Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Robes and Crowns

On writing: “we’re talking about the struggle to drag a thought over from the mush of the unconscious into some kind of grammar, syntax, human sense; every attempt means starting over with language. starting over with accuracy. i mean, every thought starts over, so every expression of a thought has to do the same. every accuracy has to be invented. . . . i feel i am blundering in concepts too fine for me.”

"The Inscrutable Brilliance of Anne Carson" in The New York Times


In Ammons’s humanist revision, we must provide our own robes and crowns, conferring sanctity on ourselves without the help of divine grace.   The hymn’s shining river becomes the momentarily cooled glass within whose chinks and bubbles we conduct our lives.  In a typescript of the poem, Ammons crossed out the word “robe” and substituted “tam,” a playfully eccentric touch that tempers the Biblical solemnity of the original line.  As much as he loved the dignity and eloquence of the old hymns, Ammons often felt the need to set their language against other tones, some of them downright irreverent.  At times a jaunty tam suited him better than a pious crown. 

"Archie Ammons and the Poetry of Hymns" at the Best American Poetry Blog


Samuel Johnson said, “It is certain that any wild wish or vain imagination never takes such firm possession of the mind, as when it is found empty and unoccupied.” He was speaking of melancholy, and how idleness and solitude feed it, undeniably and uncontrollably feed it. We all know this is true, and yet it is equally true that such a state will fund creativity; as artists we understand the vital necessity of wasting time, of loafing and doing nothing, and I was wondering what it is that causes the free and idle mind to go one way or the other—into obsessive melancholy or into creative fervor. What tips the scales, so to speak?

-Mary Ruefle's "Lectures I Will Never Give" at The Rumpus


It was a sign, almost one hundred years ago, of the book beginning to achieve what most technology will never accomplish—the ability to disappear. Walk into the reading room of the New York Public Library and what do you see? Laptops. Books, like the tables and chairs, have receded into the backdrop of human life. This has nothing to do with the assertion that the book is counter-technology, but that the book is a technology so pervasive, so frequently iterated and innovated upon, so worn and polished by centuries of human contact, that it reaches the status of Nature.

"On the Business of Literature" from VQR


Monday, February 25, 2013

Next Big Thing

“The Next Big Thing” is a blog hop in which authors around the world share what they’re working on by responding to ten questions. I've been invited by my friend and former professor Thorpe Moeckel, whose Next Big Thing post can be found here. Aside from being an excellent writer, Thorpe lives and works a beautiful homestead in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia: Arcadia Farm. I dare you to watch that slideshow and not want to be best friends with the Moeckels.

What is your working title of your book?

My manuscript-in-progress is called Sanctuary, Sanctuary, which comes from the book's epigraph, the final stanza of A.R. Ammons' poem "Triphammer Bridge":

sanctuary, sanctuary, I say it over and over and the
word’s sound is the one place to dwell: that’s it, just
the sound, and the imagination of the sound—a place.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

For the past two years, I've been living poem-to-poem: writing mostly about the places in which individuals look for peace. I grew up in churches, and imagine that most folks tasked with describing "sanctuary" would immediately call forth the cathedral. The natural equivalent of the church seems to me the forest. You trade stained-glass for the canopy: it's  all about light and darkness and the way our lives move through each. Both environments lend themselves to grand metaphors and deep histories. It is my hope that these poems explore the distance between the reverent spaces, between the wild and the holy.

What genre does your book fall under?


Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I think those MotionPoems are incredible. I would choose MotionPoems to play all of the characters in a movie rendition of the collection. Except for Mark Strand. Clint Eastwood would play Mark Strand.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

It starts with the line "God isn't what I'm looking for" and ends with the line "these wings could be alive." (Hat-tip to Keith Montesano for this method of manuscript-measuring)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This might be putting the cart before the horse. I'm very proud of the places these individual poems have been published, but have only just started sending out the manuscript as a whole. Currently, it's been exclusively published by the fine folks at the FedEx Office in Ballard. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

More or less, these are the poems I've written since moving to Seattle in June of 2010. The manuscript came together as a larger entity/Word document in December 2012. 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The last book that really destroyed me was David Ferry's Bewilderment. If my book is a tenth as good as that book, I'd want it mentioned in my Wikipedia. There's a whole mess of young poets writing things that inspire me to work harder, that have me eager to see more of their poems. Some folks I've never met who are writing beautiful things: Tarfia Faizullah, Marcus Wicker, Richie Hofmann, Keetje Kuipers, Joshua Robbins, Chloe Honum, and on and on and on. To live in the Internet Age is to be overwhelmed by the extant talent.

