Sunday, June 29, 2008

NYT Frank O'Hara review

The New York Times has a review of a new Frank O'Hara collected poems. The review includes the following, which is good advice for any poet, I think (especially myself considering I was told by David St. John that I should read more O'Hara):
When Auden chose [John] Ashbery’s first volume for the Yale Series of Younger Poets, he wrote O’Hara a thoughtful rejection, saying, “I think you (and John, too, for that matter) must watch what is always the great danger with any ‘surrealistic’ style, namely of confusing authentic nonlogical relations which arouse wonder with accidental ones which arouse mere surprise and in the end fatigue.”

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Read at work

A very interesting idea (discovered via Slog), The Stranger's fantastic blog: poems disguised as corporate bullshit so you can read them at your corporate bullshit job on your computer. Not as useful for the Mac crowd, I'm afraid, since it's all done under the cloak of a Windows interface. Not sure that anyone actually uses this site, but it is a very interesting juxtaposition to see Emily Dickinson lines alongside photos of MRI screenings and Brian Turner poems turned into pie charts.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I want my P-TV

I just got back from seeing The Animation Show 4 at the Detroit Film Theatre. My favorite piece was "Forgetfulness" by Julian Grey, which is an animation of the poem of the same name by Billy Collins. It's really quite terrific and you can see it online here (or watch the lesser quality YouTube version below) where you can also see animations for two more poems by Collins, "Budapest" and "Some Days."

I think these are quite incredible and I wish there were more of them. Not more done by this studio of Billy Collins poems, but I wish there were more poem videos like there are music videos. Sure, you could argue that watching a video interferes with the reader's (listener's?) experience with them poem, but I think the same could be argued about music videos. I love how these animations pull the poem from the page and give it life beyond that. It puts the poem out there in the world in a way it otherwise never would have achieved on its printed or spoken own.

And for those who don't dig Billy Collins, I think "Forgetfulness" is one of his best poems. It's certainly my favorite.

Friday, June 20, 2008

"Footprints" by the One(s) Jesus Loves Best

You know that "Footprints" poem about Jesus and the dude walking along the sand? You know, the one written in some kind of "fancy" font like lucida calligraphy, superimposed over a picture of a beach, in a frame in your grandma's bathroom? Well, no one knows who wrote it. Kind of like that drunk driving poem by "anonymous" that gets read to the entire high school over the intercom before prom each year.

Well, Slog has a nice little roundup of the latest and greatest about this controversy.

There's a piece on the Poetry site about it: "Enter Sandman: Who wrote “Footprints”?" By Rachel Aviv

A June 10, 2008 NPR story: "Who Made the 'Footprints'?" by Nancy Solomon

And this 1998 piece from The Onion: "It Was Then That I Carried You" by Jesus Christ

Only His hairdresser knows for sure.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Flying ladies on stilts

My wife dragged me to see this show tonight at the Detroit Festival of the Arts. All I knew going in was that there was stilt walking involved, which she is very into, as are her friends. At first the ladies on stilts were doing these new agey/interpretive dance moves and I was like, what the fuck is this? But then they started doing some really cool shit and I have to admit I ended up liking it a lot. Oh, and if you ever wind up seeing them somewhere, don't climb/swing on their spaceship structure afterwards. They don't like it.

A very fitting poem to go with the video of the flying ladies, I think, is "My Daughter at the Gymnastics Party" by David Bottoms. Check it out.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A little WCW

I just started reading William Carlos Williams Selected Poems, a 1969 edition my wife picked up for me at a used book store. The first poem in the book, "January Morning," doesn't really do much for me until the end. The end is quite awesome and really sums up what it feels like to be a poet at times. Note that there are some indented lines and such that are lost here.
I wanted to write a poem
that you would understand.
for what good is it to me
if you can't understand it?
But you got to try hard--
Well, you know how
the young girls run giggling
on Park Avenue after dark
when they ought to be home in bed?
that's the way it is with me somehow.

(William Carlos Williams, "January Morning" part XV, lines 3-14 from William Carlos Williams Selected Poems, 1969 New Directions Press)

"I found your poems on the Internet" by Peace In Our Time

Just discovered Peace In Our Time while looking for songs about tigers online (don't ask). Here's how he describes himself:
"Peace in Our Time is a one-man musical project from Uppsala, Sweden. The only member of the band is me, Johan. I bought my first guitar when I was 16 years old and lived in my hometown Jönköping. Me and two friends formed a band (Nova Caine) and played together for almost three years. The band split up and we moved to different cites. I moved to Uppsala and kept writing songs while I looked around for new band members. Since I couldn't find any I decided to become my own band."
Check out his song "I found your poems on the Internet."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Then & Now by James Cummins

