Thursday, January 28, 2010

Critique of Joyce Carol Oates' THE HOSTILE SUN

All quotes are from Joyce Carol Oates' The Hostile Sun: The Poetry Of D H Lawrence.

"[Poems] are meant to be spontaneous works, spontaneously experienced; they are not meant to give us the sense of grandeur or permanence which other poems attempt, the fallacious sense of immortality that is an extension of the poet's ego."(Oates)

Well! I thought Oates (from part of the quote Banks provided) said that there are hundreds of ways to write poems. I guess she meant hundreds of ways, all approved by her. Hypocrite.

This argument still has legs today, and it's a crock. Who says the effects of spontaneity the reader realizes in poetry, good or bad, are always from spontaneous means? Poetry is manipulation. Who cares how the effects are laboured over, or whether or not they are laboured over. All that matters is the illusion on the page. Many poets have many moments of spontaneity in their lives, but it doesn't matter if it can't be transposed to the poem. Besides, one of the many contradictions of Oates' argument in this booklet is that spontaneous production or spontaneous style in poetry is only one way to approach it. In itself, it's neither better nor worse than so-called ego-fed grandeur. Or is Kerouac better than Lowell? The spontaneous-dictating Milton, though, is slightly better than either, so, again, the either/or argument here is a non-starter.

"Ultimately, Lawrence forces us to stop judging each individual poem. ..... The experience of reading all the poems .... becomes a kind of mystical appropriation of Lawrence's life, or life itself, in which the essential sacredness of "high" and "low", "beauty" and "ugliness", "poetry" and "non-poetry" is celebrated in a magical transcendence of all rational dichotomies." (Oates) (italics in the original).

Now the first thing to emphasize in the above quote is that it's terrible writing. Not just in style, but more importantly, in definitional authority. Why "a kind of mystical appropriation"? When words of great import are thrown around -- mystical, transcendence -- it behooves the writer to not rumble and fumble with qualifiers. And what else is transcendence but magical? And, no, no reader can appropriate any other writer's feelings, let alone acquire mystical union from the pages. Also, why the quotes around high, low, beauty, etc ..? Lawrence himself frequently comments on these dichotomies, so the ironic pointing-out is condescending. Also, all dichotomies are rational. To distinguish and contrast is itself a rational act. The many redundancies and abuses of diction are not only jarring, a salient aversion, but embarassing.

But, not least, the argument is made in the quote opener -- again, still frequently intoned today -- that the reader shouldn't concentrate on individual poems, but on a gathering force of authority or thematic concern. But Oates either doesn't see the irony, or is disingenuous about the fact, that even were this the proper approach, judging a book in its totality is also automatic, natural, and .... well, to be tautological, just. Poems, individually, work or they don't. Individually, they thrill or they don't. Individually, they are lasting contributions or they're not. Yes, pre-Modernism, the long poem was not only common, but many great poets' 20- or 100-page edifices largely built their reputations. But even here, certain passages are frequently singled out while others are silently passed over. Even in Shakespeare, there're discursive, plot-focussed passages which can never be compared to the best soliloquies in Macbeth or Hamlet. To get back to Lawrence, however, the poems were largely short or shortish lyrics. Some sing, others pontificate. Only a reader enraptured by nebulous transportation would throw them all in the blender and declare the end product a pure smoothie. But Oates, as usual, contradicts herself. More on that, to this point, in a few later quotes.

Worst of all, though, still staying with the above quote, is the "Lawrence forces us". How so? If you're swept up by the force of the complete poems, then you certainly don't need to be forced. If you can discriminate, and Oates agrees with me here, then you can't be "forced" into accepting inferior work.

"Like most extraordinary men, Lawrence is concerned with directing the way his writing will be assessed." (Oates)

The opposite is the case. Contrast this with Lawrence's famous injunction to "trust the tale, not the artist."

