Saturday, September 30, 2006

Just when you think Florida can't get any more surreal –

first Katherine Harris & her India-sourced blog comments, now a local congressman, Republican Mark Foley, resigns when a series of sexually suggestive instant messages he's sent to a 16-year old congressional page becomes public. It is ironic – and not in the Alannis Morissette sense – that Foley made much of his name as vociferous co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. (Our Governor's social services department, as well, has a bit of a problem with missing children – but that's another story.)

Word has it that Foley's seat is pretty much up for grabs now and ripe for the picking by his Democratic challenger, but the 16th is such a grotesquely gerrymandered district – it looks a bit like a semi-melted Giocometti sculpture, stretching from northern Palm Beach County to the Gulf Coast – that I'm not placing any bets on what'll happen five weeks hence.

One quote of Foley's that you'll hear a lot of over the next few days: “We track library books better than we do sexual predators."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Back to poetry in a moment,

but right now I just want to register how grateful I am to live in Florida – at least one never lacks for entertainment. Katherine Harris, the State Secretary of State whose intervention in 2000 went a long way towards ensuring that the Florida vote would never be adequately counted, & that her boss's big brother would take the White House, is (yes, it's true) still running for US Senate – despite the facts that Jeb Bush himself ("the bright brother") has pretty much pronounced her unelectable, that she's gone thru about a half dozen different sets of staffers because of her raging attacks of temper, & that she's made more missteps in various interviews than the Three Stooges performing Swan Lake. The most recent polls show her 18 points behind Democrat Bill Nelson – which her campaign is calling a victory, since she was a full 30 points behind a month ago.

At any rate, various Florida-centric, anti-Harris political blogs have been noticing pro-Harris comments turning up in their comments boxes. Nothing surprising there, since campaigns have been having flacks monitor blogs and plant comments for some years now, ever since the Dean people began to demonstrate the power of the internets for political communication. What makes these comments interesting is their rather shaky grasp of English idiom & grammar, a shakiness that goes beyond even your garden-variety right-wing illiteracy:
"Kathy showed great victory by winning the primary. Great show Kathy."

"Guys let us come out of this blue eye shadow... Let us not discuss such irrelevant details."

"At the end of the day what matters is her ability to lead the masses. Which I think she is quite good at."
Turns out all of the messages have been emanating from the same IP address – in western India. One suspects that this true-blue American Christian warrior is not averse to a little judicious outsourcing – if it supports the right cause.

[Update – fixed that wonky link, I hope...]

culinary choices

That last post a bit of experimenting in the off the top of the head vein, & heaven knows there’s often very little on the top of this head – but interesting responses: From Norman Finkelstein:
Not to be picky in regard to your perceptive contrast, Mark, but I think Pound said a ball of light in the reader's hands. You must have been thinking of that other great American poet, Jerry Lee Lewis.
Good God Almighty, Norman, but you’re right. (But who’d you rather be dancing to, EP or JLL? No contest there…) From Jessica Smith:
there are lots of "minor literature" modes that seem useful for understanding zuk--domesticity, family, heritage, craft--this is what i like about zuk and what i much prefer to read over pound's self-indulgent expansiveness. i don't think it's a matter of who's the better poet but of who one prefers aesthetically or politically.
I’m totally with you, Jessica. The odd thing is that while I started out that last post musing over Marjorie’s “ranking” of the two poets & overtly disclaimed the “horse race” mentality myself, the rhetoric of my musing seemed to fall right into that rank(ing) category. Ie, I found myself letting what some might consider EP’s “strengths” trump a rather wanly stated description of LZ. For the record: I prefer Phillips to Bacon, Picabia to Picasso – without claiming the former as in some sense “superior” to the latter. What I suppose Adorno would call a “culinary” choice.

