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)
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
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
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
“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
“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
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
“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
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Thursday, September 3, 2009
[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
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
“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
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
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
Sunday, August 23, 2009
“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
“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
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
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 year’s 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.