Tuesday, March 19, 2013

expanding the base

So I've been thinking about my own "knowledge base," a concept I've borrowed & modified from Jonathan Mayhew's very useful idea of the "scholarly base." There's this stack of poets whose work I know very well indeed, whom I've studied and studied hard, whose work I've read pretty much from one end to the other: LZ, Ronald Johnson, Milton, Niedecker, WCW, John Matthias, etc. And there's a somewhat larger group of poets whose work I've read in its entirely, but of whom I have a somewhat more casual grasp: John Peck, Michael Palmer, Moore, Prynne, Geoffrey Hill, Susan Howe, Creeley, etc.

And then there's the contemporaries. There are probably a half dozen poets whose every work I'll buy; and there are probably twenty or thirty poets whose book I'll pick up in the second-hand shop on the strength of their name alone. I've got lots of books of poetry waiting to be read: every year I seem to discover between twenty and forty new poets.

I've got a hankering, however, to get to grips with some contemporaries on a deeper level. To that end, I posted on Facebook this morning the following: "Looking for a new focus: who's the one poet -- between 30 & 50 -- besides yourself -- whom you think I ought to immerse myself in?" I got a bunch of responses, and here's the list:
Noah Eli Gordon
Graham Foust
Michael Cross
Elizabeth Treadwell
Jena Osman
Stacy Kidd
Peter O'Leary
Joshua Harmon
Gabrielle Calvocoressi
GC Waldrep
Harold Schweizer
Andrea Brady
Keston Sutherland
Dan Beachy-Quick
Joanna Klink
Nate Klug
Austin Smith
Michael Robbins
Ange Mlinko
Kevin Prufer
Laura Kasischke
Sean Bonney
Rory Waterman
Buck Downs
Andrew Zawacki
Julie Carr
Julie Doxsee
Juliana Leslie
Joshua Corey

(Points off, Mike Theune, for not reading instructions – one poet.) 29 poets in all – with Kevin Prufer recommended twice. If nothing else, the list shows me that I'm perhaps not as out of touch as I'd feared: only maybe four of these names are entirely new to me, and I've read books by about half of them. (I seem to have actually met about 2/5 of them – which means it's a small world.) Indeed, a few of them fall into my "know pretty well" category. I think the "pick up whatever looks interesting, then read other books by the good ones" method is working out alright.

What I decided this afternoon, however, was that I would indeed work to expand my "knowledge base," but not necessarily by changing my consumption/study of 30-50-year-olds. Instead, I'd focus on a few slightly older – boomer generation, really – poets who've written both poetry and essays, and whose work has always compelled me even if I haven't given it quite the time it deserves. So one of my ancillary reading projects over the next few months will be an in-depth reading of Rachel Blau DuPlessis (whose Drafts I've followed since they started appearing, but which I've never given the kind of concentrated reading they deserve); Norma Cole, every word of whose I've read I've been compelled by, but whom I've never quite been able to see whole; and Marjorie Welish, whose work – or at least the four or five books I've read – has both sensuality and really dazzling conceptual rigor.

That should keep me off the streets for a while.


Daniel Bouchard said...

With your indepth look at R DuPlessis I hope you will do me the honor of checking out the essay I wrote on Drafts, found here: http://jacket2.org/article/little-yod-and-rocking-enormity

E. M. Selinger said...

I recognize 3 names on the list. Hm. May be time to give up, officially, on thinking I know anything about contemporary poetry. Too long out of the loop, and a moving target (if you'll pardon the mixed metaphors). Not enough years left to catch up.


Ed Baker said...

at your age and in you condition you should be reducing the clutter and the scattering
rather than adding to your, apparently,

expand your "knowledge base " ?


one of these days all of those books will com crashing down from those highest shelves and

crush-you-to-death !

Archambeau said...

Not so fast, Professor! I saw your FB list -- I wrote on your FB list. And it also had (twice) Anthony Madrid. What skullduggery has led to his occlusion? Has the Anti-Madridist faction's conspiracy risen to such high levels that even a heretofore fearless scholar such as yourself trembles before it? Take courage, man! Only a handful of critics have disappeared after reading Madrid's works, and some of those have resurfaced (a little worse for wear, one admits...)

Mark Scroggins said...

Check the date stamp, Archambeau.

Ed, I often worry about being crushed under books. It's possibly my second favorite imaginary death.

Ed Baker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed Baker said...


the imagined is what tends to become (one's) reality
and the mirrored thought:

we run the risk of becoming what we pretend to be

et ceteras (or little-to-no consequences) ?

Lindsay said...

Hi Mark -

Just came across your blog today and have enjoyed reading.

I want to add another name for you: Brian Teare. He's a west coast guy who now teaches at Temple in Philly (he and Jena Osman are actually on my diss committee).

GC Waldrep is also pretty amazing. He had a poem called the Black Pick-up Truck of Death that knocked the wind out of me when he read it in Philly last year.