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.

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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