27 October 2006


I remember long ago, being given by a teacher, Donald Davie, two elegies for Algernon Charles Swinburne, and being asked to determine which was the better poem. One was by Ezra Pound: SALVE O PONTIFEX!: To Swinburne; an hemichaunt. The other was by Thomas Hardy: A SINGER ASLEEP (Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1837-1909). One thing I remember is the graduate students (I was an undergrad then) protesting that they had never been trained or asked to argue the merits of one poem over another. The other is that there was just, clearly, no question. The Pound poem is overwritten, bombastic, and just very very young. Still, lyrically, there are some things to recommend Pound's poem, and I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it. But the Hardy poem is terrific, as is much of his work, which I knew nothing at all about before that exercise.

Since I haven't done a lot of blogging this week (just the Linh Dinh note), I thought I'd put the Hardy poem here. You'll have to find the Pound poem for yourself (it begins on p. 40 of Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound, pub. New Directions in 1976). Hardy's not so much talked about as one of the great poets, but to me, he is — particularly of that time that might be considered just before modernism. And in some ways, his poems predict that modernism more than the earliest poems of Pound or the contemporary poems of Yeats. Here's the Hardy poem.

(Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1837-1909)


In this fair niche above the unslumbering sea,
That sentrys up and down all night, all day,
From cove to promontory, from ness to bay,
The Fates have fitly bidden that he should be
Pillowed eternally.


- It was as though a garland of red roses
Had fallen about the hood of some smug nun
When irresponsibly dropped as from the sun,
In fulth of numbers freaked with musical closes,
Upon Victoria's formal middle time
His leaves of rhythm and rhyme.


O that far morning of a summer day
When, down a terraced street whose pavements lay
Glassing the sunshine into my bent eyes,
I walked and read with a quick glad surprise
New words, in classic guise, -


The passionate pages of his earlier years,
Fraught with hot sighs, sad laughters, kisses, tears;
Fresh-fluted notes, yet from a minstrel who
Blew them not naively, but as one who knew
Full well why thus he blew.


I still can hear the brabble and the roar
At those thy tunes, O still one, now passed through
That fitful fire of tongues then entered new!
Their power is spent like spindrift on this shore;
Thine swells yet more and more.


- His singing-mistress verily was no other
Than she the Lesbian, she the music-mother
Of all the tribe that feel in melodies;
Who leapt, love-anguished, from the Leucadian steep
Into the rambling world-encircling deep
Which hides her where none sees.


And one can hold in thought that nightly here
His phantom may draw down to the water's brim,
And hers come up to meet it, as a dim
Lone shine upon the heaving hydrosphere,
And mariners wonder as they traverse near,
Unknowing of her and him.


One dreams him sighing to her spectral form:
"O teacher, where lies hid thy burning line;
Where are those songs, O poetess divine
Whose very arts are love incarnadine?"
And her smile back: "Disciple true and warm,
Sufficient now are thine." . . .


So here, beneath the waking constellations,
Where the waves peal their everlasting strains,
And their dull subterrene reverberations
Shake him when storms make mountains of their plains -
Him once their peer in sad improvisations,
And deft as wind to cleave their frothy manes -
I leave him, while the daylight gleam declines
Upon the capes and chines.


23 October 2006


Linh Dinh gave a terrific reading last night at Dinnerware Arts, 101 W. Sixth St., Tucson. This post is my introduction to his reading, that I sent out to a local email list yesterday, and that I gave last night in a version slightly edited (because I didn't want to read his poems while introducing him).

I'm typically drawn to poetry that takes kinds of risks that take me aback, make me wonder what I'm getting into, and, once I understand the work a little better, make me feel that my conception of what poetry might be is growing. Usually, I find such risks and challenges a matter of form and language.

