Archived entries for poetry

Level up your literature

LRB · John Lanchester: Is it Art?:

Northrop Frye once observed that all conventions, as conventions, are more or less insane; Stanley Cavell once pointed out that the conventions of cinema are just as arbitrary as those of opera. Both those observations are brought to mind by video games, which are full, overfull, of exactly that kind of arbitrary convention. Many of these conventions make the game more difficult. Gaming is a much more resistant, frustrating medium than its cultural competitors. Older media have largely abandoned the idea that difficulty is a virtue; if I had to name one high-cultural notion that had died in my adult lifetime, it would be the idea that difficulty is artistically desirable. It’s a bit of an irony that difficulty thrives in the newest medium of all – and it’s not by accident, either. One of the most common complaints regular gamers make in reviewing new offerings is that they are too easy. (It would be nice if a little bit of that leaked over into the book world.)

If by “difficulty” we mean the sort of linguistic experiment usually associated with avant-garde literature, difficult literature is more unpopular than it is dead. The avant-garde is there, it’s just even harder to find, ironically enough. In a world ruled by PageRank, isn’t popularity equivalent to non-existent? There are exceptions, but I’m not sure that we’re even talking about the same definitions of “difficulty” here. Getting through a few levels of Da Blob is probably difficult in a different way from reading a Ron Silliman poem.

I’d also question the idea that there’s ever been much of a market for experimental literature. What this seems to be is a reverse variation on the canard “they don’t make movies like that anymore,” when in truth the reality is that they never did. I see what the author is getting at here, and at first read it makes some sense, but it’s more clever than right.

(Via Lorcan Dempsey.)

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Poet vs theist

Allen Ginsberg Vs. John Lofton « A Nice Place:

GINSBERG: Do you ever have sexual fantasies?


GINSBERG: None at all?

LOFTON: No, I said I am a Christian.

GINSBERG: You’ve never had any sexual fantasies!

LOFTON: Before I was a Christian, I had them, absolutely.

GINSBERG: And since you’re a Christian you don’t?


GINSBERG: And when you had them, did they involve any dominance/submission fantasies!

LOFTON: Mine were pretty orthodox heterosexual kinds of fantasies. But there’s no doubt they were bad. And I am so glad that Jesus Christ delivered me from them.

GINSBERG: You have no erotic dreams now, at all, that you remember!

LOFTON: None that don’t feature my wife, no.


LOFTON: It’s an amazing thing what Jesus can do for a person.


This might be the most adversarial interview I’ve ever read. The whole thing is worth reading in terms of today’s “culture war.”

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“My vocabulary did this to me.”

The Phoenix > Books > Review: My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer:

Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian — poets, and the most knowledgeable and dedicated Spicereans — have brought together all the known Spicer poems in one place and given American poetry an essential book. Not that Spicer is for the common reader. God forbid. His poetry is like a glass of potent spirits; you don’t always have a taste for it, but when you do, it is the only drink that will do. It’s not easy to like Spicer’s work. He can be cutting, nasty, self-pitying to an extreme, the smartest one in the room, and a masterful, cruel putdown artist. That these are strengths is not paradoxical. Spicer was not interested in paradox. Taking dictation from ‘Martians’ allowed him to get away with murder, and after reading him, you may feel that much American poetry is fake, the quality of its emotions bland as baby food.”

I have the Robin Blaser “Collected Books” (from Black Sparrow) but I’m interested in this edition. Spicer is truly an underappreciated influence in American poetry, akin to Robert Duncan. He can be very difficult. I found the automatic writing angle somewhat uncomfortable when I was younger, but some of Spicer’s poetry is sublime:

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Is bread and butter
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.

There’s echoes of the various NY Schools in there. There are some really great collected volumes coming out these days. This is one of them.