After reading "Spoken Nervously By Torchlight to Angry Villagers," the first poem in Then and Now, I just had to read the whole book. Unfortunately, "Spoken Nervously" is an anomaly in this collection. There are a couple other good poems -- and by that I mean two ("Echo" and " Edmund Wilson and His Wife, Elena, Have Dinner with Edna St. Millay and Her Husband"). But mostly I felt the eagerness I felt wane, along with my patience, the more I read. I often found myself thinking, "If one of my undergraduates turned in this poem I'd be pretty impressed." Cummins employs a lot of rhyme in the poems in this book, and I give him props for doing it, but often the results are too expected. I like subtlety when it comes to rhyme. Cummins, well, not so much. He is also a poet who isn't shy about making grand proclamations like "You have a day, and then you have one more. / That's all there is. And it is enough" ("Practical Immortalities"). Not that such a thing can't be said in a poem, but after awhile it starts feeling more like a device and less like the divine. The first stanza of this poem, in fact, I like very much, though not as poetry:
A poem is a moment in a life
that stands for many moments, and goes on
in time, a partner in a dance, in love;
it doesn't conquer time, but slows it down,
so other moments can be lived in full.
I read this and thought, "Yes, this would be great to use in my creative writing class when we talk about what poetry 'is' and 'what it is for.'" I don't doubt that Cummins is acutely aware of these issues, though I do suspect he may be thinking too hard about them at times.

Spoken Nervously By Torchlight to Angry Villagers

Look, if there should be
life after death, I'll merely
be guilty of foolishness;

and if the sign of salvation
is truly a new car or house,
then I'm only to be pitied

in death as I was in life;
but if there should turn out to be
the phenomenon of grace,

different from the almost
unbearable beauty of the world,
and if it consists of God

letting me know for a brief
moment I'm not alone--
by putting a huge arm, say,

around my shoulders, or giving
a thumbs-up sign across
an amazingly if not

improbably large room--
all I can claim, as they angle
a needle in a vein and load me

into the van, is it's surely
the least of my problems
that I didn't believe.

(James Cummins, from Then & Now, 2004 Swallow Press)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Yes, Michigan, the feeling's forever...

Thank you to Randa Jarrar for sending me a link to this Michigan poem in The New Yorker by Bob Hicok, one of my favorite poets. By the way Randa's novel, A Map of Home, is coming out in September. Mark your calendars. She's pretty awesome.
A Primer

I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go
to be in Michigan. The right hand of America
waving from maps or the left
pressing into clay a mold to take home
from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan
forty-three years. The state bird
is a chained factory gate. The state flower
is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical
though it is merely cold and deep as truth.
A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”
can sincerely use the word “sincere.”
In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.
When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.
There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life
goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,
which we’re not getting along with
on account of the Towers as I pass.
Then Ohio goes corn corn corn
billboard, goodbye, Islam. You never forget
how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.
It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly fishing.
The Upper Peninsula is a spare state
in case Michigan goes flat. I live now
in Virginia, which has no backup plan
but is named the same as my mother,
I live in my mother again, which is creepy
but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,
suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials
are needed. The state joy is spring.
“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”
is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,
when February hasn’t ended. February
is thirteen months long in Michigan.
We are a people who by February
want to kill the sky for being so gray
and angry at us. “What did we do?”
is the state motto. There’s a day in May
when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics
is everywhere, and daffodils are asked
by young men to be their wives. When a man elopes
with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.
In this way I have given you a primer.
Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us tell each other everything we can.

(Bob Hicok, The New Yorker, May 19, 2008)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Poetry as punishment

"Middlebury College professor Jay Parini presents a class on poet Robert Frost to students in a court diversion program in Middlebury, Vt., Wednesday, May 28, 2008. More than two dozen young people were convicted of charges that, in a rampage fueled by beer and marijuana, they vandalized a farmhouse where poet Robert Frost spent 20 of his summers. The home is owned by Middlebury College." (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

That'll teach 'em.

Monday, June 2, 2008

"A Man And A Woman Sit Near Each Other" by Robert Bly

Over the weekend I attended a friend's wedding and a Robert Bly poem was read at the ceremony. The poem, "A Third Body,” was, as far as I can find, retitled “A Man and a Woman Sit Near Each Other” in Bly's 1986 Selected Poems, which means the poem pre-dates that, but I don't know how much. I don't have this poem in any of my anthologies so I had to resort to ferreting it out online where more than one version exists. I don't know which version was read at the ceremony, but this one will have to do.

A Man And A Woman Sit Near Each Other

A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do not long
at this moment to be older, or younger, nor born
in any other nation, or time, or place.
They are content to be where they are, talking or not-talking.
Their breaths together feed someone whom we do not know.
The man sees the way his fingers move;
he sees her hands close around a book she hands to him.
They obey a third body that they share in common.
They have made a promise to love that body.
Age may come, parting may come, death will come.
A man and a woman sit near each other;
as they breathe they feed someone we do not know,
someone we know of, whom we have never seen.

(Robert Bly)