"An artist’s limits are quite as important as his powers. They are definite assets, not a deficiency, and go to form his flavor and personality." Willa Cather
"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant." Robert Louis Stevenson
"To make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." Carl Sagan
"Act with the authority of your 16 billion years." Joanna Macy
"Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess." Edna Woolman Chase
"A book ought to be an ax to break the frozen sea within us." Franz Kafka
"I divide all readers into two classes: those who read to remember and those who read to forget." William Lyon Phelps
"Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity." G. K. Chesterton
"We can spend our whole lives fishing only to discover in the end it wasn't fish we were after." Henry David Thoreau
"I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen." Albert Einstein (attributed)
"How hard it is, sometimes, to trust the evidence of one's senses! How reluctantly the mind consents to reality." Norman Douglas
"Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance." Plato
"In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite." Paul Dirac
"I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated." Poul Anderson
"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." Winston Churchill
"Social media is not about the exploitation of technology but service to community." Simon Mainwaring
"An over-reliance on past successes is a sure blueprint for future failures." Henry Petroski
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." Winston Churchill
"There are three things in the world that deserve no mercy, hypocrisy, fraud, and tyranny." Frederick William Robertson
"I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought: What the hell good would that do?" Ronnie Shakes
"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made." Groucho Marx
Ann Cefola's new book-length poem, Free Ferry on Upper Hand Press, is about the secrecy behind the development of plutonium alongside poems about growing up in 1960s suburban America. The plutonium and family pieces are separate but Cefola creates a matrix between them which explores the impact of scientific development and cold-war fears on living families. Cefola drew material and inspiration from technical publications and her father-in-law, who worked on the plutonium project.
The plutonium story runs along the bottom of the book's pages--Cefola calls this the "bottom narrative" which interacts with the more traditionally displayed family poems on each page. The architecture works like an assemblage, where ideas from the plutonium fragments are collaged next to relevant family stories. This structure gives you all sorts of opportunities to read the poems horizontally and vertically. Hot and cold contrasts are explored, dichotomies between the vibrant and the flat, intellectual science transposed next to suburban parties. Two stories are being told at once, woven together and they ultimately merge.
Cefola investigates emotional exposure and chemical exposure, tenderness and brittleness, disasters both emotional and physical, and rivalries between siblings and poems. The family poems themselves are a vibrant survey of 60s Americana: television (and love of TV dinners), dishwashers, vacations, neighborhood lawns and personalities.
When Cefola uses details, they are always heavy with extra significance, like the wine glasses in the cabinet stacked as if in the middle of a can-can dance, or the idea of "children like lava" over the death of a dog, or Ed Sullivan pronouncing 'show' as 'shoe." This reminded me of Sonny & Cher's first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show where Sullivan mispronounced Cher's name as 'Chir.'
And then there's a scientific formula printed in all its glory at the climax of the book. The ending leaves us with the smell of firs and the desire to protect all that has been explored, the physical and emotional vulnerabilities, the fireflies.
There is no other poet like Cefola. Her tight, article-free lines zero in on ideas like a microscope and the style of brevity intensifies the action. She sprinkles in italics where ideas almost glow.
Buy Free Ferry
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing your and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise… ”
“If” by Rudyard Kipling.
I've just been talking about this poem on two blogs…like this week! And here it came up as the next card I pulled from the deck. Anyway, the card says Kipling was an English poet born in Bombay. He was an idealist authoritarian, a romantic imperialist. His style was plain, without irony. George Orwell called “If” the “finest example of ‘good bad poetry.’” And I don't know what that means.
Walt Whitman's “O Captain! My Captain!"
Whitman’s famous poem about the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865 which was also eulogized in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” The poem is about a captain guiding the national ship through the Civil War. Whitman would often see Lincoln walking down the street in New York City, and later Whitman gave popular lectures on Abraham Lincoln and recited this poem after the end of each lecture. By that time he claimed to hate the poem. He sounds like Cher of late. You may think that's pure silliness, but a hundred bucks he would have been a fan.