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“decorate all these blank white pages”

Bookslut | “Beyond This Universe of Countless Words”:

While some might see this kind of writing as incoherent and lacking focus, the collage extends notions of self, memory, perception, and reflection in ways unique to Whalen’s modernist collage. Significantly, Whalen provides what Kenneth Burke has called ‘strategies for living.’ Such strategies provide readers with a richly textured poem that comments on the force of memory and imagination in the creation of everyday experience. Spiritual and philosophical introspection is often tempered with humorous outbursts of self-awareness, commentary on the concretely situated flesh-and-blood body in space, and historically framed contexts that give meaning to the accident of occasion. Such accidents appear in Whalen’s work in need of redemption from the peculiarities of chance. His work suggests instead that separation is an illusion, that things cohere as experience within a life remembered and continually re-processed and situated in the subtly shifting coordinates we all must ride. Poetry provides an imposed limitation on these phenomenal movements, for it demands translation of perception into a particularly ordered language. Again, in Burke’s terms, Whalen shows us how to expand our capacities of seeing, feeling, and thinking about the world and the particular environments we inhabit.

Particularly perceptive review of Whalen’s work in the the context of the recent Collected Poems. Whalen is by far my favorite of all the Beats. For the most part Whalen seems onto something entirely different than Kerouac Ginsberg Corso et al; his lumping in there is an accident of history.

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No poetry on ESPN

Ron Silliman: Of the 19 authors whose books I read in judging the Poetry…:

Reading Wenderoth’s web page at UC Davis, I get the sense that he may be more interested in poetry that is performable – in the Henry Rollins sense – than in the printed page, which may explain this puzzle. A poem like ’Twentieth-Century Pleasures’ just might work very well at a reading to an
audience inexperienced in contemporary poetry – those short pieces would likewise – but it does so for all the reasons that make poetry as performance an inherently debased art. The exact same qualities that would make you cringe at an episode of Matlock work very well at pulling forward stock emotions from audiences who aren’t trained to recognize such manipulations. There’s a reason why so many poets who participate in slams are notoriously unread. This might not be slam material, but the dynamics are fundamentally the same.

Which caught my eye, because just yesterday I found myself reading (also via Silliman’s blog) this:

White Plains, NY – In case you haven’t heard, stars are coming to White Plains – the stars of Slam Poetry.

They have been featured at the White Plains Public Library the first Wednesday of each month since 2004 thanks to Eric “Zork” Alan, author and four-time National Slam Poet competitor; Program Librarian Barbara Wenglin, along with other library staff, and the White Plains Library Foundation.

Spoken word or performance poetry is now one of the most popular and growing forms of poetry throughout the United States and worldwide. The Library’s monthly slam poetry events offer an opportunity for poets in Westchester County to perform their original works at an Open Mic or Slam competition during the evening, as well as take inspiration from world-class guests and other local poets. The talented slammaster and performance poet, Eric “Zork” Alan, emcees each program. The visiting poets are exciting professionals from around the country who have been attracting a large and diverse audience. In fact, the program has made such an impact on teens that the White Plains Library Foundation is launching an additional slam poetry program just for them.

Following a year of competitions, the 2008 Westchester Poetry Slam winning team members are James Joseph Buhs, Dan DeRosa, Sean Gallagher, Anne Marie Marra, and Slammaster Eric “Zork” Alan. The team competed at the National Poetry Slam Championship in August in Madison, WI, and received great positive feedback. In 2007, the first-ever Westchester Poetry Slam team entered the National Poetry Slam Championship in Austin, Texas.

Why can’t I read this without thinking about Dodgeball championships on the Ocho? Why isn’t poetry an Olympic event?

(Via Silliman’s Blog.)

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My 10-year-old kid

The Teacher’s View: Aram Saroyan’s Complete Minimal Poems:

“‘Anyone could have written these poems,’ another student said. ‘I could have written these poems.’

‘Yes, you could have,’ I replied, ‘but you didn’t.’ “

Saroyan’s Complete Minimal Poems has just been republished by Ugly Duckling Presse, and there’s been some comment due to the NEA kerfuffle over this poem (presented here in its entirety, though not in its solitary on the page context):


Cue gov’t hysteria over your tax dollar funding this crap, etc etc. The cited post is about a high-school class discussing the poems prior to Saroyan’s May 18th visit to the class. The exchange above is one of the best responses to the generic and eternal “my not-going-to-be-born-for-20-years-yet kid could have painted that asleep” argument I’ve ever read. But the students raise some interesting points, and this guy sounds like a pretty damn good teacher. Read the whole thing. I’m looking forward to the entry after Saroyan visits the classroom.

Holy crap. Aram Saroyan is 65 years old. Jeebus.

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