Friday, September 29, 2006

Gerald Stern

My Sister’s Funeral

Since there was no mother for the peach tree we did it
all alone, which made the two of us closer
though closeness brought its loneliness, and it would
have been better I think sometimes to be sterile
from the start just to avoid the pain
which in my life this far has lasted seventy
years for I am in love with a skeleton
on whose small bones a dress hung for a while,
on whose small skull a bit of curly hair
was strung, and what is dust I still don’t know
since there was no mother to turn to then and ask
what else was she wearing, did she have on shoes,
and were the two trees from Georgia, and was it
true somebody said the other peach
should have died instead of her; and I could
imagine the nose going first though forty years later
the trees were still there and not as big as you’d think;
and it was my cousin Red with the flabby lips
who said it, he had red eyes, a red monstrosity,
a flabby body, half the house was filled with
male cousins, they were born in rooms a
short distance from the rats, I can’t remember
which ones had the accents nor what his
Hebrew name was, nor his English.

"My Sister’s Funeral" is reprinted from Everything is Burning ( 2005) - by Gerald Stern - published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

August Macke (1887-1914)

Arbolen Untrigal

El Rhin Cerca de Hersel

Pescadores en el Rhin

Autoretrato con Sombrero

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pet Peeves

People who argue that making poetry more accessible vitiates the art form while simultaneously decrying the state of modern poetry vis a vis its audience.

If there is no true inherent system in poetics to judge whether poetry is "good" or "bad" or just plain "ugly"; then why is everyone so upset at David Lehman's choices - whether or not they smack of cronyism.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Notes - Re: Can Poetry be Judged by Objective Criteria?

John Hollander writes in Rhyme’s Reason: “Poetry is a matter of trope; and verse, of scheme or design. But the blueprints of verse can be used to build things made of the literal or non-poetic material –…which is why most verse is not poetry.” Certainly certain conditions must be met for verse (whether "formal" or "free") to be defined as poetry. It cannot be enough to simply put words in an array for them to be considered poetry.

If there is a set of criteria/elements (diction, syntax, line & half-meaning, trope & thought, rhetoric & speech, rhythm & combination etc...) which is necessary to define poetry as such, might there not be a similar guideline to determine whether that poetry is “good” or “bad”. Poetry (like all art) should resonate with the reader/consumer. It should as Robert Frost put it,"… begin with a lump in the throat, a home-sickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where the emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the words."

Thus, it should move the reader – take them on a journey to some form of enlightenment (all the while entertaining them). If a poem does not engage us or (at its completion) has us saying- “So what?”, it has failed us. Does this make the poem “non-viable” or “bad”? Perhaps for us, as reader, but maybe not for others. If it works for more readers than it doesn’t for others; does that make it a good poem? That it is functional for at least one reader - may be a necessary condition for “viable” poetry; but not a sufficient one in my estimation for “good” poetry.

If for a moment we might imagine a circle as representing a poetic mindset, might it not be logical to assume that two circles might intersect when it comes to poetic aesthetics. Perhaps two like-minded individuals ( from the same school of poetic thought?) might be more likely to enjoy certain aspects of a poem. The overlap of these two circles might be greater than that of two readers from different aesthetics. However, by the very definition of poetry even two diverse poetic viewpoints must intersect at some point. There are certain expectations (however basic) on the part of the reader - vis a vis the pome, that must be met. Therefore, a “skillful” poem might then be one that readers from as many varied perspectives as possible can most agree upon as having some intrinsic value. Inevitably, is this not what makes a poem as viable today as somewhere down the road?

Perfectly Clear!

As a young man, Collins himself bought the idea that poetry should be obscure.

"I wrote poems I hoped no one could understand," he said. "If they did there would be no point in writing poetry. We still have to get over our mild hangover from that kind of modernism." ...

The poet talks about the "etiquette" of poetry, which calls on poets to be clear and comprehensible. In return, he imagines, they might actually attract readers.

"It took me a long time to figure out how to do that," he said. "It took me a long time to take the risk to be clear. People throw the word `risk' around in art. Usually it's applied to highly experimental work.

"The real risk in poetry these days is to be clear. If you're clear, if poetry follows a certain etiquette and uses standard punctuation, you're now exposed.

"You have nowhere to hide."

----------------------------------------------------------------------Billy Collins

* source: The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Canadian Content

Allyson Clay

(Heft) Subversive Intent - 2003

Enormous Changes: Each Wild Idea (Fountain Series) - 2005

Chapter 1: Each Wild Idea (Garden Series) - 2005


*Allyson Clay received her M.F.A. from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. She has recently exhibited her work in Vancouver, Toronto, and Washington D.C.,

**Her work also appears in the new edition of Drunken Boat

Monday, September 18, 2006

Shenandoah - Vol. 56. No. 2 - Fall 2006

Sampler: a poem by - John Savoie

Sweet Blues

Nose on breastbone, pursed lips
blow heat into her heart,
slide back and forth humming
her harmonica, the lithe
tongue searching all her stops,
high and low, musical
spit, the blues exploding
and earth shudders, the river
thrown off course, spilling
its banks where a barefoot man
knelt long ago to scoop
and squeeze and shape that clay
into the ripe image of
her magnificence, and sang,
oh yes he sang, sweet blues
down by the muddy water.


John Savoie won two Hopwood Awards for his poetry at the University of Michigan. His poems have appeared in Poetry, JAMA and The Evansville Review, and he teaches at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Poems in Vitro - Vol. 1, No. 7

This poem has been removed.


----------------------------(James Tate )

When I woke from my afternoon nap, I wanted
to hold onto my dream, but in a matter of seconds
it had drifted away like a fine mist. Nothing
remained; oh, perhaps a green corner of cloth
pinched between my fingers, signifying what?
Everything about the house seemed alien to me.
The scissors yawned. The plants glowed. The
mirror was full of pain and stories that made no
sense to me. I moved like a ghost through the rooms.
Stacks of books with secret formulas and ancient
hieroglyphic predictions. And lamps, like stern
remonstrances. The silverware is surely more
guilty than I. The doorknobs don’t even believe
in tomorrow. The green cloth is burning-up. I
toss it into the freezer with a sigh of relief.


Born in Kansas City, Missouri, he is the author of Return to the City of White Donkeys (2004); Memoir of the Hawk (2002); Shroud of the Gnome (1998); Worshipful Company of Fletchers (1995), which won the National Book Award; Selected Poems (1991), which won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the William Carlos Williams Award; Distance from Loved Ones (1990); Reckoner (1986); Constant Defender (1983); Riven Doggeries (1979); Viper Jazz (1976); Absences(1972); Hints to Pilgrims (1971); The Oblivion Ha-Ha (1970); and The Lost Pilot (1967), selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets... He is currently a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets.
------------------------------------------------------------------(Source Wikipedia)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Shelter From The Storm

My Thoughts And Prayers Go Out To The Dawson College Shooting Victims & Their Families .

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

You be the Judge!

I don't know about you but I've got several poems in my Poetry in Vitro file that I know are ready for my desktop recycle bin and binary oblivion. (Sort of like that piece of bacon that's all crooked and deformed - under the perfect stack of maple-smoked bacon.) But I just don't have the heart to put them out of their rhetorical misery. The majority of them were written early on (which for this poet means about five years ago). I'm a late bloomer - you got a problem with that! I like to think that my poetry has grown by leaps and bounds...Ignorance is bliss and all that.

So your assigment should you choose to accept it is to read the poetry (torture I'm sure) and determine if it is salvageable or not. This post will self-destruct in 24 hours or not! As always should your position be compromised I will deny any knowledge of your existence. Good luck!

Judgement has been rendered - thanks!

