An Author's Assemblage: Brief Notes and Notices

The accumulation of posts to this web page serves merely as an author’s assemblage of brief notes and notices: the collection of informal bits of information, quotations, and observations gathered as one way to display a personal reflection of perceptions on poetry, publication, and related selections of material drawn from my perspectives as a poet or professor of literature and creative writing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rosanna Warren on Characteristics of Pastoral Poetry

“In the first place, pastoral archetypally situates itself in an idealized and artificial landscape. Whether in the Greek Arcady often invoked by Virgil or Theocritus’s Sicily, the scenery is standard (tamarisks, beeches, willows, galingale, olive trees, musical brooks), and it is understood that nature here has obliged by providing an elemental poetic space. We shall find an analogous space in Strand’s moonlit fields.”

* * *

“The idealization of the landscape requires, as a corollary, a principle of exclusion, and this feature also characterizes Strand’s poems. Pastoral seems to provide shelter from the city, family, politics, illness, and the biological consequences of love. It is the locus amoenus whose very conventionality affords it blessed protection. But the power of pastoral paradoxically rests in its fragility, its evanescence. Its generic purity and artificiality direct our attention inevitably to all it has excluded. We are invited to study the ways in which pastoral poems willingly suffer contamination, and derive from it their most poignant strengths.” —From “Negative Idylls: Mark Strand and Contemporary Pastoral,” a chapter in Rosanna Warren’s Fables of the Self: Studies in Lyric Poetry (W.W. Norton, 2008)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Valparaiso University Press Release for SEEDED LIGHT

I am pleased to note the following press release distributed today by Valparaiso University’s office of public relations:

Professor’s poetry book called “scenic and intimate”

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

John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, and the Avant-Garde 50 Years Ago

“I remember that in the spring of 1949 there was a symposium on the arts at Harvard during which a number of new works were performed including Schönberg’s Trio for Strings. My friend the poet Frank O’Hara, who was majoring in music at Harvard, went to hear it and was violently attacked for doing so by one of the young instructors in the music department, who maintained that Schönberg was literally insane. Today the same instructor would no doubt attack O’Hara for going to hear anything so academic. To paraphrase Bernard Shaw, it is the fate of some artists, and perhaps the best ones, to pass from unacceptability to acceptance without an intervening period of appreciation.

“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

Louise Glück on Ambition and Power of the Implied in Art or Poetry

“What I share with my friends is ambition; what I dispute is its definition. I do not think that more information always makes a richer poem. I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen; for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied. There is no moment in which their first home is felt to be the museum. A few years ago, I saw a show of Holbein drawings; most astonishing were those still in progress. Parts were entirely finished. And parts were sketched, a fluent line indicating arm or hand or hair, but the forms were not filled in. Holbein had made notes to himself: this sleeve blue, hair, auburn. The terms were other—not the color in the world, but the color in paint or chalk. What these unfinished drawings generated was a vivid sense of Holbein at work, at the sitting; to see them was to have a sense of being back in time, back in the middle of something. Certain works of art become artifacts. By works of art, I mean works of any medium. And certain works of art do not. It seems to me that what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinished. All earthly experience is partial. Not simply because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do know. What is unfinished or has been destroyed participates in these mysteries. The problem is to make a whole that does not forfeit this power.” —From Louise Glück’s Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry (Ecco, 1994)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Stanley Kunitz on the Poet's Relationship to the Poem

“After a certain period, the poem seems to have no maker at all. Poems gather their own momentum and you feel they’re moving on their own. You are part of the world in which they are born and come to maturity, but they have an identity beyond the person to whom they are confiding because the poem doesn’t really belong to anyone, it belongs to a great tradition. The great tradition includes what I think of as the essential spirit of the poem, which belongs to centuries, and not to any single moment in time.

“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

Gregory Orr On Romanticism and Personal Lyric Poetry

“Inspired by Rousseau, the Romantics took lyric back from the Overculture. Returning it to its ancient and honorable identity as personal lyric, they used it according to its primordial function of ordering individual lives around emotionally charged experiences and restabilizing the self in a chaotic time.

“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

Walt Whitman: Multiplicity of Speech in American Language and Literature

“Language, Whitman argued, must express the multiplicity of habits, heritages, and races that make up the American nationality: ‘The immense diversity of race, temperament, character—the copious streams of humanity constantly flowing hither—must reappear in free, rich growth of speech. From no one ethnic source is America sprung: the electric reciprocations of many sticks conspired and conspire. This opulence of race-elements is in the theory of America.’ Into the purity of New England English, Whitman introduced the ethnic and idiomatic color of American speech. His desire to keep language and literature open and responsive to the multiethnic sources of American nationality corresponded to his political desire to keep the country open to the immigrants who, after 1850, began coming to America in ever-increasing numbers.” —From Whitman: The Political Poet by Betsy Erkkila (Oxford University Press, 1989)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Art's Inadequacy in the Face of Horror: Natasha Sajé

