Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fourteen Lines for Rick Morrow



Indiana, don’t futz with my algorithm—
front porch whiskey covenants:

a scamper then a chorus of blasts, &
oh the things we save.

Date leaps, cliff wasted: ACME still
in business: product activation failed.

*

Sweet long trails: meteor show, august,
(as if to say “sober”) Perseids & all

the rest: a midwestern cull speaks
on irony & a big northwest heart

transported makes another document
& is: harried, black loam, topsoil,

formidable observer, last sturdy
post on the fence.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012



I was trying to explain to you some things
& then I realized you didn't need explaining

It keeps falling around & there is no light.

Monday, December 17, 2012

POSTCARD



Driving nails through giant hovercrafts of snow
& ice: I see you there beyond

the rushes, past a semi-circle
of varied thrush and Spanish lessons.

*

Circumference makes us fools: shiver on
midwest not making anyone safer:

firm ground is ground yet untilled—
“until the end of time.”

*

Is only a time or another tradition: other
times alight then fly up at smoke

& mothers in houses on edges of lakes
are stirring & glad to be awake.

CASE MARKER / BOUNDARY

I like the orange pylon icon I was caddying
for my brother begone a sameness to each
point apart: equidistant hearts blown up
to better see the insides, the gall, appall of
a thing that should know better

*

Been a long fire & now two-dozen mowed
what else? so long night at one time
a sonnet lived here but a sonnet doesn’t live
here anymore because we have lost our
capacity to be astonished

*

When this began a wicker broom was enough
or enough to matter to somebody
tinsel & crusting over like a snow bank or eye
reddened to a maddening gone mercury
long road blurred to diminishing saviors

*


Sever fine lengthenings forward to holiday
sanctioned by an animal holding postcards
at arm’s length at American expense no
account here or waiting for you flowers disturb
you flower found in a vacant space

*

It’s a fiction this new world you speak of an ex-
hilirating bluster of laughter mingled with bigger
roomier corners of shame & this is what I love
about you, brother, sister, ex-wife, this my daughter
my unmaking you my making

Sunday, December 16, 2012

WITHER



Sifted winter across blank fields, found
wheat stalks in piles against the floor, the small Ruths
& the small Boazes
& a draught

of something nourishing.

*

Not far from here’s a town.

Antler.

Population: unforgiven.

*

Multiplication tables cornered
in a Pee-Chee folder holding over
middle-aged debris—

transcript in Sanskrit of a tiny hand,
a spring day, a broken wheel.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

DESTINATION



Some fog in all this dense is part of parts
of a believable world—

human coloring flaking off
under lamps: green lamps: two comets
collide us up super.


*


Kept falling up on the page of mud, my lips
combed felt & children smiling
all over the walls

were your perfection, your forgetting.



*


Build a lean-to
for instance for gravitational heft,
a place with a tree & a home a stupid word

inside all real lives beginning
with the letter.


*


A sad place held up.


*


Turning a fairway into a causeway
where a freeway runs through it—

Mayan Face

Some years ago, I don't know, a half-dozen or so, on the eve of the eve of my leave-taking of my apartment of six or so years, a man and a woman I'd never met knocked on my door and when I bid them enter, entered bearing beers.

I don't remember their names but the woman lived directly below me and told me she was teaching a geography class that my friend was taking. She was drunk and began to tell me that she knew the schedule I kept, my comings and goings. She knew when I woke in the morning, when I left the building, when I came home, and she knew when I had sex: the building was turn of the last century and the walls were thin. But she told me this. You don't tell strangers this unless you are sure you'll never see them again. Not knowing what to say, I said, strangely, "I guess I've had a good year."

Her man friend handed me a beer and studied my bookcases. He stared at me for longer than is appropriate to stare at anyone you're not planning on beating up or making love to or scolding. He took a swig of his beer and said, reaching out, almost but not touching me--"You have a Mayan face."

They left as suddenly as they had arrived. Outside it was snowing.

Doxology

There is no God & so
god settles down around like so

some more goes.

*

Foraging for rocks & food
has dried up.

Late season, late fire.

*

God is “no”& the small
part splaying out sophistries:

four more months’ cant.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A RULE OF THREES

A mean wolf wants to eat the girl but is afraid to do so in public.
He suggests she pick some flowers.

*

The theme also appears in the story of the life of St. Margaret,
in which the saint emerges unharmed from the belly of a dragon.

*

A grandmother, a huntsman, a red Gap hoodie.

*

Very common in the European folk tale is the rule of threes.

*

"I think the wolf that wants to eat the girl and the wolf that wants to eat the three pigs is the same mean wolf."

*

You're right but you'll forget that by the time you're seven.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Once upon a time, I lived on a diet of baked goods, ice cream, strong coffee, and popsicles. I was thin then, too. And happy in the way a man living with someone who no longer loved him could be. The small human taking up our space helped us forget that until trying to forget was more difficult than simply severing ties. When I moved the couch as I was evacuating that old house on Orchard St.--a December day much like this one except that it was 20 degrees F. and wild turkeys pranced about the front lawn--I found a pile of popsicle sticks, dozens of them.

Details matter. The smallest the most.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rule of Threes



A mean wolf wants to eat the girl but is afraid to do so in public.
He suggests she pick some flowers.

*

The theme also appears in the story of the life of St. Margaret,
in which the saint emerges unharmed from the belly of a dragon.

*

A grandmother, a huntsman.

*

Very common in the European folk tale is the rule of threes.

*

"Daddy, I think the wolf that wants to eat the girl and the wolf that wants to eat the three pigs is the same mean wolf."

LAKE EFFECT

It is a calm lake & lake

falls ... the ... field

*

A paper hay mewing a heard

against that which is milled

*

//


A deed we flounder toward--

this bus unassembled into the lungs

of twice-fired, last week's arrows

*

To be a noun in this Wide American West.

I am, she says, the 51st state.

Some comeuppance chemical: some fog.

//


Look @ the horse who

writes a fucking horse

*

Stop.

Signs muddle perceptions: quick

-brain tactics

askanced into mortal combat.

*

From this point fwd, I'll simply

scan the pages of this mess

directly into the .doc

as imgs. I'm reading a lot lately

from a station not supposedly

to understate: this causes frictional.

*

Notation on self. Christmas trees.

Lines on St. Lucy's Day

The bicycle has ridden itself away

into a storm cloud

just off the horizon line

*

The new ways adopt the old style

to appear stylish

crushed felt. daisy. black modest skirt. white blouse.

*

Camphor dulls the effects of the ether.

*

Chalk dust & a surplus

of unused digits; in my country

we say "friend" but mean "accountant."

*

She asked about white balance

but what could I tell her.

*

So much coffee in these veins

the vessels

crack, fatigue.

*

She has a whiff of 2004 about her.

*

Summer's incandescent glow was something

less than expected. Insouciant gloss, reverie.

*

"Do you miss me & want me to come to Oregon & hug you."


Saturday, November 10, 2012

A few thoughts on my birthday, written last month on my birthday.

I woke early on the morning of my 18th birthday and went for a ten-mile run, down the street past the old school, out of town, up the road that lead to the airport, and back again. I hadn’t run in the months since graduating from high school the previous June. I’m not really sure what prompted me out the door that morning but maybe it was because I was 18. I was now and adult, and I wanted to mark the occasion somehow. And it worked, I suppose, because I still remember it 22 years later. Other things I remember about that day: my mother took me out for dinner at the Chinese restaurant ( I don’t remember the actual name of the restaurant—it was the only Chinese restaurant in town, and hence, “The Chinese Restaurant.”), and my mother bought me a six-pack of beer: Bud Light. I hadn’t asked for the beer and if I had, I probably wouldn’t have requested Bud Light. But there it was. So that evening I sat on the couch, inches from where I sit now, drinking my birthday gift, my mother on the other couch, my younger brother either on the floor watching television or in his bedroom playing computer games.

My father wasn’t here for a reason I don’t remember. He has, over the years, proved himself very able at not being around during certain life events. And maybe this is simply the way my brain has processed the past. Maybe it has something to do with his leaving our home when I was in 4th grade, moving an hour away to take over an A&W Family Restaurant. If there is one event that marks the transition, in my memory, from him being an active father to him being the guy I called “Dad,” that’s it. He wasn’t at my college graduation (golf tournament), and I don’t remember him at my high school graduation. The morning after my daughter was born I was surprised that he made the hour drive to my then-home to see his first-born grandchild. He didn’t say much. I just remember him saying, “Son, she may be cute now, but just wait about 12 or 13 years.” She’s been away for me now for 16 months. I am the absent father, and she not even four years old.

My 18th birthday came and went. So did 21 birthdays after. In between these two days, 22 years apart, I joined the Navy. I went to college. I quit college to work in a furniture mill. I quit working in a mill to work for two booksellers. I went back to college and began writing poetry, began studying religion, began reading for the first time in a disciplined way. I had an incredible manic episode in there—it lasted nearly a month and I had no idea that it was anything medical. I simply thought I was undergoing a religious transformation. I don’t tell this story to anyone because those who know me now will just take it as confirmation that not only am I crazy, but that I’ve always been crazy. Where were we? I graduated college with honors. I applied to and was accepted to an MFA program. I was kicked out of the program for the crime of having a “cavalier attitude.” I was accepted into an MA program. I began teaching. I received my MA and went on to pursue a PhD. I grew bored with PhD studies. I got a teaching job that I loved and I stalled on my dissertation. I quit my dissertation altogether. I met a woman and became involved in a very unhealthy relationship. I lost my job. I had a child. Now I’m 40 years old with no job, no income at all, ruined credit, and a daughter 2000 miles away.