Ben Friedlander does a nice job of showing what’s most distasteful in some of the things Poundians value most highly:
There's a lot more sex, drama, rage, and exultation in Bukowski too, and more grime, blood, or jizz than you'll find even in Pound. Not to make a negative example of poor Buk--he deserves his celebrity, if only for what he did for John Fante. But I don't see how the lack of these qualities proves anything about Zukofsky.
I don’t think Ben & I are the only readers of Pound who get regularly impatient with what one might call his “phallic” side, his endless celebration of all those “balls of light” and “rock-drills.” Ben continues:
For my part, I feel about Pound as I do about Emerson: endlessly fascinating prose, endlessly tedious verse. Like Emerson also in that he inspired such vastly different projects as Zukofsky's and Olson's. (And before anyone--OK, Marjorie--says that Zukofsky and Olson are hardly equal to Dickinson and Whitman, well, they come closer than Pound does to Emerson.)
Looking back over EP – not encyclopedically, nor in detail – I sympathize. The man could write wonderful prose: and not just forceful, browbeating, bare-knuckled “manly” prose, but at times wonderfully sensitive and complex, even self-consciously tentative, thinking in language. But then I turn to The Cantos, & for every passage of intriguingly knotty juxtaposition & mind-bending register-jumping, there’s one of those damned “epiphanies,” where panthers are lolling around in trees eating grapes or naiads are pirouetting thru groves like the hippos in Fantasia – Pound’s paradises, paraphrasing Bob Perelman, look suspiciously like Maxfield Parrish paintings on turn-of-the-century dorm walls.

Even the “lyrical” moments in EP, so celebrated by a thousand bald & bearded professors (shut up, Norman), after a while start to sound like recycled Swinburne & early Yeats. Gimme LZ at his most gristly. (Ron Johnson once told me, when we were talking about the “music” of poetry, that Swinburne was like eating Turkish delight: “But Zuk, that’s like gnawing a marrow-bone.”)
(Thanks much Ben; I'm not nearly as dyspeptic as it sometimes seems!)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

old obsessions

Re-reading bits & pieces of LZ, & re-reading the MS of the LZ biography, as well as dipping back into The Cantos & Pound criticism, sets me thinking about the relationship of the 2 poets once again. Marjorie Perloff confided in me in Chicago a couple years back – as with all of Marjorie's confidences, this was very public & expansive – that she was convinced that Pound was after all the superior poet by far. As I always say, I don't do horse races – but there're times when I see her point. Very different poets. Much more sex, sensuality, drama in Pound; more rage, more exultation. A sense of giddy discovery thruout The Cantos, the continual feeling that EP is making it all up as he goes along, discovering something new in every book he reads ("a ball of fire in the reader's hands," as he describes engaged reading) & immediately dumping it into the poem.

LZ much more restrained, careful – phlegmatic, to Ez's choleric. The conceptual basics all stem from EP: 95% of LZ's critical vocabulary can be traced to EP; his very cultural vocabulary (except for Shax & Spinoza – whacking big exceptions) comes out of Pound. But there's an architecture to LZ that's missing in The Cantos, a precision of dovetailing & structuring; at the same time "A" is missing the grime, blood, & jizz of Pound's poem, & with it the exhilarating sense The Cantos give (at their best) of discovering shapes, forms, & correspondences. LZ sometimes gives one the impression of the craftsman filling in a form rather than the dancer improvising a movement. Tom Phillips v. Francis Bacon. Picabia v. Picasso.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


The academics among Culture Industry's readers may know what I mean when I kvetch that I'd rather be in next semester. Not that I'd rather be teaching those courses – it's just that I really really really wish I had the time to re-read Paradise Lost and Ulysses right now, rather than scrunched up in teaching-time.
Zach Barocas of the excellent & 5-year-old Cultural Society (& former drummer of Jawbox) has a blog. Go by & say hi.
A bissel Sanskrit – or rather, the particulars will remain dark to those not "in the know" (rather like a particularly knotty Jane Dark post): went to the post office today and dropped off three signed copies of "the" contract. Delivery sooner than you'd believe; the big date sometime next fall. So part of me is (as Bridget Jones would say) v. v. happy.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

More Moore

In a rare venture into the local megabooks, I picked up a remaindered copy of Grace Schulman's edition of The Poems of Marianne Moore (Viking, 2003), & was reminded why I didn't buy this book, after reading a passel o' reviews, when it came out, or even afterwards when it hit paperback.

