Sunday, July 31, 2005

New Music Now

To celebrate my new job, I've purchased a whole heap of new music. Here's what:

Meredith Monk: Atlas
I deeply love her last new album, Mercy. What she's doing makes a great deal of sense to me--for the most part, I've never paid much attention to lyrics, so singing without words seems almost more expressive to me, because you get the emotion without having it cluttered with what is often bad poetry.

John Zorn: 50th Birthday Celebration volums 4 and 11, Electric Masada and Bar Kokhba
I haven't been listening to Zorn so much lately, but I saw Bar Kokhba at the JVC jazz festival four or five years ago, and they changed how I listened to music a great deal. So having a live disc of them is kinda like reliving that concert. Electric Masada sounds just like 70's miles davis.

Perneice Brothers: Discover a Lovelier You
Not quite as ghostly and luminous as Yours, Mine and Ours but still frickin beautiful

Brad Meldau: Live In Tokyo
His trio work sometimes annoys me, something about the drummer, too cluttered or something. But I love solo piano, and I love what Meldau does to the rock and folk of Radiohead and Nick Drake. I love Nick Drake so much and Meldau pulls something very sad and beautiful out of his already and sad and beautiful songs.

Ryan Adams: Cold Roses and Rock N Roll
It doesn't seem to get much better than this guy. He hears Dylan, Joni Mitchell, 90's rock, blues, everything, and makes something fresh out of it all. What I like most, I think, is that he's not trying to make anything new, just to make deep, exciting songs. Cold Roses is two discs of near perfection. And Rock N Roll is a kind of send up, but it's as deathly serious and moving as the rest of Adams work.

--------------Much later that night...

Trip to IKEA with B and Woody. We bought two giant books shelves, a wok, some other stuff. Stuck in traffic for a long time, then exhaustedly assembled some furnature.

Just read some very irritating reviws of Ryan Adams' work on The reviewer seemed to have a chip on his shoulder about Adams, wanted the songs to be worse than they are, to make Adams into an asshole. Who cares who Adams is? The songs are fucking great. It was the kind of reviewing in which the reviewer wants to draw more attention to himself and how smart he is than to the work. It's an easy way to make a review, but it's not too useful.

Reading Forest Gander's forthcoming book. It's good--more accessible maybe. Couldn't really get into his work till now. Must sleep.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

To Begin Putting In My Time

Well, tomorrow I start working full time. I've been finishing my two summer teaching gigs while working part time at my new job. It's kind of strange to think about it--having the same schedule every day, 9:30-5:30, after years of working an hour one day, two the next, and always having grading hanging over my head. Less time to myself, but also less time to torment me.

B's just very graciously prepared dinner. I'm very grateful. Off I go.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Two New Books

that I've been enjoying recently came in the mail.

The first is Andrea Baker's Like Wind Loves A Window from Slope Editions. I had read and heard bits of Baker's work, but didn't really get my head around it until I was able to take it in at my own pace on paper. These poems are full of shifts and transformations, but they are quiet, work almost imperceptibly the way snow accumulates on the ground--it wasn't there, and then the whole landscape is mysteriously different. Lovely and quietly surprising moments like this abound:

And so I paid $2.35 for the artichoke because I wanted that type of intimacy with my husband. Though we all agree we don't like having these feelings, I keep looking for something I can steal.

The other book is a debut by a slightly older poet named David Woo, and my relation to this book comes with a little story. I used to be a reader at the Paris Review during a period when they were not really accepting any poems. The slush still needed reading, though, and if I found anything good, I was to pass it on to the poetry editor. In the middle of a long and mind-numbing day of reading dozens of sleepish poems, I found a stunning piece by a poet I'd never heard of who had nonetheless published in the New Yorker among other places. I put the poem in the editor's box, and before he had the chance to read it, it was, not surprisingly, scoffed up by another magazine. Here is the first stanza of that lovely poem, called "Ballad of Infinite Forgetfullness":

And strangers will arrive as they'll depart, shaking your hand,
And friends will say, "Sorry," and walk right through you,
And though will slip through a sieve, honeyed with sadness.

This is the best poem in the book, and there are two or three others, such as the title poem and the first one in the collection, that I really like. The rest is a bit too free of irony for my tastes, as I imagine it will be for most of the people who might read this. Woo, I think, takes himself a bit too seriously to fit in well with younger contemporary poets. But then, he is not trying to, and it's lovely to find a few good poems in a surprising place.