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare
Aside from Shakespeare’s Pizza in Columbia, Missouri…is there any other Shakespeare in the whole wide world? Although the sonnet form was the most popular poetry form in Europe in the 15th and 16th century (the Petrarchan variety) , Shakespeare’s sonnets were only privately shared and became famous only in the past century. I did not know that. Thank you poetry cards.
1 black American female
6 white American females
7 white American males
1 white Andalusian male
1 white Austrian male
1 Chilean male
9 white English males
2 white English female
1 white French male
1 white Italian male
1 white Scottish male
1 white Welsh male
1 1300s poet
1 1500s poet
1 1600s poet
1 1700s poet
12 1800s poets
16 1900s poets
I’ve continued with explorations of digital poetry as I'm still interested in how readers process narratives, multi-sensory experiences and the playful and participatory. I'm also getting my mind blown by the frame busting.
I’ve just started to read the textbook, New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories, edited by Adalaide Morris. It's just as nerdy as you would expect but I'm really lovin it.
I also recently tried to introduce a digital novel into my Difficult Book Club (more on that below). Before I mistakenly chose the books we read, I tried to contact a few members of the Electronic Literature Org to find out what they might recommend for introducing to book-bound club to electronic literature. But I consistently received no response so we picked a PDF novel with a image archive and the group choked on it. They hated it. Granted the execution of the narrative wasn’t very good, but they weren’t even interested in the concept of it or the opportunities for escaping the limitations of their chosen media.
Since then, I’ve received a copy of the digital novel Wallpaper (now touring in art installations in Europe) but I haven’t been able to run it yet, finding too many technical limitations from one computer to another. You can see some online “short stories” from the story's creator at Dreaming Methods. Click 'Portfolio' in the top menu.
Monsieur Big Bang and I are also going to tackle House of Leaves shortly after we finish the Gormanghast novels. I know this sounds more like The Masochist’s Book Club than just The Difficult Book Club but you can peruse our evolving reading list.
I’ve also been reading more about poet Stephanie Strickland. Here is a good example of her work: “Sea and Spar Between”
The poem is based on Emily Dickinson poem “each second is the last” below:
Each Second is the last
Perhaps, recalls the Man
Just measuring unconsciousness
The Sea and Spar between.
To fail within a Chance –
How terribler a thing
Than perish from the Chance’s list
Before the Perishing!
Unlike Emily Dickinson poems, this one is 225 trillion stanzas long (yeah, you heard that right), impossible to read fully which is part of the point. It’s still fun to “skim across the surface” of it and experience the responsiveness of your computer mouse as the poem’s stanzas flutter away. You can use your A and Z keys to zoom in and out.
Here is Strickland’s essay from the Poetry Foundation website, “Born Digital,” where she lists 11 ways to identify and conceptualize digital poetry.
I’ve also come across The Iowa Review Web that seems worth exploring, an online journal of digital pieces from 2000-2008. Browse the archive: http://thestudio.uiowa.edu/tirw/vol9n2/judymalloy.php
These three recent reads also classify as difficult if you're feeling adventurous.
A Poetical Dictionary by Loren Green (Amazon)
When I first started to read this, I gave up. I wasn’t in the mood to read something that slowly. It’s all timing with these difficult books. A year or two later, I started again. This is a short book and well worth the effort of going slow with but its only 42 words long. Fascinating if you’re in any way into etymology (or the study of words). Word nerds, dictionary nerds.
Don’t skip the preface, it’s full of prose poetry. Beautifully printed, pronunciation tips that are pure poetry, historical word history followed by lyrical explorations of the chosen words. A sprinkling of dictionary abbreviations I had to look up…I’m no dictionary snob. So observant. We should all do this exercise with our favorite words.
Don’t miss the charts at the end! Never have I found charts so moving.
Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History by Franco Moretti (Amazon)
I read this book and then lost it in my book-stuffed house (which makes me a hoarder). Google Books explains this book well,
"The 'great iconoclast of literary criticism' ("Guardian") reinvents the study of the novel. Franco Moretti argues heretically that literature scholars should stop reading books and start counting, graphing, and mapping them instead. …For any given period, scholars focus on a select group of a mere few hundred texts: the canon. As a result, they have allowed a narrow distorting slice of history to pass for the total picture. Moretti offers bar charts, maps, and time lines instead, developing the idea of "distant reading" into a full-blown experiment in literary historiography, where the canon disappears into the larger literary system. Charting entire genres - the epistolary, the gothic, and the historical novel, he shows how literary history looks significantly different from what is commonly supposed…”
Not everybody's chosen literary vantage point but it is well-suited for a data-obsessed culture. And there are some surprising trends you can see when you look at data from outside the matrix (and contemporary lit criticism is nothing if not a matrix). This book is not for the faint of heart. It’s a data set story and my eyes glazed over more than once. That said, it’s a revolutionary look at how the novel has evolved…using real data. A new story emerges.
Some examples. Click to enlarge.
Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson 1980 (Amazon)
A common theme in the American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (2013) with a few of the language poets represented were comments around the failures of metaphor in language and the capricious pursuit of newly minted metaphor.
Lakoff and Johnson’s book is lots of theory but the book dissects how metaphor is absolutely ingrained not only in our language but in the very way we conceive of abstract ideas, even simple ones. The authors categorize orientation metaphors (happy is up, sad is down), motion metaphors, war metaphors.
Metaphor construction is a “fundamental mechanism of the mind” and one that language poets like to toy with. Could we communicate without them?
Yesterday I even came across the 2012 Lexicon Valley podcast on the same topic, episode #23, "Good Is Up." One listener to the show commented that "much of language is fossilized metaphor.” A very metaphorical response. The podcast covers Lakoff and Johnson book and also interviews James Geary who has probably a much easier read on the topic, I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World. (How the paperback is more expensive than the kindle version, we'll never understand.) But Geary says every 1-25 words. The differentiate between literary metaphors, intentional metaphors and unintentional so ancient and subconscious metaphors. During the podcast, the hosts quote from three poets. In trying to describe metaphors of time, Bob Garfield, (who you may recognize as the host of NPR's national show "All Things Considered") found this quote from Ralph Hodgson poem "Time, You Old Gipsy Man"
Time, You Old Gypsy Man
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?
Mike Vuolo found this quote:"Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day" from Pink Floyd’s lyrics to “Time” to which Bob replied, “Okay you win; I am a nerd loser.”
The culture positioning between songwriters and poets is constantly happening.
Later Mike Vuolo quoted Virgil: "But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail," (I could not find a good source for that translation). to explain the metaphors of time as movement, where time moves forward (for humans who walk forward) and from left to right on line graphs, which takes us back to Graphs Maps and Trees!
Cher made news last week after she turned 71, winning Billboard's exclusive Icon award and performing for other musicians who were born at a time when Cher was already in her 40s and singing a newly minted "We All Sleep Alone."
As I’ve said before on my other blog, I love it when my two nerdy blog projects overlap. Over on that other one I’ve been writing about enjoying the Cher and Sonny & Cher TV shows from the 1970s re-airing on GetTV. I recently came across Cher reciting a poem on a Cher show episode from 1975, Cher reciting “If” by Rudyard Kipling.
If you're old enough to remember The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (1971-1974), you might remember that show's popular John Wilson cartoons. Later, the Cher show provided visuals to this segment, illustrations by Mexican cartoonist Sergio Aragonés whom you might recognize from 1970s MAD magazines and books.
It's interesting to note that Cher, like everybody else, can’t help but recite in the plodding “poem voice.” There are some prophetic moments in the cartoon and poem, including bits about narcissism and political corruption.
But don’t worry, I’m not pushing for Cher to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for her rewrite of Seals & Crofts “Ruby Jean and Billy Lee” (although it’s not too bad).
