Tuesday, January 31, 2006


reid writes:
Butterfly in spider's web,
unentangle wings in time
to flutter off to dress in red
instead of spun in fine silk

Beating wings against restraints,
a butterfly cannot cry out.
It cannot tear, it cannot tear
by moisture nor by force without.

In summary, a butterfly
flaps and does, or does not

katy writes:
what i would most like to reflect on here is the effect of the poem over the readers' voice (my voice at the very least). i'm a strong advocate of reading poetry aloud (i am not always able to as i read poetry in public places, and unless i already know the poem is worthy of a non-poetry-seeking crowd, i am keen to keep it to myself). what this poem does to the voice is exemplary.

read it out loud (particularly the second one in the series), doesn't matter where you are, it's short and the people who stare at you would have been staring anyway, it's just now you notice them.

it's fast isn't it?

try again, try to read it slow... you sound just like william shatner (love the man, but not what i want to sound like while i'm reading poetry about butterflies).

the power a poet has with words is demonstrated unquestionably when there is a mandatory way to read it as in the case of netsky[aka reid] here, OR in the case of, say wcw's red wheel barrow, in which there is no definitive means for reading the poem out loud.

the poet, as in both examples, has the utmost power--either to demand or confound--the poet makes the reaction.

what that does in regards to the content is give it weight. in wcw's poem, the rockwellian image of a chicken and wheel barrow is ... imagine an illiterate farmer from the early 1900's, he's stumbling for the right word, he's not using fancy fillers--his vernacular is cloudy and often times leaves space for interpretation. netsky's poem, however, is quick, paced with a slight touch of frantic. the butterfly is restrained and doing anything it can--not being able to cry out or tear, it flaps and flutters to no end. feel this as you read the piece out, it's there.


so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

there's this awesome video, though i'm not sure of the publication details or where even to begin finding it, though i believe it's called "so much depends", wherein dozens of people are approached on the street and asked to read these mere 16 words and out of all who were asked, hardly any one read it the same as any other. it was outstanding. the idea of a poem that is, in this regard, unreadable is astounding.

now how do i apply Charles Olson's Projective Verse to these examples i've dealt?

so you know, i am writing these thoughts as they come and as a reread Olson's poetics statement. it's been just over a year since i scribbled in the margins of this particular essay (i tend to do this in order to understand better the arguments being made, if you were to read my copy of the book you'd find constant questions in gray pencil swirling around the page, antagonizing the text), so excuse me if i double back on myself now and a again. i thought, anyway, that it would be a bit more interesting for you to read how i develope arguments and a lot more fun for me in not having to labor over a standard and well-composed essay.

back to that question: how do i apply...? it's easy enough in regards of williams, as mr olson lists him as a counter-example to the antithesis of projective verse (therefore, lists him as an example of projective verse). olson begins his argument by defining the Non-Projective:

(or what a French critic calls "closed" verse, that verse which print bred and which is pretty much what we have had in English & American, and have still got, despite the work of Pound & Williams...)

so my thoughts begin, and i write in the margin: "part of what this is about is the creation of such unread ability?" is projective verse, then, in some part founded on the grounds of zukofsky's labor ethics? is it, in some way, taking steps off of marxism? [afterthought: I really ought to explain myself here; perhaps in another email… zuckofsky is an entirely different puzzle to be solved, perhaps later] what i mean is, i think that olson uses williams as an example of open verse as an opposition to this "closed" verse. williams, as i described previously, challenges all readers to create their own way of reading any given poem [hence the labor and marxism referral], in particular a red wheel barrow. part of what is meant, then, by projective is perhaps projecting some level of responsibility onto the reader. this is not definite, but an interesting idea, no?

lingering on the word projective i think it is important to address the three terms olson begins his poetics with and they are:

projectile: n 1)A fired, thrown, or otherwise propelled object, such as a bullet, having no capacity for self-propulsion. 2) A self-propelled missile, such as a rocket. adj 1) Capable of being impelled or hurled forward. 2) Driving forward; impelling a projective force. 3) Zoology. Capable of being thrust outward; protrusive.

percussive: adj Of, relating to, or characterized by percussion. [percussion: n 1) The striking together of two bodies, especially when noise is produced. 2) The sound, vibration, or shock caused by the striking together of two bodies. 3) The act of detonating a percussion cap in a firearm. 4) A method of medical diagnosis in which various areas of the body, especially the chest, back, and abdomen, are tapped to determine by resonance the condition of internal organs.5) pertaining to music, you can check dictionary.com if you really feel the need.]

& prospective: adj 1) Likely or expected to happen. 2) Likely to become or be: prospective clients.

just with these three words there seems to be an epic amount of thought on olson's part and as many obstacles in the path of the reader's understanding of those thoughts. the way i amalgamate these three terms is by studying them as the definition of projective: projective (in poetry) is the form in which the poet projects a particular or prospective percussive verse on the reader. the reader, then, is assigned the duty of reading the presented text in such a way that the poet demands. (this is justified by olson himself later: "verse... [must] put into itself certain laws and possibilities of the breath, of the breathing..."

this takes us back to labor (as an arguments about the relationship between poet and audience). olson doesn't take this stance in his essay, but i'm eager to address it myself. the poems above, the one by reid (particularly the second) and red wheel barrow, exemplify two ends of the projective spectrum. one is a locked in position; the reader must read this poem in this way. the second is a locked out position; the reader must define his own way of understanding how to voice this piece. both the lock in and the lock out depend on the ability of the reader to some extent.

let me see if i can find any justification within olson's text (and excuse me here if i derail, like i said, i'm working this out as a read through olson's essay).

i believe, after only reading a line or two, now, that olson veers heavily on the side of the "locked out" position of projective as i interpreted it. he writes, as a prelude to some explanation and expansion on the matter: "OPEN, or what can also be called COMPOSITION BY FEILD, as opposed to the inherited line, stanza, over-all form, what is the ‘old’ base of the non-projective". (i know it feels a bit chunky out of context, but to be truthful, it reads a bit chunky in context). basically what he's describing here--and why i feel he must be leaning more towards the idea of a lock out--is poetry beyond structure (there are examples of this on the Jubilat page, for example: http://www.jubilat.org/n9/smith.html ) (john ashbury dabbles in this in his collection The Tennis Court Oaths). somehow olson intends, i hope, to merge a very visually-forward concept of poetry with a very audio-forward concept of speaking poetry.

it would appear olson does address the role of the reader, but only as receiver. he goes beyond what my poetics addressed (more like he glosses over the issue of the poem itself and focuses on the energy (or light source)). the only thing he says about the poem itself is that it "must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge". this is pretty straight forward. olson the approaches this need as a problem for the poet. he asks how is the poet to accomplish this, particularly in FIELD COMPOSITION as opposed to the ruled and regulated closed form poetry? i read this as, how does the poet hold onto the reader, how does the poet keep the reader from getting lost?

he then discusses the poem itself: FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT. (this, he discloses, is a phrase coined by Robert Creeley, which olson borrows to force his point forward; to project.) this is spot on what i was getting at in my post-reply to reid's poems in comparison to wcw's red wheel barrow. do you see it? the form, the language, the speed, it is all connected, in the end, to the content. the poem is, and ought to be, an entity wholly unified in all of it's elements. (this is something that i try, always, to accomplish; though am not sure how successful or unsuccessful i am.)

but without spending very much time with the product he clears a place on the table for process (modernists, and more so postmodernists, over use the importance of process by placing it above the final product in most circumstances, this has not completely carried through to our generation, i feel, as so many young poets while still holding the process of their creation quite high, present the product as a declaration of itself and not of the process--there is a current effort to mask process (though not through any shame) in order to allow the product to glow.)

i must say, though, for a poet composing in a time of specific movements, his ideas on process seem to me to be rather universal. his main commentary is surrounded around this quote from yet another one of his inspirations, Edward Dahlberg: "one perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception."

the way olson expands on this quote is too good not to be read: "...is a matter of, at all points (even, I should say, of our management of daily reality as of the daily work) get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen. And if you also set up as a poet, USE USE USE the process at all points, in any given poem always, always one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER! So there we are, fast, there’s the dogma."

so the way not to lose your readership is to work with such speed as to create a path in which no one could possibly lose sight of it? perhaps. i think reid does this; however, he does not use this "field composition". so how would one use open visual verse to create a locked in speaking verse? williams doesn't do this. (though that is to no fault, for his red wheel barrow's form and lack of this path is part of what compliments its content). what poem does this then? as i made passing reference to john ashbury's The Tennis Court Oaths, our beloved John does this. the poems force the reader to follow along. and the perfect example of this is in Me wtih Animal Towering by Albert Mobilio:

part 3 from score thrown through

i know i haven’t made very many conclusions. instead there are all these thoughts floating above our heads, but maybe you can use my lingering thoughts as strings to tie ideas up in, or to attach your own loose ends to…



Thursday, January 26, 2006

oh o'hara

a : Oh, don't buy Frank O'Hara Poems Retrieved!
k : no?
a : No, it's on its way to you.
k : what?
a : Yup.
k : you didn't
a : Yes, I did! Merry Christmas!
k : oh, how sweet, thank you so much
a : You're most welcome!

k: thank you so much for my present, it came today :) i will try really hard to not read it all before my trip, but no promises. you're awesome!

a: Oh, I'm so glad you got it. And don't bother hold back.

