A Mutable Place by Virginia Corrie-Cozart, 2003: I found this book when I was in Oregon for my family reunion, specifically at the town museum in Bandon-by-the-Sea. My mother grew up one town down the coast from Bandon in Port Orford. This book provided exactly what I was looking for, poems about the coastal towns of southern Oregon.
But this book provided many other surprises. Tom Crawford, who I met at the Institute of American Indian Arts two years ago, was listed in her acknowledgements as a mentor. And not only did I get a glimpse of the location which I was looking for, but Corrie-Cozart is my mother's age. So I felt these poems matched my mother's own stories of her pre-teen and teen life: the food, the crafts, the weather, the local birds, the school memories, the pathways childhood takes.
At first I felt some of the poems dissolved into detail lost from any kind of point, but they grew on me. The first sections on childhood seemed like image streams but later sections were more narrative.
Specific poems that reminded me of my mother dealt with piano lessons, leaving the coast for state college, sunlight and cold mornings, the Coquille River, scenes on the beach, young girls on horses, logging trucks, pig tails, blackberries, cribbage, and versions of back-country meandering I imagine my own mother taking. Interestingly Corrie-Cozart leaves the coast of Oregon for one poem where she contemplates southwestern desert landscapes as seen on a jigsaw puzzle she's working on. My mother married and left the coast for the first time to spend 13 years in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
We also find poesm about the big Bandon fire and the Oregon caves. Many of the later poems deal with memory and order. The final section are contemplations on aging, illness and the death of close friends, similar issues my own mother is working through these days.
Another purposes of the blog is to discuss books of poetry in a way that will match readers up with books based on topic areas. For instance, my mother doesn't love poetry. But if ever there was a perfect book of poetry she would likely enjoy as a gift, this is the one.
The Internet has made the world a mess of information. The issue is finding what you need. Poets can find readers if they market their poems by subject.
Mom, if you read this, you know what you're getting for Christmas.
Honestly, I feel like I’ve been on a run of very good books lately. Even the poetry ones. Is my mind more open? Because I start out very skeptically with them all.
Like the others, I wasn't impressed with the first poems in this book; but then I caught on to some cryptic but sinewy connections floating through them that were quietly compelling. In a minor way, this is a book about Weise's disability. But more so, this is a book about the end of an affair.
Weiss takes a Joni-Mitchell-like "both Sides Now" approach to studying this illicit affair. All the while I was reminded of the One Story Magazine short story I received last month called "Meteorologist Dave Santana" by Diane Cook. Both pieces were snapshots of 'the other woman' or the woman trying to become 'the other woman' and the struggles for actualization or dissolution of an affair.
The book contains alluring and modern titles like “Decent Recipe for Tilapia.” In it's survey of bad relationships, the book reminded me also of Lisa D. Chavez and yet it didn't contain quite a likewise white girl’s rage against Chavez's Chicana-rage, but the poems are raw in their own way.
I loved the long poem sequence about finches. I found the section titles unoriginal. We could have dispensed with them. This book also threads in some pop-culture lite, taking on things like Skype. This book was like 50 shades of goodbye to an affair with some bonus material, like the ingenious poem about the politics of being a disabled poet via overheard criticism.
This book, the Walt Whitman Award winning book, was part of my membership upgrade. This 2013 winner was Chris Hosea with Put Your Hands In. John Ashbery picked the book so you know it’s gonna be languagy. In fact, Ashbery’s comments on the back invoke the Armory Show and the avant-garde.
I love Ashbery. I truly do. But the Armory show was in 1913. It’s officially 100 years old and we continually invoke it like it can still qualify as avant-garde. News flash: it can’t. It’s so far from being modern you want to smack something.
That said, I didn’t hate this book. It even started with a great quote by Paul Blackburn: “The dirty window gives me back my face.” I get that.
For me, language poems and their techniques only work for so long before I want to start seeing a through line. Drifting in the gaps is only a condition I want to be in temporarily before I get bored with reading a list of fragments compiled. But Hosea's poems usually end with a kind of semi-glue like his chaos wants to settle by the end. There are 11 pieces of writing around family, a somewhat form that seems like an attractive practice. The poems about being gay have impressive energy.
This is also not a suburban book. His streets are full of drugs, fucks, motels and the homeless.
