Monday, May 30, 2005

Charles Olson in Florida

Ron is right, responding to my tossed-off comment week before last – Olson was in Key West for the first months of 1945, hanging around with a bunch of other Democratic Party flacks. (Tho he was not there when he learned of FDR's death, as I've heard somewhere or other.) And I'm wrong, it appears – and to my delight: I learned at lunch the other day that I'm by no means the only Palm Beach County resident who's read Olson. The formidable Vernon Frazer, who's been trying the life of a snowbird for a year or two, will be moving down to this neck of the woods permanently come this fall, bringing with him his lively mixture of spontaneous bop prosody, dense puns and punning density, and visual poetry. Hopefully we can get the air moving a bit.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Reality Check

It's always good to hear the voice of reason, especially after the endless venting of bile that was the 2004 Republican presidential campaign. Those of us who were struck, wearied, and finally deadened by the homophobic rhetoric of the American right, might be amused by Richard Davenport-Hines's review, in the 20 May Times Literary Supplement, of two books on same-sex marriage. (I know Davenport-Hines only from his biography of Auden, but the man clearly can write.)

Commenting on Michael Mello's Legalizing Gay Marriage (Temple UP), Davenport-Hines writes of the "entrenched animus against homosexuality that has characterized US state legislation": "Horrible examples of this prejudice, taken from the ranting of neo-con commentators and gleaned from the local newspapers of Vermont, bespatter every chapter. The cumulative effect of this outpouring of hatred – often supposedly legitimated by primitive interpretations of the Christian faith – is battering for the reader. Many Europeans will feel sullied by reading these foul ebullitions, will be shocked by their violence, and dismayed by the mass-psychology and ethical backwardness of a country where such violent, vehement and vindictive language is an acceptable part of daily political discourse."

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Drones and Cloids

Teddy Adorno, would thou wert alive at this hour! – to see last week’s lines of pale and spotty thirty-somethings emerging from their parents’ basements to stand in midnight movie lines; to hear the familiar sub-Shostakovich music blared into one’s ears from loudspeakers around the Muvico parking lot; to squirm through a two-and-a-half hour film in which the single most human gesture is the intermittent smoker’s cough of a nine-foot tall assemblage of spare Karmann Ghia parts. (That’s “General Grievous,” by the way – whose name is remarkably appropriate to the entire experience of the movie.) Yes, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: my reactions to Revenge of the Sith.

Part of me just wants to quote the whole “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” chapter of Dialectic of Enlightenment, with some sharp remarks from the “Regression of Listening” essay thrown in. And I’ll admit to my experience of the film being colored by reading last week’s review in The New Yorker; they gave the movie to the always waspish Anthony Lane, who’s positively acid: “The general opinion of ‘Revenge of the Sith’ seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, ‘The Phantom Menace’ and ‘Attack of the Clones.’ True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion.” On Yoda: “Deepest mind in the galaxy, apparently, and you still express yourself like a day-tripper with a dog-eared phrase book. ‘I hope right you are.’ Break me a fucking give.”

A friend of mine with far more knowledge of and investment in the cinema opined earlier this week that he’d enjoyed the movie – “It’s just a comic book.” True enough, I suppose, but only if you’re using early-sixties Superman comics as your generic model; the comic books moved into far more complex and psychologically interesting territory sometime back in the 1980s. To call these characters “pasteboard” is too generous; “onionskin” is more like it. The bad guys are bad all the way, and the good guys are stalwart and unchanging journeymen in the service of order and tradition and representative government (though the whole Jedi order is one of the most noxiously aristocratic outfits in recent memory). To make sure we know who’s who, there’s the ever-present color-coding – white and earth tones for our heroes, black for the servants of evil; I think one of the main reason Anakin Skywalker goes over to the dark side is the influence of his black wardrobe, eminently suitable for nightclubbing in the Village. Shprockets, anyone?

Lucas is constrained by the necessity of tying together his “saga” at the end, and probably the most gratifying scenes in Revenge of the Sith – certainly for those folks who’ve worn out multiple VHS copies of the original trilogy – are the final moments in which the visuals of the first Star Wars are evoked: Darth Vader, in full Rolls Royce grillwork, rising from the surgery bed like Frankenstein’s monster, the desert landscape of Tatooine, where Ewan McGregor drops off the infant Luke with his relatives and goes into eremite isolation. (McGregor, a fine actor whom many of us will remember shoving opium suppositories up his ass in Trainspotting, is here reduced, as in the two previous films, to doing a pretty good Alec Guinness imitation. I’d rather lick a bottle of Guinness in front of me than have an Alec Guinness frontal lobotomy… or something like that.)