Confession #1: I love Moore, early & late, high modernist & cranky retro. Confession #2: I've always been a little put off by how enthusiastically MM has been embraced by the poetry establishment, in ways that they've embraced no-one else of her generation except Stevens. This latest edition, for instance, includes blurbs from Stanley Kunitz, Randall Jarrell, and Robert Lowell – & Schulman herself, poetry editor of the Nation & former director of the 92nd Street Y, does not exactly move in the same poetry circles I like to imagine myself.

In theory, this edition is a great idea. As well all know, MM severely edited the work included in her Complete Poems (1967), leaving out lots of stuff, arranging things in non-chronological order, & including unfamiliar versions of poems that were already famous. ("Poetry" is the great example – "I too dislike it" etc.) Schulman's idea is solid: to present an edition of all the poems MM wrote, in chronological order. Period. So far so good. The problem is that MM often produced multiple versions of the same poem, & sometimes the earlier versions are arguably more interesting than the later. (Again, cf. "Poetry.")

Schulman, were she a conscientious textual editor, would have 3 options:
1) present all the poems in their latest, last versions, grounding that choice on the old saw of authorial intention; this is what MM wanted at the end, this is what you get.

2) same as (1), except including all the earlier versions in the notes – a "variorum" edition, in other words (certainly the most useful version for pointy-headed scholarly types)

3) same as (1), & including earlier versions of particular interest – the longer versions of "Poetry," for instance, in the notes; sort of a "demi-variorum"
Schulman has opted for none of the above, to my despair (not to say disgust). Instead, she gives us all available poems (and there's much, much more here than in the Complete Poems, for which I thank her), but she gives them in versions chosen – you guessed it – by Schulman. "Whenever possible," she writes in the Intro, "I used the Complete Poems... In many cases, I used versions that I liked from earlier editions and/or literary journals, aware that she [MM] changed her work continually." I'm even more taken aback by Schulman's note preceding MM's own "Notes" to the poems: "Change was a constant in all of Marianne Moore's work. The notes were altered as radically as the poems, and changes occur even when a poem's text does not change. Rather than reprinting each note faithfully [isn't this what an editor does?], which might confuse more than enlighten [whom?], I offer a partial view of the author's notes as they are found in all of her editions." [indeed]

Clearly, what's at work here is Viking's unwillingness to spring for a true variorum, which would probably run to over 1000 pages. It's the reader's loss. But in case the reader has begun to worry about putting her- or himself into the hands of a possibly capricious editor so fully, Schulman spends a good deal of time in her Intro telling us what chums she & MM were (MM was at GS's wedding, etc.). All very well & good, & I'll do my best to savor the texts of poems I haven't already read, even tho I have little idea of what I might be missing. But for the earlier stuff, I think I'll turn to a real edition – Robin Schultze's Becoming Marianne Moore: Early Poems, 1907-1924 (U California P, 2002), & look forward to the day – I hope I live so long – when the rest comes out of copyright.
After a hair-raising hour at Room to Go Kids, we did it: we ordered THE bunkbed. The bunkbed with the fairy-tale castle. The bunkbed with the slide. Next step is to apply for frequent flier miles at the emergency room. (Tho I guess it can't be much more dangerous than Daphne's bungee-jumps out of her crib this past week.)


So we've finally gotten around to getting that Netflix membership & plunging into the world of grownup movies. By some odd chance, the first two things that came up have been fanciful writer-biopics starring Johnny Depp, The Libertine (2005) & Finding Neverland (2004). Don't worry, I'm not gonna start blogging films, beyond a series of grunts indicating "enjoyed it" or "it sucked" – I've gone quite far enough in demonstrating my cultural ignorance in other areas, thank you.

But idly Wikipedia-ing Johnny Depp (who seems to have turned into a real live actor in all those years since I first saw him glomming wistfully about in Edward Scissorhands), I got really depressed to learn that he's actually older than me. Well – I can't do anything about the baldness or the lack of fine bone structure, but golly I've got to start dieting & working out...
On one of those link-hopping stretches (avoiding work again, of course) I follow John Latta to Jordan Davis to fetch up upon a couple of interesting essays on one of my fave bands, Gang of Four. Timothy Sexton's "Gang of Four and Pop Music as Marxist Critical Theory: A Market of the Senses" is pretty heavy-duty cultural criticism; Scott McLemee's "Entertainment!" responds. The short version? Sexton: GoF Althusserians; McLemee: GoF Debordian Situationists. (Suspect he's been reading Greil Marcus...) Stay tuned for my own thoughtful assesment.

