I'm not going to AWP. There was a stretch where I attended
six years straight. I need to go if only because I need to survey
the book fair and see what's what, talk to some people publishing
magazines, get the wheels crunching about new manuscript(s),
try to spread the word around I'm editing poetry book
manuscripts again. (That's right--query me.) I haven't been
to AWP in four years? One does get burned out. You have
to take a breather. Not only that, it's expensive. It's not the
party atmosphere I feel I'm missing, it's the books and all those
people who seem to need to publish them, the ones who seem
to need to write them. When I used to get stressed out I'd go
to the bookstore, before the bookstore became irrelevant, before
the poetry sections became scattered collections of the least
interesting (mostly) books out there (same goes for fiction).
AWP is like going to the biggest most inclusive bookstore
you could possibly imagine anymore. So instead send me your
books, writers and publishers, and I'll at least post
poems from them. Other adventures in publishing could
be around the corner, but we'll see.
I drink about 3/4 of a gallon of milk a day, unless I'm on the road.
Sometimes a little less. Especially at night. I'm addicted to it, okay?
Does that have to do with this gene thing?
That's paper, drafts, old poems I worked on. The
longer I work on any piece of writing the more
my anxiety rises while I totally lose my objectivity.
When I did Art and TV and Movie reviews I'd have
to deal with it, get the thing done, but what kind of
pressure are we talking about when you're writing
about a new David Spade cartoon (I think it had the
name Sammy in the title). The point is the Igloo
poem posted below was first drafted early 2004,
and I have the awful draft in my desk drawer to
prove it. I wouldn't have guessed this to be so.
I thought I wrote the first draft last year, but I also
know enough to know I never know. The posted
"Wal-Mart" poem came from a few dashed off lines
and so really I posted the first draft here. Why?
I mangle words in first drafts, assigning them
meanings I wished they had (because I like the sound
I guess) and some of my least desirable tendencies
bleed through. My spelling is at least as bad
as Robert Lowell's was, although eventually, much to
my surprise, I see the error and feel the need to
look around and see if anyone witnessed my
boneheadedness. My brain is like a series of belts,
some of which are racing along, humming, others
of which are loose, smoking, rattling. One or two
are snapped and I should pull over (and then what?).
So the "Wal-Mart" poem went up in all its crooked
glory, and I've been revising it, pretty much my usual
process. Although the process also demands that I
stop at this point usually, hide the poem, and look
at it in three months or a year. Quite often that
knock off time is required for me to complete a poem.
If I placed dates on poems the way Howard Hodgkin
does on his paintings (1984-87, etc) I would have
to do a similar thing: "Downsides of Fish Culture":
1993-1996. "Counting Backwards": 1999-2004.
I'm slow. And what I think I mean at first I hardly
ever mean, or do but should be ashamed of myself.
White it out. I love the sun only because of the clouds.
Because they cover me. Because the snow in the winter
kills me enough and I can’t not be in it. I think of the huge
metal hooks and the ropes hardened with ice. Winter in
town, in ditches. Cars, giant sharks, and the many
nose-dives. The women, the beer. There are fish inside
streams that are barely a trickle. There is something about
the moon to them, the way they struggle for home, the way
they glisten like mail. Then one day you wake to find the
trees coated with ice and the dogs wail For love of God let
me pull something, and then the architecture of reason just
falls to pieces. We keep trying to mantle it up. We love, we
drink. We try to pull an undertow of logic into the fabric of
the day—any day—we find ourselves blessed with, but some
of us shoot half our faces off, some drown in the bathtub,
some throw the fire wood down in the middle of the driveway
and just start walking. Eventually, a few make it to distant
southern cities, usually by train, and miraculously there are
paying jobs down there, under fluorescent lights, with cigarette
breaks and pretty good benefits. But I’ve seen none of that.
I go to the window that is big as a pool table and I watch the
stark opalescence of snowfall and I can’t get it right in my
mind—how whatever there is worth dreaming of has to be
something you go out and find, as if suffering is different in,
say, Texas, than it is here, in Michigan, where pain comes
draped in silver, and how sometimes you just have to stop
whatever you’re doing, open a beer, and think about how
terrible it is every single day on earth can’t be as fucked-up
and fine as this one.