I’ve also recently had a chance to write about the Armenian poets over on that blog, poets from Carolyn Forche’s anthology Against Forgetting, 20th Century Poetry of Witness (Cher’s half Armenian).
Forche’s anthology starts with the Armenian poets who mark, for Forche, the first instance of modern genocide. Find links and excerpts of the poems of Siamanto and Vahan Tekeyan over at I Found Some Blog.
“Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.”
“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats.
Along with P.B. Shelly, Keats was labelled “unabashedly lyrical and emotional” and were “easily parodied” for their “superhuman sensitivity” and were “celebrated by the young [and] reviled by the establishment critics.” Keats had a “fragile constitution” and was ridiculed for being “unmanly.” He died of consumption in Rome. Nothing on this card about his craft or reasons for his popularity. Harsh!
From “anyone lived in a pretty how town” by e.e. cummings
Both similarly and alternatively described: Cummings was a “romantic iconoclast who vented his rage at the dehumanizing effects of modern civilization.” He “eschewed capitalization” and used “quirky typography, syntax and punctuation” that took on “ a coherent meaning all their own.”
1 black American female
6 white American females
6 white American males
1 white Andalusian male
1 white Austrian male
1 Chilean male
7 white English males
2 white English female
1 white French male
1 white Italian male
1 white Scottish male
1 white Welsh male
1 1300s poet
1 1600s poet
1 1700s poet
11 1800s poets
15 1900s poets
I continue to be obsessed with arguing this issue. Recently, I read a New York Times Book Review article by poet David Orr, a very well written essay on why Dylan shouldn’t have won the Nobel Prize. It’s well written but I didn’t say it was well thought-out.
Ah snap! Just kidding. David Orr is the New York Times poetry guy. He’s pretty respectable. But I still don’t buy all this protest. Orr hit the thing from many different angles, so let’s go through all of his points one by one.
One: Orr starts by criticizing the prize panel for two of their previous supposed flubs: one--ignoring Robert Frost, a very popular poet and two--honoring a more obscure poet, Erik Axel Karlfeldt. Well, the Nobel list of winning poets is a complete hodgepodge of the famous and forgotten. Orr seems to be making the argument that popularity should determine this prize. It shouldn’t. If it did, poets would hate that and the committee would be accused of pandering to popular taste.
Two: I actually think this comment about the controversy is very funny: “Various Dylan fans continue to be pleased, various English-language novelists continue to be annoyed, and various American poets continue to say something or other that no one is paying much attention to.” Yeah, I actually agree with this…and that’s me and Orr both.
Three: Orr says “Beneath the surface of this amusing situation [the word choice 'amusing' sounds a bit haughty but whatever]…is an intriguing tangle of questions about high and low culture, the nature of poetry, the nature of songwriting, the power of celebrity and the relative authority of different art forms.” The arguments of post-modernism going on since the 1960s pretty much have dispensed with the divisions between low vs. high-brow culture to young audiences, so this is not-so-much an issue anymore. And I wonder if this is really a power struggle between the relative authority between song lyrics and poems, a subjective and unwinnable fight. Who could judge? Celebrity is a problematic concept, as well. What obscure writer could ever win? Even the aforementioned Karlfeldt was known in his time.
Four: Orr agrees that lyrics look like poems but they are rarely printed on a page to be read as poems, unless you can’t decipher them on the radio. I don’t see the relevance of this. Many electronic and eBook poems are never printed either. Many art pieces, performance and slam poems are never printed. This doesn’t make them not poems. Orr might say you never did see a slam poet winning the Nobel and you haven’t yet; but that doesn’t mean this should be out of bounds. The Pulitzer is a good contrasting example--a prize for specific listed types of literature, books, papers, magazines, online journalism or musical compositions. Hey, they even include musical compositions! The Nobel is a somewhat more nebulous prize to an author. I took a class once on Nobel Prize Winning Poets and a big question for us was whether the poet had won for a single poem, a book, a lifetime of work, or a lifetime in service to poetry. The award just says it’s for an“ outstanding work in an ideal direction.” That doesn’t mean much. It's not clear and that’s the nature of the prize. So you can’t insist it must be for a printed work.