It’s been a long 22 years. And it’s gone very quickly. If I’m to be completely truthful about my resume these past two decades, I should mention that I drank a lot too. In the early years I did my share of illegal drugs. I had sex with a few strangers. I was reckless with credit cards and loans. I made a ton of bad decisions. My wit and luck, though, always pulled me through. Or, at least most of the time they did. The depression and the mania came and went. I drank to self-medicate and was aware of what I was doing but desperately didn’t want to admit that I might have a mental disorder. I had no problem admitting that I might have a drinking problem—but that was far preferable to having to deal with the notion that I might be crazy. Of course, I imagined I probably was. But only for brief intervals. I drank. I immersed myself in the “poetry world.” Sometimes I got caught up in frantic exercise—running again. Running, maybe, to regain some bit of control.

These last three years, things have just fallen apart. I lost my job due to budget cuts (which I knew were coming and should have been planning for), my partner and I grew apart, though by that point we were probably only trying to stay together for our child. Before long I was living in a tiny apartment, but my kid and my ex lived just down the road and I saw them almost daily. But I still wasn’t working. The freelance jobs I had been working dried up. The savings accounts dried up. Paying bills was a challenge.

At this point in my story I want to stop because I can hear a voice—maybe a voice out there in the internet wilds, maybe a voice that sounds a lot like my mother, telling me “So what! Pick yourself up. Move on! Walk it off.” This, my friends, is perhaps what scares me most—that I am simply not capable of holding it together much longer. But something happened a few months ago. I won’t go into details but it was a change in medications. A very simple change. Almost overnight I began to feel stronger, no longer overcome by fatigue, indifference, non-specific anxiety and inexplicable fear. I don’t what this means for me or my future. I miss my kid. I miss having an adult life.



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

5-Minute Poem for Gregory Crosby

MATERIAL COMPONENTS

He is a “man
of substance”
they say but what
substance:
ichor, sluice,
& bitumen,
Trammeled, pilloried
slicks of …

*

Reflect
something un
toward, master
of no art,

holder, to some
degree, a handy
bit o’ something
human. Sounds
so dirty.

We have an inter
section, a vow I’ll meet
you at the second
staple, buried head-
down in the fold.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another Five-Minute Poem

Here's another Five-Minute Poem, written for my friend, Jess H. I met Jess about 15 years ago. We were fast friends for several months. Then we had a falling out of sorts, a falling out that neither of us really remembers. Details are foggy and undetailed. No matter. We've recently reconnected. She's a single mom living in Memphis, and she sent me some Memphis coffee beans. I sent her this poem.


The South (ern California girl) Remembers

You are not a memory
but the realization

of a lapse some century
in the making, a bottle-
red explosion,

like a Chinese finger
trap, my song-filled trial
& error come back to haunt.

Some field makes a BBQ pit
you standing next & over
a page behind the stand-still.

Your child is crawling inside
the television not to escape
but to find a place to sit.

The world sings a fine motion
without words, smoke rings
making haloes around

the people over there, everyday
messengers who dress like us.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Collaborative Poem

This is a poem Joe Massey and I wrote. I've known Joe since 2005 or so, and he's become my best friend in poetry. Not the poetry world, not po-biz, not academia, but just my best friend in poetry. Anyway, up until last night, we'd never collaborated on anything before. So now we have. It's here.



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Words on God and Poetry for Felecia because she asked.

If being a Christian requires a belief in the supernatural, I am probably not a Christian. I have no mystical experiences to share—or none, at least, that propel me toward belief of a magic man in the sky or a magic hippie wordworker in ancient Palestine who drove demons out of pigs and slummed with whores and tax-collectors. Christianity is not really a pretty story, but the churches tilt toward opulence. I respect the smoke, the glass, the genuflections. I admire the hard-drinking priest.

Most of what I know about Medieval and pre-Medieval Christianity in England, I know through the French, by way of Middle English. The Breton Lays and the Arthurian tales and such—little inventions made to be recited alongside a lute, while ladies dumped chamberpots on the cobbled streets below. We're in the city now, understand, a few centuries past Lancelot and his comrades. They say the idea, the modern idea, of love originated in places like these; a fascinating tale it is and, of course, hogwash. I don't put much faith in truth, though. So perhaps I'm a Christian after all. What I have learned from the Lays, though, is this: if you are a beautiful high-born lass, do not, under any circumstances, take a nap underneath a tree. This I know.

The garden is teeming with cucumbers this year and some very hot chiles that grow upward, pointing at the sky. They are very spicy. The tomatoes are still green. The wildflowers are so wild, they've refused to show their faces. When I survey the backyard I am most afraid that the gigantic oak tree will be wrenched from the ground by an unseasonable gust and smash the shit out of my parents' house, the only house I've ever really been emotionally involved with. Maybe then, post-destruction, I could believe in God. Maybe if the house is smashed, my mother will be forced to re-decorate. I think in a former life I could have been one of those smartly dressed gay men who have home makeover shows on the DIY channel. My own apartment, though, is spartanly decorated. A few pictures of my daughter, a photo of the Clash on the fridge. A small print of a Greek statue of Odysseus' elephantine blue stone ass, placed at eye level next to the toilet.

I believe in poetry at least as much or as little as I believe in God. I don't like poetry that most people are supposed to like. At least not in this part of the forest. I find the idea of “beauty” and the notion of beauty as achievable through language both coarse and arrogant. If I ever have to read another Li-Young Li poem, I'd advise onlookers and passersby to find something to do that involves not being in my presence. Poetry, like God, is best when it is inscrutable. Once, several summers ago, I awoke mid-dream and stumbled out the back door. I was in the country and the sky was inky black. Crickets played their legs in the not-so-distant distance. I stood there for a long time. And then a glow emerged. Faint halos appeared around the oak tree, the rosemary bush, an ancient roto-tiller atop a mound of dirt. Then I turned. It was just the porch light.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"The Moral Logic of Assholism"

Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg has a new book called Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years.

On Slate's recently re-booted, or returned from hiatus, Lexicon Valley podcast, hosts Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield examine the A-Word with help from the author. Among other things, they discuss the curiosity that is the gendered use of "asshole." We almost always use it to refer to men. I won't go into the (rather provocative and interesting) analysis here, but this quote stuck with me:

"We will know who women have achieved some measure of gender equity when asshole women can be called assholes right along with asshole men."

*

When S. and I were careening toward break up, we had a few near-fights. By near-fights, I mean to clarify that we never really argued like I imagined other couples argued. There was no throwing objects and screaming, no dramatic Hollywood wailing and implications of violence or simmering tensions just about to bubble over. No. We didn't argue all that much. But twice, twice, I called her an asshole. I honestly don't recall what she had said to me to provoke me, but I remember feeling as if she was being mean, not being fair, and I told her to stop being an asshole.

That was maybe our biggest "fight" because I had never called her a name before. And she didn't forget it. A few weeks or months later, right before the split--or maybe it was months after--we had another very different argument during which S told me that I didn't love our child. I wish I remembered the details.

Visibly shaken, I sat down. Trembling, I sat down. Nobody, up until that point in my 37 years on the planet, had ever said anything to me that hurt that much. I don't remember if I spoke then or if I just walked out. But it came up again and I said "you told me I didn't love my daughter. You deliberately hurt me." She countered that I had been hurtful to her and cited the time, months earlier when I had called her an asshole.

And I then understood that she either didn't understand or didn't care. That was nearly three years ago and I don't blame her for reacting rashly. I am still puzzled though by the response. I answered her. I told her that the world is full of assholes. Lots of people can act like assholes. I've been an asshole plenty of times and I'm sure I will be an asshole in the future. I can live with that. I can live with being an asshole. And sure, there are a lot of people who probably don't care for their children, even people who don't love them.

"What would you rather be, S?" I asked. "An asshole or someone who doesn't love your little girl?"

*

I'm probably an asshole for posting this. That's all right. This was all what now seems like a long time ago. I've still got a long way to go.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Anxiety and the Five-Minute Poem

In February of 2011 I was living a pretty sad, besotted existence. Big surprise there, I know.

I hadn't written, really written, in a few years. Post-baby, post-breakup, post-job loss.

I "met" a girl. On the internet. We talked nightly for about two weeks. We gushed and were icky in fake love. Then one day she stopped calling.

But during one of our first conversations I wrote a poem about Tang and the Space Shuttle Challenger. After that, I wrote a couple dozen more, nearly all occasional poems for particular people.

Last night I attempted to revive that, and wrote a poem for David Wright. He, in turn, wrote one for me. His is here:


David Wright's poem for Anthony Robinson.

He used an actual postcard and is sending it to me via post, like in the olden days.

*

Here's my poem for him:


CHAIN
For David Wright

Between the backlit woman & the backboard
in the last gym for miles,

past 5773 years of a nothing we painted

an up smudge

of dodge & burn;

past the knowing & not
knowing, the filters of apple & honey;

there is a caustic unraveling, between us, poet of Midwest

Landscape, Polaroid &

me the endpoint of a horizon of errors—

Ours is a marriage of silences. Two trees.
the ranging forest floor, the small tomorrows.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Outsider's Field Guide to Real-World Trolls: The Evangelical Atheist.

I'll admit it: I spend way too much time engaging with various forms of "social media." There's an old saying in these parts (by "old," I mean, at least a few weeks old): Twitter will make you love people you don't know and Facebook will make you hate people you do know. I'm not entirely sure if this is true for anyone, but I get the point. Twitter is too small to do much damage, especially to strangers. Give me twenty minutes and a FB wall, though, and I can cause a lot of trouble.

Don't get me wrong--I don't mean to cause problems. I don't mean to be provocative. But I guess I sometimes piss people off. At the very least it sure seems like I do sometimes. The following is an expansion, revision of something I posted on FB this morning. Nobody got really angry or cursed each other (much). Still, I left the discussion feeling slightly less than satisfied, as if nobody (or at least the somebodies whose opinions I was interested in) seemed to be interested in listening, or at least attempting to answer some pretty basic questions. Let me explain.

