Thursday, June 24, 2004

First Lucipo group reading tonight at Pane + Vino in Chapel Hill. Perhaps a report later.

Occasionally people will ask for blogs to recommend -- I'm sure most everyone reading this know most of the high traffic blogs, but if you haven't checked out John Latta's Hotel Point or Gary Norris' Dagzine, you should make those a part of your daily readings. (links in my blogroll)

An interesting debate occurred a week or more ago when Gary took exception to a statement by Joshua Corey, along the lines of JC's saying that one sacrific of going MFA is punting the opportunity for a living wage for those number of years. If I remember correctly, part of Gary's exception to this was based not on JC's experiences or background, but of those around Gary, fellow students playing the 'poor' card all the while knowing that as soon as they leave they'll be re-entering mainstream middle-classdom with a graduate degree in hand.

I also get a little creeped out when myself, or other writers, play the poor card. Or the working class card. This is mostly directed at myself, because I've had this exact same working class chip on my shoulders for a long time. I grew up in a tiny town, far from affluent, but I think I would be a jerk if I kept harping on this fact (even though I do!) as though those from different backgrounds owed me an apology. Plus, I think it's disrespectful in my own situation to frame myself as anything other than middle of the road, background wise -- I wonder how much victim mentality plays into my own presentations of myself. There was no crime where I grew up. There was no lack of food or clothes. I'm white and male and straight (& good looking!) American and my parents never divorced and are extremely generous and loving. It'd be disingenuous to present myself as some sort of 'survivor'.

I never thought about these things much until grad school where it seems, like Gary, I encountered fellow students who would play to poor card, or 'what a sacrifice I've made' card, while coming from affluent or near-affluent backgrounds. Most did not, but there did seem to be this underlying strain of wanting to play the role of the starving writer (cost of living is low enough in Arkansas that between the admittedly smallish monthly stipend of about $900 a month plus working at a writing center and Writers in the Schools and a yearly $3000 fellowship, one could make it through the four years w/o loans -- I did so for the first three years until I was paying probably more for alcohol than rent and had to take out a couple loans to get by) when most everyone got plenty to get by on.

I've made very few sacrifices to be a poet, I feel. None. Really. Coming out of high school, the two options I gave myself was to either become a logger (something I had always to be growing up) or to continue working at Burger King and go to community college. Life's been easier ever since I decided the latter, and was never easier than grad school at Arkansas. I'll admit I sometimes allow myself some juvenile self-pity these days while working at the coffee shop ("the author of Invisible Bride will now clean the toilet and mop the floor"), but I know that this is a temporary situation, and that I've chosen to work as a barista as opposed to grabbing adjunct classes in the hopes of securing more time for writing. Poetry has very much been my ticket, and when I've encountered hesitant students while on Writers on the Schools trips to poorer parts of Arkansas, I've emphasized this: I was nobody in high school, in community college. Writing has been a way of constructing an identity, of asserting an identity. It really isn't that hard, and I'm glad I've heard at least John Ashbery acknowledge this. It's easier than waiting on customers or flipping burgers or cutting down trees. You don't have to be that smart, just willing to immerse yourself to be competent, and if you're competent and willing to be a little pushy, you can play it out into a living wage and if you don't buy into Romantic self-destruction you can probably enjoy a dignified old age relatively free of arthritis and other work-induced ailments.

I think it's disengenuous to always say 'there's no money in poetry' -- hell, while I was in grad school 'suffering' my stipend for my fifteen hours a week job (6 hours in class, 9-10 hours prep and grading) and my incredibly easy workload (creative writers at Arkansas can take many independent readings and extra-curricular classes) I was making more money a month than anyone in my immediate family in Missouri -- this includes my retired parents and grandparents, my aunt who works at WalMart, my aunt who works at McDonalds, my uncle who works at a factory, my aunt and cousin who work at the same factory, my cousin who worked at a video store before her pregnancy, my uncle who worked at a convenience store but now works at WalMart. & I was putting in less than half the hours of any of the above. & I wasn't coming home with an aching back.

I think poetry is the perfect field for unapolgetically ambitious young women and men of working class background who want access to something outside their small town. I have no idea about the options for someone from an urban-poor background.

I also think that contrary to conventional wisdom, that poetry is exactly the kind of field that young smart men and women are attracted to: little to no overhead or equipment, no producers, no agents. More or less complete freedom. Why go to Hollywood and do one project every 8 years and worry about raising millions of dollars when you can stay at home and do as many projects as you want, by yourself or with others, and play those projects into humble yet comfortable teaching paychecks? Once customers at the coffee shop found out that I was a poet, and published, many actually started tipping me better and treating me in a more polite way, which is disturbing in the abstract, but in my day-to-day life is quite nice, to have an identity to others beyond 'just' being a barista.