PS: You're awesome, too!

k: thank you so much for this collection of frank's poems... i think i have found some evidence that, had i been of his generation, i might have had a chance with him even though i am a girl!
3 Violet Lang

Image of all felinities
and Grand Lady of the
turnpikes, in decadent verse
you'd be a giantess but I,
in good health, exclaim you
mine! and speak familiarly.

Dancer always, to me, and
tea room's despaired-of voyou,
you are my Bunny and other
people's Violet, a saint of
circumstance and the dangerous
Birthday Party. I quote you
back to yourself in all women
and love you as if Symposium
had not been writ in jest.

Kiss me. We'll never again fight
in a cafeteria of friends. I want
your voice in my ear so the sun
will be hotter, and as Bermudas
make su dizzy we'll clamber over
mountains as red and yellow as
clowns, shouting to John and Jack:
"Hurry up! Poo, poo! Tra la!"

i can hear him say "Kiss me" in my mind's ear and i'm all like ooo and aaa and oh frank. (okay, and the picture on the cover isn't hurting either!)

oh, thuogh i would have been a hopeless wreck around him in person i'm sure.

my heart
a: I thought that O'Hara poem was cute (and I don't mean that in a pejorative way; I just mean that it was quite quirky and playful). But what I thought was even cuter was your reaction to it! I think it is touching that you relate to poetry at such a personal level (though I have to admit that one main reason that book is on my Wish List is that cover photo... Rrrrr!!!) In any case, I always wondered if straight women have the same fantasy about gay men that straight men have about gay women... Or is it just Frank? :) But aside from that, I have to admit that I find his poetry rather difficult to follow (I'm not sure why...)

k: ah, on the matter of boys... as far as i'm concerned, when it comes to those sort of "i'll never ever, but i can still think about it" kind of fantasies, it doesn't matter whether the person is gay or straight or dead or living, because i'd never ever (that's the whole point). i can't imagine i'd ever be as happy with someone, anyone, else as i am with ryan. but it's still fun to let myself get all weak kneed at the thought of, oh my, kissing frank o'hara!

i don't know what kind of fanaties guys have about girls... though i know one of my more ... eccentric friends has a bit of a fetish for asian lesbians, but like i say, he's eccentric. as for the rest, i don't know. and i can't speak for other girls either.

"(though I have to admit that one main reason that book is on my Wish List is that cover photo... Rrrrr!!!)"

what was that about my reaction to frank? i believe you just beat me in 'who can be cuter'.
i think there is something in his poetry, in his poet's voice, that draws me in to his world, but i can't define it. i just get him. he's the poet i want to know everything about, him and the lovely Mina Loy (she is so sexy and drivin... this powerhouse of femininity, i can't imagine a better idol)

We might have coupled
In the bed-ridden monopoly of a moment
Or broken flesh with one another
At the profane communion table
Where wine is spill't on promiscuous lips

for me to read her words out is to lose my breath.
and just look at her...
she's beautiful!

someone, i forget who, some graduate student, brought up the concept of a poetry father and poetry mother, the two voices (if you can limit such a thing to only two) who influence and inspire you. i think (however incestuous this may come across) frank and mina would have to be my choice for poetry pa and ma.


as promised, here's a whole bunch of bits of things...

pound's study on gender, or as rachel so eloquently put it "pound's semen theory":

what i have in my notes beside my printed copy of this essay is as follows:

male = invention; will to form; abstraction
female = convention; habit; utility; chaos or formless
gender + sex = form the culture and ideas themselves
yet = he himself values form (gives it "high principle")

i haven't reread the article, but there you have it, i don't need to quote it. i'll probably read it over tonight. how i remember it, though, is that pound's point is that the human mind is inactive without stimuli and then he peppers in the idea of females being nothing but breeders.

by the way, i'm a card-carrying "down with pound" club member. he's infultrated every modernist text, yet he's awful. i personally don't feel that his work should be so unjustly glorified in the education of poetry. he was full of ideas and rules and regims, but never have i really felt he's fulfilled his own requirments. i'd prefer if more people know who the lovely zukosky was instead of the wretched pound.

poetry is fun!

hi a,

here are a couple of links to some of my favorite experiments...

the first is poems that GO (linked from my blog as you may have noticed), which, if you haven't been to yet you really ought to. there so much fun to be had. also, if you're savvy enough to understand and appreciate the essays on, then i'd recommend those too (i'm, sadly, a mere fledgling at this whole computer thing, it's the boy that does all that, though i did all those fancy buttons on my own!)
http://www.poemsthatgo.com/gallery/index.htm (i'm sending you straight for the archives, where all the fun is)

the second is to Raymond Queneau's (finally!!) internet friendly Cent mille milliards de poems which was born in 1961 -- far before the time of internet:
i found Queneau in a math book, believe it or not, about 5 years ago. there was a sort of word problem which asked, if you had a collection of 10 14-line sonnets and each line was cut so that the line (or as many as 9 lines) behind it on subsequent pages could become visible, how many variations of these 140 lines existed? how many different poems could you create? the answer? ask Raymond...

the third is something the aforementioned ruth jennison showed me. it is a collection of 500 sentences which appear to you on screen one at a time, never repeating. i have sat at my computer for hours reading these beautiful snippits of poetry. i don't know very much about Robert Grenier, though i do know i like what he's done. so here you go...
http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/grenier/ (click on sentences)

i hope you have fun with these places. i'm interested in what your response to such media-based poetry is, but remember these are the extremes. though i suppose the internet makes it so much easier for poets to accomplish such amazing and mind boggling poetic feats. also, keep in mind that raymond did this on paper, in the 60's. (sadly and even more sadly predictable, Cent mille milliards de poems is not available in print.)



ps the link to that list of experiments i mentioned before is here for you:
http://wings.buffalo.edu/epc/authors/bernstein/experiments.html i'm thinking of creating my own list sooner or later, perhaps just an addition to the ones listed on this site.

foetry business

Katy, here is that article I told you about.

The following appeared on Boston.com:
Poetry world shocker!
Date: July 18, 2004

"DOES POETRY NEED muckrakers? The secretive operators of the website Foetry (
http://www.foetry.com/), a self-described "American poetry watchdog," certainly think so. They promise, from behind a cloak of anonymity, to uncover scandals among the publishers of contemporary poetry, dishing dirt on "fraudulent contests," as their homepage has it, "tracking the sycophants," "naming the names," and generally cleaning house."

K: so poetry stuffs...

when i was a mere fledgling i fell for the
poetry.com scam up to the point where they began asking for money. i was without debit/check/credit and therefore without means of buying my way into a big ol' mess.
perhaps then, some 8 years ago, i may have been more interested in a discussion on fraudulent poetry websites that this foetry site might be, or might be exploiting.

what does interest me at this stage of my poetry-life is the contests. i've submitted my poems to many a contest and never heard any results. my short story was submitted to a collection, yay me, but my poems don't seem to stand up on their own. they might be gems, but who buys gems when they can buy the ring or pendant with he rocks glued in already? i don't think the contests i've submitted my work to have ever been bias or corrupted, at least i'd not hear of any such allegations.

as for industry... i covered pretty much all of my thoughts in that very first long email about my feeling towards publication. so that covers it.
one last thing about the article though, it was really nice to see umass amherst all over the place. it kind of made me miss it. i kind of want to go back... go back and feel like a poet among poets again...

a: I think it is quite different from the poetry.com deal (which you alerted me to). They might be both faces of the same ailment, but I don't think they should be lightly fused together. I don't think poetry.com ever achieved the "legitimacy" of foetry.com (foetry.com was actually featured in the New York Times in an article on the best literary sites on the web: http://donswaim.com/nytimes.digital.lit.html). The way I see it, while poetry.com relies on the desire of quick satisfaction and "vanity" of its "victims" that are the making of the indiscriminating world of the "vanity press", foetry.com come relies on the frustration that the "highly discriminating" world of literary contests and presses relies on for credibility. I think I forgot to mention that the author of foetry.com was outed last year as the husband of a frustrated aspiring poet. He took down the site for a couple of months after that and then resumed it (with increased or decreased legitimacy?). I think it is all too easy to dismiss both websites, though I think they bring up a more important, profound and fundamental set of issues in poetry: Is poetry the easy and cheap art of the unachieved (think Hallmark poetry, and the general masses of poetry.com)? Is it the new 15 seconds (not minutes) of fame? And who determines what is good (or legitimate) poetry (and I think that is the importance of foetry.com)? I am not arguing to add a link to it (I don't think it's a site that would need our little blog to link to it; it's rather the kind of site that our little blog would wish for a link from). In fact, I probably would agree with you that it might be just a safer bet not to link to it since it has proven to be so controversial. However, I do think it seriously questions the state of contemporary poetry, its little and exclusive world that has perhaps become a tad too inbred (or so foetry, I think legitimately, asks)? Don't get me wrong: one of my all time favorite poets, Mark Strand, was named in one of its lists. Does that diminish him in my eyes? Not a bit; I think he's still one of the greatest. And I understand the almost incestuous student-teacher relationship in the world of modern academia (trust me, I've had my own share of fantasy crushes on academic mentors). But I also think there is a lot of crap out there that is passed as good, if not great, poetry that is being published by established and esteemed presses, and I think there is a lot of great poetry, like yours, that gets passes on... That is not to say that there isn't any good poetry being published by the "great" presses, but that is to say that that is not as simple of a relationship.

