Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Obama v. Roosevelt

The comparison is inevitable. So how does Bo stack up against FDR? Here is Daniel Schorr's analysis (Schorr was reporting during both administrations). Also, compare Bo's press conference and "internet address" to Roosevelt's inveighing against "malefactors of great wealth" and "economic royalists" (the latter includes a downloadable MP3 recording).

Poor folks trusted Roosevelt - even though his accent was kinda funny-sounding, he exuded reassurance. Not only did he "feel their pain," he gave them jobs. And he really did tax the rich and spread the wealth. People wrote him letters fully believing he would personally read them (and he did, some of them).

Nowadays, I feel like "my voice" "counts for more" on a blog than in a "letter to my elected representatives." It seems as though politicians are more afraid of this amorphous force called the "blogosphere" than they are of the rather more (statistically) tangible entity called the "elecorate." It's Growing Bigger Every Day, after all - and "blog" sounds a little like "Blob," don't you think?

Moreover ("moreover"?), I've about come to the conclusion that corporations are more sensitive to political pressure than are politicians. For the former, it's a matter of dollar and cents. For the latter, well, their dollars and cents come from the former. Yelling at a politician to change things makes about as much sense as yelling at the receptionist to give you your job back.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Rejection of Rejection Slips

Is it just my imagination, or is the Rejection Slip an institution that is going by the boards? There are journals who send them out, of course – and some of them are e-slips. With those automated submission systems, one wonders if one’s work isn’t being evaluated by a computer. But at least you get a response from the machine.

Back in The Day, I don’t recall as many editors just blowing one off. Nowadays, you can query after six months, not get any response, and then wait another year, and never receive a rejection slip. Or get an acceptance after two years – never having heard a peep in the interim! (true story)

How come the lack of rejection slips? Well, Carol Novak at Mad Hatters Review is gracious enough to explain (in paradigmatic Carol N. fashion):

“. . . we hate sending rejection emails and refuse to do so. So please -- if
you haven't heard from us within 120 days of your submission, presume
that ‘while we enjoyed your submission, it didn't suit our current
needs.’ This has got to be the dumbest, most over-used rejection letter
language both of us editors and you have had the misfortune to read.
Lots of chi-chi journals send out letters like that. We've surmised that
lots of chi-chi editors lack imagination.”

So, in some cases, it may be a rejection of the rejection slip as a genre. In other cases, it may just be that the crush of submissions are simply overwhelming, and the editors give up trying to respond to all of them. With 10-50K publishing poets in the US alone, who can blame them??

In other cases, the editors may simply be too cool to interact with the creators of work they disdain. I suspect that may have been the case with Narrativity – which prompted this hilarious and brilliant piece by Paul VanDeCarr - which they couldn't help but publish.

And thank heavens for journals like Abraham Lincoln, which promises to laugh at unsolicited submissions. That’s incredibly refreshing – like a post-dated rejection slip, first thing in the mornin’!

Anyway, I’d be interested in other people’s experiences, rejection-slip-wise, in recent years. Is the silent “Whatever” replacing the written response to submissions?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"It may be that the continuity of tradition is mere semblance. But then precisely the persistence of this semblance of persistence provides it with continuity."
- Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project, N 19,1

think about that, next time you listen to the news; the effects will be striking.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


You don't think this has anything to do with it, do you?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Obama to US: "I Feel Your Rage"

If Pres. O is so upset about the big bonuses being paid to the execs who ran A.I.G. into the ground, then why doesn't he direct the Secy. of Treasury to suspend bailout payments until either the company renegotiates the contracts or the Congress renegotiates the bailout?

Or better yet, why doesn't he finish nationalizing the m***********s, then fire the execs?

That's a rhetorical question. If you didn't think so, please please check out

Personally, I think Mr. O has taken a page from the playbook of Gentleman Bill. Clinton realized that, if people feel like they are "heard," then you can pretty much go ahead and do what you were going to do anyway - even if it manifestly screws them over - and they won't kick. I'll let the brain physiologists figure out why, but it seemed to work for Bill.

And I think Bo figures that empathizing by joining in might be just as good as emphatizing by listening. "Hey - he's outraged, just like us!" "Yeah; he gets it." Maybe. Or maybe we don't.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Langston Hughes on the Limits of Poetic Speech and the Obduracy of the Physical

Johannesburg Mines

In the Johannesburg mines
There are 240,000 natives working.

What kind of poem
Would you make out of that?

