I am mainly over here now: http://kentdshaw.tumblr.com/
I am mainly over here now: http://kentdshaw.tumblr.com/
I have been reading what is probably an obscure book of craft essays: Poets on Poetry, edited by Howard Nemerov, and published in 1966. The book is framed around a questionnaire Nemerov sent to the poets asking them to respond to their growth as writers, as well as the influence the culture has had on their work. The results, from what I've read so far, vary according to the sustained reputation of the poet. So, for instance, the essays by John Berryman and Marianne Moore are substantive. They speak to an idea of poetry and the culture of poetry present to their 1960s sensibility that I find still relevant. Essays by Richard Eberhart and Barbara Howes feel self-promotional and ill-thought.
But even Eberhart and Howes pose a real dilemma to my mind. There are times that Poetry World 2013 is like a carnival of self-serving QVC spokespeople hawking their wares. You're either promoting yourself or you're promoting your friends. Which is totally understandable. Because there are actually thousands of poetry books published each year. And how is anyone supposed to navigate through such a densely populated landscape? Time is, in fact, finite. And the benefit to promoting your friends is that you create a community of readers, who will hopefully accumulate into a critical mass that will define your unmistakable success. I don't know if I can think of anyone this has actually happened for.
But poetry suffers under this system. I have witnessed it. I have read books on recommendation, where the book was written by a friend of a friend, and I have been not only underwhelmed, but actually disappointed in all parts of this transaction. Disappointed in the recommender (whose taste I normally trust), disappointed that there has been poetic value assigned to this book (by this recommender and the community of friends he and this poet are both a part of), disappointed that in this competitive publishing environment this book could be published on a fairly prestigious press, and disappointed that the poet who wrote this book couldn't make the book better. And I am referring in this last statement to more than just personal taste. I had read this poet's first book and at least been impressed enough to give in to the recommendation regarding the current book.
Of course, this transaction is not the result of Facebook culture or [Insert Mindblowing Summer Writing Conference] friendship culture. How did Richard Eberhart get his unmemorable poems Collected and published by Oxford University Press? How was Barbara Howes published on Wesleyan? Mediocre poetry will find a home. In fact, it will be an important part of the poetry landscape. As a reader of poetry, I have my own methods for finding and discovering memorable work. I should say I actively pursue good poetry. Mainly because I'm selfish. But my method doesn't make me a very friendly person, at least in friendship culture terms. I would like to claim that makes me an unbiased reader. But what an unpleasant position: to be unloved and unbiased at once.
What is the working title of your book?
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Air, because of the atmosphere. Water, because of the ocean. Anger, because it is obsessive and wouldn't leave me alone. Hope, because Barack Obama in 2008 made everything make sense. Trees, mountains, highways and the United States. And the state of Texas, because it is very tall.
What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry. And musculature.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in the movie rendition?
James Franco could play me. Then Carrie Oeding can play the part of "the girlfriend" and "my wife" and the phrase "falling in love." I would ask that my red sweater vest be called in to play my red sweater vest (unless Kevin Spacey would like to stand in for that). There are a lot of trees in the book, which might get dull. So Ryan Gosling can play the part of some trees.
And, lastly, I would like Joan Rivers to play the part of the Internet.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?
2 years? Probably a little longer.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Kent Shaw, as grammatical franchise, inspired me. Probably Fox News inspired me. And all versions of "The Real Housewives." And my cholesterol level, which kept me from eating Big Mac's like I used to. And probably Nick Flynn, too. Who was there at the beginning of me writing these poems, and who said these poems were heading in the right direction.
What else about your book might pique your readers' interest?
If you are a modern day Copernicus, this book is about discoveries. And logics. If you are James Franco, Hollywood might be calling you. Very soon! If you are Barack Obama, I have a poem written specifically for you. Give me your gmail. I'll email it.
Will this book be self-published or represented by an agency?
You know it wasn't a poet who wrote this questionnaire.
My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:
Sasha West, Farnoosh Fathi, Wendy Xu, Michelle Taransky and Malachi Black
(Because they all have books coming out in the next to next future, and everyeone would be wise to read them)
Today I'm featured at the Writeliving blog. Where I'm asked questions about where I'm from, and what it feels like not to be there any more. David Schuman invited me to answer the questions. Here's a Glamour Shot photo of him. The interview is here:
Since doing the interview, I wonder: What would it mean to be an Appalachian poet? I don't know. If I've lived here for three years, would I be allowed inside the club? I imagine not. You probably have to be born an Appalachian. And yet the poems I've written since living here are thick with the state of West Virginia. I have never grappled with so many trees. Or listened to mountains. Or stood against the ridiculous disparity that separates this state from every state around it.
Maybe what doesn't get full voice in the review is this issue I've been having with Southern Literature lately. Like why does it feel like there's this whole tradition of writers who are so tender-hearted about the South, like it was their Uncle, and it was molasses, and it was BFF carved into trees, but in the 1940s, when they would write something else on trees, but you get the idea. So much sentimentality. And it feels like The South makes some writers scared. So they hold it out like it was a trophy they were hoping to win. Look at David Bottoms' Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump. Or Padgett Powell's Edisto. Or that essay in John Jeremiah Sullivan's book Pulphead where he's talking about Andrew Lytle. It's The South wrapped in cellophane. It fascinates me as a topic. And as a style. And as a gesture for soemthing mythic in this land. It has a unique life in American literature (why do we want to prize The South so much? Look to Jennifer Rae Greeson's Our South for some answers).
