8.31.2007

Tackily following up the KSM-verbatim post with one today by Jonathan Mayhew that speaks to me similarly:

There's an interesting fault-line between poets who see technique and craft as essential and those who get impatient with that. In Creeley's letter to Rothenberg on the deep he expresses a certain impatience with those who write off the engagement of the poet with the language itself. Creeley says it's not the time to do away with the technical innovations of O'Hara, Creeley himself, Williams, Ginsberg--at exactly the time when Bly was proposing to do just that.

A lot of poets who don't believe in engagement with language end up not going as far as they might have. At some point they come up against a set of serious limitations.

I think this fault-line is more significant than the avant/quietude one.


My comment at Jonathan's: Hear, hear. And, for me, a quietude poem/poet that interestingly engages with language can be more welcome than an avant one that does not, never mind my usual bent. I think there has been a widespread assumption that avant poems by default "engage with language"--no, no, no they don't.

8.30.2007

Innovation, novelty, feeling--

Great post from Kasey and I haven't even finished reading it, so apologies there, but I want to quote all that I've read for those who might not get over to {LIME TREE} on a regular basis (after this point it becomes less general--a review of Human Resources by Rachel Zolf). I've completely slipped out of "posts of substance" at Poesy Galore (I think there were a few back in 2005), and I regret that. Things don't get from the brain to the blog, somehow, and it's not like riding a bicycle.

But I have been thinking just this for a while. Thanks to Kasey for articulating and writing it:

We have been dealing for some time now with that awkward moment in contemporary poetic practice where innovation and novelty give way to the basic problem of reflecting the state of human language with a feeling accuracy. "Feeling" is the key term here, for while it is valid to object that anyone can slap together a jumble of computer code, spam text, and instant messaging slang and call it a poem, it is more useful to acknowledge that such materials really are a significant portion of what the poet now has to work with, and that if one is truly interested in contemporary poetry, one must reckon with these materials--or rather, their application--in a way that is neither superficially celebratory nor blindly dismissive.

The problem of separating a facile from an artful engagement with "a selection of language really used by men," as Wordsworth put it, is that radical historical changes in such language occur at a pace that appears both gradual and dramatic to its reflective users (e.g., poets). The sense of newness is perpetually at war with the sense that this is what we've settled into without even noticing it starting. The poet who treats it as a novelty will write verse that is at best novel, at worst cynically fashionable. The poet who works with an actual feeling for the language in its awkward transitional throes is the rarer case. In the context of language as it has been transformed specifically by recent online communication technology, for example, I think of artists like Alan Sondheim not just as pioneers but as feeling pioneers.

It's important not to dilute "feeling" as I mean it here with a simplistic sense of "emotion," or "authenticity." I'm talking about feeling in the sense of the carpenter's feel for wood and awl, or the sewist's for fabric and thread: in other words, "craft," but more than mechanical craft. Craft as it is defined by the craftsperson's aesthetic attunement to the materials. What does it mean to have a sympathetic "feel" for computer code, for hack ad copy, for typo-ridden cable news tickers? Whereas Wordsworth embraced "common speech" out of affection (however paternalistic and "romanticized") for the working classes, our relation to today's common speech is invariably more conflicted, if not downright anxious. Can materials that seem degraded not just to a literary establishment, but often to the poet herself, be used "feelingly" in the way I'm trying to get at here?

Answering this question is, as I see it, one of the primary tasks of contemporary poetics.

-- K. Silem Mohammad

8.29.2007

The opening of an 8/29 article by a college sophomore, Cassie Gentry, on her job at the library:

"A nun, while waving a two-foot crucifix over me, called me an immodest and sinful dresser. A strange man of questionable intentions and even more questionable body odor proposed marriage to me. A ten-year-old berated me for refusing to page his brother over the PA system and ask where his Playstation memory card was. A father insisted I harshly scold his five-year-old son for breaking the binding on a book to 'teach him a lesson.'

And yet, people constantly remark how easy it must be to work at the library. They envision the circulation desk staff sitting at expansive desks, flipping through literary journals or thick leather-bound novels and pausing only to exchange intelligent conversation with academics who have decided to check out something along the lines of War and Peace.

Not so much."

Check out the rest--it's a fun, quick read. Oddest patron request I ever had at a library? A phone call from a man who'd left his glass eye in the men's room and asked if I could retrieve it and hold it at the desk so he could come pick it up (I did).

8.27.2007


Via BoingBoing: a 1945 deck of tarot cards made by Slovenian architect and painter Boris Kobe while he was living as a political prisoner in Allach concentation camp, a sub-camp of Dachau. See the whole deck at the University of Minnesota's Holocaust and Genocide Studies page.

8.20.2007

The Loft Announces Winners of the 2007-08 Loft Mentor Series Competition

"Poetry mentors Rafael Campo and Heid Erdrich chose poets Polly Carden, Chrissy Kolaya, Emily Lloyd and Marie Olofsdotter for the program..."