Monday, July 25, 2005

I'm A Modest Blogger

The truth is, I haven't said much about poetry lately. I haven't really been reading that much poetry. Finished reading Harry Potter. A satisfying time-destroyer. And B. brought home a couple of novels from Portland, one by Dorothy Allison, that I think I'm going to move on to. This is a hell of a mundane entry, the kind of thing blog-skeptics make fun of, saying blogs are just people going on about how they chewed gum that day. But it's more than that. I guess I'm writing tonight because I want to feel that I'm keeping up with the kind of community that I've made myself a part of by blogging. I just want to check in, make sure that everyone's alright, and that they all still know I'm out here, living my real life, working hard as ever.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Escape From Friend Zone Game

My amazing roommate and Friend, Woody, who is an extraordinary comic artist, has designed a kind of choose your own adventure comic/video game about the undending difficulty of finding a lover in this crazy city. Check it out at his website,

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sweet My Ass

I hear there are some folks out there who think of this as a pretty sweet blog, like cuddly, like the kind of blog a teddy bear would write while the little boy or girl who owns him and smothers him with love is at school learning to multiply and write "My name is nervin" in cursive.

Well, this ain't no sweet fucking blog! This is a mutherfuckin' bad, complainin' ass, frickin' piece o' work of a blog! I hate almost everything. And the things I don't hate make me bitter. I want things I don't have, and instead of blaming myself or my own shortcomings, I turn it all outward. It's the world's fault. World, you owe me. And I'll blog at you till you pay up.


I'm working far too much right now. help

Saturday, July 16, 2005


I've read the other five...say goodbye to me for the next two weeks...I should apologize to B. and all my friends...I just bought the new Harry Potter book...I'm sorry...I'll miss you...goodbye...

Tears, Transience, Tomorrow, Today

I want to mention that I've just finished reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, a book that anyone who has lost a family member should read, especially anyone who lost them at a formative age. Robinson captures so well the fleetingness that an early experience of loss can cause one to superimpose on the world, the sense that as soon as something comes into view--like a ship that appears from behind a seaside cliff and sails toward the horizon--it is already going away. The sense that the beginning of anything is really the commencement of the first stages of its ending. And so the only way to feel any steadiness is to endeavor not to attach oneself, to wander, to believe one can move with the wind, though of course one can't, being attached to so many things. And then there is the absolute rightness of Robinson's ending, in which those we lose are only present in as much as their absence can be described in the minutest detail, such that it becomes a presence that only the imagination could observe, being too specific and clear to be observed in the flesh.

It's 4 am. Listening to Tears for Fears. After a smoke, going to sleep.

Friday, July 15, 2005

books books books

The end of my first full day at Publisher's Weekly. Imagine being surrounded by every new book that you'd like to buy. Then multiply the number of books around you by twenty; that's roughly how many crappy new books--romances, weird memoirs, seemingly self-published advice books--are flying out of publishers' doors every day. And they all come here, burying the fifteen or so good books in a pile of muck so thick it's nearly impossible to spot survivors. And yet the brave staff here, of which I am so suddenly a member, does. Yes, yes, read Pub Weekly, it's better than the rest.

But I feel good, not stressed or mean or anything. Sort of calm. I can do this job, and in fact, I can even enjoy it. Yes, I think this will be good.

Working three jobs--the two teaching gigs I have to see through until the end of the month plus this one part-time--has run me pretty ragged this week, though. Haven't done any writing, really. Looking forward to doing some of that not too long from now.

friends visiting from ME and CT this weekend, when, on Sunday, we'll attend the wedding of JP. And then, on Sunday night, home comes B!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

This Blog: What People Are Saying

"I ran across your blog and it's a pretty damn good one I must say. Got me reading Robert Frost on the toilet the lastcouple of nights. "To Earthward" is fucking bad ass."
-A Recent Visitor

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Long hours

Today was my first day at my new job: Assistant Reviews Editor at Publisher's Weekly. I took on a great deal of teaching work this summer, which I've got to see through, so I'm working part time at PW until the end of July. So, my day looks like this:

11-1: Teach high school kids at Columbia
2-5: Pub Weekly
6-9: Teach college kids at New York City Technical College

By the time I get to the last teaching job, I'm just blabbering. But it's only three more weeks; I can make it somehow, right? Then, for the first time in years, I will have only one job, one boss, one set of responsibilities, no homework/grading. But I'm gonna be pretty ragged for the next few weeks. Wish me luck.

New Job

I got a new job today...full time, benefits, salary, the whole frickin' deal. I've been teaching college for pennies for the last year and it's been not quite good enough. It's an administrative job at a magazine. I'm very excited. More later on that.

Reading Robinson's Housekeeping, which really is remarkable. The sentences dramatize the senses of slippage and loss that are the subject of the novel. Bought Gilead, her recent book that won last year's Pulitzer.

Monday, July 11, 2005

My Po-Biz is Yo Biz

Received an encouraging rejection today from J.D. McClatchy at Yale Review who, on YR stationary, said he liked my poems but didn't ultimately find them right for YR. But he encouraged me to send more. Not too bad for a first try at a mag like that. It's back to stuffing envelopes for me.

Reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. It's absolutely extraordinary. A sad, yet resolved narrator offers a dreamlike account of a life in which family members keep dying. The sentences seduce like ghosts--they're frightening, yet interesting, mysterious, terrifying, but impossible to look away from.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Where do we go now, ay, ay, ay...

Honesty, Sweet Child, I don't know. I seem to have hit one of those dead ends in my reading which always closely correspond to dead ends in writing. Though I've stocked up on biographies of other poets (Eliot, Auden, another one on Frost--shit, I'm crazy), I can't just move on, though I think I've had enough Frost for a while. And B. is gone, working far away in Portland, OR for the next 9 days. I'm lonesome, I miss her, I'm buying books to fill my heart. It's not working, I don't want to read them, I'm over-filling my already full apartment, which I share with B., as well as a fellow collector of pop and high culture artifacts, W. We have too much stuff, and are adding to it every day (though B., you are the least guilty, and W. and I know it (though you did just move in all your stuff and furniture, etc. Hmmmm.)). Anyway, I digress...but I've been digressing from the outset here. Anyhow, anyone with a good suggestion of something post-Frost to read is encouraged to write in. Hope all's well for all.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Onward and Awkward

So, the Frost book is done. I've just bought the Library of America collected Frost to replace my very split and mangled softcover. After this period of engagement with his work, my current favorite Frost poems are "Directive," "I could give all to Time," "Aquainted with the Night," and, let's say, "A Servent to Servents". Not too obscure a list, but a good one. The Parini biography was, as I said last night, fun but too enamored; I want something more. Soon, I'll pick up the Prichard biography--he wrote the excellent book on Jarrell I was blogging about a few weeks ago--which, I hear, has strong close readings of the poems. But I think I need a little break from Frost.

You may think me crazy, but I'm on a poet-biography kick. I think it's Meldelson's Later Auden next. I'm enjoying the dance of biographical writing--the skeptical distance a biographer needs to try to maintain tempered by their own love of their subject. And what better subject for me than modern poets? Frost and Auden are two poets who I haven't (or at least hadn't--I think I've put my time in with Frost now) attended to enough. And it's a damn refreshing change from reading tons of contemporary poetry.

And I've got that Armitage essay to work on, as well as a review of two new Iowa books.

Impending Thaw

I'm nearing the end of my Frost biography. He died today as I was riding the train home from work. Now there's only the concluding chapter and an essay on Frost's biographers. This is the Parini biography I've been reading. I've enjoyed it a great deal, but I should say that I think Parini likes, or loves, or needs to love Frost so much that he can't let him be too bad or selfish. He treats Frost's ego, which must have been extremely formidable, as though it never caused too much trouble, which I think it certainly did. And the readings of the poems are overly exalting. But it's a pleasurable read, very much so, nonetheless.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Simon Armitage

I'm working on an essay about the British poet Simon Armitage. I'm excited about it, and instead of more Frost, here's an excerpt. Please forgive any spelling and grammar errors--it's a first draft:

The center-piece of The Shout, and one of Armitage’s foremost achievements which originally closed his collection The Dead Sea Poems, is the long poem “Five Eleven Ninety-Nine”. The poem is a meticulous account of the building and burning of an imagined bonfire, a kind of ritual where all the residents of a fictional town ransack their homes for everything combustible until they burn their present and their past to cinders. Into the blaze they toss:

a mantelpiece and a lazy susan,
a table-top, the butt of a shotgun,
a toilet seat, two thirds of a triptych,
a Moses basket with bobbins in it,

a pair of ladders, half a stable door,
a stump, one stilt, the best part of a boat,
a sight-screen stolen from the cricket field,
a hod, a garden bench, a wagon wheel.

The awful and visionary gathering goes on, roping in such gruesome kindling as “seven children…/holed up inside the mound of bric-a-brac,” until “by one degree the brightness fades.” At this point, these arsonists become more desperate to keep their fire going, lobbing in “a sack of potatoes going to seed, a peacock feather, the skull of a sheep.” It gets grimmer still, but in almost twenty pages, we never know these people are compelled to light this blaze, only that must, that they will stop at nothing to keep it going as long as they can. This is typical of Armitage’s surrealist mode; the proof is in the pudding, and the poem enacts the kind of senseless self-destruction that people commit all the time. The conclusion is typical of Armitage as well:

We wait, listless, aimless now it’s over,
ready for what follows, what comes after,
stood beneath an iron sky together,
awkwardly at first, until whenever.