An article from the Wall Street Journal that basically argues "Well, Bush isn't as bad as Stalin or Hitler." Is this supposed to be a defense of Bush?

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Imaginary Synonyms

Eventually we take it apart

Dissecting it palate by plate

Only to get smaller wholes

Your mother asks me to tell her

What to think of when she says “milk”

& you say Waves

Of potential, of possibility

A crush now always on

Secondary phenomena. Come home

Bring goldfish for the

Ponds. Cleft angels

Distorted talons

Stuck with the shapes we are

As waves. A cave. A nimbus

Around my brother as he hums

Home. Seduction of the sources

The first days of being enormous

Analagous holograph of

Above. My medium is a low blow

Filled by quanta wants

Heating the non-luminous iron bar

Inner sight. Granular

The syllables are syllabic

When mouthed. Come home

To discrete levels of comfort

Grief may be rotting half my brain

But I remember all of your face

Faintly. An observer

You enter these memories

Grief understands the poses

It is to assume. The film passes

Through the gate

Undulates in ways sound does

Away from pronouncement. This

The very womb of evasion

The crest of each wave emits

A portrayal of unleashed

Deliverance. Static as a fragment

Enfolded in known formation

Aeon overcome by error

Shoulders heaving, mouth open

& moving. Come home

Your father’s birthday is today

for Kim Sun-il

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

I now have a large blog.

Just got home from the Open Eye. Tim Botta and Ben Folds came into the shop tonight (separately, at different times). Read thru most of the new Rain Taxi, great piece on Stan Brakhage, and really nice interview with Barbara Guest in which she discusses her upcoming book Red Gaze, and specific poems from there, including "The Gold Tap", which is
one of two Guest poems forthcoming in Octopus #4.

And hey, Standard Schaefer has a blog but he hasn't written anything on it yet. Welcome to the blog world, Mr. Schaefer. If you're looking for a topic for your first post, I suggest a you propose a possible definition for the soon-to-be poetry slang word 'tostian'.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Current working idea is thinking of my poems as storage and retrieval systems. A space in which to store and retrieve x, y, a, z, m, n.

I also like the idea that my favorite poets not only make interesting decisions at pivot-points, but they recognize points as pivot-points where one normally would not (which is where I think a term like 'originality' or 'lyrical gift' can be applied). This quality is what makes an invidual line of Robert Duncan or Ronald Johnson so compelling; interesting decision are being made at a word by word basis (each word, or even syllable, is a pivot point).

Someone like Lyn Hejinian or John Ashbery, two other favorites (John an old one, Lyn a new one) have the most appeal to me on a wider scale -- less word by word than utterance by utterance, or consciousness by consciousness (though of course there's wonderful word-by-word pivots too). In My Life, for instance, I read the space between each sentence as a pivot point, and found great pleasure doing so.

I find myself wanting to recreate or find pivot-points in my own poems: a pivot from image to aphorism, from emotion to trivia.
GutCult #4 has great stuff. Really great lineup; exciting to see work from Anselm Berrigan and Ben Lerner, and Hope Smith (who will have a great piece in the next Octopus), a couple of things from me, terrific poems from Tim Botta. Loaded.

Also, Patrick Herron has put-up audio files of almost all the readers from the Carrboro Poetry Festival. 10 hours of poetry, one poet at a time. Go on over and hear Kasey Mohammed, Linh Dinh, Standard Schaefer, Ken Rumble, Patrick Herron, and many others, including the poet I like to refer to as "the white Billy Collins" (that'd be me).

Thursday, June 17, 2004

I actually do think my poetry is a lot like Zukofsky's, only smarter, and more nuanced. This probably arises from my superior erudition. But I don't at all dislike Louis Zukofsky's poems. They're kind of sweet.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I got frustrated trying to remember how to post a comment over at Janet Holmes' Humanophone; my comment has to do not so much to do with breakthrough narratives, but Janet's summarization of my sentences on John Koethe.