But we’re told you can’t judge this film by its dialogue (more wooden than a hotelfull of retirees at a Viagra convention), its psychological depth (my cat’s hacked up deeper pools than this), or its acting (and that may be one of the wonders of the movie, that Lucas has coached so many dreadful performances out of so many pretty good actors): instead, we need to take it on the basis of its visuals. They are indeed stunning. Perhaps too stunning – I will admit to being lamentably short-sighted without my glasses, but my vision’s somewhat better than 20/20 with ‘em, and frankly both of my eyes were aching by the end of this thing. In short, there’s too much happening, all the time. Personal spaceships buzz through the air in the cityscapes like gnats on a warm summer’s evening, astonishingly never hitting on another. The battles are nonstop widescreen chaos. It’s all too lush, too lively, like being condemned to sit in a traffic island on Broadway and read Euphues, Swinburne, and the collected works of C. K. Williams. At least the Florida traffic, when we emerged from the chilly matinee into the baking sun, seemed rather tame by comparison.

(Afterwards, taking the girls to Toys “R” Us to look at bicycles, I was reminded of the real motor behind the Star Wars phenomenon: the selling of action figures. When the first movie came out, I had a friend who rapidly collected the entire line, maybe some ten or fifteen different figures; he had money left over to buy a whole squad of stormtroopers. I imagine no-one can collect all the figures now. Not merely is every character, speaking or not, represented [anybody know the name of the nice-looking blue Jedi knight who gets shot in the back? – well, she’s there], but the major figures seem to be represented in every conceivable combination of costumes and accessories. You want Anakin in brown? You want him in black, with that droid arm of his? You want him dismembered and fried? The great advantage of the action figures, to my thinking, is that they’re somewhat more alive than their large avatars on the screen – less plastic, as it were.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Hugh Seidman: Somebody Stand Up and Sing

The post brings something to stand up and sing about: Hugh Seidman's latest collection, Somebody Stand Up and Sing (New Issues, 2005). I will admit that my initial interest in Seidman stemmed from the fact that he was probably the only one of Louis Zukofsky's students at Brooklyn Polytech who went on to become a poet (and he's written wonderfully of the experience of knowing LZ as teacher). But I've become a great admirer of Seidman's writing over the past few years. By no means a prolific poet: his first book, Collecting Evidence, came out in the Yale Younger Poets series in 1970, and has been followed by only four others (including a selected) up to this point. But every one of those books is marked by an keen eye for detail and narrative and an extraordinary ear.

To my own ear, the poems of Somebody Stand Up and Sing are barer and more minimal than Seidman's earlier work. These are clean poems, strong and unadorned, dispensing with any unnecessary scaffolding of detail or connective. The longish poems towards the end of the book which confront the extremities of the history through which we are living – in particular "12 Views of Freetown, 1 View of Bumbuna" and "2001" (perhaps the best post-September 11 poem I've read) – are moving indeed. I'm particularly fond of "I Could Not Say," a poem which earlier appeared in the journal Shofar, a meditation on Jewishness and the poet's childhood. The last two lines are incredible, where the repetitive, accretive, almost Biblical rhetoric of the earlier stanzas tightens into a choking simile:

I Could Not Say

I could not say I had averted Brooklyn:
envy, cruelty, treachery, rage, hatred.

I could not say I had forsworn vengeance:
broken nose, tooth – for broken nose, tooth.

I could not say I had avowed the good:
remorse, empathy, loyalty, mercy, love.

I could not say I had quit the stoop:
Jew Ganz, my hero, wrestling bully Joey.

I could not say I had settled truth:
scraped knee, filthy hand, football, punchball.

In spring my father took me to the field
where batters smacked the balls.

At camp: trapped Cassiopeia; belted Orion;
Venus the false star, even then.

