Wednesday, February 28, 2007


As I imagine many of you will, I'll be at AWP starting tonight. I'll be doing some roving reporting, getting drunk with faraway friends, and a panel on saturday morning about poetry reviewing. Come check it out: NBCC panel, 10:30 am saturday.

see you there

Saturday, February 24, 2007

TALK SHOWS by Monica de la Torre

I really can't express how exciting this book is. It's long-awaited and long overdue. De la Torre is about as smart as you can get about the ways different languages--Spanish, English, body, public, private, TV, radio, whatever--meet up and get kinda confusing at the crossroads. She's also funny as hell, aesthetically challenging, and always thinking about the ways a poem can make meaning. This really should be one of the books poetry people are talking about this year.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Books I'm excited about today:

GREEN AND GRAY by Geoffrey G. O'Brien

ah, whatever. Gather ye whatevers while ye may. To be, or whatever--that is whatever. And so on.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

the Poetry Foundation...ugh.

I'm going to rant here for a minute, as I don't think I can organize my thoughts and feelings into anything much better. I've just finished reading poet and New Yorker editor Dana Goodyear's excellent article about Ruth Lily's 200,000,000 bequest to the Poetry Foundation, which, if I understand it right, beyond my own biases, portrays the foundation as making poor use of it's unbelievable gift. I certainly think that it is. It's making terrible use of it. The foundation, and its president John Barr, is acting pompously, offensively and not in the best interests of the art form of poetry.

I'm not saying anything about the magazine, which, under Wiman's editorship, is much improved. It's still on the conservative side, but that's fine--that caters to its audience. And Wiman's added poems by poets like DA Powell and Tomas Sayers Ellis, acknowledging that some of the most important poets now writing are not doing anything conservative. Wiman's also turned the commentary section into a healthy place where minds can clash about poems.

The foundation--the governing body that oversees the magazine and the new website (for which, I admit, I have written), on the other hand, seems to want to ignore, or bulldoze through, the fact that poetry is a subtle and esoteric art. What is good for the general public--steady jobs, summers at the beach--may not be good for poetry.

Poetry--poems themselves, not the magazine--is good for poetry. The intense reading of poems, the steadfast belief that turning one's thoughts and imaginings into carefully considered language is an imperative human act--those are the things that lead to poetry growing and changing and becoming important in new ways to the culture. Not tie-ins in women's magazines (as Goodyear points out the foundation is trying to sell; they want to have poems, like little trinkets, next to spreads about how to set your table or whatever; ahhhhhh).

The most troubling thing for me is this: as far as I can tell, poetry is not something that should be thought about--at all--in terms of the masses. Poetry must be thought about in terms of individuals. It is one of the last bastions of individual experience. Poetry should be read by one person at a time, alone, just them and the book facing them, someone else's language and their language meeting up in their mind. That's where poetry happens. Exploding it into some cultural phenomenon could destroy that. Then poetry is destroyed.

Then, of course, there is the way the foundation has used their money--on themselves! Goodyear quotes Ethel Kaplan, the chair of the foundation's board, as saying, "Nobody wanted to sit back and read grant proposals--especially from poets." My god! How utterly offensive. They have an unfathomable fortune, which they could use, for instance, to help promising young poets who could not otherwise afford them get college educations, put poets in schools, or they could support the small presses that allow poetry to be published at all, and instead they've made a website that needlessly competes with the already wonderful, they're trying to buy a building, and trying to turn themselves into some kind of flagship for popular poems. That's so--there's no better word--selfish.

Go read the article. Goodyear tries to be fairly balanced in, as the New Yorker always does, but, it's hard not to come out of it offended.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My Valentine to the World

I wrote this essay for the Academy of American Poets. It's about poet couples, including Plath and Hughes, Hall and Kenyon, CD Wright and Forest Gander, and the Waldrops. I interviewed the last two especially for the piece. They said very sweet things. Hope you like it.
Some new, or fairly new, Rosemarie Waldrop poems on the New American Writing website. Just can't get enough of her. Her work, as well as her husband's and a number of other like-minded (if that term is fair when it comes to such individual minds) writers', has become increasingly central to my poetic cosmology.


And this too--a book for the smart person's bedside table. Australian Critic Clive James (who made his name in England) has written a mammoth book of short essays about major 20th century cultural figures, from Kafka to Borges to Diaghilev to Miles Davis. In the 6 or 7 pages of each essay, he gives a short sketch of the figure under consideration, then proceeds to digress his way to a concentrated opionion. Strange, challenging, and certainly satisfying.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES will be, I bet, one of the big literary books (in English--it's already well into its life in Spanish) of 2007. And the world will be hungry for 2666, Bolano's last book, in 2008.

It's, as I said, a strange book, but enormously satisfying to read. Reading it, I have that sensation of reading a book that doesn't quite work like any other book I know. Not much happens, in a way, and yet, a lot happens: absurd encounters between slightly ridiculous characters, lots of promiscuous sex, and constant talk about poetry: how to publish it, which literary movements are cool, and who are the cool poets in the neighborhood. All the while, the political unrest in Chile flows through as an undercurrent. It's really an astonishing book.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Today I'm excited about Roberto Bolano, who became one of the most important Chilean writers of his generation, then died, at fifty, a few years ago. New Directions published his early books--short novels and stories--and now FSG will bring out the major book he published during his lifetime--THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES--this April, to be followed by his INFINITE JEST-sized postumous novell, 2666, in 2008.