It didn't really do anything out, so my entire ice fishing
as metaphor for the past/hard life that one feels kind of
lucky for comes off feeling fake. Some rain drops fell
and froze on branches for about three hours and then it all
just turned to rain. So instead I'm feeling the river
mist of Greg's excitement, the steelhead you find in, say,
the Little Manistee River, holding on some gravel,
bolting into a dark hole, the hour that goes by while a snowflake
or two falls and you keep feeling a lightness at the end
of your line. Eventually it might turn into a fish over ten pounds,
gleaming silver (like it actually creates light) under the
gray clouds. It could be larger. I remember catching
a 16 pound steelhead on 6 pound test Stren on a Mepps spinner
in just such light, on Stony Creek, a mere trickle of water.
What amazed was there were overhanging branches and
nests of sticks and logs everywhere. It was a miracle, but
the thing thrashed its way into a net. Three years ago
on the Pere Marquette one was 13 pounds, but I had heavier
gauge line and fought the fish out of a deep, black hole,
and it's not the same. A bald eagle was perched in a nearby
white pine watching, however.
Here we go again.
Snow to the tops of hubcaps
and all that glorious soup.
When I look back,
to yonder-year (hey,
I like that) I once thought
winter was tops. I drank schnapps and stood on frozen
lakes, a line thin as spider web in the water, or a tip-up
down in that small cave of a hole--perch or pike, whatever
your mood was. But then again I also drank some kind of
alcohol every weekend from about 1978 until 1982 or
something. It was how you forgot about your
problems, your screwed up family and poverty.
You couldn't be a painter because there was no money
and I'd never met one before and so how did you actually
get to be one? In the meantime the rivers coursed through
the land, dark and humming, wearing away stone.
All those endless trips north, the fog in the mornings,
the birds and tracks in the snow or wet dirt, the pop of a
beer tab (Strohs) at 8 am while camping. Probably a day
and a half until you went back to painting apartments or
working at the car wash. Someday I'd go to college, at
23 or 24? But meanwhile I'd fall off three different two storey
roofs working jobs (my back is like a maze of calcium deposits
and hairline fractures). There was nothing particularly fun
or romantic about the jobs: Janitor for an apartment complex/
Sales at Meijer/Sales at an Art Supply Store (with crazy
owners)/ Job boiling and drying (Linen) uniforms/
Dish washer/ Printshop employee at General Telephone/
Newspaper delivery person/ Handmade papermaker (with
Tim Barrett, a good job) . . . These being what I remember,
and all years before I got any kind of college degree. So,
all those winters zipping up inside a snowmobile suit to catch
a twenty-five inch pike ("Did you know this guy named
Ted Hughes wrote about pike?" someone I ran into fishing once
said. I didn't. I would ten or so years later) felt like a reason
to move ahead (along with that schnapps). Even when you
get out of this routine it stays with you somehow, creating
patterns we don't need to go into. Still, the wind always blew soft
against my windows. On the horizon was working at the park
near Galesburg, and later the fish hatchery followed by the
hospital. Outside the seasons came and went, including winter.
early fall. My camera, made of wood and quartz,
takes sepia-like pictures. It's a gar anyway,
and in my long short life I've caught three, none
of which I think I can really write about at this point
without feeling like some Hemmingway knockoff. What
I like is how at times, while swimming or floating on a raft
in a lake, gar will sometimes circle you, looking you right
in the eye, two or three of them, showing their teeth.
Eventually you begin to befriend them and think of them
as crazy pals. Naturally, at this point they swim away.
Not worth dying for
(an Asbery Erasure poem)
I placed an ad
of the sight of women sewing in darkness
at table one
there are acres of us looking lewd
like money in the bank
screw the mirrors
in each of us
dogs came after the dead called
the new intensity is landscaped
for lovemaking and lies
I'm posting new Ashbery Erasure poems. Yeah, yeah,
hooray and all that crap, but these are composed using
single pages from his book-length poem, Flow Chart, just fyi.
Titles are from Ashbery's text.
I dedicated a poem below to Walter Lab after bitching
about dedications. But he does these amazing large paintings
of Walmart bags stuck on fences and cacti so, well,
they're really good and he deserves tons of credit.