As there God oversaw the cohorts
tightening the tefillin like tourniquets.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Williams: "Item"

Eric comments on that poem that I just posted, “Picture showing,” that part of its interest lies quite specifically in its inconsequentiality – that the poet’s refrained from any commentary, any drawing of conclusions: leaving that, I suppose, to the reader, tho even then the two voices’ bitter humor in the last two stanzas of the poem shift our attention away from whatever geopolitical implications we might want to draw, defusing the “big” questions from the standpoint of good old fashioned self-preservation. In this other newspaper photo poem, from An Early Martyr and Other Poems (1935), WCW does something rather different:

Item

This, with a face
like a mashed blood orange
that suddenly

would get eyes
and look up and scream
War! War!

clutching her
thick, ragged coat
A piece of hat

broken shoes
War! War!
stumbling for dread

at the young men
who with their gun-butts
shove her

sprawling –
a note
at the foot of the page

WCW would later comment on this one, “The importance of the individual – a pitiful, beaten creature as dear to me as anyone could be. Done with economy of line to give the telling impression – a defiance of conventional beauty. Proof you can make a poem out of anything.” Not that Williams needed to pile up proof – by the mid-Thirties, he’d shown any number of times that the notion of conventionally “poetic” subject matter was defunct.

“Item” gets anthologized a lot more than “Picture showing” does, largely I suspect because a) it has the kind of immediate “human interest” that most readers expect from Williams and b) because it locates itself precisely within the purview of those big themes we still expect the poem to treat. (Anyone who’s inflicted “The Red Wheelbarrow” on unsuspecting undergraduates has stories to tell about how the “So much depends” refers to how important agriculture is to our lives…) After all, WAR is a big deal, no? And anti-war (or, in this case, pro-war?) protests are one of the classic moments when the individual comes into conflict with the otherwise faceless powers of the state.

Leaving aside whatever ideological ore one can mine from these sixteen lines, I’m interested in the fact that here WCW, in contrast to in “Picture showing,” is fiercely interested not merely in the images conveyed by the media, but in precisely how the newspaper mediates them. (Cf. Su's comment.) The woman beaten down by the gun-butts is not merely knocked sprawling, but knocked to “a note / on the foot of the page.” The best of the media-inspired poems, or at least the ones that grab my attention most often, are those that remain aware precisely of the relationship between their own form – in this case, a three-line stanza of two to six syllables – and the form of what they’re regarding or responding to. It’s a new sort of ekphrastic poetry, in a way, but one which is constantly aware of the non-monumental, non-aesthetic medium upon which it feeds, one in which the shocking photograph shares the page with texts, related and unrelated, other photographs, and perhaps even advertisements. (One could adumbrate a theory of much of Bruce Andrews’s work starting here, I think.)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Williams: "Picture showing"

William Carlos Williams, from 1922:

Picture showing
return of bodies
ZR-2 victims.

–Give you a nice
trip home
after you’re dead.

–Christ, I’d rather
come home
steerage.

The subject (or instigation) is a 17 September 1921 photograph from the New York Tribune, showing the caskets of sixteen American navymen killed when the dirigible ZR-2 exploded over England, said caskets on the deck of a British Royal Navy warship. Zukofsky would write such poems in the 1950s; thousands of them would be written during the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the present Iraq war. (Though such photographs no longer appear in the papers.) It’s a well-established subgenre: the poem in response to the mass media, and I suppose it’s become more ubiquitous as the media has become more “mass,” more omnipresent.

What I’m struck by, reading this poem for the first time (or with no memory of a previous reading), is how contemporary it manages to sound, eighty-three years after its composition – and how contemporary much (by no means all) of Williams’s work sounds. Compare with what came 83 years before Williams, in 1839: Wordsworth still alive and milking the tail end of his once-radical poetic mode; very early Tennyson, besotted with Keats; the omnipresent, still outre influence of Shelley and Byron. I can’t help but feel that the language of poetry, however you slice it, changed much more over that 83-year period than over the 83 years since.

Much of that is a matter of form and diction. Almost every poet in 1839 wrote in some recognized, traditional metrical form, and would do so through the end of the century (despite the breakthroughs of Whitman, Hopkins, and those who imitated the French “prose poem”). When WCW and his contemporaries rejected traditional meter and form, they were changing something fundamental about what made readers recognize a piece of writing as a poem – changing, really, the definition of the poem itself. From then on, no poet could take form and meter for granted: there was no default setting, no automatic fallback (as iambic pentameter had been). It’s a huge shift, and opens up the formal possibilities of the poem enormously. (It also means that the bad poetry of 20th century is frankly worse than that of the 19th, since the unthoughtful folks writing in slack free verse lines aren’t constrained by the minimal competency required to write a metrical line.)