Anyway, from Humanophone:

Tony Tost's discussion of "breakthrough narratives" in his blog, continued on Aaron's and Josh's blogs, has me wanting to weigh in on a few assumptions. For example, Tony's casting of John Koethe as "a token poet in a major trade" made me do a double-take. Koethe's won major awards (the Kingsley Tufts among them) and has the major credential for any American poet to be considered "important" by academic critics: a degree from Harvard, which Ann Lauterbach pointed out in a piece for APR a few years back is curiously dominant among the poets favored by the mainstream arbiters. He's a fine poet, but there are many fine poets who don't have access to his network and will (or do) truly have to deal with that "token poet" label and whose range of publication choices is therefore notably smaller. I'd suggest that his access to a wide range of publications is facilitated by his alignment with that elite, rather than by any aesthetic choices he may or may not make.

So, I was trying to put the below quote in her comment box, but forgot my password to log in to do so . . .


Hello! In the hope of clarification: I was talking about John Koethe in the context of Ron Silliman's wondering whether or not FSG published Clark's Music & Suicide as a way to discredit not only Clark but 'post-avant' writing in general. Silliman also talks about how going with a major publisher is a good way to stop getting noticed by the sort of people who read titles from Flood Editions, etc. My interpretation of Silliman's post is that going to a major trade publisher is a good way of losing street cred. So, I wrote: "Is the option of burying one's self as a token poet at a major trade the most attractive current option for creative independence? It seems a poet like John Koethe's work is wonderfully free of alignment-anxiety, which may be why he's able to place work in mainstream mags like Poetry or APR and no-name online journals (like Octopus) and neither act is going to define/limit him." Didn't say Koethe was a token poet *in* a major trade ('trade' in this formulation meaning 'poetry' [?] -- in my original sentence I hope it's clear I mean 'trade' as in 'big fish publisher'), but that doing what Jeff Clark is doing, going from a hip to a major press, has an appeal beyond delusions of fame or fortune: elbow room -- it's almost a way to go under the radar (or at least the post-avant radar), which echoes what Silliman writes, but I was hoping to put a different spin on it, using John Koethe as an example of a poet who might have more street cred and get more reviews in more independent-minded journals if he was published somewhere different; his decision to publish with Harper Collins isn't sexy but probably allows him to send stuff out wherever without worrying if the folks back home will think he's less cool if he has a poem in the Kenyon Review or something. So he can plug away doing whatever aesthetically (I'm guesstimating wildly here) and still get stuff in APR on the strength of his work and (to be cynical) vitae but still publish poems at smaller places because everyone says the big publishers just publish poets as tokens, so the big publisher doesn't care if Koethe publishes poems with the small fries either. I love that Koethe pops up in The Canary and New American Writing, and I'm guessing that his Harvard connections don't get him into the above mags (if a Harvard connection gets you into APR & Poetry AND New American Writing & The Canary, please let me now announce that my fiancee Leigh went to Harvard and I hope this one degree of separation will get me into the above journals). Anyway, just wanted to point out that what I wrote in my blog and how you summarized what I wrote are, to me, two pretty different things. Or I at least have a different spin on what I wrote.



So, anyway, I felt that Janet and I ended up talking about two different things. If FSG offered to add me as a token to their roster, I think I'd probably do it, for the above reasons. The absolutely best part about the Whitman isn't any illusions of prestige or making it or of importance or even really acceptance (tho it did feel like a much-desired & unexpected acceptance after four years in a program that, for the first few years at least, felt almost geared towards trying to convert me to its ways (New Formal or anecdote-epiphany) of thinking); the sheer distribution & availability of Invisible Bride -- via LSU, the Whitman & the Academy of Am. Poets -- is absolutely the best thing that could've happened, publishing wise. & no one raised a fuss or a holler when I changed the title from Unawares to Invisible Bride, revised most of the poems & order, dropped the chapter titles & replaced them with numbers, dropped several poems and plugged new ones in. It was basically a perfect publishing experience. If I could ever recreate that combination of freedom and distribution ever again, I'll do whatever I can to do so, even if it means I never end up getting into Combo or The Germ or the other journals I want to be in. Or at least I think so. Combo's really f'in cool.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I've acquired a certain amount of inner peace lately, and good deal has to do with the fact that Bad Horse, my fantasy baseball team, has moved up from 8th to 3rd place. We have a 14 team league, which is just about perfect. Here's my team:

C V. Martínez
1B N. Johnson
2B J. Kent
3B H. Blalock
SS N. Garciaparra
CI S. Hatteberg
MI S. Hairston
LF B. Giles
CF V. Wells
RF R. Johnson
OF R. Klesko

Bench M. LeCroy
Bench J. Reyes
Bench R. Durham
DL P. Wilson
DL M. Giles

My hitting is just about where I want it. I drafted a completely different team: Todd Helton, Carlos Beltran, Corey Koskie, Kaz Matsui. But I think this team is solid. These are the stat categories for position players:

Runs HR RBI SB Ks Assists Errors AVG OBP SLG

Marcus Giles breaking his collarbone I thought would kill me, but I traded Carlos Beltran to get Jeff Kent and a few others. Hopefully Preston Wilson, Jose Reyes and Ray Durham will be getting healthy soon and I can trade extras for new pitching. I picked up Scott Hatteburg mostly because he doesn't strike out much, but this season he's turned into Fred McGriff circa 96 (which is a good thing). My strategy is to pick up high onbase percentage guys that don't strike out too much (Blalock's the only real whiffer).