(An Ashbery Erasure Poem)
Who would believe we cry
little girls pretending
they talk like adults
my poem was a lacquered thing
inflicted on those
trying to drum up business
Recklessly one's family
made one forcing oneself
exactly what is required here
Let's pass the others
knowing just out of the
way a finger told your story better
(an Ashbery Erasure poem)
Although children are counterfeit
there can be safety in numbers:
each of us wants and that matters,
we can stand anger
our speech not us or worse,
the pro romantic rope of our years together.
The moon is old, the closing of magic--
no one can find it pretty,
terror and the lake,
all that glint in someone's eye,
it's what you are. So stay
in the afternoon habit, crowd
at rest, star-gin in the mist
who say it was nothing fun, a memory trap.
As soon as the glass shattered a simulcast signal
Resonated out of the green beans can
I decked out with plastic figures: a man offering
A lady a large plastic ham on a blue platter,
Her dress a rigid mold of bright red, his hair a lot
Like a helmet to go with his light blue suit (think middle management) . . .
Sometimes in a too-hot bath I can feel the future
Right there in the steaming water, up and out through my arms and across
The roof of my mouth, and when I turn a heavy,
Smooth page (cool as metal) in a big book I want
The art to speak of more than an ethnicity
Of cantaloupes (a ball isn’t the same as a slice),
Rind like a pencil line delicate as a woman’s eyebrow drawing,
A storm of dead crickets billowing out like a song for a shadow . . .
Drive right out of California but don’t forget the turtle
Bleeding in the trunk, the swabs of black and white
Photographs, the digital vita. Say the turtle
Scrapes a code into the car with his sharp toenails.
You can hear him strumming the galvanized steel with the blues.
The heat of 2007 boils overhead. A facsimile of your book signed
With a drawing of a fish runs screaming across the desert.
I just had a nightmare, a first edition says, looking up, its loose
Pages suddenly flying out the car window, gnats or tiny skeletons
Instead of letters sprinkling the socks of the people
Watching the back of a woman’s head while she reads poems
In Palm Desert to a painting by Joseph Cornell’s cousin,
Who once dreamed he was a scarecrow made out to look
Like Frieda Kahlo. Paper, though, you bird,
Makes a noise in the sky where it flaps on a string.
Gumballs make a dull confetti of sound in an old woman’s pocket,
A sound I can’t quite hear but want to.
I want the paint spread so thick it smothers the water.
There is a singing world that sits on a green lawn
In the middle of a town full of Tory Peterson’s perched monsters,
Where yellow school busses nest in the swirls of unleashed formal content,
Statistics glowing under a paper wing beat . . .
Somebody walks to the entrance of the Taj Mahal.
Everyone’s leaving because a poet felt important
For a moment. The love comes when a raptor
Flies away from us and heads for a song bird
Living inside the sign for Big K-Mart.
In the silence between that moment when calipers
Dent her skull
And the first neurons fire, I’m moored in the cooling water,
Face of a white Asian spider breaking through a pane
Of glass I might dare to tap lightly if
I could possibly feel whatever I’d like and still tell about it
With impunity. But I am fond of how her lips fold back
Like rubber bands, how they turn white with
Juice when she starts dreaming, her face so deep in the wind,
The ocean sun radiantly shining nowhere near her island boat.
The little soft places birds press their
feet into snow. How it will start melting today.
Walking outside one feels loose-limbed
in the heat. It's balmy. Soon the melting
will turn to a dirty slush. Then it will all freeze
again at some point, daggers of ice
covering the streets. Those winking bird
tracks, gentle as a hair growing behind
an ear, will disappear. The snow will turn to
a shell of glass that shatters when you step
into it. Robins know immediately they
can walk on this new, hard igloo surface
without breaking through. The ice in St. Joe
rippled over the lake further than you could walk.
Underneath the soft, silent ribs of sand.
It was nothing to sweat, reaching the end of
an iceberg. To get across the field of floating
smaller chunks you stepped "rock to rock,"
the ice sinking as you catapulted/propelled yourself
forward, running on water basically, until you
reached the place where the ice firmed up
again. Sometimes at night I'd think about
those who'd recently drowned because the young
are immortal in daylight. I was. Now I walk on the
icebergs like I'm navigating the moon in a space suit.