The diction of WCW’s poem speaks for itself. There’re no poeticisms, none of those “thee”s and “e’er”s that trip one up in every other line of Victorian verse (though WCW himself indulges in a good number of vocative “o”s in other poems). The only lines one assigns to the poet himself – an impersonal caption – are the seven words of the first stanza. Everything else is, or easily could be, quotation, everyday speech overheard around a New Jersey news-stand. Somebody once remarked that it seems every poetic revolution bills itself as a return to the common speech – certainly Burns, Crabbe, and Wordsworth thought that’s what they were up to. But no-one in English did it as radically and convincingly as Williams: and we’re still doing it like the doctor from Rutherford.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Williams, in order

There’s a lot to be said for reading a poet’s work through entire and in chronological order. Despite my semi-successful career in convincing university administrators and eager undergraduates that I know something about poetry, I’ve probably only done it for a dozen poets or so (there’s probably another dozen whose stuff I’ve worked through in a more random order). Right now I’m reading through the big two-volume New Directions edition of William Carlos Williams’s Collected Poems, and am about 3/5 through the first volume. I won’t say it’s been a shocking revelation: I’ve known the various selected editions of Williams well for many years, as well as a number of the separate volumes that I’ve returned to again and again – Kora in Hell, Spring and All, Paterson, Pictures from Brueghel. But there’s a wonderful cumulative effect to reading the poems in chronological sequence (right now I’m in the midst of the lovely group of uncollected poems that falls between Spring and All and The Descent of Winter), seeing the poet trying on various personae, idioms, and formal shapes, and only slowly evolving towards the Williams one knows from the anthologies or (on the other hand) from Paterson.

That former Williams, the keen-eyed doctor from Rutherford who used his moments between appointments to type out little free-verse vignettes embodying his observations of the natural world and the people around him – the Williams who is probably the single most important precursor to American 1980s-era slack-assed MFA free verse – is, a sequential reading of Williams shows, only a small part of the story. When people hold up the good doctor as a model for a plainspoken naturalism, they’ve overlooking the Williams who was passionately interested in all manner of artistic movements, from Cubism to Russian Futurist Zaum poetry to jazz. “The Red Wheelbarrow,” the poem most often used to make make undergraduates and high school students feel stupid and hate poetry, reads entirely differently in the context of the radical prose/verse collage of Spring and All (which, along with Kora in Hell, its prose “improvisation” precursor, is one of the greatest of the modernist poetico-polemic works).

So what am I getting out of a cumulative reading of Williams?

•There’s a lot more Whitman in his background than I’d realized.

•Ditto Shakespeare, especially the songs from the plays.

•Williams really isn’t – though it’s really old news – a poet of ideas. When he writes, “Say it, no ideas but in things,” he’s being at least semi-serious. Of course, an idea can be a thing as well, but Williams’s imagination is never set afire by abstract ideas the ways Stevens’s is, or Eliot's. Of all the poets of the “high” modernist generation, in this Williams is closest to Moore.

•Which doesn’t really capture the rampant, constant energy of the poems, which literally exhaust you after reading a dozen pages or so.

•The “Objectivist” Williams: yeah, it’s true that Zukofsky didn’t invent the “Objectivist” label until 1930, and I haven’t quite gotten that far in the Collected Poems, but all of the basic components of the Objectivist toolbox – the “sincerity” in attention to the outside world and to the words of the poem, the thing-like “objectification” of the finished poem – are already there, sometimes explicitly, in Williams’s work of the Twenties. (I’ll admit to being influenced by a couple of readings of the recently published Williams/Zukofsky correspondence.)

Next up for the sequential treatment: Charles Olson. (I believe I may be the only Olson reader in the southern half of Florida. Please prove me wrong, somebody.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

God's Country

(My first experiment at blogging from the road, so no doubt this'll be short.) I'm in what's the closest I have to a home town, deep in a Mid-South Red state. Hometown is next door to a military base, itself the home of one of the "crack" "battle-hardened" units that have figured in every American of the past half-century. The last time I was down, when our current Middle East adventure was still in the "invasion and pacification" mode, the town was swarming with soldiers on leave and waiting to be deployed -- hundreds of fresh-faced young men and women in desert fatigues with those skinhead haircuts (the men at least) and mostly grim expressions. I had the (somewhat unfair) impression that I had fallen into a scene from Return of the King -- Frodo and Sam in Mordor among the orc armies.

