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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

10 Poetry Books of 2011

I'd say "top ten," except I'm not sure I like that phrase - I'm constitutionally averse to "tops," "bests," or even favorites (remember the scene in Annie Hall where Alvy is making fun of the Oscars? "Greatest Facsist Dictator - Adolph Hitler!").

But I did read some books of poetry in 2011, and, um, these ones were good. I can recommend them, anyhow. In no particular order. And I'm sure I'll remember others after I post this - at which point, it will be 2012, and so, against the rules.

- Rae Armantrout, Money Shot
- Evie Shockley, the new black
- Tim Bradford, Nomads with Samsonite
- Camille Dungy, Smith Blue
- Matthew Cooperman, Still: of the earth as the ark which does not move
- Kathleen Ossip, The Cold War
- Lea Graham, Hough & Helix (&c. &c.)
- Hejinian and Harryman, The Wide Road
- Cyrus Console, The Odicy
- TinFish Retro Chaps Series

And, perhaps more to the point - my backlog: books from 2011 I have yet to read but am looking forward to:

- Memory Cards, 2010-2011, Susan M. Schultz
- Schizophrene, Bhanu Kapil
- Birds of Tifft, Jonathan Skinner
- Culture of One, Alice Notley
- Man Years, Sandra Doller
- not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them, Jenny Boully
- the volume of “collage” Drafts by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
- Pushing Water, by Charles Alexander

Happy New Year - Occupy 2012!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Do Tell . . .

Many thanks to Reb Livingston, Evie Shockley, and Tim Bradford for selecting my book Things Come On (an amneoir) as one of the best poetry books of 2011, over at No Tells. They picked a lot of great books for their lists.

Also - do check out Evie's the new black (Wesleyan 2011), Tim's Nomads with Samsonite (BlazeVox 2011), and Reb's God Damsel (No Tell Books 2010). You'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Denise Low's top 12

Thanks to former KS poet laureate (and current AWP Prez) Denise Low for including my book Things Come On in her "top 12 poetry books of 2011"!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More Lawrence, Kansas Literary History

This from a NYT article re: Ira Silverberg, new NEA literary director:

Mr. Silverberg got his first glimpse of the publishing world while still in college—enrolled not in an English literature program but in a joint six-year B.A./J.D. program offered by City College and New York Law School, which trained lawyers to work in underserved communities. But Mr. Silverberg’s career as a lawyer was short lived. At 18, over a drink at a bar on Avenue A, he met and fell in love with James Grauerholz, William S. Burrough’s longtime “manager and amanuensis.” The romance led Mr. Silverberg to drop out of school, move to Kansas and immerse himself in a world of aging beat writers.

"William was my mother-in-law when I was quite young,” said Mr. Silverberg of Burroughs.

He enrolled at the University of Kansas, cooked dinner with Mr. Grauerholz for Burroughs every night and absorbed the wisdom of Alan Ginsberg and Norman Mailer when they passed through town. At a conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road at Naropa University in Boulder, Col., Mr. Silverberg met Peter Mayer, the founder of Overlook Press. When Mr. Silverberg’s sojourn in Kansas ended in 1984 and he returned to New York, Mr. Mayer gave him a job as a file clerk, then promoted him to editorial assistant.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Review by Aaron Belz

Thanks to Aaron Belz for reviewing my book for Ron Slate's On the Seawall! (scroll way, way down the page)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I had a great time reading and visiting w/folks in Oklahoma last week. I read at Oklahoma City University on Wednesday eve. (Day of the Dead - a propos for Things Come On) and at Univ. of Tulsa on Thursday. Here is an account of the latter reading by my co-reader, Sheila Black, who read some pretty swell poems of her own - some inspired by things said by her son, who suffers from schizophrenia.

The students at Tulsa were great, too - understood Things Come On better than I do, as I've told several folks since. Great close readers. My host, Grant Jenkins, gave me a wonderful tour of Tulsa, including Ron Padgett's childhood home, the (former) Greenwood neighborhood (where an entire community was massacred), the art-deco disneyland of the Boston St. Methodist Church, and the kitch paradise of Oral Roberts.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Docupoetry and Archive Desire" in _Jacket2_

At long last, my article, "Docupoetry and Archive Desire" (in which I "discover" a new genre) is up and available for your perusal at Jacket 2. Please let me know your own thoughts - I intend the article as a conversation-starter.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Never Apologize, Never Explain

I'm really, really sorry to all the devoted followers of this blog whom I have let down over the last couple of months of craziness in the neoliberal university of excellence, but I reall have been totally swamped. There are "professional bloggers" because us amateurs are doing other things for a living.

But I'm damned and determined to keep the listings of area readings current - and I've "separated out" ones that I'm doing in other cities. As to when I'll actually write something substantive for the blog, heaven alone knows. But I do anticipate a little breathing room by January, if not before.

In the meantime, I will try to at least post a juicy quotation or two now and then, with or without citation, or gnomic utterances that are too large for Facebook.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Charlotte Pence on Things Come On

Poet, scholar, teacher Charlotte Pence wrote a wonderful review of Things Come On for her blog. Thank you, Dr. Pence!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Glad to check in to No Tell Motel before it checks out . . .