I run with a fairly liberal crowd; by "fairly liberal" I mean that at least 60% of my FB friends (and a roughly equal number of my Real World friends)find themselves standing considerably to the left of our President Obama. Certain things are not just accepted in this circle but expected: pro-gun control, pro-abortion rights, pro-union, pro-gay marriage, pro-higher taxes for rich people, and so forth. Coming in just behind these tenets of our political and intellectual faith is a wide acceptance, and often embrace of "atheism."

I could write a lengthy treatise on why I've put the word in quotes, the difference between an Atheist and an atheist, and other fiddly things, but I'll try to be brief and clear: in this post, I'm not talking about the dictionary definition of atheist: "a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings." If that's you, you're not my problem.

Hell, I'm just such an atheist. I don't believe there is a god. Or gods. I don't. But for reasons which should become clear, I usually don't call myself an atheist, as I believe that the term carries with it certain assumptions absent from the pure denotative meaning. As I see it, atheism has, in some respects, been co-opted by a particular brand of atheist I will call here the Evangelical Atheist (EA). Not simply content to not believe in God, the EA insists on actively pushing his non-belief system of beliefs on others. There are famous EAs and then there are my FB friends who call themselves atheists, post and repost spaghetti monster and yay science! memes, and who I'm guessing don't really think much about what being an atheist means or doesn't mean. I mean, aside from that god stuff. If you are one of those non-celebrity, non-evangelical atheists, let me be clear--I don't hate you. I don't wish ill will toward your family. I don't spend my days wringing my hands and my nights sleepless with rage and indignation over you. You're a lot like me.

It may seem that I'm spending a lot of time on definition here; this is a response to folks who read an earlier version of this post and accused me of being a "self-hating atheist" or of being unduly upset with atheists, or being a pseudo-intellectual with an ax to grind. To those detractors, and to you, the reader, I say this: I do not have a problem with people who don't believe in god. I simply dislike those who would take their atheist belief or position and foist it upon others in the spirit of combativeness while appealing to their own authority and who refuse to tolerate belief that falls outside the parameters of an empirical true/false binary. I think the good-intentioned EA fails to realize that a humane ethics cannot be derived solely from empirical observation and slavish adherence to that which can or cannot be "proved" with the scientific method. To assume otherwise is to rob human beings of a lot of their humanity, their creativity, and what Keats called "Negative Capability."

Once we move beyond our FB news ticker or our family and friends, the next place we are likely to encounter EAs is in traditional media outlets. I'll call these folks famous atheists. Famous atheists come in two varieties: the "Intellectual" and the "Celebrity." The intellectual atheists are well-known for their achievements in science (Richard Dawkins) or witty rhetoric in the realms of politics and culture (Christopher Hitchens). The celebrity atheist is a public figure, generally recognized in his or her capacity as an entertainer. Many of these celebrities also tend to straddle the line between politics and entertainment. Bill Maher and Penn Jillette are two especially vocal celebrity atheists. What celebrity atheists and intellectual atheists have in common is their reliance on a certain brand of specious and reductivist rhetoric that paints the Other (in this case, "believers") with such broad strokes as to render any meaningful engagement with them practically unnecessary. The believer, in the eyes of the EA is either a dolt, a wicked person or somebody who needs to be saved from their own woeful ignorance. Not a lot of wiggle room there.

So what's my problem with EAs? Why not simply ignore them? Well, I try to. But something about crusading under the auspices of "truth" and "critical thinking" while denying the potential for a multivalent concept of truth, and while consciously subverting or ignoring actual critical thinking tends to get under my skin. The careful reader may have noticed by now that I'm not opposed to atheists so much as I have low tolerance for sloppy thinking or, alternately, sharp thinking packaged as witty takedowns or cloaked in logical fallacy so as to make the "message" clear. In having to reduce their arguments to fallacious rhetoric and/or witticisms, the EAs show little respect for or trust in those whom they would wish to convince or affirm. Most EAs can quite handily and convincingly make an argument for the non-existence of God. What is often overlooked, though, is that in discussions of "atheism" the question being asked is rarely, "Is there a God." The question driving the rhetoric is "Should an intelligent person believe in a God or practice a religion?"

If EAs simply ended the conversation where the non-existence of God is either proved, or the existence of God can not be proved, then I'd have no disagreement.
The EA, though, is not merely content to maintain that there is no god; he or she insists on proselytizing a belief system dedicated to demonstrating (emphatically!) the wrong-headedness of believers, and to attributing most or all societal ills to the existence of religion, which they consider 100% folly and, if they are to believed, dangerous.

Of course the above formulation, with minor tinkering, (read "non-believers" for "believers" and "absence" for "existence" and you have a sentence that with fair accuracy describes most Fundamentalist believers, be they Christians, Muslims, or Jews. (Though, in all fairness, Jews don't actively proselytize.) My point is that when you reach beyond "this is what I know to be true" and extend the personal outward, that is, to insist that others either know it to be true or be branded as either heretics or idiots, you have stepped outside the realm of critical thinking and rational discussion and into the coliseum. We know who the Lions and Christians are, right?

In the realm of more or less academic or "formal" rhetoric, we are taught to avoid what the late rhetorician Wayne Booth called "motivism." Simply put, motivism is the practice of launching an argument against not what an opponent says, but rather what you believe to be the opponent's "secret motivation." The "secret" part here means what they're not telling you, what you believe they are withholding. (For some reason.) Booth's admonishment to avoid motivism does not deny the existence of secret motives, only that the best arguments are made against what we know or can expect to be true or reasonable about our opponent's position. Speculation regarding motives, then, is to be avoided in formal argument. I offer this disclaimer because I'm going to engage in some motivism in what follows. You've been warned.

If the individual atheist is secure and happy in his knowledge of "the truth," happy and capable and completely assured that "science" and "truth" are both sides of the same coin, and in fact are not simply better than "faith" and "religion" but completely obliterate the need for these concepts, then so be it. I don't have a problem with that. The EA oversteps his bounds when he projects his atheism at others.

Why pick on those who do believe? Why do your Dawkinses and your Hitchenses and comedy magicians go on television to proclaim the superiority of science and the infantilism of religion as if these two things are always and unequivocally in opposition, as if one can only be a believer in empirical scientific truth or a believer in superstitious religious mumbo-jumbo and never the twain shall meet?

(These questions I ask throughout are not strictly rhetorical, by the way. I'd love to entertain a thoughtful answer. I'm not simply trying to make a point but am actively seeking a response.)

To ask these questions almost requires that we speculate about motivation. So excuse me while I don my Motivist Hat. We'll start with the EA's enemy, the Evangelical Religious Person.

Though I don't agree with the fire-and-brimstone ERP, I can more easily understand what moves him than I can understand what moves the EA. The religious fundamentalist ACTUALLY THINKS that if you don't believe as he does, you are GOING TO HELL. No matter how misguided, he actually believes this and is, in his way, trying to help. What drives the evangelical atheist then? If he is happy and secure in his knowledge, in his superiority, then why does the existence of the very belief in a god so offend him? Is he also offended by Santa Claus? The Tooth Fairy? Hanukkah Harry?

The primary motivation of the evangelical atheist, as far as I can tell, is hubris. (That was the motivism part! And to my detractor who accused me of name-calling, I guess this is about as close as I get in this post to name-calling, though strictly speaking, I'm not calling anybody names, I'm simply assigning a motive without citing specific supporting evidence.) While some EAs claim to preach atheism in order to save lives, or improve lives, or make the world better place, just as many do not. There is a lot of talk of critical thinking, of questioning accepted norms, of truth, of science. What's missing from these discussions is the sense that there is a compelling reason for atheism. How does it make the world a better place? My take on this is that it's a question that's avoided because it cannot be answered without making sweeping assumptions about what it means to be a believer, how religious belief plays out in the real world. It would also require the EA to acknowledge that religious people are not all the same. Doing so would expose the straw-man argument that paints ALL believers as fanatics for what it is--a logical fallacy. In other words, being forced to acknowledge the diversity of belief and opinion among a wide swath of religious people also forces the EA to venture out of his box of binary truth-value, and this is HARD. This, it seems, is why so many public EAs sidestep the real issue altogether, and instead revert to equating intelligence and reason with atheism, and faith or religious practice with superstition, simple-mindedness, and lack of critical thinking ability. Because it's easier than admitting that things are, you know, complicated.


[WHILE EDITING THIS POST, I LOST A FEW HUNDRED WORDS THAT WENT HERE. I'M ONLY DRAWING ATTENTION TO THIS TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE ABSENCE AND MY OWN ERROR. I DIDN'T REMOVE THESE PARAGRAPHS ON PURPOSE. I RECALL THE GENERAL GIST OF THEM, THOUGH, AND MAY REWORK THE IDEAS FOR A FUTURE POST.]


To end, for now, I have no problem with the non-belief in God. I am a non-believer. I am irritated by sloppy thinking, specious logic, and disingenuous arguments that seem to do little more than aggrandize their inventors. If there are thoughtful EAs out there who truly are driven by a desire to teach, to have dialogue, to do more than demonstrate hubris and smugness, then please come out of hiding! Let's talk.

*

post-post question for self-described atheists:

Why is it important to you that others discard religion and/or embrace atheism?

Monday, August 6, 2012

"Old Girlfriends and Other Horrible Memories" revisited

My sex life contains a finite number of sentences, arranged in a pattern and then in other patterns. These patterns sometimes resemble a Mandelbrot set, but it's way different than that, yo. Each sentence can be represented by a discrete crystalline structure. Unlike snowflakes, some of the sentences are the same: "Is that it?" "I love you (sic)" "Oh!" "Turn over." "Why are you crying?"

