An Author's Assemblage: Brief Notes and Notices
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
“Seeded Light, Dr. Byrne’s sixth collection of poems, is the most extensive book of the English professor’s career.
“‘Seeded Light’ contains a fairly comprehensive scope of poetry,’ Dr. Byrne says, ‘that expresses, through imagery written in accessible language, a variety of views on subjects as diverse as nature, art, literature, music, memory, imagination, friendship, family, love, loss, life, maturity, and mortality.’
“Dr. Byrne says lyrics in his newest collection connect the past to the present, raising readers’ awareness of their own worlds.
“Noted poets have offered praise for the book.
“Award-winning poet David Baker writes ‘Edward Byrne shows the lyric couplet to be a form with its own remarkable flexibility and narrative capacity. Seeded Light is memorial and social, scenic and intimate, by turns, providing a humane pathway of one gentle man’s passage through the world in all its weather and worry.’
“‘Seeded Light,’ poet Alfred Corn writes, ‘offers abundant evidence of a mind’s alertness to the world of nature and to modern urban reality . . . . The fineness of Byrne’s perceptions and the musicality of his lines make following his journeys an instructive pleasure . . . .’”
Visitors are invited to read the rest of the press release.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
“At that time I found the avant-garde very exciting, just as the young do today, but the difference was that in 1950 there was no sure proof of the existence of the avant-garde. To experiment was to have the feeling that one was poised on some outermost brink. In other words if one wanted to depart, even moderately, from the norm, one was taking one’s life—one’s life as an artist—into one’s hands.” —From John Ashbery’s Reported Sightings: Art Chronicles 1957-1987 (Knopf, 1989)
Monday, December 7, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
“You cannot know completely what your obligation is in writing the poem. The primary responsibility is to speak the true word and to distill the complexity of sensitivity that enters into any human experience.
“The poem becomes a vehicle of this so-called persona or soul, whatever you want to call it; it is a crystallization of your unconscious life. It carries a big load!
“The poet doesn’t so much disappear into the poem as become the poem. It is a concentration of faculties, of everything you are or hope to be, and at that moment you have a focus not only on your conscious life, but your unconscious world, and it is as much an expression of your whole being as is conceivable.” —From The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden by Stanley Kunitz with Genine Lentine (W.W. Norton, 2005)
Sunday, November 22, 2009
“It is in the context of the personal lyric and its subset, the transformative lyric, that certain figures emerge; poets who, coping with their own crises and traumas, seized the opportunity to create new selves and new meanings through the making of poems. These poets became poet-heroes by disclosing visionary possibilities that went far beyond their own private situations and revealed hopes and meanings that were broadly useful to others, both contemporaries and those of us who came after. They fulfilled Keats’s dream of being ‘physician to all men.’ Of course, the term ‘all men’ is hyperbolic and, to our postfeminist ears, restrictively sexist. It would be more accurate and thus more complimentary to say that these visionary poets were physicians to broad spectrums of the population who identified with their sense of trauma and confusion and their need for self-transformation.
“Romanticism and its aftermath gave us hero after hero of spiritual renewal through the personal lyric.” —From Poetry as Survival by Gregory Orr (University of Georgia Press, 2002)
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
“Wislawa Szymborska’s poem ‘Photograph from September 11’ (translated by Clare Cavanaugh) acknowledges the speaker’s inability to describe and, in my mind, is successful. She begins with a common image to such poems, ‘They jumped from the burning floors—’ but then immediately reminds us that she is only looking at a photograph. She tells us that ‘Each is complete / with a particular face / and blood well-hidden,’ and ends by saying, ‘I can do only two things for them— / describe this flight // and not add a last line.’
“Not adding a last line (although, of course, she does: ‘and not add a last line’) indicates Szymborska’s understanding of her inadequacy, of art’s inadequacy in the face of horror. She notes ‘the particular face[s]’ she does not have access to. Even the title acknowledges her limited access and understanding. She does not presume to speak from authority. While she does imagine the flight, the poem is ultimately about the speaker’s own inability to describe it fully. It is her stance of unknowing that permits her to repeat familiar images.” —From “Poetry & Ethics: Writing About Others” by Natasha Sajé in The Writer’s Chronicle (December 2009: Volume 42, Number 3)
Saturday, November 7, 2009
“When I’m asked by fellow air passengers what I do for a living and reply, ‘I write poems,’ the reaction is often a startled smile, as though they’re thinking Homer! Dante! Milton! (At least that’s what I’m thinking they’re thinking.) And then comes the lean-in, the furrowed brow, the voice thick with compassion as my new friend says, ‘But there isn’t any money in that, is there?’
“There are some pretty snappy comebacks to this one, but what I usually offer is Somerset Maugham’s ‘Poetry is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five.’ Actually, Maugham says ‘money,’ not ‘poetry,’ but that’s the point. Money and poetry both act as catalysts, and they bring together objects and experiences that wouldn’t have anything to do with one another otherwise. Wealth takes many forms, and sometimes it shows up as stanzas.” —From David Kirby’s New York Times review of Amy Gerstler’s book of poems, Dearest Creature
Friday, November 6, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
“It hardly seems worthwhile to point out the shortsightedness of those practitioners who would have us believe that the form of the poem is merely its shape. They argue that there is formal poetry and poetry without form—free verse, in other words; that formal poetry has dimensions that are rhythmic or stanzaic, etc., and consequently measurable, while free verse exists as a sprawl whose disposition is arbitrary and is, as such, nonmeasurable. But if we have learned anything from the poetry of the last twenty or thirty years, it is that free verse is as formal as any other verse. There is ample evidence that it uses a full range of mnemonic devices, the most common being anaphoral and parallelistic structures, both as syntactically restrictive as they are rhythmically binding. I do not want to suggest that measured verse and free verse represent opposing mnemonics. I would rather we considered them together, both being structured or shaped and thus formal, or at least formal in outward, easily described ways.
“Form is manifested most clearly in the apparatus of argument and image or, put another way, plot and figures of speech. This aspect of form is more difficult to discuss because it is less clear-cut; it happens also to be the area in which poems achieve their greatest individuality and where, as a result, they are more personal.” —From “Notes on the Craft of Poetry,” a chapter in Mark Strand’s The Weather of Words (Knopf, 2000)
Friday, October 30, 2009
“Pound discovered Eliot, through the agency of Conrad Aiken, when Eliot had written ‘Prufrock’ but little else, and seemed destined to become an American professor of philosophy. He argued Harriet Monroe into publishing ‘Prufrock’ in Poetry; he encouraged and cajoled Eliot into further poems; when Eliot’s work at the bank seemed to burden him, he set out to support Eliot by subscription (which embarrassed Eliot, who put a stop to it); when Eliot fumbled toward ‘The Waste Land,’ Pound’s solid and magnanimous critical intelligence cut that poem into shape.
“I could tell story after story illustrating the accuracy of Pound’s taste, and the generous energy with which he promoted the writers he admired. Nor was his taste limited, when it included D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, as well as Eliot and the Imagists; Ford Maddox Ford and Yeats among the elders; Ernest Hemingway, Louis Zukofsky, Basil Bunting among the youngers; most astonishing of all, it included Robert Frost, whose literary predilections might have made him The Enemy. (If Pound’s first task, as he says in a Canto, was to ‘break the pentameter,’ Frost wasn’t helping.) But Pound knew quality even when it turned up in a sonnet, and he leapt to promote Robert Frost—who disliked him and avoided him—without worrying about the politics of literary styles.
“In the history of literature, no writer equals Pound in accuracy of taste, or in energetic magnanimity.” —From Donald Hall’s Remembering Poets: Reminiscences and Opinions (Harper & Row, 1978)
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
“And then a man of forty or so, with a French accent, asked, ‘How do you achieve the presence of mind to initiate the writing of a poem?’ And something cracked open in me, and I finally stopped hoarding and told them my most useful secret. The only secret that has helped me consistently over all the years that I’ve written. I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you how. I ask a simple question. I ask myself: What was the very best moment of your day?’ The wonder of it was, I told them, that this one question could lift out from my life exactly what I will want to write a poem about. Something that I hadn’t known was important will leap up and hover there in front of me, saying I am—I am the best moment of the day. I noticed two people were writing down what I was saying. Often, I went on, it’s a moment when you’re waiting for someone, or you’re driving somewhere, or maybe you’re just walking diagonally across a parking lot and you’re admiring the oil stains and the dribbled tar patterns. One time it was when I was driving past a certain house that was screaming with sunlitness on its white clapboards, and then I plunged through tree shadows that splashed and splayed over the windshield. You, windshield shadows, you are the best moment of the day. ‘And that’s my secret, such as it is,’ I said.” —From Nicholson Baker’s novel, The Anthologist (Simon & Schuster, 2009)
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
“Writing is neither transport nor technique. My own owes everything to a few of our poets who have tried to write directly about what mattered to them, and yet to keep faith with their calling’s tricky, specialized, unpopular possibilities for good workmanship. When I finished Life Studies, I was left hanging on a question mark. I am still hanging there. I don’t know whether it is a death-rope or a life-line.” —From Robert Lowell’s acceptance speech in 1960 for the National Book Award in Poetry given to Life Studies (1959)
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
“To approach the practice of poetry as an acquiring of skills sets may provide the stability of a curriculum, but the source of inspiration is as much instability, even recklessness. Poets are excellent students of blizzards and salt and broken statuary, but they are always elsewhere for the test. Any intention in the writing of poetry beyond the most basic aim to make a poem, of engaging the materials, should not be realized. If the poet does not have the chutzpah to jeopardize habituated assumptions and practices, what is produced will be sleep without dream, a copy of a copy of a copy. The poem always intends otherwise. At every moment the poet must be ready to abandon any prior intention in welcome expectation of what the poem is beginning to signal. More than intending, the poet attends. Attends to the conspiracy of words as it reveals itself as a poem, to its murmurs of radiant content that may be encouraged to shout, to its muffled music there to be discovered and conducted. Revision is just that, and it begins before the first word is even written . . . .” —From Dean Young’s “Beyond Intention: Poetry and the Art of Recklessness,” Poets & Writers Magazine (Nov./Dec. 2009)