I was pleased and honored to have "Messed-Up Nature Poem" run in No Tell Motel, August 1-5, and sorry to hear that it's closing its doors in October. Many thanks to the fabulous Reb Livingston for her hard work on this unique and compelling publication over the years.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Kansas qua Oz

The early poems of Ronald Johnson have a lot of Kansas in them ("Sunflowers," "Indian Corn," "Quivera," "Of Circumstance, Of Circum Stances," "Letters to Walt Whitman") - they are post-Pound, Olson-influenced collages including some history (including Indigenous) and lots of geographical specificity. That part will die away later.

But the allusions to Kansas do not. It becomes a Kansas of the mind - as tho it and Oz were reversable. St. Jacob's Well, a natural spring near his hometown of Ashland, that was a beacon to travelers across the semi-arid western Kansas plain, becomes a mythical place for him -- as does Big Basin, a mile-wide hydrologic depression of the earth that becomes the caldera of a volcano in ARK 47. "The country was round, as if/ a man should imagine himself in a bowl, & could see sky/ at its edge" ("Quivera").

But the upshot is that Kansas really was El Dorado, tho Coronado didn't get it. For Johnson, however, there is always the compulsion to transmute the physical into metaphysical, via language:

'between a microscopic & a telescopic

the twigged, brancy writing

of frost, spider & galactic cluster. That the syllables!

-- rock & flower & animal
alike --
among the words,

make Order.   ("Four Orphic Poems")

Or, the "common Kansas/ sunflower - / Helianthus,/ . . . it wheels like/ skies of a shaggy, & many-headed,/ sun" - which it does do and is like (Johnson's sunflower is so much more eloquent than Ginsberg's). "Mayse, my mother's/ family name/ & had it crest, Maize" later links to the Kanza, those "growers of maize" whose "crest was a human hand// & in the palm of it/ an eye:" (end of poem - "Of Circumstance"). Maybe it's that history and imagination, making and seeing are one for him:

But are these landscapes to be imagined,
or an actual
Kansas - the eternal, earthy, prosaic core of us?

. . .

All is Oz.
the dusty cottonwoods, by the creek
rustle an Emerald City.

And the mystic, immemorial city

is rooted in earth.

All is Oz & inextricable,

bound up in the unquenchable flames of double suns.

("Letters to Walt Whitman")

Friday, July 22, 2011

Then cam four grett wodyn/ with four grett clubes all in grene// & with skwybes/ borning -

It's not surprising, mind you, that I would dig Book of the Green Man. I'm a big fan of the Green Man, for one thing. For another, it's an archival poem, bringing together bits of various books, some famous, some obscure, some quoted in context, some not. "I lust after books with a . . . rich silt of bibliography, books which lead to other books," Johnson writes in the head-note. But it's also a Romantic poem, starting out at the Wordsworths' graves, and gradually getting more Blakean on us.

It's a cycle of the seasons, "something circular." It expresses a desire to "catch/ the labyrinthine wind,/ in words - " It is a circular shamanic journey. At the same time, it's very much a poem about gardens and a rather settled English countryside (it was written during a year he and his then-lover Jonathan Williams spent walking around England); the focus on topiary in "Winter" connects J's interest in the vegetative with his architectural design in ARK, "the interweavings/ of man with earth."

Lots of psychedelic muck.

As a leaf startles out
from an undifferentiated mass of foliage,
so the word did form a leaf
A Mirage Of the Delicate Polyglot
inventing itself as cipher.

Analogical, not totally organic, in other words - I sense that Johnson is the "delicate polyglot" here. Ways of seeing. He's really into the Goethean topos of the sun inventing the eye (cf. Allison Cobb in Green-Wood). The light "merges with the eye, with a wing of a sickle-shaped horn."

He uses the word "chryselephantine." To describe the sky (!).

Aside from wanting to read him b/c "I've heard so much about you, Mr. Johnson," and b/c of the geographic connection, I also thought it would be good for me to read a poet who wrote a long poem excluding history (or trying to, anyhow) - given that my own work is so taken up with and in the historical. Yet he manages to avoid the rampant Platonism of a Duncan - spirit really is immanent here - pre-Socratic, heraklitian.

The Oak of the Maze


Lion's shin, oak-limb, tomb:
all acquire
a hundred years'

a winter's pelt - bones

that 'being
striken one against

break out
like fire

& wax greene'.

Mistletoe. Its seeds
within birds -

out of the quickening gut,
it clings to oak.

An aerial


Ivy. Springs out
of earth,
to cover it

with dark, shining leaves.

It is the mythic coat
of an oak -

made of a shining
& dark-
leaved thunder,

& the owls

of its hollows.

There are connections in these

- between an earth, sentient with moles,
& the owl's
radiant eyes -

fine as a web drawn
by spiders,

close as the grain of oak

from earth to mistletoe, ivy & lichen, to owl's-
wing, to thunder to lightning, to earth - & back.

There are many ways

to look at an oak, & one, with its
own eyes:

the blunt, burning push

of acorns

in an earth full

of movements, slight rustlings, as a passage of night-birds,

& bones

that 'being striken one against another

break out like fire

& wax greene.'

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ronald Johnson 'n' Me

One of my colleagues compares the academic summer to the weekend: up til Labor Day, it's Friday night. Then it's Saturday up til July 4 (say). Then it's Sunday, and August is Sunday Night. Time's up!