I loved the poem "All You Can" (about eating) and loved his "Poetry is the cruelest month" cleverness in “The Great Uncle Dead” and any commentary he had to say about poetry, such as in "New Make:"
… Joe wants
to free poetry from
deliberate space of wail
conveys a need for hugs
one more future among none
I also liked the end of section 5 of "Songs for a Country Drive:"
the safety blanket
over your head and say some
smart words about
the last ten books you read
I feel Hosea tells us the whole point of his languagist adventures in the last lines of his book
ending section 6 of the same poem with:
…I’ve been told if there is a riptide
you let it take you
out and then on
a diagonal you
I've been working on turning my manifesto into a small eBook. I realized that writing a manifesto sounded ridiculous. But while working on my topic, a side result was learning about advertising techniques and how you can tell a lot about an audience by what gets advertised to them (and how things get advertised to them).
Over the past few years I've been alarmed by the number of MFA ads in my American Poetry Review, American Poets and Poetry London magazines. Granted, the classified ads provide a nice sample of variety, the main ads are mostly for MFAs. No silly little Bachelor of Arts for us.
Some publishers advertise and you see the random ad from an independent poet, but it appears that MFA are all poets care about.
Now I’m the sort of person these ads appeal to. I have and MFA and when I see these ads, I still want each one. Usually, my desire corresponds to the location of the school. But even outback locations sometimes appeal.
Then I remember I have one, and aside from the friends I made there, it’s not doing me much good. I have loads of debt and some school pride whenever people ohh and ahh over my Sarah Lawrence degree. The value is in the social cachet and the occasional swanky alumni events I used to attend in Los Angeles. I hate to say these things because there are some very fine teachers who are MFA professors.
The useless and attractive MFA program isn’t the issue here. It’s the fact that this is all there is on the advertising pages of poetry journals. It's like we’re a one-eyed monster craving only MFA degrees. Do we not read novels or go on vacations? Do we not eat tofu? Try to sell me something else, please! A meditation bell. Here are some ideas:
Top 10 Things You Can Sell To Poets That They Might Possibly Buy:
About the only thing a poet won't buy are clichés. That is...except their own.
Part of the point of this blog is to get to know some of the many, many poets out there past and present. This goal was helped along by The Poetry Foundation when they lured me into another level of membership by promising me this video and an award-winning book once a year.
The DVD they sent promised "intimate film profiles" with "Masters in the Art of Poetry Reading Their Work Discussing Their Craft, Recounting Their Lives." Pretty serious stuff.
My initial frustration was over the fact that no running times were listed on the cover or on the disc. Each of these PBS-style profiles turned out to be about 20 minutes long.
Each profile provided a scan of the poet's books strewn across a table. Each segment included discussions about writing and influences. Each poet read some of their poetry. To my happy surprise, Suzanne Pleshette narrated three of the five segments.
I could see getting addicted to these profiles (if any more were available).
John Ashbery read "Some Trees" (which we studied in that MOOC last year). He talked about The New York School and his interpretation of it, about O’Hara, Skyler, Koch and each of their roles in the group, how being a member involved meeting famous artists. He talked about Larry Rivers and Jane Freilicher (who are recurring characters in the O'Hara biography I'm reading). He read "At North Farm" and talked about life in France and his job as an art critic. In his late 30s his poetry career was not successful and he considered abandoning poetry. Then he thought, why deprive himself of something he liked doing? He read "This Room" and talked about how a poem takes over and how a poem knows when to stop. The poem is smarter than he is. J.D. McClatchy commented that his language is never privileged; that he writes about ordinary things.
At first, Louise Glück reminded me of aging baby boomers as she sat curled up in a chair, thin and wearing black. She reminded me of second wavers who drink water from big wine glasses. She also reads like a poet, full of gravitas. Turns out she hates readings, giving or going to them, saying the poet is intervening with the poem and the reader and that the human voice can’t reproduce what’s on page. Although I enjoy poetry created to be spoken word, I agreed with this. Some poetry and prose performs better inside heads. Same as some characters are a disappointment when you get to know them in a novel and you visit them later in a movie. We find out that Glück was once anorexic. This was the only documentary to mine old 1970s interview footage and readings. She sayed she can’t predict when she will receive “the stimulation” and didn’t want to write anything glib, facile phony, or ersatz…she uses a lot of synonyms in her commentary. She said the poem banishes you and the doors don’t open anymore. She read "Landscape Part 3," "The Encounter," "Landscape Part 4," "Prism, Part 3," "Mock Orange," and "October, Part 3." She said she enjoys teaching because she's in the presence of the evolving mind versus the static, published unapproachable mind.