I read some of the stories in LAST EVENINGS ON EARTH while riding the subways today, and tonight I started THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES. Bolano is a strange writer. He's not much interested in things happening. He writes a lot about poets, these poet characters he likes, tortuted, self-obsessed, melodramatic. He may be a kind of spiritual cousin to Sebald. Susan Sontag liked both writers. But Bolano is also related to his Latin American forebearers like Garcia Marquez, though there is no magic, per se, just a slippery sense of what constitutes a book.

So far in the novel--and I'm only up to page 11--the main characters, who narrates the book as a kind of journal, talks about how he rebelled in his poetry workshop and joined a group of renegade poets called the viceral realists. There is some time spent waiting for these poets in a bar, a pretty waitnress, and a bad poem, which sends the protagonists into a fit of masturbation. And what is exciting or satisfying about this? I'm not quite sure, but it is certainly satisfying. There's an energy about it. More soon.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I'm reading this book, REMAINDER by Tom McCarthy. Vintage bought it from an English publisher. It's pretty good. Wants to be a bit more whimsical than it is, I think...

Also, check out this very thorough analysis of Rosemarie Waldrop's CURVES TO THE APPLE, by Ben Lerner, in Jacket issue 31. I wrote a bit about this book before when I was head over heels for it last fall. I've been reading some older Waldrop (both Keith and Roesmarie, actually), and have been no less stunned. They really are two of the best and strangest writers working in America right now.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


How crazy is technology. The reading Brenda, Wayne and I did on sunday is now available in its entirity in streaming web-audio at the Speakeasy website. See, you no longer have to do anything to do anything!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Yesterday's reading went very well, and was actually extremely well attended, especially for superbowl superday, and the coldest day ever.

A few books from the future that I'm interested in:

NOT FOR MOTHER'S ONLY: edited by Rebecca Wolf and Catherine Wagner, published by Fence. An anthologhy of women poets--ranging from Jean Valentine to Elizabeth Robinson--writing about "child-getting & child-rearing." Out in May.

FATA MORGANA by Reginald Shepherd. Out this month. Very intense.

THE NIGHT by Jaime Saenz, translated for Forest Gander and Kent Johnson, published bu Princeton. Book length poem by major bolivian poet, in English for the first time. Looks really good. March.

Friday, February 02, 2007

So, like many of you I'm sure, I did not win the APR book prize. But the thing that really annoys me is that there were no finalists listed on the letter, meaning I don't even have the satisfaction of cursing their names. Anyway, congrats to Gregory Pardlo, the winner. I look forward to seeing your book this fall.

Other books--old and forthcoming--which I am excited to dip into this weekend:

WAKEFULNESS--John Ashbery: Robert Hass wrote one of his poet's choice columns about a poem from this book way back in the late 90's or early aughts--his columns are about to come out in book form--and I liked the poem when I read it, so I got hold of the book. It's time for Ashbery and me, it really is.

FRAIL-CRAFT--Jessica Fisher: Gluck's forth yale pick, due out in April. A seemingly unknown (except, as it happens, to Robert Hass) poem--unknown, at least, to me--who writes compact, intense, mournful lyrics. Looks promising. Gluck has been the best Yale judge in decades.

ONE BIG SELF--CD Wright: this book really kicks ass. I expect we'll all be talking about it come april when it's out and about.

"I tried each thing, only some were immortal and free."

How good is that line? It's so odd, and yet right on--we want things that are "immortal and free," don't we? I've had a difficult relationship to reading Ashbery. When I first discovered "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror" in college, I was spellbound. The poem thinks so hard and so obsessively about its many subjects. But there are no other Ashbery poems like it. It took me years to learn how to read his more typical poems, the ones that range everywhere and anywhere, held together only by the bemused, somewhat kermudgeonly voice that utters them. But he's inescapable, and for poetry that thinks its way through itself, there's nothing better. But so many of the poems are unsatisfying. Or are they? I'm never sure what I think when I pop out the end of one, which, perhaps, is a testament to their, as Kafka said, "indubitableness."

Next week his new book, A WORDLY COUNTRY hits stores. It's not unlike his last few--full of that same Ashbery product--but there are a number of standout poems, especially the first one, which is rhymed. And maybe there's something about those trademark poems that we still need. Maybe he's still struggling to say something that needs to be said, and that struggle is important to bear witness to.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

What I'm reading this fine, wild thursday:

Still finishing PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT. In some ways, I think this is one of those books that must have been incredibly radical at the moment it was published, and is now a bit sleepy because its innovations have been completely digested into the culture, those being the repressed Jewish character (who Woody Allen subsequently developed and popularized completely) and the sex, which is now as common as cracks in the sidewalk.

Also finishing NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN YOU, filmaker and performance artist Miranda July's forthcoming book of stories. If you like her work, this book will seem perfect to you. It's sweet, unabashidly sentimental at times, and sad in that satisfying way that sad can be sad.

And CD Wright's ONE BIG SELF, a revised, poems-only version of her collaboration with a photographer. They went into a handful of southern prisins and made work based on the experience. The book was only available as a fancy art book for a few years, and now Copper Canyon will bring out a handy paperback. This'll be one of the much talked about poetry books of the year, not that that will mean much talk.