K: after doing some thinking and some reading on the matter of foetry, i find i am confronted with two conflicting positions on the subject.

the controversy only lingers on in me. i suppose. and i agree wholly with this statement: "Foetry is an odd beast." from the scoplaw web blog. in fact, i pretty much agree with everything said in this article (

i think is the first subject we've come to where i didn't already have a somewhat developed opinion previously. so i had to go about doing a lot of reading and after about three or four articles, i am most impressed with the arguments and balance of this one on scoplaw. i agree with the idea that what foetry is good in principle but seems to have taken off in a rather unnecessary direction. (however (a big however), i can't form my own opinion on the site, other than the mission statement, because most of the website is down at the moment. which really erks me, because i'm making judgments based on second hand information and developing an opinion based on other people's opinions)

on the one hand, no, it isn't fair, and foetry.com make a fine effort to get people, at the very least, thinking twice about the quality of published work and the reality of politics within the world of poetry. (i wish there were another word for politics, because it's more human relationships ... it's playground politics, it's grown up acting like 4 year olds, chasing each other with buckets full of sand and handing out gummi bears to everyone except for the one kid they might not like, etc.)

on the other hand... knowing people is what gets you places, has always been the way of the world, no matter when or where. though, i don't know how much i like this, though i believe it is the truth. what i would prefer to be the truth would be that those who deserve it shoudl get it. unfortunatly that isn't the way.

A: I am glad we're getting to grounds where you don't already have a somewhat developed opinion previously; I guess it puts us on a somewhat more equal footing (not that I display any scarcity of opinion!). I loved your description of politics (it's playground politics, it's grown up acting like 4 year olds, chasing each other with buckets full of sand and handing out gummi bears to everyone except for the one kid they might not like, etc.) and I completely agree with you there: politics might not be the word, but as long as we're both talking about the same thing... And it is true that such is life, and nothing much can be done about it. But I also think that we tend to extend our playground attitudes to the larger civic space when we "punish the rat". I still haven't had the chance to read the articles you sent the links to, but I'll get to them eventually.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Birth of a Blog

a: You know, I have been thinking (of course, I with my exhibitionistic bent would) that we should start a blog where we can post our correspondence. I have to admit (and I don't think it comes as a surprise, being familiar with "Dear Theo,") that I am just fascinated with blogs as model of colliding the private and public domains. In a way, it is people's diaries made public; in another, they are so numerous that in their multitude they almost guarantee anonymity... And that blog could be the beginning of a new defining movement in poetry... LOL! Dream on, huh?

k: i'll write a proper response later, but i just wanted to tell you that the idea of turning this exchange into a blog had crossed my mind a day or two ago but i let it pass. knowing that you'd be interested in it i'll give it some serious thought, though it may be something we save for the new year.

a: Katy, I'm just running out the door, so I'll write you properly some time this weekend, hopefully. I have quickly read through your e-mails (so I'll have to re-read them), and I just wanted to let you know that I am serious about the blog, and I am glad you are too! This should be fun.

k: i look forward to more from you, and i'm contemplating on a blog and all the ramifications like picking out a background (i'm so picky!) and a title and which of our emails ought to present itself as the first entry or rather we should write something like an introduction or should the intro to poemtree present itself first... or your question to me about publication or what? i'll chew on any ideas you pass onto me.

k: (later) i've been thinking about your blog idea. i'm not sure you were completely serious, but i think that in saying it you meant enough to really want to do it, or at least get me thinking about doing it. so let's do it. i actually thought of a potential title for it as well...
sounds like semantics, which is what these emails and conversations have been about (mainly) and it does that cool full stop thing like in your name and pseudonym.
what do you think?

a: You can be as picky about the details of it (including design) as you wish. I am quite particular myself, but after being opinionated and picky for a living, I am fine with relegating the responsibility (to a certain extent!). I guess, one thing that design has taught me is how truly subjective it is. So, want to take the lead? (And this is no sacrifice on my part, as I am quite passive to begin with and enjoy the ride...). As for the name, as much as I like the idea, I was thinking of something perhaps simpler, less antics if you will, and something more neutral for the both of us, or whoever joins this blog. Perhaps a simple question? I was thinking something along the lines of the title Billy Collins' new book, "The Trouble with Poetry". I know it is so simple it's almost naive in its ambition, but I think our exchange--perhaps due to its informality--did not shy away from the big themes and questions of poetry (and semantics), nor was paralyzed by the possibility of half-ass tackling any subject (which when it comes to the biggies, is perhaps the only way to tackle them). And I think starting with the introduction to PoemTree is a good idea; it's a good solid more formal base to the discussion. And then it can start with whichever e-mail started this rolling. I am thinking, that as in blog format (and that's the way I did it on "Dear Theo,") the posts would be reverse-chronological (most recent first). It might make the argument more difficult to follow initially, but it will allow it to go on and mutate as it flows.

k: blog title: the trouble with poetry... or the trouble with poets? you've seen how lost i can get just trying to name a poem, never mind an entire blog (or for heaven's sake a collection... i probably deliberated on calling my first collection PoemTree longer than i will on naming my first child!)
blog format: yes. just like dear theo.
we should, when i get back and manage to catch each other on yahoo messenger, play around with schemes and things. it'll be fun. and as far as me taking the lead, i'd rather we try to pull it off together, collaborate. i am picky but i'm also reasonable (i hope!).

(After trying to find out what poetry-related words are still available on Blogger, I landed on Poetship and registered it before it were snatched!)

k: yes. po'et'ship is very nice, very... it fits. and the definition is spot on too. well done and thank you for taking it into your own hands, taking that leap forward. i've written the first post (it includes, as you will see, the introduction from my collection as well as a pic of the lettered part of that egreeting you sent me. i have left it as a draft, not yet published, so that you can look over it and make any changes or suggestions before it goes up. and how are we going to post all the discussion we've already had? should we post everything? all those exchanges about Flake and what not? we could post the yahoo discussion too if you wanted, but i'm really not sure how far you want to take it. i'd be happy enough to just post the longer emails. and should we each post the emails in turn or blob a few together at a time?

a: I am so glad you like the name! I like it quite a lot, too. I had no idea what to call it at first. I wanted a one-word that can make the web address easier, and it seemed that all variations on poetry and its roots and its foreign equivalents were taken (now there's a topic, the over abundance of amateur poetry and the lack of readership!). And then, I was doing my dictionary combing, and I found this word. I didn't know it existed, but I liked it; it reminded me of "friendship" except for poetry. And yet it had a slightly different meaning. (And by the way, if you mind those dictionary antics of mine, please let me know; I am certain I can live without the apostrophes!)
Now, you raise some good questions about what to include. I think we should certainly employ some editing. (It's not privacy I am concerned about as much as readership; what may seem cute on a personal level may come across as just pure schmaltz to others.) So I think we can edit out the Flake bit, and any other personal references that we don't really relate to the subject matter. (Not that I don't think a lot of poetry is heavily autobiographical...) Now, the question is, do you think each should edit her and his own entries, or should I edit yours and vice versa? In any case, I think each of us should post her/his own entries; I think it makes it easier to follow who's saying what (from the signatures). (That is not to say, however, that we can't condense some of the shorter e-mails to a longer one, or omit some of them altogether.) And I think the chat had some good stuff in it, if you know how to retrieve it (again, I think we can omit my discovering-Yahoo!-messenger antics!)
Another important question I think is what sites should we link to? (I think that can be one of the most valuable aspect of a page, its links.) I think we definitely should include the Wikipedia entry for Poetry (it has some good links). One more controversial website (not included in their links) that I think we should link to is Foetry. By the way, I never asked you, what do you think of it? I will e-mail you an interesting article from the Boston Globe about it that has this disconcerting statement: "There seem to be more people willing to pay for a chance to have their own book published than there are people willing to buy a book of poetry by someone else." I won't go more into the poetry bit, I think we are in accord essentially; I think we are just expressing it differently (not that I am discounting the importance of language), and with different emphases. I would like to read what you think about the whole "industry" of poetry. (I think it is ok, if not helpful, for the argument to go back and forth between the "art" of poetry and its "industry"; in fact, I belief that will revealing and valuable at some point.)