Frank Bidart reads her "First Memory" poem, which I loved. Bidart looked like he had a hoarders office of books and DVDs. Robert Pinsky said he likes her use of plain language. I ended up relating to her much more than I anticipated. Maybe it was the anorexia thing. I'm looking forward to reading some of her books I have: October and The Seven Ages.
Anthony Hecht in his old age reminds me of actor F. Murray Abraham. I knew the least about Hecht but I liked his adjectives and long sentences. He said W. H. Auden taught him who would last as a poet with this question: do you have something urgent to express or do you like words and language? (The later is the right answer.)
Hecht wears a lot of bow ties and we are shown pictures of him as a cute young Hecht. In the military, he was at Buchenwald and he writes about it. He says poetry wouldn’t support anyone.
Kay Ryan – I liked her short pieces. She said she writes without ideas, in a desire to stop doing nothing. She was the only poet of the bunch with an unexceptional, ordinary house. Like some of the other poets, she doesn't write with a computer. She said this is because she wants to save her mistakes. She initially self published. She writes to talk back to herself or other poets.
M.S. Merwin is someone whose poems I hated in graduate school. I even wrote an obnoxious-smelling review of him for a David Rivard class. But I like him now, which I can only chalk up to coming out on the other side of Zen Buddhism. But at the time, I was annoyed by what I felt were affectations: no punctuation and spiritual, airy, vague language.
In this video he discussed his feelings about punctuation, how it had been overused and he didn't like the long sentences hung together by punctuation. He hates the use of air commas by people. He feels there is an electric current in words. Myself, I'm still fond of punctuation and believe punctuation marks have their own energy. Maybe this is because I watched all those Victor Borge segments on Sesame Street in the early 1970s.
Merwin said he was not made to be academic and still loves Robert Louis Stevens' A Child's Garden of Verses (one of two poetry books stashed on my nightstand as a toddler) and the poem "Where Go the Boats." He said he visited Ezra Pound in the psych ward and Pound told him to write 75 lines a day which Merwin did by doing translations for practice. He said he was in a social group with Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. He read "Yesterday," "The Comet Museum," "Late Spring" (which I loved), "To Lingering Regrets," and I think one called "To the Worlds" about 911. Angelica Huston narrated that one.
It's amazing what you find when you search the Internet for poetry news, how many mainstream publications are indeed writing about poetry and the latest dramatic data on eBook and Indie publishing.
After a few years working on this blog, I've seen some patterns emerge in the kinds of poems I have been enjoying:
Books I find when traveling by poets who write about the local area, faculty poets; interestingly faculty aren’t always writing about where they’re currently teaching, as my following examples show.
I found the following two books at the University of New Mexico bookstore in Albuquerque.
Considering the surreal, archaeological cover, the stark title, the fact the publisher is Storyline press, and the precious photo on the back cover, I was expecting this book to be 100% saturated with white-privilege. I thought this was going to be a very white book. Well, it is and it isn't. In it's own way, it's as much a book about race as Patricia Smith's book, Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (2013).
The poems are threaded with German words and phrases and Thiel explores the language's impact on her. Many important lines are in German, not just superfluous drops for atmosphere.
It reminded me of the crucial lines of Spanish in Bless Me, Ultima, (a novel about northern New Mexico I just finished and loved). My copy of Ultima includes no translations of the Spanish and they appeared too often for me to look up constantly). I did go through the effort of decoding the German, however, with the help of Monsieur Big Bang. Later I discovered the translations were available in the back of the book as notes.
Thiel's poems deal with the legacy of her German heritage in fairy tales, her father’s violence, and Holocaust guilt. It is a Storyline book with a Dana Gioia blurb on the back , so I wasn't surprised to find forms in the book. Thiel is actually good at them, her rhymes are unobtrusive and loose. The poem "Changeling" is a light-sounding lyric about World War II that reminded me of W. H. Auden. The books sections are very neat and the book has a very collegiate feel all around.
I read this book directly after Patricia Smith’s book (and I just remembered I have a cousin named Patricia smith). While Smith details her childhood in black Chicago, Thiel's takes place in a very white-seeming Miami. Their childhood experiences are starkly different. At points you really see evidence of white privilege in Thiel's poems, the privilege of not having to consider your race in your day-to-day life. At other times Thiel is very concerned with race and her inheritance as a German which carries its own baggage.