So why have I been so absolutely bowled over by Linh Dinh's work ever since I came to know it a few years ago? Its risks at first seem to be of an entirely different order. It's a poetry of first response to the world's stimuli from a mind that often feels restless, put against, and sometimes downright hostile to its own environment. But then I think about the environment we have created, with its wars, racism, classism, market-driven consumerism, fashionista privilege, corporate-controlled media, drugs, overdriven sexuality, huge trucks & SUVS and hummers, and never-ending vacuity — and all these things and more interacting — and I think, why not, at times, be hostile? Linh's work is incredibly honest. It's not mean, (though perhaps sometimes mistaken as such), rather just clear, and often, very often, it finds humor amid the horrors. It also pares down the world's dilemmas into specific encounters, crystallizing action and emotion into clear and hard images, and that perhaps is its "poetic." Or at least, in addition to its willingness to risk offense in favor of truth.

Here's one poem that, to me, expresses something of what Linh Dinh represents in the world. It shows the point of exhaustion, the point of no longer feeling, which may be the point at which one can honestly see, without blinders, or, as he puts it, the point at which "I am exact."
The Undead

Are you presented live before a teeming audience?
Do you stand forth?
Are you adaptable to leisure in a suburban home?
Is motion still imparted to your lips?

I am no longer alive to the risks involved.
I am dead white.
I am a compost of mineral matter.
I am naturally without life, inanimate.
My arms dangle at my sides.
I am neither vital, nor warm, nor interesting, nor bright, nor brilliant.
I am a sweaty handshake at a quiet party.
I am without power or movement. I am exact.

More often, Linh writes of what seem to be real places, bars ball games, or here, a "shopping emporium," in a poem that reminds of another poet (Baudelaire) who did not refuse the horrors of the world (even the "stench / Of open sewage or rotting flesh"), but recoiled at the ability of others to ignore them, out of ennui, or, in Dinh's terms, "By simply stepping aside."
The Moving Stink Spot of Tyson Corner

Old houses, hospitals, and hotels?
As places with deep social histories?
Are very often haunted, yes, but can a
Shopping center also be haunted?

At Tyson Corner, a vast shopping emporium
In suburban Washington, there is a phenomenon
Known as a moving stink spot.

A browser at Foot Locker, for example,
Would suddenly be overwhelmed by a stench
Of open sewage or rotting flesh,
Causing him to retch or even vomit.
This torment would only last for a few seconds, however,
Because the stink spot had already moved on to its next victim.
The shopper can also quickly relieve himself
By simply stepping aside.
Perhaps because Linh Dinh sees clearly and feels deeply, the horrors are not by any means all that we get from him. There's also a kind of pure joy, making love (even if "marginal love") and jumping up and down until the floor shakes.
Doing The Wave

Love, marginal love, I was making love
On the side, as it were,
On the berm at the bottom,
Between tugs. A tumbril
Had brought us here at eight this morning,
Me and my widow.
My dulcet feather,
If we jump up and down together,
Like this, look!
We can make the floor shake.
What else? Much else! In a time when arts commissions happily fund every proposal that comes their way and proudly consider that a triumph of democracy in the arts, Dinh is not afraid to point out the evils of bad art (which is probably more prevalent than good art), even making those evils personal.
The Evil Of Bad Paintings

The problem with bad paintings is that
They are made by bad people.
Simone Weil said that concentration is prayer,
An orientation towards God, and
To paint well takes a hell lot of concentration.
Bad painters, then, are basically people
Who cannot concentrate properly.
Their minds wander as they hold that loaded brush.
Bad painters are not just bad, they're evil.

Linh Dinh makes me uncomfortable at times. He also makes me laugh, and he makes me, finally, dearly love his work because it makes me see the world more clearly, see it better, and see myself better. Sure, I don't always like what I see there. But isn't that necessary?

