New year's resolutions? Well, first (as always) to get done the things I didn't finish last year. (Managed actually to get a decent amount of that done on Sanibel, surprisingly.) Yes, to lose some weight (as always): getting rather tired of that "portly" look. There's nothing I can do about the shiny pate & the grey beard, but heaven knows I shouldn't be going around looking like Dom Deluise – this is South Florida, after all. (I remember seeing Hüsker Dü back 'round 1985 or so & thinking, damn, Bob Mould is FAT – I look at the videos now & he looks pretty darned slim, compared to yr humble blogger.) Maybe get around to getting those tattoos; then who knows? maybe some serious body mods – pointy Spock-ears, cleft tongue, etc. Hey, I'm a full professor now – I never have to interview for a job again!
Other more serious friends (Brian & Amy, Eric – big huzzah!) seem to have resolved to ease up a bit on the nano-discourse of Twitter & Facebook & blog a bit more steadily, which is a fine thing. (See Amy's fine meditation on the multitasking-enabled mushification of the American brain.)
I was mulling over the notion of a decade's-retrospective post, & I may still get around to that, but there's this matter of syllabi to cook up before next week's classes, so that'll have to wait.
That last post on voracious poetry-reading stirred up some responses. To respond to some of my commentators:
Norman – I hear you. But I think it's also true to say, as Samuel Johnson says somewhere, that in your youth (or, lest I be guilty of calling you "middle-aged," in the earlier part of your youth), you most definitely "read hard." Both Norman & Ed are right about too much reading scrambling the circuits of one's own creative work; maybe I'm just in a heavy reading mode right now because I'm in a lower gear in my own writing?
Curtis – absolutely right, & I suspect that there's a point at which I'll taper off, or ratchet down. And of course by no means all, or even the majority of, my poetry-reading is from the shelves of newish unknowns – I mean, I seem to reread Spring and All & Tender Buttons & various other personal "classics" at least on a yearly basis, & am regularly plunging into some acknowledged monument I haven't yet read. And a significant chunk of what I read – probably about 1/3, at a quick guess – is re-reading.
I don't think you can find the books that "touch" you without reading a certain number of things that you'll probably forget, maybe instantly. And this is where "marukusuboy"'s Sherlock Holmes quotation, as much as I like it, fails: I'm by no means cramming all those poetry books into an already overcrowded mental "attic": rather, I'm filing the ones that "touch me" in among what's already there (LZ, Olson, Pound, Blake, Dickinson, Stein, Johnson, Palmer, Johnson, Howe) & putting the rest on the shelf (or hauling them to the used bookstore to pile up some credit – the reviewer's trick).
Eric responded in a measured way on his own blog. Not sure I like that word "pathology," but have to plead guilty to at least a bit of OCD on this score. Hey, I like to read; it's not my worst habit.
Perhaps the most thorough & thoughtful response has been from Andrew Wessell, whose blog A Compulsive Reader will go on my blogroll (if I ever get around to updating it). He's got two excellent posts titled "On Reading," the second of which quotes an email from his friend Nik, who in turn links to a Poetry Foundation piece by Paisley Rekdal, in which PR takes up the gauntlet thrown by Timothy Liu at last year's AWP – Liu, it turns out, reads FIVE books of poetry a week.
Have a look at Wessell's posts, if you're at all interested. But two quick thoughts:
1) When Jacques Derrida told the interviewer (it's in the Derrida film) who asked him if he'd read "all those books" (the classic doofus question – cf. Benjamin's "Unpacking My Library" essay) oh, no, only three or four of them, but I've read them very thoroughly – HE WASN'T BEING SERIOUS.
2) In re: Nik's final sentence ("it reminded me of a 9th grade bench pressing contest — whatever that mfa’r said, whether it be 50 or 75, scroggins was going to put up at least 25lbs more"): I wanna say something intemperate, but won't. I'm not trying to one-up anyone; it just struck me as a little symptomatic of the thinness of writing education. Put it in perspective: The guy I quoted had just finished an MFA, a "professionalizing" degree in poetry writing which typically takes 2-3 years, & was happy he'd been required (!) to read 50 books of poetry. That's 25 books a year, two books a month. Let's imagine a graduate film production person who watches 2 videos a month, or a student at a conservatory who listens to 2 albums or goes to 2 concerts a month. Hmmm.
And a little more perspective: most contemporary books of poetry clock in under 100 pages; chapbooks at maybe 30 tops. Even a careful, recursive reading isn't going to take more than 2 or 3 hours for the books, maybe an hour for the chapbooks. How does one find the time? I can only answer for myself – but I don't watch TV, I don't have a Wii or an Xbox, I don't stand in line at Starbucks. Yeah, I read a lot of poetry, & a pretty good deal of other stuff: but I play with my kids, I cook the meals in my household, I noodle around on various stringed instruments, & I make a pretty good pretense of doing my job. And I do a little writing on the side.
Quantification is for the birds, ultimately. But Sean Bonney's Blade Pitch Control Unit (Salt, 2005) is pretty damned devastating – by a long shot the best thing I've read this year. Go read it – but take your time, if you like (or if you can – it's one of those propulsive reads).