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Poetry Monday: Lorine Niedecker
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Last week in ModPo, we learned so much and covered so much ground (this week looks even richer) that it’s hard to know where to begin in picking just a tidbit from it to share with you. Before I get lost in Imagism, which is where we’re headed this week, I thought it might be fun to just present my favourite poem from the Whitmanians and Dickinsonians we covered (I think you can guess which camp I’ve fallen into, though I’m a little of both, and of course it’s something of an artificial dichotomy). There was much that I enjoyed, but the biggest challenge for me was in learning to understand and even take pleasure in Rae Armantrout’s “The Way”, which you can hear the author read at PennSound.  This was a difficult poem that I began by rejecting, almost angrily. Working at it and finding my own “way” into the work was a revelation and opportunity for growth for me.  I will cover more of that topic later, but for now, I’d like to share with you  Lorine Niedecker’s “Grandfather Advised Me” or “Poet’s Work”, a poem that indeed sums up, for me, the job of the poet in a few words, condensed perfectly:  

Grandfather      advised me:          Learn a trade
I learned    to sit at desk          and condense
No layoff    from this          condensery
All writing is about condensation in one form or another (we pick from the chaotic vastness of human experiences and condense it into specific, powerful meaning) . Though I never thought of it in quite this way before, I think that Niedecker is absolutely and profoundly right. The poet, even more than other writers, condenses (selects, coalesces, combines, unifies, and then eliminates all wastage so that what’s left is absolutely, utterly shining and essential). In a scientific sense, condensation is the change of the physical state of matter from gaseous phase into liquid and/or solid phase (deposition). In that loose vastness, matter disperses, disintegrates, and entropy takes over. The poet gives form, structure, connectiveness, and above all permanence to this dispersion of life that surrounds us - reshaping the entropy and disintegration into meaning that lasts. It’s an act of creation, or to coin Auden, “poetry makes nothing happen” - with the emphasis on “happen” as in, turns nothing into something (I knew my Audenitis would resurface again at some point).  
Poetry Monday: ModPo is Back
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If you missed ModPo last time around (and even if you didn’t - lots of people are doing it again - it’s that good).  There are currently over 30,000 people enrolled in ModPo II and although the first lot of course material is already available I’m pretty sure that enrollment remains open (but not for long).  It’s completely free, and even though there are loads of attendees, the super-engaged involvement of Professor Al Filreis and his wonderful Teaching Assistants (and about 26 Community TAs too) makes this a very personal, very supported course full of insight and poetic pleasure.  There are no prerequisites, and you can work at your own pace, doing a lot or a little; interacting or keeping a low-profile.  If you missed my gushing regular blogposts last time around (you can search this blog for many posts on the topic), the brief overview is that ModPo stands for Modern and Contemporary Poetry and runs as a structured, university level class that encourages close, deep readings of poets beginning with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman (who thread their way through everything that follows), through to Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Allan Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Cid Corman, and current poets like Tracie Morris, Bernadette Mayer, Charles Bernstein, Christian Bok, Carolyn Bergvall, many of whom actually joined in the discussion last time. There’s no pressure to complete assignments, but of course that’s all part of the learning experience (you do get a certificate if you complete everything), and no grades, though there’s plenty of feedback, interaction, and above all camaraderie (and a few bonuses too) that lasts long after the course is done. I’ve done a lot of English Lit study and a degree in it too, but I honestly have never had such a powerful learning experience as ModPo. Don’t miss it - just go, sign up, and participate at whatever level you can manage. You absolutely won’t regret it:
https://www.coursera.org/course/modernpoetry


