More from the Poetry Technical Support Line.
Unfortunately, this service is not yet available in America, though with luck the research arm of Vrzhu may be entering into negotiations with this UK company. There will be a lot of bugs to iron out, such as whether British and American systems are compatible. Still, we here at Vrzhu remain hopeful that one day soon the solution to your poetry problems will be no more than 10 digit plus extension phone number away.
Well, it seems to be a month for belated congratulations here. For some time, I’ve been meaning to give a big shout out to DC’s own Sandra Beasley, for this:
The 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize has been awarded to Sandra Beasley for her manuscript Theories of Falling, which will be published in the spring of 2008. The judge was Marie Howe, author of The Good Thief and What the Living Do.
We here at Vrzhu now take a moment from our research activities to wish Sandra a thousand congratulations, and tante bella cosi.
And so Mr. Ashbery has been chosen as the Poet Laureate of MTV, or at least MtvU. My hope is that he gets to make a video with one of the Spikes (Jonze or Lee) directing, and choreographed by Rosie Perez, with Christopher Walken playing Ashbery dancing across landscapes in Indonesia, Madagascar, the Sahara, Machu Picchu, and Rochester, NY.
And it made me think that ALL networks should have their own Poet Laureates. The Lifetime Channel? Sharon Olds. The History Channel? Ezra Pound. ESPN? Pindar. And Homer gets The Military Channel and The Travel Channel.
But I guess not.
So here's a poem by John Ashbery:
What Is Poetry
The medieval town, with frieze
Of boy scouts from Nagoya? The snow
That came when we wanted it to snow?
Beautiful images? Trying to avoid
Ideas, as in this poem? But we
Go back to them as to a wife, leaving
The mistress we desire? Now they
Will have to believe it
As we believed it. In school
All the thought got combed out:
What was left was like a field.
Shut your eyes, and you can feel it for miles around.
Now open them on a thin vertical path.
It might give us--what?--some flowers soon?
Today's entry is about Jorge Luis Borges and Maureen Thorson. I'm writing "Jorge Luis Borges and Maureen Thorson" so if anyone ever googles "Jorge Luis Borges Maureen Thorson," this is where they'll end up.
Jorge Luis Borges was born 108 years ago yesterday, folks, so a belated birthday shout out to him. He was not famous, or primarily famous, for his poetry, but for his stories, or story-essays, or whatever you call them. In way he was part of the big discovery of Central and South American writers—Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Octavia Paz, Jorge Amado, and lots of others—that happened around here in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I think New Directions put out the first English version of his work, called Labyrinths, but I could be confusing my finding him and reading him with everybody always already finding out about him. I felt like I’d discovered a whole new level of writing and thinking and art when I started through that book. In a way I had. A lot of Borges’ fixations and ideas seem to have lodged permanently in our culture—I can hardly say the words library or labyrinth without thinking of him.
On a different note, a huge shout out to Washington’s own Maureen Thorson, demiurge of Big Game Books, which gets top listing in the Sept/Oct 2007 issue of Poets & Writers in their small press article. BGB is a phenomal small press: handmade books, outstanding authors. I believe Ms. Thorson attributes some of BGG's success to the fact that her books are "cute," but she's just being modest. Though they are cute, damn cute. But with good stuff inside. Maureen is also chief wrangler for NaPoWriMo, an annual [mostly] online masochistic exhibition of writing one poem a day for the month of April…the fools...the mad fools. Most don’t know, but tasteful speculation has it that Ms. Thorson is also the model for the Matt Damon (Thorson=Thorn=Bourne) character in the Bourne Identity movies. Or that she has steadfastly refused all entreaties to assume the throne of Norway. Or that every time anyone says the word ‘splendid,’ she gets a nickel. Spendid work, Maureen, keep it up (ching!)!
Okay, here’s a poem by Borges:
Jorge Luis Borges
If I could live again my life,
In the next - I'll try,
- to make more mistakes,
I won't try to be so perfect,
I'll be more relaxed,
I'll be more full - than I am now,
In fact, I'll take fewer things seriously,
I'll be less hygenic,
I'll take more risks,
I'll take more trips,
I'll watch more sunsets,
I'll climb more mountains,
I'll swim more rivers,
I'll go to more places - I've never been,
I'll eat more ice creams and less (lime) beans,
I'll have more real problems - and less imaginary
I was one of those people who live
prudent and prolific lives -
each minute of his life,
Offcourse that I had moments of joy - but,
if I could go back I'll try to have only good moments,
If you don't know - thats what life is made of,
Don't lose the now!
I was one of those who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer,
without a hot-water bottle,
and without an umberella and without a parachute,
If I could live again - I will travel light,
If I could live again - I'll try to work bare feet
at the beginning of spring till
the end of autumn,
I'll ride more carts,
I'll watch more sunrises and play with more children,
If I have the life to live - but now I am 85,
- and I know that I am dying ...
Grace Paley passed away on Wednesday. She had battled breast cancer. She was 84.
Interesting that a lot of the obits and news pieces have labeled her a short story writer but the encomiums are coming from the poets. Like Robert Pinsky who said her poems "take the materials of a life and make those materials immensely beautiful."
Paley studied with W.H. Auden and was supposedly influenced by him in style. Knowing Paley's engaged work I'm curious to have known what she thought of Auden's "poetry doesn't matter" comment. Paley for her part always remained committed to exploring the role of the poet and writer in activism.
Liane Hansen: "Are there any lines between the personal, the political for you, and the poetic?"
Grace Paley: ""I don't really think so. I don't feel any lines, let's put it that way. I mean when I set about writing I can't feel that there's any separation. Sometimes poems, of course, are very personal but, you know there's a slogan that came in with the women's movement -- that the "personal was political." It was wonderful because it was true and for me it felt very corroborating. I was grateful then that idea had happened in my lifetime so that my work could be part, in some way, of an important movement." from NPR
Paley split identities as a native New Yorker and a Vermonter, where she moved after her marriage to her second husband. She was poet laureate of both New York and Vermont. I believe this is quite a hat trick as I think she was living in Vermont when she was New York's poet laureate.
She wrote in a poetic voice that Susan Sontag described as "funny, sad, lean, modest, energetic and acute."
As for activism, Paley was involved in protesting nukes, American militarization, worked with the American Friends Service Committee, was an early member of the War Resisters League, did work to free POWs, and even did some neighborhood peace work. According to Wikipedia she was arrested as one of "The White House Eleven" for unfurling an anti-nuclear banner on the White House lawn in 1978.
Liane Hansen: "Has there ever been a time you think when your art 'foundered on the shoals of ideology?'"
Grace Paley: "No. I don't think so, because when I'm really being idealogical, I really am. I mean I don't feel like I'm trying not to be and then sinking into it. I mean if I'm going to write kind of a leaflet poem, I like to do that and come right out and say 'this is what I'm writing about.'"
Personally I remember being struck by a poem she wrote for a conference on Writing and Activism titled "Responsibility." If you click on the image to the right it'll open up larger. I loved the gendering she does in the poem with the demand the male poet be a woman and the female poets be women too. I don't even know what this means, but I love it. At its best, it speaks to the need to attempt universality in our writing. Always a daring thing in a poetry culture that rewards obtuseness.
The poem closes with the demand that the poet "be a woman to keep an eye on this world and cry out like Cassandra,
but be listened to this time."
I've always loved that last line. I remember vividly reading it the first time and finding it inspiring in that it reified the need to move beyond the inert complacency of writing and attempt to speak in some way to the world around us
I've also attached her poem Goldenrod above which was always a favorite of mine.
Some other Paley things:
New York Times obit
NPR piece on Paley
WRL Interview with Paley
A few of her poems on Poetry Foundation's site
Salon's long A.M. Holmes Interview With Paleys
Wonderful Video Interview with Grace Paley on Democracy Now!
No listing for Paley on the Academy of American Poets site. I have no idea why. Perhaps it was her choice but probably she wasn't the kind of poet they like to have on their site. Quien sabe? really. Seems like a horrible oversight on their part for a member of the National Academy of Arts and Letters and a poet laureate in two states, NEA, Lannan winner etcetera.