Sunday, March 18, 2007

FSG freebies

One of the more trifling and fatuous manifestations of Ron Silliman’s manic desire to divide the poetry world down the middle (sheep : right / goats : left) is his periodic boastings about what a small proportion of his poetry collection is made up of books published by trade houses.* (I believe it’s precisely 2% – or maybe he only owns two books from trade publishers, I can’t remember.) I can see his point, however: the last time I winnowed the poetry shelves, it seemed like every other book heading out the door was from Athenaeum, Random House, or some other mighty New York name.

Nonetheless, I’m a sucker for free books, & Farrar Straus & Giroux – now of course a subsidiary of Holtzbrinck – is remarkably happy to throw free books my professorial way at a moment’s notice. Right now I’m skipping thru James Fenton’s Selected Poems, just to get an idea of in precisely what ways boring English poetry differs from the cisatlantic variety. John Betjeman’s Collected Poems is useful both as a doorstop and as a reminder of how right Hugh Kenner could be: in certain quarters of English society – ie, where poets laureate are chosen & where books of poetry receive a wide readership – modernism simply never happened. Betjeman (1906-1984 – a near contemporary of Louis Zukofsky’s) is a walking, talking, versifying, & highly popular coelacanth – a 20th-century Victorian. But he’s better than Billy Collins.

All I know about Federico García Lorca, alas, I learned from Jack Spicer, and now that I finally have the Spaniard’s massive Collected Poems before me, I’m a bit at a loss as to where to begin. Any suggestions from anyone out there – favorite poems, favorite volumes? Steve Collis, you must know more about García Lorca than just an obscene Shane MacGowan lyric.

I never had a teacher or mentor who took Robert Lowell very seriously, so I happily missed the whole “Age of Lowell” buzz entirely. That is, I’ve never found him a poet that must come to terms with one way or another, & therefore I’ve never felt the need to savage his memory, to kowtow to his ghost, or even to spend much time with his work. Of the 4 collections I’ve read, I prefer the impacted formalism of Lord Weary’s Castle & The Mills of the Kavanaughs to the “ground-breaking” confessionalism of Life Studies & For the Union Dead. The recent FSG Selected Poems, which is before me now, seems to offer a handy way of assessing career without swallowing the whole bolus of his work. Of course, I wouldn’t even be offering it the inch-&-a-half of shelf space it’ll take up if it weren’t for some pregnant remarks by Peter O’Leary, a fellow whose recommendations I’m inclined to take seriously.

*By the way, any tendency on my part to rib Ron shouldn’t be mistaken for personal dislike (a swell guy, the fews times our paths have crossed), dislike of his poetry (I like and admire much of it), or disagreement with the general aesthetic tenor of his blog (I usually agree with it).


Ron said...

I love the coelacanth image. If it shows up on my blog, you'll know where I got it,


Norman Finkelstein said...

I don't claim to know Lorca inside out, but my first reading of his was actually guided by Spicer's After Lorca. The poems Spicer translated are all winners, however idiosyncratic the translations themselves may be. For a general understanding of the poetry, there's the little New Directions volume In Search of Duende. Nate Mackey has also written here and there about Lorca and duende. And then there's the amazing George Crumb song cycle, Ancient Voices of Children, settings of Lorca poems, some of the most uncanny classical music of the late 20th century.

steve collis said...

Ha! Only a little more than I learned from The Clash and The Pogues. Actually, much like Finkelstein, I began with Spicer. I don't have the big Collected Lorca, but for years have used an old New Directions Selected and a City Lights Cante Jondo. Lorca was best known (within Spain) for his ballads (romanceros); these haven't always been my favorite (though I do enjoy the Civil Guard Ballad). Otside Spain, of course, it's been Poet in New York (and the Walk Whitman Ode is hard not to like). But for me, the simple, early poems of the Canto Jondo have always been most Lorca--most Andalusian, and most Lorca. I've always read them as his most conscious enactment of duende. That's where I'd recommend anyone begin--with the duende essay and the Cante Jondo poems.