ModPo is finished, but ongoing

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It is with some sense of sadness that I note the ending of the ten week ModPo course this week. Though it does mean I can now catch up on the rapidly growing stack of alternate reading material awaiting my attention, I’ll miss the guided, well-structured close readings; the immersion into the avant garde, and above all the camaraderie of poetry enthusiasts from around the world. Our discussion forum will remain open for a year, and poetrypanicked students are busy trying to set up ongoing variations on ModPo - with mini study groups, self-run podcasts, anthologies - you name it so the fun won’t end. I’m excited about being involved in some of those, but also excited about now feeling capable of tackling some of the poetry already on my bookshelf that has perplexed me in the past (and writing some of my own - a deadline is fast looming…).  One resource that we’ve used throughout the course is Jacket2. There’s a whole year’s worth of amazing work and analyses to explore on that site and I urge you to go and check it out. On the front page today is a dozen of Australia’s most respected poets from the ongoing “Fifty-one contemporary poets from Australia”. If you aren’t sure where to begin, try the wonderful Judith Bishop (“The sky/would pool in our hands”). I’ll be doing a whole feature on her pretty soon (and hopefully chatting with her in person in the near future - more on that later - don’t want to spill the beans before I’m allowed to). I can’t begin to praise the ModPo gang enough - and in particular, the great Al Filreis, who, throughout this amazing course, has created a perfectly wonderful syllabus, recognised and remembered everyone’s name, and who has always taken the time to guide us, gracefully, to our own answers. He’s the kind of teacher who makes people (and by people I mean me) want to spend a lifetime studying Literature. If you missed the first ModPo, you can register sometime soon for the next class here: https://www.coursera.org. You won’t regret it.

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I’m going to end this week’s Poetry Monday with Tracie Morris’ “Afrika”. Morris herself joined us on the forums (along with many other of the poets we were studying including Christian Bök, Kenneth Goldsmith, Jackson Mac Low, Jenna Osman, Ron Silliman, Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, oh my…I half expected Emily Dickinson to put in an appearance) and responded, with enthusiasm and warmth, to nearly every post on her work (including those that were confused and uncomfortable). Her voice on this piece is quite extraordinary - shocking and familiar all at the same time. I’m not sure I would have been able to listen to it before doing ModPo. Now, this work leaves me breathless. “It all started…” http://media.sas.upenn.edu/Pennsound/authors/Morris/Morris-Tracie_It-All-Started-When_tucson_06-08.mp3
Poetry Monday: Uncreative writing

So we’re now in the final week of ModPo and I have to say that I feel like every pore of my skin has been opened through these 10 weeks. Something inside me has indeed shifted and I’m looking at poetry in ways I couldn’t when I began this course. Before I say something about chapter 9.3, which is focused on the most challenging topic for me of all - unoriginality, I promised that I would put up my Mesostic - the one I created for the final assignment. Here it is:

         WomeneveryBody
    plaY, there hamlEt     thAt        They        Should
As you can see, it’s a very small tribute to WB Yeats, written through “Lapis Lazuli”.  Though creating it was easy, I spent a long time finding something that would work. I was (perhaps wrongly) conscious of using something so modern that the original author might object to me using their words (yes, I know that copyright is part of the challenge of the chance and conceptualist poets, but it’s a challenge I’m not ready to take on). I really wanted to chose an Australian poet, but the software was buggy and Yeats was the only one who worked, so there it is.  I think it’s actually quite evocative.
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Moving right along though, this week we’re leaving the Aleatoric poets and moving into the Conceptualists.  Conceptual poetry has its heart in the notion of unoriginality. The concept (hence the label) takes priority over the execution.  The first poet we’re studying is Kenneth Goldsmith.  In the following little clip, taken at The White House (with Michele Obama as the listener), Goldsmith describes himself as “the most boring writer who has ever lived…”, and perhaps proves it with his 900 page book Day, created from rewriting the NY Times. And yet, as Kenny G says in the clip below, there is a kind of freeing quality to this process: “The whole world is yours to write."  The burden of originality has been lifted.


Poetry Monday: The difference is spreading

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I’m afraid I’m going to cheat just a little this week (I feel that the Chance poets would approve), and satisfy my desire to get back to Gertrude Stein.  Following is Jackson Mac Low’s reading of Stein’s A Carafe That Is A Blind Glass from Tender Buttons (click on the link and turn sound up). Here’s the text:

A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.