Monday, September 11, 2006


Louise Bogan

Poet Laureate : 1945-1946


Now that I know
How passion warms little
Of flesh in the mould,
And treasure is brittle,--

I'll lie here and learn
How, over their ground
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.


from Body of this Death: Poems (1923)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Friday, September 08, 2006

Collin's Take

Collin Kelley has something interesting to add to the "Barr" debate. Check it out!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Raising the Barr… Again

It seems that whenever I read an article on the state of poetry today the author inevitably dwells on the negative. They fixate on how poetry today is suffering from le grand malaise of apathy on the part of the reading public. I have yet to read a treatise on what is working well in today’s poetic scene and what is worthy in today’s state of poetry. Is all poetry truly tired and stagnant? Are all poets becoming more and more alike, surviving vicariously in a symbiotic, albeit poetically incestuous relationship with other poets? Have poets truly and completely lost the interest to even write for a general public? Would this purported public even care if they did? I have no answers to these questions.

What I do know is that I write for myself. I do not write & publish to acquire tenure; to impress my poet mentor; make my bones in an MFA program; receive fellowships, grants, and other subsidies or to garner poetry prizes that I can stick into my poetic hat. I agree that I am totally narcissistic when it comes to my poetry, but I also care a great deal about craft and I envy the MFA student that can devote so many hours in a day to poetics. I would like to be so steeped in poetics that I might see elements of poetry in every objectification that I encountered on a daily basis.

And yes in response to Barr’s point that almost all poets end up teaching, I too have worn the hat of teacher. But I have never defined myself as such. It was merely a means to an end. (Not that it left a discernible bad aftertaste in my mouth. Actually, I rather enjoyed it!) But I have never defined myself by that which engaged me in a remunerative activity. My educational background is in Sociology (M.A.) but I do not consider myself sociologist either. I refuse to let my social roles confine and pigeon-hole me. And so too, when it comes to my role as poet - (which is admittedly rather a small role in the grand scheme of it all), I refuse to be stereotyped.

Nature vs. Nurture & Poetic Careerism

There has been a longstanding point of contention among social scientists as to which variable: (nature or nurture) is more instrumental in determining the behavior and personality of the individual. What truly makes us who we are? Is the poet born or socially molded and socialized into one? Is the predisposition to develop into a poet based on our genetic or social makeup?

Barr clearly indicates that he feels that nature is the determinant factor in the poet’s evolution. Craft can be learned via MFA programs but we already come to these programs as writers. If anything these programs seem to mold the student in the likeness of the program’s mentor. Ergo; his assuredness that the next poetic Messiah will probably not be an MFA student. Whereas this lends an infinitesimally slight optimism to my personal history as poet, I cannot wholeheartedly accept this premise without any corroboration.

Nonetheless, I do agree that,” The creation of art is not a matter of fellowship. Writing a poem is a fiercely independent act. It is the furthest thing from mentors, residencies, and tenure.” The need to write does not (at least in my case) ever arise during a social event. It is a “sullen craft” that I ply alone. The words & elements of the “poem in vitro”, ebulliently bob to the surface of the conscious mindset when the need arises. And, yes, the urge to write is often something that I must assuage. Having said this I might, however, add that revision & critique is perhaps better suited to “fellowship”.

Write What You Know

I have always contended that any attempt at writing from another POV completely alien to one’s cognitive mindset is necessarily tinged by the subjective. We cannot help but imprint on all that we create the unique stamp of our subjectivity. To quote Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Our socio-cultural perspective precludes any true objectivity. As a social scientist conducting social research the quicker that we come to grips with this reality the more accurate our studies become.

Writing poetry appears to be no different. When Barr indicates that we must live broadly to write boldly I have a tendency to agree with him. As he posits: “…the poem one might get from a poet strolling past a construction site versus the poem one might get from the poet who is pouring concrete” will inevitably differ. Certainly the latter poet can bring more to the poetic table that the former. But where I disagree with Barr is in the extent that one must go to, to attain ”material” conducive to stimulate the creative juices. Writing about something or an event that is out of the ordinary in our reader’s life experience is simple enough. Writing about the commonplace in some profound way which deeply resonates with our reader is the more difficult of the two tasks. And it is precisely this incisiveness which demarcates the good poet from the exceptional one.

Great Poets & Great Audiences

To have great poets, there must be great audiences too,” Barr quotes Whitman. But Whitman himself, self-published Leaves of Grass in 1855, as it had not garnered the critical acclaim that he had envisaged. Another of his contemporaries Emily Dickinson never even had an audience in her lifetime, let alone a great audience.

To reach a greater audience the poet perforce must be more accessible. Yet when a poet becomes accessible such as a Billy Collins or Ted Kooser, they are usually written off by academics & critics alike. Become a “popular poet” and you are disparaged by your peers. Write for your peers and the critics alike and you are considered too high-brow and inaccessible by a greater audience. There’s the catch-22.

Furthermore, in order to even attain any modicum of success in the Po-Biz you must be published in reputable literary magazines which are inevitably edited by individuals that more than likely have attended some form of writing program & thus will have probably acquired a preference for poetry with a more academic bent. It appears to be a cycle that cannot be easily broken.

In conclusion, Barr’s recommendation that, “Groundbreaking new art comes when artists make a changed assumption about their relationship to their audience, talk to their readers in a new way, and assume they will understand.”, is not likely to be realized if the poet is too busy writing for an audience that will inevitably publish and/or acclaim them. The poet is no position to change their relationship with this audience when their poetic success is contingent on the very group that decides whether they will achieve notoriety or remain in obscurity.

The Drone of Modern Poetry – Deuxieme Partie

(An Outline of “ American Poetry in the New Century “ by John Barr .)

Part I – The Problem with Modern Poetry

  • Modern poetry does not capture the way things are
  • Reality outgrows the art form: the art form is no longer equal to the reality around it.
  • Poetry is missing from everyday society & public dialogue in our: classrooms; bookstores; mainstream media
  • A general interested public is poetry’s foremost need
  • Lacking a general audience – poets still write for one another
  • Since poets cannot support themselves by writing books & selling them to the general public; they end up teaching
  • Academic life removes them even further from their public
  • MFA students think that poetry has something to do with credentials
  • Result: increase in the quantity of a poetry that is neither robust; resonant nor entertaining; a poetry that is limited in its variety; a poetry that both starves & flourishes on academic subsidies
  • Poetry has a morale problem – But art should not be only about malfunction. Poetry need not come only from impairment.
  • Poetry’s limitations today come not from failures of craft but from afflictions of spirit.
  • Summation: The combined effects of public neglect and careerism, then, are intellectual and spiritual stagnation in the art form. … Attitude has replaced intellect.

Part II – The Next Era

  • Poetry arises from what is intractable in the human spirit.
  • A dead end is the fate that awaits any poetry that is not a record of the human spirit.
  • Technical innovation [in poetry] for its own sake is like the tail that tries to wag the dog.
  • I do believe the next era of poetry will not come from further innovations of form, but from an evolution of the sensibility on lived experience.

Poetry As a Career

  • MFA programs can make a writer more knowledgeable in the traditions and the contemporary scope of the art, more accomplished in the craft of writing, more aware of the nimbus of critical commentary which surrounds and to some extent drives the art
  • However, these programs carry pressures to succumb to the intimidations implicit in a climate of careerism. They operate on a network of academic postings and prizes that reinforce the status quo.
  • They are sustained by a system of fellowships, grants, and other subsidies that a reader who is not a specialist might enjoy, might even buy.
  • The MFA experience can confuse the writing of poetry, as a career, with the writing of a poem as a need or impulse.
  • The creation of art is not a matter of fellowship. Writing a poem is a fiercely independent act. It is the furthest thing from mentors, residencies, and tenure.
  • The one valid impulse to write a poem is not to impress but to share: wonder or anger or anguish or ecstasy. But always wonder.
  • For the poet a sense of wonder is prerequisite to afford the possibility of the displacement of language into fresh response.
  • Will the next Walt Whitman be an MFA graduate? Somehow it seems hard to imagine.

