I’ve been reading Charles Bernstein this weekend, his book of essays, interviews, and poems MY WAY. He’s a writer whose work I’ve managed to miss, though I’ve felt it nagging at me for years. And of course when I dip in I’m wholly and suddenly obsessed. In “Revenge of the Poet-Critic,” he says “I like the idea of semi-autonomy as opposed to disjuncture.” That seems to me to be a good way of thinking about how we can have poems that acknowledge the overwhelming and fragmentary nature of contemporary culture that can also contain earnest expressions of emotion—poems composed of almost discreet fragments or clusters of images that are clear objective correlatives for particular emotions or moods, but which resist the idea of simple and obvious coherence.
Thinking about chapbooks too, how I like them, wish I had/read more of them. A 25 page chapbook is a really appropriate format for poetry, which doesn’t bring in money anyway. Since poetry doesn’t have the economic burden of having to repay some company’s investment, and because one of the major factors that separates pieces of poetry from most pieces of prose is that poetry—the complete unit of poetry, a poem—is short and can be read more quickly than an essay or story or novel, a short, inexpensive book is an ideal way to consume it. And groupings of poems often cohere in clusters of 25 pages, hence sections in many full-length collections. But then, of course, there are so many presses making chapbooks, most of them invisible to anyone but the readers in the neighborhood, dorm, house, etc, where the press is based, that one hardly knows where to look. And few bookstores sell the damn things. And so few of the presses are reputable, it seems to me, though I don’t know; few of them seem to be making high-quality books. Poetry should always strive to stick around longer than its author—it should never be disposable, but that doesn’t mean it should be prohibited from being published because no publishing house wants to finance a whole book of the work of a particular poet. Someone should start a website that is a hub for chapbooks, where new books are reviewed and presses linked. Hmmm…sounds like a project.
The lovely long weekend is over. Back to the ole’ orifice tomorrow.