Smith uses very dense and sophisticated language, arguments and connections, all describing an impoverished urban landscape. Thiel’s poems are very collegiate but constructed more simply. Smith is less European influenced. Her music is Chicago and American. Both of these poets are very smart, eloquent writers; but the world you see under their capes is amazingly different. Thiel talks about doing projects about Dante’s Inforno in gifted glass and loving the band Styx. Smith talks about walking to school in the cold city and the lewd cat-calls from the boys. Interestingly, both respond in verse to Barbie dolls.
Thiel has burning secrets Smith doesn’t have, references Ovid's Thisbe and gives us Auden quotes. She writes about the beginning of the unraveling of a relationship in "Florida Turnpike:"
Near our exit, the car drives through a sea
of yellow butterflies crossing the highway.
I look at you to see if you have noticed
how fast we're moving--when the first one hits
the windshield with the impact of a fist.
I enjoyed her poems dealing with the world of poetry, how to avoid men with certain books of poems at their bedsides. Even her garden poems, which you fear might be precious, avoid sentimentality. In "Event Horizons:"
Ask any poet--
you can die from it,
even after eating
"History’s Stories" uses a form that repeats the last sound of a line twice before launch into the next line. Does anyone know what this form is? Here's a sample:
For her song and flight, Echo is torn apart, art
flung limb by singing limb. Each valley swallows, allows
Another nice surprise were her anthropology poems, the best of which was called "Miami Circle" about believing archaeological finds are part of exotic places instead of things you find in your own backyard.
This reminds me of what I consider my least favorite genre of poems, poetic tourism and it’s intellectual condescension.
There's also a good poem about JFK Jr. called "Legacy."
Destruction Bay (1998) by Linda D. Chavez sat on the shelf inexplicably in Saran wrap. And I didn't like the book at first, didn't love the what felt like meaningless line breaks, typical of poems from the 1990s.
But soon I found plenty to like about this book:
- We find early evidence of the new angry girl;
- I love the movement of the sections;
- This is a woman’s take on loves dangerous, unflinching violence--even in the tender ones, love is described as snake.
- Chavez works on poems of place; she contrasts her arctic Alaska with a tropic vacation in "Winter Storms," using water imagery and ending with "the luminous bones of whales on the ocean floor." The last poem contrasts her beloved Alaska with her new life in the desert.
In "The Poet Surveys the Wreckage of Her Life" we get a great list poem on non-poetic objects. Chavez's poems are gritty but this is an owned grittiness. Again, I'm always suspicious of poet-tourists who try to write about “the common people." As the song "The Common People" goes, "Everybody hates a tourist."
Her titles are solid, literally like blocks of ice or thick walls to keep out the cold.
Like Patricia Smith and Diane Thiel, her mother poem(s) are striking. "Of Ivy and a Plum Tree" talks about her mother’s search for love mapped to the idea of tending an impossible garden. Chavez draws out specific emotional moments of relationships. "Rain at the State Line" like Thiel's "Florida Turnpike" marks the moment where a relationship starts to unravel:
They will meet the rain
at the state line, drive into it,
sadness settling on them
like an old coat.
There's a section of Paris poems about her grandmother missed future, the poem "L’Heure Bleue" is about the same ambient light Joan Didion talks about in "Blue Nights." Like Patricia Smith, Chavez deals with re-conceptions of beauty in "The Unveiling of the Paris Collection, 1926," and about being an Alaskan, an Chicana/Mestiza and a woman in dangerous situations. Her poems are full of conflicts of childhood and young adulthood and love's cold violence.
Just when I finish a terrible eBook, I have another great experience with eBooks. After reading about this book in American Poets magazine, I purchased the eBook of Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (2013) by Patricia Smith.
Can I say, Coffee House Press does a great job with their eBooks. And they price them reasonably under $10.
It's one of the best books I’ve read over the last three years, up there with Natalie Diaz's book, My Brother Was an Aztec. They're both great modern books dealing race.
Smith's book also is full of penetrating family characters and covers the migration of southerners to Chicago, or rather Black Chicago. Interwoven are stories about Motown's artists and Altantic artist Aretha Franklin.
Her very baroque, word-strewn poems come in dense lyrics and include the occasional forms. In some, you could hear the echo of a slam performance. And yes, Smith does have history as a spoken-word performer.
The pieces are tinged with bitterness and topics cover tween growing pains, beauty, body image, race, and culture. Smith's mother poems are particularly memorable as are her pop-culture pieces, culminating in a crown of sonnets about Motown. We find there The Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Little Stevie Wonder, Lady D (Diana Ross), Mary Wells, and The Marvelettes. Later in the crown we confront being starstruck, encountering pop-star hasbeens, the bait and switch of a troubadour's promises, and the very unromantic ends of star crushes.
