Friday, January 28, 2005

Raising (minor) Poets

Innocence by Ney Cardoso Posted by Hello

I’ve been accused of popularity. I plead not guilty, but a jury of my peers must eventually decide. For the prosecution Bino and A.D. I speak to you, pro se. (“A defendant that represents himself has a fool for a client”. Anonymous.)

This is my case: Contrary to what many might believe the comments on my blog are “pushed up” because I reply to each commenter with an individual comment. If you divide the comments by two, members of the jury, you will find that I am not popular at all. It is not true that the bilingual thing raises the comment count. It is the trilingual thing that raises the count. I have one dear commenter, Aquí, who is a fine poet in the making, I might add, that I have discovered by my little self, that comments in Galician. That’s my mother tongue and although Aquí cannot speak English, he/she arms hir self with a dictionary to try and make me feel good. A nice person that Aquí. Unfortunately shi doesn’t comment often enough because hir’s too busy coming up with great metaphors. True that others, Bino and C. Dale, have commented in Spanish, but their very desire to comment in such a romantic language makes my case. Ask Neruda. (See, attached, Exhibit I.)

But my final defense shall be through the recited word. This is the only poem you shall read from me in this blog. So you must read it, members of the jury. You must read it all, out loud. It will hurt some sensibilities and if it weren’t so Frostian even C. Dale would pick it up for NER. Be brave folks, if Donald Justice can play why can’t I? (Sorry but I can’t do anything about the format on this blogger popular thing.) All is, of course, in good fun :-). I’m innocent, I swear. Just in case I plead mental insanity: Little Fucking Emerson did it.

Raising (minor) Poets

I’ve raised poets on my farm rhyming between house and barn.
Troops of poets run amok causing problems of pest control

and, later, serious spread of disease from overcrowding
(though it cleared the place of rats and vermin of the kind
that found poets gnawing on the wood of the fascia and the eave
barely visible from the creek—to see one dawn,
or was it a sunset reflected on the wall?)

Mind you, I’ve raised rats before;
all they gnawed was without cruelty.

Not worth catching and caging one of them or pairing two
should they proliferate and later think that they could sing
of heather blooming on my field to the mountain on the edge…

…imagine then the cacophony of distress
on a once quiet everlasting meadow.

By Little Fucking Emerson

Monday, January 24, 2005

Turtle Stones

"Dark Reef" by Michael Cross Posted by Hello

And we must begin now: by cunning, by consultation with the stars and conversations with the wind; by withdrawal if necessary—to a rock pile, or a woodland of stumps and ferns; to another place, one surrounded by bone and tissue, next door to a steady heart.” [“Roots”, John Haines, Quarry West 1 (Winter 1971-72.)]

It was obvious Sunday morning that something needed to be done about the turtles. My son Alberte, six, insisted that his turtles, one-year-olds, needed swimming room, next to the fish in his tank. My attempt to reason with him was to no avail; it was fine that they didn’t have brachia as long as they could swim as well as they did. “But, son, they need a resting place, a safe place to watch the day go by. They’re not fish.” He thought about it for a second, I saw it in his eyes, but knew better than to say it. (“No shit, dad. They’re turtles!”) But never mind, I knew, they either swam or sank.

I needed stones, say, palm-size, to put in the tank so the turtles could climb and rest. Why punish them swimming forever. Our beach, because it’s right there behind the house so the children insist that it is their place, an idea which I wasn’t about to counter, was filled with kelp, green and brown, from yesterday’s gale. Yesterday was winter. Today the season had changed, like the flip of coin, making us leave our jackets home. “We’re going rock-picking for the turtles,” my daughter Carme, seven, said to the neighbor, who didn’t know much what to say: “Seems like a good day for that.”

Watching the children on the beach, climbing rocks, dangerous ones for them—“bigger than Everest”—I sensed their feeling of place. The smell of salt and kelp; the kids’ tiny steps on the sand. The baby crabs. (Wordsworth’s “pleasure feeling of blind love, / The pleasure which there is in life itself.”) We picked small stones like Japanese gardeners considering curves and flat surfaces: tipping equilibrium from a turtle’s point of view. The children picked fine specimens, some like quartz, jagged and crystalline, others simply dark and round; little boulders tossed by many a storm.

We didn’t agree on the final count. “We don’t need so many. The turtles need room to swim in the tank.” Sure, dad.

I climbed the hill back to the house, a heavy load of stones tipping against my stomach and chest. The neighbor continued with his garden pruning. “Stones…for the turtles,” I said. “Sure, turtle stones,” he said, “nice day for that I suppose.”

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Fear among the peerless

James Ensor "Aux Masques" Posted by Hello

Great post at Michael Hoerman’s Pornfeld (Tuesday, January 18). I’ll sabotage a small portion since I had the same note written down on my notebook that caused Michael intrigue. It was the following comment by Ron Silliman that raised both our eyebrows:

…anti-group behavior has never served any younger poet well…The tendency of so many younger poets has been to be militantly anti-group formation, yet in a field of literally hundreds upon hundreds of younger poets (say, under 40), it seems very clear that this strategy serves almost none of them well at all.”

Michael’s twist on this —his neuroeconomics discussion— deserves a careful read. You will find there that “male monkeys will pay in juice to see a picture of a high-ranking monkey, but must be given extra juice to be coaxed into looking at a picture of a monkey on the lowest rung of the social scale.” Translate that into the politics of poetry and see what you come up with. As a metaphor it works quite well and you need not be T.S. Eliot to bring this one home.

I happen to agree with Michael about his take on autodidact poets vs. academic poets, loners vs. groupies. None of the descriptions being derogatory, of course. But all of it also runs into previous discussions I’ve had with Bino Realuyo, Roger Pao, and A.T., among others, about the need (or not) for group formation in order to succeed in a poetry “career”. By group formation I also mean “cliques” or “clikes” (so A.T. can bang me right away). I’m not much into groups and their politics; e.g., recall the anthology “Asian American Poetry. The Next Generation”, edited by Victoria Chang and what that did to raise—aside from interest—a great deal of controversy and discontent. We heard about all kinds of things about that anthology—as we did from Houlihan on BAP 2004 —but little if anything on the poetry itself. Not something to write home about.

But reality also brings these issues into focus. Consider Charles’ recent posts about multiple submissions and rejections. Consider the reality of having your poetry given the minimum consideration when you are a nobody: a groupless poet without the necessary connections. Granted, we must consider in all of it the “quality” of what is being accepted or rejected (and the subjectivity of the taste with which you are judged), but it isn’t the same for C. Dale to get a 48-hour return on his submission as opposed to a two-month return for Charles. C. Dale is an established poet and editor, Charles isn’t. (Thus, multiple submissions are bad for some, good for others.) Likewise, consider what cutting down and careful definition can do for those yet to be published. Consider a narrower—by definition—anthology of Asian American Poetry vs. a mammoth BAP. Within the concentric circles of group definition narrowing the group is extremely effective. Belonging to a group is extremely effective.

So you’re right, Michael: “Naturally, it is disturbing to think of my diminished chances in a system where members of a group advance each other. But if everything I do, I do on merit alone, fuck it any other way.”

Thursday, January 20, 2005

‘what's wrong’ fresh from wales

"Looking Away" by Christine Hamm Posted by Hello

On my mail box today Ivy Alvarez’s new chapbook —what’s wrong— together with a lovely personal note from the author. Lot’s of good reading: the story of Bill and Ann.

Most girls avoid Bill. They are wary.
You would. Not Ann….

Won’t give it away. No, no. Read it on your own people. Since I understand that Ivy will be in the States soon as a MacDowell Colony fellow in New Hampshire it will be a good chance for people to get a copy of this wonderful chap. Drop her a line. Congratulations, Ivy! Indefagetable. (With cover art by another fellow blogger: Christine Hamm.)


One of the many benefits of blogging is the opportunity to literally see and feel what people are doing at various stages of a work’s development. One thing no one can take away from the Internet is this ability to develop relationships across continents and borders. And to do so with such immediacy. During the past couple of weeks I have had the pleasure of reading and, in some cases, the opportunity to comment on some fine poetry in the making. (Ivy’s is a finished chap and she’s already moving on to other projects. Where does she get the energy?) But I also had the chance to read Suzanne Frischkorn’s ongoing work on “Drunk from the Storm” (I think I can give away the title) and Eduardo C. Corral’s full-length manuscript (untitled as of yet). What a pleasure to read and to comment and to have these poets share their work with such openness. My thanks to them.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Little Fucking Emerson

Néstor M. Gulias Posted by Hello

Been thinking again. This ought to do wonders for my readership, but being the sadistic blogger that I am, I shall not lie alone in misery. Interesting issues raised by blogistas Roger Pao and A.D., others I think as well (forgive me if names escape me) about the scorn felt when introducing themselves in public as “poets”. Roger talks of his near “shyness” when admitting his poetic interests in public—an Asian public which is often stereotyped as being into engineering, mathematics, medicine, etc., or otherwise into Kung Fu, Chinese food, or submissive prostitution*—and feeling that scorn which comes from hearing, and I paraphrase A.D.**: Aha, a poet? So what do you really do for a living? This is sad. Sort of what James Merrill felt but in reverse: “So what do I really do for a living? Nothing but I do write poetry in my spare time.”