I'm eager for my friends' books, and looking forward to those soon forthcoming, like Will Schutt's Westerly and Ed Skoog's Rough Day, and those manuscripts that will surely soon be books, like Lisa Fay Coutley's Errata and Matthew Nienow's The Making Bone

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I'd say it's the bastard love-child of the King James Bible and the movie Cool Hand Luke.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

There are at least three poems involving baseball. In one of them, I fabricate a Yogi Berra quote. Also present: a Puerto Rican wrecking ball, gunshots, bears, St. Paul's Cathedral, an elk skeleton,  the New River Gorge, a grope at the Safeway, break-ups-to-make-ups, row boats, and cold, delicious sweet tea. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

There Is No One Else In Charge

2013 is going to be an excellent year for Matthew Nienow, and it starts with his poems everywhere: "O Anchor" on Verse Daily and four new pieces in the latest issue of POETRY. Read these and be glad that there's much more to come from Brother Matt.


I write against things, I suppose, and the thing that doesn’t interest me is gathering a cabal of people exactly like yourself to read what you write. The thing which I like about my writing—I don’t know if it’s a symptom of its generalness or whatever—but I have old ladies e-mail me, or write to me, more likely, who are age eighty-five and then I have very young people: sixteen, seventeen. I like the idea that the writing has no precise identity. It doesn’t block people, it doesn’t force them to think, “Oh, this is me in a very precise way.”

-An Interview with Zadie Smith at The Rumpus



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Curative Activity

My whole intellectual life as I've started to emerge from the misty darkness of autism has been an adventure in beauty housed in form and structure. My most favorite curative activity was listening to my father read Shakespeare and ask me to describe the symbols, poetic devices and structures which make the plays work, so I came to ModPo comfortable with close reading. I get my parents to take me to the Uffizi so I can study Botticelli, my music theory teacher shows me how Mozart is structured, so it is not surprising that until I took your class I thought poetry was words stuffed into forms. 

-from Jacket2


The language of absence, privation, nothingness has scientific, moral and emotional force. As dark is an absence of light energy, not an entity in itself, death too is an absence rather than a force or a being. That conviction underlies the statement that Love's alchemical limbec turned the leaden soul, with its “dull privations and lean emptiness” into the golden sense of being. The theology and science, the terms of nothing and being, absence and presence—it's all a way for the poet to sharpen the understanding of what he lacks, and what he loves. The poem's athletic feats of wit may entertain readers, or disconcert them, but it has a purpose beyond rhetoric: it is an act of mourning ... and, maybe, an act of self-heartening, too.

-Robert Pinsky on John Donne at Slate


Who has not fantasized about the books they would write if only the right conditions could be found! I have carried around just such a dream, sparked by a weekend alone in an austere mountain cabin in the Austrian Alps when I was a boy. Rumination was unstoppable, and poetry just poured out.

-David Wood in the New York Times



Thursday, December 6, 2012

This Is You

Hey, I think I finished my second manuscript. In this context, "I think" means that there are enough pages of poetry for a book, but that aforementioned pages aren't yet good enough. Ya dig?


These “massive open online courses” (MOOCs) have exploded on the American educational scene. The Washington Post dubbed them “elite education for the masses,” with universities like Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton offering free classes. Coursera, the for-profit company that offered Filreis’s poetry class among many others, is less than a year old and counts more than 1.7 million as students. Many of the courses offer certificates of completion, so while a degree from these schools may still cost upward of $100,000, you can theoretically—and that’s a big “theoretically”—get the education for nothing.

