Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tod Thilleman: Root-Cellar to Riverine

Root-Cellar to Riverine, Tod Thilleman (Meeting Eyes Bindery [Spuyten Duyvil], 2009)

Tod Thilleman's been running Spuyten Duyvil as long as I can remember, & he's published some memorable books indeed: the best, for my money, the three volumes of Norman Finkelstein's big Track project & Peter O'Leary's luminous Watchfulness. (SD's also keeping important things of Michael Heller's in print, &, yes, they published – & did a lovely job of – my own Anarchy.) So ashes of shame on my head for never having explored Tod's poetry before the lovely Root-Cellar to Riverine turned up in my mailbox. It's a quirky little book – a single long poem in something like 60 12-line, very small-format pages. Thilleman has a music all his own, sometimes lyrical, sometimes dissonant; pretty consistently surprising. I'll admit "root-cellar" always sets me thinking of WCW's "cat" poem – you know, the one with the jam-closet & so forth. But Root-Cellar is very un-Williamsesque: more an assertion – nay, a demonstration – that ruminative, considerative poetry is still possible. You've got to admire Thilleman's ability to leap from the jars in the cellar to the meaning of life; and it doesn't at all hurt that the poem to my ear 's shot thru with echoes of Briggflatts.

I'm glad to see SD back on deck, after some heavy weather, with a (relatively) new(ish)* poetry imprint, Meeting Eyes Bindery. A couple more things on my shelf I'm looking forward to opening: Richard Blevins's Captivity Narratives, which looks like precisely the sort of history- and text-based thing (Stephen Collis, Susan Howe, Olson) that gets me excited; and a twofer, Breathing Bolaño, which pairs (in different print orientations) Thilleman's Breathing and selections from Blevins's Corrido of Bolaño, along with a chunk of the two poets' correspondence.

Perhaps I'm trying, given the new year & so forth, to be a bit more directed in my poetry reading this time around. We'll see.



Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"once more..."

Two of three syllabi have been "finalized" (temporarily, subject to revision, etc.), up-to-the-minute rolls have been printed out, talking notes have been assembled – so I'm off for the first classes of the semester, bracing myself not merely against the wholly unseasonable chill in the South Florida air, but for that inevitable moment of stage fright when I first stand up in front of the assembly & introduce myself: "Hi, I'm MS; I'll be your instructor this semester..." Odd – after doing this for over 2 decades, the 1st day really doesn't get any easier.

Friday, January 08, 2010

new year

So I'm back – back from the holidays, back from a harrowing weekend at Sanibel Island on the Gulf Coast: not that Sanibel isn't a lovely place, but when the weather's dipping into the 30s at night, even the heated pool's too frackin' cold to swim in (don't even mention the Gulf itself!), you've got two young ones who are altogether too young to enjoy the meditative pleasures of wildlife observation, & you're stuck on a skinny little island where there's nothing to do but resort-y things – well, things can get tedious. Yes, I know, my northerly comrades shoveling snow don't have much sympathy.

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).