For my reading, I prefer Jane Springer's south. And Flannery O'Connor's. And Barry Hannah's. And William Faulkner's. That's lived in. With complicatedness. I prefer literature and life and reality that makes me feel complicated.
A review of M. A. Vizsolyi I wrote over at The Rumpus. It went up last year. But I haven't updated this blog since last year. I focused a lot in the review on how the sonnet cycle works. What I couldn't so much fit in is the life of surrealism. The book is alive with surrealism! Maybe people are like, "Yeah, no kidding. Surrealism is alive and well in contemporary American poetry." But Vizsolyi's is a surrealism with consequence. His love is consequential. There's something that matters in what he has to say.
What they have in common: Facts are heavy things. And they often stand with each other in a solidarity that could be mistaken for obliviousness and complicity at the same time. Because reality is always working that way. Or, rather, reality works very hard to make it feel that way. Note the plodding procession of figures in Barlow. Mark the relentless knowledge standing behind Kurt Waldheim's life, and how it will not relinquish the stage just because Reddy erased it from Waldheim's life.
How does art defy the law of physics? No, it's not magic. Or rather, magic is a cheapskate's art. Barlow and Reddy have at their disposal the irony of methodicalism. Which might be the exact opposite of what anyone would attribute to Barlow. But imagine standing beneath those giant blocks, each individually clothed, and herded the way you'd herd cattle so that they'll all walk in the same direction. This is what you do to make great art out of concrete. Herd, and take care that there is no stampede. I suppose not every law of physics need be defied. Maybe carefully needled would be more appropriate. Now imagine the life of Kurt Waldheim. Because it's all very similar, as Reddy has made exceedingly clear.
Donkey Gospel, by Tony Hoagland
In order to understand a Tony Hoagland poem, you need to follow some very specific instructions. First, grow old. Unfortunately, this disqualifies a whole army of under-23 year olds who swear on Donkey Gospel or Narcissism as holy poetic writ, but they are committing unholy acts. To love Tony Hoagland, you must have lived a life that you can leave in your past. You must have a view of youthful indiscretions from the solid perspective of "youth" being a problematic word. Because youth really isn't the same thing as "young at heart."
Next step, believe beauty is always going to be somewhere in the past tense. No, not The Past. A good poem will always have some issue with The Past (oh, memory, oh, mistakes, oh delicious youthful foibles). The beauty I'm always talking about still lives with the poet, in his present, where he keeps getting reminded of the beauty he can only phrase in the past tense. I'm referring to that murky region where the present relates to the past. It's like nostalgia plus a larger dose of the present. The poem has to deal with the poet writing the poem, who lived the holy life so completely, where it was beautiful everywhere everyday. That was back when the poet was present, or, as Hoagland makes clear, there was access to drugs that would make the present even more present. He didn't have to think of the past. There was only a present, and it was tough even to take in all that present at once.
Does that mean Donkey Gospel operates on a nostalgia for some poignantly remembered glory? Yes. But the past is only a prerequisite for the poems' real magic. Because the same poet who lived that life is still living his life. Maybe with a little less gullibility. Maybe knowing that recklessness has consequences. But life continues to be in the present tense, and it might very well be biologically impossible for the poet to pass that life by.
And this is the precise point of paradox that gives these poems their vitality--a poet who has experienced the life of reckless abandon, who still feels compelled to that kind of life, but who recognizes that consequences follow every action. The result is a mixture of wisdom and puckishness. Like if Ozzy Osbourne was actually coherent (well, maybe a coherent Ozzy Osbourne lite, I have never found a decapitated bat in any of Hoagland's poems). Read the poem "Beauty," which is at once a paean and an elegy for what it feels like to have been possessed by beauty, and to know that any way that you might relate to beauty later in your life is going to be qualified by your knowledge that, "Hey, beauty is happening right now, and I'm smart enough to know that." It's a delicate stance to negotiate. Too much self-knowledge makes it look like the speaker needs to convince himself, a la Billy Collins' worst poems. Too much nostalgia and the poem becomes your boring uncle.
What they have in common: World + even better world + whole worlds of microbes that are actually living inside the artists' brains and promising that there will be even better worlds that will soon come to pass. That's why they can make this art and these poems that are bursting with optimism and "creative spirit" (in the non-microbe-infected layman's terms) and loving lovingkindness. You will be singing when you read Christle's poems. They're too irresistible. You will wish there were colonies where you could live like one of the microbes, to get just a fraction of the artistic experience. WARNING: Prepare for lights. Bright lights. All of the lights!
How an artist born in 1929, whose art here is easily a decade older than the poet, can still have so many affinities with the poet: Destiny. If you need any further evidence that a God can at the very least have some beneficent tendencies, please consult the combining of these two artistic visions.