I am building a giant phallic tribute to my first 39 years. The phallus is modeled not on my own modest member but on someone else's penis I have chosen for both the anger and tender heart of its owner. This tribute will be a large sculpture, a multi-tiered structure of wattle and daub, fiberglass and meat. It will have nothing to do with the book called My (sex) Life. It will instead act as a scarecrow on my front lawn, keeping the neighbors at bay.

My two closest female friends wrote a song called "God at Bay" which was about Loretta Lynn. I was having sex once when Loretta Lynn came on the stero. Major mood-killer. I had to extricate myself, get up, and change the music to Arto Lindsay. Afterward, my companion said "What was that music? I liked it." Not a word about the sex act. It was all skronk and Brasilia.

I am on medication known for its "sexual side effects." Guess what that means? To be completely honest with you, I was first attracted to Michele because of her breasts. I'm a man. Then it was her voice, high and sarcastic, her wry (but somehow dorky) wit, and her great compassion. And then it was her sadness. I was in love with that part of her that was sad, but frustrated with the part that wanted the world to be a better place. The world is never "a better place." It is what we have right now. I don't think I stopped loving that part of her, and I think I grew, many years later, to love the misguided idealistic part because I too, was misguided.

I received my first handjob after a community center dance behind a green church under a halogen light. I never saw the girl again, but heard two years later that she died in a freak automobile accident. She fell asleep at the wheel and was hit by an 18-wheeler on a narrow mountain pass. Kenneth Koch wrote in "The Burning Mystery of Anna in 1951," "I don't know how to kiss." I wrote in a book published by Pilot Books, "The bike cage. The first kiss."

Lisa and I broke up in 1992. Around Christmas 1994, she sent my parents, in a number ten envelope, no note, no nothing, the silver necklace I had given her three Christmases prior. I bought Michele a lot of things for Christmas that I don't remember. She bought me a single CD. Laura decided not to break up with me at Christmastime because I bought her a lot of gifts and she didn't want to feel guilty about walking away with new loot post-breakup. Kari broke up with me on Christmas eve, her birthday. I was devastated. I hung up the phone then proceeded to eat tamales, play blackjack, and drink to excess. I was in love with her for a year following. The last time I saw her, she wore a long blue dress. She was drunk and the Pixies played from some back room. During a boardgame we said "Oslo" at the same time.

Distance equals rate times time. A nearly forgotten local band claimed that the absent lover was "just a 3x5 away." If the continent could tip, I could make someone tumble westward. Here be serpents. Here be the indelicacy that is west coast living. What's the main difference between us? Out here, nobody dresses up to go out. Funny how geography takes precedence over matters of the heart. Matters of the heart. I hate that phrase. In Ray Carver's famous story, the most inept character, the one most unable to love, is a cardiologist. This made my students chuckle. I continued my lecture.

M2 is the most frightening person I've ever known. Like other lovers, her main connection to me was food we shared. Sex was pretty good too, by which I mean, it was transcendent, it felt like love, but in a very dirty way. We didn't see eye to eye on much else. It is now and always has been my contention that our dual mental illnesses made it impossible for us to just get along. I just picked up a used copy of something called The Essential Donne. "For god's sake, hold your tongue and let me love." Easier said.

After the incident(s) with Laura she sort of moved in for awhile. I'd keep her awake long enough to serve her midnight meals. When I think of L now I think of a small yellow bird in the palm of her hand, her cartoony self-portraits, red-tailed hawks, and the CDs she made me back when our relationship was borderline inappropriate. We promised each other early on that we'd never be ugly to each other. We lied.

And with S., I made a child. That was what good came from our sex. We spent most of our time drinking, cooking, and watching television. A few things stand out--tramping through the rare Willamette Valley snows, late night walks through the sleeping town, her way with bread and all baked things. It's probably true that she never really liked me. I guess I never really loved her. I guess we both tried until trying hurt more than not trying. And now I look back with considerable fondness on a lot of our time--midnight falafel, boardgames, her belly growing. She barely tolerates me now and I suppose I can't blame her. I'm trying to get by on what was left. And not much was left. And my daughter grows, adds and subracts, reads bigger words, swims and tumbles, develops personal relationships with the birds of the air and the beasts of Northern Indiana.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Who is the person

who keeps +1-ing my posts?


Thank you,
Tony

writing through

A sensation fit for a backyard,

this way of being unlike a mellotron

& making it past the barricades

the incongruencies of barely living

is what I like about you & why

I give this small thing

like a piece of cake or a 3x5

gravely outlined, embossed someplace

in a room where one can strain a bit

to hear the background vocal &

this is safety, smooth, college-ruled.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yesterday I began a post on literary bullying, jealousy, and taking responsibility for one's own failure.

I failed at writing it.

I posted a bit of my failure here then deleted it because it was clumsily written and didn't really say what I had intended to say when I set out to write it.

*

I called out names. People I didn't or don't like. Then I realize that what I think is honesty may be perceived as whining or arrogance, or whatever. I'm not really afraid of judgment, but after awhile, dealing with negativity can be a gigantic pain, and an even more gigantic and embarrassing pain when you realize that it was your own negativity that started it all.


Confused? I am. Just a little.


*


Pop music is better at this than I am.

"Pretty soon now, I will be bitter." (David Byrne)

"We hate it when our friends become successful." (Steven Morrissey)

"Today I was an evil one." (Will Oldham)


Yes, they're all middle-ageish white men. How surprising. And, of course, they're all successful.


*

Sunday, July 22, 2012

An Old Blurb

Joseph Massey just reminded me of this blurb he kindly wrote for a chapbook I wrote a long time ago.

Anthony Robinson's Brief Weather & I Guess a Sort of Vision is a lyric graph of the poet's heart moving through the turbulence of the everyday, under the pall & pang of love approaching the rocks, within the blur & blitz of alcohol (not on the rocks -- there's a lot of beer in these poems), from two very different climates (Austin, Texas, & Eugene, Oregon). But fuck all that. Anthony Robinson is a pimp who won't diddle your poesy hole with bad metaphors about guitars. This fucker is sincere.

--Joseph Massey, author of Ron's Panties


***

Ah, those were the days, huh?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

St. Louis, 2003 -- in which poems are born.

I spent the first weekend of December 2003 in St. Louis, MO. It was a dreary couple of days brightened by a reading I gave with Arielle Greenberg Bywater, which was hosted and part of a series curated by Aaron Belz. As I recall, Jonathan Mayhew was there as well.

The reading was at the City Museum and went rather well. I was rather bummed out, for personal reasons, and spent the rest of the weekend alone, wandering the streets through the wet snow, through the gutted downtown full of empty shopping centers and boarded-up buildings, looking for a Pepsi. That first night, though, after the reading, Aaron took me for a short drive and we stopped for a bit right across from the Gateway Arch, which looked yellow and pink in the weird light and snow. Aaron played for me the as-yet-unreleased Mountain Goats album, "We Shall All Be Healed." The music was appropriate to the mood: twitchy, meth-driven, but slow...

After, I retired to my hotel room, where I spent the next two nights holed up with a bottle of bourbon, room service, and hotel cable television. James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhal kept me company. And pizza.

Two poems came from that trip. The first, "MICHAEL JACKSON CAUGHT WITH WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION!" was written that same night that Aaron dropped me off. The local news was on, the Blazers beat the Lakers, Sadaam Hussein was discovered in a spider-hole, and the title of the poem is something I swore I heard during the newscast. The other poem came about a month later. "Hash Anthem" was my poem for Aaron, which I wrote while half-listening to a lecture on Faulkner. That poem remains one of my favorites to this day. The former, as far as I can remember, has never been published nor seen by anybody. Maybe I'll send it out one of these days.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

to get us started

I ganked this from Debra Gwartney, who got it from somewhere else. Now I'm putting it here. Thanks Debra and other guy.





Monday, June 11, 2012

A few more thoughts in response to AD Jameson's latest inquiry into sincerity.

I am again having trouble posting comments on HTML Giant, so I'm posting them here where nobody will read them.

*

Some Bits

1) I'll buy the Steve Roggenbuck connection, but I don't think Massey would buy it. You'll have to ask him.

2) If you examine the texts produced by Massey/Mister/Robinson as well as the Second Wave NS practitioners (Hart, Pritts, Lasky, et al), one thing becomes apparent. Massey's work seems the square peg here. That is, the tradition he is working in is decidedly different from where Andy and I situated ourselves. And even though I've made an effort to distance myself from the 2nd Wave, I'll admit that Andy and my work has more in common with these than Massey's even. Curiously, when talk of NS comes up, Massey is usually quoted--both his manifesto and his poetry. Joe is a good friend, and I say this not to cast aspersions but to point out the rather strange impression this gives of the poetry and the general thinking of the NS '05 as a whole.

3) Joe and I (and I'm guessing Andy) were weaned on Donald Allen's "New American Poetry" of 1960, and Paul Hoover's 1990 Norton Anthology of Post-Modern American Poetry. Far from rejecting Language or other "experimental" modes, I'd say we absorbed them, used them, learned from them. The objections we had toward the poetry zeitgeist of the mid-2000s was not simply the emphasis on artifice or experiment or text-as-text. It was against something harder to pin down--what we felt was a lack of feeling, of soul, behind the text.

4) I find the aleatory stylings of John Cage much more soulful than (insert name of mid-career 30-40something poet here). It's not the tools or the materials. It's the animating force behind them.