Pitching is always an adventure (my God I feel like a nerd writing this post, BUT I BLEED FOR FANTASY BASEBALL). My usual strategy is to draft young, high strikeout guys later in the draft. This year I drafted Curt Schilling, who pitched awesome, but I was worried about his workload and age, so I traded him for Mark Mulder a few weeks ago. Feels like a decent trade right now. I drafted Oswalt, but I wonder if he's hiding an injury. I picked up Glavine in a trade (basically him and Vernon Wells for J. Edmonds and Todd Helton). Drafted J. Santana, who might be my favorite pitcher to watch (w/ Prior and Pedro), who is finally turning it on. Anyway, my pitching staff, after much wheeling & dealing:

SP R. Oswalt (Hou - SP)
SP M. Mulder (Oak - SP)
SP T. Glavine (NYM - SP)
SP J. Santana (Min - SP,RP)
SP J. Piñeiro (Sea - SP)
RP M. Herges (SF - RP)
RP O. Dotel (Hou - RP)
RP J. Frasor (Tor - RP)
P B. Lidge (Hou - RP)
P M. Batista (Tor - SP,RP)

These are the stat categories for pitching:


Fantasy baseball is basically like a chess match stretched over an entire summer against thirteen other people. It's obsessive (ask McCollough). Have I mentioned on here that I'm planning on doing a baseball book. It's going to take years, but I'm working on the first essay, which tracks the history of the headfirst slide in the game itself and in literature, ideas and philosophies about it (Ty Cobb has great quotes on this), anecdotes concerning it (Tim Raines apparently slid headfirst to protect the vial of cocaine in his back pocket). Hoping to incorporate ideas about identity (people sliding headfirst even when it's technically ineffective because they identify with their head more than their feet?).

I need something to occupy me baseball wise for the next 10 years because the Mariners aren't going to be shit with the management now in place. I'm trying to switch some heartstrings to the Red Sox cuz of my love of T. Williams and Bill James; works only to a degree.

I hereby encourage Aaron McCollough and Adam Clay to blog about their teams, and to analyze them. To be continued . . .

Monday, June 14, 2004

The third issue of Octopus is now available. In this issue: prose and poetry by: Ronald Johnson, Jaime Saenz (translated by Kent Johnson & Forrest Gander), Eleni Sikelianos, Jerome Rothenberg, Ben Lerner, Yang Lian (translated by Jacob Edmond), Lee Upton, Peter O’Leary, Jonah Winter, Joyelle McSweeney, Ian Ganassi, Peter Jay Shippy, John Latta, Matthew Henriksen, Danielle Dutton, Zafer Senocak (translated by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright), Tara Bray, Jenna Cardinale, Alex Lemon, Julie Larios, Mark Yakich, Carolyn Guinzio, Tom Horacek, Paul McCormick, Max Winter, Kent Johnson, Daniel Nester, Matt Hart, Joshua Kryah, Julia Story, Jeff Morgan & Kevin Larimer.


An interview with Peter O’Leary on Ronald Johnson’s legacy.

Essays on Ronald Johnson by Joshua Corey and Aaron McCollough.

Jeff Encke’s essay “Why I Am not a Manifestor: Post-War Avant-Gardism and the Manifestos of Frank O’Hara”

Reviews of John Koethe, Matthew Rohrer, Khaled Mattawa, Peter Gizzi and Noah Eli Gordon.

Recovery Projects on Edward Dahlberg and Wong May.

So please go patiently, go cautiously into these pyramids and beyond. We assure you these treasures are not cursed.


Team Octopus

Tony Tost & Zachary Schomburg, editors
Denny Schmickle, design

Sunday, June 13, 2004

I'm contemplating starting a cheapo print mag called Toothsome that would aim at about 5-6 issues a year, using just basic xerox copies that could be sent to folks for like a dollar, loose leaf, and then they could xerox copies for anyone that would want them. I find myself getting depressed with the time lags with Octopus; we've had the material for our 3rd issue in the can for what, like 3 months, and still aren't ready to launch. We've basically stopped accepting submissions and soliciting for the last 3-4 months because we have about a 2 and a half issue backload of material, so there's all this energy that I'm wanting to tap that I can't, all these writers I want to ask for material that I can't, etc. It's amazingly frustrating to not be hands-on on every aspect of a creative project--to be wiling but not able to pull the one or two all-nighters to get the thing into circulation and get going with the next issue.