k: the wikoidiopedia thingy link is fine. there are plenty of terms that are useful to non-poets and stuff. i don't really like wikeop...whatever, simply because anyone can write anything without signing up, and there's rarely someone that checks content. that would be alright, just a database, but their reputation is one of authority, of which i feel it has very little or non. so i'm weary about it, i was weary about the link, but i read through the entire entry and found it satisfactory. and like i said, there are lots of bits and pieces that people may find useful. as for the rest of the links... i'll just post that email i sent to you with those three or four links in it soon, then if you want to add the links from there feel free. maybe we can do a recommended list from amazon like you have on your blog with a few recommended reads. other possible links i guess would be... http://www.litkicks.com/ (which i really ought to start reading myself) http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/ttp/ttpbooks.html (because i think we both appreciate books for what they are, and the capability of technology) and maybe the blogging poets site. i don't know if i really want to be associated with the foetry page though, it will be useful within the context of the blog itself.

a: I don't mean to be a touter of new digital media (though I think I am an early adopter), but there's a study published in the journal Nature recently that concludes that "Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries" (and I don't think it's a stretch to extend the findings beyond science entries.) There are actually several pages on Wikipedia arguing its resilience as a concept of collective knowledge that I think are quite convincing. If you really have a lot of time to kill, or you really want to read more about the whole concept of Wiki, Wired had a great article about it several months ago. To make things short, I think the concept of Wiki relies on the belief of the essentially good nature of humans and it seems to have proven, much to my surprise, that by and large, we are not essential evil in nature. (Selfish and stupid and... are all another matter.)
The other links you suggested I think we should definitely include. I'll try to do that today if I have the chance.

k: good morning ashraf,
this link actually includes everything from the wikopedilioaioda entry

a: Great! I just edited the link.

k: this "Wales also plans to introduce a 'stable' version of each entry. Once an article reaches a specific quality threshold it will be tagged as stable. Further edits will be made to a separate 'live' version that would replace the stable version when deemed to be a significant improvement. One method for determining that threshold, where users rate article quality, will be trialed early next year." makes me feel much better about wiki (i'll just call it that from now on instead of making up it's name over and over).

a: As for the blog, I was wondering if you could forward me a copy of that e-card image so I can post it as a (lame) reply to your intro (rather than at the end, in order to establish--and hopefully maintain--a reply rhythm). Because I was planning to post up something yesterday and I realized that next comes your big e-mail... So, your turn! (Told you me lazy!)

....time passes...

a: I like what you did with your latest post on the blog; makes it easier to follow. Maybe we should just do it like that, instead of having whole emails and then repeating portions of them. What do you think?

k: i'm not entirely sure what you mean about posting our correspondence like the way i posted that last one. i posted it like that because i'd written the email like that (sort of lazy for me, really). do you mean we should edit bits down and have like dialogues on the blog? like all this stuff about rohrer going up in one post? explain more to me so i get a better picture of what you mean.

a: It does feel that our e-mails have been chopped, "like a list just hitting all the points." But I guess that's just the case with correspondence. That's why I'll take the liberty to skip some things (as we inevitably do), and you can feel free to do the same. And yes, I guess that is what I was trying to say about the posts. That instead of being completely faithful to the e-mail correspondence format, maybe we can piece them together, if not by topic, then as a conversation. I know it's more work, and then it gets difficult when certain topics bridge several conversations... Just a thought (not all thoughts are great).

k: (on a draft post, basically the above) is this what you meant? i don't even know if i have everything here, or if it's really that interesting to read... i just picked a topic that seemed to come up a bit... also, i haven't fixed any of the links, so no matter, this isn't read to go up. there are obviously other topics that this would work for such as foetry, silliman's stuff probably, and the whole dialogue on frank o'hara...

a: Katy, thanks for taking the time to do this. Yes, this is kinda what I was thinking of. This could work. I mean, it could be a good thing to group things by topic, but we probably have to do a bit more editing to make it read smoothly (like removing phrases such as "regarding the blog" from the beginning, since it would be obvious from the formatting; I took a prelim stab below). However, I realize after reading this that it probably would be easier if we just kept it to the emails-back-and-forth format, even if it's several smaller ones in one post like you did earlier. It just hit me how much we've been writing, and how catching up to do with the posting! (Which makes me think we should feel freer to cut things out to keep it focused.) What do you think?

k: i haven’t read all your edits yet, but, well, we could at least post this then move on to posting the rest like we had been. i personally feel that once we do catch up on all the old emails that it’ll be too difficult to write posts like this one, and we’ll always be a bit behind. so you can post this if you want. minus the secret message, or leave it? your call okay?

Friday, January 20, 2006

fragmented reply

Katy, I am LOVING these emails! This is just wonderful, and for that I thank you!

...me too. i love this exchange of poetics, intellect and care. and i love, too, that you don't agree with everything i have to say, that you challenge me. it's been some time since i've been provoked to think like this.

So, where should I begin? (Always reminds me of the first line of "Love Story"; I am one of those who love the poetry of song lyrics, as sappy as that may sound. But I know that you appreciate good song lyrics, too, as evidenced by the Leonard Cohen influence.)

Leonard makes me swoon. it wasn't that way at first though, as i'd read a fair bit of his lyrics as poems, not even realizing he was an established vocal artist, and the first time i heard suzane i was shocked at the man singing the song... who's this scary scratchy old... and on and on... and now i cry every time i listen to "the singer must die" or "dress rehearsal rag". though i handed over my copy of Beautiful Losers to a friend it still remains one of the most amazing novels i've ever experienced.

I guess I'll begin at the end:
i'm a bit overwhelmed actually, by your response to it, or should i say your lack of ability to respond, which is even more telling.
I am impressed (though not surprised, as I think good poetry takes a lot of intelligence) by how smart and perceptive you are. Not many people can notice or even articulate the above. Bravo! And of course I don't mind the "borrowed imagery"; I find it incredibly flattering. So, thank you! (Is this getting out of hand? LOL!)

I can't thank you enough for all this inspiration and conversation. seems like you have a similar complex. so thank away, dear ashraf, and i'll do the same; fore, it's not every day i get called smart and perceptive; and i thank you for that.

Now, back to the beginning. Yes, I think your explanation makes a lot of sense. As for the audience of poetry, do you think it can ever be but poets? That is a question I ask myself repeatedly. But even then, I sometimes think, when I'm at a reading and the cynic in me emerges, is anyone there to listen to anyone but themselves? Do we only speak to hear the sound of our own voices? (These questions are reminding me of "Sex in the City"...) I have to admit, aside from your blog, I don't read many poetry blogs; I'm not sure why. I read published poetry (and there is so much there to read), and I guess the question is larger than just blogs. I just wonder who the audience for poetry is. And is why I've recently been interested in poetry anthologies collected by NPR (the politics of poetry, well of everything, fascinates me)... But I digress.

do i think the audience of poetry can ever be none poets? actually, my professor whose name appears in my introduction, Ruth Jennison, is a phenomenal critic of the art she does not practice. she understands and digests poetry on such a profound level of understanding; yet, she doesn't write the stuff herself. she is, admittedly, a rare case, though academics like herself do exist. there are people who adore the art for the plain fact that they cannot achieve the delicate balance of language themselves. also, there are poets for the regular people. i can't remember his name for the life of me and the internet seems to be failing me at the moment (it's still early admittedly), but there is a fantastic man who writes poetry about snails and apes (not exclusively, mind you). i saw him read and thankfully it was one of the readings i dragged two or three friends along to hear too (free beer will win over many a college student's evening). he's hilarious. funny poets do well for the art form. i don't want to be one, though i have a giggle at myself from time to time.

as far as readings themselves are concerned, since we're on the topic, i think i'm in a minority. i don't like to read my poems to groups. i've only ever read poems in workshop environments or to ryan (though i was never able to over the phone, even to him). i get the jitters, and i hate microphones (and i'm not the biggest fan of phones either). however, i love love love to go to readings. unfortunately, cape cod is home to avid slammers--a form i am not so enamored with; so i haven't been to a reading in almost 9 months!! while i was at school i would attend a reading nearly every week. i still have this pipe dream of starting a circle of work shopping poets (within driving distance) just so that i can hear people read their poetry every once in a while. fortunately, though, for now, the internet provides me with an outlet for this craving. it's different though... to see and hear the poet... i am always fascinated by how much or how little the poet reads and doesn't read from his/her work. and voices... like what happened with leonard cohen, i can never predict the sound of a poet. i never know what they will sound like. i have no idea what you sound like.

i'm flattered that my blog is one of those few, really. i wish i could offer you the same exclusivity, but i'm a poetry junky. i read new poems every day, and i can't afford to buy every book i need to satisfy myself, so i have a little collection of blogs, i have regular excursions through google to find old poems i have yet to experience, and i have the critical poetry forum. the forum, though, is also a venue for my thirst for poetics. there i can try my hand at critique (something i feel, when i put my mind to it, i can be rather good at). i enjoy critique both in terms of my committing suggestion to others' work as well as accepting others' opinions on my own work. i like to share, and i like to make friends with other poets like yourself. though, you're special to me, because of these emails, because of your poetry, because of your responses to my poetry.