Anyway, Jordan D. two bits' worth runs like this:
With this kind of work -- I'm thinking now also of the Canadian poets Rod Mengham, Rod Smith, and Rodrigo Toscano -- the measure of the experience is not whether you can integrate their critique into a consistent theory, the measure is how memorable are their zingers.
Not entirely sure whether JD means by "this kind of work" "critical essays on Leftist 80s bands" or "Gang of Four & their ilk" (must be the latter). To which John L responds, with fascinating reference back to what sounds like some really lively readings by (of all people) Donald Hall back in the day:
Admittedly, tone is difficult to determine here, and maybe the remark is simply cheeky . . . If not, though, I got questions. Is an assault (or a sprinkling) of one-liners enough? (Is entertainment enough?) (A “zinger” entertains without instructing—meaning it’s unlikely to point to any coherent critique, or convince the unconvinced.) Is the “zinger”-style (call it Rod-kunstwerke) a direct result of performance-anxiety? (That is, writing written for reading, for “getting out the laugh.”) (One writes differently for the known audience.) (In places of thriving “community” or “scene,” most reading-audiences are (mostly) known.) Is the criticism leveled at the supposed showmanship of a Billy Collins inapplicable to the modèle zingeresque of the Rods? (Is the difference an innocuous-inane humor versus a fierce, pointed humor?) (A humor longing to be dangerous?) (Is showmanship (what I loosely term “showmanship”) a form insusceptible to any too-dangerous content?) (Do you think one could laugh oneself through a revolutionary change?)
My experience of the often painful business of poetry readings is that the one-liner plays a pretty big role in most all flavors of contemporary poetry. Charles Bernstein one grand example, a fellow who's written whole poems based around Henny Youngmanesque one-liners, but most of his compadres in the "experimental" scene write a lot less funny (except of course Bruce Andrews & the Flarfistas). Indeed, back in the day when I had poetry readings I really wanted to go to (the unending stream of cool things Rod Smith was hosting in DC, specifically), I found myself sitting thru a lot of performances where the only – the only – signs of response in the audience (sitting with bitten lips & knitted brows, often very Rodinesque) came when a one-liner broke the ice of seemingly endless scrolling parataxis. And this from poets whom I often found interesting & even compelling on the page.

Mibby I generalize from a period style & coterie method – call it the "Roof Books" mode – but yes, by God, I found that the "mainstream" writers – perhaps because they were getting paid more, perhaps because a larger chunk of their livelihood depended on performance, certainly because their work was more immediately accessible – were able to play on a much wider range of emotions in their audiences. (Tho I can't tell you how many times I looked up a poem that had sounded just grand only to find it stale flat & unprofitable.)

I want – oh how I want – to laugh myself through a revolutionary change.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Slow days on the po-blogosphere, it seems – at least from where I'm crouching. The real standouts in my limited surfing time are the steady stream of wonderful nuggets from Jonathan Mayhew's Bemsha Swing & the continuous paratactic splendor of John Latta's Isola di Rifiuti. Why waste your time here?
Splendidly unchurched students in my Bible-as-lit course this Fall.
Trivia from Antonia Fraser's biography of Cromwell: Sigmund Freud named one of his sons "Oliver" in honor of Old Noll's efforts on behalf of letting the Jews back into England.
Best couplet from the first half of the 17th c.: the opening of Andrew Marvell's "Tom May's Death," satirical account of the journey into the underworld of the poetaster May, one of the least talented of the "Sons of Ben [Jonson]" (who appears to have died after a drinking bout):
As one put drunk into the packet-boat,
Tom May was hurried hence and did not know't.
Bastard Ashbery's already taken the 1st line for a title.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Simply a placeholder, to let the world know that I'm not dead or (really) ill, but just up to the proverbial eyeballs – & that I'll be getting around to answering all those e-mails & posting those letters & packages in the next few days. In the meantime, if you need something to read, do stop by Steve Evans's Third Factory & check out this year's Attention Span listings of what everybody else's been reading. My own entry makes me feel a hundred years old, and very, very out of it.
The Mai Kai – oh dear – wonderful Polynesian floor show, with nary a hint of South Florida stripper culture (it's always disspiriting when you go to a middle eastern place down here & the belly dancer is obviously feeling overdressed) – but the food is hopelessly mediocre & overpriced. Washed it all away Saturday night with a fine dinner at friends', followed by too many martinis & an indefinite period of thrashing away on the bouzouki.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Back (sort of)