240,000 natives working
In the Johannesburg mines.


The thing I like about this short poem is that it is a poem about when poets and poetry readers might be well-advised to silently pause and suck in their breath. Is this despair? A "social sublime"? Maybe. But it would be easy, in fact, to write about the mines and other injustices (as Hughes would do, at length, in the 30s), and it would be easy to pass over in silence. But Hughes does neither; here he simply takes a snapshot of the poet at a loss - or the poet framing the image by writing a poem about not writing a poem. And that's perhaps the most eloquent thing one could say. It's what George Oppen "said," in the 1930s, in a different way.

Quotations and Destruction, Curiosity and Despair

"This discovery of the modern function of quotations, according to Benjamin . . . was born of despair . . . despair of the present and the desire to destroy it; hence their power is 'not the strength to preserve but to cleanse, to tear out of context, to destroy'"
- Hannah Arendt, introduction to Illuminations (38-39)

"The contemporary who learns from books of history to recognize how long his present misery has been in preparation . . . [learns that which] does not cause him sorrow, but arms him. Nor does such a history arise from sorrow, unlike that which Flaubert had in mind when he penned the confession: 'Few will suspect how depressed one had to be to undertake the resuscitation of Carthage.' It is pure curiosité that arises from and deepens sorrow."
- Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project, N 15, 3.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


1. It's true that you become a parody of yourself, sooner or later. If you're a writer, sooner.

2. Nothing makes poetry happen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

*Perk UP?!*

This is part of a recent e-mail to me from a PhD who is currently working as an adjunct in my department:

'This year I applied for 15 tenure-track positions in my field, of which over half were later canceled due to the present economic “crisis.” Not counting the hours I spent preparing application materials, I spent $150 on printing and postage—about 30% of one of my bi-weekly paychecks. I have also pursued work outside of academe, only to discover that my PhD is a greater liability than an asset. I am regarded with open skepticism and suspicion by prospective employers; I’ve been told time and again that I’m “overqualified,” a “flight risk.” I have even had interviews with area businesses canceled when they learned of my academic background. I am competing for these jobs against others who have professional degrees from an increasing number of smartly marketed trade schools and community colleges, and bachelor’s degrees from any one of several area universities. Simply put, there are more qualified, degree-holding people than our regional economy can afford to absorb, and having a PhD has left me way behind the competition. Short of flipping Whoppers or waving to Walmart shoppers, I have no choice but to continue in what I’m doing to earn a living. The university should be ashamed—mortified—to have so many of its teachers living at or below poverty level. It’s ironic that as KU undergraduate enrollment goes up year after year, my job prospects continue to go down. To be honest, I’ve all but given up on publishing and scraping together funds to attend big conferences. What’s the point? I’m going to “perish” anyway. Besides, I’ve got papers to grade, papers to grade, and more papers to grade.'

Thursday, March 12, 2009

CD Wright, Alessandro Portelli, Madoff, et al.

I went to hear CD Wright read Tues. night in Kansas City. I had only heard her read once before, with about 20 other people, in a “black-box” theater space in Brooklyn, with a large, young, alcohol-infused crowd. Tues. night it was in a university auditorium, complete with dais, podium, and about 50 chairs, about half of which were filled, half by over-40s. That, and CD’s rather low-key reading style, made it a very different experience – “sedate” maybe. “Well-heeled,” maybe. I know what you’re thinking – that I’m going to say “how can you be a political poet and not wear clothes from thrift stores??” So what. She read some of the prison poems – which are apparently to be re-published, sans photographs – along with more recent war poems. I asked her how her political commitments and social analysis influenced the way that she used language in lyric poems. It was a vaguely-worded question deserving of a very general answer. I was kind of hoping she’d say something about syntax, diction, tone shifts, etc.

“Shouldn’t we feel guilty, about being academics and poets?” a friend asked – meaning, during a Depression, I guess. In the 30s, it would’ve been, “How can you write about birds and love and shit, when people are out of work??” I think that’s maybe a more pointed question, one that could yield more useful answers. We do what we do. A lot of unemployed people would trade places with me in a NY minute. And there’s a very real possibility that I might join them – sooner rather than later. It’s hard to extricate the legitimate critiques of academia from the sour grapes.