You architecture-poetry analogy was an interesting one, though I don't think I agree with it. I think one primary difference between architecture and poetry, one that many architects tend to forget, is that architecture is ultimately a practical field. What I mean by that is that there is a client, there a program you're trying to accommodate, there are site restrictions, and financial constraints, and codes and zoning, and, and... I think a lot of architects would like to think of themselves as "artists" (if only to justify the big black ego--black only because it's the cliché dress code). Though I can certainly understand the idea of tools in poetry, I'm not really sure yet how it works, and I'd like to think that it's different from those in architecture. Like I know of the exercises techniques where you try to write in somebody else's "style" (a word I am very cautious about from architecture), but I am dubious of them, perhaps because I don't really understand how they work.

so from now on i'll stay away from architecture. i don't know architecture, though i made a railroad track on autocad once on one of ryan's drawings (he's not an architect, his father is, and he's had to pay off debt working in his father's office where i spent over a month joining ryan's side with a book in hand), it's a sore spot for him too.

as far as "style", it's a curious word. no. it's a curious concept. it's difficult to create a style in poetry because so many of these "styles" already have names or are horribly trite. not to mention that a particular "style" can also feel like a trap. writing in second person, for me, is sometimes a trap. i get too into it, then i start to lose the story, lose the characters, lose the concepts. though i'm still trying to master it (i will not give up on second person). i don't know that i have a "style", though there have been a few people who told me that, in PoemTree, they get a real sense of my style. for me, all those poems are so very different in tone, energy, character and color that for there to be an immerging style is incomprehensible to me. perhaps it's just easier to see other people style. i see somewhat of a style in your work, though i prefer to call them characteristics, because not every poem boasts the same elements.

copying someone else's style is hard. it is only in the most extreme poets that i find this technique for learning valuable. in the case of Tower and Gentleman and Robinson Jeffers' original poem, i was studying that poem, not that poet. i wanted to understand the poem better because i was so moved by it, i wanted to explore its inner workings, i want to cut it up and dissect it, get closer to it (it hasn't lost any of its initial stun for me either, i am so fortunate for that), so i did. lo, a lovely poem was born of it. though this is a success among dozens of failures. you'll never see that william carlos williams copy, or that jack spicer copy. there are other means of exercise though. experiments are always fun. but you have to approach an experiment with a completely different attitude. this poem you are about to create is forced, it will not be wonderful (not at first) and it will not sound like you. however, experiments can be so much fun, and i find them particularly helpful during dry spells.

The other thing that I was, hmm, suspicious about is the primacy of sound (it's like the formalist argument in architecture). I am, or I'd like to think of myself, as a very content-driven person. I don't disregard the form or the sound completely, but I think of it as secondary. I think what is primary to me is the image and associations in poetry, and ultimately the idea, if there is one. Like "the pull down at the corner of a bed spread" is far from being just sounds to me; it is an image of care, and therefore of love. Of meticulousness, perhaps of control, or just a reminiscence of a time in our lives when someone took care of us. And I feel that it means at least some of that for you, too. No?

not at first, no. but now, and as the poem developed it did begin to mean some of those emotions you described above. it's difficult for me to explain any procedure for creating a poem. sometimes something develops from experiment, other times i come up with a single word or phrase, or perhaps image, like with that poem dedicated in part to you (i haven't found the right name to call it yet, any ideas?). writing a poem is often times a spiritual experience, and it isn't until the initial flow wears off that i can look at the poem and the language objectively. other times i force a poem by sitting and writing page after page of rubbish until something clicks and the labor evolves into a product. yes, i force myself to sit and write, i have to, i am always pushing my poetry to the next phase.

i think i've said everything needing to be said here. i don't want to make these too long. excuse any holes, i'm writing from work so i'm continuously interrupted.

keep writing!



ps [a s h . r a f] i love the way you present your name in type... wouldn't work for me though... ka.ty just looks silly

on "i write"

katy:gets me good but in a "ouch" kind of way like... that hits the heart with a heavy blow ... it's like the first time the right person tells you "i love you"

a:Gets you good, or gets you bad? My brother hates that "Listen" (perhaps because he's more cognizant of its origin in Dalida songs).

And why would need to excuse you for finding it sexy? I think in many parts it is, and I think sexy is good. So thank you!
a s h . r a f

katy:i'm sorry that i forgot to reply to the poem as well as the email...

i've read this piece before, though i don't remember having read the subtleties in grey. and as before, there wasn't so much i could say about it, probably why i didn't leave a comment.

I write and you shall read,
because you have a choice.
I write and you shall read,
because you have none.
You are spellbound,
and I am falling from grace

this stanza sums it up for me. i am reading because i have a choice, i am reading because i have none, i am spellbound.

and you'll excuse me for thinking this poem is very sexy.

the "listen" at the end gets me.

just sounds

Katy, I am LOVING these emails! This is just wonderful, and for that I thank you!

So, where should I begin? (Always reminds me of the first line of "Love Story"; I am one of those who love the poetry of song lyrics, as sappy as that may sound. But I know that you appreciate good song lyrics, too, as evidenced by the Leonard Cohen influence.) I guess I'll begin at the end:

i'm a bit overwhelmed actually, by your response to it, or should i say your lack of ability to respond, which is even more telling.
I am impressed (though not surprised, as I think good poetry takes a lot of intelligence) by how smart and perceptive you are. Not many people can notice or even articulate the above. Bravo! And of course I don't mind the "borrowed imagery"; I find it incredibly flattering. So, thank you! (Is this getting out of hand? LOL!)

Now, back to the beginning. Yes, I think your explanation makes a lot of sense. As for the audience of poetry, do you think it can ever be but poets? That is a question I ask myself repeatedly. But even then, I sometimes think, when I'm at a reading and the cynic in me emerges, is anyone there to listen to anyone but themselves? Do we only speak to hear the sound of our own voices? (These questions are reminding me of "Sex in the City"...) I have to admit, aside from your blog, I don't read many poetry blogs; I'm not sure why. I read published poetry (and there is so much there to read), and I guess the question is larger than just blogs. I just wonder who the audience for poetry is. And is why I've recently been interested in poetry anthologies collected by NPR (the politics of poetry, well of everything, fascinates me)... But I digress.

You architecture-poetry analogy was an interesting one, though I don't think I agree with it. I think one primary difference between architecture and poetry, one that many architects tend to forget, is that architecture is ultimately a practical field. What I mean by that is that there is a client, there a program you're trying to accommodate, there are site restrictions, and financial constraints, and codes and zoning, and, and... I think a lot of architects would like to think of themselves as "artists" (if only to justify the big black ego--black only because it's the cliché dress code). Though I can certainly understand the idea of tools in poetry, I'm not really sure yet how it works, and I'd like to think that it's different from those in architecture. Like I know of the exercises techniques where you try to write in somebody else's "style" (a word I am very cautious about from architecture), but I am dubious of them, perhaps because I don't really understand how they work.

The other thing that I was, hmm, suspicious about is the primacy of sound (it's like the formalist argument in architecture). I am, or I'd like to think of myself, as a very content-driven person. I don't disregard the form or the sound completely, but I think of it as secondary. I think what is primary to me is the image and associations in poetry, and ultimately the idea, if there is one. Like "the pull down at the corner of a bed spread" is far from being "just sounds" to me; it is an image of care, and therefore of love. Of meticulousness, perhaps of control, or just a reminiscence of a time in our lives when someone took care of us. And I feel that it means at least some of that for you, too. No?

Ah, well, my lunch hour is up. Back to work!

