1.15.2017

overdressed

A minor poet draped in the mantle of his long poem.

1.11.2017

currency trade

If poetry is a kind of money it’s as mysterious in value as bitcoin.

1.09.2017

lost articles

The poems only his notebook has known.

1.08.2017

lean into the corner

All one expects of the word at the end of a line is that it holds the corner.

1.07.2017

walk as prophecies

As {Wm.] James echoed Emerson, so Emerson was echoing the romantic poets. They too urged that men should walk as prophecies of the next age rather than in the fear of God or in the light of Reason. Shelley, in his “Defense of Poetry,” deliberately and explicitly enlarged the meaning of the term “poetry.” That word, he said, “may be defined to be ‘the expression of the Imagination.’” In this wider sense, he said, poetry is “connate with the origin of man.” It was, he went on to say, “the influence which is moved not, but moves.” It is “something divine…at once the centre and circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science, and that to which science must be referred. It is at the same time the root and the blossom of all other systems of thought.” Just as the Enlightenment had deified Reason, so Shelley and other romantics deified what I have been calling “The Imagination.”

—Richard Rorty, Philosophy as Poetry (U. of Virginia Press, 2017)

1.05.2017

bounty not border

Poetry’s allegiance is to the resources of language and not to the boundaries of genre.

1.04.2017

aspiring attendant

Each stanza should be a poem-in-waiting.

1.03.2017

mishandled analog device

The young man picked up the book, then fumbled around looking for its power button.

1.02.2017

stop, look and listen

Poet, be a fearless witness.

12.31.2016

goodbye to lonnie

Warning: Writing and/or reading poetry is good for your health. I urge non-poetry readers to open-mindedly browse through the pages of poetry books, especially the works of contemporary poets who amplify our daily ordinariness with craftsmanship and courage. To truly appreciate the language of poetry is to be able to come back to it again and again. Not with wisdom supplied by educators or cerebral articles addressing The Real Meaning, but a willingness to allow the senses to be stirred and nourished. Even reading poetry as a child, I never worried if I “got” it.
     Often students ask where my ideas stem from. Naively I refer to a barrage of inspirations, bowing to the commonplace and the patois of my childhood. But mostly they are guided by the opening of Zora Neale Hurston’s book Their Eyes Were Watching God...“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” That one sentence embodies a poetry I crave to attain. In retrospect there was always a thirst, a growing growl, to tackle and nonchalantly lay down words capable of breathing on their own. At times I’m not quite sure how to start or even where a poem may end. Though the writing process often gets the better of me, I welcome the taste of language and the ability to share it with others. One’s imagination is always on the brink of something else. There’s an old saying that there’s never anybody around when you wrestle with an angel. Nonetheless, poets write because they have to…and the angels know it.
     It is rare that people actually go after the things they want to do and become in their lifetimes. Far too many wave back at their dreams. Through poetry I am able to passionately be on board with my wishes.

Lonnie Black (1958-2016), prose piece originally published in Hartford Courant's Northeast Magazine.

12.30.2016

more is required

A poet who believed he was an activist because he’d ranted a few poems at readings.

12.28.2016

new poetics

Every poem has the right to ask for a new poetics.

—Anna Swir, Talking to My Body (Copper Canyon Press, 1996) translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

12.27.2016

risked capital

A good critic is a market maker.

12.26.2016

no promise made

A poet makes a poem not a promise. And the reader’s disappointment is of minor concern.

12.24.2016

enough already

The poet never thinks ‘More could be said about this’.

12.23.2016

must be something there

He went back into the old drafts for a cold case to solve.

12.22.2016

that poetics

1
That the struggle of the poem is between the unmet and the undue.

3
That poetry is encounter science.

4
That the poem is that which ‘finally accumulates’.

7
That the belief of the poet is not satisfied by the poem.

0b
That the vocation of poetry is toward disownership.

10
That poetry is the undoing of the still life.

12
That the poem is not “contaminated by ambivalence” but is clearly equivocal.

15
That poetry is not destination-based.

16
That where we meet the surface of the poem is where we meet the unfitting.

34
That the poet is a theorist of need.

44
That poetry remains a broad permission.

4a
That poetry is a wilderness prior to philosophy.

4e
That poetry is custodian to wakefulness.

53
That poetry is right to turn away.

64
That the world is replete, and repetition merely a spoken word.

7b
That the world is never said enough.

—A Maxwell, Conversion Table (Mindmade Book, 2016)

12.21.2016

flipping past

A cavalcade of disparate images: You have entered the age when poets have grown up not with a pen, but with a TV remote control in their hands.

12.19.2016

trader not traitor

Traduttori traditori (“translators traitors”); no, traduttori commercianti (“translators traders”).