5) It's hard to quantify, to pin down "feeling" in a text. This poses a problem for the academic, who, trapped in a post-new criticism hangover that will not go away, focuses on the text itself to the exclusion of the context in which it exists or existed.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Office

I'm sitting in the Junk Room, so called because it's full of junk. While Skyping with my daughter today, I carried the laptop upstairs and announced we were entering the junk room. This seemed to interest her enough to ask me to rotate 360 degrees and adjust the angle of the screen so she could see the piles of junk. Three feet to the left of me are several cardboard boxes filled with old LPs. Behind the boxes is a broken La-Z-Boy recliner piled high with dusty blankets, pillows, half-crocheted things. Against the wall in front of me is a makeshift bookhelf--cinderblock and unidentifiable wood-slab construction--housing a few dozen mass-market paperbacks, mostly genre stuff: sci-fi and fantasy that I must have read sometime two and a half decades ago when this was my bedroom. Did I mention I'm living in my folks' house? I'm rapidly approaching 40 and have come full-circle. I kept my room tidier than this, though.

On the top shelf, above the books, there's a haphazard collection of pint glasses, wicker baskets, and wreaths woven from twigs and such. I also spy a small can of butane and a cardboard box containing collector drinking glasses signed by Clyde Drexler and other early 90s era Trailblazers. I don't know or remember where these came from. I don't remember being an NBA fan back then. I don't remember a lot of things.

I've dedicated this room as a temporary office chiefly because it has limited distractions. Basically this means no television. No cookies. No window to peer out. Here is where I will get "work" done, whatever that may be. Tonight it's writing on a topic I know nothing about for a few bucks that I'll toss in the fund to get back east.

In two weeks it will be a year since I last saw my daughter. Things are different now. She reads books and espouses opinions and happily discourses on her dog's diet, the habits of crocodiles and other reptiles, and the general unsuitability of raw tomatoes for human consumption. She likes to show me her henna tattoo. I'm still "daddy" to her but I'm not sure how much longer that will last. I've come to notice that recently, in the past few weeks, her mother has been referring to me not as "daddy" but as "Tony." Tonight E. asked me if I would read her another story and then she turned and said, "Mama, can Daddy read me another story?" Her mother responded, "That's between you and Tony."

"Tony? Can you read me another story?"

If I'm going to be slowly erased, this room full of junk, abandoned memories, manufactured memories, and just plain weird anti-nostalgia, is as good a place as any, I suppose.


"I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?"

Monday, June 4, 2012

More of that Old Sincerity: The Origin Myth

From the archives of Geneva Convention, August 2005.

* * *

Some More Notes on the NS

We're here, some of us are queer, and we aren't going anywhere.

The New Sincerity had its genesis in December of 2004. It began when I met Andrew Mister in San Francisco's Tenderloin district and proceeded to drink him under the table. He lost concentration during our last couple of rounds as he was trying to chat up a girl at the bar. I maintained focus on drinking my beer and whiskey. A photo-documentary of this event lives in the archives. After drinking, I had Thai food at a nearby all-night eatery. I left Andrew at the bar.

We talked a lot of shit about poetry we didn't like between drinks. We also sang David Bowie's "Life on Mars," though we couldn't remember all the lyrics. We watched a drag show. We almost broke a table. We also talked about what we wanted in contemporary poetry. Frank O'Hara said that only a few poets were more interesting than the movies. We believe that only a few poets are more interesting than David Bowie. At least right now. We're hoping to pull a few more New Sincerists out of the closet, those who are afraid of losing post-avant cred, or appearing too sentimental. Sentimental means "relating to sentiment." Sentiment means "feeling." We feel, dig?

Before our drinking battle, we exchanged manuscripts. The next morning, hung over and sipping Emergen-C, we read the poems and discovered that each of us was the other's favorite new poet. We seemed to see eye to eye on matters poetical. We wrote the sorts of poems that we wanted to read. We continued our correspondence and friendship. We began to notice other poets who seemed to want the same things from contemporary poetry--Joseph Massey, Charlie Jensen, Reb Livingston, Gina Myers, Laurel Snyder. Jeff Bahr, though not a New Sincerist, photoshopped a NS teeshirt on himself. Josh Hanson criticized us. Lots of other people just don't care. So it goes.

The New Sincerity went public in the late spring and early summer of 2005. I began writing little blips about it on my blog. In early July of 2005, Joe Massey wrote a controversial manifesto. Since then, not a day in the blogosphere goes by without a mention of the NS. I like this. It means people are paying attention. Not everyone agrees with us and that is okay. There are a number of skeptics. That too is okay.

We are not going anywhere. But we promise not to take over your town.

Response to Adam Jameson and commenters.

Over at HTML Giant, A D Jameson continues his discussion of the old New Sincerity.  Or, more properly, his discussion of 2nd Wave "New Sincerity" as exemplified by Tao Lin, Matt Hart, etc.

I tried to post a comment to the thread, but my internet is hamster wheel-powered so sometimes things don't work.  So I'll try posting it here.  To read the original piece, go to HTML Giant.

Andy, Joe, and I didn't invent the term. Its origins are in music, architecture, and some other shit I don't remember.  And it wasn't leading anything--I think when Andy first suggested the term (to me, over beers, and not in any prescriptive way) he was talking about Joshua Beckman's book, the one with the poem "Block Island."  

Here's what happened.  In the summer of 2005, I was complaining on my blog about the poetic Latino Mafia that wanted me to write more poems about tortillas. I was also involved in a cross-blog conversation with Jonathan Mayhew concerning "period styles" of contemporary poetry. In a dashed-off post one afternoon I briefly talked about a few period styles, and joked that I should start or become part of The Tortilla School.   Then, as an afterthought I mentioned that Andy used the term "New Sincerity" to describe the sort of poetry we thought we were writing or that we admired in others.  

(He and I had just begun work on a series of poems that would be published as a chapbook by Boku Books in late 2005, called finally, "Here's To You" but at that point had the working title "Don't Get Me Started."  It no longer exists, as far as I know--I guess poems there could be seen as early examples of this particular strain of "New Sincerity."  We were clearly guided by Ted Berrigan, as the poems state.  And I have the pills and Pepsi to prove it.)

Part of what I was interested in at the time was using the "innovations" of the past generation(s) to write poetry that was more than irony or distrust of language.  There was of course, more to it, but that was where I had staked my little plot of ground.

A few posts followed my initial posts (mostly as responses to comment box comments).  Then in early July, Joe emailed me his Manifesto (which I believe he also posted on his Livejournal at the time).  We had a good laugh and thought that was it.   

I continued to blog about the newly minted "New Sincerity" throughout the summer, and Joe did the same from time to time in his live journal.  Andy didn't have a blog at the time. But he was still writing poems then--we all were. 

Here's an important point.  The main reason the NS became anything at all is that in 2005, poets read blogs.  Blogging was the main source of online poetry community.  Facebook, I think, really killed all that.  Without the blogging culture of the time, this wouldn't be an issue.

Finally, as I ramble, I'd like to refer back to the last sentence of the paragraph before the paragraph before this one.  The manifestos, the blog posts, all of that were, as you've noted, pretty ephemeral.  I'd like to think that if folks want to talk about the "NS" they'd look to the poems at the center of all the talk.  So far, that's not been done much--or, in my opinion, at least not enough.

Tony Robinson

**

Update @ 7:00 pm PDT:    Aaron Belz tweets:






Wednesday, May 30, 2012

post-Sincerity poetics found here

I have resisted making this a poetry blog mainly because nobody reads poetry blogs anymore.  They are like PDAs and pagers and 64 oz. bottles of malt liquor.

A dodo bird with a pager and half-gallon of Olde English?   Priceless.

*

But, I had this to say about this thing I saw:

In this paper, Jennifer Ashton, Professor at University of Illinois, Chicago, makes the common error of characterizing the New Sincerity (the short-lived "movement"--you decide if it's "fake" or not) as a reaction against Language PoetryOf course it's nothing of the sort and a little research would have corrected this. It also would have complicated it, I suppose.

Thanks to Adam D. Adam D Jameson for directing me to this.

You know, they say the proof is in the pudding or something, and one thing I've noticed is that in the many papers that have been written about or that include the New Sincerity, the actual poetry of the originators is rarely invoked. Instead, the poet-critic invariably focuses on the work of what I'll term here (for the first time, I believe) Second Wave Sincerists. While the critic is free to do as he or she pleases, it seems that any serious study would want to examine all the documents available to them rather than cherry pick a few blog posts as an intro to talk about something else...




Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Old New Sincerity

Over at HTML Giant, A D Jameson talks a bit about "The New Sincerity."

I like that he more or less correctly describes (if in very abbreviated form) the genesis of this short-lived poetry movement, and gives credit where credit is due.

*

I have been away for awhile but will hereafter endeavor to post more frequently even though I'm well aware that nobody is reading this blog.

The Buggles noted that video killed the radio star.   Well, as we all know, "social media" like Facebook and Twitter has killed the blogger.  Poetry blogger and oncologist C. Dale Young recently closed shop at his long-running blog and in doing so, lamented the disappearance of what was once a thriving blogging community, chiefly among poets.  I was a part of that for awhile.  Now everyone just uses Facebook or tweets or texts their friends.  

And alas, the center did not hold.

*

I'll stick around for awhile whether you like me or not.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Statement

An impulse toward poetry is an impulse toward friendship; it's a drive toward and away from complication and complexity.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blogroll

Welcome Suzi Steffen to the blogroll, blogging on art, culture, food, and so forth in Eugene.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Socio-economics of Poesy, Pt. 1

About a dozen years ago, I ran into a now-famous poet in the poetry aisle of our local used bookstore.  Or rather, he ran into me.  I was paging through a copy of James Merrill's The Changing Light at Sandover when the fellow turned to me and began making small talk.  After a couple of moments he glanced down at the book in my hand and said, "Huh. James Merrill.  I won't read him.  He was a millionaire.  What does a millionaire know about life?"

