Thursday, July 28, 2011

Happy Birthday!

John Ashbery is 84 today.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Found Poetry Review

Were there ever a poetry magazine dedicated to my way of operating, this is it. I've yet to even read anything from its current, first issue, but their submission guidelines begin with this:

"Give us your poems made up of lines from newspaper articles, instruction booklets, dictionaries, toothpaste boxes, biographies, Craigslist posts, speeches, other poems and any other text-based source. Only found poems will be considered for publication; original poems, regardless of quality, will not be accepted."

What's great is that they have an entire list of writing prompts for those of us who've never done this, or a need a new source.

See for yourself here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

3by3by3 Poem

Honest Seekers In

The incestuous trains
of politicians, the relentless
pitchfork outside the gates.

Newspapers admitted they
had no information. The public
took comfort in bars, in mourning,

until earthquake, tsunami, and
nuclear meltdown, until dignity
chanted its name.,0,243061.story


The above poem was written using the language from the first three paragraphs of the linked news stories above. Lance Newman, a poet I am completely unfamiliar with, runs this operation over at his blog.

Read, participate, submit.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ashes on Saturday Afternoon

The banal machines are exposing themselves
on nearby hillocks of arrested color: why
if we are the anthropologists canopé
should this upset the autumn afternoon?

It is because you are silent. Speak, if
speech is not embarrassed by your attention
to the scenery! in languages more livid than
vomit on Sunday after wafer and prayer.

What is the poet for, if not to scream
himself into a hernia of admiration for all
paradoxical integuments: the kiss, the
bomb, cathedrals and the zeppelin anchored

to the hill of dreams? Oh be not silent
on this distressing holiday whose week
has been a chute of sand down which no
factories or castles tumbled: only my

petulant two-fisted heart. You, dear poet,
who addressed yourself to flowers, Electra,
and photographs on less painful occasions,
must save me from the void's eternal noise.

Friday, July 15, 2011

More of Yesterday

Maybe it wasn't clear from yesterday's post, but I like Conceptual Poetry. I like how inventive and uninhibited it can be. What I have trouble with is the notion that the framework is better than the product. For all of its ingenuity, it seems the only thing it can't do is produce a book worth reading.

Of course, I'm kidding. Kind of. I can think of plenty of books that would be classified as Conceptual Poetry that are thoroughly enjoyable reads. I'm highlighting this point because it's not the first time I've seen someone from the inside of Conceptual Poetry claim that the work is inherently inferior to the idea. If one takes serious Goldsmith's claim that one doesn't have to read these books (and that even if you wanted to, you can't), why produce them?

Let me change the subject for a moment. When you go see a movie you want it to be successful at whatever it's setting out to achieve. In spite of that hope, we all have any number of experiences where we felt the idea of the film was better than its execution. This doesn't make them bad by default, but we generally don't bandy them around as these important, cutting edge works.

There are any number of reasons why that analogy isn't applicable to the situation in poetry, but the most relevant is that these books aren't the poetic equivalent of a Hollywood action movie. They are pushing issues of ownership to the foreground, they are asking the readers consider the limit of poetry. I'm just convinced it's possible to do so while producing a book that even Kenneth Goldsmith would want to read.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Original Thief

There's an interview with Kenneth Goldsmith called "Against Expression" up at The Academy of American Poets. It is all here.

His opening response to the question, "How would you explain conceptual poetry to a younger audience unfamiliar with the tenets of conceptual art?" sets the stage for things:

"The best thing about conceptual poetry is that it doesn’t need to be read. You don’t have to read it. As a matter of fact, you can write books, and you don’t even have to read them. My books, for example, are unreadable."

Long have critics and poets talked about the uselessness of poetry, but this is different. This is the first instance of a writer I can remember proclaiming that not only do his books not need to be read, those who wish to will be physically incapable of doing so. It's an interesting form of marketing.

Above content, style, or even the writing itself, Goldsmith foregrounds, unsurprisingly, the concept. What's important is how it's framed. Accordingly, the books Goldsmith has written consist of all of his bodily movements in a short period of time, a year's worth of weather reports, and every word he spoke within a week. He explains further, "It's not about inventing anything new; it's about finding things that exist and reframing them and representing them as original texts."

As great a conversation starter as this interview is, Goldsmith does get some things wrong. For example, "...we've never had the concept of lifting something that you didn't write and moving it over five inches, saying that it's yours, and claiming that it's a newly authored text," is simply not true. John Giorno, for example, added line breaks to the constitution and called it his poem back in 1964.

There's also the tension between his admission that this is not about doing anything new and his claim that this has never been done before. Theft, as a compositional tool, is as old as poetry itself. What's new is how prevalent and how willing we are to flaunt it.

This is sure to raise the ire of many (and it does, across the spectrum, as Goldsmith notes). Whatever your reaction, he is touching on important questions. Who owns the words they write? Can found objects be claimed as originals? What are the limits of what is called poetry?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wave Your Thumbs, Sing a Jingle About the Stars

Michael Dirda has an essay over at book forum about the negative impact of bestseller lists. He suggests limiting the number of times an author can appear on the list: once. This, he argues, would allow other authors, whom can't compete with literary franchises like Tom Clancy and John Grisham, to still get exposure and introduce the general reading populace to a wider range of books.

It's a good suggestion, but one that isn't likely to happen. Our entire culture of reviews and marketing is based on numbers. Still, I'd like to see things go even further: remove the grading scales from reviews.

In book culture, this isn't too much of a problem. The NY Times has assigns no grades to their reviews. One of my favorite online magazines for poetry, Coldfront, however, does. We see this more in film and music. I can't think of a single venue that doesn't rate an album or movie with stars, numbers, or letters. Aside from advertising, what good does this do?

Stars, numbers, and letters don't communicate any of the things a well written review do, but how often does someone see a movie because of how many thumbs Ebert pointed at the sky or buy and album because it got a 9.0 on Pitchfork? These numbers reflect, more than anything, the editorial bias these venues operate under.

There's also the problem of expectations. If a trusted critic praises something, it sets your expectations somewhere. This is true regardless of the presence of numbers, but at least, were they to disappear, the expectations would be based on the content of a review and not the number assigned to it.

Of course, like Dirda's suggestion, this will never happen. The larger institutions who produce reviews are integral to marketing campaigns, but how many times have critics been wrong, how often have you found your taste at odds with what the prevailing attitudes of the mainstream are?