So think about it. You are not alone. (Think scary. Spooky.) And if that doesn’t make you feel better, think again. My harsh side—that little long-nailed devil on my shoulder, the one Goethe fired—immediately says, with his usual suave sensitivity: “People are not asking you what you are, but what you do." Wow! Thus Spake Zarathustra. Think of it that way. It gives you leeway to lie or to tell the truth, the latter being reserved for existentialist liars. So, yes, “I’m a gigolo by night, a poet by day” is a more appropriate, indeed credible reply. (Don’t feel bad Roger, they used to think I did the hub-cap thing by night until the joke got tiring even to them.)

Truthfully, no one will believe you either way; that or they’ll think you’re part of the new breed of unemployed superhero coming to save Poetry America (though sadly that job has already been taken by the incombustible Joan Houlihan. The world is a sad place!) So you know where you stand. “No, you are not a poet, not until you are, for certain, a poet to yourself. Yes, that’s right,” the little bastard devil says, “the word poet when speaking of the self ought to burn your tongue.” Son of a….! “I heard that,” he replies, scratching his goatee. Isn’t he sweet? Little fucking Emerson. Sensitive as poet’s demands.

* Roger Pao: "Writing poetry" isn't an anti-Asian or anti-Asian American stereotype that I've ever witnessed being thrown around, like being an engineer, a math geek, or a computer nerd. It's not being a dragon lady, a kung fu master, a laundry person, a submissive prostitute, or a sushi chef either.

** A.D.: “At a new year's party I drew some odd looks after telling someone that I was a poet.”

Thursday, January 13, 2005

“the sun is new each day”

Fragment from Democritus & Heraclitus
by Rubens
Posted by Hello

Transcribed by Heraclitus (565 BCE) from the Hidden Scriptures of the Greek*:

When the flash shot through the last layers of cloud (noiseless) all the inhabitants
of the earth described it the same at the same time: Golden rush of fire. From here
only a handful of our people saw the flicker. The recordings of those last words—
Golden rush of fire—came later and later still as echoes from the void. Meaningless.
Like that earth we can see no more. After its usual investigation the Hon. Council
of the Learned pronounced:
the wise finally agree—as poetry it was not worth it.

* Suggested Reading: Mourelatos, Alexander P. D. "Heraclitus, Parmenides, and the Naive Metaphysics of Things." Exegesis and Argument. Ed. E. N. Lee et al. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1973. 16-48.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Bestest of the Best

Quotation by Sabina Ivascu Posted by Hello

Charles, the Therapist with a Dream Inside, got me thinking. He led me to an essay by Joan Houlihan criticizing Lyn Hejinian’s “Best American Poetry 2004, which concerns one of my weaknesses: understanding the new, contemporary, avant garde, experimental poem. Call it what you will so you don’t get angry at me for using misnomers. There are truths in Hoolihan’s essay. Most, however, are more apparent than real. Houlihan quotes from two poems in the anthology to demonstrate that Hejinian has failed to pick the “best” poems of 2004. That, in effect, Hejinian has simply failed to define what “best” is. According to Houlihan the poems—many, many of the poems in the collection—the so-called “language poems” or “new writings” also fail to define themselves with sufficient grace to please her. Bottom line: Houlihan doesn’t know what these poems mean and she wants to. She desperately wants to know. And here Houlihan’s failure: since she is unable to know—something? what? what is it she so desperately seeks?—she turns on those that do know and ridicules them.

Perhaps there is a parallel, cult-like aura of inviolability protecting this new writing from critical inquiry: such writing, which verges on a kind of liturgy, comes with its own form of worship and its own tenets of faith. True believers do not question its methods; they accept its sacramental texts as the Word.

Now why won’t someone let Houlihan join in on the service? Houlihan’s disregard for the taste of others—hers is apparently all meat and potatoes—is disconcerting. Contrary to what she criticizes, it is she who comes across as the High Priestess of All Poetry. If the Priestess doesn’t understand it—if she hasn’t been invited to the New Language Prom—she is unable to consider the slight possibility that others have certain poetic values and taste. Is there nothing—nothing—at all of value that she can find in these poems? Not even a tiny word? A cool space? Houlihan fails the Wordsworth Test: she is unable to even consider that some poets—she is obviously not one of them—have to define the very taste by which they are to be judged. And here is where we must give Houlihan some slack: I don’t know whether the poems she questions meet the Wordsworth test. I don’t know that any do. I am not prepared to meet that task. I too struggle with some of those poems. Still I try not to let my limitations kill the taste of others, with a lot of salt, the kind you pour in open wounds.

One last thing. If so many people are writing this new, unintelligible poetry and so many reading it, and presumably liking it, shouldn’t we—the Non-Believers—at least step aside long enough to let poetic life take its course? There’s nothing really that new about this, about matters of taste, that is. Poetry comes and goes like traditional wind in sonnets. Let’s not try to bottle it and mark it neatly on a shelf. Come to think of it I’ll send Houlihan a subscription to Ron Silliman’s Blog. (He writes in tongues.)