We did a very close, interpretative reading of this piece in ModPo during Stein week, looking closely at meaning. Here’s what I wrote:  Blind glass, blind drunk, drunk because hurting (we drown our sorrows)? I have to admit, just aesthetically, that I love the phrase “a single hurt color”. Aesthetics itself is something that we haven’t spoken about much here, but I don’t think we can discount it, even when knee deep in experimentalism, because the innate beauty is also part of the poem’s power - it’s ability to stir (or hurt, perhaps) us. The notion of a hurt color is something that has visceral power. We can feel the power of those words physically. The colour hurts and is hurt. It hurts us with its intensity. It is hurt by being constrained into an ‘arrangement in a system’. The carafe is blinded by opacity. Blindness hurts - like eyes closed tightly. It seems to me that this poem is very compact indeed, but it can be expanded and unpicked into so many connections, both within the poem itself and outside of the poem.

In Mac Low’s reading, we move away from the semantic sense of the poem and focus more on the sound: the musicality of it - the intonation, the sibilance, rather than the meaning of it. Form, in this reading, comes before the content, and the meaning is inherent, rather than teased out (as I attempted to do above) and explicit, in the music of the piece rather than the specific translation of the words into a narrative. Mac Low goes further with this musicality and creates eight strophes based upon the entire text of Tender Buttons using the poems as his source and seed text, and putting them through a computer program called DIASTEX which produces an entirely new computer generated poem. The result can be see here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15566

The finished product is kind of beautiful (“That section has a resemblance to light”), though it’s impossible to tease out a totality of meaning - you have to let go and let the music of it take you somewhere.  This is challenging to a semantically oriented reader like me (maybe you too), but it’s also rich and freeing in its way.  John Cage plays with a simpler form of chance operations called Mesostics, which uses a word (name, part of a poem, anything…Cage tends to use names) as its middle spine and picks a pre-published text to work through the spine - Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” being a famous example (“Writing through Howl”).  Cage has all sorts of complex rules for ensuring that his selections are are chancy as possible, but it’s very easy to do with a computer program.  Would you like to give it a try?  You can, here: http://www.euph0r1a.net/mesostomatic/ This is actually our assignment for this week and my challenge I think (as programmer rather than poet) is to choose my source and seed texts carefully - that’s all I can do to engage with contingency.  The rest is up to chance. I’ll post up the results for fun when it’s done. 
Poetry Monday: Charles Bernstein
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At ModPo this week, we’re onto the Language Poets. It’s still early days in my readings and was hard for me to choose who to feature here, because this work doesn’t always come easily - it takes time to absorb, and one week just isn’t enough (but it’s a delicious taste - a tasting platter).  Our first two poets are Ron Silliman and Lyn Hejinian, both of whom I’ve now spent some time with and have been enjoying hugely. There are similiarities between Silliman and Hejinian’s “autobiographical” poetry, though neither lends itself to ready reproduction. I liked “Albany” so much that I rushed straight out (well, clicked on a URL link straight to Amazon since there isn’t a bookstore within 500 miles of here that carries the book) and bought myself a copy of The Alphabet, which I intend to take my time over.
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Hejinian’s “My Life” is a beautiful full length work with recollections that do justice to the disorder and sensual coding and ongoing creation that is drawn from and turns into memory. I’m afraid I’ll have to get that one as well because four sections is not going to be enough. I can see that ModPo is going to be far from over for me when the 10 weeks are up.  We’re also working on Bob Perelman’s “Chronic Meanings”, and a bit more on Dickinson too as we explore Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson, but today, I’ve skipped forward a bit to Charles Bernstein’s “In a Restless World Like This Is”. This is a short poem, the full text of which can be found here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/242798. Following is only the briefest of excerpts - the last few lines:

As far as you go
In one direction, all the further you’ll
Have to go on before the way back has
Become totally indivisible.

