Wednesday, November 09, 2016

poem draft, dated 11/4/16-11/9/16

And then there was that time—he’s telling
someone, years hence—he hopes to be—when we all
            ran a raging fever, when we slewed
            from the gas range to the icebox, when nothing,
not even the voice of our parents, could calm
us down. You hated me, she says, and I
            hated everything you said. We barely remembered
            the commons, the playground, the vacant
                        lot, even as a concept. Something was hiding
                        in a corner of the basement, misshapen and
            scary, and it got out, made skittering hoof-clicks
            in the dark across the polished hall floor, left
a funny metallic taste in the bottom of the water-
cups. It’s not that something happened, but that
                        something had been happening all
                        along, growing up beside us
                        like an unnoticed sibling or
                        a spectral husband. Corner-
                        of-the-eye stuff, you know?
            The colder air braces you against
            the fall, when it finally comes.
There’s a rabbit in the backyard, nosing
around among the leaves you haven’t
            raked. Mail stacked in the hall, a dozen
            files cluttering the desktop. You shift
and putter, neaten up and put away.
This is no time for pretending everything’s
            changed or everything’s alright, that the gears
            have somehow slipped or the shiny machinery’s
broken.This is how it’s supposed to work, this
is where your day-in-day-out has brought you.
                        The fever broke, he tells the child
                        on his knee, just nodding off
                        in sleepiness or boredom, and the sky
                        was clear and pure and clean.
                        We could count the fingers before
                        us, put one foot in front
                        of the other. We knew our right
            hand from our left, and our neighbors
            from our enemies. Who we were allowed
to love, and who was off limits. The rabbit
is gone, and all the little squabbling sparrows.
            The brilliant yellow leaves are mostly fallen,
            crunch damply under our waffled
boot-heels, or mutely let themselves
be gathered in. And down the street, the engine
            is still running, solid and remorseless.
            O David Kaufmann, sage and bewildered
lodestar of these marginal notes, pray for us now
and at the hour of our waking, pray for us
            before the Law and beyond the door
            through which we passed unknowing.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

It's Alive! The Mathematic Sublime: Writing About Poetry

My new collection of essays and reviews is out now: The Mathematical Sublime: Writing About Poetry. (Those of you who are scared of math—count me as one—shouldn't be put off by the title: I guarantee, no equations!)

What's in it, you ask? Well, taking a leaf from Bob Archambeau's book (or rather, his blog, in which he describes his new book—published under the same imprint as The Mathematical Sublime, and featuring a shocking similar cover design—what I like to call "MadHat/Clarendon"), here's a rundown of the contents, so that you can find out what I have to say about your favorite poet or poetry critic:
[In which I explain how I came to poetry and to the various poets I write about, and what the whole "mathematical sublime business is about]

            1. Reviews

The Condition of Hebrew: Geoffrey Hill, Speech! Speech!
[In which Hill is compared to Bruce Andrews, but then I take that back.]
A Tinkertoy Poetics: Charles Bernstein, All the Whiskey in Heaven
[Holy smoke! FSG has published a selected Charles Bernstein that isn't particularly user-friendly for typical FSG types!]
Kedging in Time: John Matthias, Kedging
[John Matthias continues being one of the most important late modernist American poets.]
The New Colossus, Revisited: Jonathan Barron and Eric Selinger, Jewish American Poetry
[Jewish American poetry has been slighted; Barron and Selinger gives us a gigantic gumbo of evidence that it oughtn't be.]
Passionate, Eccentric Reading: Norman Finkelstein, Not One of Them in Place
[Finkelstein offers a more focused genealogy of Jewish American poetry: can you say "Post-Objectivist"?]
By the Rivers of Babylon: Maeera Shreiber, Singing in a Strange Land
[Shreiber gives Jewish American poetry yet another look, this time with a focus on the religious element.]
Zuk and Ole Bill: The Correspondence of William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofsky
[These letters are too important not to have been published already; shame WCW didn't save LZ's letters to him more often.]
A Poetics of Being: Peter Nicholls, George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism
[In this massively important book, we learn that Oppen never really read Hegel, but that he didn't need to.]
Scars and Fascination: John Wilkinson, Proud Flesh and Lake Shore Drive
[Wilkinson's poetry—even twenty years between these two collections—remains harsh, repellant, and fascinating.]
Resignation and Independence: Robert Archambeau, The Poet Resigns
[A smorgasbord of critical forays; the close readings are more convincing than the broad generalizations, but it's nice someone is making the latter.]
Twilight Gardening: Ronald Johnson, The Shrubberies
[Old men tend their gardens; old poets writing garden poetry.]
Postmodern Poetry’s Blue Period: Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Blue Studios
[DuPlessis makes the essay new; and thinks eloquently about what's at stake in doing that.]
Innovation’s Explainer: Peter Quartermain, Stubborn Poetries
[Nobody writes about weird poetry better than Quartermain, but can't we have a little fun?]
The Book of Oz: Ronald Johnson, ARK
[New edition of ARK! and why that's a very good thing.]

            2. Essays

Susan Howe’s Hauntologies
[Susan Howe, Shakespeare, Jacques Derrida, Ghost Box records, Harry Smith's Anthology—whole lotta hauntin' goin' on.]
The “half-fabulous field-ditcher”: Ruskin, Pound, Geoffrey Hill
[Yes, Pound was a Ruskinian (without knowing it), but Geoffrey Hill knows it; gratuitous swipes at Cesare Pavese along the way.]
The “net / (k)not – work(s)” of Robert Sheppard’s Twentieth Century Blues
[Sheppard writes a book which wants to be a hypertext, or maybe a labyrinth.]
“I am not an occultist”: Robert Duncan’s H. D. Book
[No, Virginia, modernism was not a sweeping of the decks of late-Victorian fustian, a hygiene of language; it was a bunch of occultism and a big carnival of table-rapping seances. So sez RD.]
The Master of Speech and Speech Itself: Nathaniel Mackey’s “Septet for the End of Time”
[An early essay on an early Mackey chapbook; still very fond of this piece.]

            3. 100 Poem-Books

[From the pages of Culture Industry itself, 100 micro- (and sometimes a bit longer) reviews of poetry books. Robert Christgau's "Consumer Guide" must have been somewhere in my mind writing these, but I don't assign letter grades. Mostly I don't write about what I don't like, though a few have crept in. Your book is probably noted here.]


Right now I'm working on a large essay-review, an attempt at coming to terms with a long and very complicated recent book of poetry. And it's a very, very difficult book, maybe one of the hardest I've ever read. So part of my essay is going to be an extended thinking-through of the issue of difficulty in poetry.

I wrote a few sentences on it this afternoon, and looked up a few things, and then I realized, I've been writing this passage, this essay, ever since I started my dissertation a million years ago! And God help me, I'm still writing it. I found quotations and passages I can still stand by in a discarded early chapter of the dissertation (on Mallarmé); I found useful materials in the dissertation itself (which became my first real book).

Zukofsky says somewhere that every writer writes a single work her or his entire life, plays variations on a tiny number of themes. I suppose that's true on some level. And I can think of all kinds of smart critics whose work can be not so much summed up as exemplified in one or two concepts: Empson = ambiguity; Ricks = allusion; Bloom = Oedipal struggle. That's not fair, I know, but it's not particularly inaccurate, either.

I'd always hoped to be not a hedgehog but a fox, darting from subject to subject, concept to concept. But I seem to be aging into a one-note calliope; or perhaps I'm just aging to the point where I recognize the themes my thinking has been circling around all along.