Ultimate Acts of Transgression

Cabral's Aniki BóbóPosted by Hello

Interesting table of contents over at the New England Review. (Thanks, C. Dale, for the reminder.) I was surprised, among other things, by the inclusion in this issue of some of Joao Cabral de Melo Neto’s poems (translated by Richard Zenith). I haven’t read these translations yet, but I have read the originals. Their inclusion in this Fall Issue therefore is significant to me for a number of reasons. Most importantly, perhaps, is the remembrance of “other” voices from other lands, of poetic echoes from other languages. Cabral, considered one of the most important Portuguese-language poets of the last century, represents the universal poet of “nowhere land”, of in-between styles, challenging norms and masters, be they social, political or poetical.

Though his concerns with technique dating back to the 1950’s in Brazil may now be taken for granted, he nevertheless represents the poet in transition, the searcher of new forms, the questioner of established style.[1] One of the poems appearing in NER, A Few Matadors[2], exemplifies his life-long battle with form and established poetic order. In that poem Cabral relies on the image and styles of several famed bullfighters to represent different ways of struggling with the poetic experience and, hence, life. He finally relies on the matador Manolete[3] to symbolize the boldest, life-on-the-blade’s edge, experience of the poet vs. established form. While the untimely death of the master bullfighter might seem a lacking metaphor for success in contemporary poetry, it nevertheless takes a true and transcendent turn in Cabral’s world—indeed in ours—where death, symbolic or otherwise, is worth its own price when the artist lives and dies according to what he preaches. Worth a read and plenty of exploration.

[1] Cabral, who purposely set out to write “unpoetic” poetry, did not wish to be included in what he defined as “the club of the lyrical ones.” His writing place was the “in-between space” between prose and poetry. See Sara Brandellero’s “In Between Wor[l]ds: the Image of the ‘entre-lugar’ in Joao Cabral de Melo Neto’s Agrestes”, Portuguese Studies, 18 (2002), 215-229. Modern Humanities Research Association, 2002.

[2] Cabral’s concern with poetic form is even exemplified by his choice of title. Alguns toureiros, meaning “A Few Matadors” or “Some Matadors”, depending on the translator’s choice, shows Cabral’s reliance on double meanings and subtlety. He may either be defiantly setting out to define the masters as “very few”, as they must be, or as “some” of many as they can be.

[3] Manuel Rodríguez Sánchez, nick-named “Manolete” (1917 – 1947), was killed by the bull “Islero” when he committed a technical mistake: he executed the kill too slow and Islero took his life. No surprise that Cabral thus chose Manolete; a master known for his austere, essential, dry and brave style, but nevertheless a man subject to the frailties of human error.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Natural Disasters of the Mind

Gurinder Osan / AP Posted by Hello

That something out of Dante’s Inferno can become too sentimental for words is no surprise. Tragedy, if I may borrow Patrick Rosal’s metaphor, requires a special “scream”. Not the scream of a rant, but that other scream, the one that travels in veins. Most poets are incapable of ever feeling the scream. It is not something they can prepare for. At the least hint of it, in fact, they will turn away digging for theories and methods, structures and forms. God forbid a tear. They no longer know how to write one. Traps of reason, natural disasters of the mind. Understood and forgiven when there is no thinking heart.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

17 April 2003

I said I’d pick one day from my notebooks, randomly, not just a day I might like. I thought this was the way to take Eduardo’s challenge. Turned out to be a shitty idea. The day in question --17 April 2003-- contains random poetry drafts. Shit! But those are the rules. Moroever, the drafts are in Galician so I have to translate, which is neither fun nor good, but something we multiple-personality folk must deal with. Three fragments:

Today is liberation day
for plants and flowers.
Started with open windows
letting branch air fill lungs.
Liberated throwing lilies
from rooftops. Busted pots!
Heard the breathing of roots.
Put my ear to the ground:
applauding blades of grass.


I took fear out of my body.
Took it with me for a row
in a night with no moon.
(Not a moonless night.)
I showed it phosphorescence
floating, passing, floating.
Blinked an eye to the sea.
(Calm fellow, no spume.)
We promised to take it all
and fear.


You make me laugh, child.
Bucket after bucket
emptying out the sea.
When the metal hits bottom
look to the sky. Deep.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Icarus (after the fall)

Icarus by Sylvia Worthy Posted by Hello

the edge of the sea
with itself


I don’t love poets. I just love poetry. Poetry is beyond poets. Beyond the long-line, the surreal, the understand-it-all new formalist collection of well-rhymed l a n g u a g e poetry. Poets are grains of sand. Miniscule and irrelevant. Taking a bucket to ocean water, a poet—a good one—is only a bucketful. No more. So don’t rise too high—children of Icarus. Keep close to the ground, where you can see the sun rise from a safe distance. Then, melt, like ice-pop.