Where've I been?, my 4 readers have been asking. Oh, you know – the first weeks of the new semester, always a punishing time; 2 of them, in fact, sick as a dog with some sort of viral thing; trying to work over a manuscript & chewing my nails to the quick over contract haggling; reading some books: poetry – Moxley, Swensen, Sheppard, etc. – theory & criticism, Samuel Beckett's More Pricks Than Kicks (why haven't I gotten around to reading this one before? It's got one of the funniest story endings of all time, that of "Yellow":
By Christ! he did die!
They had clean forgotten to auscultate him!
I can't really tell you why that's funny, except that the first line refers back to a joke (told a couple of pages earlier) about a highly devout amateur actor, and that the second line, for almost all of us mere mortals with non-Beckettian vocabularies, necessitates a trip to the dictionary ("auscultate," to listen to the sounds of the internal organs as part of a medical diagnosis – our hero, Belacqua Shuah, you see, is on the table for a tumor operation), & somehow I find that moment of having to look something up – right when the chap whose adventures one's been following thru the whole book has just kicked the bucket – deeply funny. Especially since knowing what "auscultate" means casts precisely no light whatsoever on the story's climax.)
Amy comments last time on big words & bloggistry. I can only excuse myself by noting that "Cambridge Marxist-obscurantist" is not my but Gordon Burn's description of JH Prynne, & I [sic]ced it because I thought it was such a deeply dumbass thing to say in the first place. Was JHP a Marxist way back when? I don't know, but he was an English intellectual & a chap with his head screwed on the right way, so I assume he was. Was he an "obscurantist" (from "obscurantism," the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or full details of something from becoming known)? No effing way – just because Burn finds JHP's poetry "difficult" or "obscure," it's a logical error to attribute a certain set of (ultimately moral) intentions to him.
But, oh, oh, oh oh, that Marxist-obscurantist rag.... It makes me think of Bob Archambeau's latest blast against "avant-smugness," playing off of Kasey Mohammad's thoughtful post-mortem (one hopes) on the cold corse of ye olde School o' Quietude V. Post-Avant dichotomy. I'll try to say something anent (not a big word, but a Scotticism) that sooner.
And poised for a weekend of celebrating J.'s birthday. Tomorrow we have reservations for this place. We're telling the girls that it's the "Lilo and Stitch" restaurant, and hopefully we can keep them from throwing poi at the dancers.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Poets Behaving Badly

Those of us who know little – but wish they knew more – about the secret history of British alternative poetry could only relish Gordon Burn’s gossipy piece in the Guardian about the 1967 Sparty Lea poetry “festival.” The young poet Barry MacSweeney, still buzzing from the Ginsberg-headlined 1965 Albert Hall poetry event, was the moving force in bringing a range of the more interesting British poets to the hamlet of Sparty Lea, near Hexham in the North Pennines (Basil Bunting country, of course). While he’s careful to note that accounts of the event differ (his own obviously derives from the famously alcoholic MacSweeney & the still combative Tom Pickard), Burns paints the Sparty Lea gathering as a piece of drunken mayhem, culminating in a moment of delicious vandalism:
after the Cambridge Marxist-obscurantist [sic] poet Jeremy Prynne told the Newcastle poet Tom Pickard to keep his young son quiet during a reading, Pickard went outside and smashed his Land Rover into Prynne's half-timbered Morris Oxford saloon.

"I reckon it was about here," Pickard, who still lives locally, said last week. We were driving slowly past a series of recently sandblasted and conservatoried cottages with enviable views over the Allen Valley. "I drove to the top of the hill, went down into second, slammed on the brakes and sledged into him." It was the kind of delinquent act that endeared Pickard to his friend Allen Ginsberg and others of the Beat Generation. In England, though, it led to his invisibility as an artist. "I was banned from the English intelligentsia", is what I thought I heard Pickard say. "The English Intelligencer", a privately circulated worksheet of the Sixties, is what he actually said…
Peter Riley, a fine Cambridge-based poet who was present at the event, is having none of the drunken-mayhem story. And while he admits that Pickard took a shot at Prynne’s auto with his own, he denies that it led to Pickard’s being “banned” from anything.