“September 11 provides ample opportunity for poets to diminish their ethical standing by generalizing. Again, like the experience of being in a foreign country and noting sights, some poets who observed the devastation (either in person or through media) felt that describing it, culminating in an insight about terror, pain, or destruction, justifies their poems. I have a file of poems replete with images of burning towers, people falling or jumping out of them, fiery planes, and smoke-and-paper-filled streets. Most of these poems are unsatisfying because they merely repeat clichés; moreover, I find many ethically repugnant because of the ease with which they presume to describe the pain of others. The poet is making art out of others’ suffering without any risk or consequence to himself or herself. As Susan Sontag says, ‘No “we” should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people’s pain’; ‘what matters precisely is who is killed and by whom.’ By glibly generalizing what should be an individual memory, these poems fail morally and aesthetically. ‘It is intolerable to have one’s own suffering twinned with anybody else’s,’ notes Sontag, a presumption that mars many 9-11 poems. Living in New York or being in the towers does not guarantee a good 9-11 poem, neither does having a relative who died, nor being Arab-American. Sontag writes, ‘a narrative seems likely to be more effective [in conveying pain] than an image. Partly it is a question of the length of time one is obliged to look, to feel.’ Sometimes the 9-11 poems fail because their treatment is too glancing: the poet hasn’t gone far enough to understand his or her true subject and reveal something new about it.

“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

David Kirby on the Wealth of Poetry

“Look, a poem either sends you a bill or writes you a check. You can use up too much of your intellectual and emotional capital, not to mention your good will, and come away feeling had. Or you can pat your billfold and say, ‘Hey, this baby just got a little fatter.’

“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

Robert Pinsky on the Influence of Creative Writing Programs

“Creative writing programs have made American poetry more regionally and socially diverse: once, most American poets came from a few east coast colleges. Imagine, Robert Creeley and John Ashbery and Adrienne Rich and Donald Hall, all at Harvard at the same time—we could add Kinnell and Merwin at Princeton, Ginsberg at Columbia. Now, the poets, my generation and younger, seem more likely to come from state universities, small colleges, various parts of the country. For years, a lot of them attended the MFA program at Iowa, Montana, Irvine, etc.—the social and geographical center is no longer local, no longer on a certain social model. Creative writing programs are part of a cultural change that includes the GI Bill, the rise of state universities, maybe the decline of English departments.” —From Michael Shea’s online interview with Robert Pinsky for The Southeast Review

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mark Strand on Measured Verse and Free Verse as Poetic Forms

“I believe that all poetry is formal in that it exists within limits, limits that are either inherited by tradition or limits that language itself imposes. These limits exist in turn within the limits of the individual poet’s conception of what is or is not a poem. For if the would-be poet has no idea what a poem is, then he has no standard for determining or qualifying his actions as a poet; ie, his poem. ‘Form,’ it should be remembered, is a word that has several meanings, some of which are near opposites. Form has to do with the structure or outward appearance of something, but it also has to do with its essence. In discussions of poetry, form is a powerful word for just that reason: structure and essence seem to come together, as do the disposition of words and their meanings.

“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

Donald Hall on Ezra Pound's Literary Taste and Magnanimity

“Pound was a catalyst to other poets. His presence made poets out of people who might otherwise never have survived into poetry. Greatly as I admire the poetry of William Carlos Williams, I am not sure he would have been a poet without Ezra Pound. Pound’s energy and conviction, at any rate, pulled H.D. and William Carlos Williams further into poetic commitment, when the three students knew each other at the University of Pennsylvania. Later, when Pound met older writers already committed to the art, he bullied editors into publishing them, he reviewed them, he invented public relations devices like ‘Imagism’ in order to attract attention to them, he raised money for them, and got them out of jail—and on one occasion sent one of them a pair of old brown shoes.

“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

Nicholson Baker's Anthologist on Writing Poetry

“The master class I gave had a rocky moment. I told them to copy poems out, and to start by saying what they actually wanted to say, and to read their drafts aloud in foreign accents, and to clean out their offices, and to make two supporting columns when they packed their books in a box, and I described trying to edit an anthology and how crazy it made me, and I heard myself sounding more or less like a professional poet. Which amazed me.

“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

Laurence Lieberman on John Berryman: "Our Shrewdest Clown"