I picked it because it’s relatively straightforward, but still incredibly powerful in the way in which it drives us around (the corner) on a fractured, noisy road to nowhere (the restless world we live in) where nothing is fixed and everything is circular. In a PoemTrain discussion about the poem, Eli Goldblatt calls this a post-9/11 poem about how difficult it is to find words; to get back to a place where we can make sense. To me, Life itself seems to be the subject - the “the hocus pocus/Of the dissolving days” full of entropy, where, despite our illusion of memory, or of coming at life from “all three sides at once” (past, present, future perhaps) there’s no direction home
Poetry Monday: Frank O'Hara
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We’re at week 7 of ModPo onto the New York School Poets including Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and Barbara Guest. The course begins with O'Hara’s “The Day Lady Died”, a poem rich with the details of life in New York City, immersing me back into a world so familiar to me it’s part of the rhythm of my own breath, while still being entirely foreign and disconcerting (a dichotomy that was obvious to me on my last visit). Above all, the poem, which I’m not going to excerpt here, because it has to be read in its entirety, is the most striking, moving elegy to Billie Holiday, and perhaps to artistic greatness in general - the one vivid image that comes at the end and changes everything which precedes it.  This is a poem that begins and ends with breathlessness, which becomes its form. There is really only one very long, run-on sentence, made breathless with conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs (“and”, “of”, “then”) which creates an impression of motion and busy-ness. Between the motion - the speed, are proper nouns in all caps (“NEW WORLD WRITING”, “GOLDEN GRIFFIN”, “PARK LANE”, “NEW YORK POST”, “5 SPOT”), which serve as markers, like neon signs that we pass on our way to the end point, which is not, after all, the Long Island dinner destination he mentions in the beginning (“Easthampton”), but rather, a moment in the past where aesthetic greatness is enough to stop the breath, stop the activity, stop everything.  This could be the most moving poem in the course for me so far. Go now, though I know you too are rushing to get ready for a dinner destination, stop everything and read: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171368
Tea and ModPo
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My Kelly Writers House ModPo mug has finally arrived, and I feel like I’m now part of the in-crowd. No matter that I’m drinking Ecco rather than coffee and that Al Filreis and his fantastic teaching assistants are all thousands of miles away from where I’m sitting. It feels like I’m right there, participating in the discussions about “Howl”, about Jack Kerouac’s “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose”, and about “October in the Railroad Earth”.  If it’s Wednesday, it must be Robert Creeley.  I might have to procure a black beret myself like TA Max if we keep on this way. 
Poetry Monday: Howl
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ModPo has moved on to the Beats. This is relatively familiar territory for me, but it doesn’t mean that I get to slack off. Though much of the poetry we’re readig this week appears spontaneous, easy to understand (compared at least to some of the experimental poets we just left), we need to do more than read, absorb, and chat about the work. This is a close, intense series of reading that looks, among other things at rhythm, syntax, the pouring forth of incantatory images, and, particularly in Allen Ginsberg's  “Howl”, parataxis - that’s the technique where dissimilar images are put together in a seemingly unrelated way, with the reader left to make the connection between them.  Here’s but a fragment of Ginsberg’s most well known poem - chaotic, and seemingly random ravings, but actually carefully constructed to follow, as ModPo’s Al Filreis puts it: “the "syntax” and “measure” of the soul,“ or as Ginsberg said, "Ideally each line of ‘Howl’ is a single breath unit. My breath is long — that’s the measure, one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath."  So here’s a taste, and if you want more, you can click on the YouTube clip below the fragment and hear the big G read it himself in full (no harmonium, though I heard him recite "Howl” in person at St Mark’s Church many (many) years ago with his harmonium and never forgot it…).  Full text of parts I and II can be found  here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15308

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving
hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry
fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the
starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the
supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of
cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels
staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkan-
sas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,