"The ambitious are never content to leave the writing of their biographies to others, who may make mistakes." (Oates)

Didn't seem to have hurt Shakespeare. We know next to nothing of him. And who's to say a poet makes the best biographer of his or her own life? Lawrence wisely told us that each is a mystery to him- or herself, only a tiny patch in a forest of which can ever be known.

"One of the reasons why Lawrence has maddened so many people -- they sense his violent , self-defining magic, which totally excludes them and makes them irrelevant, unless they "become" Lawrence himself, on his own terms and not their own." (Oates)

Good grief, what nonsense. Many readers (one mustn't assume, and speak in absolutes, as does Oates, here) don't feel "irrelevant", they feel that Lawrence often can't get out of the way of his wondrous observations, and worse, can't resist rationally delineating his wordless transformations. Ironic, considering the import he grants "blood", the hatred he expresses for explanation. Also ironic if you note the quote I provided from R P Blackmur in my last post, where he (Blackmur) clearly and brilliantly details the function and action of art as it differs from, as well as fuses with, criticism. No, Lawrence must often wax ideological on repetitive, abstract antinomies. If his own ego (to go opposite Oates' silly conclusion in the first of her quotes in this post) could be silenced, or at least sidestepped temporarily, we'd have more masterpieces like "Piano" and less dreck like "The White Horse". But I'm not complaining -- Lawrence wrote a lot of incredible poetry -- just correcting Oates' contradictions. Oates actually recognizes this a few pages on:

"When Lawrence seems to us at his very worst -- he is stridently dogmatic, authoritative, speaking without ambiguity or mystery, stating not suggesting, as if attempting to usurp the position of the infinite (and unknowable)." (Oates)

Yes, it's not that he projects himself into the poems, but that he dominates them, which is Blackmur's point. Oates takes Blackmur to task for his "rational imagination", though she doesn't have even an elementary understanding of what Blackmur means by it. I'll repeat two quotes, together, one from Oates, one from Blackmur (through Montaigne).

"As if attempting to usurp the position of the infinite (and unknowable)."(Oates)

"Poetry "does not seduce our judgement; it ravishes and overwhelms it"." (Blackmur)

What really galls me about Oates' critique of Lawrence is the attitude -- which has now become a mania amongst Canadian and American contemporary poets -- that spiritual evolution, preferably to a high level, is synonymous with poetic worth. One need only to scan the roster of amazing poets the past 2,000 + years to realize that many, if not most, poets were spiritual fuck-ups where the gulf between crummy life and gracious benediction was wide as the sky. And what gives Oates the right to assume that those tragically fated poets (Oates specifically contrasts Lawrence with Berryman and Plath) didn't have that soaring vision, as well? Lawrence was fortunate enough, apparently, to have sporadically transcended the mind (though by many accounts, he frequently acted like a madman, and abused his wife). None of this has anything to do with his poetry, or with Oates' high evaluation of him. In my very first post on this blog, February 2008, I relayed how a friend of mine confused the role of the poet with that of the saint. Many people conflate the two. And they're free to enjoy whatever concept of poetic worthiness they want. But there are many spiritually worthy people who write junk verse. Many will name-check Ryokan or Rumi. And Jesus wasn't too shabby, either. But a river of pale enlightenment experiences from otherwise wise people have been set down for posterity. A poem is a curious thing -- is it not? -- breezily unconcerned with reasons and rules, as Blackmur so rightly noted.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More On R P Blackmur

I want to sincerely thank Chris Banks for providing me the impulse to search out a Blackmur essay I otherwise mayn't have seen, soon or ever. I never direct people to scout out/buy a particular work I'm enamoured by, but in this case I'll make an exception. Those who're following the latest Banks' attempt to silence negative criticism of his poetry -- and who're noting how his quotes keep returning to their manipulator to take large chunks out of his ass -- should sprint to their nearest library to read Blackmur's 1954 "Between the Numen and and the Moha" (interestingly, written the same year, 1954, as the Oates/Banks damned Blackmur essay "Lawrence and Expressive Form"). Everything in this thrilling and expertly-argued 20 page essay not only gives the lie to Oates' fatuous, reductionist, and outright wrongheaded Banks' extract (I, today, read the entire 60 page Oates booklet, The Hostile Sun: The Poetry of D H Lawrence, from which the extract was culled), it takes the opposite view, one much more in line with Lawrence's conception of the artist! Unbelievable! Has Banks actually read any Blackmur beyond what Oates so disastrously misunderstood?