But the lake still takes my breath away.
A woman climbs the long road with mail in hand
to her small, boxlike house
with nothing like a letter or anything other than bills--
when she decided to love someone, she went about it
as if she were unfolding a map
an odd map, the size of a postage stamp,
until "there" was found, and the self
it was afternoon,
before the school bus comes
with her daughter dragging her book bag
on the spinning earth.
by Christine Garren. from The Piercing.
But I mean seriously. I had a bad day
yesterday. Thank away. Let every third
poem be "for Ron" and write from the
heart. This is what happens when I
get uptight, can't see what's resting in my
hands for the packaging and labels.
Good for canned food, bad for books.
I watched Waiting for Guffman (he never
shows), and a dose of Chris Guest soothes
the angry heart. Or something.
Fred Willard. Next thing you know I'm
remembering Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
and shuddering over aging. Peter Gizzi's
new book arrived, as did Danielle Pafunda's
book from Soft Skull. I like how she leads
the reader, sentence by sentence. I'm still
trying to stay warm, and so spending too
much time in my office. The grist mill
hasn't much of a heating system. I read
David Foster Wallace's new story in The
New Yorker but, well, don't bother. Read
the interesting article about Gauguin and
Van Gogh instead. The snow the snow, and
yet the other day, in a classroom a fly
bapped into a window over and over again,
like a bunch of end-stopped lines.
One of my dreams, if it's still okay
to have dreams and still be an edgy
post-modern artist, is to be like the
Moil in that one Seinfeld episode.
Remember? "Darling, why you
selected this moment to set your glass
down so close to the edge of the table . . ."
I'm paraphrasing . . .
I keep writing notes for myself and then when
I find them I have no clue what they mean. I wrote
"Bodine" on a piece of paper. What the hell?
I ended up doing another kind of arrangement,
not alphabetical. We'll see. I keep writing new
poems.I have to admit I am not
the person who goes for the Big List in a book.
Whatever happened to the idea of Thank You Notes?
Are you confused? Well a book I picked up recently
concluded its acknowledgements page with a list of
thank yous for over thirty people, many of them
poets we've all heard of. I've thanked a few people
in my books (although in Abrupt Rural I don't think
I thanked anyone, and the book is not dedicated
to anyone), and I'm pretty sure I've never dedicated
a poem to anyone (not counting early drafts).
I don't know. It feels like bad form (doesn't the person,
upon reading the poem, already know somehow,
and/or couldn't you tell (warn) them?). As to editing help,
one time a painter friend mentioned
this odd quirk amongst poets. He likened it
to a bunch of people coming into his studio
and literally taking a paint brush and "improving"
his painting. Well? Doesn't he make a good point?
I know my best students are most helped by a certain
intimacy and support, emotional, spiritual.
They need to be pushed. I LOVE that part
of teaching. So then: what is the "list"
I'm talking about indicative of? Why in the world
name every single soul who ever set eyes
on your words? For one thing, doesn't that diminish
the efforts of the person (or persons) who really were
instrumental in getting your book into its present
state? (And maybe, shouldn't they be credited in footnotes?
For instance, shouldn't Eliot have said in a footnote,
"This poem owes its life to Ezra, thanks, dude.").
But forget all that. It's another way in which poetry
has become a cliche. It's cousin is the LIST OF EVERY
POEM YOU'VE PUBLISHED
AND THE MAGAZINE THAT PUBLISHED
IT. We're scared, of course. It's a keeping up
with the Joneses scenario. Or existential--what
is the point if living? Make the list. Are we through here
or close to being through? So okay then, what about what
Priscilla Becker did? I don't have the book with me.
She had section "A" and then I think a "B" and after that
I think she had another "A" . . . Can anyone confirm?
Acknowledgements, sections: should the list of
publications come at the end rather than prior to the
precious text? We all know that the "three section
division" went out with Walkmans. A good good thing. Sometimes
it seems like having NO section breaks is, indeed, the best
arrangement. I have section breaks in my new manuscript,
along with epigraphs. Frankly, I hate
that this has happened. It's why I'm writing this.