To read more about Patricia Smith:
Recently my friend Christopher sent me a March LA Times article from March called "Yarn Bombing L.A. challenges ideas of street art".
Although Los Angeles has always had an intellectual and artistic inferiority complex in comparison to New York City, having lived in both placed I find Los Angeles a highly competent art and book town, maybe even slightly smarter, truth be told.
Years ago, at an LA Times Book Festival symposium on something or other, I witnessed a New Yorker who stood up to tell us what a refreshing experience the LA book festival panels were and how in NYC intellectuals would be falling over each other posturing and posing. He felt LA intellectuals were more honest, open and for real. I agree. It's as if their inferiority complex makes them more honest.
LA has a vibrant art scene and this is why I love getting articles confirming my understanding of its vibrant culture, like the one about yarn bombing.
Artist from all over the world crafted kitted squares to bomb the LA Craft & Folk Art museum, which sits in the shadow of LACMA and the Page Museum in Los Angeles. The act of public art was designed to challenge street art as a masculine space and explore the idea of“who gets to belong in a public space.”
I also love the Riot Grrrl, Third Wave Feminism aspect of the bombing, girls taking back knitting: “By putting craft our in the public, we’re challenging the history of craft as well as the culture of street art that has a lot of embedded sexism.”
There is a “wealth of public art and performance collectives, such as Fallen Fruit and the Los Angeles Urban Rangers” and what Carol Zou describes as “grassroots arts projects happening …There’s a culture in L.A. of artists getting together and forming their own organizations from the ground up.”
Los Angeles is known for pop culture production but few give the city credit for its art and intellectual production.
I also received a brochure from The Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Buckneell is doing something called The Poetry Path, its first public art project consisting of a walking tour of historic downtown area. The locations are marked with poems and recordings by poets at ten markers that feature a poem chosen for its thematic and cultural resonance to the site.
All towns should be doing this!
Take a virtual tour: http://bucknell.edu/PoetryPath
In June I took Monsieur Bang Bang to Truth or Consequences for his birthday. We stayed at The Firewater Lodge, one of the old 1940s-era motels in town being renovated by neo-hippies. We liked this one because the rooms actually have hot springs inside and you can bring your dogs.
So you can do this combination of soak/sleep/soak/sleep which is pretty darn nice.
While we were there we visited the Geronimo Hot Springs museum, the local town museum. There I came across two poems. The one below is titled "Hell in New Mexico." This is the same poem Johnny Cash sings on his Mean as Hell album, except (as I remembered from my many listenings as a kid), in the Johnny Cash version, "Mean as Hell," Cash changes the reference from New Mexico to Texas. I like that version better. Read along with Johnny Cash.
Farther on, I found a stack of books by a poet named Eugene Manilove Rhodes. (Manilove sounds like a Barry Manilow fanclub). He was dubbed the cowboy chronicler.
Here is the poem the museum had on display called "Engle Ferry:"
This New Mexico Museum Press publication of Red Earth, Poems of New Mexico by Alice Corbin Henderson is beautifully produced with an nice essay in the front and a New Mexico painting for every poem in the book.
But I was a little dissappointed. Henderson was writing about New Mexico in the 1920s, after she moved there for health reasons. It's not that the poems are dated, which some of them are. It's that I was hoping for more tactile images from this modernist aficianado, Assitent to Harriet Monroe of Poetry magazine.
The best poem in the book is the epigraph beginning this very slim book of poems (54 pages):
Hear the roar, after the fierce modern music
Of rivets and hammers and trams,
After the shout of the giant
Youthful and brawling and strong
Building the cities of men,
Here is the desert of silence
Blinking and blind in the sun--
An old, old woman who mumbles her beads
And crumbles to stone.
The rest of the book doesn't live up to that.
In response to the story of the young New Jersey girl who lost control of a submachine gun at a shooting range outside Las Vegas and killed her instructor, poet Gregory Orr shares his own personal story of killing his brother in a hunting accident.
Poet Daniel Johnson writes an article and poem in remembrance of his slain friend, journalist James Foley, who was killed in Syria in August.
I’ve come to think most posts only get major notices in the newspapers when they die.
Canadian, Blackfoot Nation poet, Zaccheus Jackson, dies in train accident. He was a prominent member of Vancouver's poetry slams.
NPR reports that outspoken Iranian poet, Simin Behbahani, called The Lioness of Iran, has died.
Poets with Sexy Hair