I could go on with my own commentary, but in this case, it's best to allow Blackmur extended quotation. I'll try to keep my words to the minimum. Again, go to Table Music and check the original quote, or simply go to my previous post where I quote most of it (leaving out the most embarassing and inflammatory Oates passages towards the end). I'll be answering Oates' extended argument pro Lawrence/contra Blackmur in my next post.

Here's Blackmur. Again, this was written the same year as "Lawrence and Expressive Form". (All italics are mine).

"In religion there is the direct recognition, the immediate blow -- the shock of light. In myth the perception is mediated or enacted through behaviour. There is the substance of faith and the story of Christ. Who shall say one is not a phase of the other? Both can be creative, both destructive. Both, as we discourse on them (though not in the original experience), are theoretic forms requiring reason to persist or to be recognized afresh." (Blackmur)

This is a perfect rendering not only of literary creation to literary consideration, writer to reader, but also of spiritual transformation and its necessary theoretical or relative framework.

"[Montaigne] doubted in order to bring his mind, not to obloquy or disuse, but to responsive action: which is why his writing is today so fresh. ... [H]ere is my Montaigne .... from Book I, chapter XXXVII:"(Blackmur)

"But the true, supreme, and divine poesy is above all rules and reasons. Whoever discerns the beauty of it with assured and steady sight, he does not see it any more than the splendor of a flash of lightning. It does not seduce our judgement; it ravishes and overwhelms it. (Montaigne)

"Montaigne's words free poetry both from its own rules and from the rules of reason and give it a role superior to both: to ravish and overwhelm judgement. .... Let us say we see in this passage a claim not only tenable but necessary, a claim which asserts only what actually happens in certain reaches of great poetry where the words take fire from each other. We see the pride of imagination, which is confronted with reality, in the act of breaking down the pride of reason, which manipulates reality in a merely administrative rather than an understanding sense."(Blackmur)

"Art keeps reason on its toes, makes it jump and shift its ground, and jump again." (Blackmur)

"In the practise of criticism it is almost the other way round. In criticism it is reason .... that tells us what jumping is like. ....

Criticism keeps the sound of his footsteps live in our reading, so that we understand both the fury in the words and the words themselves." (Blackmur)

"Our reason feeds on the element, as Marianne Moore's poem calls it, of beautiful unreason underneath; and as Eliot's poem says, we know and partly know. We move because we are moved. We know there is something ineluctable about literature .... and we know there is something transitory about criticism because we feel our own attitudes are precarious and provisional." (Blackmur)

"Not the conceptual form, which is the management of intent; not the executive or technical form, which is the management of convention and detail; not the symbolic form, which is what is created and gives lasting power to literature; but the underlying form -- those movements of the soul which is the form of forms." (Blackmur)

"Between The Numen and the Moha" is the last essay in a book of R P Blackmur's essays entitled The Lion And The Honeycomb, from Harcourt, Brace and Company.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Church Is Back In Service

It's been several puff pieces since the latest "one reviewer panned my book, and the other also doesn't love everything he reads, so I'm here to misrepresent their views" post from Chris Banks. And by now, the procedure has become solidified. In the absence of nuanced criticism and specific quotations, and in the absence of a poetics with bite and contrasting clarity, the reader instead gets generalized outrage from a famous stand-in directed to critics plying their opinions 40 + years ago. But what the hey, it's always fun to rip wider holes in a fabric so rent with open space views to a wide sky that clarity partners with colour and delight. To Joyce Carol Oates' words, and how they apply to those (still) unnamed critics (aside from Z Wells and myself):

The first thing to note is that the semi-extended Oates quote is in response to a particular critic on a particular poet, Blackmur to D H Lawrence. So it's pertinent to actually deal with those people, not to play the "formalist" card as if that word itself condemned the critic by conjured association. This is a favourite trick of lazy poets and critics not disposed to analyzing poems as poems, which is to say as independent pieces subject to subjective and objective evaluation based on a wide array of emotional and rational reactions.

