Monday, June 27, 2005

New American Book Review

I'm not sure where you could get your hands on a copy, but if the new issue of American Book Review happens to float across your desk, check out my review of Maurice Manning's second book, A Companion for Owls. I'm quite happy with how the piece came out, and I love the book--it leans toward the sweet and sentimental coast of the contemporary poetry map, but it's really good stuff.

Whoo hoo! I know it's a lot of blogging for one day, but what can I do? I'm bustin'!

Procrastinating at the gym

I'm at the gym. B. is moving in tomorrow, I have a great deal of shit in my apartment to move around, bills to pay, papers to go through--and B, don't think for a second that I don't know you've got it worse than I do today--and it's raining out and my bag is wet and so is my shirt and I don't want to do my little workout and I have to walk a dog I take care of sometimes and grumble grumble grumble munch. Poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry poetry.

Summer Frost

I'm in the middle of Jay Parini's biography of Robert Frost, Robert Frost: A Life. And I'm trying to read the corresponding poems alongside it. I've gotten to the point in his life when he's working on his second book, North of Boston. He's living in England, meeting Pound, beginning to make a name for himself, struggling to believe in his first book. I suppose the most interesting thing about Frost for me is his willfulness. He decided he would become a famous poet and then did what he had to in order to make that happen. We're all doing that to some degree, though, aren't we? And the road is paved for much more of the way than it was in his day. Still, that willfulness amazes me, that one could choose greatness and achieve it.

In other news, B. moves in with me this week, so W. and I are switching rooms and moving things into the living room to make our dirty barn into more of a home. My first time living with a lover, or with a future wife for that matter.

Monday, June 20, 2005

New Electronic Poetry Review

First, check out the long-awaited new issue of Electronic Poetry Review, featuring new poems by Bin Ramke, Karen Volkman, and Ben Doyle, among others, and a very old (two years old) review by me of Allen Michael Parkers far-from-new book. It's a lovely looking issue, designed such that, somehow, it feels clean and fresh. And a wonderful piece of art they've chosen too.

I'm in the midst of finishing a review of Thomas Sayers Ellis' first book, The Maverick Room. Trying hard to get it right, and it ain't easy. I don't know if reviewing comes easily to some of you, but not to me. I don't know that I'm naturally cut out for it, but I love doing it, trying to get my hands dirty in a book. It involves, like everything else, a hell of a lot of frustrating revision. But I'm closing in on it now. I hope you'll see it in print sometime soon.

Not so great a week for poetry things--rejected by MacDowell, but encouragingly so. Though I did give a good reading the other day, and especially enjoyed the work of my co-reader, Maureen Thorson, who through no connection other than serendipity, is taking the class B. is teaching at the Y, and who is also coincidentally in Octopus 5 with me. I read mostly new poems, 5 of them, and many good friends showed up. I was grateful for their presence. But jeez I could use an acceptance from somewhere.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

More on Jarrell

Interesting too, reading further into the Prichard biography, is that, unlike his friend Lowell, Jarrell was not a virtuoso from the start. Unsuccessful poems--too abstract, too indeterminate--are scattered throughout his career. Of course, what poet doesn't write heaps of poor poems all the time. Still, I came to Jarrell through the late work, the last book, which is more fully realized, is generally thought his best; it's odd now to realize that, while his friends, like Lowell, Bishop, Berryman, were sprinting out of the gate, Jarrell was stumbling a bit. Yet, as a critic, Jarrell emerged almost fully mature.

A note too on FSG's "Complete Poems". Unfortunately, they used Jarrell's selected poems--in which the author divides his poems into a series of ridiculous categories--for all but the last two books, so we no longer have a sense of how the poems were originally published in book form. Anything but a chronological, book by book collected poems bugs the hell out of me.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Literary Life

I'm reading a wonderful biography of Randall Jarrell by William H. Prichard. Of course, I've always loved Jarrell's poems, especially "The Lost World," the ending of which--"...our good day"--does more to help me remember what childhood happiness was like than a stack of my old photos. And, more recently, I've found myself very much in awe (like everyone else) of his critical writing. How does one develop the kind of authority he had, and the ability to combine such wit and such insight? I suppose one has to be a little brilliant, as Jarrell was, to begin with. But, for me at least, despite the fairly thick stack of reviews I've written, it's no easy thing to say what a book is, where it succeeds and fails, and certainly not in any way that could make someone laugh out loud, as Jarrell often does to me. And whether or not Jarrell was always fair or even accurate, his criticism is always literature, always worth reading for its own sake, never an appendage or guide to the text he's looking at. It's a very formidable thing to aspire to.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Rachel Zucker

I hadn't known what to make of her work for a long time. The first book didn't make any sense to me, but that's mostly my fault because I don't know the myth on which it's based. But Zucker's recently published a couple of searing and incredible poems in journals--I'm thinking of the one in Canary and another in the new issue of Columbia Poetry Review--which have taken the top of my head off.

Zucker's sense of form had always seemed much too sloppy for me, poems sprawled all over the page, sudden prose paragraphs, no regularity of any kind. But in these new poems, that crazed form, for me at least, figures a despirate need to get things into words before they get away. These are poems about the struggle to love and to be happy, quite simply, and the emotions are slippery and require a kind of emergency handling.

I had bought her second book at the Strand months ago for a few bucks, but it looked too wierd, so I put it on my shelf and forgot about it. I pulled it back out again yesterday and read it. It traces the birth of her sons and the ensuing developments in her marriage. May I say now that I am more than sold on what Zucker is doing. She's found a harrowing way of conveying time--the closing poem is a play by play of the second son's birth. In it, she manages to convey all the action, but also the fleeting thoughts that come and go during a moment or a prolonged episode of physical and emotional pain. Then, there are more controlled moments in the book like this:

even cribbed his cry my tiny master emergency
seems the woman I was has gone missing
again no matter rocking makes it later and later

Anyway, it just reminds me that life is pretty hard for everyone, which is certainly something I come to poetry to remember.