12.18.2016

textbook echo

Another poem of recycled historical rage.

12.17.2016

form in transit

Form is nothing but an instant within a transition.

—Henri Bergson

[Quoted in “Georges Jouve The Creator,” Georges Jouve: Minimalist Ceramic Works (L’Arc Seine New York Gallery, 2005) exhibition catalog.]

12.16.2016

underlined

Make each line quotable.

12.13.2016

too good

Blessed with a bit too much facility for the felicitous.

12.12.2016

late remark

L'esprit de l'escalier…when reading, one might say, 'the wit of the turned page'.

12.10.2016

talk it out, way out

The poem crossed over from talk poetry to just crazy talk.

12.09.2016

past that matters

I asked [Akhmatova] if she would ever annotate the Poem Without a Hero: the allusions might be unintelligible to those who did not know the life it was concerned with; did she wish them to remain in darkness? She answered that when those who knew the world about which she spoke were overtaken by senility or death, the poem would die too; it would be buried with her and her century; it was not written for eternity, not even for posterity: the past alone had significance for poets—childhood most of all—those were the emotions that they wished to re-create and re-live. Vaticination, odes to the future, even Pushkin’s great epistle to Chaadaev, were a form of declamatory rhetoric, a striking of grandiose attitudes, the poet’s eye peering into a dimly discernable future, a pose which she despised.

—Isaiah Berlin, “Conversations with Akhmatova and Pasternak,” Isaiah Berlin: The Proper Study of Mankind (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998)

12.08.2016

pang or spur

Reading for me has the unfortunate side effect of causing a pang of ignorance whenever I encounter a name, a place or an event I’m unfamiliar with. Rather than a pang, perhaps I should think of it as a spur, urging me on.

12.07.2016

elevated speech

She spoke in such full and well-composed sentences that a conversation with her was like reading a good book.

12.05.2016

got it second hand

The way he criticized the poem seemed like received opinion; no original work had been done on the piece.

12.04.2016

impress

Most academics don’t recognize university presses as a form of vanity publication.

12.02.2016

found incomplete

There are three idealists: God, mothers and poets! They don’t seek the ideal in complicated things—they find it in the incomplete.

Peter Altenberg, “Aphorisms” Telegrams from the Soul (Archipelago Books, 2005)

11.30.2016

no language cage

We know a great poem strains to the point of bursting the bounds of its language, but even as it does so it defies any other language to try to capture it in translation.

11.28.2016

hard thing

Those of you who are real artists know well enough all the special advice I can give you, and in how few words it may be said—follow nature, study antiquity, make your own art, and do not steal it, grudge no expense of trouble, patience, or courage, in the striving to accomplish the hard thing you have set yourselves to do.

—William Morris, Hopes and Fears for Art (1883)

11.27.2016

close encounters

In poetry there is almost no distinction between the real and the paranormal.

11.26.2016

box of drafts

Do you have a book of poems?, he asked. No, I said, but I have good sized boxful of them.

11.25.2016

usual suspects

Like police captains with few leads, translators seem to put out the call to round up the usual suspects, rather than search for a less trafficked in poetry.

11.24.2016

sentiment for thanksgiving

The People Are a Temple

And souls are candles, each lighting the other.

—Gennady Aygi (1934-2008)

[Translation from the Russian by Peter France.]

11.23.2016

fanning themselves

It was warm in the café, and the poets waiting for their turn to read were fanning themselves with their thin volumes.

11.20.2016

poet world

Poet in the world, poet for the world, poet of the world, poet with the world, poet and the world, poet against the world, an uneasy navigation.

11.19.2016

taken by surprise

[229]

Lyric embodies the desire to mean perfectly.

It takes language by surprise. (For this to be possible, there must be a general situation or condition of language which is not lyric.)

—Jan Zwicky, Lyric Philosophy (U. of Toronto Press, 1992)

[New edition of Lyric Philosophy]

11.18.2016

everlastingly provisional

The word ‘poetry’ will always be subject to a working definition.

11.16.2016

strongly worded

Diction is the muscle fiber of a poetic line.

11.15.2016

source and target

After he’d read his poems, someone in the audience asked from what language the poems had been translated.

11.14.2016

11.13.2016

no narrative plan

Even narrative poets have an aversion to plot.

11.11.2016

vicarious mastery

In practice there may be in the making of literature a great deal of one or another kind of technique, whether apparently superficial and formalistic or apparently substantial or ideological, and this technique may be deliberate or habitual or traditional. On the other hand, there may be apparently very little technique. It is never possible, in the given case, to say even roughly how much or what kinds or combinations of kinds of technique were employed until after long intimacy and absorption of the work has, by vicarious mastery, made the question artificial; for the we use the work as use other actual experience.