I've been trying to get people to read a book that just came out; and for the first part of the summer, was revising a manuscript I'd like to come out, too. A couple of other writing projects, a little administration, a few grad students to work with, and before you know it, your blog has languished for three weeks.

Well, it's about time I at least wrote about JUNE! One of the things occupying my time during that month was a reading group I organized to discuss the works of the American poet Ronald Johnson. RJ was born in Ashland, Kansas, and grew up there and in Topeka, where he also spent his final years. So we claim him as One of Ours - even tho he lived most of the rest of his life in New York, Colorado, and San Francisco, with interegna in other spots.

The occasion was the visit of the Canadian poet Sonnet L'Abbé, who is also a doctoral candidate in the English Dept. at the Univ. of British Columbia in Vancouver. If you don't know her poems, you should. Her recent stuff, in particular, is concerned with some of the same issues that brought her from her delightfully temperate home to the global-warming capital of North America (viz., aquí). Those issues have to do with the nature and implication of metaphors involving plant life.

Sonnet w/Ronald Johnson plaque at Ward-Meade Park, Topeka, where he used to work. 

Clearly, RJ was obsessed by our foliate friends, the plants. From Book of the Green Man to Shrubberies, they're all over the place (literally):

What the Earth Told Me

No surface is allowed to be bare,
& nothing to stand still. A man could forever study a pebble

& at last see dilations & expansions of the hills -
to pull the most slender stalk, is to jostle the stars,
& between the bearded grass
& man 'looking in the vegetable glass
of Nature', is a network of roots & suckers
fine as hairs.
I threw a stone upon a pond
& it bounded the surface, its circles interlacing

& radiating out to the most ephemeral edge.

Flint & Mica, Lichened Limestone, Shale & Sarcens, Sandstone, Soil.

I saw the wind moving on a meadow
& the meadows moving under wind
lifeting, & settling & accumulating.

Flint & Mica, Lichened Limestone,

Shale & Sarcens, Sandstone, Soil.

[from The Book of the Green Man, 1967]

If you hear Whitmanesque echoes here, you're meant to ("Letters to Walt Whitman" is well worth a read, too); this is a pastoral poem written in the English countryside - by an American.

Another occasion for the group was my desire to - finally - read Ron Johnson's work. I'd lived in his home state for 15 years w/o doing so. My net-net: Green Man is amazing. Radi Os was necessary, and it is what it is. The concrete poetry is extremely interesting. The middle section of ARK is amazing. Much of Shrubberies is extremely moving and well-wrought. Not bad, Ron.

[To Be Continued - it's late . . .]

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On the Radio

It turns out something that I "wrote" was read on the radio in Asheville, NC on Sunday. Actually, Patricia Carrigan and Barak Obama wrote most of it - but hey, I edited. Carol Novak, editor of Mad Hatters Review reads selections from that publication. It's at Asheville FM's Word Play show w/Jeff Davis (yes, southerners, that's his real name) - go down to "Stream Link" and click "Listen." The talking begins after about 6 minutes of music; "my" piece, "Dwarf Reform," comes about 34 minutes into it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

NO SOAP in BathHouse

Well, if this were an actual bathhouse, they'd probably have plenty of soap. But I'm talking about my book manuscript, No Soap, part of which is in BathHouse 8.2, alongside luminaries such as Matthew Cooperman, Francesco Levato, Rachel Zucker, et alia. I've admired BH for quite a while and am tickled to be part of it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

_Things Come On_ Reviewed in Alabama

Another review of Things Come On, this time in Alabama Writers Forum.  (I think I'm blushing.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Is Genre?

". . . I think that as soon as a genre is given a name, or once it's identified and becomes recursive or self-aware, once those things happen, it dies. . . . Encased in genre we become what's expected . . .

"We use the word [genre], I think, to refer to a certain familiarity, or pre-conceived set of expectations - something the reader brings to the text. What the writer does from there, how they manipulate those expectations, is the fun part."

- David Peak and Ben Spivey, editors of Blue Square Press, interviewed by Joyelle McSweeney at Montevidayo.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Positive Review of _Things Come On_ in The Washington Times (!)

Honest to god - check it out. When the publicist for Wesleyan told me they were reviewing it, I braced myself. But never a good idea to prejudge periodicals or people.

Martin Rubin, the reviewer, is very generous, but extremely eloquent, insightful, and specific. I am o'erwhelmed. I am very grateful for the attention, not to mention the kind words.

He does take me to task a bit (albeit politely) for the less-than-glowing portrayal of Richard M. Nixon. Fair enough. Everything in the book is working on two levels: the political/historical and the emotional/biographical. So sometimes a Nixon is more than a Nixon. "Nixon for us had always been the cancer, the cancerer," I wrote at one point. The "for us" (meaning my family) is crucial in that statement - I was pre-disposed to overdetermine him. The fact that the extent of his and his associates' malfeasance appeared during the worst period of my life did nothing to counter-act that predisposition.

The cover-up of Watergate and the cover-up of breast cancer is a much more telling analogy/homology for me than Dean's "cancer on the presidency" bit. And there's really something about Nixon's potty mouth, as revealed in the tapes, that jibes with the filth and indignity of dying from cancer in the early 70s (or before). As someone (I forget who) once put it - "he is the Id" (the RMN on the tapes, not the one in public). It's not just that he uses the F-bomb a lot, but that he uses it transitively to refer to his enemies. It was almost like someone's medula oblongata had its hand on the Button for at least a few months there.

