Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Peter Orlovsky Memorial Reading

Poetry readings have always been very hit or miss for me. They're great for getting your work out there, meeting other writers, and probably some other things I'm unable to think of at the present moment. But, I began reading poetry in books, I write all of my poetry in books, and this is likely to continue, despite my intention to begin reading more.

However, last night something was made clear at the Peter Orlovsky Memorial Reading at St. Mark's Church about the function of a poetry reading: to make you remember a poem. In this case, Ginsberg's "On Cremation of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche," read by Patti Smith with Piano accompaniment with Philip Glass. If I can track down the recording of it that my friend took (and it's of good quality), I'll upload it. However, a collaboration between the two exist on YouTube, so, enjoy:

Monday, September 20, 2010

David Orr and Why Poets Quote

"When a contemporary poet [uses] quotes...It tells us less about whom a poet hopes to equal and more about where he’d like to hang out."

The above statement, edited slightly, is from David Orr's op-ed piece in yesterday's NY Times Book Review (which you can read in its entirety here) on why contemporary poets use epigrams and citations so much. This topic is of immense interest to me, as I spent an entire year writing poems from nothing but found language--overheard conversations, lines from poems, novels, comic books, fortune cookies--anything I found of interest, really, and, I never once cited my sources. I don't intend to use this piece as a launch pad to espouse my own theories on why contemporary poets quote, mostly because I'm still figuring out what's happening today in poetry and can really only speak for myself. What I do intend to highlight is what David Orr is really talking about: ownership and "originality".

The above quote from Orr, though it is clearly the main argument he is making, does not come at the beginning of the article. Rather, it begins as follows:

Imagine that this essay began not with the sentence you’re reading, but with the following observation, attributed to Wittgenstein: “A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.” A little oblique for an opening gambit, you might think, but presumably it will pay off shortly. Imagine further, however, that the Wittgenstein quotation was immediately followed by quotes from Simone Weil, the Upanishads and the Hungarian poet Gyorgy Petri. At this point, you might find yourself wondering, “O.K., when is the actual author going to actually give me something he actually wrote?”

Imagine that David Orr had written a poem and, rather than citing Wittgenstein, Simone Weil, the Upanishads, and Gyorgi Petri, he just strung the quotes together. Wouldn't that completely bypass the question he posed in the final sentence of this paragraph? It seems the act of citing your sources (a necessity in criticism, a nice gesture in anything creative) is what makes this an issue. Wouldn't it also solve the problem of "where the writer would like to hang out" if no point of reference was given?

Of course, to so would be stealing--but didn't T.S. Eliot, who Orr both praises a great poet and blames for the state of the citation in contemporary poetry, say, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal"? (It should be noted that when The Waste Land was published, many critics dismissed it saying something to the effect of, "Eliot has quoted a lot and alluded a lot, but what he has actually written is far too insubstantial").

So then why is Eliot so highly regarded and these others written off as mere followers? Is it because he is the "original thief?" (I'd like to remind everyone that he later published his own notes to The Waste Land with annotations). Whatever Eliot truly meant, I believe his intention with the quotation was that someone already said it better and best to steal what is well said than regurgitate and water it down.

One author this article doesn't mention is Louis Zukofsky, whose Poem Beginning 'The' is far more radical in its approach to quotations. He prefaces his poem with the notes, arranged alphabetically, but lets the quotations sit within in the poem, undisturbed by the original author's name. Since each line is numbered, it serves the dual purpose of giving the illusion of a linear progression (though in actuality it reminds us of the stitched-together nature of the poem) as well as provides for easy reference to these notes. However, these notes do nothing to show respect to Zukofsky's predecessors. This is evident by the presence of citations to The Sun, Zukofsky himself, and to "anyone and anything [he] has unjustifiably forgotten."

So who owns this work then? I think this is a big part of what Zukofsky was trying to highlight by bringing so much disparate material together--not only the nature of a poem, but the nature of identity. One cannot draw a line and say, "This is what I have created and this is what I have taken from someone else," because at some point, it becomes impossible to tell the difference, or where one begins and one ends. Of course, nobody wants to be accused of plagiarism, so we're basically stuck where we were nearly one hundred years ago, when Eliot was written off as someone with an impressive ability to quote, but not a lot to say.