“The daring imagination of John Berryman in Dream Songs, and to a lesser degree in the Sonnets, is constantly en route between the bizarre melodrama of a loser-in-love—with all that world’s particularity of detail—and the hallucinatory dream-world of his inner life. We keep traveling back and forth between these poles, and Berryman’s sensibility is so rich, his imagery so fresh and varied, he never repeats himself, even though he seems to be covering virtually the same ground again and again. The possibilities are endless, inexhaustible, always unpredictable. The circuit between dream and reality is a pliant, limber, ever-adaptable medium for expressing what may well be the most tantalizingly resourceful personality in contemporary literature. Many of the poems gravitate too near one pole or the other: those that are explicitly confessional, almost journalistic, tend to be outlandishly slapstick, corny, self-pitying, or indulgently freakish. Others sail away in dream-clouds of smoky obscurity. In fact, I find very few of the poems to be altogether successful. Nearly all are flawed in some lines; some are cluttered with glaring blemishes. So often, Berryman tries to mix irreconcilables: classical references, squibs in French or German, insolubly diverse metaphors . . . . When the technique fails, his phrasing suffers from redundancy, imprecision, word-thickness. When it succeeds—more often than not, surely—each element in the cluster of meanings seems like an irreducible fragment of the inner state of personality, and the successive words and phrases connect horizontally, if not vertically, in a chain which, though discontinuous at points, vibrates uniformly. The characteristic tone frequency of Berryman’s poetry is a superarticulate mental wail. The accumulative effect of the Dream Songs, as well as the Sonnets, is overwhelmingly powerful. One must read Berryman by the bookful. Then one is struck by the ceaselessly self-risking explorations of levels of pain and frustration in modern life, and, in addition, his marvelous capacity for laughing at himself whenever the poetry verges on studiously earnest self-torture. As in the art of Groucho Marx, the slapstick comedy veils a keen, self-piercing intelligence. Berryman is our shrewdest clown.” —From Laurence Liebermann’s Unassigned Frequencies: American Poetry in Review, 1964-1977 (University of Illinois Press, 1977)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Robert Lowell on Cooked Poetry and Raw Poetry

“Our modern American poetry has a snarl on its hands. Something earth-shaking was started about fifty years ago by the generation of Eliot, Frost, and William Carlos Williams. We have had a run of poetry as inspired, and perhaps as important and sadly brief as that of Baudelaire and his successors, or that of the dying Roman Republic and early Empire. Two poetries are now competing, a cooked and a raw. The cooked, marvelously expert, often seems laboriously concocted to be tasted and digested by a graduate seminar. The raw, huge blood-dripping gobbets of unseasoned experience are dished up for midnight listeners. There is a poetry that can only be studied, and a poetry that can only be declaimed, a poetry of pedantry, and a poetry of scandal. I exaggerate, of course. Randall Jarrell has said that the modern world has destroyed the intelligent poet’s audience and given him students. James Baldwin has said that many of the beat writers are as inarticulate as our statesmen.

“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

Randall Jarrell on Qualities of a Critic

“Everybody understands that poems and stories are written by memory and desire, love and hatred, daydreams and nightmares—by a being, not a brain. But they are read just so, judged just so; and some great lack in human qualities is as fatal to the critic as it is to the novelist. Someone asked Eliot about critical method, and he replied: ‘The only method is to be very intelligent.’ And this is of course only a beginning: there have been many very intelligent people, but few good critics—far fewer than there have been good artists, as any history of the arts will tell you. ‘Principles’ or ‘standards’ of excellence are either specifically harmful or generally useless; the critic has nothing to go by except his experience as a human being and a reader, and is the personification of empiricism. A Greek geometer said that there is no royal road to geometry—there is no royal, or systematic, or impersonal, or rational, or safe, or sure road to criticism. Most people understand that a poet is a good poet because he does well some of the time; this is true of critics—if we are critics we can see this right away for everybody except ourselves, and everybody except ourselves can see it right away about us.” —From “The Age of Criticism” in Poetry and the Age by Randall Jarrell (Vintage, 1959)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dean Young on Intention in Writing Poetry

“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)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

William Logan on Wallace Stevens

Much of Stevens is tedious, refractory, pompous, or ponderous; even his masterpieces are full of bombast and puffery. As he got older, he fell into blank-verse philosophizing no less like boilerplate than the reams of legal documents that presumably issued from his office. He’s a poet whose words you want to get behind: the language is as much an obstacle as a pleasure. But, when you parse those phrases, when you go to the Palaz of Hoon and come back again, you’re often a little disappointed. The philosophy of his poems, the grand ones as well as the pleasingly trivial, are those of a freshman class in ontology, epistemology, or aesthetics. Stevens had a high opinion of his philosophical gifts—he was prickly and childish when a late lecture was rejected by the Review of Metaphysics. Eliot, who was a trained philosopher and possessed the subtlest mind among the moderns—perhaps the subtlest mind in all American poetry, if you exclude Melville—knew enough to leave the philosophy out, or to bury it deeply.

The best poems in Stevens don’t require the philosophy (if there’s an exception, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” proves that philosophy is rarely more honored in the observance than in the breach), and the worst are deformed by it. The long poems, those most drawn to Stevens’s metaphysical itch, those that feel it necessary to justify their length in terms of abstractions rendered and sustained (but rarely blooded), have made critics the most diagnostic. The critical response to Stevens has itself so often been abstract, so full of critic’s legalese, it has made him more a great cloud of being than a man who at times played with words. —From “The Sovereign Ghost of Wallace Stevens” by William Logan in The New Criterion (October, 2009)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Robert Penn Warren on the Purpose of a Poem

“I think a poem is a way of asking a question rather than answering one. You’re trying to find out what’s important to think about. You’re trying to ask questions about yourself, about what your values really are. It is more important to ask the questions vitally than it is to give an overall answer. If you know the answer, you are a very lucky or a very stupid man. In any case, a poem is not a story or an essay. It ultimately deals with something not workable otherwise.” —From an interview of Robert Penn Warren by Richard Jackson in Acts of Mind: Conversations with Contemporary Poets (University of Alabama Press, 1983)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Larry Levis on Grief and the Image

“Although it must be living itself that leads anyone to conditions of grief, it may be a poet’s obsession with the Image that leads to grieving. But how so? Why? If an image is, as Pound said, ‘an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time,’ it is exactly that ‘instant of time’ which passes; even though an image may reify itself many times in a reader’s experience, it will pass again as well. The image draws on, comes out of, the ‘world of the senses’ and, therefore, originates in a world that passes, that is passing, every moment. Could it be, then, that every image, as image, has this quality of poignancy and vulnerability since it occurs, and occurs so wholeheartedly, in time?” —From “Some Notes on Grief and the Image,” a chapter in Larry Levis’s The Gazer Within (University of Michigan Press, 2001)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

W.H. Auden on Facts and Beliefs in Poetry

“What makes it difficult for a poet not to tell lies is that, in poetry, all facts and all beliefs cease to be true or false and become interesting possibilities. The reader does not have to share the beliefs expressed in a poem in order to enjoy it. Knowing this, a poet is constantly tempted to make use of an idea or a belief, not because he believes it to be true, but because he sees it has interesting poetic possibilities. It may not, perhaps, be absolutely necessary that he believe it, but it is certainly necessary that his emotions be deeply involved, and this they can never be unless, as a man, he takes it more seriously than as a mere poetic convenience.” From “Writing” in W.H. Auden’s The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays (Random House, 1962)

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Major Achievement" in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens

“There is an abstract feature to much of Stevens’s poetry that distinguishes it from that of most other poets. Modern lyric poets, for example, usually write about more tangible topics, often using the first-person singular. One thinks of the speaker contrasting his neighbor’s view of walls with his own in Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Wall,’ or the persona’s sudden reversal of perspective toward a rather ugly, lice-infested fish in Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘The Fish,’ or even the paralyzing insecurity of T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, dreading a social encounter (‘In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo’). Each of these poems has a well-defined speaker and a clear setting. Each invites the reader to identify with or relate to the principal human figure in the poem.

“By contrast, Stevens’s poems frequently seem bizarre, theoretical, and detached. What is one to make of lines such as ‘The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream’; or ‘A. A violent order is disorder; and / B. A great disorder is an order’; or ‘There it was, word for word, / The poem that took the place of a mountain’? In addition, Stevens often employs strange characters, such as the mountain-minded Hoon, Professor Eucalyptus, and Canon Aspirin. He seldom uses the first-person form in his poetry, and when he does, it is likely to be in the plural form of ‘we.’ Although he occasionally chooses the second-person ‘you,’ he usually resorts to an anonymous third-person ‘he’ or ‘she,’ or to the even more remote ‘one.’

“How then do we explain Stevens’s subject and elucidate his greatness as a poet? The answer is simple: His major achievement is the expression of the self in all its amplitude and, in fact, teasingly beyond it. In this respect, he writes in the grand tradition of romantic poetry. Ironically his strategies of distancing—his use of odd characters, his opening philosophical gambits, his impersonal voice—serve to objectify and make authentic deeply personal sources of feeling and thought. To borrow Eliot’s phrase, Stevens’s poems become objective correlatives of various states within the reader, not only of heart and mind but also of being.” —From the “Introduction” to Wallace Stevens: Selected Poems (Knopf, 2009), edited by John N. Serio

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Donald Hall on "The Poetry Reading"

“The poet reads, or croons, or sings; flaps arms, dances, weeps, tells jokes; solemn or hilarious, frightened or confident or both; making the wholly private act of writing the poem into the wholly public act of reading or performing the poem, with the energy created by this conflict, this tension of opposites.

“Or sometimes—I forgot to say—the poet is boring, fatuous, stupid, obscene, drunk, paranoiac, incompetent, or inaudible.

“But when the poet reads well, the gain for poetry is considerable. For the poet, there is the sense that people are really there. The audience responds more tangibly than a letter or a book review. Yeats writes somewhere about feeling discouraged, but finding when he read in a village a young man who carried a battered and loved copy of Yeats’s poems with him.

“More important, the act of reading is the poet’s act of truly publishing his poem—as the syllables waver on the air from poet to listener, and the faces change as the syllables reach them: as the faces laugh and weep, change color, or look away; as eyes flash up, or eyes drop.

“And when we hear a poet read, whom we love, how touched and moved we are, to hear the voice itself pronounce the words we already know.” —From “The Poetry Reading” in Donald Hall’s Goatfoot Milktongue Twinbird: Interviews, Essays, and Notes on Poetry 1970-1976 (University of Michigan Press, 1978)

[View Donald Hall reading his poetry at “One Poet’s Notes”]

Friday, September 18, 2009

James Longenbach on the Resistance to Poetry

“Poets have been on the defensive at least since the time of Plato, and rightly so, since philosophers and literary critics have distrusted poetry. But poems do not necessarily ask to be trusted. Their language revels in duplicity and disjunction, making it difficult for us to assume that any particular poetic gesture is inevitably responsible or irresponsible to the culture that gives the language meaning: a poem’s obfuscation of the established terms of accountability might be the poem’s most accountable act—or it might not. Distrust of poetry (its potential for inconsequence, its pretension to consequence) is the stuff of poetry. And the problem with many defenses of poetry is the refusal to recognize that the enemy lies within.” —From The Resistance to Poetry (University of Chicago Press, 2004) by James Longenbach

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

T.S. Eliot on Language and the Social Function of Poetry

“We may say that the duty of the poet, as poet, is only indirectly to his people: his direct duty is to his language, first to preserve, and second to extend and improve. In expressing what other people feel he is also changing the feeling by making it more conscious; he is making people more aware of what they feel already, and therefore teaching them something about themselves. But he is not merely a more conscious person than the others; he is also individually different from other people, and from other poets too, and can make his readers share consciously in new feelings which they had not experienced before. That is the difference between the writer who is merely eccentric or mad and the genuine poet. The former may have feelings which are unique but which cannot be shared, and are therefore useless; the latter discovers new variations of sensibility which can be appropriated by others. And in expressing them he is developing and enriching the language which he speaks.” From T.S. Eliot’s essay, “The Social Function of Poetry,” in his collection of literary criticism, On Poetry and Poets (Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1957)

Monday, September 14, 2009

On Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight"

“What intrigued and moved me about the poem was its curious suggestion that gloom and loneliness might actually cultivate a sort of luminous affection. Forlorn most of his life, Coleridge was acutely aware of the bliss of human connection. Had he led a life free of suffering he might have never realized the wondrous fullness that comes during a father’s watch over his child’s midnight sleep.

“To be hollow with longing is to be suffused with love. The thirsty person best knows water. Wounded hearts realize the essence of healing.

“These are Coleridge’s exhilarating and strangely hopeful conclusions. They are optimistic because they envision a world in which suffering, inevitable and pervasive as gravity, is not meaningless but rather a source of wisdom. Even in the darkest hell, there persists a consoling light, a light that pulsates all the more forcibly against its murky background.” —From “A Light in Winter,” a New York Times article (9/13/09) by Eric G. Wilson

Thursday, September 10, 2009

C.K. Williams: Admiration of Form in Poetry

“In poetry, formal necessities occur in terms of the movement of the language in its relation to more or less limiting metrical necessities, and then in larger structures of line and stanza, and the various formal organizations such as sonnet, sestina, and the broader conventions, such as elegy or pastoral. The important thing about form, though, is its artificiality. In English poetry, the historically dominant iambic foot is closely related to the actual movement of the voice in our language between stressed and unstressed syllables, but the regularity of the iambic line, and the five beats of the pentameter, for instance, are purely conventional. In regular, or ‘free’ verse, where the cadences are not regular, and not counted, it is what Galway Kinnell has called the ‘rhythmic surge’ that defines and controls the movement of language across its grid of artifice; the line in free verse becomes a much more defining factor of formal organization than in more arithmetical verse-traditions.” —From “Admiration of Form” by C.K. Williams in his book, Poetry and Consciousness (University of Michigan Press, 1998)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reginald Gibbons: Forms of Thought in Poetry and Fiction

“The epigram, the elegy, the sonnet, the epic, the isolated perception of the concrete world; the syllabic line, the stanza, the list; an invocation of the Muse or of God, the use of appropriated texts or subjects from historical sources, intertwined narratives, the third-person omniscient point of view, diction as if of someone speaking—all of these and many more artistic devices, amount to forms of thought. Writers call it ‘craft,’ either with a strong sense of studying it the way one studies music, or looking down on it, with the rationale that learning such craft can never guarantee that anyone will write a memorable, or even a good, book. Craft is not what writing is really about, they say. They are right and they are wrong. Those who really do learn such forms of thought often find they have more to say than they had dreamed of, now that they have learned ways of forming thoughts and feelings—or ways that invite thoughts and feelings to form.” —From “Forms of Thought,” a Northwestern University Center for the Writing Arts blog post by Reginald Gibbons

Friday, September 4, 2009

Edward Hirsch on the Sublime in American Poetry

“Ever since Whitman, our poets have been magnetized to the sphere of the American sublime, the engulfing space that Emerson delineates as ‘I and the Abyss,’ the intractable sea that Wallace Stevens confronts in ‘The Idea of Order at Key West,’ which contains a direct echo of Whitman’s poem (‘Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon, / The maker’s rage to order words of the sea.’). This strip of land at the boundary of the fathomless sea is comparable to the liminal space that Robert Frost repeatedly encounters at the edge of the dark wood, the majestic space where, as Emily Dickinson says memorably, ‘The Soul should stand in Awe’ (#683). The feeling of awe bears traces of a holiness galvanized and deepened by the mysterious presence of death. ‘No man saw awe,’ Dickinson also declares in a late poem (#1733). Awe is fateful and sublime, and in American art, as Barnett Newman put it in a 1948 essay, ‘The Sublime Is Now.’ It is a space for schooling the spirit. It is America.” —From “The Sublime Is Now,” an essay in Edward Hirsch’s The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (Harcourt, 2002)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Robert Hass on the Haunting Power of Images

“Images haunt. There is a whole mythology built on this fact: Cezanne painting till his eyes bled, Wordsworth wandering the Lake Country hills in an impassioned daze. Blake describes it very well, and so did the colleague of Tu Fu who said to him, ‘It is like being alive twice.’ Images are not quite ideas, they are stiller than that, with less implication outside themselves. And they are not myth, they do not have that explanatory power; they are nearer to pure story. Nor are they always metaphors; they do not say this is that, they say this is. In the nineteenth century one would have said that what compelled us about them was a sense of the eternal. And it is something like that, some feeling in the arrest of the image that what perishes and what lasts forever have been brought into conjunction, and accompanying that sensation is a feeling of release from the self. Antonio Machado wrote, ‘Hoy es siempre todavía.’ Yet today is always. And Czeslaw Milosz, ‘Tylko trwa wieczna chwila.’ Only the moment is eternal.” —From “Images,” an essay in Twentieth Century Pleasures (Ecco, 1984) by Robert Hass

[To read more by Robert Hass about “Images,” visitors are encouraged to also view a post at “One Poet’s Notes”: “Robert Hass: Imagination and the Image,” which includes a video of Hass speaking.]

Monday, August 31, 2009

New Poem: "Revisiting the Farm: Cass County, Indiana"

I invite visitors to read one of my new poems, “Revisiting the Farm: Cass County, Indiana,” which appears in the latest issue of Tipton Poetry Journal (Issue Number 14) and has just become available in the journal’s online version.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"An Elegy for Herself": William Logan Reviews Louise Glück

“Glück remains our great poet of annihilation and disgust, our demigoddess of depression. At her discomforting best, she reminds me of no poet more than Rilke, who was also a case of nerves and who also lived close to the old myths. Though her comments about him have been hedged, of all the Americans now writing Glück is the closest to being his secret mythographer. Her silences fall at times like moral resistance, and the most striking lines of her chatter are as haunting as an elegy for herself.”—From “Nothing Remains of Love,” William Logan’s review of A Village Life by Louise Glück in The New York Times Book Review

Friday, August 28, 2009

Randall Jarrell Describes Modern Poetry

“Very interesting language, a great emphasis on connotation, ‘texture’: extreme intensity, forced emotion—violence; a good deal of obscurity; emphasis on sensation, perceptual nuances; emphasis on details, on the part rather than the whole; experimental or novel qualities of some sort; a tendency toward external formlessness . . . : an extremely personal style—refine your singularities; lack of restraint—all tendencies are forced to their limits; there is a good deal of emphasis on the unconscious, dream structure, the thoroughly subjective; the poet’s attitudes are usually anti-scientific, anti-common-sense, anti-public—he is, essentially, removed; poetry is primarily lyric, intensive—the few long poems are aggregations of lyric details; poems usually have, not a logical, but the more or less associational structure of dramatic monologue.” —From “A Note on Poetry” (1946) by Randall Jarrell

Thursday, August 27, 2009

William Matthews Identifies with Lester Young

“I have certain dopey identifications with Lester Young, it’s true. There’s a combination in Young of strong emotion, not so much concealed as released by diffidence, irony, and sweetness of tone, that doesn’t sound far off from certain textures in my poems, unless my ear is off.

“I’m a little more angular and boppy, being a child of a later age. But a sense of fellow feeling is strong. Young went into hiding more than Mingus’s temperament would have permitted him. Possibly Mingus is a better tutelary figure for a younger writer, who needs the courage of his brashness and anger. Maybe, then Young would serve a writer in his later years, when all the important confrontations are internal.” —From Sascha Feinstein’s interview of William Matthews in The Poetry Blues: Essays and Interviews (University of Michigan Press, 2001), edited by Sebastian Matthews and Stanley Plumly

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reading List of Twentieth Century American Poetry

As I was preparing for the start of the fall term, which begins with my Twentieth Century American Poetry class this afternoon, I considered what works to include in the syllabus this semester. Admittedly, I always feel limited in the amount of coverage possible during the number of class periods between now and December. Indeed, I am frequently frustrated by the need to omit some poets while shaping the syllabus for about fourteen weeks of meetings. Therefore, I decided to create an additional tool for my students, an extended reading list of 100 twentieth century American poets that includes many who will not fit into the class discussions.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Marianne Moore's Moment in Marketing

As the government-subsidized “Cash for Clunkers” promotion wound down last night and was extended again into today, I recalled a recent commentary, “Poetry in Motion,” in the New York Times by Danny Heitman, who reminded readers how, in addition to Ford Motors hiring an advertising agency to come up with recommendations, Marianne Moore was once informally asked to suggest possible names for marketing a new model of Ford automobile. Ultimately, neither the agency’s numerous selections nor Moore’s poetic but perhaps impractical inventions worked for the corporate executives, and they eventually made their own choice of name for what would become an infamous car because of its failure in sales. They called it “the Edsel” after the past company president and son of founder Henry Ford.

An excerpt from Heitman’s article about Marianne Moore’s imaginative contributions to the selection process:

“Moore embraced the assignment with relish, not surprising for a poet who enjoyed—and whose writing was frequently inspired by—popular culture, whether it be baseball, boxing or bric-a-brac. The correspondence became a cultural fixture of its own after it was published in The New Yorker two years later.

“Throughout the fall and winter of 1955, Moore’s steady stream of suggestions arrived at Ford: ‘the Ford Silver Sword,’ ‘Intelligent Bullet,’ ‘the Ford Fabergé,’ ‘Mongoose Civique,’ ‘Anticipator,’ ‘Pastelogram,’ ‘Astranaut’ and, the highest flight of fancy, ‘Utopian Turtletop.’”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Billy Collins on Transparency and Disorientation in Poetry

"’Transparency’ has become a popular word recently in all sorts of areas, usually in the sense of revealing secrets. A good poem, no matter how plain the language, will always have a little secret it is not telling us; and that, it could be said, is what makes poetry different from prose. What both genres have in common is diction and syntax. I tend to use a simple diction (few trips to the dictionary) and straightforward syntax (I write in sentences). But as the poem moves ahead, I am trying to nudge it into somewhat mysterious or at least hypothetical territory. The experience of reading the poem should contain a feeling of shifting (or being shifted) from the familiar to the strange, from coziness to disorientation. To reread the poem would be to re-experience that shift. In just about every poem of mine, we know exactly where we are in the opening lines, but I would argue that explaining where we are at the end would present more of a challenge.”—From an interview of Billy Collins at Littoral, the journal of the Key West Literary Seminar

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Richard Poirier: 1925-2009

Richard Poirier, one of the nation’s best and most interesting literary critics died this past week at the age of 83. In the New York Times’ “Week in Review,” Alexander Star has written an appreciation, “Richard Poirier: A Man of Good Reading.” An excerpt from the article:

“Mr. Poirier steadfastly combined cultural authority and idiosyncrasy. He relished being a man apart. Writing in Partisan Review, the ‘little magazine’ that defined highbrow culture for generations of New York intellectuals, Mr. Poirier caused a minor scandal when he compared the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ album to the work of Alexander Pope. No less a figure than Saul Bellow later complained that Mr. Poirier had made the magazine ‘look like a butcher’s showcase, shining with pink hairless pigginess, and adorned with figures of hand-carved suet which represent the very latest in art, literature and politics.’

“As an English professor, too, Mr. Poirier was often at odds with his colleagues, whom he mockingly compared to bureaucrats: ‘Criticism in the spirit of the F.D.A. is intended to reduce your consumption of certain of the golden oldies, to reveal consumer fraud in books that for these many years have had a reputation for supplying hard-to-get nutrients.’ In the ‘canon wars’ that raged on campuses and beyond in the 1980s—with multiculturalists feuding with traditionalists—Mr. Poirier faulted both sides. He objected to the belief that literature preserved the highest values of our civilization, but also to the opposed idea that it was deeply complicit with the worst.”

[The College Hill Review editor’s blog also presents a number of web links to Richard Poirier’s work or related items.]

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Helen Vendler on the Conscience of Wallace Stevens

An excerpt from Helen Vendler’s New York Times commentary on the new publication of Wallace Stevens’s Selected Poems, edited by John N. Serio and released this week by Knopf: “Stevens’s poetry oscillates, throughout his life, between verbal ebullience and New England spareness, between the high rhetoric of England (and of religion) and the ‘plain sense of things’ that he sometimes felt to be more American (and more faithful to reality). He would swear off one, then swear off the other, but each was a part of his sensibility. It became a matter of conscience to him to be European and American, to relish the sensual world and yet be true to its desolations.

“Stevens’s conscience made him confront the chief issues of his era: the waning of religion, the indifferent nature of the physical universe, the theories of Marxism and socialist realism, the effects of the Depression, the uncertainties of philosophical knowledge, and the possibility of a profound American culture, present and future. Others treated those issues, but very few of them possessed Stevens’s intuitive sense of both the intimate and the sublime, articulated in verse of unprecedented invention, phrased in a marked style we now call ‘Stevensian’ (as we would say ‘Keatsian’ or ‘Yeatsian’). In the end, he arrived at a firm sense of a universe dignified by human endeavor but surrounded always—as in the magnificent sequence ‘The Auroras of Autumn’—by the ‘innocent’ creations and destructions within the universe of which he is part.”