Poetry Monday: Gwendolyn Brooks
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ModPo went quickly through Gertrude Stein and I was amazed at how powerful her work ended up being for me. I don’t think I’d ever read her poetry on my own. My first readings left me with no impression whatsoever, but the closer I looked the more intense the impact of the work on me, and indeed on my own work. I found myself lingering over the rhythms, going back to the lines again and again in my mind. The most oddly evocative for me was the strange “IF I TOLD HIM A Completed Portrait of Picasso”. This was almost completely meaningless for me to begin with, but I kept returning. Stein’s own reading was hypnotic - her voice so pervasive, that I think I shall hear all poetry in that voice now. My own poetry has started to show slight hints of that repetition and wordplay - I even began a poem last week with a quote from her “Composition as Explanation”.  I’m not quite ready to leave Stein behind, but this week ModPo has moved on to the anti-modernists of the 1930s, and the poets of the Harlem Renaissance.  We’re not specifically doing any Langston Hughes, though I do love him and will come back to him here at some point (you can hold me to that), but so far my favourite poem this week is Gwendolyn Brooks’ “truth”. Here’s just the first stanza. You can get the whole poem here.

And if sun comes
How shall we greet him?Shall we not dread him,Shall we not fear himAfter so lengthy aSession with shade? Though the poem is as political and powerful as anything written by the angry “communist poets” whose work precedes it, what I like about “truth” (and other work by Brooks) is that the message never overwhelms the medium. The poem is never didactic. It never yells at the reader. It makes its point through the inherent power of its imagery, its personification, its metaphor, and the emotive power of its rhythms.  In some way, I can see the impact of Stein even here, in the most un-experimental of places.  I may have Steinitis. 
Poetry Monday: On WCW's "Smell!"
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I’m reading William Carlos Williams again today. We’ve had WCW before here, with “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”. Following is a poem written while WCW was a fair bit younger, which I’ve been reading and analysing as part of the wonderful ModPo poetry course I’ve been doing (I’m afraid you’re going to have to follow along with me - I’m immersed in it). The poem is William Carlos Williams’ “Smell”. Of course you can take this poem at face value (sorry…), and indeed, as it sits below, with Williams’ rather distinguished nose right above it, that’s certainly the initial temptation. It’s fun enough in a literal sense: who hasn’t followed his or her nose into the “festering pulp” like a hungry dog.  But of course there’s more to the poem than that.  You can listen to WCW’s own reading at the PennSound Archive (an amazing resource that I can’t recommend enough) - he reads with obvious delight at his own foibles. What writer hasn’t wondered in one form or another, something similar - in curiosity, in desire, or felt that “deep thirst” for “that rank odor of a passing springtime”. Think lower, baser, more richly sensual. In a meta-poetical sense, I see this as the writer’s lot - to pick at everything, to smell it all, to taste what is unlovely and savour it.

Smell

Oh strong-ridged and deeply hollowed
nose of mine! what will you not be smelling?
What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose,
always indiscriminate, always unashamed,
and now it is the souring flowers of the bedreggled
poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth
beneath them. With what deep thirst
we quicken our desires
to that rank odor of a passing springtime!
Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors
for something less unlovely? What girl will care
for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways?
Must you taste everything? Must you know everything?
Must you have a part in everything?
Poetry Monday: Walt Whitman's Song of Myself
As ModPo begins in one week, I thought I’d prepare (and have a little fun too) by reading, outloud, the last (and maybe most well-known) stanza from “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman. Whitman’s work opens the course - we’ll be spending the first two weeks on him and Emily Dickinson (so you probably know what to expect next Monday…or do you…?).  As I’ve suggested in the video, please chime in with your thoughts, your favourite bit of Whitman (not talking about samplers here), or your thoughts about modern poetry in general.  I’ve studied lots of things over the years, but it’s been a long time since I last took a literature course, though there was a time when it was all I took, so I’m quite excited to be going back, as it were, to my roots. I’m hoping that the course will add depth and another dimension to my reviews of modern poetry (especially highly experimental forms, which I struggle with), and of course, I’m fully expecting it to be fun, and just a little indulgent. Yum.   