All poems in this message are taken from Linh Dinh, American Tatts (Tucson: Chax Press, 2005). Linh Dinh's other books include Fake House (2000), Blood and Soap (2004), All Around What Empties Out (2003), and Borderless Bodies (2005). His work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, Best American Poetry 2004, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present (2003), and Three Vietnamese Poets (2001). He is also the editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and Three Vietnamese Poets (2001). He is the translator of Night, Fish and Charlie Parker, the poetry of Phan Nhien Hao (Tupelo 2006).Linh Dinh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, came to the US in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England.Linh Dinh's reading in Tucson is sponsored by Chax Press & POG.

19 October 2006


A reading group I helped start is currently reading Geography & Plays, by Gertrude Stein. This week I was stopped cold by her portrait titled "Braque." It's an open (at least I think it is, so far) circle of soundings. Just in the first three paragraphs, I've tracked soundings of "k" sounds (17 instances), , "er" sounds (46 instances), "a" vowel sounds (74 instances), and nine other separate patterns of multiple-syllable or at least multiple-letter sounds, either operating globally (within these three paragraphs) or locally (within one to three consecutive sentences). Some of these patterns are word-centered and seem to have more to do with the meaning of words and sentences; others seem more purely to delight in sounding the language.

At times there is a kind of opening out of sound, as with the phrase "interest and earnest and outset," where the last word, in a way out sets one of the predominant sounds of the first two nouns, i.e. the "st" sound becomes "s" and "t" separated by a vowel, in "set," or "s" and "t" are outed.

There is one group of sentences that I find particularly curious.It occurs at the end of the second paragraph, and before the third paragraph, which is the single sentence, "This was not past a future."
There are in a circle. They are tendering a circle. They are a tender circle. They are tenderly a circle.
I am very tempted to think that in the first sentence of the group, "There are" is a mistake, possibly typographical, uncorrected in proofreading, and should be "They are," as with the other sentences. But because there are sound patterns for which the word "there" would be appropriate, I am not sure about this possible error.

I have made color-coated pages showing these sound patterns, and my next step is to somehow interpose these pages over one another, and see if there are relationships I have not noticed (and with Stein, I imagine there are always relationships one has not noticed). I would be particularly pleased to confirm that there is a kind of circular sounding going on.

I may write more about this later.


Please follow this link to learn about my poetry reading this Friday (tomorrow as I write this) with Meg Files, at the Black Rose Caffe at 7pm. Be there, ok?

Here's a recent poem.
pushing water 33

the orange sweater lands

and the language is relieved

or relieved of

what lies under

air and air of

as for the other path

where was it?

an umbrella in

an office supply store


for the daffodils

POG one

POG — it used to stand for POetry Group, but we decided a long time ago it was better if it didn't stand for anything. Yet it's in all caps and people think it's an acronym. It's NOT. Newspapers here in Tucson won't even print it, instead opting for "Poetry in Action" in press announcements, as "Poetry in Action" is the title of the reading series sponsored by POG, & often co-sponsored by Chax Press, & once-in-a-while also cosponsored by the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona. We're all for collaboration. "We" began with about 8 people some 8 or 9 years ago. I think the only constants among the people involved in the collaborative over the years are Tenney Nathanson & me. Speaking about him, that's a great block to build on. He sometimes has called us (i.e. the two of us) Mutt & Jeff, in terms of our introductions of poets. Now we have a good many more gifted people involved, including Paul Klinger, Dawn Pendergast, Tony Luebbermann, Rodney Phillips, Ana Fulford, Bonne Jean Michalski, Frank Parker, Barbara Henning, Cynthia Miller, Rachel McCrystal, Kali Tal, and John Wright, and Carlos Gallego. Now that's a terrific group, together for the first time this year, and we're off to a great start.

First reading from POG was a five-person group of visiting poets, luckily here for a conference: Elizabeth Robinson, Susanne Dyckman, Jaime Robles, Catherine Wagner, and Michelle Auerbach. I wish I could report on it all, but unfortunately I was called away on family duty that couldn't be put off. But I heard the first three, who were terrific.

