Sunday, February 26, 2006

So, if you’ve been keeping up, you’ll know that B, our friend Tom, and I are giving a reading this evening, as follows:

Thomas Hummell, Brenda Shaughnessy, Craig Morgan Teicher
Sunday 2/26 7:30 PM
The Fall Cafe
Smith Street near the corner of Union
Carroll Gardens
Take F or G trains to Carroll Street
Exit at the back of the train (if coming from manhattan)
take a left out the exit, walk half a block, cross street and there you are.

But, as that’s all I’ve bothered to write about lately, I’d like to get beyond that and write about something else. I’m writing a couple of feature articles for PW’s national poetry month coverage. The first is a piece about (guess what?) poetry and the internet. I’m covering blogs, web journals, and the poetry publishing industry’s (industry?) response to the above. Of course, my audience is mostly people who know nothing about the online poetry scene, so those of you who are familiar with the blogosphere should not be surprised by a lack of surprises. Though I’ve done some good little interviews with folks who’ve had some very interesting things to so, so those will make it in there.

The second piece is a profile of Kay Ryan, a poet whose work I admire tremendously—it’s a kind of bedrock poetry—it’s got all the force that poetry has to offer, but it’s closer to the elements, made of earth, fire, water, tone. I’m going to be meeting her next weekend when I go to California for a wedding. Here’s a poem from her second of five books:


No rime-grizzled mountain climber,
puzzled by where the put his fingers next,
knows the least thing about
how narrow work gets
that depends only on pleasure.
When it gets late or he gets depressed,
he can hang in a nylon sack,
his whole weight waiting
for the light to come back.
Bur for people who ascend
only by pleasure
there are no holding straps.
The must keep to the
hairline crack all the time
or fall all the way back.

The book from which the above poem comes, Flamingo Watching, is, I think, out of print (though I was able to get it no problem from Amazon). It came out in the early nineties. The one before it was in the eighties. And there was some kind of very small press first collecion which I have not been able to get a hold of. Grove has published her last three books, which are the ones I’m most familiar with.

She is an absolute master of compression and extended metaphor. The vehicle and tenor alternate taking the emphasis, so that the poem is part fable, part impartment of wisdom. There’s really nothing else quite like it being done, except perhaps James Richardson’s aphorisms, and they really have something different in mind. She’s been publishing for about twenty years, and she keeps getting better with each book. The early books have a more religious focus (though only in as much as they take the opportunity to debunk biblical metaphor), while the more recent ones go to the source of figurative language: invention out of necessity. Here is the title poem from her newest book, which came out last fall. I think it’s incredible—mysterious, slippery, and incredible:


As though
the river were
a floor, we position
our table and chairs
upon it, eat, and
have conversation.
As it moves along,
we notice—as
calmly as though
dining room paintings
were being replaced—
the changing scenes
along the shore. We
do know, we do
know this is the
Niagara River, but
it is hard to remember
what that means.

What I mean by invention out of necessity is that, here, the goal is to convey the inner moral of this story: it’s easy to place oneself in the path of great danger and to ignore what is about to happen. But to get there, to make sure we are as surprised at the end as these characters are, Ryan choses and utterly strange and illogical narrative: a story of people eating dinner atop a moving river. We are as disoriented by their situation as they are by its consequence. Ultimately, the poem has a great deal to do with us, who, in each of our own ways, are heading toward a waterfall. She has that incredible way of slipping into our heads like that and implicating us without our really knowing it. Her reputation has been growing and growing in recent years, and no wonder.

So, hope to see you at the reading tonight, and perhaps for drinks after.

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