Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I’m just gonna ramble like a bunny in the bramble. Listening to the new Cat Power, which seems to me to be a tremendous step in an exciting direction—clearly formed songs that reference a kind of Memphis twang that brings out the sultry, unresolved thing in Marshall’s songwriting. I’ve been waiting for this album and didn’t know it.

Wedding planning is stressful—details, family, finding ways to agree on everything and being in the mood to talk about plans, the future, etc. Not a new story though. Seems like everyone has wedding nightmare stories.

Reading many great books for PW. Just finished Charles D’Ambrosio’s forthcoming collection of stories THE DEAD FISH MUSEUM. Craftwise, D’Ambrosio is perfect. These are stories about wayward losers trying and failing to find some kind of meaning in their lives. Dark stories, dark, driving prose. I really enjoyed the book, especially two or three stories, though for my tastes, it’s a bit, as my friend Scott says, bloodless—we’re let out of the stories without feeling like they affect our lives and the world we live in. But I don’t really feel like that’s D’Ambrosio’s fault. The stories are done right; someone else would find them perfect.

Started reading IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER by Italo Calvino, but PW work intervened so I stopped midway.

In poetry, I read Major Jackson’s new book HOOPS, Emily Rosko’s first book RAW GOODS INVENTORY, Linda Gregg’s forthcoming IN THE MIDDLE DISTANCE and a book of Jack Kerouac’s called BOOK OF SKETCHES. All of these are due out in March or April. Surprisingly, my favorite was the last one. I don’t know how many of you feel repelled by your high school fascination with the Beats, but I certainly do. But this is actually interesting work—Kerouac recording his impressions in loose poetry like an artist might do in a sketch book. I guess it reminds me of my high school journals, which is somehow comforting. But a good book.

Now I’m reading a book of short stories by a Japanese author named Uchida Hyakken called REALM OF THE DEAD, due out in April. Tiny, strange little things. The book is from one of my favorite presses, Dalkey Archives.

One great things about working at PW is the constant stream of new things to read. There is never a shortage. If the world is hard to bear sometimes, there are always more books.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Goddamn. I don’t know what to say. I am one sad-feelin’ dude. B and I just went to see BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. That is one sad movie. Let me tell you, things don’t work out. It’s sad. I feel like I’m in a comma.

Thankfully, Cat Power’s new album THE GREATEST is really beautiful and sad and makes me feel normal to be sad in a sad world where sad things happen to sad people. She’s got this sultry Memphis band, weepy guitars, sexy horns. You feel transported to the climate of the songs, the sadlands, but also vague redemptionville.

Spent the weekend reading, writing reviews, sending out poems, lying around with B, seeing sad brokebackmountain, sleeping a lot. We also took B’s dying computer to the apple store in soho today and saw Martha Plimpton, the actress who excellently played the very troubled daughter in Parenthood, who was also tending to a sick computer. This is turning into one of those blog posts where I tell you how I cleaned my socks. I didn’t, by the way.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The following is a modified version of a part of an email discussion I’ve been having with another poet. I ended up writing about a few li’l poetry controversies that have been on my mind, so here it is:

I certainly agree that poets are coming out of programs thinking they’re brilliant for writing poems that sound like other people, but many very original writers come out of MFAs writing wonderful poems in the spirit that was always theirs, only they had time to really indulge themselves and hone their craft. So lots of bad poets, lots of good ones. I'm not convinced, though, that there are proportionally more bad poets or good poets than before, or, if anything, I would say there are proportionally the same number of bad poets and a few more good ones (who are, nonetheless, outnumbered by the bad). Stevens stuck because he was the only Stevens, but I can't help but think there were many, many would-be-Stevenses whose books have pretty much completed the journey from paper back to pulp by now. I don't have numbers on that, but that's my opionion. And, I think there may be artificial communities created in MFAs but there are also real and vital relationships developing around those classroom communities, not necessarily in the programs but at readings or parties or workplaces, all the normal places people make friends--I still workshop with a group of poets many of whom I didn't go to school with. Most of my best poet-friends were not in my MFA; they're people whose work I encountered or who invited me to read somewhere, and then we struck up a friendship in the usual way. And I don't understand this point--one that is often made--that the readership for poetry is dwindling. If there are 3 or 4 times as many writers than before, there are at least that many more readers. And the notion that poets don't count as readers doesn't make sense to me either--poets are regular people, too, who come to books for consolation, stimulation, entertainment.

As far as making a living goes, I don't know many poets who don't pay their rent in the typical manner. Most poets have day jobs. Obviously, we try to find jobs that meet some of the needs of our obsessions, but poetry is something we do because we earn the time to do it. The notion that anyone is entitled to a poetic career is appalling.

Point being, in my mind, it doesn't serve anyone to be skeptical of the institutions, which foster both bad and good. It's good to be skeptical of the books that don't meet our standards, and to be joyfully surprised by the ones that exceed them.