Next up, this Sunday, is Linh Dinh

Linh Dinh is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), and a book of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003). His work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, Best American Poetry 2004, and Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present (2003). and Three Vietnamese Poets (2001). He is also the editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and Three Vietnamese Poets (2001).

A woman walks into a doctor's office with a carrot
Up her nose, a cucumber in her left ear
And a banana in her right ear.
A guy was riding in a limousine when he saw a man eating grass
By the side of the road.
The day before her abortion,
The one-eyed lady accidentally swallowed her glass eye.
"I notice that your eyes are bloodshot. Have you been drinking, Sir?"
"And I notice that your eyes are glazed, Officer.
Have you been eating doughnuts?"
"Put your coat on. I?m going to the pub for a drink."
"Are you taking me with you??
"No, I'm selling the house."
I hope to see lots of people there, this
Sunday, October 22, at 7:30 pm at Dinnerware Arts, 101 W. Sixth St., Tucson.

11 October 2006


Keep up with the fascinating fascicle work Jen Bervin is making that illuminates the markings, thereby the form, of the work of Emily Dickinson.

And while you're at it, have a look at Jen's other projects that mark a very particular exploration of the verbal, through the visual.


Last night's terrific reading by Barbara Cully, Catherine Daly, and Maryrose Larkin (in that order) in the Cushing Street reading series was inspiring. And lots of people were there, too, and lots of books were sold.

Barbara Cully (from Tucson) began, reading new work, which was informed by politics ranging historically from Ronald Reagan and Tien An Men Square to the present. It started with a pointed Reagan comment that elicited cheers & laughs from the audience, but for the most part the reading was very somber, with the voice falling at the end of every phrase with a feeling of loss that seemed both personal and cultural. Barbara Cully's work balances between the urge to shake the language up, and the urge to have a clear content, even to poise the language beautifully. That's a tough act to accomplish, and she does it well. You can find a good review by Morgan Lucas Schuldt of one of Cully's most recent books, Desire Reclining (Penguin 2003), here.

Catherine Daly (from Los Angeles) read from Locket, Dadada, and To Delite and Instruct. The long sequences from Dadada were captivating. Here is a sample from the poem "/X IS A SWITCH /XX /XXX":

You'll wear this mantle of dust.
Dust's love's apotheosis,
and love's dust's.

Contact, subject, circuit (interrupter),
pleasure in your sips of pleasure.
You're thirsty. Sweet tears for desires.
Arrives love
and many mouths, many mantles:
mansions rich
robin's egg blue pashmina, tweedy mohair throw,
blond mink stole.

Drink a particular tomb.
Standing on a green shell.
horn cornucopia conch
You are dust. Drifting down, la la.
Who's untouched.
Catherine ended with a work from the new book, To Delite and Instruct. Like the book, her poem began with a word box and ended with a word hoard. Word delicious, enticing.

Maryrose Larkin (from Portland) gave, as she said, the first reading she's ever given in a town where she doesn't live. For all of us, I hope she gives a lot more, in places where she lives and does not live. She was magnificent, reading great work extremely well. First she read the entire chapbook, Inverse, copies of which she also gave away. You can find three poems of hers that work in similar ways to this chapbook in Fascicle, and you can find part of Inverse, as well as a bio of Maryrose and her description of the work in Inverse, at No Tell Motel. She concluded her Tucson reading with a month-long section (July) of her new Whimsy Daybook 2007, a calendar for the imagination, a calendar of invented holidays—one for every day of the year. Let me give a few examples, like this one for my birthday
Go Sit on The Group W Bench
and this one for April 11
Feline Career Day
and this one for June 19
Meet Your Scary Screaming Neighbors—3:05 am
and this one for Friday July 13
Year of Confusion Begins

I will look forward to hearing and reading all three of these poets again.

Lots of poetry occurs in Tucson, in various ways, in the next couple of weeks. Here are just the three events with which I am personally involved, in one way or another.
Oct. 14, Saturday, Dinnerware Gallery, 101 W. Sixth St., 7pm
Elizabeth Robinson
Jaime Robles
Michelle Auerbach
Susanne Dyckman
Catherine Wagner

Presented by POG

Oct. 20, Friday, Black Rose Cafe, 1800 N. Stone Ave., 7pm
Charles Alexander
Meg Files
Presented by the Black Rose Poetry Series

Oct. 22, Sunday, 7:30pm, Dinnerware Gallery, 101 W. Sixth St., 7:30pm
Linh Dinh
Presented by Chax Press & POG


Sometime last night or yesterday evening this blog had its 2,000th visitor. I don't even know if that's "good" or "not so good" for a little less than 7 weeks of blogging. And I have my questions about whether it's big numbers bloggers should be after, or just meaningful posts, dialogue, conversation.


Michael Kelleher has put together a terrific special feature on Robert Creeley for Jacket 31. My brief essay is included, but make sure you take a look at the whole feature, and the whole issue. There are contributions from Amiri Baraka, Susan Howe, Tosa Motokiyu, Ojiu Norinaga, Okura Kyojin, Kent Johnson, Javier Alvarez, Alexander Jorgenson, Margaret Konkol, Ruth Lepson, Stan Persky, Kyle Schlesinger, Dale Smith, Joel Weishaus, and Don Wellman, as well as links to earlier pieces in Jacket about and by Robert Creeley.

You can find Michael Kelleher's note, written soon after Creeley's death, here. Mike should be celebrated not only for his work here noted on Creeley, but as a poet, activist, and for his great work at Just Buffalo Literary Center.

10 October 2006


I find it odd that what Ron Silliman seems to like most about Elizabeth Treadwell's critique of his blurb of a book, Verso, by Patty McCarthy, is that the creation of a controversy draws more visitors to Silliman's blog. Is that why we do this? To attract more readers, more viewers?

Ron's contention is understandable, i.e. that his blurb was taken out of context, that it was edited, etc. Still, it was there, in print, and he, along with the publisher of the book, bear responsibility. Here is the blurb:
What if Frank O'Hara had been, literally, a court jester? Or, at the very least, tutor of the King's children? Those are questions that linger in the imagination as one reads Pattie McCarthy's Verso. McCarthy strikes a new tone in & for her poetry. At the same time, however, all of the concerns — with history, naming, gender, etymology & referentiality — that have always animated her work rage on unabated… She makes the membrane between the visible and its opposite her focal point…Pattie McCarthy has been one of our most intellectually ambitious poets—a tradition she shares with Rachel Blau DuPlessis & with H.D. And indeed with the likes of Pound & Olson. We can still count the number of women who attempt writing on such a scale on the fingers of our hands. So it is worth noting & celebrating this addition to that roster. — Ron Silliman
There are several reasons that I think, if Ron had been a little more careful, he wouldn't have allowed this blurb out, and I'm happy to think it's not really what he thinks. But it's out, and my sense is that the blurb is unfortunate in a big way, for several reasons. Even if one accepts the concept that writing on "such a scale" is the thing that is needed, what is "such a scale?" Doesn't that need to be specified a little more? Also, if it's anything like writing with an epic vision, or a broad sense of the possibilities of poetry, or in a way that makes a reader re-think the nature of poetry, or even in a way that strikes a reader as significantly different from what she or he has read before, then
1. it's not true that we can count the women doing it on our hands
2. there aren't all that many men doing it
3. there's no need for such a canon-affirming, divisive comment as this blurb seems to be
4. it does what I don't like blurbs to do, i.e. direct attention away from the work a reader is hopefully about to read
Ron does some explaining of his blurb, and his point of view, in a recent post to his blog, but there he does some more damage as well, or at least I don't at all share his sense that Treadwell's tone on her blog is strident and exhibits a kind of hatred. I found her post had grace, wit, and generosity, though it did include a deserved slap.

I love Ron, & I love Elizabeth, but in this instance I'll stand with Elizabeth.