Now that we've settled into an "occupation in order to help them democratize themselves" phase, I sense a different vibe. Everybody's tired, for one thing - certainly tired of the war, though for some reason not tired of those who led us into it. But there's also an incremental sense of respect for the Iraqis and the Middle East in general, one that I didn't get during the Gulf War, when nobody I spoke to or overheard seemed to get past the standard racist notions of Arabs. Whoever's in charge of educating these folks about the people they're fighting and the people whom they're "liberating" seems to be doing a good job.

Noted: When I was growing up here, you had to drive 45 minutes to get felafel (not decent felafel, but any felafel). Since my last visit, at least four or five Middle Eastern food stands and restaurants have sprung up.

It's true, it's very hard to get good Southern cooking in South Florida - and very easy to get it here. My arteries thank God I'm only staying thru Friday!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Taste

A good deal of talk over the past week about principles of evaluation, of selection, of taste. Of why we value some poets, some poems over others. Jonathan Mayhew defends distinctions of taste as the only distinctions worth arguing over; Casey Mohammad concurs, with a number of provisos:

“Some common-sense starting points: a) taste, personal or otherwise, is always cultivated by external influences, some of which at least can be traced and critically examined; b) accordingly, taste is never completely "personal" as such; c) just because it tastes good doesn't mean you should eat it.”

And then there’s Josh Corey's long-running defence of the “avant-garde” against, among others, people who argue that the term as he uses it simply means “the poetry Josh likes.”

Eric Selinger, ever the hedonist, gravitates to particular poems on the basis of the pleasure they afford, citing Zukofsky’s “test of poetry,” the pleasures it affords as “sight, sound, and intellection.” That emphasis on pleasure is something I suspect most of us share – we don’t want to read, after all, what we don’t on some level enjoy (although enjoyment, as Mark Wallace once reminded me, ought to be distinguished from entertainment). There are certain reading experiences that can’t be accomodated to any definition of pleasure I recognize – Hegel, for instance, or any sociology textbook; which is not to say some readers don’t take pleasure from the former. I find the Marquis de Sade a tremendous bore on the page (though interesting in theory), but I know he has a devoted readership.

And I, like Josh, am struck by Eric’s happy phrase “pleasures of character” – “a pleasure in the character I have to or get to inhabit when I ‘accept’ a work and read it well – and, conversely, that character can keep me at a distance from any given poem even when its pleasures of sight or sound or intellection beckon me across the great divide” – which I think might be turned back to its Greek equivalent, ethos, giving us “ethical” pleasure. This of course treads quite close to the politicizing of taste, or perhaps the uncovering of an ethico-political substratum we hadn’t recognized. There’s a vulgar way of doing this (Josh might recall one of his Cornell professors asking me, after a talk I’d given on biography, “What I’m trying to ask, Mark, is do you see your work as radical or reactionary?”), and then there’s a more light-hearted way, as in Eric’s “I don't want to be the reader of work like this: which means, I guess, that don't want to embody, even temporarily, the values and desires that underwrite it, and don't want to act the role, even briefly, of a member of its target demographic.” (What that shakes down to in some cases, one might guess, is “Do I want to be a black-turtlenecked Shprockets guest?” or “Do I want to be a tight-lipped commisar deciding who goes to the re√ęducation center and who gets shot immediately?”)

What I distrust in the end are programmatic statements of aesthetic value, blanket dismissals of entire segments of the aesthetic field – the “puritanism” I mentioned a few posts ago. Despite St. Theodor Adorno of the Wrinkled Brow’s scorn for “culinary” aesthetic evaluation, I still find the category of “taste” a useful one.

It’s obvious, as Casey points out, that anyone’s taste is a function of both psychological and sociological roots – that what “speaks to us” or excites us or gives us pleasure in particular texts is a function of the way our minds work (the way we process the world), our social and educational background, the particular accidents of our circumstances. (My own obsession with 17th-century culture, from Milton to the English Revolution to the 30 Years War, can probably be traced to the happenstance of being reared in a fundamentalist, King James Version-using church, and seeing the rather dreadful costume epic Cromwell – Richard Harris as OC, Alec Guinness as Charles I, a very young Timothy Dalton as Prince Rupert – at a very impressionable age.)

But those backgrounds and accidentals are what make us human beings, after all. I find it much more interesting when Ron Silliman admits that he doesn’t really “get” sculpture than when he’s busily sorting poets into “post-avant” and “school of quietude” cubbies, like a printer’s devil redistributing type. And I love it when he admits to finding something admirable in Donald Justice’s poetry.