*

Are there any poets you won't read because external details of the poet's life turn you off?  Besides Ezra Pound.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Still Here

I've been away for ten days for no reason in particular--all 3 of you who read this blog may have noticed.   Or maybe not.

*

Still working my through George R. R. Martin's Clash of Kings.  I'm almost finished and look forward to discussing it with Bennet.

*

It's been a pretty bleak week and a half here--a lot of slushy snow and rain.  We're in the midst of that long winter stretch that always brings on the doldrums.  That and my daughter's third birthday this past weekend have made for not a lot on my plate aside from brooding and too much sleeping.

*

All that said, I hope to get back to my Dream Songs discussion with Bennet over the next few days.  One of us is supposed to pick a poem to discuss next, though I'm not sure we are any further along in the process of setting down any actual "rules" than we were a week or ten days ago. If I have time this evening--or rather, inclination, I may attempt a look at Dream Song #28, one of the relatively few with an "actual" title:  "Snow Line."   Watch this space for it.

In the meantime, you can read my responses to Bennet's initial two posts in his comment boxes.

*




Monday, February 20, 2012

Blogroll

I added a couple of links to the blogroll, including Portland's Michael Donnelly blogging about music and life in "Williamsburg on the Willamette."

Also up:  links to two of my "old" blogs--archives of Geneva Convention for talk on poetry and food from 2004 to 2008, and my occasional photo blog, Recycled Photocopies, which had a short run but may return if people are interested in seeing new pictures of things.

The Dream Songs Dialogue #1

Over at An Hind, Bennet begins our informal discussion of John Berryman's The Dream Songs with a few questions about how to approach them as a more-or-less first-time reader.

I tried to make a few suggests in his comment box, some of which I'll reproduce below, but then I'd like to offer up a couple of observations borne from last night's foray into revisiting The Dream Songs, from the beginning, for the first time in quite a few years. It turns out that a few things I thought I knew about the project as a whole are not entirely correct, or my understanding of them is at best, incomplete.

*

First, in response to Bennet's preliminary questions:  1) what is the relationship between Henry and Berryman; does it matter?; does JB's prefatory note to the "collected" Dream Songs fundamentally alter how we, the readers, approach the poems?  Should it?  Why the minstrelsy?  Who is Mr.Bones?

These aren't Bennet's questions verbatim, but my brief recounting of concerns we both share.  I counseled Bennet that we should take Berryman's note with a heavy dusting of salt.  Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Berryman's actual biography will recognize the poet-as-Henry-the-protagonist here. Furthermore, Berryman has to know that we, the readers, know this and we're not buying his denial. My suggestion is that, yes, we are supposed to read these poems as biography.

I also noted that "Mr. Bones" is intended to be a sort of "nickname" for Henry/Berryman, uttered by his unnamed interlocutor. Many readers, it seems, consider them to be different characters.  Now, if we're not to trust Berryman regarding his claims about biography, then how are we to trust that Bones and Henry are one and the same?  Good question--one that I think our readings of the poems in the coming days should illuminate.

*

Now in a rather artless segue, I read the first 40 songs last night.  Concerns/thoughts which may or may not be obvious:

1. While the poems generally follow a form: 18 lines divided into 3 stanzas of 6 lines of varying length, sometimes rhymed and sometimes not, in the first 40 JB deviates from this form, usually by adding lines in 3 or 4 of the poems.

2. In the note I discussed above, JB tells us that Henry is "sometimes in blackface."  A quick reading of the actual poems makes this claim confusing in that at least part of the time, it's Henry's sidekick who seems to be speaking in a minstrel dialect--in that he interrupts / addresses Henry / Bones and what follows is often in this dialect.   Some of the poems are written almost entirely in dialect with no interruptions from a second speaker, so my first assumption is that this could be Henry, "in blackface,"  but we also have to consider the possibility that his sidekick assumes this mask as well.  Why did JB leave this seemingly important detail out of the preface?

3. It's a good idea to read these poems quickly at first, just to "take it all in" as it were. I was struck by how many of them I did not remember, and of those, how many I really didn't understand on this re-reading.  Best not to linger over that for now, methinks.

4. These poems, this sequence, is mostly about death.  But we knew that already.  Sometimes a reminder is a good thing. Another way to look at the project:  one long suicide note, over a dozen years in the making.

5. While we are aware of Henry / Bones as aspects of the speaker, there are other assumed personas here, some of which are quite amusing and / or affecting. My favorite on this read, so far, is the lonely sheep that narrates #28.  "I wish the barker would come." 

*

That should be enough to get us started.  More later.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In honor of Berryman Week, a little mood music:


David Antin, Brief Weather, The "Writing Life" or Lack Thereof

I stumbled upon (and I urge you to take this figure of speech literally--if you could see my apartment at the time, you'd understand--400 square feet, two small bookshelves and over a thousand books makes literally stumbling over books a frequent occurrence) Conversation with David Antin, by David Antin and Charles Bernstein somewhere at the end of 2006 or beginning of 2007.   I had just finished something of a milestone year--both poetically and personally.  I didn't know when I picked it up that it would play a role in fundamentally altering my own "writing life."

I spent the spring of 2006 writing the poems that would eventually be collected in Brief Weather and I Guess A Sort of Vision; I began in March at the request of Betsy Wheeler, who accosted me at the Garden Party in Austin and asked to publish a book of mine.  Christ!  I guess I had to write a book.

The origins of that slim collection involve an airplane, my then-girlfriend Laura, and a book of sudoku puzzles.  There was also the now infamous make-out party in the Austin Hilton lobby, complete with stolen wine (I won't reveal what now-famous children's book author stole the wine by insisting on using me as a pack mule because I happened to be wandering around the Hilton with a backpack--but you can probably guess. It's okay--I don't feel guilty, as we were robbing the Poetry Foundation, at a "private party" that we just crashed).  There was the kindness of James Hall, who chauffered Laura and I around a bit.  There was the squalid apartment we spent four days in among piles of dirty beer cans, garbage, and a bathroom with one towel, one wet towel   There was the Nordic Venezuelan named Virgilio who spent the entire weekend locked away in a back room, drinking gallon jugs of Carlo Rossi and watching extreme sports videos.  There was The Princess Bride and the still-awful Star Wars Episode 1.  There was also the dissolution of my romantic relationship of the past year.  Yeah, that thing.

As soon as I returned to Oregon, I began writing every day, sometimes just a few lines; other days I'd knock out two or three drafts.  My method of working was very deliberate--each poem was made of nine lines, and they were assembled consecutively.   That is, I wrote each poem one line at a time, and line 2 always followed line 1.  There was no line re-shuffling allowed.  I'd often stop mid-poem to walk down the street for coffee, a journey that almost always involved being dive-bombed by starlings who resented my taking up residence in what was obviously their apartment.

I finished a batch of about 40 poems in around 6 weeks' time.  I sent them off to Betsy that summer, and she responded with extremely generous commentary, all handwritten and beautifully understated yet enthusiastic.  She focused her editorial chops into honing my 40 poems into a 27-poem machine.  This was expected, as the numerology of the project required 27 poems, no more no less. I published 8 of these poems prior to that in Court Green, under the dubious title "Aviary Evacuation Plan."  Betsy re-titled my collection Brief Weather..., which was a stroke of minor genius.  I had, at this point, ditched the bird title, and was leaning toward Cold Front which strikes me today as a terrible name for my little book. 

The book came out in November. I gave a single reading in Portland attended by very few people. I don't think a single person bought a book that night.  I lost my camera. I remember drinking a lot of wine.  Then I don't remember.

*

What I'm building toward here is the 3 year gap in my writing life that began soon after the book's publication and soon after I picked up Antin and Bernstein's book-length conversation.  By March of 2007, exactly one year after I'd begun the project, I had completed the FULL 81 poems--actually, there are a few stragglers in there...so closer to 90, but if it ever sees the light of publication, I will of course trim away nine of those bad boys.

And then I stopped.  I can't pinpoint when and how it all went down or why.  I just remember reading the give and take between Antin and Bernsteinn, and being thrown a bit for a not-unpleasant but still somewhat jarring loop. Antin's talk-poems and his discussion of his poetics and practice are all a bit dream-like in their logic but fiercely intelligent.  I got to the point where I began to think that if David Antin is a poet, I don't know if I want to be a poet.  I didn't know if I could be a poet any longer.

And then the vagaries of a life ill-lived invaded, happened. Suddenly I had new priorities, a new  relationship, a series of episodes (fits? brief respites from sanity?) of mental and emotional self-reckoning and evaluation.  Not only did I stop writing but I also quite reading poetry mostly (save the weekly editorial meetings at the NWR that were then, unbeknownst to most of us poetry editors, in their final days).  I quit sending poems out to editors.  I shut down.  And I was strangely okay with that.

Life came on full-strength and I was, for a time, a very destructive force.  (Wallace Stevens in his odd little poem, wrote that Poetry is a Destructive Force--he had a point.  It had turned me into a bitter, often resentful little person.) I hurt a lot of people, made a lot of mistakes, and then, inexplicably, was blessed with a beautiful daughter amidst all the madness, the general ickiness I had made my life.

That daughter, now almost three years old, is the reason I returned to writing.  I'm still in the nascent stages of my "re-arrival" onto whatever "scene" it is I have wandered into. Trying to figure it all out by writing through the pain and mess that still lingers, and yes, also the joy. Especially the joy.

I never quite manage to end where I began, but I try.  Here's David Antin:


             . . . i had always had mixed feelings
        about being considered a poet        "if robert lowell is a
        poet i don't want to be a poet         if robert frost was
        poet i don't want to be a poet        if socrates was a poet
            ill consider it"


Dreaming, I am.