On another note, I’ve been revisiting a favorite record label of my younger days—not surprisingly, Matador—and finding that they are putting out many great new records, such as LOOSE IN THE AIR by The Double—this is really a surprising and stunning record: melancholic and melodic songs buried and blurred by layers of distorted guitar and keyboard—and what seems to be many people’s new favorite, TWIN CINEMA by The New Pornographers, which I am still in the middle of listening to for the first time.
A good writing weekend, this one. Worked on a couple of poems and a handful of PW reviews that are due. Finished reading one book, started another—IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER by Calvino. A quiet weekend as well. Yesterday Thai lunch and pool with friends. Was at the launch readings for Cate Marvin and Michael Dumanis’ new anthology LEGITIMATE DANGERS, which is a pretty comprehensive survey of a certain swatch or two of the poetic generation between roughly 30 and 45 years old. B. is still out of town—she was came home to teach then went away again until Tuesday—so I’m stuck in a kind of companionship limbo. Joined the National Book Critics Circle. Not sure yet what that will do for me—something, I think—but I like newsletters and membership cards. I keep thinking about the new Cat Power album, due out this Tuesday. I’ll be at Other Music during my lunch, I think, to pick up a vinyl copy to go with my vinyl copy of YOU’RE FREE. That’s all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Onward and awkward with Craig’s “What the Hell Was I Doing When All The Good Music Came Out” exploration. So tonight I’m discovering the Silver Jews. I know, I know, everyone was telling me in ’97 and I paid no attention. Well, you have to save some things for later. I guess I didn’t need them then. I’m listening to THE NATURAL BRIDGE right now. I haven’t even gotten through the whole record yet, but I’m utterly convinced that this is a sublimely beautiful album. It has the feel of something much older. There’s a private, melancholy quality to it that makes it a really good record to listen to alone. It’s good sad company.

Beyond that, B is coming home later tonight from her long time away, which is the big, big news in my life. Jeez I’ve missed her.

I have nothing to say about poetry. Absolutely nothing.

Friday, January 13, 2006

I want to revise my opinion on Pavement’s last album TERROR TWILIGHT. Previously, I said it was disappointing. In fact, it’s not. It’s actually an incredible album. I read a review of it before I got terribly into in, I think on allmusic.com, which said that it felt something like a Malkmus solo album, and I think that colored my initial impression. Actually it feels very much like a collaborative effort. “Spit on a Stranger” is an incredible song, as is “Carrot Rope” and “Ana don’t cry,” and those songs rank with Pavement’s finest. Also exceptional is Malkmus’s most recent solo album, FACE THE TRUTH. It’s the best thing he’s done since Pavement. His first solo album is great too. Only the middle one is lacking something.

Also, check out the new Pleiades, which has two prose pieces by me—one is an extended review of Simon Armitage’s selected poems THE SHOUT. The other is a review of Richard Siken’s debut CRUSH. Also, there are poems by Louise Gluck’s forthcoming Yale selection, along with an excerpt from her introduction.

Also check out the new issue of Octopus, which features 8 reviews I edited of books by Andrea Baker, Dan Chiasson, Arielle Greenberg, David Larsen, Danielle Pafunda, Richard Siken, Rachel Zucker, and Cole Swensen. Those are the ones I edited, but there are others, too, along with a heap of wonderful poems and other great stuff.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Busy week. Was in Oregon over the weekend, way out in Oregon, visiting a dear, dear friend who has recently had a baby.

Tomorrow I conduct a short interview for PW with Yannick Murphy about her forthcoming book HERE THEY COME, due this spring from McSweeney’s. It’s a stunning and strange book (as I have said below) and I suggest that everyone read it.

Feeling exhausted by the whole poetry game, by my own obsessive relationship to poetry. That feeling seems to go around every now and again. I’m trying my hand at a little fiction in the meantime, because I’m not good enough at it to worry about publishing.

Lookout for the new Octopus, which Zach says should be up as soon as tonight. I edited a bunch of the reviews in this issue.

Still on my Pavement jag. Netflixed the official documentary THE SLOW CENTURY, which was, frankly, disappointing. The film stayed fixed on the goings on within the band and didn’t touch at all on the amazing things that were happening around them. That was the rock n’ roll moment that I feel I was present to. I was 14 when CROOKED RAIN came out, and I saw them many times during the few years that followed. I was in a band at that time too, and you couldn’t listen to or play indie music then without being influenced by Pavement. And lots of wonderful bands were pulled into the indie spotlight by what was going on with Pavement, like Guided by Voices, who had toiled in obscurity until they broke at the same time as Pavement, and toured with them. I was hoping for a movie that, in the same way that THE YEAR PUNK BROKE was for the scene in ’91, would be a kind of historical document of that musical moment. Alas, it was not. I’m listening to Malkmus’ most recent album, which is the best thing he’s done in his solo career so far.