Write What You Live & Live What You Write

  • the academic life can provide a perfectly good base of experience from which to write.
  • But the effect of how we live on what we write—a linkage which seems to me very under-recognized today—suggests that if everyone teaches in order to support their writing needs, it follows that the breadth of the aggregate experience base available to poetry may suffer. In fact, with a few important exceptions, no major American poet has come from the academic world.
  • Poetry, like a prayer book in the wind, should be open to all pages at once.
  • It is the unconscious habit of poets to wait for the poem to come to them. Most contemporary poets align their role as writer with that of witness. They think of the artist as one more acted upon than acting.
  • This is not to say, of course, that great poetry cannot come out of the most meager repository of lived experience. …The point rather is that poets today don't seem even to be aware that what they write will be influenced by how they live.
  • When poets come to pay as much attention to how they live as to what they write, that may mark one new beginning for poetry.
  • Poets should live broadly, then write boldly.

PART III – Change is Good For The Soul & The Poet

  • Poetry, in its long history, has been all things to all people.
  • The lyric poem by far dominates as the kind of poem written today.
  • The sole function of the lyric poem, ubiquitous as its footprint has become, is to personalize the subject at hand.
  • The ubiquity of the lyric poem today, to the exclusion of other modes of poetry, is another sign of poverty in the art form.
  • In the eyes of those who succeed it, an age of poetry comes to be defined at least in part by what it was not.
  • If the present era comes to be viewed by future readers as a time of worthy but not compelling poetry, it will not be for failures of craft.
  • I don’t agree that our culture conspires to deny us our privacy, the quiet time it takes to read a poem.
  • The human mind is a marketplace, especially when it comes to selecting one's entertainment.
  • I think the responsibilities of the public to poetry are nil.
  • Rather, I think the responsibilities are all on the part of poetry to its public.
  • Poetry, coming from the other direction, must meet a standard of pleasure as well as profundity if it is to recover its place in American culture.
  • Poetry needs to find its public again, and address it.
  • Every poem implies its audience; our goal is to get that poem in front of its largest intended audience.
  • In a golden age of poetry the audience will not be just the workshop, where poets write for other poets, or the classroom—both of which have provided crucial sanctuary to poetry during the past half century.
  • Its audience will lie also in that world of non-poetry readers who come to discover its deep sustenance. "To have great poets, there must be great audiences too," Whitman said, and then he wrote for them.
  • Groundbreaking new art comes when artists make a changed assumption about their relationship to their audience, talk to their readers in a new way, and assume they will understand.


Source: Poetry - September 2006

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Drone of Modern Poetry?

"American poetry is ready for something new because our poets have been writing in the same way for a long time now. There is fatigue, something stagnant about the poetry being written today. ...The manner of it has long been mastered. Modernism has passed into the DNA of the MFA programs. For all its schools and experiments, contemporary poetry is still written in the rain shadow thrown by Modernism. It is the engine that drives what is written today. And it is a tired engine. "

--------------------------------------------------------------------------John Barr


John Barr is president of the Poetry Foundation and has served on the boards of the Poetry Society of America, Yaddo, and Bennington College. His books include The Hundred Fathom Curve (1997) and Grace (1999), both from Story Line Press. (From - Poetry: September 2006)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Louise Gluck


Why is the earth angry at heaven?
If there's a question, is there an answer?

On Dana Street, a copper beech.
Immense, like the tree of my childhood,
but with a violence I wasn't ready to see then.

I was a child like a pointed finger,
then an explosion of darkness;
my mother could do nothing with me.
Interesting, isn't it,
the language she used.

The copper beech rearing like an animal.

Frustration, rage, the terrible wounded pride
of rebuffed love - I remember

rising from the earth to heaven. I remember
I had two parents,
one harsh, one invisible. Poor
clouded father, who worked
only in gold and silver.


From "The Seven Ages" by Louise Gluck; The Ecco Press: 2001