I would like to continue with the NO SECTION BREAK architecture
if possible. Hence my earlier requests for ideas about
arrangement and the alphabet. In my previous four books I
am pretty sure I haven't a single epigraph (what this says
about me it says about me). I should mention, why not?,
that a recent story of mine, "Banana" will be appearing in
Controlled Burn. My thanks to Carol.
My thanks to Carol and to the lunch lady who made it . . .
just kidding . . . Yes, the big problems of poetry sections.
You'd think we weren't knee deep in a war.
I end this entry with the words: Arthur Lee and Love: sublime.
It feels like my brain is short circuiting. Can anyone name for
me a poetry book or two by a single author in which the
order of the poems is determined alphabetically. I think Michael
Burkard may have done it (he discussed doing it, wanting to do it,
while going over Pennsylvania Collection Agency). I'm thinking
contemporary work. The idea appeals to me, that imposed
arrangement dictating to some degree what to take out,
what to leave in, especially after determining, for instance,
you want to end up with a 74 page manuscript (or whatever).
Even if you don't know of any such books, what do you think of
The everyone who agrees Firstborn was THE bad
book are all of Gluck's critics, and Gluck herself.
No one else understands what the hell any of these
people are talking about. They're too busy trying
to catch the pieces of the baby. I've noticed when you
talk to the plebian fans amongst us about the GOOD
Gluck you get something like Gluck up to The Wild Iris,
or, even, The Gluck of the First Four Books of
Poems. Or the negative response: The Seven Ages?
followed by a finger down the throat. Yes, yes,
we do love our William, our mirror, our dark prince
in shining tights. He had the vision to write down what
Gluck's readers have been saying for years, didn't he?
But still, really, be serious for a second. I think probably
Franz Wright could kick his ass with one arm tied
to the back of his own head. Possibly the bout could be
an intermission for some big poetry slam. NOTE: It's about
ten below zero out, non windchill.
It isn't just automatically a good thing, these constant
updates, as if we're all sitting around smiling, doing
nothing but updating the technology in our lives. Of course
you're happy about it. How could you not be happy
about it? Did anyone see Bill Gates on The Daily Show?
Real stimulating guy with the conversational skill of
an anteater. Thank you for fucking with our lives
every ten seconds. Now get off my TV screen, shut up,
and go play around in your basement with whatever
has now replaced motherboards. In the meantime,
roads stretch out in a million directions from where
I sit, all of them solid ice, black and reflective, buffed
to deadly. The salt won't work because it is colder
than it has been since 1996. I had to cancel classes, hope
things improve. We're all set to discuss Franz Wright,
pages from Ill Lit. Speaking of the frustration of going
nowhere. I've lost my sense of what my new book is
exactly. The problem seems to be, at least partly, that
I'm tired of books in which you read poems that constitute
a series in the most obvious of ways--Books by Cort Day
and/or Joshua Beckman come to mind. Also, I re-read one
of Bob Hicok's books and by the end just had this
image of this disembodied head talking very fast stuck
in my brain, poem after poem, encyclopedic, and fast fast
fast. Do you just have the one speed, Bob? I wanted so
badly for one of the poems to snap and for something like
skylight to come slowly flooding onto the page, a syllable
a second, a birchbark canoe sliding over a Canadian
creek reflecting the softest blue . . . But I'm NOT talking
about nature poems. I got my breathing back to normal
by going back to Robert Hass and Margot Schilpp. Some
A. R. Ammons. Two Alice Munro stories, a few of Wenderoth's
Letters to Wendy's. I've lost my way here. I've got those
fast poems in the book, relatively short, synaesthetic
almost, and three five page poems of the same order, some
narrative poems that Silliman would run after with a hammer, nail,
and SoQ sign, and a handful of lyric fragments. In all candor,
Herb Scott was my editor. He worked on all my books, cut them
back hard, and I could use what he did for me (and many
others--including Carrie McGath, for her recent book) about now.
I've missed him AND his infectious enthusiasm for the poetry
book. Students are e-mailing by now, everyone agreeing
it's cold. Cold. COLD! So cold I watched a flicker on a hunk of
suet, dangling like a flying cow, and it hammered away for an
hour, starving probably. I'm going to tear the ms. apart,
halve it, blow it up, see where the pieces fall. The thing that
was really annoying about Logan's review of Hart Crane? All
those parenthetical digs. I rather enjoyed the ideas he presented
about the actual poetry, but his wisecracks about his character and
habits runneth over. He's one angry dude. Lastly, all the
magazines I send poems and stories to anymore eventually
begin spamming the hell out of me to ENTER OUR CONTEST!