Banks' position (as he stands behind Oates, his voice stifled) :

"But critics, especially “New Critics” and “Formalist Critics” have not understood this: that there are many kinds of art, that there may be a dozen, a hundred ways of writing, and that no single way is perfect." (Oates/Banks)

An unhelpful generalization. I enjoy many "kinds of art", as well. Perhaps there'll be some clarity further down. Also, it's quite funny in that Blackmur harshly criticized the narrowness of the "new critics", especially as their position (as happens to any school) eventually solidified. But hey, don't let facts get in the way of crazy-glue analogies and conspiracy alerts.

"Lawrence was exasperated by, but not deeply influenced by the stupidity of his critics." (Oates/Banks)

This is rich. Oates has conveniently left out the other half of the equation. Lawrence was himself a critic and, not surprisngly, no shrinking violet when it came to assessing other novelists and poets, whether they were canonical greats or contemporaries. "Stupidity", here, is conflated with negative assessment. So far, Oates/Banks are not making a muddled case, but no case at all.

The hilarious irony is that Lawrence is just the sort of critic who would have horrified Banks if they were contemporaries. Richard Foster has said of "violently creative minds" like Lawrence, Dante, Milton, Pound, Shaw, Gide, Swift, Voltaire, that "they are never specialists, always instinctively amateurs. And their prejudices are queer, pronounced, grotesque, sometimes verging on the insane.
But these men have more perfectly 'whole' sensibilities than their contemporaries, for almost nothing relating to the human condition seems to escape them."

In other words, not your typically moderated, punch-pulling, dull, reveal-nothing "assessors" prolific in all times, and for obvious professional and ambitious reasons.

Lawrence, the critic:

On Blake: "ghastly, obscene knower" (his response to Blackmur, as well as Oates'/Banks' to that critic?)

On Richardson: "his calico purity and his underclothing excitement sweeps all before him".

On Hawthorne's The Marble Faun: "one of the most bloodless books ever written".

On Dostoyevsky: "a lily-mouthed missionary rumbling with ventral howls of derision and dementia".

On Chekhov: "a second-rate writer and a willy wet-leg".

On Proust: "too much water jelly".

On Wells (not Orson or the career limiting one): "a peevish, ashy indifference to everything, except himself, himself as the centre of the universe".

On all of Galsworthy's novels: "nauseated me up to the nose".

On Huxley: "half a man" as a writer, "a precious adolescent".

On Thomas Mann: "the man is sick, body and soul".

Now, after digesting the genteel delivery, one may wish to note that Lawrence isn't exactly going after those with the same regarded worth as .... oh, say, Banks and Tom Wayman. Is Banks, then, defending Lawrence's poetry from Blackmur, through Oates, and if so, what does the Cold Pane have to say about Lawrence's other side in this oppositional report? Is criticism ever justified? Should reviewers simply be corporate cheerleaders? Are there any personal (i.e. non-objective) motivations behind the Lawrence-Blackmur story? More on Blackmur's views of Lawrence's poetry later (though it's curious, if not surprising, that Banks, through Oates, has so little to say about it).

"it may be harder for us, reading an essay like R.P Blackmur’s “Lawrence and Expressive Form” (in Language as Gesture, 1954), to restrain our impatience."(Oates/Banks)

Careful, you wouldn't want to let impatience ruin your vaunted objectivity!

"Blackmur states that Lawrence is guilty of writing “fragmentary biography” instead of “poetry.” It would have been unthinkable to imagine that the two are not separate….? need not be separate….?"(Oates/Banks)

Now this is an incredibly oversimplified conclusion. Perhaps Oates expands on this at another point in her essay, but Banks -- typically -- is more into sound-bytes than providing the contextual inclusion, if any such exists here. So I won't say it's disingenuous. But, without any follow-up, I can only state my own reaction by what exists (and what is omitted) on the screen.

Shakespeare was the last unselfconscious poet in the English language. Even with Marlowe and Donne (beloved of the New Critics), we had the beginnings of the personal concerns of the poet, which weren't always deflected by that poet taking on a "persona". The Romantics, obviously, put the poet's reactions and concerns in the foreground. But it was Modernism, Lawrence's era, that fragmented so much of the poem through the lens of the personal, subjective angle. Of course a poem need not be separate from the poet's life or thinking. That's an incorrect reading of Blackmur's damning of Lawrence. Blackmur faulted Lawrence for fragmentation in his craft. For all the differences between Lawrence and Eliot -- writing, personality -- Eliot not only agreed with Lawrence's priority of the "moral" in art, but also, despite his disingenuous "objective corelative" nonsense, centred his poems in his own personality just as much as his blood-besotted contemporary. By the way, I think that Blackmur either didn't understand what Lawrence was trying to do, as evidenced, for example, by the commentary from Amut Chaudhuri where "Lawrence identifies monoliths -- cathedrals, museums, the Colosseum -- with centrality, power, even Western domination" to oppose Blackmur's "Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton for example remain monuments (not ruins) of the imagination", or he (Blackmur) understood Lawrence's procedure and frankly opposed it. Yes, opposed it. And that segues into the next byte.

"And what does “poetry,” that elusive term, somehow punitive term, mean to Blackmur? If we read farther we see that his definition of ‘poetry’ is simply his expectation of what poetry must be, based on the poets he has evidently read, and judged worthy of the title of “poet.” One needs the “structures of art,” which are put there by something Blackmur calls a “rational imagination.” All this suggests that the critic is in control of what is rational, and if one investigates far enough he learns that this critic is unhappy because Lawrence the “craftsman” did not often enough silence Lawrence the demon of “personal outburst.”(Oates/Banks)

Remember, Lawrence called the marginally effective Blake "an obscene knower". That's Blake the poet, not Blake the Swedenborgian annotator. Reason is good. So is emotion. Why put knives in the feeble hands of opposing strawpersonhoods and ask them to slash it out? Emotion has to be informed by reason in poetry, otherwise it's bathos, and insufferable; reason has to be informed by imaginative impulse, even imaginative and emotional direction, otherwise the poetry's pallid and ... well, prosy. Also, remember that Lawrence's idee fixe ( ironically, he liked to use the term as a pejorative for people fucked up by being too much in their heads) was that blood trumped mind, and that the two were fundamentally split, deeply antagonistic to each's power. One can love Lawrence's poetry and ideas, as I do, and still reject this notion, as have many reasonable people the past 80 years. Robert Bly, a critic I have grave reservations about on quite a few points, nevertheless made a wise call when he said that many poets compromised their chance for a lasting readership by being weak in one of those two central areas. He further pointed out that some, through tough self-criticism, overcame that imbalance. Neruda learned to include complexities of thought into his poetry (though we still have the Communist poetic agitprop), and Frost learned to unfreeze his heart. I don't see anything wrong with Blackmur criticizing Lawrence's (at times) simplistic polar obsessions.

Emotion has to be convincing on a transcendental, or at least worthy, level to the reader to not only be taken seriously, but to point to areas of thought and emotion beyond its personal hermetic themes and moods. I happen to love the much more personal poetry of later Lowell, as well as much of the now largely discredited Anne Sexton and the always polarizing Sylvia Plath. How does Banks' "argument" respond to those blunt facts? If emotion, if personal involvement and fractured biography in themselves made for good poetry, surely there are millions of unpublished diarists of the troubled and sensitive tear-stained locked-floral-folder-in-a-moonlit-escritoire that should be read and lauded. But it's easy for Banks, through unknowing proxies, to speak in incorrect vagaries. Where's his developed poetics?

There's another point, an important one, to be made here. I earlier stated that Blackmur -- one of two possibilities -- perhaps knew what Lawrence was up to and dismissed it. Opposed it. And there's nothing wrong with that. Does Banks enjoy postmodernist poetry? I still haven't read any blurbs on his blog to support that assumption. The lyric seems to be his stock in trade. And there's nothing wrong with that. I happen to laud the lyric ahead of any and all other modes, as well. But unless he starts applauding, honestly, the work of such diverse poets as McCaffery and Bukowski, he's being disingenuous. Because what, after all, is Banks' point, other than we should read all poets in respectful realization of their own "intentions", whatever the hell that means? What then? Is everyone then equal? Or does a reader have the right, the natural predilection, to not only prefer one poet over another, for clearly articulated reasons or even for a sure sense of emotional aversion or pleasure, but to honour that poet ahead of another? Does Banks take all reviewers and readers of poetry for fools for making aesthetic arguments and personal preferences?

Here's an opposing view to Blackmur's from Diana Trilling. I can hold both views in my mind as being worthy. But then I'm not the doctrinaire one in this "debate".

"The value for Lawrence of a created work lay not in its lastingness or in its conformity to esthetic standard but in its rightness at the moment and for its creator, in its usefulness as a form of personal communication" (D Trilling).

Blackmur is not always my cup of tea. I agree with Alfred Kazin who noted that Blackmur possessed a serious intellectual engagement with what he read, but who nevertheless couldn't or wouldn't see the human being behind the words. But I also disagree with how that view is often used as a way to discredit the reviewer wholesale. One doesn't need to love a poet to be able to laud her or him; conversely, one doesn't need to despise a poet to trash his or her work. And of course, in most cases a reviewer has no affiliation either way with the poet whose work is under consideration. Blackmur the person? I probably wouldn't have enjoyed a beer or three with him. Blackmur the critic? Only an oversensitive fool would discredit his finely-tuned involvement with what he closely read. Would that all reviewers, even reviewers of poet-friends, read books under review with such attention.

Just as Blackmur is not the be-all, the end note in so-called "formalist" criticism (and as previously mentioned, one should read his later work to see how these easy and inaccurate labels are used as a lazy crutch rather than as anything substantively damning), no critic or reviewer holds all the answers. There will always be a fresh angle to explore in any worthy poet because each reviewer approaches his or her reading with innate biases and preferences, and because excellent poetry is an inexhaustible treasure. There's nothing to be ashamed about in that realization. In fact it should be celebrated. Vive le (la?) difference! It's part of the human condition.

"What do you do with such people?"(Oates/Banks)

Laurel them with odes?

Oh, and P.S., though I haven't read any of her novels, I quite enjoy Oates' poetry.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dave Smith's FATE'S KITE

91 thirteen-liners comprise American poet Dave Smith's 1995 Fate's Kite, his (to its release) 15th (!) collection in 25 years. Now, this last fact, combined with Smith's position as English prof at Louisiana State U, gives long pause for concern. The publish-or-perish necessity, if not an outright marketing ploy to cover inferior verse by throwing up on the wall and hoping something sticks, is often at least a forced competition with other academic poets jockeying for the inner rail. But I'd read some intelligent poetics from Smith before, and was intrigued by how that translated to his own poetry.

Fate's Kite is a delight, a meditation on a life from toddlerhood to tottering old timer. The ordering could easily have become monotonous in tone and style, a cumbersome thematic exercise, but Smith's lines are authoritative yet graceful, mixing an elegance for language and sound with an unflinching appraisal of personal experience.

The opening to "Viking Scribbles", the 6th poem in the 7 poem sequence entitled "A Gift for Seamus": "August. I watch the shipyard lights walk water/to Craney Island. My Dad's dead. Do spirits/walk like fireflies threading life in the weed-tips,".

From "Otter Like a Muse": "Lithe as an otter, body of gold smoke".

From "Compost Pile": "what to do/with the dead dog that outweighs my old wife".

From "Nine Ball": "My anger's long for the room of broken chairs in rows,/spittoons with death's brown beauty breeding its glue".

From "Doctor's Office": "There's never anything good to read is there?/Only plenty of the dated stuff, like deaths,/the usual missing page of Field and Stream,/ ... last year's Time's Man of the Year,/the crisis still unsolved".

Well, there're plenty of good lines, and entire poems, to read from Smith's slant.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I'd previously wondered aloud what happens to a poet's work which is already nostalgic at a less-than-advanced age. 8-18 years after that defining Selected volume, Don Coles' Forests Of The Medieval World answers that. Nostalgia, to no surprise, still permeates. But it's informed with greater complexity, with a much more interesting ambiguous play between memory and reality, illusion and truth, impression and worth. The extended "Night Game" is a fearlessly honest experience/reminiscence on past action and interpretation. The original dismissal of his father's seemingly idiotic concentration "to the /Death" with the hockey game morphs into his observation of a baseball coach at a kids' softball game, and the realization that the coach did him a huge favour when they were schoolkids. Further complicating the remembrance is the speaker's wise perception that the coach might conclude, after reading the former's thoughts, that "no, this isn't how it is".

"Remembering Henty" is similar in that it both revels in and doubts the remembered absorption of a boy reading adventure yarns. Perhaps the joys are increased by nostalgia (they were never that intense), perhaps our concept of joy itself is inevitably debased, but those joys led to today's reality, however bemusing they may now appear. The final dark parallel is also profound.

"Untitled" is a rarity, and there should be many more poems (from other poets) of tentative enlightenment, dwarfing the plethora of mild "epiphany" anecdotes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Olympic Games Multiple Orgasms Have Begun

I just finished listening to a sports talk radio station, that media bastion of reasoned, subdued, articulate public discussion and debate. (I wanted an update on the Burrows-Auger hockey scandal.) Team 1040 close by in Vancouver was the choice. I believe it's 24 hour sports comment and talk, its market-driven necessity only going to prove that the world -- reminiscent of what a comic once said about the "Earnest Goes To .... " movie series -- is going to h e double-hockey sticks in a zamboni. Dave Pratt and Don Taylor were/are the frenzied pom-pom wavers. (Don Taylor had a good, funny sports shtick 30 years ago, but unfortunately he repeated himself early, and every sportscast he's been on in every TV market the past 29 + years has been a sleepwalking copycat production.)

These are editorials, not voiced to any specific call-in listener:

Dave Pratt: "Take your politics and stow it. Whether you're extreme right-wing or extreme left-wing, you have one responsibility and that's to get behind the Olympic games."

Don Taylor: " Whatever your cause, do you think whining about your special interests is going to make people sympathetic to your cause? Grow up."

To host #1: As a citizen with the same rights as any other citizen, I thought my one responsibility was to be true to my beliefs, and from there, to publicly (if I so chose) voice my feelings about whatever the hell I want, including the overfed, nauseatingly hyped, cynically lied-about overbudgeting of the Olympics. It seems your one wish (sorry, "responsibility") is to tell everyone with a different opinion than yours to shut up.

To host #2: It doesn't matter. Not many are sympathetic to causes anyway that aren't part of the majority's cultural desires. Not many like the squeaky wheel, but if there's going to be any change in the conversational paradigm, the one-sided, mindless Olympic boosting ("look at the state of the media consoles, and how much money they're putting into it! Everything's going high-definition and the technology .. everything's digital! People are coming here to have fun!", to replay just a few of the comments from these two), other voices need to be heard. And, hey! what's the problem, a few disenfranchised souls will get minimum wage jobs for a month! Go, Canucks!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Does This Need Further Comment?

From Ron Silliman's pen, today:

"I can remember the days when newspapers had if not great writers, at least good ones with some clue as to style."

OK, I'll go against the header with a brief note: I suppose the defense here would be that he's simply jotting down "text" in a hurry. He's a busy blogger, obviously. But so are newspaper writers. In fact, they have deadlines more fraught with tension than is the norm with Silliman's project.

Need more?

"Even when a single writer could dominate a single market – the way Herb Caen did San Francisco in the 1950s & ‘60s – costs were kept down by the knowledge that Herb Caen’s three-dot style might fly in SF, but it would be too esoteric even in nearby Modesto, while he would come across as pure country bumpkin – the Sacamenna Kid, as he would have put it – in a burg like New York."

I still can't attribute the quote to the right source, but "a poet should be able to write prose at least as well as a professional prose stylist" (paraphrasing) comes to mind.

David O'Meara's STORM STILL

Wonderful! And a first book (1999). I'm eager to read his follow-ups.

(From "December, 6 A.M."): "floats/inside this airy hour like smoke inside/a bottle." I submit that only a major talent could have composed those words. Roll "airy hour" around, out loud, very slowly, then note how perfect and transforming "smoke inside/a bottle" becomes. This is when that pedantic ruler-wrapping insistence on "meaning" becomes a stale mantra. Yeah, there's meaning there, but poetry is a sensuous art. The chief meaning is in its sound and rhythm, or, to put it more forcefully, meaning, if any, and if lasting, can only come out of its sound.

I previously mentioned my admiration for O'Meara's "Postcard From Camus" sonnet. Rereading it in this collection increased my pleasure. Camus as Meursault. Yes, stay inside, the pen IS mightier than the sword. Certainly healthier. It's not often I encounter a highly intellectual laugh-out-loud poem.

There are many other strong poems here. I don't have time to do them justice by a longer review right now, and many other people are a decade ahead of me in discovering his worth, anyway. But more on O"Meara when I catch up with his latest works.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Some Coles' notes. There, I said it. So sue me. Coles, here, is a poet of nostalgia. Interior concern, even obsession, drives the lyrics. In the best poems, the reader's treated to loving suggestion, as in "you moved warily/Inside your clothes, as in woods" (from "What I So Cherish"); in the worst poems, the reader has to contend with vague quasi-profundities pretending to mysterious depth, as in "Half-remembered shapes of/Former things" (from "Landslides") and "busy at night at some adult thing I do/like walking about my house/or sitting with mingled thoughts" (from "Busy At Night At Some Adult Thing"). I haven't read any later Coles, but, in the intervening quarter-century, where does nostalgia lead? Or at least in the following eight years? I have his 1993 GG-winning Forests Of The Medieval World on hand, and'll put in a few words on that volume down the pike.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Kevin Connolly's HAPPYLAND

"Lake, Ocean" is a terrific poem, a contemporary Stevensian weave on perception. "An Ecology" is another gem, and the title sequence which ends the book is an effective departure. Are there out-of-control flourishes in Happyland, indulgences that don't always translate to the reader? Yes, but don't be quick to give up after a first read or two. A lot of those seemingly jumbled, haphazard narratives make more sense -- in fact, in "Lake, Ocean" and others, achieving an autotelic authority -- than many other efforts by flat, linear, anecdotal poets.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


There's been a plethora, a veritable potpourri, of pronouncements lately on Solie's second, including James Pollock's excellent take on all three of her releases, so I'll just leave a few footnotes. "Determinism" is my favourite: the ambiguity slides into a universal problem. Something to do with abiding human nature. And "Bomb Threat Checklist" is good. (I can see where Patricia Young's "Tormenta" came from, unless it's just a coincidence.) Solie's repeated phrase-sentences can at times be irritating in their summary authority, not because of the tough tone, but from either an unearned conclusion or a filling-in-the-blank cement-load on top of fine, floating suggestion. Substantive. Inventive. More bullseyes than in Short Haul Engine.