Take care, and stay warm in this godawful cold!

a s h . r a f

Thursday, January 19, 2006

the human condition

dear ashraf,

am i disappointed with humanity? perhaps just a little. but i've spent some time really thinking about it now and that's not what i was trying to get at in my email. what i do, or what i try to do, with robots is to dissect the human experience. emotions like depression, love, curiosity and so many others are far too complicated to comprehend, if you really think about it. we know these things so closely only because we have felt them. someone who has not felt love, then, cannot contemplate the foolish actions of someone in love. someone who has never felt so depressed as to be pushed on the edge of life cannot understand the radical urges of a person wanting to overdose or slit his/her wrists. these are so extreme, how does one understand them without feeling them at the moment they are writing or reading? with dissection; either of a moment or of the emotion itself. with a robot you can draw in whatever motion or movement of thought you think might express the emotion. a robot tries to feel sad, and that's really the sad part. by forcing a reader to acknowledge the emotion they then feel it, at least in part. when the robot feels depressed it's like, for me, how can a robot be depressed? something horrific must have happened, to drive a robot over the edge? wow. to me that's wow.

does that answer the question a bit better?

as far as poetry being the same for everyone, i know you're speaking from the poet's perspective, and i think that there are only a few reasons why a poet writes, and so many poets, that there are bound to be so many people who feel the way you do about your art and feel the same way i do about mine. one thing we do share about poetry is that i too feel i am too impatient for any other art. i am too scared to fail at something so much bigger (ryan writes novels and i've seen him lose interest in too many projects), and i am also humbly under funded for anything that costs more than $8 ever four months that i dedicate to Jubilat. though i really love the kinetic and mind-erasing effects of stained glass cutting... where would i ever get a diamond edged sander?

what i wrote in PoemTree was more a reflection of how i thought the audience should feel, i've never really considered the complexities of poets as the audience. though, as i said before, that is my desired audience type. there are always more elements to contemplate.

how did i study poetry? hmmn. well, when i went to school i didn't know i would. my poetry was a secret. it was a composition notebook covered in stickers and tape and all sorts, and inside were diary entries, poems, mantras, nothing i wouldn't share if someone asked, but nothing i produced for any audience other than myself. and then i began reading poetry. that's when things changed. i actually started to read poetry and began to see and feel that what i was doing was somehow worthy of some attention. what, or i should say who, really turned me was Leonard Cohen. so then i decided my path was that of "English Major" which meant a lot of crappy classes about shakespeare and beowulf and keats and american literature (which acutally turned out alright because most of it was translated immigrant literature), but it also meant that i ended up in this course called "Experimental Poetry" and oh my did that turn everything i thought i knew on its head.

i used what i had of a gift, if you will, to understand, imitate and capture the effects of other poets. like that poem Tower and Gentleman, it is merely a copy of a great poet's work, yet it is my own words. that is how poetry develops for me. i, essentially, through school, through exposure to poetry through live readings, through laborious evenings trying to read through a collection of extremely-experimental work of a ridiculously complex analysis on something as mundane as hyphen usage in poetry, of writing so much bad poetry that you wouldn't even recognize it as poetry and so many papers dissecting the meaning and sound of other people's work, and through constant contact with other poets, either online or in person, was able to emerge from the college experience with what i feel is a strong grasp on poetry. that's what i did, but what did it do for me? well, this is how one person put it to me; every experiment, every trick, every rule, is like a tool. if you learn how to use these tools in a poem then you will be able to write that poem again. so here goes my analogy of poetry to architecture, just for you ashraf; you have an idea, a concept, for a beautiful building meant to inspire, perhaps a spa or something just as romantic and cliche, you haven't built it but you can feel it, what's the only way to bring this building out of your mind and plop it down in front of you right there on the ground? tools. you build it, you design it with care and caution, avoiding the mistakes you've made on past drawings. and the more of this you do, the better you get at using autocad and the more you learn which materials work better on different buildings. you start from the ground up too. so now you have an idea for a poem, but you're not sure exactly how it should present itself, so you avoid the mistakes you've made in the past and you use the tool you're most comfortable with, for you it's repetition, it's the beat of your heart as a measure for each line. for me it's maybe binary, or robots.

for my own poetry, i feel, quiet often, i am driven by sound more than anything else. i will let the syntax and meaning crumble for the sake of an amazing roll of the tongue... "the pull down at the corner of a bed spread" is just sounds. so my poems always start as sounds... then the story evolves from them. sometimes it's an idea, like that poem i wrote for you and two others, that started out with the idea of someone writing something really seductive on a batman napkin (because it's just so odd, and i guess so me, to mix adult pleasures with those of childhood). and this happens to the robots too. read Robots Tomorrow and you'll get what i mean i think.

i understand the fear of editing. just recently i had a bit of a breakdown over a poem i was trying to "fix" in response to some critique on the poetry forum i frequent. it can be a painful experience. but you'll also notice that i do a lot of experimentation with poetry. part of what i love about poetry is it's malability. i love that one poem can be written twice or three or even four times. and each version holds something in it that is sacred and separate from all the other versions. part of my affection towards this art form is it's flexibility.

i shouldn't let this get too long. though, so you know, i'm having the best time with these emails, with receiving them and with being given countless opportunities to digest my thoughts into words. i owe you.

and finally, i'm so glad that you like your poem. i hope you don't mind that i borrowed some of your imagery about autumn. i'm a bit overwhelmed actually, by your response to it, or should i say your lack of ability to respond, which is even more telling. thank you so very very much.

all the best,


Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I feel like a short-circuited robot right now: touched, confused, befuddled, moved. I read both of your e-mails and that mind-blowing poem you sent me the link to. And there are so many things that I want to say that I feel overwhelmed and am afraid I won't be saying any of them. Sometimes I think that's why I'm so quiet in recent times, so silent. It's that tragic bent of mine, that perfectionist one: the dilemma of a robot in an imperfect world. I would rather say nothing than say something and finding it to be inadequate. But I'm going to just go ahead and say whatever comes to my head, risking that it'll be less than perfect.

When I read your first e-mail, I wanted to say, No, poetry is the same for both of us. For I fear that I don't really understand how it could be different for two people. But of course it is. Perhaps what agitated me most is that I can understand it being different for someone whose poetry I don't relate to as much; but when it comes to poetry that I can relate to so strongly and am moved by so profoundly as yours, I want it to mean the same. But it doesn't. I guess I am just saying what you said so much more eloquently in your introduction to PoemTree.

And then I read your second e-mail, and I could see the evidence of your fascination with robots, but not the reason. See, I am a humanist at heart (or would like to think of myself as one), and therefore I can't really feel any sympathy for robots except by anthropomorphing them. And I sense in your fascination with them a certain disappointment with humanity (Am I mistaken?). And that I can understand (for what is humanity if not profoundly disappointing, and therefore touching?). But I kind of wanted to hear that...

And then your poem... which moved me so much I'm going to have the hardest time writing anything about it. Have you noticed that I have a hard time leaving comments? I have the hardest time commenting on poetry. It moves me so much, but then I don't know how to put my reaction into words. Most of the time I justify it to myself by saying, Well, why should I put it into words? Some things just aren't meant to be put into words. But then I know how touched I am when others (like yourself) do that for me (and for that I thank you, very much). Well, here I am, out of words...

See, I am afraid of dissecting poetry. I know it is not sacred, but I am just averse to doing it. I know, one might be able to write better poetry if one is to dissect it and all, but I just don't know... How did you study poetry? How does that work? Isn't it too much like disembowelment and then studying your entrails? See, I have this perhaps archaic notion of poetry, where one is just "inspired" (whatever that means, and which is quite fickle). Like I can never imagine myself making a living out of poetry (I would never want to be commissioned to write it, for example). That is not so say that I am any good (I'd like to think that I am, but sometimes I'm not so sure. I think I am getting better--not very linearly, but generally. And that is a kind of reassurance.) But I know that you are very good. And I don't think it's because you studied poetry; I just think you've got it in you. Like, I loved reading your poem, but then I hated reading the comments. It's like, I would edit my poetry (though I have a hard time at it), but would have an even harder time dealing with someone else's editing suggestions (which I know is very bad). Still, I guess I can maintain that by insisting on poetry as a hobby, on that "artistic license". See, in a way... You know, I think I want poetry to do too many things for me; I am afraid I am asking too much of it. Do you know that Western episode of Tom & Jerry where Tom is shot repeatedly and then he tries drinking from a ladle and he starts spouting like a fountain? Sometimes I feel like that and that I am trying to plug the holes with little cotton swabs like poetry. But isn't that the human condition?

Ah, enough of that. It's time for me to wrap up, go home, do something... Ah, life, Katy... Ah life!


Sunday, January 15, 2006


where do i begin? with Douglas Adams' amazingly sympathetic, depressed and humorous robot "Marvin" or how about with tragic magic head, or with the lyrics from one more robot by the flaming lips ....

Unit three thousand twenty one is warming
Makes a humming sound - when its circuits
Duplicate emotions - and a sense of coldness detaches
As it tries to comfort your sadness -

One more robot learns to be something more than
A machine - when it tries the way it does - make it seem
Like it can love -
Cause it's hard to say what's real - when you know the
Way you feel - is it wrong to think it's love
When it tries the way it does...

Feeling a synthetic kind of love
Dreaming a sympathetic wish -
As the lights blink faster and brighter -

One more robot learns to be something more than
A machine - when it tries the way it does - make it seem
Like it can love -
Cause it's hard to say what's real - when you know the
Way you feel - is it wrong to think it's love
When it tries the way it does...