Perhaps most importantly, Prynne’s car was an MG, not a Morris. I’m glad to learn that – I’ve always imagined JHP as an MG driver.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


New poems – like, new poems by meonline at Edmund Hardy’s excellent Intercapillary Space. Check ‘em out.
Today was a bleary, awful, rainy day, made worse by the fact that I’m nursing the remnants of a pretty bad cold. It was also primary election day down here in the land of the butterfly ballot. When I went by to cast my electronic vote into what for all I know is an electronic void, I had the entire polling place to myself, & about 7 enthusiastic poll-workers offering to help me with every move. (Overall, turnout looks very low for this primary – maybe around 10%.)

Few surprises in the results so far. God’s little gift to satirists, Katherine Harris (the woman voted “most responsible for the recount debacle of 2000,” the political theorist who recently told a Baptist magazine that separation of church and state is “a lie,” and the devout Christian whose statement that “unless you’re electing Christians, you’re electing sin” might not go down too well with Florida’s Jewish community) will be the Republican candidate for US Senate. Look forward to some bigtime humiliation for Her of the Tight Skirts come November. No doubt she’ll start a political blog afterwards.

Charlie Crist, apparatchik of the Jeb Bush administration, has won the Republican nomination for governor, in a primary race which amounted to two men claiming “No, I’m more like Jeb than you are!” Does one get extra points for having a junkie daughter or a wife who tries to smuggle Parisian binge-purchases thru customs? (Both true facts about our Jebbie – not that you’ll hear much about them when our doughboy in Tallahassee starts up his presidential bid in 2012 – or even 2008.) The sad fact is that Crist is probably going to win the general election: for some inexplicable reason, Floridians actually seem to like their governor, tho what he’s done for the state amounts to the same old Republican screwing of the poor & favoring of the privileged. Just that Bush charisma, I guess.

My favorite race actually seems to be working out the way I wanted it to. That’s the Democratic primary for State Senate, district 30, where Irving “Let Irv Serve” Slosberg has been assiduously slinging mud at the pretty innocuous Ted Deutch for the last four months. Irv is – how do I say this? – a real piece of work. He’s a former Chicago cabbie (points in his favor) who moved down here & got really rich; in 1996 he switched parties & became a Democrat so he could run for State House in this largely democratic district. He’s done some good things in office, I understand, mostly having to do with highway safety.

But Irv’s really gone off the rails in the last year or two. In preparation for the hurricane season, he’s set up a fleet of refrigerated trucks stocked with ice and frozen dinners – the SEMA, he calls it – Slosberg Emergency Management Agency. His campaign has involved an endless string of free movies & free meals snowed down at Irv’s expense upon every retirement community in sight. The man’s a mountebank with only the most tenuous grasp upon reality, & a nasty habit of making up facts & figures off the top of his head. One figure that should give one pause: he’s spent over a million bucks out of his own pocket on this campaign, making it probably the most expensive State Senate campaign in US history.

Irv's lied about his own voting record in the State House; he's lied about his own past party affiliations; he's lied about his opponent's past political involvements. And he's done it in an endless stream of slick but grammatically inept fliers that have been clogging up my mailbox for weeks now.

The latest results show Irv about 10 points behind Ted Deutch, & I fully expect to check the finals tomorrow & find out that – for once – money hasn't won an election, even in this our post-democratic polity.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

John Peck: intransigence & absence

There are three poems missing from John Peck's collection Poems and Translations of Hí-Lö (Carcanet, 1991). The book as a whole is one of the most remarkable works of the last two decades, a collection of poems written in the voice, or thru the sensibility, of "a Chinese intern in psychosomatics who worked in Zurich during the 1980s and used his writing as a way of adapting to the West." It is a literary-historical commonplace to note how English-language modernism engages with Asian culture – most memorably perhaps in Pound's Cathay; in Poems and Translations, Peck attempts to imagine how his own culture – the West, and specifically a modernist, European West – might be conceived and reworked by a writer approaching it from an Asian perspective.

