Monday, April 29, 2013
If you have a programmatic critical reading of what’s happening now, that defines itself by virtue of your agenda to promote a certain kind of writing over other kinds, then I’d say you have a critical problem that you’re not dealing with. But this is less of a problem for the maker than for the critic (the poet is partisan; the critic can look at the entire field with one disgust). The bigger knot is that there’s never a disinterested party at the party of the present. Critics, too, have an interest in promoting one work over another, as being worthy of attention, however different their investment. I think Goldsmith and Archambeau would acknowledge that. But we can’t wrestle this gator without grappling with the fact that poets do most of the writing about poetry. The buyer is the seller. Only Agamben, the philosopher, doesn’t get muddy in the market; particulars are the mud, and there’s no making without it. [...]
Another problem is that everyone writing seriously thinks he or she is contemporary, in many of the ways that Agamben suggests. Because Agamben doesn’t really deal with individual artists, or works, but with aesthetics. –"Hey everyone who’s making art, whoever doesn’t think he’s contemporary, raise your hand…. What, no one? Come on, not everyone here is contemporary, I gotta see some hands…. Hey, how about you! Or you! You don’t look contemporary to me….." etc. etc. This is nothing but a farce in the arena of literary history & critical discernment. Dostoevysky or Tolstoy? Beatles or Stones? Whitman or Dickinson? Frost or Pound? Bishop or Lowell? Twombly or Warhol? Goldsmith or Glück or Hejinian or Bidart or Seidel or…..? (I can only have one? I’m not on a diet…) Who gets to decide? Of course, we all do, we duke it out, and the struggle keeps changing with time, as various arguments and advocacies gain momentum, run their course, and dissipate, or continue. The maker has one ideology, let’s say, but her readers are legion. (I want to sell my books, but if they were the only books I had to read, I’d stay at the movies….) The contemporary now is what readers of the future decide contemporary was back when we were living it. It’s never not historical. Because reading is always historical; only writing can be contemporary. What you’re writing right now; others will have to let you know. Eliot’s most salient point in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” is that the authentically contemporary changes how we read the past. But we’re all historians of the present. The most pernicious fiction about poetry is that of mutual exclusivity. The vicissitudes of time make a mockery of our theses. Or to quote Stein on Picasso, “Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches.” The question for me is always, what’s at stake in making definitive choices?
Labels: make it new already
Saturday, March 30, 2013
The facts are political. And it does matter. As Jennifer Dorn makes clear in her introduction to the Collected Poems, Ed published with persons, not publishing houses. There was always a firm engagement, a direct relationship carried through by regular and active correspondence, or face to face. LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) argued out the first US publications, The Newly Fallen and Hands Up!; Tom Raworth, in England, another reliable card and letter-writer, delivered From Gloucester Out. In other words, poets published poets, signalling their affinities the best way, through production, while continuing to strengthen transatlantic traffic, through readings, academic exchanges, hospitality. Distribution was nicely random, with many of these books and pamphlets being trusted to the postal service, as gifts to peers, known and unknown. News had a frontier quality, coming in on the railway (in my case the clapped-out North London Line between Dalston Junction and Camden Road, for the great souk of Compendium Books). Control of production kept the process well away from corporate adventurism and required a network of fly-by-night independent bookshops. Dorn was comfortable in this world. Mike Hart, or one of the others from the communal Camden Town operation, would be on the phone to let customers know that the latest volume of Gunslinger had arrived. It really was as tight as that, 18th century in a way Dorn would have appreciated. That was his period. He took Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets as his prose model. ‘My desire,’ Dorn said, ‘is to be / a classical poet.’
Stuart Montgomery, the publisher of Gunslinger (and of Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, Basil Bunting, David Jones and Roy Fisher), a wispy-moustached medical man with a significant hobby, decided to do something about the sluggishness and indolence of mainstream critics. He flew off to Las Vegas and took a cab to the hotel where Howard Hughes was rumoured to be sequestered in the penthouse, intending to present him with a copy of the poem in which Dorn shaped his non-existence into a divine comedy of cocaine and cactus; virtual travel through high sierras and white deserts zeroing towards the vanishing line of the horizon like the bad craziness of a Monte Hellman western. It was that craziness we used to call the possible: that an invisible London publisher could provoke a reaction from the richest hermit on the planet, an unbarbered Texan tool-bit weirdo guarded by Mormon goons; that Howard Hughes, a fabulous entity capable of impersonation by Leonardo DiCaprio, would sue an impoverished poet and doctor with prime unsold stock stashed in his garage. Oh yes, those were the days.