Isn't that, like, illegal or something? I haven't given my permission.
I've simply provided an e-mail as a method for contacting me.
Does this bug the hell out of anyone else?
Anthony Lane's just not the same. Kael was always
digesting every inch of film, psychoanalyzing it, getting
inside the thing to its heart, pushing herself hard
to come out changed on the other side. Lane is merely
glib, a bratty intellectual. Kael of course actually
dreamed of making movies, tried some producing
(I think with Warren Beatty). But one always felt in her work,
in an industry where kissing ass reins supreme, her sense of
excitement and exasperation with auteurs. She began her
reveiw of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket like this:
"Chances are that when Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam film . . .
is at midpoint a lot of moviegoers will be asking themselves
what it's going to be about, and when it's over they still
won't know." It goes on, oh boy does it ("Like a star child,
Kubrick floats above the characters of Full Metal
Jacket . . ."). I really can't imagine film in the seventies
and eighties without her there, Kael bashing my sacred cows
(Woody Allen), Kael raving about Stop Making Sense or
Down and Out in Beverly Hills. (Has Paul Mazursky made
an interesting film since then?) Her judgements were often
surprising, but the writing with which she offered them
was masterful (I can't name a writer who was more skilled
at crafting sentences, frankly). Because Kael wrote with such
illuminating soulfulness, with such honesty from within the
heart of her own particular vision, she became the voice of
an era. I try to imagine her name listed with the
thumbsdowners and uppers posted these days
at Rotten Tomatoes and it strengthens my conviction of
Kael as Reviewer as Artist, and I wonder why no one has stepped
up to take her place. And I get the unnerving feeling
no one ever will. As far as William Logan goes, especially
after contemplating Kael, one gets the sense he's writing
to an audience hungry for a little schadenfreude. Isn't
everyone completely used to this by now? I can't get angry
over Logan's offhand vivisections. Still it's fun when he
praises a book out of the blue, as he did Louise Gluck's
Firstborn, the book by Gluck everyone else heartily agrees
is the "worthless" one. So of course Logan suddenly finds
merit in it.
It was a lake like a sermon, with thunder. Because it was
The seventh day the ants ran like water down through the reeds.
Blizzard of amputations,
The obvious traveling goes north
Through the snow
Where crowds like to gather on cliffs of ice
And look down upon the frozen dead
Who swim under the rows and rows of bunk beds.
I'd been in school, my guts warring, dignified
By a body smaller than the three girls surrounding me.
They cast no shadows, hunger and soap, soft hair.
So Logan doesn't like Hart Crane. I don't mind.
I'm sort of surprised his review showed up where it
did, I guess. Surprised he was assigned the review
really. But I'm kind of glad. Sometimes a blizzard
moves in and I have to drive through it. I'm sorry,
I get excited. Maybe I'll end up in a ditch. Probably
I won't. Jack Gilbert hates Yeats. I love that he
does. And I miss Pauline Kael. She reamed
both Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrik often. We
knew where she stood! Her list of complaints
about The Shining is my list of why I love it.
I couldn't wait to read the next Kael review.
"Rainman is Dustin Hoffman humping one note on a
piano for ninety minutes." I'm paraphrasing.
I cut THAT review out and taped it up on the wall
so other graduate students could read it. Oh what an
activist I was. And that movie is HORRIBLE.
(Don't you think? If not leave your opinion.)
Dana Roeser will be reading on Monday, the 12th,
and I have to say I've spilled coffee on her book over
and over. It's a mess. It's that good.
It's one of the best books of poetry in the last ten years,
yes, yes, okay, but her new poems, poems she has been
sending me, are even better. Good God come to this reading.
(an Ashbery Erasure poem)
Arrival, taste as a statistic.
The opera that wasn't there when I last looked . . .
Matter like a tiny window or a bit of hope.
The spring dream of
an elf on my back, the trunk
becoming the world,
galaxies out in the street . . .
It was I you answered. I see land,
luck sad under the bell.
The past aches.