Peck is an intransigent, intellectual modernist in an era of various postmodernisms (perhaps his own variety of modernism is merely one of those "posts-," or perhaps we should follow Marjorie Perloff's lead and regard the "posts-" as manifestations of "late" modernism). On three occasions, however, his intellectual intransigence meets the immovable object of the literary estate: in short, he was refused permission to publish translations of two poems, & advised against publishing a 3rd. Peck's graceful responses to these imposed lacunae are indices of his verbal art:
Robert Walser: Snow

[The guardians of the Walser Estate, while not objecting in principle, instructed Hí-Lö that Walser's poetry is untranslatable. With Taoist fluidity he yielded. As one of these lines has it, there comes "the snow-white world that leaves me powerless". Some cavities in the wall there are, from which no horse can drink.]

Martin Heidegger: Evening on Reichenau

["Lake silver /scatters to dark shores": a mood captured on Walahfrid's monastery island in lower Lake Konstanz, intended for Heidegger's future wife, simply by virtue of being Englished moved the Heidegger Estate to consign it unread to the altar fires: carmina incinerata est. The ash-fringed remnant retrieved in Frankfurt preserves the light of day's end, fruit hanging weighty-weightless in the hand, "in the barrens / of a great simplicity".]

Bertolt Brecht: On Reading a Recent Greek Poet (Buckow Elegies)

[Who would have guessed that one unbudgeable piece of the Berlin Wall would read "The Brecht Estate"? This poem, from a cycle showing avowed Chinese influence, concerns the Trojans and their wall, and how doom induced them to fidget with bits of wood in their three-ply gates, "itsy-bitsy /pieces of wood, fussing with them". An endnote on this poem has been left in place, as memorial to a lesser fussing.]
My own copy of Poems and Translations, purchased at a second-hand bookstore while on a conference jaunt, has been inscribed by Peck to an American poet far more academically famous than him; various pages have been marked with Peck's careful, even finical corrections. Aside from some pencillings of my own, the book shows no other marks of having been read. "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you."

Saturday, September 02, 2006


noun: a circular tent of felt or skins on a collapsible framework, used by nomads in Mongolia, Siberia, and Turkey.

We have no yurt, tho a yurt-like tentish contraption used by the poet for verse-reading, paper-grading, smoking, and other afternoonish activities was destroyed in one of last year's windstorms. When we reworked the junglesque "landscaping" of the back garden some years back, we reserved a space for a gazebo, something of a permanent "yurt" – but alas, funds had run short, & said space was occupied with a hand-me-down plastic playhouse [cf. photo, with Pippa as Pooh, July 2004]. The playhouse has proved surprisingly resistant to what the National Weather Service calls "tropical cyclones," tho I suspect it is highly attractive to nocturnal raccoons & 'possums.
Is Culture Industry cursed? No sooner do I write wistfully of Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide to popular music, than I find he has been fired from the Village Voice "for taste" (his words, I take it; someone explain to me what that means).
Biographer's Schadenfreude department:
For those of you who dislike Billy Collins as cultural phenomenon, consider John Betjeman (1906-1984), a wildly popular British poet & Poet Laureate whose aesthetics made Philip Larkin seem like a wild-eyed modernist. While the least interesting of contemporary American writers seem to be pursuing a debased rewriting of William Carlos Williams & Robert Lowell, Betjeman wrote as tho Queen Victoria had never died.

Amusing, then, to see the squabbling over his bones. AN Wilson, in a recently published biography of Betjeman, has reproduced as evidence of Betjeman's passionate nature a love letter the poet purportedly wrote in 1944. Wilson received the letter – not an original, mind you, but a typewritten "transcription" – from an unknown correspondent signing her- or himself "Eve de Harben." It has now been pointed out that Eve de Harben is an anagram for "Ever been had?," and that the first letters of the sentences in the missive spell out, anagram-wise, "AN Wilson is a shit."

Prime suspect in the whole business is Betjeman's authorized biographer, Bevis Hillier, whom Wilson has called "old and malignant," and "not really a writer at all." Hillier has responded by simply summing Wilson up as "despicable."