—R. P. Blackmur, “Notes on Four Categories in Criticism,” The Lion and the Honeycomb: Essays in Solicitude and Critique (Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1955.

11.09.2016

my excellent adventure

With a post-election pall cast over the land, I've decided to set out on an 'excellent poetry adventure'. I'm not sure I'll make it to Canada, but I'll be close when I hit Seattle...See my itinerary:

START HERE:
Southeast:
Danowski Poetry Library – Emory University (Atlanta GA)

MidAtlantic:
Library of Congress – Poetry Collection (Washington DC)

Northeast:
Kelly Writers House – Univ. of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia PA)

Berg Collection - New York Public Library

Poets House (New York City)

Side trip to Berl’s Poetry Bookshop in Brooklyn.

Beinecke Library – Yale University (New Haven, CT)

Hay Library – Brown U. – Harris Collections (Providence RI)
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays: Composed of approximately 250,000 volumes of American and Canadian poetry, plays, and vocal music dating from 1609 to the present day. [Special Collections Artists Books: The Hay has a very impressive collection of artists books, mainly focused on American poetry and art.]

Harris Broadsides Collection: A comprehensive collection of American poetry published in broadside format from colonial times to the present. You can search the broadsides collection digital images: http://library.brown.edu/cds/catalog/catalog.php?verb=search&task=setup&colid=58&type=basic

Woodbury Poetry Room – Harvard University (Cambridge MA)

Side trip to the Grolier Bookshop.

Charles Olson Special Collection – U of Connecticut (Storrs CT)

The Poetry Collection - University at Buffalo

Just Buffalo.

Midwest:
Elliston Poetry Room – U. of Cincinnati

Bingham Poetry Room – U. of Louisville

Poetry Foundation Library (Chicago IL)

Woodland Pattern (Milwaukee WI)

Gaus Collection & Little Magazines – University of Wisconsin (Madison WI)

West:
Side trip to Innisfree Poetry Bookstore (Boulder CO)

University of Arizona Poetry Center (Tucson AZ)

Beyond Baroque (Venice CA)

Poetry Center San Francisco State U.

Side trip to City Lights Books (San Francisco CA)

Pacific Northwest:
Side trip to Open Books – (Seattle WA)

--
If you have some stops you think I should make, let me know.

11.07.2016

not random

It’s not so much that you need to understand the poem but more a matter of believing that the reading experience is not intended to be random.

11.05.2016

silent salient

One’s taste is one’s tacit manifesto.

11.02.2016

language thrift

A good poet is never one to waste words.

11.01.2016

go big or go home

Poets need delusions of grandeur just to persevere.

10.31.2016

fear factor

Every once and a while a poem should scare you. Either because of its subject or because you don’t even recognize the aesthetic.

10.30.2016

small craft

“Building Her;” at least in its particulars, describes Booth’s own early experience in woodworking, as well as his lifelong love of small sailing vessels, several of the most graceful of which were designed and built by Mace and Lon Eaton. As the boatbuilder fashions his vessel, so the poem implies, the poet pares away anything that is ornamental in his craft—to get at the essence. “That starkness,” Booth observed, “is for me a way to let objects or emotions, illuminate themselves.”

Jeanne Braham’s Available Light: Philip Booth and the Gift of Place (Bauham Publishing, 2016)

10.29.2016

soaked up

It wasn’t long before the avant-garde movement was safely absorbed by academe.

10.28.2016

short cut

Reading criticism saves time.

10.27.2016

reader response

Because poems have moved you, you know that new poems, and ones yet unwritten, will.

10.26.2016

broadcast range

If this book was a radio station it would be classified as ‘easy listening’ or ‘soft rock’.

10.25.2016

regulatory department

The masthead of the formalist magazine listed both an editor and a compliance officer.

10.24.2016

real seeing

Trees meant many things for Sartre: Being, mystery, the physical world, contingency. They were also a handy focus for phenomenological description. In his autobiography he also quotes something his grandmother once said to him: ‘It’s not just a question of having eyes, you have learn how to use them. Do you know what Flaubert did to the young Maupassant? He sat him down in front of a tree and gave him two hours to describe it.’ This is correct: Flaubert apparently did advise Maupassant to consider things ‘long and attentively’, saying:

There is a part of everything that remains unexplored, for we have fallen into the habit of remembering, whenever we use our eyes, what people before us have thought of the thing we are looking at. Even the slightest thing contains a little that is unknown. We must find it. To describe a blazing fire or a tree in a plain, we must remain before that fire or that tree until they no longer resemble for us any other tree or any other fire.

Quoted in At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell (p. 103)

10.23.2016

you are here

The poet who is nomad, living everywhere and nowhere, the poet who leaves home and never comes back, and the poet who stays.