... this song is magical to me. it is what every one of my poems about robots is launched from. a sad little robot boy doing everything in his power to love.

robots (or mechanoids or androids or whatever you want to call them) are to me as subways were to George Oppen (he took the subway around new york at random popping his head up at every stop along the way and the result of such an adventure was Discrete Series, widely regarded as his best work and one of my favorite collections of modern poetry, though i yet to own a copy).

robots are essential empty vessels. they are children with the complex understanding of maths, of anatomy or sociology, of all these omy's and ology's. yet they are but children in a state of perpetual misunderstanding. they cannot feel love; yet, the see it, they comprehend it's use, it's function. they can duplicate it, they can act it, but they can never feel it.

people have commented on some of my poems as representing an autistic individual, wondering if i'd maybe had a friend or family member with the disorder, but i haven't. the closest i've come to autism is through movies, and i'm not moved by it. what i am moved by is the idea that so much sympathy is devoted to humans without human emotions (recently there was a little girl featured on some morning news show, this little girl had no pain receptors, she could not feel pain. she lives a normal life, however, she damaged her vision by scratching her eyes too often and too hard, hurting herself without feeling it) yet i don't see many people sympathizing with robots who are essentially just humans without emotions.

okay, robots aren't necessarily a main-stream technology, but we see them and we know that there is a future for them. do we sympathize with a little round disk that cleans up after us all day like we would a slave? no. will we in 60 years? probably not. because the robots won't rebel, they won't fight. all that hollywood nonsense about robots turning evil on their own accord? that won't happen, because robots don't make mistakes, though, they can only be as magnificent as their creator.

i love robots because of their potential, because they are a reflection of the human that creates them. if we still held a World's Fair, it would be filled with talking cars and robotic wives. i also think that there is an underlying fear, that the machine will once again replace man. this is something hollywood projects quite unabashedly.

there are so many elements of why i adore the idea of robot for me to really pan them out here in an email, though i want to. i have given them much thought, but never have i tried to project that thought through written word. perhaps this would prove a challenging topic for my next poetics.

oh and "robot" is also a magnificent word. one of my favorites along with the word astronaut. but in short, i read too many Philip K Dick novels.

i hope that sheds some light on the matter. though i may have only raised me questions than given any one answer. let me know.

and thank you so much for asking me that question!


Katy, while I write a real reply, I forgot to ask something: why are you so fascinated by robots?


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

i don't get keats either

good morning ashraf,

it feels so good to roll out of bed after 11am. it's been a very very long time since i've had such an opportunity.

so poetry for you is your religious gap filler? i appreciate that. i don't know that it's ever filled that role in me. though like i said, i use it quite often to fulfill fantasy which, while not being the same, has a similar effect on the poet. your poetry is readable though, it's reachable, it's achieving something for the reader as well as for the writer. i can't be bothered with the kind of religious filler and exploration in poetry 14 year olds write, however, simply because it is all the same, because i wrote those poems when i was 14 too. it's like trying to really and truly appreciate the same smiling squigly family portrait a 5 year old would draw over and over, every kid does it. (this is, of course, different for parents whose child just drew his/her first picture in crayon, and i'll also admit that some of them can be rather charming, but so can crappy high-school love sonnets.) the difference is, perhaps, merely the fact that you have that much more story bubbling away inside you, wanting to reach out and resolve itself in words, in text. 14 year olds have thin broth, and glowing chunks of worth; you have a steady stew of words and ideas, there's an even flow, a dramatic tension. i love reading your poems, no matter what the intent, the content is admirable.

the trick behind the magic sentiment i share with you fully. though i'm not sure how to distinguish poetics from something like, say, a director's commentary on a film/dvd.

i watch a lot of horror films. i remember when i saw Dawn of the Dead for the first time, it was so disgusting. or even worse was Phantasm. the blood felt real, the limbs were really missing... that 'it's okay, it's just a movie' mantra didn't work, because it seemed so real! then i watched the "making of..." and now i know how they make that guys head come off and look so good, i know that it's butcher-shop left overs and corn starch and red dye and so on and so forth. yet, the magic isn't gone, it's just different. now instead of the urge to puke i feel the urge to sit closer and find the seems, figure out what they did and how; the edits, the make up, the computers... that's what i see now, and it's absolutely fascinating, really, but it's so different. sometimes i feel like a junky looking for a really good hit, because everything just tingles a bit, there's no high, no jolt. i see through just about every KNB effect (they worked on all the of the Dead films as well as Alien (i think), the Phantasm series, and other bits like Incident at Lockness and the new Masters of Horror series). so there's that... but then... what movies are really scary? i'm thinking... Alien scared me for days. i still get scared if anyone brings up Ju-on The Grudge (original japanese version, that is) in the dark, and David Lynch will always surprise me, stop my heart just long enough to make me feel alive.

so how is that any different from poetics? well, if you take PoemTree for example... poemtree's introduction doesn't tell you some of what my previous long email told you about The Pencil Graveyard for example. my revelation about the Green River isn't exploited in the introduction either. that was a religious poem if ever i've written one. and oh, how i'd love to go on and on about what it feels like to know something in your heart before you know it in your mind.

i look at poetics as more of a frame, the landscape, the surroundings of a poem or collection of poems. it may not be the first thing you notice when it's there, but when it's not, there's just something--that bit--that's missing. and it hurts the piece without it, whether you know it or not. i feel like poemtree is a stronger collection having had all that labor poured into it via the introduction. that took me months of research and long conversations with professors with a vernacular far superior to my own at the time. (and i can't wait to do it again!)

i don't want to tell everyone i write about that i wrote about them, i don't want everyone who reads my poems to know my fantasy or even know that it's based on a fantasy. those are my secrets. i will tell you one of them though... a is for ashraf.

thank you for getting back to me, thank you so much for sharing all those ideas, all those truths about yourself. i don't really get keats either, to be truthful, it wasn't until whitman that i began to understand poetry, and i still struggle there. it's wonderful to get to know someone, especially one with similar passion for poetry but for such seemingly dissimilar reasons.

thank you so much.



Long back at ya!

Katy, thank you so much! This is one of the most generous emails I've received in a long time. And the fact that you wrote it twice makes it twice as generous still! (That's plenty generous, you know...). I do apologize again for forgetting to reply after you've taken all the time and effort to write it. So what I did last night is forward it to my work address (since this is the place where, unfortunately, I spend most of my waking life). And this is where I am writing from now...

Now I have to thank you (thanks going back and forth!) for making me think about poetry more deliberately. See, for me, perhaps because poetry is more of a passion/hobby (two horribly trite words), I always approached it with the sanctity of religion or a magic trick. It's perhaps because I believe in no religion (and I believe we all need one, or something to plug that existential hole in us) that poetry was the latest form for me of that which I believe in. When I was younger (in my teenage years) it was the Dream. First, that was in the form of life in America, in my dream open and accepting, and a life with a gorgeous and loving lover. And then than quickly morphed to and fused with a dream of Cinema (that had all the hues of my epic and largely romantic self at the time). I left med school for that (and the fact that I could not stand the smell of formaldehyde or sawn bone any longer). That was quickly thwarted, however, as my parents wouldn't hear of a career in film (or lack of one, as they saw it). Architecture was the compromise. (I am unsure whether or not I am grateful for that; it wavers.) Thankfully, I liked architecture. It took me a while to "find my voice" in it (thankfully, that was before graduation). But that voice wasn't really architectural as much as it was poetic/conceptual. Now architecture is simply a living for me, a day job. My dream re-emerged after that to plug the immense void of "the real life": first in the form of art (which proved to be too cumbersome for my lazy and impatient self), and more recently in the form of poetry. Not that poetry was new to me. In a way, all the above was (and is) a part of me. Though my fascination in poetry in my youth was in Arabic. The English poetry I was taught in school was largely off-putting (perhaps for the exception of Poe). Wordsworth and Shelly and Keats just slay me (ok, Byron was kinda okay; perhaps it was that gay-ish sensibility for me); but especially that most inflated figure of English literature: Shakespeare (take that Herald Bloom!). But I loved Arabic poetry, from the classical with its labored, complex and bombastic flairs, to the modern with its existential romanticism and lyrical angst. (I hated, however, having to learn about the complex science of meters and rhythms--and in Arabic it is a much more involved affair. That was perhaps the point at which I rejected meter and structure in poetry.)

Still, poetry, like art and cinema, remained for me larger than life (perhaps just as large, as I can think of nothing larger than life). It is perhaps for that that I maintain that old antiquated attitude about them, that sacred approach. Don't get me wrong; I am the first to slash bad art. I just don't feel the need (I actually hate it, usually) when artists talk about their work. (It is perhaps in opposition for me to architecture, which I think should be highly thought out, and I tend to look down harshly on people who treat it with the vagueness or liberties of art. I think at best it can have some of the poetics of art; but it isn't.) In any case, my I-don't-want-to-know-the-trick-behind-the-magic attitude might originate in many an artist inability (if not complete handicap) to express themselves verbally (even writers; for some reason some can write, but not talk about their writing). What you wrote makes me believe that more, as I don't have a difficult time at all reading what you wrote. On the contrary, I find it lucid and evocative. I guess, the closest I came to expressing my intention in writing is perhaps in that poem I Write (which turned out to be very similar, come to think of it, to the intention I expressed in my personal statement when I was applying for film school, and then my thesis: namely capturing memory). And I guess isn't that why we all write, after all?