ModPo is finished, but ongoing

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It is with some sense of sadness that I note the ending of the ten week ModPo course this week. Though it does mean I can now catch up on the rapidly growing stack of alternate reading material awaiting my attention, I’ll miss the guided, well-structured close readings; the immersion into the avant garde, and above all the camaraderie of poetry enthusiasts from around the world. Our discussion forum will remain open for a year, and poetrypanicked students are busy trying to set up ongoing variations on ModPo - with mini study groups, self-run podcasts, anthologies - you name it so the fun won’t end. I’m excited about being involved in some of those, but also excited about now feeling capable of tackling some of the poetry already on my bookshelf that has perplexed me in the past (and writing some of my own - a deadline is fast looming…).  One resource that we’ve used throughout the course is Jacket2. There’s a whole year’s worth of amazing work and analyses to explore on that site and I urge you to go and check it out. On the front page today is a dozen of Australia’s most respected poets from the ongoing “Fifty-one contemporary poets from Australia”. If you aren’t sure where to begin, try the wonderful Judith Bishop (“The sky/would pool in our hands”). I’ll be doing a whole feature on her pretty soon (and hopefully chatting with her in person in the near future - more on that later - don’t want to spill the beans before I’m allowed to). I can’t begin to praise the ModPo gang enough - and in particular, the great Al Filreis, who, throughout this amazing course, has created a perfectly wonderful syllabus, recognised and remembered everyone’s name, and who has always taken the time to guide us, gracefully, to our own answers. He’s the kind of teacher who makes people (and by people I mean me) want to spend a lifetime studying Literature. If you missed the first ModPo, you can register sometime soon for the next class here: https://www.coursera.org. You won’t regret it.

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I’m going to end this week’s Poetry Monday with Tracie Morris’ “Afrika”. Morris herself joined us on the forums (along with many other of the poets we were studying including Christian Bök, Kenneth Goldsmith, Jackson Mac Low, Jenna Osman, Ron Silliman, Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, oh my…I half expected Emily Dickinson to put in an appearance) and responded, with enthusiasm and warmth, to nearly every post on her work (including those that were confused and uncomfortable). Her voice on this piece is quite extraordinary - shocking and familiar all at the same time. I’m not sure I would have been able to listen to it before doing ModPo. Now, this work leaves me breathless. “It all started…” http://media.sas.upenn.edu/Pennsound/authors/Morris/Morris-Tracie_It-All-Started-When_tucson_06-08.mp3
Poetry Monday: Uncreative writing

So we’re now in the final week of ModPo and I have to say that I feel like every pore of my skin has been opened through these 10 weeks. Something inside me has indeed shifted and I’m looking at poetry in ways I couldn’t when I began this course. Before I say something about chapter 9.3, which is focused on the most challenging topic for me of all - unoriginality, I promised that I would put up my Mesostic - the one I created for the final assignment. Here it is:

         WomeneveryBody
    plaY, there hamlEt     thAt        They        Should
As you can see, it’s a very small tribute to WB Yeats, written through “Lapis Lazuli”.  Though creating it was easy, I spent a long time finding something that would work. I was (perhaps wrongly) conscious of using something so modern that the original author might object to me using their words (yes, I know that copyright is part of the challenge of the chance and conceptualist poets, but it’s a challenge I’m not ready to take on). I really wanted to chose an Australian poet, but the software was buggy and Yeats was the only one who worked, so there it is.  I think it’s actually quite evocative.
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Moving right along though, this week we’re leaving the Aleatoric poets and moving into the Conceptualists.  Conceptual poetry has its heart in the notion of unoriginality. The concept (hence the label) takes priority over the execution.  The first poet we’re studying is Kenneth Goldsmith.  In the following little clip, taken at The White House (with Michele Obama as the listener), Goldsmith describes himself as “the most boring writer who has ever lived…”, and perhaps proves it with his 900 page book Day, created from rewriting the NY Times. And yet, as Kenny G says in the clip below, there is a kind of freeing quality to this process: “The whole world is yours to write."  The burden of originality has been lifted.