Having said that, the Constitution's the Constitution, and I'm fer it. If you try to subvert it - whether you're using the CIA and IRS as your personal political secret police force, or you're trying to pack the Supreme Court with your cronies - I'm agin' it.

I also should say that I happen to agree with Rubin's negative assessment of much "experimental" writing, in the first paragraph - that it is stale and predictable. Which depresses me, since I like experimental writing in general - and much of it is fresh and surprising. I don't necessarily think that it's bad to innovate for the hell of it - to see what happens. If it doesn't work, move on (or maybe if it does work, move on - like Oulipo). But it's true that a lot of experimental writing isn't. It's simply hewing to a different convention than "mainstream" or "academic" or "confessional" poetry - a type of writing that I tend to find even more boring than the most precious and formulaic "experimental" work. Which is to say that familiarity breeds contempt in literature no less than other spheres of experience.

Fortunately, there are writers who are smart, know their theory, understand the ideological stakes, but who still let the radio signals through, no matter what they say. That's why god gave us revision - to give the left side of our brain something to do after the first draft.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Recently Received (or, Look How Behind I Am on My Reading!)

Aitkin, Adam. Tonto's Revenge. TinFish Retro Chaps #2.
Briante, Susan. Utopia Minus. Ahsahta.
Collis, Stephen. On the Material. Talonbooks.
Friedlander, Ben. The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes. Subpress.
Hawkey, Christian. Ventrakl. Ugly Duckling.
Johnson, Ronald. RADI OS. Flood.
-----------------. The Shrubberies. Flood.
-----------------. To Do As Adam Did. Talisman.
Lavender-Smith, Evan. From Old Notebooks. BlazeVox.
Osman, Jena. The Network. Fence.
Singer, Sean. Discography. Yale UP.

If I have omitted your book, please feel free to comp me  : )

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On Goro Takano's _With One More Step Ahead_

Now that it is officially almost summer, I'm back at it - with my first "book description" of the new season. But how to describe With One More Step Ahead, by Goro Takano? It is certainly a charmingly weird book - a novel with a bibliography, which is addressed telepathically in English to a group of girls in Hawai'i by a Japanese woman or girl named Lulu who may have senile dementia or schizophrenia or may not, but who is under restraint of some kind, who purports to be "translating" the memoir of a paraplegic man from whom the girls in Hawai'i serve as amanuenses as he composes his musical scores by moving his eyeballs this way or that. With me so far? No? Me neither. But there's never a dull moment. "Mr. Onishi," the protagonist (?), is a sensationalist TV reporter turned English grad student (not unlike Takano himself) who becomes involved with a group called the Banyan Tree Society, which promotes world harmony via sexual intercourse. As the story unfolds, it appears there is more than one Lulu and multiple Onishi's - one Lulu will look to Onishi like his ex-wife, or vice-versa, for instance. Every so often, someone - Lulu? Onishi? Takano? An unnamed omniscient narrator? says:

    "Wait a minute.
     This is a goddamn lie. This should be a goddamn illusion.
     My life should not be like this.
     This should be somebody else's life.
     Somewhere, without my permission, somebody is revising my life. Rewriting my life. Translating my life into something else. Exchanging my life with somebody else's."

A lot of "edgy" novels these days aren't. But this is novel writing that hasn't forgotten John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Alain Robbe-Grillet, et al. It's narrative as carnival - and Takano is the master of digressions within digressions and flashback within flash-forward. The novel includes legends, a story-board, an essay on Dostoyevski's The Idiot, poems, and travelogue. It is a satire, in the sense of satura lanx, full plate. The fare most often has to do with Japanese history and contemporary Japanese culture, but it's also about (post)modernity writ large - the nature of subjectivity in a digital for-profit environment.

Appropriately enough, the English prose here is peppered with instances of non-native-speaker-type usages - such as the recurrent use of "cocksure" to mean "to be very certain." Given that the author possesses a PhD in English, one suspects that these are more or less intentional, and they give the texture of the novel a strangely manic quality - like a poorly-dubbed samuai movie that turns into a psychological thriller/comedy.

OK - that's the best I can do. This book is proof positive of Croce's dictum that every work of art is a unique aesthetic phenomenon.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"It Is Finished . . ."

. . . grading, I mean - and, by extension, The Semester that Would Not Die. But better not say that too loudly (knock wood).

Those of you who have been stuck in "The Back" cupping your ears during readings at the Raven Bookstore in Lawrence will be happy to know that a new sound system is on its way. The amp is 10x more powerful than the cheapo one you've come to know and hate.

Speaking of which: please put June 16 on your calendar, when poet Sonnet L’Abbé (from Toronto via Vancouver) will be visiting our fair burg and reading aloud to us, along with local image+text artist+writer Karen Ohnesorge. If you haven't read Sonnet's stuff, you should - esp. her book Killarnoe. (I love writers who are hard to "pin down.")  If you haven't read Karen's work, you should come hear her read and then tell her to publish more of it  : )

Also don't miss Big Tent in June (Th. 23) w/ Louise Krug, reading from her hilarious & cheeky forthcoming memoir; Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg; and, of course, everyone's favorite: T. B. Announced.

In other news, just saw an orchard oriole outside my bedroom window.

The sun is finally coming out.