Sometimes, I used to dream about having a posse of creative friends, that intellectual circle of a movement. That was more part of my adolescence dream. Now, unfortunately, I have grow too jaded (even before I'm thirty!) and chewed to fantasize about that. And after my architectural education, I am more wary of movements and isms (as necessary as they may be).

Ah, what else? What else? I don't know; maybe I'll write it later if I thought of it. I'd better get back to work. Please let me know what you think. Sorry, again, and thanks, again...

All the best,


Thursday, January 05, 2006

this is really long...

the screen cleared,
except for the two words:
"lynn hejinian"
and i felt my heart boil.

frustrated and stupid
in my attempt to save
i destroyed.
all 2000 words,
there must have been,
are lost.

it's a bad poem, but it sums up what happened when i went to copy the long email i'd written to you, but instead of hitting ctrl C i hit ctrl V (the difference between copy and paste). and i knew the second i did it that there was absolutely no way to get it back.

my boss laughed her head off at me. it's the first time she's ever seen me get frustrated with anything, i'd say i was close to angry.

so now i'm writing in word pad, where "undo" exists. can you imagine if we had an undo button in real life? any mistake could be erased in an instant. that venomous swear you shouldn't have said to your lover, that second in the car that you weren't paying attention that ended up coasting you $600, or whatever it might have been...

but alas, yahoo mail has no "undo" feature, just like the real world.

so i huffed and puffed and i'm okay now

i hope you're ready for this. it'll probably be just as long as before. if you don't have time to read it, just let me know, and i'll give you the short version.

let me start how i started before... hai, chyuoto nihongo o hanashimasu. demo, watashi no nihongo wa iinai, benkyuoshimasen kara. [anyone who speaks japanese can go ahead and correct me, it's been a while]

i studied japanese for a year at school, and though it was one of the most challenging collection of courses i took throughout my 4 years of higher education, they were also the most fun. if you're interested in some beautiful literature, pick up a collection of Chikamatsu Monzaemon's Bunraku plays (puppet theatre).

i graduated in May this year, but i'm going back the in the fall (i haven't applied yet but i'm confident that the program i'm looking into will accept me). i took a year off to be with my husband (as we've only been married a year and a half now).

the program i'm interested in is a 2 year MA in Professional Writing which means anything you want it to. for me it means i can take poetry workshops, write another collection of poems and all the meanwhile study writing rhetoric and theory with a focus in teaching English to non native speakers (which is what i really want to do for the rest of my life... i think).

i'd love to do an MFA if there were a program near enough for me to commute from where i am now, but the one of two places i'd most like to go would be Seattle (all the long way across the country) or a three hour drive from my home on cape cod to Umass Amherst. i would love so much to live in Seattle. i think you commented on the green river coincidence of mine, so i would be in a place i feel spiritually entangled with, near that river. and i'd also eat a lot more sushi. to relocate at the moment is not in the plans however. we've just got a house, and i actually really like my job (even though it's nothing spectacular, the people i get to work with are fantastic). i think if not for Ryan i'd probably have stayed in Amherst and done the three year mfa program there, but a world without him... well, i won't get soppy on you.

about publication... my feelings are mixed and complicated. and to be honest, i'd never really pin-pointed my reasoning until you asked me, and i started writing that previous email.

being published has never been a goal, or even a dream of mine. my poems are more for me than for anyone else. i would have a happy life if my words never reached the eyes of others. what the poems do for me is to turn the mundane into extraordinary.

i cut my left thumb
on piece of plastic
while ripping capacitors
off of a home pc's old motherboard

i cut my right thumb
on a kitchen knife
while washing it with a blue sponge
with hot soapy water

this is the truth, you can believe me
besides, would a girl with two cut thumbs lie?

the ability to see poetry in the fact that i'd been wearing a band-aid on both thumbs is something i've always been proud of. whether i share this thought with one or one million others doesn't matter. i've captured this moment in such a way that immortalizes it and give is a glitter it didn't have before. now whenever i put a band aid on my thumb i think about this poem; this time in my life that meant nothing.

in other cases like The Pencil Graveyard in PoemTree. Ryan and i were walking and on the edge of the road i saw what looked like a massacre of poor defenseless pencils, the bright yellow kind. call it inspiration i guess. but that's why i started to write.

another reason i follow the path of poet is to give myself a venue for fantasy. some days i want to be a princess. other days i want to be that little girl i used to be, still others i want to be that deep set pair of glowing eyes staring at you from the back of a smoke filled room. and i can be all these in poems whenever i want.

i'd be happy enough if Ryan were the only one to ever hear a poem like Morning Child. And i'd be happy enough to keep poems like the one above strictly to myself. fortunately though, the internet makes it so easy to share work that i'd almost feel selfish not to put my work up on display in some shape or form.

as it is, i am ever so grateful for individuals like yourself who take time and care to read my poems, to understand them, and to appreciate them. you and the few people i have invested interest in on the critical poetry forum are more than enough praise and attention as any poet ought to have. i doubt publication would do much more for my work than what you alone have in such a brief time (you've got me thinking about my work's role in current poetics which i'll get to in a bit).

i think every poet longs for a time when poets were actually PAID to write. i'm not sure how familiar you are with The New Deal (from the little bit of Dear Theo i've read i get the impression you grew up in Lebanon, am i right?), but you can look it up. essentially the American government turned to socialism in disguise during the epoch of the great depression. thousands of projects were commissioned--bridges, canals, the Hoover damn, travel guides to all major cities and attractions, galleries, museums, fiction--in an attempt to boost the American spirit.

had i been around and writing some 70 or 80 years in the past during the new deal era, i probably would have made a fine contemporary to Mina Loy, George Oppen and Louis Zukofsky (modernism is amazing, i could write a list as long as Santa’s of the poets i admire from that era). can you imagine being part of a nation wide community of writers working together to create movements? can you imagine what it would have been like to know that the moment you got something credible in print ezra pound would sit down and write you a letter placing you within this great chasm of isms.

our generation needs an ezra pound (minus the anti-semitism and sexism). we need a place--a particular cafe. i feel that, at the moment, the poetic world is stale and confused. part of that lies in the fact that there is no community, so everyone's doing the same thing. we're all tripping over each other trying to pretend like something's happening, like we're moving forward, but we're not. no one poet is good enough to forward a movement. it takes an entity.

in the 1930's if you wrote a collection you would then be placed, either by your own accord--or by pound it would seem--into a category. or if you work demanded it, you would create a new category. and these groups would be sufficiently assaulted, praised, morphed and understood by all other poets. at that point, branches would be made by other poets and the tree of poetry would grow.

i think that happened because people weren't just writing poetry, they were writing about poetry. William Carlos Williams wasn't just writing nonsense in the attic of his doctor's office. he was telling stories, he was using techniques. i think back then everyone who wrote poetry knew the names of rhyme schemes and spaces and numbers of lines. i don't know a fraction of what there is to know. now with a steady influx of Japanese poetry names and rules with syllables, the entire poetic world is lost within itself.

if everyone took the time to write thoughtfully about their poetry then there wouldn't be this muddle. instead, i think, there would be an understanding and a function. why write about cherry blossoms if you're not going to write in waka? what's the point?

so i hope that, in the future, poetics return. i want to read more introductions to collections of poetry; so many of my collections of current poets are missing a reason. as much as i absolutely adore matthew rohrer's three collections, it drives me mad that he hasn't placed himself in a progressive stance (partly because he seems to understand robots the way i do).

if i were to publish, i feel my poetry would be lost in the muddle. what i would prefer to be part of is a movement. i don't think our friend billy the blogging poet has quite what it takes. i don't think a movement that would make a difference could happen on the internet. it would need to be real. we'd need to knock on every door and teach ever person what poetry really means. but what does it really mean? i've struggled for years to define poetry, and i can't. the best i've done is in PoemTree, i've defined what is not, and that's all we can do.

so, i would rather be a poet among poets than that lonely one sitting on all the coffee tables ... i would rather have my work critiqued by clever poets like yourself than to have my mom's friend come up to me and say "the one about the duck is my favorite, it's so cute" and know she doesn't get it. because, i guess, i like to think my poems mean something. to me they mean something. they all mean something. they all fit together. they form a prism, a tangible world of color and water and mechanoids with desires to be human. they all represent the movement of humanity towards some intangible disunity. my poems reflect my world.

to me that means something. to others it might not, in fact, to others i know it does not.

now, i won't lament on whether or not the email i lost was better than this one or not. i'll just have you know this is the longest email i've written in years, and i'm so extremely grateful that you wanted to hear my thoughts. you've really got me thinking about where my poems are headed, and i'm trying now to determine a focal point.

i can't thank you enough.

i just hope i haven't bored you to tears or offended any part of you, especially the poetic part.

i feel so passionately about poetry, and obviously about my own poetry. it's so rare to find anyone interested enough to share these kinds of thoughts with; even more rare, perhaps to find someone as gifted as yourself, who i know will follow and understand my thoughts.

the very best,