This has the same kind of visionary power as Frost’s “Directive,” but instead of “[Drinking] and [being] whole again beyond confusion,” which is hopeful in spite of the fact that it’s a fantasy, Armitage’s villagers are apathetic; having followed the compulsion to commit an incomprehensible ritual, they “stood…awkwardly,” having learned nothing, having grown not at all, simply waiting “until whenever.” Armitage, like Larkin, does not dare to hope that humanity is moving toward a better rebirth; we repeat ourselves, as uncomprehending before as after.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

A Witness Tree

I have reached the point in Parini's Frost biography where Frost's wife of 43 years, Elinor, dies of a series of heart attacks. Not that Frost was every short of grief-stricken inspiration, but in A Witness Tree, there is a series of poems that address Time and the difficulty in accepting its passing with painful directness and precision. I'm most struck by "I Could Give All to Time," in which Frost figures Time as a kind of Customs agent who stops travelers and takes from them what they are not allowed to keep. The middle stanza illustrates a point about Frost's writing about nature that strikes me again and again as I read:

What now is inland shall be ocean isle,
Then eddies playing round a sunken reef
Like the curl at the corner of a smile;
And I could share Time's lack of joy or grief
At such a planetary change of style.

First of all, this strikes me as very deft and nearly perfect, excepting the somewhat cute last word, cuteness being one of Frost's occasional ticks. But what strikes me most here, as in much of Frost's writing, is the employment of nature for metaphor. The first two lines are sweepingly visionary. While Frost is hailed as a writer who had an unusual fidelity to nature, to the world, it seems to me he never writes about the world at all, but about himself, his emotions, imposed on the world. In those first two lines, Frost makes time pass with such god-like speed and power that I can hardly see the world in them; what I do see is the terrifying and anxious power of the imagination to refigure the world as it needs to. Nature was Frost's muse--and it worked for him because the world is the biggest, most inclusive source of metaphor possible--but he could have written this way about anything, cars, factories, people in cities, though I guess nature is the baseline, and his imagination worked from the bottom up.

And before closing for the night, I need to quote a few more lines that seem incredible wise and alive to me, written at a time when perhaps Frost was not perceived to be at his best. These are from the first section of "The Wind and Rain," the second section of which I like less. Frost reassesses himself, having, as a young man, written a great deal about loss; now, as an aging man, he sees how little he understood what loss really is:

I sang of death--but had I known
The many deaths one must have died
Before he came to meet his own!
Oh, should a child be left unwarned
That any song in which he mourned
Would be as if he prophesied?
And yet 'twould seem that what is sung
In happy sadness by the young,
Fate has no choice but to fulfill.

As a poet, I feel I've courted a lot of that "happy sadness," which seems so accessible and useful a muse. This, I think, is an important warning for all of us, or at least a kind of useful wisdom from one who knows. And, of course, the rhymes, especially in the first bit I quoted, are unlikely in their perfection; the rhymed words--"died" with "prophesied," "unwarned" with "mourned" seem uncanny in how well they match, as if they were born to be paired.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

More on Frost

Today RH said that all of Frost's poems begin with anxiety, sometimes proceeding to a resolution, more often not. I agree, though I hadn' t been able to put it so succinctly. Perhaps that's why I'm identifying with them so much.

Other thoughts about Frost today: In his poems, one sees what it means to be a virtuoso in the English language. Frost plays English the way a great pianist plays the piano--he can make it do whatever he wants, can play anything, knows where all the notes are without looking. So few poets achieve such mastery of so broad an instrument. Stevens was a virtuoso only of his own idiom, Williams mastered the corner of the language he chose, Eliot was too uninterested in anything but high culture (of course these three are among my favorite poets), but Frost made English do what he needed it to.

And within a comparatively narrow range of subject matter, Frost managed to convey a wide breadth of of human experience and perception.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Well, B. is all moved in. We have a lovely lamplit bedroom, with our bed in the middle, all adult-style, flanked by two night tables each with their own Japanese lamp. (I'll not say more to preserve our privacy.) There are many posessions to be shelved or put in drawers, and some furnature still be be arranged, but our home, which is still Woody's home as well, is taking shape.

My reading of Frost continues. Today, I'm obsessed with "To Earthward". I've spent my spare thoughts today enjoying the density of the turn in the middle of the poem, especially the packed first line of the fifth stanza:

Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault

That first line is hard in the most satisfying way. Frost has the ability to use odd grammar and a kind of coloquialism that is really his own invention to say a lot in a very short space, and to slap his signature on a bit of language like no one else can. And then there is the lovely strangeness of the concluding metaphor, an observation of a commonplace thing that is almost always unnoticed (another Frost signature move), that sensation of leaning on the ground, of the body's own weight weighing on itself:

When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,

The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.

This poem also reminds me of Frost's range--this first person lyric is so unlike the dramatic poems and short lyrics in distinct voices, like "Stopping by Woods..." As I felt when I first began to read Stevens seriously, I have the sense that I'm in the midst of discovering one of my own major poets, to whom I will return throughout my life.

Rereading William Bronk, who was important to me when I was first writing seriously in college, as well. Anyone else read Bronk?