I've also been thinking about an on-line site called Mine which wouldn't use the magazine issue-by-issue format but something more like a gallery, or just a house, with rooms. New rooms added all the time to the main structure, and I'd kind of run the house and keep it clean and ask others to curate/build rooms.

We had a great Lucifer Poetics meeting at Leigh and my place yesterday with myself, Leigh, Ken Rumble, Marcus Slease, Patrick Herron, Will May, Todd Sandvik and Chris Vitiello in attendance. Group reading of Chris' excellent, absurdist play, good discussions of various poems, poets, projects. Lots of beer, some wiffle ball. Afterwards Leigh and I and Ken and Kathryn drank to the point that Ken and I were flexing our arm muscles to the general public in the middle of the Orange County Social Club. Hangover and garlic spaghetti today, and joyfully splashing my way through Talisman's The World in Time and Space anthology.

I keep thinking about the 'breakthrough' narrative -- many poets famously presented this narrative in their switching from formal verse to free verse fifty or so years ago -- a narrative of independence and autonomy achieved via the (it seems) almost moral impetus to break free of the metered line. Strangely enough, this narrative seems to be enjoying a 2nd life perhaps as people throw off the chains of the 'official verse culture' into the post-avant realm -- and I wonder to what degree buying into this narrative presumes a degree of arriving, of being home -- if not a self-satisfaction arriving from this, then at least a comfort, and also an anxiety to defend one's avant credentials. Silliman raises the question (surely in jest?):

But Jollimore underscores my point that “Music and Suicide reads like a conscious attempt to discredit Clark as a poet.” Indeed, it’s being used to discredit every post-avant poet. The only real question is whether or not this is simply an act of incompetence on the part of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, an accident basically, or is more deliberate & sinister in its intent.

To the degree this can be taken seriously I suppose would inform the answer to my own question: Is the option of burying one's self as a token poet at a major trade the most attractive current option for creative independence? It seems a poet like John Koethe's work is wonderfully free of alignment-anxiety, which may be why he's able to place work in mainstream mags like Poetry or APR and no-name online journals (like Octopus) and neither act is going to define/limit him.

I almost have the impulse to go out and buy some Roberty Bly and Mary Oliver books and put them on my bookshelf not as embarrassing evidence of my past, pre-breakthrough reading life, but as an assertion of an unwillingness to choose sides and thus confirm the boundaries set up by a lot of poets I find boring. I can't tell whose poems bore me more, Charles Bernstein's or William Logan's.

This does seem like the beginning of a proposed 3rd way, but announcing a 3rd way only validates the other two ways. This is mostly a shrugging of shoulders.

Friday, June 11, 2004


If you're smart you would.

Mr. McCollough has an excellent, insightful, helpful (for me) review of Invisible Bride over at Free Verse.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Are 6 groomsmen and a best man too many peeps? Am finding my conceptual powers woefully inadequate. I guess this is what happens when you marry late in life.

So, the Carrboro Poetry Festival. A great, great success. First of all, Patrick Herron brought in an amazing array of poets, both local and out-of-town. Only one poet, I felt, gave a stinker of a reading, but I am planning to use a technique that he used in readings of my own in the future (he read sort of quasi-Bly wisdom poems and one ended with a friend and him dancing in a meadow, maybe, with one of them hollowing out a reed and playing it. Nice enough, though the language was that sort of memoirish, half-hearted stab at descriptiveness. Anyway, the amazing thing is that he repeated this last stanza to make sure we 'got it'. Part of it was his delivery (really self-satisfied and patronizing; you could tell he felt sorry for us). Part of it was the fact that there was no word-play or anything else that couldn't be gotten the first time)).

So I think I'm going to repeat either the last stanza or the last lines of all my poems from now on to make sure everyone gets it. I'm also going to act out the actions of those last lines and stanzas, just as reinforcement.