The 2 issues I keep returning to in my own narrow head:

1) The issue of categories – whether “avant-garde” or “post-avant” or “school of quietude” or “official verse culture” or (my own favorite) “School of Mark.” Anytime you trot out one of those terms, you’ve committed yourself to some degree of reductionism. Some categories have more historical validity than others – the Surrealists hung together, had something of a hierarchy, were a coherent movement; clearly most of the Language Poets saw themselves as part of some sort of “thing.” But the minute someone says “Language Poetry is…” or “The Objectivists were…” my heart sinks, because I know that once she or he’s gotten past the chronological and biographical data, something reductive is about to be said. (And yes, I’ve done it myself, lots of times.)

But that doesn’t mean that we can dispense with categorizing, with on some level thinking of poets and poems as being related to one another – not as long as there are so damned many poems out there to read, such a vast sea of written art that confronts us. In an ideal world, we might not need to think in terms of “this poem is rather like this other one I’ve read before,” or “poet X writes rather like poet Y but…” But that kind of thinking is really indispensible to making one’s way through what’s out there, and I suspect it’s part of our hard-wiring. And of course one can’t do anything like literary history without being able to set up at least provisional categories. But we need to keep those categories as provisional and disposable as possible. Yes, both John Lennon and George Harrison are (dead) ex-Beatles, just as both George Oppen and Carl Rakosi were once “Objectivists.” But those terms don’t help us much in comparing Life With the Lions and Cloud Nine, or This In Which and Ex Cranium, Night.

2) This very act of scrutinizing one’s own taste, of trying to figure out its foundations. Endlessly fascinating, I’ll admit: what’s the relationship between my own childhood obsession with busy, scrupulously detailed picture-books (Richard Scarry at his best, or Renaissance battle panoramas in which every last soldier is picked out in scary detail) and my long-standing obsession with long, intricately worked poems? Is my disquiet with badly-performed theater related to that repeated grammar school nightmare about having to deliver my class report sans trousers?

It’s endlessly fascinating, yes, but I’m not sure it’s endlessly fruitful, at least in terms of one’s own writing. Probably more salutary than its flip side, which is to take one’s own preferences – for coherency, incoherence, radical juxtaposition, workaday speaking voice, whatever – and to try to build a system out of them. To take on, that is, the old philosophical project of adumbrating an aesthetics. One always seems to end up casting the poets out of the republic altogether, or at least casting out someone you’d rather not lose, and then having to insert some inelegant patch into the program in order to cover that particular oversight.

So for the nonce – however long that might be (and the blog will be taking a vacation much of next week, as I head back to God’s country on some urgent family business) – I’m going to stick with what I suspect I do most convincingly, and what I enjoy most in others’ writing: wee bits of commentary on works that I find interesting, compelling, pleasurable, or stuff that’s failed to appeal to me – in interesting ways.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

mailbag

Immersed in a seemingly plumbless sea of final papers, portfolios, and exams to be graded, I note that blogging activity has slackened on many of the sites run by other folks in the academy. I seem to learn something new pedagogically every semester, and without straying into Say Something Wonderful territory, here’s a few of this Spring’s lessons:
–Never teach Kathy Acker’s Empire of the Senseless in only one week (not my fault, I got sick, nevertheless…)
–Don’t try to explain Marx, Ernest Mandel, and Fredric Jameson on the postmodern in half a class period
–Stop quoting Adorno in the undergraduate poetry workshop

[“all musical characters are really quotations. Alexandrinism is the principle of art that has attained self awareness…” TWA, Beethoven: The Philosophy of Music, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford UP, 1998) 6]

My friend the mailman brings good cheer: A letter from an old family friend back home in Tennessee, enclosing a clipping from the hometown newspaper that features the Postal Service’s new stamp in honor of the first United States Poet Laureate, Robert Penn Warren. “Red” Warren was born about ten miles from where I did most of my growing up. (My family home is just across the river from the farmhouse where Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon lived some years; and for serious literary connections, I believe Herman Melville once lectured in my hometown.) I note the background of the stamp features a scene from All the King’s Men, one of RPW’s novels, rather than anything from his poems. Once upon a time I could read “The Ballad of Billy Potts,” but life seems too short anymore.

Even better: Two new books from Norman Finkelstein: Powers: Track Three (Spuyten Duyvil), the final volume of Finkelstein’s long poem Track, which has been issuing forth for some years now; and An Assembly (Dos Madres), a lovely chapbook of rather earlier and more baroque poems following Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. Finkelstein promises that this is merely a teaser, with more to come. I’ll be watching.