I can breathe.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Reviews 'n' Such

My book, Things Come On, was reviewed in the UK's Stride Magazine. I don't know that I agree that one "would need a doctorate in twentieth century American politics with a specialism [specialism?] in Watergate to really understand the text," but I can see how the allusions might be offputting or irrlevant to readers outside the U.S.  Fortunately, the reviewer concludes that "the emotional tragedy of his mother's death born out [sic] through Harrington's subtle mix of genres and language will connect with all readers."

Also, many thanks to Dennis Etzel, Jr., for the kind comments on his blog, Radius.

Yesterday was the last day of classes (seriously). So I hope to be devoting more time to the blog soon. Stay tooned. There are a number of topics upon which I wish to hold forth - I'm saving them up.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Heard a great reading by the Latino Writers Collective last night - followed by the revolutionary hip-hop stylings of Rebel Diaz. Great evening.

In other news - I noticed that Rachel Blau DuPlessis' reading at KU is now up on PennSound, thanks to Ben Cartwright. I introduced Rachel and read "Draft 105: Pilgrimage" with her (poorly, from the sound of it).

Saturday, April 30, 2011

"One More Reason to Read Out"

"As you read out, you begin to develop a reading persona, and that persona begins to influence what kinds of poems you write. It focuses you. Also, you should practice reading out because it helps you develop a range, and it helps you break from the isolationism of just you and the page. Reading out helps you begin to address your audience, your readers, as a whole, full person and as an artist - a poet, a writer - with voice and depth and personality and pluck and dramatic energy. To overstate matters, through this process you become someone."

- Kevin Rabas, Emporia, Kansas, 21 April 2011

I had a great time "reading out" at Emporia State on Earth Day/Good Friday. The students said that seeing Things Come On and hearing me talk about it had "opened a door" for them - showing them that what they write - even a book of their writing - needn't be all one form or another - or even one genre or another. So: it doesn't get any better than that. Had some other great conversations, too, e.g., about "Uncle" Walt Mason, Emporia's own newspaper poet extraordinaire.

Check out Kevin Rabas' new short-short story collection, Spider Face, from Otoliths. It's swell!

Portal del Sol published an essay of mine, on "Genre and Power." And The Rumpus closed out National Poetry Month with my poem "Out of Office Reply." Thanks, Callista! Thanks, Brian!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

S**t-fire - my poems turned up on the Academy of American Poets web site!

The Rumpus has posted the "live chat" that I had w/members of its book club. I did another one w/Ronda Miller, the blogista literaria for our local paper, at the Lawrence Journal-World blog.

Thanks to all who came to the reading at Jayhawk Ink Bookstore yesterday - great questions - made me think for a change!

Friday, March 25, 2011

I Google Myself

Sunday evening at 7 CDT, I'm doing my first "live chat" ever - for the Rumpus Book Club, with Camille Dungy and Brian Spears. Any advice about doing these things is most welcome.

I finally made it to the Academy of American Poets. Well, the web site anyway.

Do check out those other new titles from Wesleyan. I'm saying that, not just to be a team player, but b/c I've read them all, and they all really do reward one's attention - in very different ways. And I'm already looking forward to the next Notley and Gizzi -

I also made it into Ron Silliman's blog as "Other," which is what I've been all along.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hello from the Parallel Poetry Universe

I never ceased to be amazed by the way that American poets, even now, seem to live in parallel universes. This tendency is nowhere more evident than among younger poets, who bear strongly the stamp of their tutelage and who have perahps not ventured very far from it.

That's the sense I get from Weston Cutter's "Thoughts on Structure" at Plougshares blog. He bemoans (understandably, and eloquently) how many poems take the form of the "block-o-poem: left justified, without stanzas," and written in free verse. If you added "memoirsitic," "representational," and "about a page in length," this description could still go for most poems mass produced in The [Insert Place Name Here] Review.

But it also made me realize how few poems that I read are like that. Not that they're all sestinas and villanelles, but they either use stanzas (at least) or some kind of patterned form (often aleatory), are serial poems, or make use of the field of the page in some interesting way. Indeed, if Cutter were to read the poetry books (or the journal) from BlazeVOX, which just published his book of short stories, he would encounter a variety of poetic forms that do not conform to the norm he's described.

Aside from reading (immediately) the Language book and The Politics of Poetic Form, and maybe Anthony Easthope's Poetry as Discourse, I'd recommend that Weston ditch the print journals and the big-name outfits for a while and browse some of the on-line mags that Spencer Selby lists here. Look through the Small Press Distribution catalogue, which is chock full of formally inventive (as well as formally traditional) poetry. Read up on Oulipo and New Formalism both. Read books from Fence, Coffee House, TinFish, Wesleyan, Ahsahta, Coach House, or any of the many non-commercial indy presses publishing writing in innovative forms. There's a whole 'nother world out there - and your teachers may not have told you - may not have known - about it.

I know a number of younger poets who are in a kind of indeterminate, exploratory, and probably scary space - between the conventional quasi-confessional poetry they were reared on and the "post-avant" poetry that they've heard is hip. Maybe they're biding their time, like uncommitted troops waiting to see which side is likely to win a civil war. But I hope they're learning - both by trying out new forms and also by learning a little about the history, theory, and motivations behind them.

Then there is the third parallel universe, the one that Aaron Belz lives in:

Dear New York Times “Week in Review” editors, whose gesture toward our dying art (soliciting “Twitter poems” from famous poets) has not gone unnoticed,

The results of your solicitation are most emphatically not“Twitter poems” because they do not conform to Twitter’s lack of line breaks. I want you to know how careless and silly I think your solicitation of “Twitter poems” therefore is! It makes me really, really mad. One of the reasons poetry is so hard is because it requires recognition, then possibly even mastery, of formal rules. Line breaks are one of our primary means of achieving rhythm, and otherwise an essential element of poetic form. With/without them is an enormous difference. You, a big publishing empire, toy with our art this way. Have you not heard of the poor man’s lamb? Thou art the man!

Yours somewhat dramatically!

Aaron Belz

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hawai'i in Kansas

Susan M. Schultz recently visited northeast Kansas (from Kane'ohe, HI) - and gave a wonderful reading to an absorbed and appreciative crowd in Topeka. She has written some very thoughtful and generous comments about my book Things Come On, along with a terrific sketch of some people and happenings in the poetry scene hereabouts, at Tinfish Editor's Blog. Here at Blog of Myself (which is, in fact, myself) we (i.e., I) are looking forward to the publication, in book form, of another volume of her Memory Cards (whose prequel is Memory Cards and Adoption Papers).

[Please note that in this context "Cards" refers to small pieces of heavy paper and is not affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals, its owners, players, or affiliates. Though the author may be.]

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Latest in the Kanzanian Literary Scene (sort of)

Poet Dennis Etzel, Jr. interviewed me for seveneightfive magazine. Thanks, Dennis!

And former Kansas poet laureate Denise Low wrote some very generous comments re: Things Come On at her blog. Thank you, Denise!

I can't help but notice - zoot alors! - that Susan M. Schultz of Kane'ohe, Hawai'i (author of Dementia Blog; publisher of Tinfish Press) is giving a reading in Topeka, Kansas this Tuesday night. Who woulda thunk! See above for location and time.

If you haven't read her stuff, you oughta. You can get a sample at PennSound. Also, see here for part of Dementia Blog, and here for a free chapbook by her, Old Women Look Like This.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Rachel Blau DuPlessis Reading (and Lecture)

The reading last night was excellent - Rachel is not only a good reader of her own work, she is a good interpreter of her own work - both on the page and in performance. I urge you to check out her PennSound page and listen to some of the recordings. Ben Cartwright, mastermind of the Kansas Blotter Project, recorded her (and me - ! - co-performing the latest Draft, #105). Hopefully, this recording will soon be up on PennSound, along with Ben's recording of Univ. of Kansas readings by Fred Moten and Ken Irby.

I had the pleasure of introducing her - and I'll paste the text below, for the heck of it. And, as the text below indicates, there are (as of this writing) a couple more events w/Rachel in Lawrence before we bid her au revoir. Hope you can make one or both!

I would like to thank the KU Department of English for sponsoring this event, as well as the John F. Eberhardt Memorial Lecture by Prof. DuPlessis tomorrow night at 7:30 in Alderson Auditorium in the Kansas Union on the KU campus. The title of that lecture is “Reflections on the Long Poem: Autobiography of a Practice.” I would invite you to that lecture, as well as to a Q &A at 11 am tomorrow in the “Parlors,” 5th floor of the KS Union. I would like to thank the Eberhardt family for allowing us to bring Rachel to Lawrence.

Tonight we will hear some of the long poem in question, namely the multi-volume work Drafts. However, I should say that I knew Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ work as a critic a good ten years before I knew that she was writing one of the most important long poems of the post-World War II era. Like most of my grad school chums, I knew her work on H.D. and George Oppen, her articles, and her foundational study The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice (1990), but I didn’t realize that her first book, published ten years previously, was a book of poems, Wells. DuPlessis had been working on Drafts since 1986, but it wasn’t until Wesleyan University Press published Drafts 1-38, subtitled Toll, in 2001, that I began to read the poem(s) in earnest and become aware of the scope of the project. The subsequent three volumes, subtitled Pledge, Torques, and Pitch, all published by Salt Publishing, have made it clear that Drafts rivals Ezra Pound’s Cantos, H.D.’s Trilogy, and the Maximus Poems of Charles Olson in breadth, skill, and moxie.

But the content of Drafts is very different than those other poems. As my students have pointed out, it lacks the Authoritative Recounting – and persona – of Maximus. It rejects the mythic machinery of Trilogy. And it is nothing short of a left-feminist answer to the macho fascist Explaining of the Cantos. While Drafts deals with the whole of life, from the cosmological to the daily news in Philadelphia, DuPlessis’ poem is not afraid to express un-knowing, doubt, and to acknowledge the other within her poem. Indeed, despite – or maybe because of – the ethical demands that pressure every Draft, they are still drafts – provisional investigations or internal dialogues of a person who is often just as confused and terrified as any of us, but whose powers of perception and sensitivity to the nuances and phantoms of language are shared by few.

The result has been an inspiration and a permission to expand the notion of what a poem is and can do, to challenge the received boundaries between critical and creative writing, between lyric, epic, and meditative poetries. We are very fortunate to have her in our midst. Please welcome Rachel Blau DuPlessis.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Cup Runneth Over (and I don't have any paper towels)

Yeez-oo-pete - my book Things Come On is in a club! Viz., The Rumpus' poetry book club. And Camille Dungy wrote a very generous article in the mag re: why she picked it. Thanks, y'all!

I've also been interviewed about Things Come On and its "prequel" No Soap, at The Collagist/Dzanc Books blog. All will be revealed (ha ha).

And if you're in or around Lawrence, Kansas, Deb Olin Unferth and I are reading memoirs/amneoirs at The Raven Bookstore Friday eve. (March 4th) at 7.

THEN - Rachel Blau DuPlessis is coming to town - to do a reading and a lecture!

I should say that, despite the title of this blog, it is NOT going to turn into one of those obnoxious "All Self Promotion, All the Time!" sites. Once all these festivities are past, and the external review of my department, and papers are graded, and the visit by prospective grad students has happened - THEN i shall get back to posting scintillating, insightful, well-crafted mini-essays about contemporary literature and prospects for shale-oil exploration in the upper midwest, as is my wont.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


The 150th anniversary of Kansas statehood last month came and went with nary a whisper. (The same was true of the city of Kansas City, Missouri in 2000.) Why didn't the convention and tourism people or historical society or bars do more to celebrate? It may be that the word sesquicentennial has too many damn syllables. But Kansas certainly celebrated its straight-up centennial in a big style - 1K cake at the capitol - gala balls - beard-growing contest - and boo-koo centennial gimcracks. Granted, 100 has two zeroes and 150, only one. And the economy was a lot better in 1961 than now. But Kansasentrism is such a strong force here, that you'd think the state would throw whatever kind of a bash it could.

I remember the hoopla surrounding Memphis' 150th - parades, ceremonies, street signs showing the city limits at various points in history, even a commemorative envelope:

Coming, as it did, a year after the country's most prominent civil-rights leader had been assassinated in the city, some people saw the celebration as being in dreadfully bad taste. But I guess white Memphis needed a reason to feel good about itself - to assure itself that its history was something to celebrate. Maybe that's why they were willing to do it with only one zero.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Re: Re: Re: Various

Nothing like a pesky job to get in the way of your blogging. But the applications are read, the offers are out, the planning is underway, etc., so I can at least spare the time for a quicky post.


I was going to upload a photo of my mom's old apartment building on Cathedral Avenue in DC in the mid-50s, alongisde a photo of the same building that I took a couple of weeks ago. I was staying at a hotel in her old neighborhood - a hotel that she, my dad, and her roommates used to frequent as a watering-hole (the bar, that is). But "there was an error," so no dice. Suffice it to say the building is still there - ugly yellowish brick and all - and with sounds of jungle animals from the zoo as background soundtrack, per my dad's recollection from "then." One of her roommates had forgotten they didn't have air conditioning back then - of course: since they lived next to Rock Creek Park, they just opened the windows, and enjoyed the upwelling of the cool, oxygen-rich air welling up from the wooded gulch just below the building.


You will notice on the "marquee" above that Susan M. Schultz is going to be reading in the capital city of the great state of Kansas on the Ides of March. She is coming all the way from Hawoyer (as a North Carolina woman I used to know pronounced it), so you're a fool if you miss it. Check out her book Dementia Blog (Singing Horse 2008) to see why she is one of the most formally daring writers around. This event is part of Dennis Etzel, Jr.'s (KU MFA 2010) Top City reading series.


You will also notice that Rachel Blau DuPlessis is going to be in town - reading from poetry (presumably recent Drafts) as well as giving a lecture about same. Imagine if you'd had the opportunity to hear Charles Olson or Marianne Moore - and blew it off.


If you missed my reading at AWP, you can experience something similar, virtually, at Ben Cartwright's Kansas Blotter Project. Just sit in a really uncomfortable chair in a room with recirculated air, and it will be a facsimile of that experience.

This website is sort of a KanSound, as it were. Lots of good stuff - most recently Topeka phenom Cyrus Console reading from his latest, The Odicy (Omnidawn, forthcoming soon).


My report on AWP to a friend who wasn't there, via email. She asked if I enjoyed AWP.

"Did I enjoy AWP. Hmm. Total chaos - labyrinthine hotel - non-stop crowds going hither and thither at top speed across one another's path. Long cab rides required to reach off-site events. In other words, I think you would have hated the physical environment. I know I did. All the service workers seemed to be people of color (mostly women) from impoverished southern countries (mostly east Africa, if I had to guess) - probably making sub-minimum wage (despite the outrageous prices). And they were dealing with hordes of well-dressed white folks, so you can imagine what kind of mood they were in. It was a reminder of why I avoid conventions and conferences.

"However . . . It was good to see people I hadn't seen in a while and to meet people I knew only virtually (e.g., Hoa Nguyen - who read my tarot). The panel with Howe, Jonathan Skinner, Thalia Field, and Cole Swenson (on research-based poetics) was quite good. The readings were good - that's what I've figured out - go to the readings and skip the panels. Had a few people come by my book signing. I didn't hear any good gossip, but then I never seem to be around when people are dishing. Prob'bly just as well."

Mark Nowak gave a great talk on a panel on political/social poetics - after some rather blustery oratory by some of the other panelists. But very very brief - unlike the others, he stayed on schedule. He's an organizer, in other words.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Meshugas Av. and "Z"

I'm sure I will post something about the AWP in the coming days, but now I'm just playing catch-up. Pretty much the craziest, most chaotic (and one of the more expensive) conferences I've ever been to. Got to read with some really cool people whose work I already knew (Elizabeth Willis, Evie Shockley, Rae Armantrout, Mark McMorris, Grant Jenkins, Cheryl Pallant), and was introduced to some really swell poets (Lea Graham, Melody Curtis, et al.).

Just before the Wesleyan reading, I watched in horror from the podium as Susan Howe, Rae A., Rosmarie Waldrop, Anne Waldman, and C.S. Giscombe came through the doors. But it went fine - I think they liked it.

And found my mom's 1950s apartment building yesterday - with screaming jungle birds in the background, just as my dad had said.

More anon.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

You Said It, CD!

Click on the comments for the January 20 post - "CD" (CDW?) wrote an amazing little essay re: mixed-genre work, why it is scary, and why there is more of it nowadays. It is far more eloquent and engaging than anything I would put up here. Dig it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Poetry's Death by a Thousand Twits

I recently read an article in The Australian by one Christopher Bantick, complaining that the internet has destroyed poetry. Good Poetry. The problem? That "just about anyone can be a poet, published at least online." Because Anyone by definiton cannot be a poet (only Good Poets recognize Good Poetry - after all, they write it), "the Muse has been kidnapped and abused."

It is undoubtedly true that never has more hackneyed and boring poetry been produced than now. But then, never has more poetry been produced before now. Some of it is fresh and interesting. There is more of that, too. If more of on-line poetry is experimental than conservative, it is b/c not so many conservative poets have availed themselves of this particular publishing technology. After all, conservatives want to conserve the old and resist the new.

But Bantick points out the flaw in his own reasoning when he writes, "Even Horace back in 65 BC was on the money when he dryly observed: 'Skilled or unskilled, we all scribble poems.' The point is that much digital poetry is just electronic scribble."

Clearly, much hand-written poetry in 65 BC was analog scribble, according to Horace. And that newfangled invention, the printing press, only made matters worse. Anyone with a printing press could produce bad mass-circulation literature - from broadside ballads to penny dreadfuls. If you have any doubt about this, I invite you to thumb through an 18th c. anthology of English verse. Page after page after page of derivative, formulaic heroic couplets. Clearly, the printing press was killing poetry (or at least its former readers). And Alex Pope was on hand to document it.

Then it was mimeographs, then photocopies, and now - ugh! - desktop publishing!

There's no way an on-line journal can have the same stringent quality controls as print journals, b/c it is on the INTERNET! And of course, all print journals publish poetry of the highest order, as we know.

The bottom line: more people are publishing poetry and reading poetry b/c of the internet. If you define poetry by its production and consumption by a cultural elite, then of course the internet is the villain.

I like print. I prefer it to reading a screen b/c it has higher image resolution. So I think it's a shame that it is falling victim to snob appeal.

Of course, the joke may be on me. The only Australian poetry I read is on-line. For all I know, "Christopher Bantick" is the satirical persona of some snikering 20-something avant-gardiste in Brooklyn.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

THINGS COME ON done come in.

Not the most photogenic person in the world am I, but you get the idea. Things Come On: (an amneoir) is now available from Wesleyan University Press. Order from the University Press of New England web site using the discount code W301, and you get 30% off - which brings the price more in line with a regular poetry book. While you are there, check out the terrific recent books by Rae Armantrout, Kamau Brathwaite, Ed Roberson, Elizabeth Willis, and Evie Shockley - all of which are available at the same discount, if I'm not mistaken.

Between being sick and having to read 150+ graduate applications, I have neglected the bloggo. I apologize to my thousands of fans. Ha ha.

Really, what I was going to say about mixed-genre work and elegy isn't very profound, and inadvertently got way more build-up than it's worth, simply b/c I haven't been blogging.

It's just this: that there seems to be a lot of it. Or rather, that a lot of work that mixes, defies, or invents genres seems to be in an elegiac or eulogistic vein. The book above being an example, but also:
- Kristin Prevallet, I, Afterlife: An Essay in Mourning Time
- Eleni Sikelianos, The Book of Jon
- Anne Carson, Vox
- Susan Howe, The Midnight
- Michael Lesy, Wisconsin Death Trip
- Mark Nowak, Coal Mountain Elementary
- Susan M. Schultz, Dementia Blog (arguably)
- Parts of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee
- Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness
- Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family
And I'm sure there are lots of other ones you could name that are not occurring to me.

Why is this? Part of it may be that contemporary writing generally is in an elegiac mode, in the broadest sense: it conveys a sense of lostness, belatedness, etc. When I read a longer Ashbery poem, I always feel like I'm reading an elegy.

But the best specific explanation I've encountered is a sentence from Prevallet's book (which I quote in the notes to mine): "If the body of the text has suffering at its root, then language will take a fragmented, torn-apart form, as if it too is suffering" (p. 50). There does seem to be something about the physicality of the text that connects with the physicality of loss - the feeling of being held together with chewing gum and baling wire. The mixed-genre text presents itself as something not-whole. This feature is certainly in keeping with Prevallet's principled refusal to impose "closure" on mourning.

Then there are scrapbooks (in the English-speaking world, esp.)- an ad hoc memorialization via physical artefacts collected in a book. The keeping of relics.

Half-baked hypotheses on somebody's blog. What do you think?