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