05 October 2006

POETRY PHYSICAL PLEASURE (possible opening of a book)

To Louis Zukofsky’s definition of the value of poetry as the experience of pleasure through “sight, sound, and intellection,” I would add another quality, that of tactile physical pleasure. Related to sound, but located in the pleasure of producing sound rather than hearing it. The addition of physicality leads us to start somewhere near the beginning, at least of poetry in English – and though I might venture with little cat feet into Chinese, French, Italian, Greek, Roman, Russian, Spanish, and other poetries – I will remain primarily with English, simply because it is what I know best, though I carry no illusion that its poetry is even one iamb better than that written in any other language.

To the beginning we go, and to physical pleasure.
Hwaet we gardena (first line of Beowulf, circa 680-800)

You don’t have to know what that means, although it helps to know it is a kind of boastful greeting, said with gusto, that the “ae” of Hwaet should be pronounced like the short “a” of drat or gnat, that the “Hw” should literally be sounded, like a wind blowing until it closes in that “w” sound, that the word “we” is pronounced more like the contemporary “way” than like “we” as in us, that the “r” in “gardena” should be slightly rolled, and the first syllable of “gardena” should be a noticeably longer syllable than any other in that word, the “de” in “gardena” should be spoken like “day” but cut off just a bit short, and the final “na” should sound like the final “na” in banana. Now, say it all, first slowly, “Hwaet we gardena,” then again and again, each time a bit faster (but more with confidence than with speed), until you say it as if you are greeting a friend who has come into the very friendly pub in which you like to down a pint now and then and have a very good time. Feel what your lips do at the beginning to both produce and cut off that wind, how the tongue slaps inside the mouth on that first “t”, how you go to the back of the mouth at the beginning of “gardena” but then come up toward the front to roll that “r”and then just stop, neither too suddenly nor with too much lingering, as you let out that short exhalation of “na.” If it doesn’t feel good to say, you’re either not doing it right, or you haven’t considered that speech is a physical pleasure, related to kissing, breathing in cool air, cooing, whistling, oral sex, licking a popsicle, and other great things you can do with your mouth.


Spots of Time Poesie Circle (Wordsworth)

The Uncouth Swains Poesie Circle (Wordsworth)

The Mind-Forged Manacles Poesie Circle (Blake)

Trumpet of a Prophecy Poesie Circle (Shelley)

The Unacknowledged Legislators Poesie Circle (Shelley)

The Negative Capability Poesie Circle (Keats)

Pipes and Timbrels Poesie Circle (Keats)

Voluptuous Cool-Breath’d Earth Poesie Circle (Whitman)

The Body Electric Poesie Circle (Whitman)

The Buzzing Flies Poesie Circle (Dickinson)

Much Madness and Divinest Sense Poesie Circle (Dickinson)

Sordid Paradise Poesie Circle (Dickinson)

Dapple-Dawn-Drawn Falcon Poesie Circle (Hopkins)

Slouching Toward Bethlehem Poesie Circle (Yeats)

What Thou Lovest Well Poesie Circle (Pound)

Emperor of Ice Cream Poesie Circle (Stevens)

Complacencies of the Peignoir Poesie Circle (Stevens)

A Rose Is A Rose Poesie Circle (Stein)

Reddish, Purplish, Forked, Upstanding Poesie Circle (Williams)

Painted Paradise Poesie Circle (Pound)

Real Toads in Imaginary Gardens Poesie Circle (Moore)

The Exploding Dream Deferred Poesie Circle (Hughes)

The Round of Fiddles Playing Bach Poesie Circle (Zukofsky)

Frogs in a Pond Poesie Circle (Basho)

WHAT IT IS (or is not?)

I just read that poetry is about understanding

but I don’t think so

maybe it is about curiosity

maybe it IS curiosity

and maybe it IS understanding

but not like literally “standing under”

and also not like “understanding” the meaning

but just there, embodying

itself as what it is because that’s just what it is

and to get there is an understanding