--Elliot Holt at The Poetry Foundation


This is you. You want to own something that means something to you. The pleasure of an original thing is that, like anything you truly love, it attaches itself to the original part of you and builds it like a muscle, makes you feel more like you. It also connects you to someone else, the artist—but you don't have to tend that relationship, it's just there, simple, pure. You never have to meet the artist if you don't want to, but if you want to, you can ask the artist all about this thing you now have, and you will find that the artist also wants to hear what you see in it, and eventually you will both agree that neither of you really penetrates what the thing fully is, which is maybe why both of you love it so much. Let's say you have a couple more criteria: Maybe you would prefer art by someone local, someone who does not have a leg up in the 1 percent game of the international art world. And: You do not have money to burn.

-Jen Graves at The Stranger


The people who fret over the Future of the Book talk about the loss of the tactile, of the physical act of holding the book. Me, the only thing I worry about is no longer having used books.

-Michelle Dean at The Rumpus


Marjorie Perloff’s essay “Poetry on the Brink” in the May/June 2012 issue rekindled conversation about innovation and canonization in contemporary poetry. To continue and extend the discussion, we cast a wide net and invited 18 poets to address the following question: what is the most significant, troubling, relevant, recalcitrant, misunderstood, or egregious set of opposing terms in discussions about poetics today, and, by extension, what are the limits of binary thinking about poetry? Their responses range from whimsy to diatribe, with meditation, appraisal, tangent, touchstone, anecdote, drollery, confection, wit, and argument in between.

-Opposing Terms: A Symposium on the Poetic Limits of Binary Thinking at Boston Review (featuring Ange Mlinko, Samuel Amadon, Matthew Zapruder, Annie Finch, Noah Eli Gordon, and many other excellent voices).


Music for a rainy Thursday here in the American Northwest.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Prayer

Thanksgiving Prayer, 2012

It is the day we give thanks
to be at a full table, and outside
the Olympics teeth the dusking
horizon. Here we’re surrounded
by certainty in the midst of the uncertain:
for mountains will not move even
for superstorms or homelands
in upheaval: the incontrovertible danger
of stepping outside: the losses we have
or haven’t named to one another.
But here: there is a richness.
There is a feeling of something complete:
meats waiting to loose the juices
that have been simmering in smoke,
lasagna and stuffings and casseroles
that are each a small history
of ourselves. Let us be grateful in our faith
that what is unseen is not unheard:
that families, ours and others,
extend beyond bloodlines, that we have arrived
here, where recipes steam
from memory at a place beyond
our griefs. Let us remember
that while we may be hundreds
of miles from the places we were born,
we are not far from home.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Serious Romantic

Jack Gilbert, a poet whose frank, forthright, emotionally fraught works observed the grand universal realities of love and death from a perspective off the literary grid, died on Tuesday in Berkeley, Calif. He was 87.

-obit. from the New York Times

Gilbert’s work embraces what most poets have been trying for decades to subvert. A self-proclaimed “serious romantic,” Gilbert writes poems full of feeling, working to cultivate “something that matters to the heart,” a romantic notion approached these days with a strong inoculation of irony, if at all. While many poets working with such hot materials might seek a mitigating factor when casting them into verse — fragmentation and abstraction are two modes currently in fashion — Gilbert courts danger by pursuing a far more traditional approach. Crystalline imagery, direct speech, the language of place and the self are hallmarks of Gilbert’s style from his first poem to his final book.

-Jeremy Bass at Los Angeles Review of Books 

Later, I was living in the East Village and this one night there was pounding on the door and there was Cleve standing in the hall. He was agitated and said, They’re looking all over for you. I asked who, and he explained that somebody wanted to give me the Yale prize. I didn’t know what to do, how to express it. I took him out with my two friends and we had milkshakes. 

-Jack Gilbert's "Art of Poetry" interview with The Paris Review


Two poems:

"Pachyderm" by Sherman Alexie

"My Father's Soul Departing" by David Wojahn


Life in the Internet age has undoubtedly helped a certain ironic sensibility to flourish. An ethos can be disseminated quickly and widely through this medium. Our incapacity to deal with the things at hand is evident in our use of, and increasing reliance on, digital technology. Prioritizing what is remote over what is immediate, the virtual over the actual, we are absorbed in the public and private sphere by the little devices that take us elsewhere.

-Op-Ed by Christy Wampole in the New York Times


This flattened me: