Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Lost Suitcase & A Game

a: Hello dear,

I wanted to share with you this poem (attached) I read in the New Yorker. It's been a while I got so worked up and excited about a poem, but this one is lovely! Solidly constructed, but utterly lovely. I hope you like it! I think I will check out one of her books from the library; I've been on a library spree! Yiiii!!!!

Alright dear, I hope you have a good end of the week. And don't worry about writing; I still remember how insanely busy grad school was.

k: I have been having a great weekend so far. Before I get into that though… yes, I did enjoy that poem you sent from the New Yorker. I enjoyed it for its narrative, though the language didn't do anything for me; similar to most New Yorker poetry.

This weekend included a sort of birthday book swap. I ended up giving Dina my copy of Leonard Cohen's Book or Longing for her birthday next week then Bunny gave me this book by an Italian author called If on a winter's night a traveler as a birthday present for my birthday next month. Bunny and I went to a bookstore together this morning with ryan, adam and reed and ended up each buying another copy of the books we'd passed on as gifts ^_^ it was fun. So I still have Leonard Cohen's new poems.

As for poetry… aside from the book swap, I haven't really been rolling in it, you know? I'd like to put a post up on poetship some time this week and I'll bring up more poetry topics shortly. Perhaps tomorrow in fact. I actually have a poetry kind of question… this might spur some thought and musing…

Imagine you were going to teach a college level course on poetry… what genre would you teach and which poets would you chose to have your imaginary students read? This is just for fun of course, but I think I know what I'd teach, at least the genre, though I'm not sure of the poets exactly… and say you can probably select about 5 or 6 poets to teach. Make a reading list for your pretend course ^_^

Ryan wants to watch one of the films he bought… so I'm going to end this here. I'll start thinking about which poets I would teach and I'll send you my answers once I get yours.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006



a: You know what, and this might be more suited for a prolonged e-mail discussion, or something on Poetship, but I've been in such a rut, feeling completely uninspired, not knowing what to write about. So now, not only do I find this utterly beatiful, but almost miraculous in its subject matter. (((katyssima)))

k: about your drought... i have been reading some of craig perez's poetry and am still reading leonard's new stuff (slowly, savouring him) and so, i have been feeling inspired by the poets i'm currently engaged with (as well as italo's novel, which i love so much, i just wish i had a bit more time to sit and read... have had to take it a few pages at a time, which is frustrating, i think friday i will indulge myself and finish the book). also, well, this season. i actually saw some people, this weekend as we were driving home from the horror convention, holding dried flowers over a dead deer and one woman was crossing herself just as we passed. this made me cringe. i know the people thought they were being holy and good natured and sympathetic, but really, they were being ignorant--that might sound harsh, does it? but really they were. it was a pagan act, first of all, so why bring the cross into it? second of all, the deer doesn't need to be blessed and flowered. the deer most likely didn't even believe in heaven. it was a pathetic, black scene. i suppose they did something though, those people; they got me to think about the deer.

then only a mile down the highway were rows and rows of hunters' trucks all parked at the edge of the woods at the side of the highway. the circle of life or something absurd. as for the truck driver at the end... i just saw a truck pulled over, i didn't see any one crying... and i actually had a better line for the ending of the poem, but i decided that the reader should assume that, maybe, a deer had killed his father in a car crash or hunting accident or something similar... the line i had first written was

crying in the window of his rig
for every girl he ever fucked

i guess i didn't really want to publish the f word either, but once i wrote it, no other word would do. you get the secret, rated pg-13 version of the poem ^_^

aaah, what was my point? oh yes. your dry spell... i feel so stale over the summer. it's as if i simply don't see all the poetry around me, or don't have the vocabulary for it. once the leave start to turn though, and the word is a little less two-toned (green and blue), i begin to see the detail again. in the summer i don't pay attention to the side of the road, i look away from the car accidents and the hitchhikers. in the fall, there are funerals and hunters and turkeys between the parked tires of broken down verizon vans. there's so much.

i honestly don't think, having thought about it a lot lately, that the academic setting has anything to do with my productivity. at least not as far as the way my mind composes poetry. i have less time to type it up and post it, but i've been writing a lot in my little journal. it might well be ready for your birthday at this rate!

you on the other hand dear, don't seem to have a season... at least not that i can tell. although you play with clouds and colors and nature in your poems, i think, i feel, that your poems are motivated by the (in)humanity that surrounds you.

also, you're doing all these readings, and i'm not sure what kind of an effect that might have on your work. i've not done lots of readings before... although i've gone to lots of readings before (a few a week, if at least not one a week) and that certainly effected my poetry in a positive way (i was experimenting a lot, i guess). i imagine though, that if i were the one reading, i would have been writing less and perfecting more.

see our previous discussion on inspiration

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Now that's what I call Poetry!

k: first and foremost ((((ashraf))))
of course you didn't come across too strong, nor too anything. that's the first email you've sent me that had entirely to do with poetry in ages. i'm dancing right now.

i am starting to feel the season settle in on me. it's not that i dislike summer so much as i prefer all the other seasons so much more. especially the fall. the leaves are turning beautiful colors... the orange reminds me of that sweater you wore the sunday ryan and i went home, that first time we met.

poetry becomes more potent this time of year too... more... betterer. yep. more betterer.

down to pleasure and pains then... is it horrible that i'm glad you don't like lyn? i don't mean to dislike her so much... but... uhg.

as for hardy... the more i read, and i think i said this, the more i enjoy the little boy writes bad poetry nature of his work, particularly in this chapbook. i am easily susceptible, too, to boys who fawn over girls.

in regards to the language, to the punctuation, to the art. i'm with you, but i'm also opposed...

okay today in my "language and its use" class we talked in response to a chapter in a book about language and ebonics, about slang and dialects essentially. the chapter was called "leave your language alone" and he argues that certain prescriptive grammar rules are nonsensical, outdated and we should use the turns of phrase that come more naturally. example, he argues that we should drop "whom" and the notion of "split infinitives".
my question is basically "where does it end?" and this is a standpoint that i don't take alone. my twin, Kate, and i are both grammarians and sticklers. i even brought up the notion of labour=value (yay marxism) and waving around my new (*glee*) copy of Leonard Cohen's Book of Longing i asked, if we don't learn the rules before we start bending them... if we only write how we speak, then what gives this value? we would lose the art of writing. how depressing.

so on the one hand, yeah. people take language, especially written, for granted. poets do. we, and i mean that in a broad general scope, abuse our language. the "th" habit is in a way an abomination.

but i draw a very fine line.

and this is where the "confused" part comes in.
there is a place for experimenting with language and the way the words look on the page, the aesthetic.
but if it goes too far, as in lyn's case, it becomes unreadable.

so yeah, i'm all for a little tossing, but don't throw the rule book out the window. as much as i like gertrude stein, the woman should not have been allowed to write prose.

i know i could go into this further. but i want to take some time to share some undeniably good poetry with you...

kate and i went on a date today. we got panini's and went to barnes & noble. i ran into leonard cohen's newest collection of poems and ended up buying it and a collection of poems by billy corgan of smashing pumpkins and zwan fame (i haven't read any of it yet, except for the one poem that convinced me to give him a chance).

and so i spent an hour or so before my class reading some of his poems and wrote the poem that i just posted on my blog...
though, it's not anything particularly special... i like the way leonard gets me thinking about poetry. he's the closest i come to appreciating song-writing.

so a poem by leonard, my beloved 70 year old canadian gold...

i want to share a longer one with you... because so far i enjoyed it the most... so here it goes


better than darkness
is fake darkness
which swindles you
into necking with
someone's antique

better than banks
are false banks
where you change
all your
rough money
into legal tender

better than coffee
is blue coffee
which you drink
in your last bath
or something waiting
for your
to be dismantled

better than poetry
is my poetry
to everything
that is beautiful and
dignified, but is
neither of these itself

better than wild
is secretly wild
when I am in
the darkness of
a parking space
with a new snake

better than art
is repulsive art
which demonstrates
than scriptures
the tiny measure
of your improvement

better than
is darkless
which is inkier, vaster
more profound
eerily refrigerated
filled with caves
and blinding tunnels
in which
beckoning dead relatives
and other religions

better than love
is wuve
which is more refined
tiny serene people
with huge genitalia
but lighter than
comfortably installed
on an eyelash of mist
and living
ever after
cooking, gardening
and raising kids

than my mother
is your mother
who is still alive
while mine
not alive
but what am I saying!
forgive me mother

better than me
are you
kinder than me
are you
sweeter smarter faster
you you
prettier than me
stronger than me
lonelier than me

want to get
to know you
better and better.

-Mt Baldy,
i enjoy it for the ending, but also, for all the moments that collate into some sort of love throughout.
of course, too, with a collection... after a while the persona and the charater builds and capsizes and takes over until you're swimming in the spirit of that poet. it's a beautiful experience... it's been too long since i let myself fall into a poet's lap like that, and i love it.

ah the fall, and love and leonard.

and poetry. i'm just reveling right now.

thank you for this.

a: So, we just finished one of our monthly office lunches. I ingest way worse things here, at this office, than anything that Wojtek would ever let me get away with at home. The lunches they order are just horrendously bad for you, and for some reason they always tend to include pork, which I am not a big fan of (remnants of my upbringing). And to top it off, was this presentation about a church project at our other office that (d)evolved into a talk about what church each person goes to. So now, not only do I have a nasty heartburn brewing in my pits, but I also feel--not for the first time--like an alien. I tell you this so you can appreciate what a blessing I found your e-mail to be after all that. With its opening talk of the comforts of the fall, to the poetics discussion (that I also missed dearly), to the gorgeous Leonard poem... thank you!

I certainly understand what you mean by that part you called "confusing" (and which I don't find confusing at all). I am certainly not for a stickler attitude when it comes to grammar; by Arlene's standards, I take quite a bit of liberty with that. So yes, I am for some reform, or rule bending; and the question that you raise, "So where do we draw the line?" is a very good one. But the fact that it is a difficult question to articulate an answer for does not mean that we should forget about drawing the line, or not even consider moving it in the first place. And I think a similar situation exists in many other matters where "drawing the line" is difficult to articulate. Ethical matters are one great example, and that's why we have the law, and that's why the law is so complicated, and why there are people whose job it is to interpret that language drawing the line and who get paid obscenely for it. Yes, the law doesn't always overlap with ethics (the "line"), and that is why it is constantly revised. But the whole fuss doesn't mean that we don't need the law.

Similarly, I just think it is a better use of time and effort--to borrow your excellent reference to the Marxian idea of effort equals value--to have that go into the content of the poetry rather than its form. I am certainly not the first to articulate that argument, and I am sure there must be a name for this position somewhere where it is better articulated. In any case, I think the wonderful poem you sent me makes all these points more eloquently. (By the way, did I ever tell you I recently bought the soundtrack to that Cohen movie we saw from iTunes; it is much better to listen to than watch!) I think this poem has a much better example of a mature eroticism that I much prefer to Hardy's, and I love how for Cohen there is no affect to the dividing of the stanzas, how the stanzas follow the idea, they stop where you expect them to stop, without artifice, because they don't need it. They are perfectly capable to stand well on their own, in their simplicity, in the brazen symmetry of the ideas (because it does not fear coming so close to the cliche), and in their immediacy and accessibility. (I loved that part "better than my mother / is your mother / who is still alive / while mine is not alive / but what am I saying! / forgive me mother"!) By the way, what did you think of that Carolyne Forche poem I sent you?

the lyn and hardy story

(part 1)
k: i attached hardy f's chapbook to this email for you. i like hardy. i can't quite put my finger on why, but i do. just read the first poem (dear sigmund) and see what you think. i think it's horribly romantic and beautiful in a perverted man-boy sort of way. it brings us back to all that conversation about sex and poetry and straight men writing sexy poetry. honestly, i'm not sure if any of the 3 males on wet poems are straight, but i suspect at the very least c.s. is on account of the content of his poetry. without a doubt though, hardy is writing sexy testosterone driven poetry. it's refreshing i guess. and the more i read from this school of blogging canadians the more i enjoy the style and "th" instead of "the" sort of idiosyncratic moments.

(part 2)
k: i need to go on a bit of a rant... and you're the only person worthy/willing to hear it...

lyn hejinian.

her name is not only hard to spell, but i've given the woman so many chances that i frankly can't stand her. by "her" i mean her poetry and the persona, real or not, behind the poetry.


that's her my life blog. now, my life was a collection of poems she wrote when she was about 30 i think... there were 30 poems (prose poetry). each page was meant to represent a year of her life. an autobiography through prose poetry. it was an experiment.

unfortunately, lyn is one of those experimental poets who's far to concerned with the process to give any thought or care to the finished product.

i tried to enjoy some of her other writing. in fact, i really love the cover of the other book of hers that i bought... but my goodness, it's awful. unreadable. really.

so i just found her blog through various articles i've been reading. i started out at c.s.'s blog and let myself get side tracked all over the place until i ended up reading some of lyn's most recent work.

now, the blogging format lends itself rather well to her experiment. instead of a year now she writes something each day. and at least i don't have to pay to read it, but... ashraf... it's still awful!!!!!

she doesn't even use a question mark at the end of question... it's nearly infuriating that someone so, i guess, respected and established could be so rubbish.

this is just my opinion of course, and you're allowed to like her all you want. she just drives me mad!

breath. okay. thank you for listening ^_^ you're the bestest

a: Sorry for the delay; I decided I need to read what you were talking about (both hardy f's chapbook & Lyn Hejinian's Life) before I reply. So I did. Now, I can understand where your rant against Lyn's Life is coming from, but in the same light I cannot understand your fondness of hardy's chapbook. I thought they were both more or less equally obnoxious. Sure, hardy's stuff is much better formatted (and I think he is a much better photographer and designer than poet), so I had my hopes up from just skimming through it before I started reading. But he certainly has even more annoying ticks than Lyn (such as "th", the unclosed parenthesis, etc.), and I thought, even aside from that, his writing is worse. Perhaps the only poem that I kinda liked was "on campus (broken arms", but even that was almost cringey. See, Lyn's writing is at most irrelevant, bla, whatever (and I am judging only by the entries on the main page of that blog; I am not familiar with her other writing, and I am surprised that she has any kind of acclaim--though I really shouldn't be, given the state of poetry these days); but I found hardy's writing to be positively annoying, irksome, and not in a good way. It's like (untalented) teenage boy writing, and frankly dear, I didn't find it sexy at all. I think it takes much more than splashing "cunt" on one's title page and "stick it in my ass" to be sexy--those I like to keep to my porn, which does it much better. And all that formatting "inventiveness" just pisses the heck out of me! Since when is poetry about punctuation? I thought it was about words and what they mean. And what good is dropping the e in the? Why do we have to reinvent the formatting of the language? I think it's there to aid the meaning and emotional message of the words, not to be a presence in itself. Have we already exhausted language's capacities otherwise? I don't think so; I think people are just lazy and untalented and the bars have been set low, way too low now, that we have this hodge-podge of lots of crap being written and no one reading, for good reason. Honestly, if it weren't that I got hardy's PDF from you, I wouldn't have finished it. Sorry to be fuming at the mouth like that, but I get worked up because I care and I mourn the loss of "standards". Maybe that's a good thing in one way (we probably wouldn't have heard some of the best voices of the past century otherwise), but I think it would also be dishonest to not acknowledge the immense drawback of it. I frankly didn't know that there is such a thing as "process poetry", and I have to say I am not glad to have found out it exists. I can definitely see where it comes from, its heritage in the visual arts especially (though I think Jackson Pollock is one of the worst things to have happened to the arts), but I think it works better in the visual arts, which tend to be more emotive. One big difference, I think, is the dictionary: there are dictionaries for language that establish the meaning of words more or less consistently; but there aren't dictionaries for the arts--there are dictionaries for the languages of the arts, the words used to describe them. So, I think with writing one is playing with the finite, in the sense of using existing blocks, like Legos, to transcend the finiteness, to convey ideas. But part of the challenge is that limitation.

I don't know, maybe I am just old-fashioned when it comes to poetry and writing. And I'm certainly not very au-currant. Besides, I don't think my opinions are prevalent amongst those that matter. But I think that is part of the problem of the decline of "the arts", that by adopting such non-sense for the heck of it, they have engendered their own irrelevance. They lost the point of writing at all; it becomes an experiment for the heck of the experiment--which is irrelevant.

I'm sorry if I came on too strong; I hope I haven't offended you. We certainly don't have to agree, but I'd love to know what you think.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


k: So I was reading some older emails to put together a couple of posts for po’et’ship yesterday and that got me thinking about poetry critics and the you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours society that poetry lives in at the moment.

I don’t think this is the way poetry has always functioned in the media and in criticism. I think that there are plenty of examples of poets dissecting and understanding and even denouncing fellow poets’ work. That isn’t happening today, or at least there isn’t enough of it happening today. There are a few people who bear all and tell people when they do or don’t like something. There are forums for poets where you’re invited to post something specifically for harsher review. So maybe the problem is more with blogging? Or with those uber gracious rejection letters that say “hey, you’re stuffs really great, but it’s not *exactly* what we’re looking for”.

The main issue lies in the lap of blogger though. i think that there’s an all-to-easy to see reason for it as well; we only read the blogs of poets we really like. Why would we go about reading and criticizing someone’s poetry that we dislike? We wouldn’t. Simple. I gave out plenty of reviews of poems I didn’t like on the critical poet forums, but I only ever tell a poet of one of the many blogs I read that I dislike something if I feel it undermines or ruins the poem (and typically, I’ll only get into it if there is an easy fix that I can see, other time I will just leave the poem un commented on [[[disclaimer: this doesn’t mean that every poem I don’t leave a comment for is one that I dislike]]])

I don’t know that there’s any solution to the overwhelming niceties of blogger, but I thought I’d bring it up for discussion.

a: I think you bring up several good points. I agree that criticism hasn't always functioned as such, although I am sure there was always the risk of getting personally acquainted with the artist and consequently jeopardizing the "objectivity" of the criticism--hence the power of "networking". And I think that is precisely what is happening today with blogging, the formation of personal networks that limit criticism. As anonymous as blogging can be, I think most people don't use it as such: we end up knowing each other as individuals. But I hasten to point out that that is especially the case in our kind of "amateur" blogging. And within this model, I think you bring up another very observant point, that when we don't like something we tend not to comment rather than comment negatively. And that is a very prevalent, though more difficult-to-read, form of "criticism". Yes, that doesn't mean that every post we don't comment on we don't like, but I would argue that it is more likely than not the case. Again, as you pointed out, there are different sorts of "don't like": there's the "fixable" don't-like and the "I can't relate to" don't-like, and everything in between. And within the limits of our amateur status are the privileges of not having to read or comment if we don't care to. Which is why we end up reading what we like, because we are doing it for our own enjoyment ultimately, rather than out of duty for a magazine, say, or "the good of poetry" in general. I would hope that that isn't the way things operate in poetry programs, for example (though I wouldn't know; but I don't think so); or journals (even though it seems there is such a scarcity of poetry criticism compared to the abundance of its production). And it might be that amateur blogs simply aren't the most appropriate forum for critiquing poetry, that they are more of format where the critique is by "voting with the feet" (or rather the finger, in this case)--even though, first, I don't think such a populist system of valuation is very valuable (I do tend to be an elitist when it comes to the arts); and second, I think that a highly "influentiable" method. What do you think?

k: To the topic at hand then: (this is good, while we always have other things to talk about, I like to get my brain in gear and think critically about my pastime—I guess it justifies why I do some much of it).

No wait, an aside first. I have put up a poll on my blog (right below my profile, can’t miss it). What do you think? I said I was going to do it. As soon as poetisphere and poets101 are up and running again, then I’m starting my campaign for Billy as Mayor. I feel like, he does so much to bring blogging poets together that we all ought to do something for him. I think I’ll make a banner for people to put on their blogs and websites like a badge of support, or is that too tacky? I am going to have fun with it. It’s not serious, so why not take it a little bit over the edge? Hehe.

Okay, to blogging poets and criticism then… yes. Agree with you completely. That’s pretty much the end of the conversation, isn’t it? I mean, unless you invite people to criticize a poem of yours, people probably won’t. We read who we like, and we don’t speak out against poems of those people as an act of some sort of social obligation (aka politeness).

You also bring up the matter of blogging as being anonymous/not anonymous. We’re friends, we text message each other. That’s anonymity completely broken down and ground to an electronic pulp. I hardly knew Yasmin a day before she started telling me about her love life (which, somehow, was in no way awkward). Not that I think I’d recognize her if I saw her on the street, not right away, but I know where she is, why she is, what she’s doing (am starting to sound creepy, hehe) because the barriers were instantly knocked away. I get the feeling that this is happening all over. Scott Glassman, another example for me… he’s opened up completely in emails without any prompting and now I feel as though I know every motivation behind every line of every poem of his. I can’t criticize that; how could I? It would be as if I were criticizing my own work—for which I didn’t have to do any of the work.

Am going to go make that banner/button now… or watch doctor who… or both.

a: So, we're back to our former momentum? :) See, with these e-mails, when I'm trying to respond to more than one e-mail in one, I never know where to start or how to go about it: earliest to latest? other way round? (I tend to dwell on the insignificant.) But what really amazes me is, how do you keep up with everyone?

First, Billy's campaign. I have actually already voted for him on your new poll thingy. (I was vote #2). I don't think it's over the top at all. I think it is quite gracious of you, and I am sure it'll mean a lot to him. He does, after all, put a lot of effort into this whole poetry blogging thing. And people have a choice to put the buttons up on their sites or not. I don't think you can be tacky even if you tried!

Regarding that anonymity thing, I have a question for you: do you find that lifting that veil of anonymity ruins the experience of reading that person's poetry for you? Or heightens it? Or not affect it at all? (You know, that whole question of magic and autobiography that we approached before.)

... ... ... ... ... ...

for further reading please see

they shot poets - don't they?
zen moon

more to come on the matter of audience and critique later. stay tuned!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

on ringing

k: I field everything through you, this is no different. Especially if my intent, in the end, is for this to grace the sails of the po’et’ship. I want your input too. In order to make this all make sense (and to keep myself from rambling on and on and on and on about the bagel sitting in my back yard, yes, the bagel) I am going to put it in titled segments. I like titles, you like titles, everyone likes titles.

Without further ado and muckery…

Signing up

Or more like, why I signed up to host the carnival. There are a couple of reasons. The first being the fact that I feel I owe Billy these sorts of favors. You link me and I link you sort of favors. What he calls “paying it forward”, which I think is from a film. The other reason is down to the reason (as I discovered through a little reading) for the blog-carnival having been formed in the first place—to gain readers. It’s essentially just a link fest. Links everywhere. I do a lot of linking. But this is super duper linkage. There are other smaller reasons (sub-reasons) why I decided to host. I didn’t want to see the carnival finish before it’d started, so I took the first week (more to do with my replying the favor to Billy). I had the silly idea of giving all the poets roles as if in an actual circus or carnival, and wanted to follow through with it. Lastly, I wanted to learn what a blog-carnival is, why it is, and most importantly how it is.

As far as actually signing up, alls it took, as you know, was that email to Billy.

How it is (how it should be)

Am still not so sure I’m doing any of this right. I’m bending the rules a bit, doing things a bit backwards. What’s meant to happen is everyone magically finds out where to send their submissions to (this is no act of magic, but it does rely on people reading and running into the announcement every week). Other carnivals have a specific email address for all submissions and the hosts are given the password by the lord over-seer the week before they host in order to accumulate submissions and compile a carnival post. This is a nice idea; I think the hosts should be the ones doing more of the work. If there’s a designated email address then it doesn’t matter so much when anyone submits a poem, if it’s too late for one week, it might get picked up for the following. Also, if someone has a few too many submissions, that person can leave them to the next host. Perhaps the person prior to me didn’t like a poem, or it didn’t fit into his scheme, I could then use that poem in mine. Better for all, I’d say.

Regardless of the email addresses, though, basically, people are meant to submit links to recent (within 2 weeks of carnival date) to the host. I think the reason for the 2 weeks or younger thing is to make sure that the people getting linked to are people who still update their blogs. There are many many blogs out there that are not getting updated regularly. Also, I think, it encourages people to write specifically for the carnival; this is the case, I’m sure, when a carnival has a specific theme.

The host then puts these links up onto their blog. Billy introduced all the poems in turn as he does with his highlights for the lists of 100 bloggers at a time. This is the only carnival I’ve been involved in, and I’m going to do things similarly to Billy (though adding a few small elements). What I think could be interesting is if someone wrote a poem with the titles of all the other poets in and hyperlinked them within the poem. A really straight forward carnival might have short segments of each poem with a link below and the name of the poet. I like the idea of this, a teaser, then go to the blog for the rest.

Reverse Submissions

It all started with you, dear. Instead of sitting around waiting for poets to email me with links, I actually reached out to some of my favorite poets and asked them to send me a poem or, if they’d prefer, I’d take the reigns and chose a poem myself. You, Brian, and Hardy complied to my request to chose a poem for myself. Cecilia requested I use an older poem, and Yasmin sent me a poem from wet poems, which I am more than pleased to support as I am a member of the poetesses of the wet. I am waiting to hear from Travis, from Glenn, Denielle, Shirley, and Geek Poet (who I just ran into last night, not sure of his real name yet) oh and I asked Russell of Yuckelbel’s Canon to submit something too. I am hoping to get some surprise submissions, and am really hoping to hear from all the people I asked to submit. [addition: glenn just emailed me after reading this thinking that i'd not heard from him yet; this was written a few days ago, though. today, i have indeed heard from everyone i was hoping to, and a few lovely surprises fell into my email box too!]

Yeah, so I went out, I asked people outright to send me something, there’s nothing wrong with that, right? ^_^ pro-active carnival fun!

POETRY carnival, katy, not a PICTURE carnival

Erm, yeah. I asked my friend Michelle if I could use a picture as part of my carnival. Also, I just emailed the Blackpool Circus School if I could use a picture on their site for my blog carnival too. I have been doing a lot of writing to pictures lately. It’s my tool against block, I guess. Those exploding dog drawings inspire me to at least write something. The last post I did with them in went over quiet well, and a few others wrote poems to them too. Can I say, I love what I did with that sleeping woman picture. Miss Sam Duffy liked them too. I am really proud of what happened there. I think that, more and more, photos are impressive companions to words. There’s an added element. Something about human nature draws us to visuals. Therefore, I wanted to include a few photos to the festival.


Yes, my carnival has sponsors. They aren’t real sponsors, I’m not getting anything out of this (except maybe a free ice cream?). I am tying these sponsorships into the photos. Michelle is letting me us a photo, so I’m calling her a sponsor. The photo was taken at the polar cave, so I’m calling them a sponsor. The same will go for the Blackpool Circus School if they agree to let me use their picture.

Obviously, will be included in this list.

Carnival Theme

I’m not doing a theme with the poems I’m featuring, instead, I am framing my highlights with a carnival/circus theme. You get to be the Ring Master—especially now that you’ll be hosting next week, hey, can I put your email up for people to send stuff to?—Cecilia I have made into the cotton candy stand poetess. Yasmin is a siren, Shirley wants to be a face painter. I think I will make Brian the Chicken Geek. I haven’t got something for everyone yet, I want to wait to see how many poets I hear from before I decide just how far I can go. I need a lion tamer, a clown, a tight-row walker, and the world’s strongest man or something to that effect.

The bagel in my back yard

I threw it out for the birds. It’s right outside the window that I look out of to my right. The birds haven’t touched it. It’s a nice bagel, whole wheat. I had to through it out because there was mold on it. Maybe birds don’t like mold. Or maybe they know I’m watching.

There is probably more to this, any thoughts? Maybe you can prompt me with questions about how I’ve done things or how I’m planning on doing things?

a: Wow! Somebody's all excited about the Carnival and has been thinking about it quite a bit! I can't say that I have any questions that you didn't cover (though you did cover many that I didn't even know I had; thanks).

So, I guess I'm going to need my top hat after all! I think I have a picture for that; I hope I can find it.

And please feel free to use my Yahoo e-mail address; you're a pioneer, going first! I'm afraid my carnival will pale in comparison to yours ;)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

short walk back to inspiration

k: maybe more like take 2 instead of part 2, as this is going to right back to the word inspiration and … well, i want to talk more about love.

the reason i think “love” poems and “heart” poems have such a hard time in today’s poetic market and is rarely touched by poets themselves is because… answer me dear, what is love?

is it love for a brother living half-way around the world, love for a little grey cat, a tall dancing polish boy, a diva, a specific scent of hand-cream? all these loves are soooooo different. we feel something for each of them, but the love one has for a well-bound book is different to the love someone might have of a particular taste or of a person. love of a person is so complex that one, as a poet, needs to choke it down into the details.

i think poetry is the art of specification, the art of making your reader feel the same thing as you in that moment. on the other hand

this is a little bit back to inspiration.

i would go on about what is love, ah, but dinner is ready ^_^

a: Aha, dear! Right on! I won't even attempt to answer, What is love? But I can't agree more that poetry is the art of specification (even though I can certainly think of example of poetry as the art of generalization, those insights about life)...

a (again, later): I think you covered an important point about inspiration: motivation. And I think we are making value judgment here, saying that we value emotional motivation to material ones. But I think the important thing to realize is that inspiration is a form of motivation in and of itself: to earn the love of someone, the admiration of someone, the acceptance of someone... Even if that someone is absent (no longer there, or is imaginary). And that is not to reduce creativity by reducing it to its emotional/psychological motivators; rather it is an acknowledgement of its roots. One (valuable) thing I learnt from therapy is how little we grow up, how more fragile we (or the child in us) become as we grow older, how base even our haughtiest motivations are... And similarly, that is not to say that humans are base, but it is too love the human for being so imperfect and fragile. So, I might write for you, or the idea of you, or Roland, or Obeida, or Ahmad, or some imaginary editor in an imaginary journal, or me (and that isn't any more noble). I guess that brings us back to the question of audience you raised in that great Whitman quote, and my Existentialism professor... I think we write not because we love, but because we want to be loved. Isn't that why we do everything that we do after all? Even love? I think even the most evil acts are born out of the need for love, in its one form or another. (That is not to ignore other forms of motivation, though: anger, power, lust, revenge... From the list I guess you can see that I don't think of humanity that highly...).

And for some reason, I cannot separate your prism metaphor from that iconic image of the prism on the cover of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon"? Is it related in any way? (Pink Floyd have some kick-ass poems in their songs!)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

heart interlude

k: heart heart heart hearts! love heart heart loveheart poetry!

do you like my heart-poem? okay, i'm just playing around, but i suppose i am also making a point.

like any art form, poetry is not worth a dime unless it's hard to do. if every mama and papa on every block around the world could write it, we wouldn't have blogs about it. okay, one wiseass would, but that's a topic on blogs, not poetry.
almost everyone can walk. we don't give out awards to people for their ability to walk (though some people do it better than others).

batman's hallmark brand of love poems wouldn't fly in the hey-days of poetry, just like they don't now. but he's so popular, you think? maybe he is, but not for his poetry. he is a great self-publisizer; a bull who kicks doors down instead of knocking.

the story about that poet whose poem was rejected on the bias of one man against one word. that's extreme i think, but also sounds completely plausible. that's the way modern publishers play. they must get hit with so much poetry that they employee a monkey to read them and throw out the ones with specific words in them.

the new yorker's selection of poems has always and will always bug me. while i love martin espada and peter gizzi (partially due to them both teaching at umass and having encountered them as people, not poets) but the poems are so predictable and so ... straight.

we're slowly stepping away from inspiration/uninspired towards expectations and qualifications and talent etc etc... but they are all so closely tucked into one another, it's sometimes impossible to distinguish. at least i think so.

i'm sure that there are poets who aspire (inspire, aspire, inspire, aspire) to get published in particular journals, who then write in that style and hope to appeal to the board.

a: Ah, the problem of "difficulty"... In all honesty, and even though my mother and some friends think my poetry difficult, I have never been a fan of difficulty as a standard. I know you probably mean standard or measure, but I always thought ease is in a sense more difficult to achieve (how many paradoxes can you pack into one sentence). I do not find anything redeeming about a means of communication that makes it difficult to communicate. Now, I am certainly now advising that we all go talking in bullet points, but I do think difficulty is overrated. The origin of that might be that rebellious child in me who hated difficult texts and was arrogant enough to dismiss the text as failed rather than himself, and then realized that their is a very rigorous logic and substance to that egotistical laziness of his. Now, art standards have become infinitely more problematic I think in modern times. The necessity for skill versus self-promotion is certainly debatable post-Duchamp. But yes, even so, one can't deny the existence of standards (though I would constantly argue that other complicating factors such as connections have perhaps become more obvious due to the opening up of standards).

And I hope I didn't come across as being too antagonistic in my earlier e-mail, but I guess that I always hope that when I err I err on the side of "heart", whatever that means. I hope I never become so jaded as I forget what I cared about in the first place. Another one of those silly restrictions placed on contemporary poetry I read in that Poets Market (granted, it is not exactly academic material). It was an interview with one of the jurors on the T.S.Eliot prize (which I think by most standards is considered reputable). And one of his "rules of thumb" for judging a manuscript was to count the number of poems of the first ten, say, that have I or me or any form of first person in the first few lines of a poem; and if it's above a certain number, he dismisses the manuscript... Now I understand that this is simply the futile exercise of making objective rules for the very subjective aesthetics, but the first poem that came to my mind is Neruda's "Everybody", that great one that starts with "I, Perhaps I never will be"... Now these may seems like cosmetic problems, but I think they are fundamental: the elimination of the heart (or passion or whatever) and that of ego. I just can't imagine a poetry deprived of these, and in many ways poetry has been deprived of them. I don't know if that's what you mean by poetry being "too straight".

But back to inspiration, right? I am not really sure, dear, where to go with this topic. I am certainly not versed enough or read enough in any of these topics to conduct a well-maintained debate. But I can at least consider myself a well-educated audience member, and as such I feel entitled to my knee-jerk opinions. Maybe I'll revisit this later.

Monday, June 19, 2006

- the legacy of the world's biggest apple -

k: hello dear,
how are you?

i just ate the words biggest apple. it took me a very long time. it was too big around for me to open my mouth around comfortably to get a big bite, so i took lots of little bites. i would never buy an apple that big for myself, but kerry and richard had left it behind, and i can't bare to see an apple go to waste (especially when it's a variety i am fond of).

in other news, ryan says that katamari has not made me stupid. this is good news. this means when i get home today i am going to play it some more, until either ryan or danielle arrives.

now for today's top story: inspiration! yay!!

it's not something we've talked about in depth before (not that we have to), but i was trying to think of a topic to discuss (something related to poetry). as a means of laughing off, i set out to read a bit of ron silliman's recent posts. however, after reading three or four posts i was still feeling "uninspired". that's the exact word that came to mind.

i dwelled on the word "uninspired" for a little while and then it hit me... aha! inspiration = topic

for most, for you, for me, for every poet and every writer, inspiration comes from life. for some though, inspiration comes in dreams too. and for me, inspiration comes from imagination. one might argue, though, that imagination comes from life. if you wanted to go that way, then, i'm sure a stand could be made that dreams come from life as well. so... what's life?

life = over sized apples
life = new cell phones, orange ones
life = the sound of a boy's heart beat when you press your ear to his chest
life = a 50" high definition rear projection mv (for megavision, instead of television)
life = made up words like megavision
life = memorizing your best friends email address
life = mint
life = your next pay check
life = all of the above

i could go on for days. the point? life is in the details, so is poetry.

but there's a middle man. the poet. right? one doesn't see an apple as a poem. the average person sees... an apple. that's it. whereas you or i might see an apple and think of eve, of the waxy finish, the taste or the smell. that's inspiration. we pick out parts and give them depth and symbolism. that's what poetry is, at the heart. salamander means ashraf, mountain means katy. we pick up on the details and they give us the jolt needed to transform an apple into a monument of love and affection or disappointment or whatever we may be feeling or we may associate with the apple.

now there's a word, associate. that's what inspiration is to me, a series of associations.

enough of the sort of ... intangible talk of inspiration. before i mentioned imagination. i get ideas from imaginary scenarios that i paint in my head. the poem "nice to meet you" was an idea i had as part of a longer story. i guess i think stories through (without beginnings or ends, most often, or with lots of different endings) like a novelist would.

i take pieces of these fantasies and turn them into poems, like excerpts of a non-existent novel or film. i have quite a few poems like that, actually. more than i care to admit ^_^

i also get a lot of inspiration from dreams. they are so easy for me to translate into poetry for some reason. "set up" is as literal a transcription of the dream i had as ever. part of the reason why i think dreams make great poems is because dreams don't happen in prose. they skip around, things don't make perfect sense. our brains work in verse, not prose. isn't that a wonderful idea? that we, poets, are more in tuned to our own conscious by virtue of understanding being able to produce verse. i think it's a wonderful gift.

i know you're writing process. i can't clearly define my own (because it's all sorts of hodge podge and over-developed thinking). this is more to do with that moment though. that instant which a phrase pops into your head.

have you been thinking about something? did you hear the words somewhere else? did you see something and translate it into words. i see, right now, a man in an old grey sweatshirt climbing down a short ladder. is that poetry?

i will go on and on about all this if you'd like, ashraf, but i'd also like to hear some of your reactions and ideas about "inspiration" or what it means, maybe, to be "uninspired"?

a: Katy, that is just a brilliant beginning to an e-mail! I thought it was so distinctive I read it out loud to Wojtek (and that's a bigger thing even that reading it out loud to Snuffy, say, who I think is a much better listener). But yes, on to inspiration, or what I thought was even more inspired (all puns intended) is the title: uninspired. I think it is such a good word, one that I very much identify with these days. Maybe inspiration in its antiquated classical/uber-romantic sense (think Batman) is off-putting to us with our jaded contemporary sensibilities (I am thinking of a comment by Danielle that I read yesterday on your blog, about how it's a poem about love without using the words love, or heart, or any similar taboos). It is interesting that modern poets have reacted so markedly to the image of the poet as the uber-romantic that now such notions are directive--negative ones--in their own accord. One of my favorite poems here on the Philadelphia poetry scene is one by this guy I really like (and can't remember his name, of course) that he wrote in reaction to an editor rejecting one of his poems because it contained "heart". So he wrote this entire poem called "Heart" in reaction to this silent taboo. It became in a way one of those writing exercise/experiments that you are fond of, of writing about something without calling it by name--except it is in permanent enforcement now if you are to be taken at all "seriously" by the "people that matter". And so we end up writing this other, equally extreme, genre of poetry that my mother can wrap her head around. And I am running into this now that I am thinking about writing in Arabic again, specifically writing a song for Majida. So, how is this related to inspiration? Well, I'll try to establish the tie eventually...

To jump off sideways here, all those songs and names I mentioned to you in my e-mail yesterday. They naturally don't mean much to you at the moment, part of the difficulty of translation in its larger sense, as in the translation of life experiences, making them relatable, etc. I have been thinking of this old world of song that I cherish so much and that was really my entry way into the world of poetry. I have been thinking about it obviously because of the project I assigned myself. When I started translating my poems into Arabic I became aware of how heavy and awkward some of the images are in Arabic. Conversely, while translating song lyrics for you from French and Arabic, I realize how overly simple and borderline hokey they are. And yet these are songs that I consider great, and that many others equally revere. So, what is it here? One element I think is song vs. poetry: they are two slightly different animals, I think. Another is language: I think images that work in one language don't in another. I think the very ornate French and the very elaborate Arabic require a simplicity that in English is just dull. Conversely, English, in its almost dull simplicity almost demands the kind of twists and turns that in other languages might simply be uncalled for. So, what does this have to do with inspiration?

See, in my thoroughly uninspired state, and in revisiting old songs, I have been thinking of what made them so inspiring to me at the time. And I do realize that some of those very simple phrases that I loved to much I thought they were genius still hold true... Allow me here to translate impromptu Fairouz's "Ma 2dirt nseet (I Couldn't Forget)" (lyrics by Joseph Harb, audio to follow):
I wish you were here, my love
And the wine and the candles of the night endure
And I'd write to you on a paper so I wouldn't say
I wish you weren't leaving, I wish you'd stay

If I came back one night to my place and found
That you, my love, passed by while I was away
You'd see that they didn't pass, only your eyes, by this house
As if you, my love, and your eyes, have just left
Quite mainstream romantic stuff. I don't know what you think of it, but reading it in English... almost makes me squirm. And then I realize, some of the stuff at heart still is strong: that wistful wish for the night to lengthen, that fragility in prefering to write such a heartfelt desire rather than say it, the way eyes can linger in our memory and haunts us... Yes, it's pretty clichéd stuff by now: wine, and candles, and eyes, and I wish you'd stay... And maybe it's Fairuz that makes it work, the music, the associations that this song has for me and my mother (a big point to come back to, associations)... But is it really better to just spin around the point? Why is it more acceptable now to find the poetry in the more mundane things than in the obvious ones? Because it's more difficult (as is difficult better) or is it because we're jaded? I would hate myself if I wrote something like that now, especially in English; I don't think I could even allow myself to. Censorship before the page, one of those things that I'd abort in my head. And yet, I though Joseph Harb was god because of that (and "Li Bayrout"). Granted, love could be a turn off; especially in song. Heartbreak could be even more of a turn off; it's everywhere. So what do we write about? What do we read about? I haven't been reading. Or actually I read non-fiction and magazines mostly now. They don't even attempt to touch me. Is that the end of literature? Have we become so jaded that we're rarely touched?

So, let's write about the everyday. But what is there about the everyday to write about. Do you really want to read a poem about an apple or pancakes? As you said, is that old man poetry? Maybe he is, maybe he has a story or we can imagine one behind him that makes him that. But... Is it just me? Probably.

So, how is all this related to inspiration? I think it is in that I have lost it. Whatever it was, I am now uninspired, to read or write. Which is sad, very sad. But then, there are way sadder things in life, as I always try to remind Wojtek (and he hates it every time). This wasn't an argument; this was a ramble. Maybe I'm just hungry: I get low when I'm hungry, and I get very emotional then (either angry or depressed), and that usually makes me write. Is hunger inspiration? Oh, this is getting absurd. I'll just cut it short and send it...

Friday, June 02, 2006

outside voices anthology

ashraf and i have both been added to the list of poets to be featured in Outside Voices' own Anthology:

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Understanding People

k: now this… you wrote that magnificent email to me in reply to my email to ahmad and my goings on about prose poetry… you had all that to say about the humanity in poetry. i haven’t responded to it yet, other than saying that it made me happy.

it does not make me uncomfortable when you compare me to the poets i admire. on the one hand, it puts this tick in my brain… of course i’m not as good, not as this not as that… on the other hand it makes me feel… appreciated, understood, happy and proud.

i am interested in this idea of empathy as a key ingredient to poetry. do you think it can go both ways? you made all the point there is for the poet to write a good poem. are there good poetry audiences, though? do i like poetry more than someone else because i am more empathetic than that someone? or is all the weight on the shoulders of the poet? walt Whitman says: "To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too". is this true? i think it must be. i think we understand the poems by and/or about the people we know better than the ones we don’t.

poems are also more fun and much more exciting when they are relevant to the individual reading them. i sent you a mary howe poem. it was a message from me to you. you did the same with rohrer. that conversation through page numbers was brilliant because it forced the poems to transcend. those poems do nothing like as much work without people like you and i who play with them, who expand and contract them. that frank o’hara poem is so much more now than it ever has been because we own it for each other now.

isn’t is curious how reducing a poem to an ownership makes it greater?

i’m sure there are mountains more to be said about this topic. i’ll be honest with you though, i’m whipped out after all this. you must be too. take your time with this… i don’t even expect we’ll have finished with it all by friday. let’s take it all one chapter at a time :)

a: And it seems to me that there are two issues here: one of empathy, and one of audience. As for empathy, I do think it is important, in one way or another, however it is reached. (So preferably not in the crass Hollywood/Hallmark way). But audience... that's a good question. I remember when I wanted to do film and I was frustrated and I went to one of my heroes at the time, my philosophy/existentialism professor, and she told me, You know, it is just as important to appreciate a good movie as it is to make one. I wasn't too convinced then; and I am not sure that I am now. Though I agree that it is pointless to have a good movie without a good audience. Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating a mass media approach of number crunching and satisfying the masses--I am still ultimately an elitist who believes most people are stupid and boring and not everyone is the same. I do believe in equal rights and obligations, but that is not to say that everyone is equal. And I think smart people are a minority, unfortunately. But what I don't believe is that people were better back then... That whole nostalgic argument that people were more interested and educated and refined and stuff. People have always been the scum that they are, for the most part. Under the belly of the "refined" always lay the suffering of the underclasses, etc. So, let's not get me started on that. But I do believe there is a better audience in New York, and that is why it has better art (or the other way round), etc.

So, time to go home... I never thought I'd do it! But here it is... And thank you for all your effort on Poetship; I will try not to feel bad about it (that I'm doing nothing). I do very much appreciate it.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Poetry as Therapy

k: yes, this is completely and utterly separate from everything i just wrote. jarring, no? i did mention lauren’s middle-school poetry dabblings before at least. this idea of poetry as therapy was the one i had to write you about first, when i sent that email about having some idea of what to write about poetry. it is also related to my addiction to poetry.

at the undergrad conference i attended last year, i was on a panal with a young man who’s name i cannot remember for the life of me, who presented his idea of poetry as a mean of therapy. i love this. i did then and i still do now. high-school students write poetry to help themselves coop with the ever-expanding universe that is their life and to help themselves understand and interpret everything that goes on around them and inside them during that phase of their life. i did this. i know others have to. lauren wrote poems to deal with her family’s long and damning struggle with alcoholism. the guy who’s name i can’t remember, had a learning disability which prevented him from having what he thought would have been a normal childhood; thus, he created that childhood in poetry, immortalized the one he did have, made it beautiful, and wrote verse about all the things that brought him pain and struggle. he cleansed himself with his poetry.

i get the sense that ashraf the poet does this to an extent. poetry helps to alleviate something. “the lower take” is a therapeutic poem from my perspective. i was frustrated and upset so i took out a pencil and scribbled out this poem. it made me feel so much better having gotten everything i wanted to say out. i disguised it as a poem and no one has to know how much or how little is truth. poetry makes great therapy because it is camouflaged by language and art. a poet, or anyone who writes a poem, can expose themselves out-right without being too forthcoming, too overbearing. and then, in defense of oneself, the poet can dismiss any embarrassment with the argument of poetry as art, interpretive, metaphorical, purely imaginary and so on. one does not need to admit to anything in a poem. i don’t admit to very much in any of my poems. poets have so many secrets—this makes us powerful.

for me, in addition to getting any heat off my chest, poetry is also a means of relaxation and meditation. often times at work i will think poetry in my head to release me from the monotony of my current job. i think poetry when i drive, to occupy me. heh, i must sound like i’m always thinking J it’s more that i let my mind open up to what’s going on, to be inspired. the thing about hawks… my first reaction was, how does this picture fit into words? how can i do this… and the poem, the words, started to develop. it almost appeared to me like one of those 8-piece puzzles with one empty square so you can move the others around to make the picture, those sliding puzzles. i had to move the words around to make the poem in my mind, the words… hawk, rain, wing, drying, after, barn, tree… they were all there, they just needed arranging, and a few prepositions and articles.

if i’m anxious, like i was at work the other day, i can take a deep breath and set my mind and my fingers to work on something. this works for boredom too, though i haven’t felt bored in a long time thanks to you and brian and billy and all these piles of books around me. if anything, i’ve felt like there hasn’t been enough time lately.

overall, this is a simple concept. it’s just one that we haven’t talked about yet, and i think it’s important, valid, and might also work with dana’s article. poetry in the masses, the poetry of house wives, is all about therapy.

a: I so agree with you on the role of that one, perhaps even more literally than you realize. In fact, a poem ("Lazy") as a therapy assignment. When I was in therapy (about 2 years ago?) my therapist was trying to get me to do these Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) exercises where I have to tabulate my feelings and reactions. And I just couldn't do it. Week after week after week, he would give me these forms to fill when I sink into one of my "holes" and I would bring them back empty. Instead, I would go and write something on arch.memory. And then one day he said, Alright, write something, anything, about how you feel and bring it next time. So I wrote that. And you can even tell from certain poems from that period that he, my therapist, figures prominently as a character (most notably perhaps in "Comfortably Numb"). And many other poems (perhaps my least favorite ones, but ones that Ahmad seems to like) have been written therapeutically: to get something out of my system (ex. "Exit", and all the ones with "corpse" in the title). I don't like them because I find them too crass, too brash, too angry, too forward. I like the more obscure ones, like you say, that hide more (like "You Lie"). So, yes, I know what you mean, more than you can imagine. But that is also perhaps why most of my poems are "downers" (as Wojtek puts it) and why I find it so difficult to write "happy" poetry (I do think my poetry loves life very much, though in its own disappointed way, life as it is not as it should be). And that is perhaps why I haven't been writing as much (I actually haven't been feeling so down!). I find it very difficult to write "descriptive" poetry, too. I never enjoyed descriptive writing to begin with: the driest part of "The Thorn Birds", I thought, was that one in the middle where she goes one describing the fields endlessly... Ah, kill me! And Laura Ingalls Wilder just slew me in "Little Home in the Prairie" with her endless description... Get on with the program, woman! I guess that is also why I prefer photos of people to those of nature: far more interesting! But I digress... Which bring us to...

Buffalo & Jackals

k: this is in response to the article i sent you earlier, the one about poets being buffalo—showcase animals of the literary universe. (this article is getting around… and it seems my new friend mr william f devault has quiet a bit to say, in contrast, i must admit, to what i have just written. he’s already offered me advice on capbooks and publication and is sending me a copy of his book. i call him batman.)

let me start by saying that i think it is an amazingly coherent, well written and enjoyable article. i am going to buy his book of poetry-related essays and possibly a collection of his poetry. if i ever go to california, i am going to make it a point to go meet him. i think he’s very clever, very smart, and poetry needs him. and if i ever teach a poetry course, this is the first assigned reading.

i’d written quite a bit last night about the article, taking bits and pieces from it to then talk about, doing sections and stuff, but i’ve just deleted that because i’ve just finished the article and think it’s a better idea to address the whole issue. there is so much to talk about. i’m almost not sure where to begin…

the main idea, the main force, behind the article is that poets have, over time, separated themselves from the other arts (theatre, music (specifically jazz, in dana’s examples)) and from the intelligentsia of modern america. we have done this by grouping together in such a tight-nit family info-structure that we (as a mass) have carried the weaker poets on our shoulders. what would have been considered a poor and unacceptable poem 50 years ago is now published, awarded and praised because the poet is friends with this person, has published this much, has done this that and the other thing for the editor, compilers, reviews, etc. this is foetry, right? except dana does it with more finesse and colorful analogies.

i like the idea of poets merging with other arts. as much as i adore the “club” feeling that i’m starting to get off our little web of poetry-blogs (billy is the metaphorical bouncer, is he not?), i have always liked being the poet among the group of culturally and academically diverse individuals. this is what i was at university. dina painted, jonah played music, i wrote poetry, bunny was our scientist, rachel our politician, hortensja our model, audrey our ballerina, reid our cartoonist, keith our extravagant modern-anthropologist… we crossed all the lines. sure, there was more than one of most of these in the extended network, but generally, we had everything except a math major in our group (bunny was in the minor, so i guess she’s sort of the science/math brains all over).

and thinking back, i did talk about poetry with them, with dina at least. i did read them some of my poems, i even wrote poems for each of them. i was acting out as a poet, drawing my audience in. i think that poetry needs to go back to that format on a national, if not global, level. i’d very much like to consider that doing things like the word verification contest, draws in the non-poet. my two best friends from high school and my sister all wrote poems for that contest. people that don’t write poetry. lauren wrote a bit in middle school, but that was a therapy exercise, not a literary endeavor.

forums like are fantastic for poets, but does it exclude and intimidate the non-poet? i imagine it would. perhaps i ought to check out the web designer’s other sites. i get the impression they are bit broader in topic. even as a poet, i enjoy those blogs that include drawings or photographs to accompany or at least break up the monotony of poem after poem. then on the other hand, i find the purity of a poetry-only blog rather comforting. the pure, clean… just poetry; those that let the poems paint the pictures. i don’t think blogging is the forum for which poetry will blossom back into the popular culture. i think it needs to happen on a real-life plane. i think that niches like billy’s lists are part of what dana sees as the problem. are poets too cosy with one another?

poetship is part of the solution. aren’t we spectacular? we are critics, ashraf, you and i. we disagree, we don’t pamper, we speak our hearts and minds about what we encounter. i think i might even start doing more reviews like the one i did for lilla that time. though perhaps not all as glowing? and not just poems of my friends. are poets afraid of telling the truth about other poets? i am a little bit. i don’t want to be the breaker—i don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. on the other hand. a bad poem is a bad poem and there isn’t anything i can do about it other than let the world know that i think it is a bad poem. right?

i think that that is all that poetry needs. for other poets to speak up about what they like and what they dislike and speak less of who their friends are. silliman doesn’t write very many negative reviews for the poetry he reads. perhaps if we start to speak up, non-poets will give us back our potency and our seat in the parliament of literature.

a: That is one amazing article you sent my way! It is so well-written: smart, consistent, coherent, well-researched and argued... I just haven't read an article this good and well-informed in ages! Thank you. And I am very glad it is catching on in the bloggosphere, as it deserves to. But I think the question you raised is a very good one: isn't this just another form of the very closed clique that the article is criticizing? Well, yes and no. On the one hand it is a band of poets; on the other I think it is a more diverse band of poets than you can find in creative writing programs. Just look at the two of us, an "insider" (you) and an "outsider" (moi) ;) And I think that's what makes our correspondence so good (amongst other things). That article was so right about attributing the decline in poetry to its inbreeding (amongst other things). And I applauded the fact that it had those 6 concrete steps at the end to make a difference: it took it upon itself not only to criticize but also to suggest a way out.
On the other hand, I revert to the argument above to suggest that other art forms have emerged that have taken on parts of what poetry used to do: satire, epic, politics, science, myth, religion, etc. And that is not a bad thing! I would never wish "Wings of Desire" away! Ever. It is a poem in a different form. I would so much prefer watching "Wings of Desire" over and over again than reading "Paradise Lost" once. So, we cannot expect poetry to be all that it used to be. It took new forms, new forms took some of its functions. I think we should accept its new diminished status and embrace those other forms, too. And that is why I agree with the article that we need to be more exacting, that there is a lot of crap passed out there for all the wrong reasons, and that maybe the market of creative writing programs, while beneficial to poets, might already be over-saturated. I believe in the "market", and that is why I was rejoicing when he made that Marx reference. And I think in a way what we are bemoaning is simply the natural result of over-abundance.

Internet vs. Books

k: this wasn’t what i had in mind when i told you i had an idea, but it’s a fine something something to talk about (and it does actually correlate with everything else, so i’ll bounce back to it a few times). my basic feelings are this; the internet is an amazing tool for all mediums, poetry benefits, as an entity, from internet. where would we be without our blogs? i certainly wouldn’t be planning a trip to philly for the weekend, would i? i am rather found of peer-editing in forums and similar poetry venues. the internet is a marvelous place for amateur and blossoming poets to learn, grow, develop and expand—especially if there is no community of poets surrounding them in the real world.

i love for their sound clips. i’m greedy and want more. though, overall, on published and easy-to-find-at-borders poetry, i don’t see why it ought be published online as well. in the case of tender buttons, wessex poems, howl, and i’m sure tons others, these poetry collections are so easy to find in book stores, and other than wessex poems, they are cheap (less than $10). why then, make them available online for free? gertrude stein does not need publicity. while it was nice that i could cut and paste that poem in an email, having found ALL of tender buttons online was heartbreaking for the mere fact that someone who doesn’t own it is going to read online and never purchase a copy, never expand the real-world-based poetry universe.

this all comes from my love of material goods (=books). i must remember to bring my darling wessex poems with me at the weekend. if you’re really good i’ll let you hold it J

there are some rather marvelous things about books that you cannot do with web pages. you can’t say “this collection, page ##” to a friend who’s clever and end up having a four-poem-long conversation. sure, i could have sent you links, and you could have done the same, but there wouldn’t have been the excitement of flipping through the book to get to the right page.

websites don’t have pretty covers; books do. also, you can read a book during take off and landing, whereas all lap tops must be turned off.

the argument for aesthetics goes on and on, doesn’t it? and we all know it. some people don’t think books have to worry. but i say they must. publishers don’t produce books like this one on my desk, from 1898. the pages are thick, the binding is strong, the pages are sewn with precision and care. the cover is sturdy, embossed and rugged. i have hard covered books from a mere 10 years ago that are falling to pieces; this is over 100 years old and is aging a bit at the edges, but is overall in much better shape that more recent books.

books have a smell, a charm, you can carry them around and feel really cool. also, i like to pencil in the margins of some poetry and some poetics (the stuff that’s a bit more dense and takes a bit more thinking). i find it rather difficult to get the same effect on a computer screen.

a: As sympathetic as I was to the case you made for books (or perhaps because I am that sympathetic to the case you made), it feels to me that in a way you stated the obvious. You made the aesthetic/sensual case for book, a case that I find very valid, but I would like to push the argument beyond "why books are great". I think that the threat that the internet and soft media poses to books and hard media is at the same time very real and overrated. As seductive as the argument you made is, and as seductive as books are, I don't think that is enough to carry them through, to stop the bleeding or decline of the medium, so to speak. I can imagine that any small bookseller can attest to this pain. On the other hand, I do not believe that the soft media will ever eradicate the hard media. I think they will make them painfully secondary, but never eradicate them. Part of the argument is the fragility of soft media: the Library of Congress still uses resin to store its most valuable audio; CDs are too fickle. (This argument was made in that Wired article I sent you the link to.) The other parts you have already covered, I think: those of convenience (I still print your longer emails and articles and then read them) and the sensual/aesthetic experience. Another thing that you alluded to is the objectness of hard media and therefore the idea of possession: to own a book because you value it (and the book format lends materiality to what is otherwise abstract, ethereal). And I think that is precisely why the Internet feels so threatening and is so pervasive: because in a way it is bringing words back closer to their abstract immaterial nature: it makes words (and music) paradoxically more difficult to possess (as objects) and easier to possess (by making it easier to disseminate). Ultimately, I think digital media are here to stay; technological progress doesn't (and shouldn't, I think) be undone. It just needs to be regulated, at best, and even that is often approached too naively. The argument that I keep making to Wojtek (and that I believe I have already mentioned to you) is not to be nostalgic about older media to the point that it limits one's appreciation of the new, which would be ultimately to one's own detriment. I am not advocating either the complete abandonment of the old and blind embracing of the new. I guess all I am trying to say is, know what each can do well so you can use them well. A book is not necessarily better than a movie, or a magazine better than a TV show, etc. So, I can understand your unhappiness about your beloved texts being available online, but I don't really think it's a one-to-one equation here: that people would go and read things online instead of buying them. If I wanted to read a whole book, even if its available online, I wouldn't do that. I don't think I'd even print it and then read it. I think I'd go and buy it: one, because I would like that and, two, because I can afford it. Now, if I couldn't afford it, I wouldn't, even if I wanted, but it would still be available to me, which is how I think it should be. And I don't think I am any more ethical than the average person. When I used Kazaa I used it mostly to get Arabic and European stuff I cannot find easily here (or that is way overpriced here because of lack of demand on it); but if I wanted a Madonna CD that is available at every other drugstore, I would just go and buy it because I love cover art and I think it is more convenient (put a copy on my iPod for work, a copy for the car, etc.) Similarly, the digital book allowed you to easily search for a certain passage and copy it, which is a great thing! So, I think it is a tad simplistic to argue the "downfall" of books on digital media: we still love them, and many else do, yet I would never wish the Internet away! (And I know that in a way I am preaching to the converted here, as I think you are the queen of digital poetry!).

Monday, May 01, 2006

a red hat - close up on prose poetry

k: i’m sort of bored, and while i could read a book or write another poem, i think instead i’ll write to you about my feelings on prose-poetry. i am not going to do research or any of that, just…

i resisted the prose-form of poetry for such a long time. i was adamant that it wasn’t poetry. i sounded much like you did today in your comment. part of my first course on poetry at university was that one with noah, where he completely exploded my vision of poetry. we read tender buttons by Gertrude stein—she is the queen of the prose poem, though some would disagree with that statement, she’s who i think of when someone brings up prose-poetry—and i completely didn’t get it. okay, it’s poetry, but it’s more like paragraphs. then i read part of an interview with stein about what she was doing in tender buttons. the way she spoke of the words and sounds… she spoke like a poet. so i reread tender buttons and began, slowly, to understand.

here’s a section. my favorite section actually. it’s the section that, when i reread it, i began to get tender buttons and everything stein was trying to do...

A RED HAT. A dark grey, a very dark grey, a quite dark grey is monstrous ordinarily, it is so monstrous because there is no red in it. If red is in everything it is not necessary. Is that not an argument for any use of it and even so is there any place that is better, is there any place that has so much stretched out.
i don’t know if it works out of context with the book. it kills me that the whole thing is available online (like wessex poems is) but if you want, you can read it all here… (it really … i feel like it’s a terrible waste to give all of these poems to someone for free, i don’t mean, for you to have them for free, but for me to give them to you, to not have to go out and get the book for you… it’s websites like this that (while really rather wonderful) are contributing to the ever growing fear of the disposal of books. it actually makes my heart hurt to see all of tender buttons free online. it’s a crying shame. (i think i need a closing parenthetical here)…)

i side tracked, sorry. that’s an entirely different email topic.

for a while i thought that prose poetry was just a cheap way out of getting a poem right (i feel like, with fish into six writing it in prose form means that i didn’t do the form-form (the verse) poem well enough and the easiest way of fixing it is to put it into prose poem (and it works for the poem, too, which makes it even harder to resist)).

in the new yorker (i’ve actually been reading it lately, can you tell?) there’s an interview thingy with an artist who at one point says that drawing hands and faces were too hard so he’d draw people with shot off hands and paint blood on their face so he wouldn’t have to draw the features. and he says it in such a cocky, proud, arrogant awful way!! i honestly believe that, before you can go breaking the rules you have to know and understand them first. HOWEVER, if you are doing it for your own pleasure, dabbling, having a bit of fun, do whatever you want, but don’t pretend, like this guy was, that you’re some super hot-shot mover and shaker with all the bits and pieces of some modern Michelangelo, because frankly, you’re not.

prose poetry is equivocal to
this in that it may not take a genius to draw/paint, but i don’t think i could do it. it takes a bit of gift, a bit of practice, and eye for color and a knowledge of color. you can slap together a string of words and call it a prose poem. you can’t go ignoring syntax and grammar without understanding that you are ignoring it for your poem to work—if you do you are transparent to other poets. am i making sense?

what stein is doing, to go back to stein and to explain to you what there is to “get” out of her poems, is to form the surroundings of an object, a food, or a room. have you seen schindlers’ list? you know how the red coat is the only thing with colour? or the flames on the ceremonial candles or the gold ring?

those objects are the only objects in color to give them an over-powering emphasis. what stein is doing in “a red hat” is to paint the picture of everything surrounding this hat because, like she says, what’s so spectacular about a red hat if everything around you is red? now, if everything around you is grey and brown, a red hat is stunning. i think her choice of form is perfect for this. for what she is trying to achieve with her words—to put the poem in prose, to disallow it verse form, is to emphasize the point that she is not describing the red hat, but it’s surroundings. the red hat itself would make the poem into a verse. describing just why the red hat is so brilliant and beautiful is paralleled by the use of prose as a way of getting the reader to think more about verse form, the regular. what stein does is create the antithesis of the verse form of poetry.

i guess the main reason why a prose poem works for me—outside of stein’s revolutionary used of the form—is because it is a different kind of meditative poetry. it is an abstraction of poetry and an abstraction of traditional prose. there are certain elements which help to make a prose poem work. for example, short two-word sentences and punctuating vernacular. a line of soft sound words that ends in a lash. harsh s sounds or a z sound are always a nice ending to a breath. what i think is so profound about prose poetry is that it relies on the language to dictate to the reader where to breath and when to hold on. full stops (by that i mean periods) are useful, i rather enjoy seeing brackets in prose poetry, and other long punctuation like dashes and semi colons also aid. the key though, is the language and the poets ability to anticipate the readers’ understanding and capability to understand the language. there’s a lot of encoding and decoding that’s going on below the surface. really, when read by the poet, let’s say, one in the audience should not be able to tell the difference between a poem in form-form and a poem in prose-form.

you could easily argue that prose-poetry and flash fiction are exactly the same thing. i won’t stop you from that. names are fun, but they’re just names. poet-theorists are merely taxonomists of the written genres (it is as make believe as the internet—millions of people believe in this massive entity that isn’t even real); every day we define our favorite terms differently. it’s useless but i love it.

so there is a time and a place for prose, at least in one instance. personally i prefer not to write in prose poetry because i feel, unless a function of the content of the poem, that it is a cheap way of writing. brian writes a lot of prose poetry; however, brian, when he uses line breaks, uses them very wisely, very well and i do not worry that he could not have written any one of his prose poems in verse form.

i do enjoy reading prose poetry when it is entertaining—when it is funny or quirky. serious prose poetry, without justification, is awful. this is in part why i cannot wrap my head around lyn hejinian. though i own two of her books, i cannot understand nor appreciate nor enjoy her work—though i try constantly to do so.

there’s my schtick on prose poetry. i hope you gained something from it, or that it will at least give way to a really juicy debate. ^_^

a: Morning, dear:

I read both of your e-mails (umm ahmad & prose poetry) last night before I went out. The evening was nice, although it seems that I always feel old and not fun when I go out with single gay guys (even though one of them was older than me). I think it is the state of coupledom; do you feel that way around your single friends? And I was so tried from the day; it's the first time we bike to Center City this season, and I am so out of shape I was aching all over! In any case, back to your e-mails, I appreciate the fact that you just write, without the research; that I can do for myself. And as much as I appreciate your passion for Gertruge Stein and the Red Hat, I felt the same way as I did reading the Red Wheelbarrow: shrug! I could feel your passion in both cases, but I couldn't share it. And I am glad I read both e-mails at the same time, because I found what I thought to be a better example of prose poetry:

and you know now that some day, and i hope not too far from now, we will have the chance to shrink the globe down to the size of a dining room table somewhere in your tumultuous city. perhaps someday, too, you'll come visit my humble paradise, and i'll take you to my favourite beach so you can hear what silence sounds like.

I hope I don't make you uncomfortable everytime I do this (set you against your gods, so to speak). And that is not to say that everything you write is of the same level of excellence (nobody's writing is). But that is to say that I see it as part of my "duty" first of all to humanize these gods (for they were human, too) and to remind you of your worth (even if you might see is as biased). See, you did make your point clear, how you see prose poetry, and I appreciate your sensitivity to sounds and punctuation and form... But ultimately I don't think I share that sensitivity, or certainly not the same degree. For me these are tools; poetry is never about the punctuation and the sounds. If what you have to say holds no value, then no matter how much you dress it up, and add hisses and dashes, and break it and clump it, it will still have no value. And the contrary is true. For me the form of poetry is a form of distillation, of simplifying in order to make impact. And it is a thing of balance (as everything else in life?) That is why, no matter how evocative a red wheelbarrow is, or pseudo-philosophical a red hat is, for me they don't hold as much water as the vastness of the world, the distances between us, and the human confronting the sound of silence. Mind you, the sound itself is worthless to me, which is why I can't relate to most of the poetry about nature and I found it strange when you mentioned nature as a tenet of my writing; for me I think it is about the human experience in defining nature, and things, and time... A stone aging moves nothing in me, but a woman aging is what life and art are about.

I hope I didn't disappoint you in that I don't share your passion for certain things (but I am sure you don't expect it for everything, as I don't expect anyone to share my passion for Dalida). And that is not to say that I do not apreciate highly poetic prose (that is ultimately what I adore about "The Hours" and Harold Brodkey's Profane Friendship and Dale Peck's Martin and John). But that is to say that I appreciate the poetry within their prose, even when it is so distilled that it is in every sentence. Though I don't see that in the form, as much as in the sentence structure and especially in what they're saying. I don't think, no matter how good a poet you are, say something about shit and make it sound touching or moving or profound (I just though of shit as it seems the worst poetry I have read or heard was about that; though I have heard an excellent poem about hernia!).

But aside from all that, I have realized what is so precious about you: that you are not limited by yourself. You think of others (I guess it is that same degree of empathy that make your robot poems work so well). And believe me, most people (I know) aren't like that. And that is not to say that they are evil (the best example is the one I live with: his self is his port hole to the universe; everything is filtered and tinted with it. That is not to say that he is an evil person, but that is to say that he is a self-centered one.) And I think that is also why you find such ease in writing about others: other people and other things. Because you are capable of thinking of them on their own terms. And I think that is what makes you such a good poet, and good person. I don't think I am that way; I am (as established by my mother's letter) more self-centered. But that is not to say that I am self-limited. I think what works in my poetry is that through this port hole of myself I am capable of going deep enough to reach at the core of the experience that makes it human, and therefore gets beyond that limiting factor (I can imagining anyone bristling at the self-indulgence of that statement!). I guess all I am trying to say is: I was so touched by your letter to Ahmad...

Thursday, April 13, 2006


k: hello ashraf,

no movies tonight, ryan wants to hold off until tomorrow, as he’s just started to feel better, he doesn’t want to risk it right away.

so what i really ought to be doing is working on my personal statement since i just realized what the date is and that i’m going to Amherst in a few weeks and haven’t give my prof’s anything to go by for my recommendations. instead, i am going to start my poetics rampage on isms.

this isn’t going to cover all the isms, and i’m not going to look anything up!!! well, i am going to reference a few bits, but more just for examples of poetry. this is going to be as much from memory as possible, so it’s going to be wrought with errors, i’m sure. you can always look this stuff up on your own time anyway, what you really want is to view these isms in katy-vision (imagine 3-d but with glasses tinted green and pink instead of blue and red).

so where to begin… how about the biggest ism of them all?


it coincides with the american industrial revolution, Marxism, and feminism. within these (there’s a hierarchy developing) there are such factions of thought and interest as economics, medicine, politics, racism, equal rights, social classification (as it begins to blur), exploration of uncharted wilderness (heart of darkness), psychology is still an infant (Freud has only just published in the late 1890’s), evolution!, and with the second world war, existentialism is the most popular religion.

i suppose i should try to come up with some dates… 1890 to, say, 1960 (that, then, includes the new york school, though they are arguable post-modern).

some poets that, for me, embody the motion towards modernism (the pioneers, if you will) are miss Emily Dickenson, Walk Whitman (i was shocked to find out he was gay, even though now i realize how obvious it is in his poetry!), defiantly Thomas Hardy, and Gertrude Stein. I guess we can include Wallace Stevens too, though i’m not sure if he was writing before 1890 or not.

Modernism or Modernity is mostly (in philosophical terms) a reaction to technology (isn’t it all?) of the time; emerging technology. i.e. plastic, denim, cars, trains, elevators, evolution (this isn’t a technology as much as a discovery, but i’m including it, as it caused quiet the shake-up), advanced medical techniques and practice, a reform in prisons (from torture chambers to psych wards), woman with big mouths (i mean, opinions and the courage to voice their thoughts), and wasn’t it in the late 1890’s or the early 1900’s that the double helix was discovered? (i read the book but i can’t remember what the dates were for the life of me, anyway, stuff like that was huge.)

as far as the poetry… what have we got going on? we’ve stepped out of metric feet, strict rhyme schemes and traditional punctuation (Emily’s famous for her dashes) addressed issues like homosexuality (whitman and stein), an indiscrete sense of morbidity and mortality, and have begun to explore the boundaries of poetry. we have begun, as poets, to define ourselves in poetics and by our limitlessness, our revolt against form. modernism is, to me, the age of experimentation. yet, curiously, form remains, throughout, a sort of obsession (we can’t break away from it).

there are hundreds of isms within modernism. the two i know most about are


so confusingly similar, yet so different, only, i’m not sure which one came first… i think imagism did.

imagism is a movement with rules defined by (cringe) ezra pound and a pal named flint (don’t remember his first name).

the rules for imagism (yeah, they had rules) are as follows (and these i did look up in one of my texts):

1: direct treatment of the "thing," whether subjective or objective.
2: to use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation.
3: as regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

the epitome of imagism is pound’s poem “In a Station of the Metro” which goes like this…
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
that’s it. two lines. it started as some 20 or 30 lines, and pound took everything out. the basic idea behind imagism is “bracketing out the I”

the poem works like this:

[ezra pound sees] the apparition of these faces in the crowd;
[they remind him of] petals on a wet, black bough.

somehow, this poem, is everything you’ll ever have to wonder about what it’s like to be at a subway station in France. go figure.

my poem called ‘swallow song’ is as close as i’ll ever come to this form, this idea. William Carlos Williams was a bit of an imagist. though i’d class him more in the field of objectivists in consideration of most of his poetry, most which excludes his most famous Red Wheel Barrow. The Red Wheel Barrow is quintessentially imagist:
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
(you should memorize this one, it’s a gem).

there’s no i. there’s no me or you or… there’s no one. everything is the wheel barrow and there happen to be a few chickens in the picture.

what i like that these poems do for the reader is create a crystal clear image (that’s the point, isn’t it) without the burden of a story, characters, time, narrators. it is, literally, timeless. however, it becomes so impersonal, and they are so short (how could they not be) that the whole movement really has no motion in it at all.

now for Objectivism, the brain child of one, most magnificent, Louis Zukofsky.

the objectivists are L. Zukofsky, WCW, George Oppen and a few other German/Jewish men i haven’t read anything of. Carl R. and Charles R. (no relation, i just can’t remember their last names).

so much of the energy of the objectivists is drawn from Marxism and the repression of the Jewish race. Zukofsky and Pound argued furiously through letters. pound being the ever-charming anti-Semite that he was, and Zukofsky being the empathetic and sorrowfully misunderstood Jew that he was, obviously did not get along. Zukofsky stood up to defend women against pound, as well as the Jewish race/religion (he was a Russian Jew i believe).

so, objectivism is, basically, a way of looking at a poem as a concrete object (have you read any of karl marx’s essays or economic theories? it’s stupidly complex and i struggle through it, but i have read a bit). here it is in pieces: this is a word, it has been manufactured throughout history, it has been wrapped and shipped and displayed and sold and now lives inside this pocket in this man’s coat. this is the objectivist angle. this is epistemology understood on a functional level. (i am soooo into objectivism, i’m sorry if i lose you along the way, i’ve read An Objective by L. Zukofsky and based the better half of my poemtree intro on his ideas. i apologize if this comes out all… scholarly and confusing, i get excited.)

let me relate this to lenses and prisms for you… Zukofsky used the analogy of an optical lens (which is where my idea for light and poetry came from, directly). “An Objective: (Optics)—The lens bringing the rays from an object to a focus. That which is aimed at.” (i cheated just then, and looked up his exact words.) what i understand this to mean is that the poem is the lens. everything that you the reader understand and associate with “the object” and everything that i the poet understand and associate with “the object”, converge in the poem. when we both put our histories in through the poem the result is a fixed beam. we have now added to one another’s collections of understandings and ideas surrounding “the object”. does that make sense?

i have an idea of what a white chicken looks like, what it eats, where it belongs in the world. you have an idea of all these things too, though they might be very different. now that we have both read the poem by WCW called “the red wheel barrow” we have a new image to associate with “white chickens”. now, after looking through the lens that wcw created we can come to the same conclusion about white chickens.

objectivism, in part, is a way of linking people’s ideas and thus creating a web of understanding. this is the way language develops. one inside-joke after another. for example, on our level. when i say “salamander” i’m sure we both think of something rather unique and different to the rest of the world.

one time on the bus home from school, our freshman year, Danielle and i used to play the word association game, among others. Danielle starts, she says “apple” and i say, without a moments hesitation “cow”. this stopped Danielle in her tracks. “cow?” what does a cow have to do with an apple?

4 years later lauren and i are visiting Danielle at school. i’m on one bed, Danielle across the room on the other and lauren is leaning up against danielle’s bed. she leans over and whispers something to lauren. they both look up at me and daneille says “apple” and i instantly say “cow”. lauren was amazed. Danielle had told her “i can make katy say cow, want to see?” it’s a fun trick. every now and again daneille will send me a text message: “apple” and i’ll reply with, you guessed it “cow”.

for me, that’s part of objectivism, part of epistemology. for me objectivism goes far beyond poetry. all of it though, is to do with words. part of it all, too, which i mentioned at the beginning of my objectivism spiel is the idea that the poem itself is an object. this is the part of objectivism that i struggle with only because for me, the poem is relative to glass—i know it’s there but i can see right through it. maybe i’ll ponder this more, but for now i’ll end objectivism here and let you ask questions.

and onto…


there isn’t much i have to say about this topic because everyone already understands the ideas and reasoning’s behind feminism. you mentioned that maya was/is in some ways a feminist or at lest a feminist-thinker, right?

there are a few details though, which i can ravish upon you. one is that my beloved Mina Loy wrote the Feminist Manifesto. her take on feminism is one i find particularly appealing. she says, basically (if i remember right) that it is time for women to stop making themselves out to be victims of men and to realize what power and strength women have. she doesn’t compare men and women, instead she separates them. she also focuses on the woman’s ability to change… from daughter to blossoming virgin to mistress to partner to mother to comforter to inspiration. the part that i remember best and the part i like the most is how she defines the revolution. women need to revolt within themselves, to denounce the way they see themselves and to take the steps necessary to become confident and independent of their male counterparts.

unfortunately, i don’t remember the date she wrote this. anyway, i know she took her own advise, the little minx. in every one of her biography blurbs i’ve read in anthologies it says something about all the poets and painters she had affairs with during her hay day.

there is another kind of feminism brewing throughout modernism though. it is along the same vain, i suppose, but it’s more focused on poetry. that is, experimentation.

men experimented, sure. but there’s one woman who i hail as the pioneer of experimental poetry and that is Gertrude Stein. she was really the first to address the importance of process in writing poetry; whereas the emphasis had always been on product. i’ll be honest here, i care more about the product than the process, but i find the process of writing exhilarating and intriguing—after all i do my fair share of experimenting with poetry.

also, i admire Stein’s bold approach to poetry. she is steadfast in her ways and she does not yield for anyone, especially the reader. reading her essay on composition as explanation was more difficult than reading marx’s essays!! but i gained so much from my struggles to understand her and interpret her. it is possibly one of the most rewarding essays if you can dissect it and understand it well enough. i’m sure stein’s responsible for a few of my gray hairs.

it’s difficult for me to explain the link between feminism and experimentation, but just think of it as a breaking off of the main stream of poetry (which was primarily composed by and of men). also, stein has a gentle touch. a grandmother’s touch. if you ever get a chance, read some of tender buttons and be sure you read it out loud. my favorite piece in that collection is called “a red hat” which i think embodies the whole of her efforts (but explaining to you what her efforts in tender buttons was, is an entirely separate email).

there are other isms, but these are the three (imagism, objectivism and feminism) within modernism that interest and influence me the most.

i hope i haven’t bored you to death by all of this!! i hope that you enjoyed it in fact and that you learned something, anything.

a: This e-mail has been sitting flagged in my "Follow-up" folder the until work week now; it's about time I attempt to tackle it, especially that there is still quite a bit to follow up on. It is the end of the day, the end of the week. The office grows quiet here, and I haven't written in ages. So, I'll just jump right into it, sideways if I must.

I am glad you took the time to write this in your own terms, and from memory. That is what I was hoping for. See, it wasn't just laziness on my part, but I did want to see these terms from your perspective, as it is essential to be on the same grounds. For example, I am not sure we understand the same thing by "epistemology". My understanding of the term is based on my philosophy courses meaning "the study of knowledge", or how we come to know the things we know--the senses, the mind, empirical data vs. belief, etc. And I had the feeling that you intend a different nuance of it. That being said, however, I think I won't go as much into my understanding of the same terms (which, if anything, would be more architecturally biased) but rather my reaction to them (as indulgent as it may be; but what are blog if not ultimate self-indulgence?).

I really liked your understanding of modernism; as I believe I already mentioned to you, it reminds me of one of my favorite professors understanding of it: distant enough to be encompassing, and yet down-to-earth enough to be relevant. As you can imagine, Modernism in architecture has different, though interestingly different nuances. I would say industrialization affected architecture more directly than art, literature and poetry: it changed the means of production and construction, it changed the actual building materials, necessitating the "invention" of a whole new architectural language. The rest of the arts I believe were affected more by the social, cultural, economic and perhaps, yes, epistemological effects of industrialization. The interesting thing, though, is that I think in both form was a primary obsession. In architecture, for more obvious reasons, old forms were called into question because of the new construction methods & materials. In poetry, I think it was more of the cultural aspect of modernization, and by that I mean the questioning of old beliefs & values. Another uncanny parallel is the reductionism that was the perhaps the trademark of modern architecture and I see the essence of imagism: the shedding of the "unnecessary", the questioning of established notions to the degree that their reconstruction from scratch, more lean and minimal, is sometimes required. And I think in both cases it was necessary to hit the irreducible for us to realize the necessity of the superficial in our existence.