In addition, readers are invited to visit a related post of mine, "Wallace Stevens and His Influence," written last year over at "One Poet's Notes."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Jazz Poetry as a Literary Genre

In today’s post over at “One Poet’s Notes” I commented upon Count Basie and provided a poem referencing Basie by Yusef Komunyakaa, an example of “jazz poetry,” a type of poem I have often written as well. The Academy of American Poets web site outlines such endeavors: “Jazz poetry is a literary genre defined as poetry necessarily informed by jazz music—that is, poetry in which the poet responds to and writes about jazz. Jazz poetry, like the music itself, encompasses a variety of forms, rhythms, and sounds. Beginning with the birth of blues and jazz at the beginning of the twentieth century, jazz poetry can be seen as a thread that runs through the Harlem Renaissance, the Beat movement, and the Black Arts Movement—and it is still vibrant today. From early blues to free jazz to experimental music, jazz poets use their appreciation for the music as poetic inspiration. Not only the music but the artists make frequent appearances in jazz poetry: Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Bessie Smith, and Lester Young are just some of the muses for jazz poetry.” Readers can find more details about the connections between jazz and poetry, as well as various examples of poetic works inspired by the music at “A Brief Guide to Jazz Poetry.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Comments on Relationship Between Poetry and Place

In a post earlier today at “One Poet’s Notes” about lines of poetry composed by John Ashbery for display upon the span of a bridge in Minneapolis, I referenced a piece I had written last year about the relationship frequently seen between poetry and place. That article began with the following paragraph: “I have always regarded a sense of place as an essential element in much of my writing. Within descriptive passages I usually find my lines of lyricism and the language tools used to subtly allude to various issues or to learn further about a few of my own reemerging concerns. Like many before me, I enjoy employing aspects of landscape for symbolic or connotative purposes. Therefore, when I recently was asked to submit a group of poems and a prose commentary to Segue for that literary journal’s current issue, I chose to focus upon examples from my new work that illustrate my emphasis on place as subject matter or that use setting to some extent in order to promote the poem’s main topic. As I observe in the following excerpt from my essay, ‘Landscape and Lyricism,’ I believe a combination of landscape and literary techniques in lyrical poetry frequently provides opportunities for poets and usually proves to be a pair of compelling complementary components in contemporary poems . . . .” I invite readers to examine the full post, “Poetry and Place: ‘Landscape and Lyricism,’” for the rest of my writing on this matter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Yesterday, news items detailed the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing for Reader’s Digest, a periodical that has been part of Americana for the past 87 years. At its height of popularity, the magazine once boasted a circulation of nearly 18 million. Although every day one can come across similar media reports concerning the difficulties of print publishing during the Internet age, I am heartened by evidence that a number of wonderful little magazines or regional literary journals continue to publish and provide readers with delightful writing. Tipton Poetry Journal, a quarterly journal originating in rural Indiana, provides an excellent example of such a fine print publication.

The Summer 2009 issue of Tipton Poetry Journal, Number 14, has just been released, and it can be ordered at the publication’s web page for the small price of $5.00 ($16.00 for a years subscription). I am pleased to note that one of my new poems, “Revisiting the Farm: Cass County, Indiana,” is among more than forty works included in this latest issue by various poets, including David Shumate, Kristine Ong Muslim, Susan Yount, William Aarnes, Norbert Krapf, Doug Ramspeck, Fredrick Zydek, and a number of others. Congratulations to editor Barry Harris on his continuation with Tipton Poetry Journal in the esteemed tradition of print literary magazines.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nat Hentoff: Billie Holiday's Lyricism

Nat Hentoff describes the importance of rhythm and phrasing for lyricism: “Billie Holiday, toward the end of her life, tired, playing a gig where the money was bad, the audience uncertain. Her voice hoarse and cracked, she starts to speak more than sing the verse to a song. But her beat is so pulsatingly supple, her phrasing so evocatively hornlike, that her speech is music, and the audience is caught in her time.”—From Jazz Is (Limelight Editions, 1976)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Donald Hall: Listening to Poetry and Reading It on the Page

“When you hear poets read their poems loud, you needn’t translate these sounds into the visual shape of the poem on the page; imagination of visual shape is not part of listening, and it even distracts us—as when people try to follow a reading with an open book. On the other hand, when we read poetry in solitude and silence, the visual shape on the page helps us hear the poem. Or it should.”—From “Working Journal” in Death to the Death of Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 1994)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"To Recover the Poet": Larry Levis

Since I cited Larry Levis in the previous post, I invite readers to examine my extended essay on Levis that appeared in A Condition of the Spirit: The Life & Work of Larry Levis, edited by Christopher Buckley and Alexander Long and published by Eastern Washington University Press. The essay, “To Recover the Poet: Larry Levis’s Elegy, The Selected Levis, and The Gazer Within,” is also available online in the Fall 2004 issue (Vol. 3, No. 2) of Blackbird. A different version appeared earlier in the Fall/Winter 2001-2002 issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review, Vol. III, No. 1.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Larry Levis: The Gazer Within

“To really look inquiringly inward as Sidney advises or as the most well-intentioned guru advises is to encounter, at least on some very honest days, my own space; it is to discover how empty I am, how much an onlooker and a gazer I have to be in order to write poems. And, if I am lucky, it is to find out how I can be filled enough by what is not me to use it, to have a subject, and, consequently, to find myself as a poet.”—From “Some Notes on the Gazer Within” in The Gazer Within (University of Michigan Press, 2001)


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