Iain Sinclair, "Dysfunctional Troglodytes with Mail-Order Weaponry," LRB, 11 April 2013
... More deets, via Matthew Sperling:
"So SM goes to look for HH in Vegas. Gets turned away by bodyguards. SM hatches a new publicity coup: he sends telegram from Vegas to himself in London, demanding immediate withdrawal of Gunslinger, signed 'Howard Hughes'. Goes back to London and leaks this to the press. They make a news story of it, and Fulcrum sales shoot up. Postscript is he subsequently hears from Hughes's actual lawyers, who are no more in touch with Hughes than he was, saying, 'Our client sent that telegram; why haven't you withdrawn the book?'"
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Absurdism communicates a certain willingness to play with symbols that suggests a familiar ease with the world, with meaning, and with authority. This is the domain of elite class privilege, and particularly of white male privilege. We can go further still: absurdism not only reflects acquired status, it also enables access to that status. Mastering absurdism signals one’s ability to speak a certain class language; it flags participation in a distinctly white-collar world of college educated youth.
-- New Left Project, "The ‘Harlem Shake’ and the Western Illusion of Freedom"
Poets should get back to saying crazy shit
All of the time
I am sick of academics or businesspeople telling poets
What we should do...
-- Dorothea Lasky, "What Poets Should Do"
Pictured: Persephone supervising Sisyphus pushing his rock in the Underworld. Side A of an Attic black-figure amphora, ca. 530 BC.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Al Filreis's response to an interviewer who asked him to comment on the decline in readership of poetry:
I think I don't agree with the premise here. I think there is a huge readership of poetry. The problem is that it's not coherent, no longer trackable (through book sales, etc.), and doesn't fit existing categories. My sense is that despite cliches to the contrary, poetry is very much alive and well. The usual hyperbolic lament - that there are more poets than readers - only underscores how the writer/reader relationship is now complex and merged.
I was asked to comment on the same thing, by a reporter for a big newspaper - doing a story for National Poetry Month, natch. As evidence of decline, he said, "When I go into a Barnes and Noble, the poetry shelves have very few books, and bookstores have pretty much the same few poetry books wherever you go." I replied that bookstores are dying, not poetry...
Monday, March 18, 2013
Thursday, March 14, 2013
1. but this is newer, no this is
2. nothing is really new
3. but they were left out, no they were
4. this is better because it's clearer
5. I don't like you, etc.
6. why do they ignore us (no, they do)
-- Larry Sawyer
Monday, March 11, 2013
As someone who never took an English class post-high school, I had to teach myself literature, which I did, like most autodidacts, by reading as widely as possible – and indiscriminately. If there was any method in my madness (which involved getting a shit job in a library so I could read through the stacks from one side of the building to the other), it was to read the collected poems of anybody, famous or not, who had one. Toward the end of this weird and rather lengthy curriculum, which is to say, the end of the alphabet, I arrived at the work of William Butler Yeats. What a relief it was! Rhymey, romantic, folkloric, woman-crazy stuff with a fair amount of politics for flavor; oblivious to the fascism and self-absorption (I had those leanings myself, at that age, perhaps) what, I thought, was there not to love about Yeats? My tendency was to read the way young people do, if not untampered with: that is to say, innocently and without anxiety; in any case, I would have been too naïve or insecure to make critical judgments. Thankfully, no papers were ever due, and no professor was going to ask me to explain away a poem. If I liked one, it was good, if not, I didn’t disparage it – I just set it aside as a possible subject for further thought..
Read the rest, including a meditation on Yeats, politics, and bad poetry, here, at Voltage Poetry
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
What is the working title of the book?