Note: a winner in the fiction category, Loren Taylor, is also a Hennepin County Librarian. And the 2007 Minnesota Book Award winner for a novel was Maureen Millea Smith, a Hennepin County Librarian.
Recent favorite mp3s rounded up by The Hype Machine (links are time-sensitive):

*1969 -- Montt Mardie
*The Private Life of a Cat -- The Lovekevins
*Blue Motorbike -- Moto Boy
*The Best Prescription Pill Available -- The Situation
one link for all four; scroll to download

*Pluto -- Clare and the Reasons
*Click, Click, Click, Click -- Bishop Allen
one link for these two; scroll to download

*Cowbell -- Tapes n' Tapes
scroll to download

If I didn't love the Hype Machine for the ease of finding great free music I might not have heard otherwise, I'd love it for the ease of discovering great song titles ("The Private Life of a Cat") and band names (The Lovekevins)--it's fun just to look.

Favorite two band names I've come across there:

That Summer, At Home, I Had Become The Invisible Boy
(which is a quote from...name that movie)

and

That's Him! That's The Guy!
(which is a quote from...name that TV show)

8.17.2007

"How Your Depressed Partner Feels"

I was talking to a patron (at work I have to call them "customers," but I think "patrons" sounds more respectful, less cheap) today about depression and anxiety--how hard it is for loved ones who don't "get it," how hard it is to watch one's loved ones not getting it. I wrote an article attempting to explain it to those who'd never been through it a few years back, and dug it up for him on the web. It was published in Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, a GLBTQ journal in Rehoboth Beach, DE (I wrote monthly columns then). I've decided to re-post it here, because I think it still works and says stuff that one can't say when one's in the thick of it. Here goes:


How Your Depressed Partner Feels

I do nothing. I sit. I stare at the screen, where a cute sad dot takes Zoloft and starts to smile. For the first time in five years, my drugs have stopped working.

My partner, who I’ve been with for four, has never known the me that seems on her way back. If I become as sick as I was before, I won’t be able to help her through it. I’ll be more log than partner, less companionable than a house fly. I won’t have the will to describe what hurts, and how.

I want to try now, while I can taste it, for her and for anyone who has a depressed partner, to describe how it feels.

Being alive is desperately uncomfortable, like a drive-you-crazy case of poison ivy. For a while you try to find the thing that will make you feel better: another cigarette, a certain food or drink. But nothing does—not these, and not the love and concern of your partner and friends. Those things can actually feel burdensome: you want to be "up" for them, enough to assure them of something, when all the while you feel like you’re in a different, barely livable dimension. You know you’re hurting their feelings because you can’t make long eye contact (it’s painful to look at them while feeling so far away from them) or smile (it feels phony, and being phony with someone you love feels terrible) and seem unwilling to try—but you are trying; you’re trying every minute, struggling your ass off.

I remember lying completely still all day for months, a blanket pulled over my head, looking as if I was "giving in" to my depression. I was working so damn hard under that blanket! And what I was doing was trying not to kill myself. The feeling that I needed to was as urgent as a healthy person’s need to breathe. Staying alive felt not like being Sisyphus, pushing a rock uphill every day for eternity, but like being Prometheus, chained to a rock, his liver eaten out by vultures every day for all time. Most mentally healthy people feel like Sisyphus at one time or another, but few feel like Prometheus. I hope to Zeus I never do again.

However extreme it sounds, not killing myself at that time was an excruciating sacrifice made again every second for my family. To lay down my (mentally healthy, mostly) life for them now would not be as large. When you’re that sick, the desire to "free" yourself of life is no less instinctual than the actions of the fox that gnaws off his leg to get free of a trap. My wrists, then, were as tempting and magnetic to me as the object of an obsessive crush. I bought wristbands to hide them from myself. I kept peeking. I resorted to sitting on my wrists most of the time. I wasn’t afraid I would slit them, nothing that delicate. I was afraid I’d gnaw through them.

Try to understand this if a clinically depressed person you love attempts or successfully commits suicide. Don’t plague yourself—or the person, if s/he lives—with Why?s. The three preceding paragraphs are why.

There are as many myths and preconceptions about clinically depressed people as there are about gays and lesbians. The only things we haven’t been accused of yet are having a "mentally ill agenda" and hanging around restrooms trying to seduce kids into a life of nervous breakdowns.

Knowing that some hold these myths about my depression is as painful to me as knowing that others hold them about my homosexuality. So, in closing, two quick attempts at myth-dispelling.

1. People With Depression Should "Buck Up" and Get Over It. People with mild depressive periods may be able to "buck up" and get through, but asking this of someone with a major depressive disorder is akin to asking a diabetic to "be a man" and forgo insulin. The longer someone seriously ill tries to buck up without seeking help, the worse and more damaging his or her depression may get. I "bucked up" for three years before coming out depressed. When I finally did, it was only because my legs were shaking so badly I couldn’t stand up. I was afraid to leave my bedroom. And I was due on campus to teach two sections of English 101.

2. You Should Be Able to Snap Out of Depression Because It’s "All In Your Mind." Um, is there any worse place it could be? If I had broken ribs, I could do something to "take my mind off" the pain. But a broken mind’s always with you. There’s no way to outrun it, no distraction, no relief.