Ironically, in that same quote I began this post with, Orr asserts that most poets today quote to be like T.S. Eliot. Really? Though Eliot certainly popularized the use of numerous quotations, he didn't invent it. I'd be interested in asking the poets he mentions in his article if they are particularly influenced by Eliot or where they got the idea to use quotations from. It seems a little presumptuous to say that Eliot's shadow is still that big over the world of poetry. I mean, since I began this post with a quotation, does that mean I'd like to be Eliot? Since it was a quote by David Orr, does that mean I want to "hang out" with him? Or was it merely the starting point for this post?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ashbery at the Brooklyn Book Festival

Though it hasn't been publicly announced, apparently John Ashbery is translating Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations. I'm kind of a late-comer to this bit of information, since it looks like some mention of it has been on the web for about a year now, but, having just re-read Illuminations and enjoyed it immensely, this is quite exciting. No word on the publisher yet, though the Library of America has its bets on Ecco.

Unfortunately, I could not make the Brooklyn Book Festival last Sunday because I had to work. I became even more disappointed to learn that Ashbery was there, read poems, both original and translations of Rimbaud, as well as spoke about his early experiences in NYC. Part of my bucket list is to see him read before he passes, so here's to hoping. Anyway, a recording of the interview can be found here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Library Day

I ventured through the pouring rain and dried my hair under the hand dryer in the Mid-Manhattan location of the NYPL to get my library card today. Apparently you're not allowed to sit on the floor, as one page informed me. Is this to discourage loitering and vagrancy?

You Must Occupy a Couch or Chair.

While I couldn't get my hands on everything I wanted (especially that copy of Angels of Anarchy, which was available but missing), I did bring home some books I'm sure to enjoy.

  • Flow Chart by John Ashbery
  • Necromance by Rae Armantrout
  • The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest
  • The Collected Poems of Laura Riding
  • The Thief of Strings by Donald Revell

So far, I've only spent some time with Necromance. This is my first book of Armantrout poems and I'm very impressed. At first I found her work incredibly disorienting, which is refreshing since I find that this kind of confusion forces me to read on the poem's terms and not what I expect a poem to give me. Her fondness for the fragment and her ability to manipulate syntax in surprising ways are immediately striking. However, even more astonishing is her ability to link these fragments next to each other merely by juxtaposition, clever word play, and patterning. At the same time, not all of the poems here are dense. Though never obvious, some of the poems are disarming for accessible they are, especially compared to other poems in this book. I'm a little over halfway through it now, and will probably finish it tomorrow.

While riding the subway, I finished Rimbaud's Illuminations. When I first read it years ago, I remember being somewhat unimpressed and considered A Season in Hell to be the superior book. Furthermore, I regarded Baudelaire as an infinitely more talented poet. Now I'm not so sure. I remember Baudelaire being more accessible and immediate, and, since I was very new to to the world of poetry, I gravitated towards that more than Rimbaud's hallucinatory, dream-like style. I think discovering Reverdy's poetry has allowed me to appreciate Rimbaud's more.

Anyway, some major changes are in store for this blog in the coming weeks. I'm going to upload a calendar that lists local (NYC-area) readings, performances, and literary events. Also, I'm going to create a separate page that links to the zine with samples, scans, and much more. In the meantime, I have plenty of great books to occupy myself with.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Gender Balance

A few months ago, a debate erupted on Amy King's blog about the issue of gender balance in litmags and canons. Without going into details (visit her blog if you want those), the debate offered two points on view:

On one hand, there were those who claimed that gender was never a consideration when they made the decision to accept a piece. All of their decisions, they said, were based on whether a piece was well-written.

On the other, people argued that there is a reason why women and other groups who have been marginalized continue to be a minority presence in the publishing world. They encouraged editors to include a wide range of voices and perspectives.
Both of these positions pose problems.

I would ask every editor who operates under the former principle to make a list of favorite authors. Chances are, the majority, if not all, are going to be men. I would then ask them to do the math regarding the background of their contributors. Chances are, the majority will be men. I'm not sure if this represents some sort of unconscious bias, but it certainly shows how patriarchal the world of literature has been and continues to be.

I would ask the editors who prescribe to the latter principle how they take issues like gender or cultural background into consideration. My most pressing question would be, how do you decide when a work represents a particular group? I find it problematic to say that because the author is a woman, then her work is inherently feminine.

Obviously, there is no easy solution to this problem. We can't simply start publishing at a 50/50 rate between men and women and say, "There! Problem solved! (though it would be a start)" To think so reduces this issue to a matter of statistics, which it is not. It is a matter of representation and diversity of voices.

Also, Amy King gave an interview about this subject recently. Read it here (go to August 19).