Some observations:

1) Most used word: autodidact.
2) My favorite reading: Joseph Donahue's.
3) My favorite 1-2-3 punch: Joe Donahue, Murat Nemet-Nejat & Standard Schaefer in a poetic murderer's row. I would like to teleport anyone who complains about the current state of poetic affairs to that part of the festival, 45 minutes of 3 hugely different poets reading work that has converted me into a completist-type fan of all three.
4) Personal highlights (happiness division): having Linh Dinh, and then Lee Ann Brown, dedicate parts of their readings to Leigh and me's new engagement.
5) Personal highlights (future happiness division): spending time with the beautiful children of Ken Rumble (his adorable Violet, who loves Leigh), Brian Henry (his beautiful Brynne, who adopted Leigh as a sister and told her "my daddy's soooo handsome" when Brian was on-stage), and Lee Ann Brown (her gorgeous, precocious Miranda).
6) Happy snapshot memory: driving backroads to Ken Rumble's house to have pancakes with him, Kathryn and Kasey, with Leigh and Lee Ann and I singing along to the "Wedding Bell Blues", "Dead Flowers" and "Misstra Know It All".
7) Biggest surprise: local poet Michael Ivey, one of the noon poets, who didn't start reading or writing poetry until after he retired, reading amazing work, including a meditation on the word lonely that was as sweet and sad as a Wes Anderson flick.
8) A reading I appreciate more and more as I remember it: Chris Murray, who maybe had the most challenging work at the fest, a sort of wall of sound read without too much emphasis on any words or phrases, a style that allows for effects that I think would be amazing in a longer time frame. As it was, it was still great, sort of grace notes arising from the static. Chris Murray is the Husker Du of American Poetry.
9) Note to self dept: this was the first time I've ever read without drinking to soothe my nerves before hand--it was also the most satisfying reading I've done.
10) Who I want to get stuck in an elevator with so I can pick their brains: Chris Vitiello, Murat Nemet-Nejat, Standard Schaefer, Joe Donahue, Carl Martin.
11) Who I want to talk poetry with for about eight hours a week so I like a vampire can feed off of their energy: Marcus Slease, Tim Botta, Ken Rumble.

More notes later.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Unquiet Grave is proud to announce . . .

The engagement of Leigh Plunkett and Tony Tost.

Perhaps the best weekend of my life. Leigh said 'yes' on Friday. Old and new friends all weekend. Details & phonecalls forthcoming.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

I hope I'm not the only one who feels energized by the discussion of the last few days, and the applicable, non-personal issues raised. One amazing thing is how personality can intercept argument, or at least draw attention away: the fact that the original 9x9 question was about Pound and not, say, HD, introduces a personality (Pound's) into the equation that triggers almost automatically a set of forceful responses. In addition to this, introduce into the equation the fact that one of the people I quoted was Jim Behrle, that also throws in a strong personality and various sets of responses & prejudices (it's pretty clear I have some) into the mix, & add my own personality, Kent Johnson's, etc., and there's bound to be blood, I suppose. It's not like we have certified nice people like Shanna Compton and Josh Corey debating the pleasures of EA Robinson here.

Regardless, it'd be great to continue the discussion with minimum emphasis on the personal. I'd like to re-iterate that my direct concern is not some bizarre fuddy-duddy outrage of mine that a specific person isn't reading a poet I love. That indeed would be a stupid & pointless argument for me to make.

The stance that I compiled (fairly or unfairly) from the three answers I quoted regarding Pound is what I was reacting so strongly to; the fact that the poet in question (both 9x9's question and my rhetorical ones) is Ezra Pound is secondary and to me only emblematic of more direct issues. Perhaps I should frame my views of this in the positive, as opposed to the negative.

1) I strongly believe it is productive, fruitful and a general good to expose one's self to, and engage, poets whose work one doesn't necessarily 'like'.

a) 'Like' is in quotes because it is a vague term, I think. For this statement, I'd freely substitute 'poets one doesn't find immediately gratifying' or even 'poems that the current self doesn't find pleasure in.'

2) I strongly believe that one manifestation of love is a desire to see as clearly and fully as possible. If you love poetry . . .

3) I strongly believe one can fully engage a poet's work and maintain one's own views, values, and aesthetics, but full engagement does (by definition?) imply that one risks having those views, etc. challenged and/or changed.

Engagement obviously plays out in many ways. One of the most interesting engagement-statements (awkward term) is Mark Wallace's essay on Rimbaud in Wallace's newest book Haze. A quote:

Rimbaud is too selfish, vicious, unhelpful, unexpansive, childish--he reaches out to nothing, and strangles that which he reaches by accident. His work can't form a field of study, a bureaucracy, a discipline, because understanding him makes nothing better. This condition won't help him from being read, perhaps, but makes it impossible to use him unless he's used against himself, which, if one must be used, may be the only way to bear it. As Verlaine's family seems to have suspected, Rimbaud meant only danger to anyone who loved him.