Miguel Hernández. For a while it was The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández. But now it's just... Miguel Hernández.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Before many people reading this were born, I found myself digging around for Spanish-language poetry to read, in the innards of Columbia University's Butler Library. I'd studied Spanish in high-school and college, and was on the prowl. Well, in no time, I found poems by this incredible poet - yet nobody I took them to seemed know about him. So, I translated a clutch of his poems for myself, and for my friends.
Here's a link to one of the poems that got me going; it's one of Miguel's most famous works: the lullaby of the onion he sent to his wife and baby son on hearing that they had nothing to eat but a bit of bread and onion.
Much later, Derek Walcott was talking to me about translation, said I should try it. When I told him I'd already been working on some Hernández, he got excited (he loves Spanish poetry!), and read through the poems. He said, in his oracular way: "You must do a book." I was a bit flummoxed - like every other yokel, I wanted to work on "my own book." But Derek is very wise, so I kept going with the translations. My work on them got me a PEN/New England Discover Award, so... I pressed ahead.
When at last I had a book together, I sent the typescript off to Carcanet, New Directions, Houghton Mifflin, and some other places. Carcanet turned them down, saying I should work on somebody important, like Machado, instead. N.D. wrote a very polite note, saying there was no room on the list, etc. To my amazement, Peter Davison at HmCo told me he would publish the book, complete with foreward by Robert Bly - but... I didn't hear anything more for almost a year. I was living in Boston then, where Peter's Atlantic office was, but after a few nice conversations that got my hopes way up, he wouldn't even answer the phone when I called to see what was what. Finally, I got a strange note saying it wasn't within the purview of HmCo to publish the work of "long-dead masters."
But... I'd sent the work to Bloodaxe, and the wonderful Neil Astley took it on with heartening enthusiasm, and had many great suggestions for a book that I was very proud of. It was awarded the Times Literary Supplement / UK Society of Authors / Premio Valle Inclan translation prize. Christopher Ricks threw me a party in his office that I'll always remember!
Long story, but... It was time to expand and tweak the translations, and Neil wanted to hive off the non-UK rights to the book so... Yet another terrific editor, Edwin Frank at New York Review Books, took Miguel on. So now, we have an updated, expanded version. I'm thrilled as can be. It will be available in time for the AWP conference in Boston, March 6 - 9, 2013.
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
James Franco. Kidding! I have no idea who could play Miguel.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Poems treasured around the world for their courageous political stance and personal power.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
At least a year, working six hours every day.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The magic of discovering poems in the magical quiet and odd lighting of a huge library; Derek Walcott; Rosanna Warren; the spirit of the poet himself.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Hernández's amazing and poignant story. I'm going to cheat a bit by putting the bit about him that NYRB is using, but there's a more detailed introductory essay about him in the book, as well as prose about him from Lorca, Neruda, Octavio Paz, and others.
Miguel Hernández Gilabert was born into a poor family in the small city of Oriheula in south-eastern Spain in 1910. For most of his short life he was a pastor and a goatherd. His authoritarian father often beat him and discouraged his innate gift for words. Like Rimbaud, Hernández was a poet-prodigy, but unlike Rimbaud, being a poor peasant, he was largely self-educated. He eventually married the daughter of an officer of the Guardia Civil, Josefina Manresa. He fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and for a time read his poetry daily on the radio and organized poetry readings for soldiers on the front lines. After the war, Hernández was condemned to death for his poetry by Francisco Franco, who called him “an extremely dangerous” man; the sentence was later reduced so that he would not become a martyr, like Lorca. Though imprisoned, Hernández continued to write until his death from tuberculosis on March 28, 1942, at the age of thirty-one. On the wall next to his cot, he wrote his final poem: “Farewell, brothers, comrades, friends: Give my goodbyes to the sun and the wheat fields.”
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Make up a question you think is pressing in way of poetry today.
Why do we think American poetry is so important?
TAGS: I was tagged by Susana Gardner to whom I am grateful. In this post, I am tagging the poets Clarie Trévien, George Murray, Robert Archambeau, Susan Schultz, and Henry Gould - read their blogs next Wednesday to find out about their Next Big Things!
Labels: Miguel Hernández