What a way to start a book of poems, huh?

Are you ready to begin, Bennet?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Welcome to the Blogroll...

Bennet Smith, who so far is blogging about Thomas Wyatt, George R.R. Martin, and I'm sure, soon, other stuff, at An Hind.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

OK. So I can't resist.

Day of Hate -- Idiot Yelp! Reviewers

For  Day of Hate here on Horizon.Point, first up:  another reason to hate Yelp, or more specifically Yelpers.

From a review posted today:   (I'm paraphrasing so as not to uh, y'know, steal anyone's words away)

This Vietnamese Place has a lot of good things going for it:  friendly owners and staff, clean place, large and varied selection.
Now--about their pho.  I've eaten pho here a dozen times in the past and liked it.  But today I ordered my usual, beef w/tendon, and where was the beef?   I could only find two pieces of beef in my pho!   And I guess they were out of the Thai basil they usually put in because there was no Thai basil!  Why didn't they at least add extra cilantro?   One Star.
Here's a hint:  when you post a review to Yelp!  you are posting a general review of the business.  If you've only been there once, and it was bad, okay, I can understand the one star.  (Though, personally, I try to sample a place at least three times before reviewing it at all--if I do post a review after one visit, I make this clear in the review and take it into consideration when assigning stars.)   This customer, though, liked everything about the place--including the last 12 bowls of pho he ate.   So one bad experience out of at least 13 results in an extremely low rating?  That's rude.  You're an asshole.

Monday, February 13, 2012

pseudo-chapbook

I'm assembling most of the small poems I've written over the past year into a small collection.  And I'm posting some of them here.

So here's one.

*
SETTLERS

The world keeps opening and falling over,
spilling through something I can't identify,
can't countenance and yet cling to
because love has taken over my chest.

It's hard to breathe here but breathe we must
mon frere.   And you're not really my brother
but I don't think that's the point. The point
is this:            we can take it with us. 

Conventional wisdom is conventional because
frankly, it's stupid.   God laughs at people
like us.  Probably because we're not all
that smart.  Neither is she.   Probably.

If you were Neil Young and I were David Bowie
perhaps we'd make love in an alley, or fuck
on a pile of trash.  I think in this, we would
be at our most beautiful.

I was going to make this a sonnet but I'm way
over the line limit.  A piece of paper that
has been shot through with these words cannot,
in any way, make sense to the commoner.

We are not common.  We are dumb little people.
We've spent our collective life smiling
at other people less fortunate, if only because
we can.   I'll take a taxi cab to the next state.

Please don't follow me.  I'll only hurt you
and fuck your friends. Don't worry: I'll only
be dead as long as it takes for the ferry
to reach the next island. Then: trees, grain.







fIREHOSE, Live Music, & Me

Lately, in several blog posts, Facebook statuses, and in private conversations with friends and acquaintances, I've mentioned the music of Mike Watt, particularly the work in fIREHOSE and the Minutemen, as reminding me of high school.   That's not entirely true.  I didn't listen to either band until I was in the Navy, a couple years removed from 12th grade.  I suppose I think of high school because both bands were on SST, a label that meant a lot to me--Black Flag, Descendents, Bad Brains, etc.   Why I never heard Watt and Co. before, I'll never know.

I do remember that the Red Hot Chili Peppers, before the great fame, before Rick Rubin, before the sensitive ballads, name-dropped fIREHOSE in "Good Time Boys," the lead-off track of their 1989 record, Mother's Milk. It wasn't until I saw the video for "Down With The Bass" from  Flyin' the Flannel in 1991 on MTV's 120 Minutes, that I actually went out and bought a fIREHOSE album. It was only a matter of weeks before I had the whole collection, and most of the Minutemen stuff too. Something about Ed Crawford's addition of traditional melody and classic rock and folk sensibility to the already potent mix of Hurley and Watt's drums and bass cemented fIREHOSE in my mind and heart as THE Mike Watt band.   I know I'm in the minority here, as most fans consider the later a band a pale imitation / deviation from The Minutemen.

I however, do not.

There's something about a three-piece.  Husker Du.  Minutemen. fIREHOSE.

When i saw fIREHOSE live, in 1993 shortly before they broke up, the opened with "In My Mind" and closed 90 minutes later with Superchunk's "Slack Motherfucker."  I just remember a lot of bodies, many shirtless, furious,  joyous, bouncing off one another in the tiny venue.  These were the days of  "moshing" and mosh we did.   Anybody hearing fIREHOSE's music for the first time today might have a hard time imagining how we moshed to that.

I never saw Husker Du live.  I can tell you this:  I like the sound of a guitar plugged directly into an amp.  A guitar with no fancy effects.  This is what Bob Mould has done at the solo shows I've seen.  Bob, one guitar, an amp, and his voice.  If he needs to quiet it down, he picks up an acoustic.  Simple.  A good song can survive, and thrive, with minimal gear.

fIREHOSE and Matthew Sweet, of all people, took a similar approach. While playing with full bands, they more or less just plugged straight in.  You'd think the guitar would sound the same throughout, smooth out the dynamics allowed by a few pedals, or a few different guitars.  Instead, though, it showcases a dynamic that can only be brought out with fingers and heart.  Was it jarring to hear the delicate "In My Mind" with semi-fuzzy guitar, way too loud?  At first...but it all makes sense.

fIREHOSE is playing here live for the first time in 19 years on April 10th.  I'm going.












Wednesday, February 8, 2012

it's good, it's real, it's pretty

This afternoon, through happy accident of iPod shuffle, I was reminded of The Breeders' debut record, Pod (1990).

Pod was Kim Deal's side-project, formed with Tanya Donnelly. The rock and roll women, desiring to break away from their roles as second fiddles to Charles Thompson and Kristin Hersh, founded The Breeders (named after Kim and Kelly Deal's old hometown band), enlisted the help of Josephine Wiggs and Steve Albini, and recorded Pod.


It's better than Bossanova, the Pixies record released the same year.  Like Bossanova, it's both delicate and lacerating.  Where Bossanova, in its noisier moments, is a bit like the audio equivalent of being dragged across razor wire, Pod is like sitting in a field of wildflowers one moment before getting crushed by a giant rock falling out of the sky.  Art rock for Chicken Little and Indie Kids before there was such a thing as Indie Kids.

Tanya got the short straw this time out, becoming essentially, a session player for Kim Deal.  But it's Kim's songs here that really shine: shimmery and brutal, made all the more lovely by the stark, dry Albini production.  Pod is the color of concrete and smells like rain on hot asphalt. It marks a roughly 8 month period of my life, in between the age of 18 and 19.  I worked in a large office, essentially a receptionist.  But the office rarely had visitors. My boss sat in a small office behind me with his feet up on the desk, always reading a very thick novel.  He let me do what I wanted, and what I wanted to do was listen to Pod every day.   I also listened to fIREHOSE's Flyin' The Flannel and The Cars' Heartbreak City.

Three record soundtrack to Summer in San Diego.  Summer of grand theft auto (a Navy van).  Summer of acid trips and fence jumping.  Summer of stacks of paperwork. Official Government Documents. Rolling Rock in cans:  that mysterious "33." Summer of first regular sex.  And by regular, I mean often.  Not that I was having irregular sex before, but I probably was.

Pod, in fact sounds a little like sex and I suppose that's what draws me back.  Like its namesake, it's a sonic cocoon that wraps me into a time when I was still young and not yet fully born.  I remember standing in the office, slightly in front of my desk, holding the receiver of a rotary phone up to my ear and somebody (I don't remember who...my mother, my father?) telling me that Grandma Davie had finally died.  Did I want to go home?     I didn't go.   Louder than the voice on the end of the line though, in my memory, is Kim Deal rasping, low, breathy, across the room, "well acquainted with the touch of a velvet hand, like a lizard on a window pane."

Breeders would continue to release albums sporadically, their biggest success, the sophomore effort The Last Splash, which yielded them their 17 minutes of fame thanks to the HUGE success of the "hit single" Cannonball.   This was a ramped up, Albini-less affair. More muscular, harder and sleeker around the edges, with a wider dynamic range, which strangely made the record sound less dynamic--more sonic tools to play with and everything bled. It was a glorious bloodbath, but at the end of the decade, and then again at the end of another decade (and another two years) it was no Pod.

Today, as I walked to my therapist's office, the song Metal Man came on the iPod.  Maddeningly quiet at first it builds spare bass figures and weird angular guitar lines into a delicate, almost lacy thing. You turn it up because you can't quite hear it.  Then it builds and anticipates a huge sonic boom.  Then it stops short.  When the boom finally comes, it is gone quickly and the song dissolves back into the roomy atmospherics of the first 30 seconds or so, this time with disconnected voices saying terribly mundane things amid the bare swirl.

It was raining today.  It tasted like rust.   I was 19 again, wet, not quite depressed.  Thanks Kim Deal. Thanks Tanya Donnelly.  Thanks Charles, for not letting enough of Kim's songs into the Pixies.



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tales of Shame and/or Weirdness

Here begins one in a supposed series of social awkwardisms, faux-pas, inappropriateness, embarrassing events, and general tales I would be better off leaving untold.

It had to have been about 1996 or 1997.   Two days post Christmas and I found myself in a local bar just off campus that hadn't quite been overrun by college kids.  It was never a strictly townie place, but over the decades, it had managed to maintain a bit of rough and tumble.  It was not necessarily the place to go if you were a college kid in search of a quick hook-up. It was an old-fashioned Tavern, something that I guess went out of fashion long before my time.   Now, 15 years later, it attracts a large college following but is still filled with bikers and unemployed working stiffs during the daylight hours.  For that it has my appreciation.
And so, here I was.  In this bar. Already drunk. Hanging out with a few people from my hometown who I barely tolerated.  If I hadn't just downed a six-pack, "barely tolerated" would be amended in this recollection with "detested."   At this point, though, they were tolerable.