Wallace extends and combines both Rimbaud's work and his life, and works around the idea of completely rejecting a poet whose work I admire, enjoy and at times emulate. But the key for me is that Wallace is in complete engagement with Rimbaud, in fact takes his work as consequential enough to be dangerous, that Rimbaud is perhaps to be known and rejected, which is a compelling idea, and which illuminates and energizes my own ideas on Rimbaud. Wallace wrestles with Rimbaud at a fundamental level, makes himself vulnerable to the work (by fully engaging with it), and manages to do so without annhilating his own values or self. The non-engagement stance (the one that I originally reacted against and one that I do not attribute to one single source) as it applies to past poetries isn't really repulsive or shocking to me, Tony Tost, today, June 3rd, after dinner. It's just kind of banal.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

After some thought, my revised thesis:

I don't know how I personally could undertake a life-long commitment to poetry and not at some point fully investigate a poet of Pound's stature, and if anyone who decides to become serious about writing poetry in the long term asks for my advice on the matter, I'd recommend they read the Modernist maestros as a starting point (poets whose concerns are still very relevant but whose bodies of work and developments can be viewed as completed wholes?) and then branch out from there while also reading and when possible subscribing to contemporary journals.

It certainly was a different kind of sensation to come home from work and find fifty or so comments in the blog (see previous post).

My general, biased play-by-play of the discussion: Behrle finds an analogy between Pound and Kiss and insists that this is America so he can read whatever he wanna read because, well, this is America; Thomas Basbell and Kent Johnson both counter with their differing opinions (Kent Johnson writes: "It goes without saying, as Jim says in his last comment, that a young American poet in the "avant" tradition can choose to ignore Pound and keep on happily writing poems. In somewhat analogous manner, a young civil rights attorney can choose to ignore the writings of Martin Luther King and keep on happily practicing civil rights law). Tim Peterson and Paul McCormick also contribute, hoping to steer the conversation away from any sort of Behrle-centric topic and towards a more practical discussion (such as, how should one approach reading our recent poetic past). Behrle offers his view, which alternates between "I will survive" and "Tim Peterson has demonstrated what I perceive to be a weakness so instead of addressing this current discussion I will instead try to humiliate him".

The issue of influence is a real issue, especially for younger poets who may or may not feel secure in their own knowledge of the craft. & I think the idea of craft may be a central attribute informing one's approach (as a reader) to The Tradition, however one may define that term. Myself and other poets my age I know very well (Adam Clay, Matt Henriksen, Tim Van Dyke, Paul White) will study key poets with fairly selfish designs: to learn more of the craft, to experience a master poet as he or she extends & enriches what a poem can do, & then to crib from that master. In this process, however, I'll often come to love, if not the poet, then the body of work. Of course Behrle or whomever can write off Pound/Coleridge/Bishop/whoever and keep on writing poems and I'm sure be really satisfied with the results. & good for them. It doesn't really matter. But it is awfully helpul in clarifying one's values to have views readily available in the relatively small poetry blogworld that one reacts strongly against.

Broadcasting your opinions in public invites others to disagree. Pretty obvious, right? Most people I think find the possibility of disagreement normal and not a personal attack. I do happen to think that an in-depth knowledge of Pound and the changes he facilitated and initiated is necessary to writing interesting poems in the present age. & I'd really would be interested in a reasoned argument why this opinion of mine might very well not hold up to scrutiny, because such an argument would likely either make me adjust or re-evaluate & clarify my current assumptions.

I'll try to clarify my view (closer to an intuition right now) on the matter over the next week or so as well.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

If you get a chance, there's an extremely thoughtful response by Thomas Basbøll in the comment box of the previous post, as well as Behrle's responses, one of which culminates:

I mean, this Zukofksy/Olson/Pound stuff, that's pretty covered and most people will give you a doggie treat and a pat on the head for standing up for it. So why is it necessary for *me* to roll over and play dead for it?