Today I went to a talk by Alessandro Portelli, on steel workers in Terni, Italy, his home town. He notices a generational difference between workers who remembered the 1953 strikes there and the younger workers who instigated militant labor actions in early 2004. The older workers had a happy vanguardist narrative – they were on the cutting-edge of a better day for workers (even as they were losing the strike). For the younger workers, it’s all about survival; their slogans come from (sometimes xenophobic) soccer chants. But P. identifies what he calls the “working-class sublime” as a discourse that unites the generations. This is the notion of the industrial means of production’s (in this case, really really big machines) evoking the sublime – with the important difference that the workers see themselves as controlling this sublime – as a collective, not as individuals. He sees the possibility here for a new working-class narrative. The younger workers have the energy and anger, but not the language, that their forebears did.

A self-satisfied poetry or academy would insert triumphalist (proleptic) resolution here. But I work in an industry where the job openings are down (probably) 50% from the year before. This is the service sector – we don’t have a sublime. And then there are the Indians who are doing the jobs the Italians used to do.

I keep thinking of Cloward’s and Piven’s Poor People’s Movements. Their sad conclusion is that, when people finally start breaking things and heads (wherever they do it), they often achieve modest concessions (less than they demand) before their leaders are co-opted and their movement dies.

But even that effort takes faith, moxie, exaltation. Or sheer orneriness. Unlike the left poets of the (early) 30s, we don’t have a Shining Hope – an ideology, party, etc. – that will solve our problems. Maybe a kind of left communitarianism (perhaps preceded by collapsitarianism). Hopefully – tho it’s a hard faith to believe in.

One cannot write lyric poetry after Madoff.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spicer's "Imaginary Elegies," Students, and Wreading

I've been pleased and surprised, this year and last, by my students' positive response to Jack Spicer's "Imaginary Elegies." Granted, this is coming after the NY School folks ("they don't make a lick of sense to me"), but still. We did a group reading of I-IV today and a free-write during and after (a version of C. Bernstein's "wreading" - any genre). Here's what I came up (or down) with:

"Time does not finish a poem - I wonder what he meant by that. Why would it? Waiting on the spooks to do it for you? God has 2 eyes - one for all the things that aren't, one to searchlight all the things that are. He can see the forms, but you can't. Ha ha ha da dada dada. What camera can see everything at once? A surveillance camera, of course. The rest of us get a glimpse, but it's usually a glimpse of myself - or the object of my particular desire, not the Big Symbol. Whatever happens to the medium when the spooks are gone? He or she goes back to bein gthe poet with the thick lips, blue eyes, and elegant wardrobe. But - the birds are in flight, headed beyond the edge of the poem - we can believe them, even floow them, with our water-wings. The big things are adjuncts to our absolute temporality - real or not. That's what the moon is for and why it maddens. Twilight - the in-between - nor sun nor moon - the veil is thin and free from gods. Light is too much exposure - burns the skin. The poet replaces that?? The poet replaces the monster? Let the earth dance, instead. Unblind the dreamers. And there are Yeats' creepy old dummies at the ladder's start - back down with the shadows of the art. Keep telling yourself the sun and moon are none."

Question: the version that Spicer reads in that 1965 recording is different - and longer - than the version in Allen or Gizzi/Killian. Is that longer version published anywhere? One Night Stand? Exact Change Yearbook 1?

It's remarkable that people who can't abide Yeats like these poems.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Maggie, Aaron, and CA, that is - all of whom read last night at 6 Gallery in Lawrence. Verdict?

Kurawski - Read from novel The Bruise. Like Gertrude Stein with affect. Says things about having a body and feelings and stuff without being hokey. Terrific use of insistence and variation to propel narrative. Has haircut that, when turning her head to her left while reading (which she did) puts a curtain of hair between her and the audience. Good reading voice, tho.

Kunin - Read from novel The Mandarin. Like South Park for adults (over 30) - and funnier, b/c the writing is better. Even my partner, who doesn't go in for this sort of thing, really liked it! (Not a lot happens in The Mandarin, but that's the point, see?). Nobody fell asleep, that's fer sure. Good deadpan patter and stage persona.

Conrad - I had never heard CA Conrad read before, so I don't know what I expected. Somebody less personable, maybe. But like the others, he seems like a genuinely nice person (who in this case happens to drink crystal-infused water and walk around with semen on his forehead [occasionally]). Anyway, I liked his stuff beforehand, and like the new (very short, narrative) Frank poems were a hoot. A "high reader"; but lots of context patter at normal speaking voice.

Five stars. And some of them even like ice cream, as it turns out. Even the series organizers will at least walk into an ice cream parlor, which is awright, in my book.