So – back from New York this evening, and just in time: muggy summer weather was just beginning to set in up there, and without the advantage of omnipresent frigid air-conditioning, like down here. Didn’t do a blessed literary thing while I was there, aside from reading a few books. Plath’s Ariel, for one, which, though I found about three-quarters of the poems in it quite familiar, I guess I’d never gotten around to reading straight through. Made me think a bit more of Plath (probably not enough to get my own copy of the book); she’s certainly ill-served by her anthology pieces (“Lady Lazarus,” “Daddy”), and so far as I can tell the first version of Ariel might just as well have been printed on a tombstone, for all the mileage the publisher wrings out of her suicide. But the poems are for the most part well crafted, and at times they have a kind of frightening intensity, though the crafting process seems to buff off most of the rough edges and present them as documents eminently suitable for re-reading and teaching.
The mailstack by the front door includes Michael Heller’s new book of essays, Uncertain Poetries: Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Poetics (Salt, 2005). This is one I’m anxious to get into. Mike wrote the first book-length study of the Objectivists, Conviction’s Net of Branches, a book that’s still well worth reading – a fine starting point for thinking about LZ, Niedecker, Oppen, and co., and much more than a starting point. And he’s written a lot of very good poems along the way (also in print from Salt, as Exigent Futures). I was a press reader for his memoir Living Root (I think that’s a secret I’m allowed to give away), and would recommend it to anyone handy as one of the best childhood and adolescence memoirs by any poet, anywhere.
Salt, John Kinsella’s mega-enterprise of promoting modernist and late modernist (or postmodernist, if you must) poetries, is perhaps the most lively publisher out there right now. And to think that I hadn’t even heard of them five years ago! I suppose I tend at times to divide the history of my own reading life into periods dominated by particular publishers. There were the years when I was reading all Black Sparrow, then the North Point years, then the Roof and The Figures years, and of course the Sun & Moon years. (And of course it all began with the New Directions years…) Not that one ever stops reading books put out by a given press, it’s just that at certain moments certain presses seem touchstones for what’s interesting and alive. Salt (along with the younger and still fledgling Flood Editions) is where it’s at for me right now: it’s hard to think of another press with as strong and heterogenous a list: Heller, John Matthias, Susan Schultz, Kamau Brathwaite, Lisa Jarnot, Drew Milne, Peter Middleton, John Wilkinson, and so forth. Go look at the list. (Now if I could just get them to take my manuscript…)
Off to bed.