Poetry Showcase, Printers Row Book Fair, 3-5pm

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I love rediscovering poems after I’ve forgotten that I wrote them. Here’s one from years ago on The East Village.

On the horizon: My interview with Malcolm McNeill on The topic: His collaboration with William S. Burroughs on the elusive book Ah Puch Is Here, life in seventies London, and the alchemy of high-stakes illustration.

Monday, January 14, 2008

DVA Gallery

Thanks, Charlie Newman, for scheduling my February 1 reading at DVA Gallery. Come on down. While you're there, buy a Shag lunchbox.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Monday, January 07, 2008


The Poetry Foundation list of 2007 poetry best sellers is no shocker. It doesn’t logically follow that the best poetry ever written is necessarily being written right now simply because it seems that more poetry is being written now than ever before, but what explains the myopia of this list? My answer would be that the poetry of Billy Collins simply reinforces the expectations and prejudices of the reader and the public at large is not interested in reading poetry that requires anything more than minimal effort. Collins’ poetry never fails to lead the reader to an "aw-shucks" moment. Banalities should be used, if ever, as a starting point only. Poems should introduce the reader to something not seen before, not reinforce the commonplace and provide cornball reassurance. Charles Bukowski didn’t find his massive audience by dealing in banalities, but his uber-macho persona has succeeded in selling books where his poetry falls short of taking the art any farther than the hundreds of lesser well-known poets who are living right now and writing poems that are far more successful on many levels, technical and otherwise.

William Carlos Williams excelled at extracting valuable ore from everyday moments and distilling the quintessence of these thoughts and feelings into poetry. Every syllable in a poem by William Carlos Williams, or Emily Dickinson, is a counterpoint to the cacophony of everyday noise in life that seeks to deaden the senses. Collins would sooner cover the world in Formica rather than with what’s needed right now...granite.

According to Collins: ...I have one reader in mind, someone who is in the room with me, and who I'm talking to, and I want to make sure I don't talk too fast, or too glibly. Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong.

* * *

It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.

Asphodel, That Greeny Flower still serves as a prime example of how Williams could illuminate without leaving the reader behind. The universal aspect of what he wrote could be carried through in any language, because real insights are offered. The most effective humor in poetry always falls on the side of satire. A comedic element often exposes hypocrisy more memorably than anything. There’s nothing wrong with occasional poetry or appreciating humor or lightness of touch when that’s what works, but it appears that Collins’ efforts to spread an appreciation of poetry only served to spread an appreciation for himself.

Readers would be better off investing in the big new Collected Poems of Philip Whalen, or Frank O’Hara: Poems from the Tibor de Nagy Editions than picking up yet another book by an author such as Collins or Bukowski. In readers’ defense, there’s no resource out there to unmask charlatans and poets end up being the only audience for poets’ poets such as Whalen who of anyone writing in the last century was most deserving of a far wider audience.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Who Wants to Smell

We rub the suffering earth make it real
who wants to sexy the host ebulliently asks.
I like a rock music I like a heavy metal the contestant shouts.
We are just becoming visible
our surfaces are sure
and that we wait for answers
is fundamentally daring.