Poetry Monday: The difference is spreading

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I’m afraid I’m going to cheat just a little this week (I feel that the Chance poets would approve), and satisfy my desire to get back to Gertrude Stein.  Following is Jackson Mac Low’s reading of Stein’s A Carafe That Is A Blind Glass from Tender Buttons (click on the link and turn sound up). Here’s the text:

A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.

We did a very close, interpretative reading of this piece in ModPo during Stein week, looking closely at meaning. Here’s what I wrote:  Blind glass, blind drunk, drunk because hurting (we drown our sorrows)? I have to admit, just aesthetically, that I love the phrase “a single hurt color”. Aesthetics itself is something that we haven’t spoken about much here, but I don’t think we can discount it, even when knee deep in experimentalism, because the innate beauty is also part of the poem’s power - it’s ability to stir (or hurt, perhaps) us. The notion of a hurt color is something that has visceral power. We can feel the power of those words physically. The colour hurts and is hurt. It hurts us with its intensity. It is hurt by being constrained into an ‘arrangement in a system’. The carafe is blinded by opacity. Blindness hurts - like eyes closed tightly. It seems to me that this poem is very compact indeed, but it can be expanded and unpicked into so many connections, both within the poem itself and outside of the poem.

In Mac Low’s reading, we move away from the semantic sense of the poem and focus more on the sound: the musicality of it - the intonation, the sibilance, rather than the meaning of it. Form, in this reading, comes before the content, and the meaning is inherent, rather than teased out (as I attempted to do above) and explicit, in the music of the piece rather than the specific translation of the words into a narrative. Mac Low goes further with this musicality and creates eight strophes based upon the entire text of Tender Buttons using the poems as his source and seed text, and putting them through a computer program called DIASTEX which produces an entirely new computer generated poem. The result can be see here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15566

The finished product is kind of beautiful (“That section has a resemblance to light”), though it’s impossible to tease out a totality of meaning - you have to let go and let the music of it take you somewhere.  This is challenging to a semantically oriented reader like me (maybe you too), but it’s also rich and freeing in its way.  John Cage plays with a simpler form of chance operations called Mesostics, which uses a word (name, part of a poem, anything…Cage tends to use names) as its middle spine and picks a pre-published text to work through the spine - Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” being a famous example (“Writing through Howl”).  Cage has all sorts of complex rules for ensuring that his selections are are chancy as possible, but it’s very easy to do with a computer program.  Would you like to give it a try?  You can, here: http://www.euph0r1a.net/mesostomatic/ This is actually our assignment for this week and my challenge I think (as programmer rather than poet) is to choose my source and seed texts carefully - that’s all I can do to engage with contingency.  The rest is up to chance. I’ll post up the results for fun when it’s done. 
Poetry Monday: Charles Bernstein
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At ModPo this week, we’re onto the Language Poets. It’s still early days in my readings and was hard for me to choose who to feature here, because this work doesn’t always come easily - it takes time to absorb, and one week just isn’t enough (but it’s a delicious taste - a tasting platter).  Our first two poets are Ron Silliman and Lyn Hejinian, both of whom I’ve now spent some time with and have been enjoying hugely. There are similiarities between Silliman and Hejinian’s “autobiographical” poetry, though neither lends itself to ready reproduction. I liked “Albany” so much that I rushed straight out (well, clicked on a URL link straight to Amazon since there isn’t a bookstore within 500 miles of here that carries the book) and bought myself a copy of The Alphabet, which I intend to take my time over.
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Hejinian’s “My Life” is a beautiful full length work with recollections that do justice to the disorder and sensual coding and ongoing creation that is drawn from and turns into memory. I’m afraid I’ll have to get that one as well because four sections is not going to be enough. I can see that ModPo is going to be far from over for me when the 10 weeks are up.  We’re also working on Bob Perelman’s “Chronic Meanings”, and a bit more on Dickinson too as we explore Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson, but today, I’ve skipped forward a bit to Charles Bernstein’s “In a Restless World Like This Is”. This is a short poem, the full text of which can be found here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/242798. Following is only the briefest of excerpts - the last few lines:

As far as you go
In one direction, all the further you’ll
Have to go on before the way back has
Become totally indivisible.