Still early, 10 pm or so, we shuffled into the bar.   Almost immediately, my friend's younger brother had sidled up to an old-school wooden booth and began chatting up the two young women sitting there.  Funny thing is, I noticed that of them was Nicole, a girl I had met online (I was an early adopter--this was mid-90s) a few months earlier. She and I never really hit it off, but she became semi-close with one of my friends, so as friend rules go, Nicole and I were friendly.   I immediately felt sorry for the ladies, as Jason was not the most pleasant fellow to encounter in a bar two days after the celebration of the birth of Our Lord and Savior, so I quickly intervened.

I stepped up to the table and Nicole's friend, a pretty blonde, immediately thrust her hand out.  "Hi!  Guess what color my fingernails are?"   I glanced down at her nails and replied, flatly, "Vixen."  She, startled, said "Oh my god!  That's totally right.  The color is Vixen! How did you know?"   I shrugged.  "You're cute," she said.  "Sit down."  She scooted over, I sat down.  She ordered me a pitcher of beer.  I drank it, she got grabby. We kissed a bit, etc.  All pretty standard drunken 20-something bar antics.  After some time, she got up to go to the restroom, was met halfway back by a man she seemed to know. She stumbled over to the table, told Nicole that she was going home, and the man escorted her out the back door of the bar.

How did I know her fingernail polish was "Vixen?"  Total guess. My best friend at the time, Julia, had just purchased a bottle of Vixen nail polish a few days earlier.  When I looked at this stranger's nails, even in the dim light of the bar, they looked a bit purplish, a bit metallic.   So I said "Vixen."  Luck.  Or not luck.

It was only a few days later that Nicole apologized to me for what happened.  I was a little non-plused.  Apologize for what?  I got free beer and kissed a girl.   (She was fine--the gentleman who walked her home was looking out for her.)  "Well," Nicole said, "people are weird and she is weird about the whole thing with her mother, so when she meets new people, she gets nervous and she left because she was feeling strange."   I blinked.  "Her mother?  Huh?"    Nicole's face went a bit blank.  "Oh. You, you don't know..."  "I don't know anything about anything...I just met her."

Nicole went on to mention that the young woman's mother was a famous killer.  Not just locally famous but nationally, internationally, famous.  And the woman was, understandably, uncomfortable with the whole thing.  

And well, I never saw either one of them again. I did, however, a couple years later, buy some things at Gap, and was pretty sure that the clerk who sold me carpenter pants and polo shirts was the daughter of a famous killer who once bought me beer and kissed me in a dingy bar.  I didn't ask her though.  That would have been weird.



Monday, February 6, 2012

Challenging Readers: A Review of a Review: James Crews reviewing Wayne Miller in New Pages

In recent pages of New Pages, poet James Crews reviews Wayne Miller's The City, Our City (Milkweed Editions, September 2011) with a "critical" eye that manages to clumsily bypass the actual poetry and instead seems to proffer, once again, a very old argument about how and why poetry should do what it does and how a poet fails by being "inaccessible." (Which, in much poetry reviewing means "writing not like I do.")

[I should state outright that I haven't yet read Miller's book, and have only a passing familiarity with his work. Before enountering this review, I had never heard of James Crews but have learned through Google that he was born and educated in the mid-west, recently won a book prize of some sort, and now resides in Portland, Oregon, where he does something, I guess, to do with poetry. If there is any personal politics informing this review, I know nothing of them.  Similarly, as I have no association with either of these poets, my review here is based solely upon, well, the review I'm reviewing.  Still following?   I mention this because in future posts, I will be writing about poets and poetry with whom I have a personal connection or some personal stake--I'll note these connections when necessary.]

Crews begins with a declaration that, while appearing descriptive, is actually a prescription for what poetry should not do:

The principal aim of The City, Our City, [. . .] is to construct a difficult, philosophical poetics that most audiences will have trouble wrestling into meaning.
The assured tone here is admirable; the sentiment is not--not because it's empirically wrong in any sense, or not even because our reviewer presumes to know "the principal aim," or not even because it makes a sweeping assumption about "most audiences," but because it fails to communicate anything other than a vague disdain for a poetry concerned with the rather nebulous project of "difficult, philosophical poetics," that the equally nebulous readers collectively known here as "most audiences," will find too difficult. This is a sentiment that can't be empirically correct or incorrect, as it doesn't deal with concrete concepts, but abstract ideas that stand in for that which we find yucky. Dig? (I'll leave alone the slightly problematic use of the word "poetics" here to describe not "poetics" per se, but simply poetry.)

To put it another way, we have heard this argument before, and it is almost completely devoid of meaning, saying no more than poetry we don't like or can't make mean a certain way (our way, the normal way) is poetry to be avoided, or at least not worth much of our time. Crews proceeds to posit this imaginary audience as one that will not tolerate being "turned off," but may not mind being "unsettled" as long as there's a payoff. So far, our imagined readership here is a cipher, a null. What reader does like being turned off?  Part of this book's objective, we're told, is to almost turn off the fake readers, while unsettling perhaps a bit too much. I guess it does both.  And that's a real bummer.

Finally, Crews faintly praises Miller's "remarkable skill" and as an example, quotes a passage from a poem he deems "successful" because, at least in part, it "establish[es] a scene and context in which his [Miller's] talent begins to shine."  Less-than-adroit turn of phrase aside, this seems reasonable.   Here's the passage:

The sound of the wind--but the wind
has no sound, we hear
only the vibrations
of whatever it touches. How silent
this room would be
without the creaking trees...

My own first impression is that it recalls Stevens and early Ashbery, though stripped a bit of the mystery characteristic of say "The Snow Man" or "Some Trees."  Crews praises the language here because it "appeals to the ear" (whose ear, I ask?  I listen to Black Metal a fair amount of the time. My mother likes New Country) and "has the power to change how we think of something as simple as the wind." Okay, Crews.  Let's get this straight.  This language has "power."  Awesome.  I hate wimpy language. And it can change how we think about the wind.  Crews has never, it seems, been caught in a windstorm, or even noticed that an errant gust can indeed make trees creak, strip them of limbs, and so forth.   What Crews praises here is not the power of language to change anything but the fact that this language is quite direct--nothing here to think too hard about.  That might, after all, ruin our fun, unsettle us too much, and ultimately, turn us off.

He praises another piece because its title, "Those Boys," is "helpful" in indicating what the poem is about.  If only he had named ALL the poems so helpfully!  It might then even be suitable for your mother's book club.

Crews finally turns to the real work of the review which is to show all the ways in which Miller's poems do not work, the myriad strategies they employ in a deliberate attempt to turn off the imaginary reader.  In a preface to a section of a (watch:  this is important) poem that is untitled and "illogically broken up," Crews bemoans the inspecificity of it all.  This poem has no title, and it fails to "locate readers in a specific time and place" and the sky is falling but you forget to pencil in the sky! To disrupt, he helpfully reminds us, one first must establish stability.  (In this case, I guess this would start with giving the poem a title.)  Then, he says, the poet may stray.  Before I turn to that poem, I'd like to point out this observation he makes a paragraph earlier about a poem he does like, one he calls a "gorgeous, affecting elegy, which stays with the reader."  The poem places the speaker and his father in a large city, and, Crews tells us "Miller does not even need to specify the place here [. . .] he creates a vast literal and emotional landscape."  Mmmmkay.  And a bit later he sternly instructs us:  "Writers cannot have it both ways [!]" (overenthusiastic punctuation mine).

The poem ultimately fails because the reader isn't told which city this is, can't tell if it actually exists (London?) or is fictional (Mordor?).  Oh, and some of the poems are allusive. Some of them have notes. (Insert groan and sigh here.)  Crews looks out for the little guy when he opines that most readers, even avid readers of poetry, won't have the patience to read the notes simply to understand the poem. And, you know, the notes aren't all that good anyway.  We are still left "scratching our heads."

So I've tried to cobble together a rough crib sheet for Crews' anti-philosophical poetics.  Think of it as A Few Donts for an Imagiste, a century later.

1. Don't be philosphical. Whatever that actually means.

2. Names, people!  Titles.  Poems with titles, good.  No titles, bad.

3. Places.  See 2 above.  Disregard this rule if your poem is about your dad.

4. Your language should have the "power to change!"

5. The poem must not successfully resist the intelligence.  In fact, it should require very little intelligence. And please don't bore the reader with notes, references, allusions.  "The reader" has been at work all day, his feet are killing him, and he needs to get dinner on the table by 6 pm.

6. Address, whenever possible, other poets condescendingly by referring to them by way of backhanded compliments.  For example, "young writer" is a good one.  This is really fun if you are actually younger than the poet you're reviewing.

7. Disregard #6 as it is really a handy tip not for the poet but for the reviewer.

8. Five O' Clock shadow is always sexy.

*

I could go on.  I could conjure some clumsy metaphors about frozen food vs. homemade pot pies, or draw parellels between James Crews and Simon Cowell.   Instead, I'll end with two quotes.  The first is the entire final paragraph of the review.  The second is, (thanks John B. for looking these up), a pair of lines by James Crews himself.

*

One hopes that, in future volumes, Miller will find ways of including more readers by crafting poems that are both accessible and complex, both heart-wrenching and intellectually astute at the same time. A poet need not be obscure or detached to make work that challenges readers. He can choose to invite us into a piece, to share the wonder of experiencing our world more deeply.

*


Her mouth pondered the sweet crush of wet grass
as I approached.

--James Crews, "Palomino"