Five: Orr believes screenplays and theatrical plays resemble each other more than songs and poems do. However, all those pieces can be classified as Literature, which this is a prize for. Why exclude lyrics from that definition? Would you exclude screenplays to musicals because those works also include music? According to Wikipedia, “Literature is any piece of art deploying language in ways that differ from ordinary usage.” Oxford’s definition is more exclusive singling out written works and would exclude electronic literature. Maybe Orr would too. But that’s incredibly outdated right now and, as we shall soon see, Orr doesn’t want us to be outdated.
Six: He says the ancient Greeks didn’t distinguish between poems and songs but “the fact that a group of people thought about something a certain way nearly three millenniums ago doesn’t seem like a compelling argument for thinking the same way today.” Good argument. That’s exactly why we wouldn't want to exclude electronic literature in the realm of Literature. And it we include Electronic Lit, we're opening the door to paperless pieces. The truth is poets love origins: poem origins, word origins, form origins. And inclusiveness is a modern idea, the blurring of borders is also a very popular contemporary tradition.
Seven: Orr says that lyrics and poetry both incorporate rhythm and rhyme but that poetry has the “relatively straightforward challenge of poetic meter [where] songs are a unity of verbal and musical elements.” This is true. Songs get a leg-up with a clever melody that can obscure flat lyrics and as Orr says, an “attractive tune can rescue even the laziest phrasing.” All true. Not all songs are Literature. Not all poems are literature for that matter either. Sometimes an attractive line break can rescue even the laziest vocabulary.
Eight: Orr says people don’t really think of songs as being poems, or of songwriters as being poets and then delves into the difference between saying a thing is metaphorically Poetry (ex: "that jump was sheer poetry"). But poets and other writers do say Dylan is a poet (all the time in fact) and not just in a metaphorical sense. He’s also a published poet which no one is mentioning right now because poets have an aversion to celebrities publishing poetry. See the outrage over Jewel’s published book of poetry during her height of popularity.
Nine: Orr acknowledges that as readers and listeners we experience similar feelings, “a distillation of overwhelming emotion” from poems and songs but that “Poetry has one primary asset: it’s the only genre automatically considered literary regardless of its quality.” I don’t agree with this. Meet dogrel. Meet bad poetry. There are poetry equivalents to Shooby Taylor.
Ten: But Orr’s last argument is the most compelling and discomforting and is, I think, the real root of this entire controversy. Popular songwriting, in contrast to even the most popular poetry, has “money, fame and Beyoncé." This is what is being implied: why do they need Nobel prizes too? It isn’t fair. Which is why poets hate celebrity books of poetry out of hand. Orr says songs ending up in poetry anthologies are a win-win because the poet anthologizers gain hipness and street cred and songwriters get that faint glint of Literary Status. Everybody’s standing is improved. But the fact is many songwriters write poems, and many of these poems become lyrics. Some don’t. Joni Mitchell published her complete lyrics together with her poems in one book. What academic 200 years from now will parse those apart?
Orr says “this is a risky game for poets,” to be so hospitable to songwriters when we might instead want to close ranks. “Culture,” he says, “is less a series of peaceable…art forms than a jangle in which various animals claim whatever territory is theirs for the taking.” He says poetry is like a fox trailing behind the massive tiger of popular music.
But is this even true? Are we even talking about the popular songs of past eras as often as we talk about its poetry? Or we explicating Irving Berlin songs like we’re explicating Wallace Stevens poems? At least we haven't yet. Sure, songwriters get a hall of fame that people of the future may or may not visit. But poems will float their lazy way into schools and bookshelves and academic papers. Maybe now Bob Dylan lyrics will too. But is it the fame that poets really crave, the kind of fame Bob Dylan has as a “counterculture poet?" And that’s the dangerous game we play right there. Longing for fame. We can’t help fame. Sure, we can chase after it but then we can’t control it even if we get it. Fame can often turn out to be a bad deal unless it happens after you’re dead. Poets are good at posthumous fame; but who doesn’t want a big house in the south of paradise? Apparently bitter poets do.