I picked it because it’s relatively straightforward, but still incredibly powerful in the way in which it drives us around (the corner) on a fractured, noisy road to nowhere (the restless world we live in) where nothing is fixed and everything is circular. In a PoemTrain discussion about the poem, Eli Goldblatt calls this a post-9/11 poem about how difficult it is to find words; to get back to a place where we can make sense. To me, Life itself seems to be the subject - the “the hocus pocus/Of the dissolving days” full of entropy, where, despite our illusion of memory, or of coming at life from “all three sides at once” (past, present, future perhaps) there’s no direction home
Poetry Monday: Frank O'Hara
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We’re at week 7 of ModPo onto the New York School Poets including Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and Barbara Guest. The course begins with O'Hara’s “The Day Lady Died”, a poem rich with the details of life in New York City, immersing me back into a world so familiar to me it’s part of the rhythm of my own breath, while still being entirely foreign and disconcerting (a dichotomy that was obvious to me on my last visit). Above all, the poem, which I’m not going to excerpt here, because it has to be read in its entirety, is the most striking, moving elegy to Billie Holiday, and perhaps to artistic greatness in general - the one vivid image that comes at the end and changes everything which precedes it.  This is a poem that begins and ends with breathlessness, which becomes its form. There is really only one very long, run-on sentence, made breathless with conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs (“and”, “of”, “then”) which creates an impression of motion and busy-ness. Between the motion - the speed, are proper nouns in all caps (“NEW WORLD WRITING”, “GOLDEN GRIFFIN”, “PARK LANE”, “NEW YORK POST”, “5 SPOT”), which serve as markers, like neon signs that we pass on our way to the end point, which is not, after all, the Long Island dinner destination he mentions in the beginning (“Easthampton”), but rather, a moment in the past where aesthetic greatness is enough to stop the breath, stop the activity, stop everything.  This could be the most moving poem in the course for me so far. Go now, though I know you too are rushing to get ready for a dinner destination, stop everything and read: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171368
Tea and ModPo
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My Kelly Writers House ModPo mug has finally arrived, and I feel like I’m now part of the in-crowd. No matter that I’m drinking Ecco rather than coffee and that Al Filreis and his fantastic teaching assistants are all thousands of miles away from where I’m sitting. It feels like I’m right there, participating in the discussions about “Howl”, about Jack Kerouac’s “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose”, and about “October in the Railroad Earth”.  If it’s Wednesday, it must be Robert Creeley.  I might have to procure a black beret myself like TA Max if we keep on this way. 
Poetry Monday: Howl
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ModPo has moved on to the Beats. This is relatively familiar territory for me, but it doesn’t mean that I get to slack off. Though much of the poetry we’re readig this week appears spontaneous, easy to understand (compared at least to some of the experimental poets we just left), we need to do more than read, absorb, and chat about the work. This is a close, intense series of reading that looks, among other things at rhythm, syntax, the pouring forth of incantatory images, and, particularly in Allen Ginsberg's  “Howl”, parataxis - that’s the technique where dissimilar images are put together in a seemingly unrelated way, with the reader left to make the connection between them.  Here’s but a fragment of Ginsberg’s most well known poem - chaotic, and seemingly random ravings, but actually carefully constructed to follow, as ModPo’s Al Filreis puts it: “the "syntax” and “measure” of the soul,“ or as Ginsberg said, "Ideally each line of ‘Howl’ is a single breath unit. My breath is long — that’s the measure, one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath."  So here’s a taste, and if you want more, you can click on the YouTube clip below the fragment and hear the big G read it himself in full (no harmonium, though I heard him recite "Howl” in person at St Mark’s Church many (many) years ago with his harmonium and never forgot it…).  Full text of parts I and II can be found  here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15308

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving
hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry
fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the
starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the
supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of
cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels
staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkan-
sas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,