Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Out on a Limb

I am going to be going out on a limb because I have a feeling those of you who have been coming over to my new blog want me to.  I am not talking about the kind of limb where  I piss off a bunch of people by ranting and raving over some new trend or some news story.  There will be plenty of that in the future.  What I am talking about when I say 'out on a limb' is simply rambling on at length.  I have a feeling a few of you want me to simply go on about writing and poetry and, as the philosophers of ancient Greece would say, "let it all hang out."  Here then is me going out on a limb, hoping that in fact, some of you are interested in me talking about everything and nothing at the same time.

First off, I would like to show you a list of the books I have received recently.  Well, I bought them but I did receive them in the mail, so let's not get technical too fast.

Swallowing the Soap  by William Kloefkorn
Come on All You Ghosts  by Matthew Zapruder
She Returns from the Floating World   by Jeannine Hall Gailey
Made Flesh  by Craig Arnold
Ghost Lights  by Keith Montesano
Persons Unkown  by Jake Adam York
Broken Sonnets  by Kathleen Kirk
The End of the West  by Michael Dickman
Flies  by Michael Dickman
Rookery  by Traci Brimhall
In the Carnival of Breathing  by Lisa Fay Coutley

I have had other books around me, but these are the ones I have been newly busy with and ones I wanted to mention/talk about.  Some have been a pleasure and some have honestly been frustrating.  What is apparent is that I am going in a different direction than a lot of poets.  Take for example Michael Dickman.  After reading a lot of The End of the West and looking into Flies, I don't know exactly what I am looking at when I see the progression (lack of) between the books.  I don't know if  it's just me, but when I read these two books I am struck with the notion that the poems from both manuscripts were selected from the same pool of poems.  I love Copper Canyon, but I get the sense that with the sensation of Michael's first book (and that of his brother being a fine poet in his own right) there was a certain amount of pressure to put together a second manuscript.  I always believed the next book and the next book after that should move the discussion forward. The only new question which arises is whether or not I have to buy Matthew's book.

I am also seeing a lot of "notes" in books.  This is by no means a criticism, but I do not understand this trend at all.  I didn't understand it when I saw it in Eleanor Rand's The Girl With Bees in her Hair, and I don't understand it in the swarm of books which I see with a "notes" section nowadays.  whatever happened to letting the poems speak for themselves?  Again, I feel like I am out of the know on this one.  Either I can get into the poems all by myself, or maybe with the help of an open discussion in a classroom, or I cannot.  I will say this: While I sometimes find notes on the poems amusing, I have yet to learn anything essential from any of them.  Is that terrible of me to say?  I just don't know.  What I do know is there is a trend towards the "notes" section in poetry books and I am walking the other way.

I will say that I am delighted with several of these books.  Kathleen Kirk's chapbook, Broken Sonnets, is a delight to read.  I really have loved reading the many variations of the sonnet and wonderfully creative subject matter/perspective her poems provide.  Jeannine Hall Gailey's book, She Returns to the Floating World gives me new energy and inspiration for the haibun, which has been a favorite form of mine for quite some time.  I also love her genius for the persona poem, deeply rooted in mythology while able to be entirely fresh.  Jake Adam York, in Persons Unknown, makes me jealous because of his ability to write a long, multi sectioned poem.  I have already expressed to him my shortcomings in certain areas  when it comes to reading his poetry, but there is something there which is waiting for me and I want to get at it as soon as I can.

Some books I am still working on.  William Kloefkorn's Swallowing the Soap is one of them.  The book, edited byTed Genoways, is a 439 page volume which spans the entire career of Kloefkorn.  It is much more than a tribute to a wonderful poet.  It is a textbook in and of itself where the genius of William Kloefkorn is put on display.  Having only six of Bill's 30+  previous books, this collection is an amazing resource for me and every time I open it, something entirely new leaps out at me.

* * *

I am really enjoying what Charlie is doing over at his blog with guest writers talking about personally important albums in all sorts of ways.  It is interesting to see how everyday people contextualize their lives by way of certain pieces of music.  There is a delightfully wide variety of selections---some quite surprising and all of interest.  I wanted to try my hand at writing an essay to send Charlie---even going so far as to narrow my selection to the Elvis Costello & the Attractions 1986 album, Blood and Chocolate.  It is in my opinion one of the all-time under-rated pop albums.  Ever.  The problem is I can't seem to get the writing down the way I want.  I keep coming off as a reviewer and I want to stick to how the album had a personal impact.  Oh well. Go have a read and see if you don't find something a little bit comforting that quality music is universal.

* * *

If you were a follower of my last blog, you know I have been trying to work past a new kind of writer's block.  I have been trying to contextualize my latest project in telling the history of my home town, and having a bear of a time trying to figure out the narrative poem.  Everywhere i looked for the narrative I found that if I tried to do what they were doing, my poetry came off as a really superficial attempt to imitate---the integrity of the poem was compromised.  I have since decided that the history of the town should be seen through my narrator's eye rather than from some objective point of view, and any "stories" told need to be through that lens or even about the narrator.  Now this narrator is going to be very similar to the narrator in my book, Town for the Trees, which is to say he is going to be much like me.  What I have to do is create him with an essential break from the real me so I can have the freedom to lie in my poems.  Yes, lie.  I need to be able to tell the stories in the most interesting way possible, and sometimes the way things really happened isn't the most interesting story to tell.  Art in many ways is contrary (no big news flash there) and one way it contradicts itself is how art sometimes presents truth by way of lying.  So hopefully you all will bear with me as I create new poems which are in one sense, lies.

* * *

I was just over at Kristen's blog, where she gave me some really good ideas for writing assignments.  As you know, summer is ending pretty quick and I am soon to getting my teacher suit on and preparing for the nest school year.  I am going to be gathering ideas like that prehistoric squirrel in Ice Age, hoping I stumble across a few I can use later on.  Be warned---any ideas you talk about or mention are fair game.  I am not too proud to steal ideas and call them my own.  Pretty soon my day will be lesson plans and syllabi. Get thee hence, Satan, get thee hence.

* * *

I think I have done enough rambling for today, so here is another poem.  I am still serious (those of you who have read this far) about you letting me know which poems of mine you think would do well at a reading.  I've got one in two weeks and I am a bit freaked out.

Good day, sir.  I said, "Good day, sir."

Grounded:  Why I am not an Astronaut

It’s the uncertainty of it all
which keeps my feet planted―
all of that imagined floating
off, hurtling into space, my body
riding the infinite arc,
the solution to a parabola
created in the fevered mind
of some high school math teacher.

I could not stand being thrown
into space, hoax or not
only to lose my grip during a walk,
converting my life into the inert mass
of a paperweight nobody can use.

Out in space there is no deus ex machina,
no dramatic music or theme.
In space, it’s all silence, all darkness.

No.  I knew I was not cut out
for that sort of thing
the day I saw my first launch.  I had turned
away at the moment of lift-off,
looked down at the green grass.
There I knelt, passing my hand
over a patch of clover
wondering when next it would rain.



  1. Thanks for your kind words, Justin!
    I'll say, on my part, I love notes sections, always have. But I'm part researcher, part archeologist, when I go digging around in mythology and literature and language, and I like to share some of that with readers. I actually enjoyed the notes on "The Waste Land" maybe even more than "The Waste Land" in college, so I could be some kind of nerd. In fact, it's very probably.
    Some editors might ask for notes, as well - I think Tom at Steel Toe asked for notes on some poems that discussed stories with which the reader might not be familiar for Becoming the Villainess.

  2. Thank you for your input. I really am trying to figure some things and I can use all the help I get.