It bears repeating here that I don’t own a single Bob Dylan album.
I came upon this article recently, “Poems of Resistance: A Primer” in The New York Times and it talks about a “tsunami” of poems coming out right now, both new poetry and readers looking for political resistance poetry. Such an amazing time to be writing and reading. That article points to another piece, “American Poets, Refusing to Go Gentle, Rage Against the Right.” Also in January 2017, Poetry Foundation printed its list of favorite protest poems we should all work through.
I myself have purchased multiple volumes of political anthologies.
If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration (2017) – these are some hot-of-the press reactions to the Trumptastrophe by a diversity of writers including plenty of LGBT writers. I just finished it. It’s full of amazing poems. Some very dark, some very inspiring. Some of my favorites:
H.K Hummel’s “A Brief History of the Leer”
“Pirate Jenny” by Erik Schuckers
Jeremy Brunger’s “Gay Sex Kills Fascism”
“Pigeon” by Isiah Vianese
And the final poem, “We Know How to Do This” by Mary E. Cronin
Love Rise Up: Poems of Social Justice, Protest and Hope (2014) I just started this one and beyond some disconcerting typos, I’m amazed at how many poems are relevant and seem apropos of the current Trumptastrophe like “Seven-Hundred Mile Fence” by Eliot Khalil Wilson and “Lawrence Learns the Law” by Margaret Rozga, a poem that predates Black Lives Matter and media coverage of the black victims of police shootings but illustrates exactly the arrest issues that were occurring in Ferguson, Missouri. There are also “after-the-election" poems but they’re about Obama’s inauguration and serve to remind us of what that election meant. Trump not even a blip in the anthologies consciousness, although he had already been racist-ing it up in 2014 with his birther propaganda.
Speaking of Black Lives Matter, the beautiful anthology, Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin (2016) is an amazing book of art and poetry by contemporary black writers and artists. If you’re looking for a coffee table book on Black Lives Matter as signal to your right-wing friends and relatives, this is the book. I found many new poets in here I’d like to research more, like Thomas Sayer Ellis (“The Identity Repairman”), Reginald Harris (“New Rules of the Road”), Terrance Hayes (“Some Luminous Distress”), Major Jackson (“Rose Colored City”), Quraysh Ali Lansana (“statement on the killing of patrick dorismond”), Haryette Mullen (already on my radar but is represented here with “We Are Not Responsible”), Evie Shockley (“x markst the spot”) and Lamont B. Steptoe (“Such a Boat of Land”).
Also, don’t forget Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen and Ligatures by Denise Miller.
Against Forgetting: 20th Century Poetry of Witness is an old standby, with over 700 pages of protest. This is literally the textbook on protest poetry but it can also serve as an international anthology. I’ve known about for a while but was never tempted to dive into it. Then I did a search recently for political poetry and I found a class in International Political Poetry from Portland Community College (unfortunately not available online) which listed the book in its syllabus. I’m reading it next.
It’s organized by categories of atrocity: Armenian Genocide poems, (watch for more on these poets in my Cher blog), World War I and II poems, Soviet Union revolution and repression poems, Spanish Civil War poems, Holocaust poems, repression in Eastern and Central Europe poems, dictatorship in the Mediterranean poems, Indio-Pakistani War poems, Middle East War poems, repression and revolution in Latin America poems, American civil rights and liberties poems, Korean and Vietnam War poems, African apartheid poems, and democracy in China poems.
And there’s nothing like extreme right-wing wig-outs to send you into the arm of Warren Beatty and Reds. There were pros and cons of watching this movie again since the first time at 10 years old when my parents dragged me to it. It was much less boring this time. The old talking heads are hilarious now, completely contradicting each other and misremembering history. They aren’t the stodgy authority figures I remembered them to be. Jack Nicholson: his best performance IMHO. He totally inhabits playwright Eugene O’Neill. But on the other hand, I’m also not completely “in awe of the epic” as I once was. Beatty’s direction seems a bit too much like a Woody Allen rip off now, (note the outdoor walking-and-talking scenes particularly).