& I think this is perhaps precisely the kind of stance which prompted my original post; not so much the specifics or the degrees of Pound's faults, but the idea that to engage or read a poetics outside of one's comfort zone is to somehow "roll over and play dead for it" & that younger poets perhaps should be thankful for excuses to not have to be submissive before such imposing forces. It may be naively optimistic of me to think poets, even poets older than I (such as Behrle), would still be actively seeking out the sources and foundations of where the art is at (it's not fixed--please take that 'at' as a multiple one) even if those sources and foundations don't reflect one's current aesthetics. Which is why Silliman so often breaks my heart with his School of Quietude business, which becomes a model for dismissal of the unfamiliar. I'm at least ten years away from feeling somewhat secure in knowing what happened in the last hundred years or so of American poetry. I entered grad school in love with the NY School and familiar with what is pigeonholed as Ploughshares/Poetry/Kenyon Review poetry, and the whole Deep Image tendencies of the late 60s onward, but pretty unfamiliar with anything outside those loose tendencies. It's just been in the last year or so, propelled by a love of Ronald Johnson's poetry, that I've explored the Zukofsky/Olson/Pound 'stuff' and as much as I'm in favor of doggie treats the real reward has been my own opening up to (my new willingness to indeed allow myself be vulnerable to) poets that were previously bewildering to me, from Lyn Hejinian to Rod Smith. Completely immersing myself in Ashbery and those related to him in the first few years of grad school gave me a bit of a compass for reading a lot which came in his wake, but only to a degree (it also provided me an alternate map to some of the endorsed poetics of my program that I found wanting).

My current knee-deep immersion in Olson/Pound/Duncan etc is doing the same. I really do think a saturation job, apprenticing yourself to a poet or a group of poets (rolling over and playing dead for them), is necessary work, a way to get down to the roots of something and know it (& let it know you) intimately.

As my man says in Human Universe: "There must be a way which bears in instead of away, which meets head on what goes on each split second, a way which does not -- in order to define -- prevent, deter, distract, and so cease the act of, discovering."

Also, in an interview: "You cannot lose if your case is love."
Is it really possible to write poetry while gleefully ignoring Ezra Pound, or relegating him to cartoon?

I just stumbed on the 9 x 9 site and one of the questions reads thus:

During World War II Ezra Pound openly and actively supported fascism in Europe. Does this affect how you read his poems? Why or why not?

DANIEL ABDAL-HAYY MOORE has a very intelligent, reasoned, actually informed answer, first questioning the bald-faced question, then looking at subtleties of response, though I wonder what we would do if Zukofsky never befriended Pound. I mean, wasn't the last straw of the Olson-Pound friendship (Olson traveling to St. Elizabeths to visit) Ezra's insistent belittling of WCW because of Williams' 'impure' blood?

Anyway, Ezra Pound is the Ezra Pound of American poetry. I just don't understand just sort of dismissing him, whether you 'like' him or not (do poets reall just stick to poets they 'like'? isn't that a little delusional, like the Bush administration sticking to policies and idealogies they 'like'?). It's there, it happened, we're in its shadow and pretending we're not doesn't seem to make it less so. Anyway, some responses to the Ezra question:


I don't really care about Ezra Pound. I don't read his work. But I'm not sure why we continue to single him out. There are lots of poets with asshole opinions. It's not as though we're dealing with the poems of Mussolini or Hitler. I guess if I read one of his poems and didn't know it was him and liked it and then found out it was him I might be caught up in a wave of guilt. But if we cast out every poet who had dopey opinions from being read or enjoyed, we'd become an inconsequential art.


Nothing about Ezra Pound's work ever really appealed to me. I can't help it. I never liked it. Like I never liked William Blake. Not only do I not like it, I find it sort of frumpy and annoying, even when it's trying to be vehement and universal and profound. And I read them that way before I knew Pound was a fascist. But it's very possible that the characteristics that make Pound's writing heavy handed and reminiscent of bad dark wood paneling are the very characteristics that made him sympathetic to a particularly dumb, paternalistic and racist kind of nationalism. More generally, I think poets will inevitably and should be, though not exclusively, read in the context of their lives. I think one very sound and interesting way to read poetry is like historical fiction like a very human, very visceral way to get a handle on the world as it has been and the people who have lived it. So were I to be able to stomach Pound's poetry, that might be the most useful way for me to read it.


I was very relieved to find out about Ezra Pound's political leanings/ravings because I was never a great reader of Pound, we just did not get along. It gave me a good reason to discard him, especially in speaking with intellectuals.


Do budding philosophers do this? 'I don't really dig Wittgenstein, plus he wasn't a nice guy, beat his students when he was a schoolmaster and so on, so it makes me happy that I don't have to bother with him.' That seems a little ridiculous. The answers above make me feel as though we're still stuck in the poetry-as-self-expression meadow. I mean if one doesn't really 'read Ezra Pound' who does one read? Just Frank O'Hara and Ted Berrigan over and over again? (or, if one doesn't listen to, say, Colin Powell because one doesn't really 'like' what he says, who does one listen to? Wolfowitz and Rumsfield over and over again?)