I think we find that hard to believe or accept because we find it so hard to imagine. I hope that, this article notwithstanding, you and yours will always find it hard to imagine. I was originally thinking of titling this "Depression: Clip N’ Save!" But I hope you never need it. I hope your lover never needs it. And I hope, in a few weeks, with me on a new, effective drug cocktail, mine won’t need it.

8.16.2007

The "They Feed They Lion" Effect

Jonathan Mayhew recently posted about that poem that draws one to a writer's work, only to find out that the rest of her work doesn't...quite...click. I commented that I'd call this the "The Feed They Lion" effect, after Philip Levine's pulse-raising, anaphora-working, phenomenal early poem, the first strophe of which is still one of the most exciting I've ever read:

Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,
Out of black bean and wet slate bread,
Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,
Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,
They Lion grow.


I mean, Jesus, that's good. And though Levine wrote other decent poems, none of them ever had the thrill for me--or the ear, the command of syllables--as "They Feed They Lion." If I didn't know he'd written it, I wouldn't guess that he had.

Jonathan mentions Strand's "Keeping Things Whole" as another example (I never liked that one, but I know what he means: it's more striking than most later Strand). And he wonders, well, is this because nothing excites us as much as the first poem we love by a poet? Whatever we encounter first, we love most (I think of hearing a cover song repeatedly before hearing the original, and never liking the original as much, even if it's clearly better). I'm not sure. And I think there's a reverse capacity--to be turned off by the first poems one reads by a certain poet, only to later be shocked at intriguing work from the same hand ("Anyone lived in a pretty how town" in no way prepared me for "nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands").

Somehow, with Levine, I think it's more to do with that poem than with the fact that it's the first I read. I'm sure I read it in an anthology and that it was followed up with some competent other Levines--it wasn't like it was years before I'd come to read the so-so stuff, or that it wasn't contemporaneous with Lion.

Where did that one come from? A dream? A high? A more electrifying poet channeled?

(PS--at GMU we were assigned the classic "7 up, 7 down" experiment where you choose a poem and replace each noun, verb, etc., with one you find roughly 7 up or down in the dictionary. I ended up with "They Federalize They Lips" [grin])

8.15.2007

It's the craft vote that can no longer be ignored...


There's a hilarious short article at Slate on "crafting the vote" ("Forget NASCAR dads and security moms—it's the craft vote that can no longer be ignored"), including a swift gallery of crafts for Democrats and Republicans. Love the national security level quilt, above.

Common Misperceptions About the Eden Prairie Library

I love the library I work at and actually [gulp] take pride in it--so it was a real treat (yes, I've said "real treat" and "take pride" in one sentence--did I mention I recently turned 33?) yesterday to see the results of the teen YouTube contest we ran over the summer (we're the first Hennepin County library to run one). Below is the winner, "Common Misperceptions About the Eden Prairie Library." A link to the also excellent runners-up follows.


YouTube contest at Eden Prairie Winners

8.08.2007

"Rep. Bob Allen cites fear of black men, weather in oral sex arrest"

Sorry no posts for so long--lotsa craziness here, including a totalled car last week (no injuries, no fault). From BoingBoing this morning:

Representative Bob Allen, a Republican in the Florida House of Representatives, blamed the weather and his fear of black men for offering $20 to perform oral sex on a man in a public park. The man turned out to be an undercover police officer, who promptly arrested Allen.

365gay has more on what happened:
Titusville Officer Danny Kavanaugh who was on plainclothes duty says he observed Allen entering the washroom twice. Kavanaugh said he was drying his hands in a stall when Allen peered over the stall door.

The officer's report said that after peering over the stall a second time, Allen pushed open the door and joined Kavanaugh inside. Allen muttered "'hi" and then said, "'this is kind of a public place, isn't it,'" the report said.

Kavanaugh wrote that he asked Allen about going somewhere else and Allen suggested going "across the bridge, it's quieter over there."

"Well look, man, I'm trying to make some money; you think you can hook me up with 20 bucks?" Kavanaugh wrote in the report that he had asked Allen.

The Republican lawmaker, the report said, replied, "Sure, I can do that, but this place is too public."

According to Kavanaugh's statement, the officer said, "do you want just (oral sex)?" and Allen replied, "I was thinking you would want one."

It was at that point Allen was arrested.

Towleroad.com reports:

When Allen was loaded into the patrol car, the statement said, he asked if "it would help" that he was a state legislator.

"No," the officer said.

Soon after taking office in 2001, Allen was one of 21 Florida legislators to sign Gov. Jeb Bush's friend-of-the-court brief supporting the state's ban on gays adopting children.

In March, he co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill that would have enhanced penalties for "offenses involving unnatural and lascivious acts" such as indecent exposure.

The Florida Times Union reports: "In his seven years in the Legislature Rep. Bob Allen of Merritt Island has built up a 92 percent approval rating with the Christian Coalition of Florida on issues like abortion, marriage and pornography."

[Note from PG: Kavanaugh is black, and the weather was bad--Allen says he took shelter in the restroom because of the weather, and was afraid to not offer Kavanaugh a blowjob because Kavanaugh is black]