I love to watch movies about writers, especially if there are scenes of them actually trying to write. Beatty, as journalist John Reed, does have scenes struggling over writing and editing, critiquing Louise Bryant’s writing (which she doesn't handle well), debating ideas (almost as much fun to watch as actual writing). There was a journalism poem recited in the movie I started looking for. I tracked down the book The Complete Poetry of John Reed. It was disappointing. His poems are amateurish and oddly un-political. “America 1918” is mostly a Whitman redux. Reed was a famous journalist and although he’s often listed as a poet, his complete works are literally only 60 pages. There’s a good poem on Manhattan. The movie Reds references two of his poems: “This Magazine of Ours” about his work for the communist magazine the Masses but it’s a frustrating read with too much abstractness about ultimate truth. The other poem referenced is his final poem before his early death, “A Letter to Louise.”
Other new resistance and protest poetry anthologies are coming out as we speak!
Poems for Political Disaster (Chapbook)
Resistance, Rebellion, Life (Out May 23)
Over Easter weekend I read Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow, a collection of interviews he’s been doing with comedians since he was 14 years old. Here are some good discussions with Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Albert Brooks, Chris Rock, Gary Shandling, Harry Anderson, James L. Brooks, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Key and Peele, Louis C.K., Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Steve Martin and many others.
I feel, from a craft perspective, these conversations are pertinent to writing poetry. Gary Shandling, for example, talks about how it took him almost a year working on one joke and how it evolved over that time. Comedians place close attention to word choice and rhythm plus other elements of creative thinking: how long to write each day, where the best writing spots are. So it’s a good craft read.
This year my journal explorations have led me to Ploughshares. I’m really enjoying poems and the essays but not so much the fiction. One Story still sends the best short stories. Even The New Yorker stories are hit and miss for me, (I’ve saved up a year’s worth from an old subscription).
I love the essays in Ploughshares but they are not literary essays like those from American Poetry Review. I loved the essay on obscure playwright Susan Glaspell, the one by a sister who had a brother with mental illness, and "Breath" by Mimi Dixon which was about breathing and her father who was a prominent musician and teacher.
Ploughshares also gives you a generous amount of content. I look forward to digging in each issue as it comes.
And I love all The Poetry Foundation does, but I still have unread Poetry magazines from that subscription two years ago. So far, for my taste over the past 4 years, the journals break down like this:
Rattle: best poems, but no essays or fiction.
One Story: best fiction
American Poetry Review: Best literary essays but mostly by the same people.
Ploughshares: Pretty good poetry, great non-literary essays.
April was National Poetry Writing Month, which I started doing back in 2013 back when I was sitting in the Faculty Admin office of IAIA in Santa Fe. During the first three years I did my own projects. Then I tried in 2016 to do the official prompts; but I gave up after two weeks when I got sick in Los Angeles. This year I committed to try the prompts again. It’s a mental and physical gauntlet, this challenge!
Overall, there was much less camaraderie over at Hello Poetry this year. Some possible reasons for this:
In any case, it was kinda lonely over there. Next year I’m going to continue with my own themes and then I’ll come back in a few years to do the prompts again.
Here are this year’s poems.
In my Difficult Book group, we started reading the elit book The Imaginary 21st Century by Norman Klein and Margo Bistis. While researching it, we found this video called a Hypertextedit by its creator Tim Tsang.
Although we couldn’t really determine what that video was doing, I surmised it was following the thought process of Tsang as he worked online, how his online travelings might reveal his thought processes. I thought that was a pretty cool idea so I did two similar videos while I was composing the poems “Stacks” and “Ideologies.”
One of the great things about NaPoWriMo.net is that they post interviews every day. I didn’t have nearly enough time to read all of them but I did find a poet I’m looking forward to exploring: Tommy Pico. Some links to his stuff: