I recently had an email exchange with a friend who is comprehensively knowledgeable about music and especially 20th “classical” music:
I'm tempted. But the A of F, though I admired it, never really thrilled me. That may be because I admittedly didn't have a decent version of it.
My Friend: I just got this recently. I didn't know about it for quite a while, somehow. Aimard's been hitting the 19th century rep hard, I think this is his first journey into the 18th.
Anyway, I sort of agree about A of F. It's a tougher nut than, say Goldberg Vtns. But as I've been listening to it the last two weeks, if you don't think of it as melodies and themes and variations and counterpoint (i.e., 18th century) but think of it as a "sound world" to be immersed in (like you would Berio/Boulez/Xenakis), it's gorgeous. You can do that more easily on piano, I think. (My other two recordings are organ and harpsichord.)
I like the idea here of modern music creating a “sound world,” a distinct kind of creation from what earlier modes of composing had as a goal and accomplished.
Could something similar be said for modernism in poetry?
Does modern poetry (Pound, Bunting, Zukofsky, Ashbery, and those after) create a "language world" similar to modern music (Schoenberg, Webern, Messiaen, Ligeti, Boulez, Babbit) creating a "sound world?"
I think sound world does describe the different kind of listening, a willingness to be immersed with fewer directions and clues of "what to listen for." It requires a certain kind of attentiveness. My friend called it intellectual rather than emotional, though I don't think this is quite right.
In a way, modern music reverses the way 19th century music enters the consciousness. The same may be true of the poetry of modernity and its heirs. And what is that reversal? For modern music and poetry you must first suspend your judgment, and do some kind of work--thinking, or something--be willing to be disoriented. Only after you've brought your mind to bear, do you begin to get pleasure from the work. You are plunked down in an unfamiliar world and only after you've been there a while, does it start to make sense and give pleasure. This has been the case for me with Ashbery and Boulez, both of whom I enjoy reading/listening to.
I want to say that one is not superior to the other, but there may be problems with that position.
One more stray thought. Could there have been a need that this different kind of making arose for? Was traditional melody and harmony not able to address this need? Perhaps the traditional elements of composition were possible because everyone lived in a common sound world and there was unity and agreement within that world. If that agreement disappeared, might there be a need to create a world within which the artwork could exist, as part of that artwork? What if this was the only way to have a world under certain conditions? What if some large societal change made new tools of composition necessary? And what happens when (1) society changes back, or (2) changes again?
Music that strives after accessibility rarely stirs more than the mildest interest. -Charles Wilson
History teaches us that it is the art that is tough and that resists immediate appreciation that has the best chance of enduring and returning. We must do all we can to foster it, to beg composers to pay no heed to the pressures of the music business but to listen to their own inspiration. -Charles Rosen
Here are some quotes from the late Robert Rauschenberg, some of which are applicable to poetry:
I think that in the last twenty years or so, there's been a new kind of honesty in painting where painters have been very proud of paint and have let it behave openly.
There were only five galleries in those days, and the artists really depended on each other socially, psychologically, and even critically. It’s impossible now. Business sure screwed up the art world universally.
Because life doesn’t have any other possibility, everyone can be measured by his adaptability to change.
An empty canvas is full.
I don't think any one person, whether artist or not, has been given permission by anyone to put the responsibility of the way things are on anyone else.
You begin with the possibilities of the material.
Screwing things up is a virtue. Being correct is never the point. I have an almost fanatically correct assistant, and by the time she re-spells my words and corrects my punctuation, I can’t read what I wrote. Being right can stop all the momentum of a very interesting idea.
How green is the poetry world? You could say not much since the overwhelming majority of poems do not use the full surface area of the paper upon which they are written. But you could counter this by saying that more and more poetry is showing up on the Web, thereby saving loads of paper. Certainly a calculus can be done here for someone who’s interested and is pretty good with algorithms.
What is the environmental impact of a poetry reading? Of a chapbook? Is innovative poetry inherently more green than neoformalist poetry? What about the means of production? Is on-demand publishing better for the environment than traditional publishing? Are DIY productions more environmentally friendly than poetry contests, no matter how prestigious?
These are questions and areas ripe for study. We here at the Vrzhu Research Bureau share most Americans' worries and concerns over the environment, global warming, and the need for grant money. I don’t know if the EPA has any plans, but the Bureau is considering modestly funding an initial study within the next 3 or 4 years.
In the meantime, there is one area of waste in the literary world that has so far escaped attention, an area where the need for the 3 R’s could not be clearer. That area is the literary interview.
And within literary interviews, there is no item more disposable than the question. With rare exceptions, an interview question is asked once, and once only, and then only of one person. Each year, hundreds, perhaps thousands of interview questions are used once and then discarded. What an enormous waste of time and energy, let alone raw material!
Interview answers are nearly as wasteful, but, on the whole, I suspect answers get recycled much more often. And, even if not recycled, they are reused in different context, such as quotes, or biographies, or studies, or dissertations. I doubt anyone ever has the need to quote the interview question in and of itself.
How can we conserve this [precious] resource? I believe, given the millions of questions asked in interviews over time, a small effort to recycle can be made. Some of this is already taking place. Think how often you’ve heard the question about where does a poet write, what kind of pen, et cetera. But more needs to be done.
The VRB is taking a bold step forward by planning to recycle ALL the questions asked in an interview. Ideally, if in print, the re-questions would just be indicated by number or some other designation, or perhaps not referred to specifically at all. In this case the re-answers would only be printed, with a reference to another interview from which the questions have been taken.
Depending on the ratio of Question Word Count (QWC) to Answer Word Count (AWC), this could result in a dramatic reduction of the total carbon footprint for the interview genre as a whole. For example, a ratio of 1QWC:1AWC would mean a 50% cut in the paper (and energy) used in producing the interview for readers. Eventually, a bank of questions could be established where all interviewers would be able to access previously used interview questions. The interviewer could draw questions as needed (appropriately identified by serial number) from the question-fund, and use them in a re-questioning context.
The VRB has produced a prototype sample of a Re-Question Interview to show how it might work. Note that this RQI includes the text of the original questions as they appeared in the source interview. This is for demonstration purposes only, and to familiarize readers with how the process would work. Once in production, the Re-Questions would be indicated by some referential sequencing. The whole original interview can be found in Poetry Daily’s archive, which, along with Gulf Coast, Matthew Seigel, and Bob Hicok, the VRB thanks profusely.
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Interview Test Case 1.0
RE-QUESTION: Some of your newer poems seem to be much more meditative and less "witty" than your earlier work. Also, I've been told that you are trying to turn away from this perception of you being a "funny" poet. Is this true? If so, what do you find troubling about being called a "funny" poet?
VRZHU: The same thing I find funny about a troubling poet. I think my biggest motivation for trying to shed the funny moniker is that, though I’m funny poet, no one ever laughs. Ever.
RQ: So many contemporary artists seem to scoff at the idea that art might still be able to change the world. What is the best thing a book of poems can accomplish today, in 2006? Can poems be catalysts for change in the world at large?
VRZHU: I think the best thing a book of poems could accomplish would be to broker a sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine. That would be pretty cool. That, or get published. One or the other.
RQ: This past summer, you were part of the Wave Poetry Bus Tour, traveling and reading with the likes of Joshua Beckman, Gillian Conoley, Carrie St. George Comer, and Matthew Zapruder. How do you feel about the energy of these and other young, up-and-coming poets?
VRZHU: I was part of that? I have no recollection whatsoever. I…(puts hand to forehead)…maybe we should just go on, ok?
RQ: Years ago, you used to organize poetry slams in Ann Arbor. Did slam poetry in any way affect your own work, and if so how? Do you think there is anything publishing poets could extract from the spoken word community?
VRZHU: Look at this. Slam. I slam. I. Slam. Put them together. Eyeslam. Islam. Islam. See? Get it? I personally would be happy to extract a couple benjamins from the spoken word community. I mean, think of all the money they’re saving on paper.
RQ: It seems that much of contemporary poetry is compartmentalized into cliques, groups, schools, etc. Why do you think this is? Do you see it as a good thing, a bad thing, or simply a function of the poetry business?
VRZHU: The...what? Poetry business? Cliques? What…do I…think about…what? About little compartments for poetry? That click shut? What? Like in your belly button, you mean? What?
RQ: It seems as though you are really pushing your voice forward with these new poems. Who is influencing your work at this stage of your career?
VRZHU: At this very moment, Bob Hicok. After this, who knows? Wendell Wilkie.
RQ: Your poems are often ambitious, as in, you seem to jump around in terms of subject matter while keeping a consistent narrative thread running through them. Do you find yourself ever pushing a poem too hard to get it to do what you want it to do? If this is at all possible, does it occur during the revision process?
VRZHU: Man, you have no idea. I had this poem once. Jesus. It would not f[-----]g budge. I was ready to put the electrodes on that sucker, I mean. Of course, I didn’t put electrodes on it. I’m joking, really. Ha-ha. That would cruel. Um…on the hand I’ve had poems go on to successful careers in paralegal professions and retail sales management. Does that count as ambitious? No electrodes, no sir.
RQ: Oftentimes writers will begin a piece knowing where and how it is going to end as well as having a clear goal of how they want the piece to function (in the world and/or on the page). Do you find yourself setting out to accomplish something specific when you begin to write a poem? How much do you think about your audience?
VRZHU: What is this stuff on my pants?
RQ: In 2002, you abandoned a successful die design business, one which you built from the ground up, to teach in the academy. Do you have any regrets about this decision? Was this ever a goal of yours?
VRZHU: Dye? You think it’s dye? Well, it’s…yeah, I’m regretting wearing this right now. Maybe I should get it dry cleaned.
RQ: I find it comforting to know you came on the poetry scene without any glittering degrees. How do you think this influenced the direction and velocity of your career? When did you find your work started getting the attention it deserved?
VRZHU: Gee, that’s swell that you find it comforting, because, yeah, it influenced the way my career has been accelerating toward the toilet big time. I’d be happy to get a simple, form letter of rejection instead of my poems all torn up and smelly, that would be a start. Is that what you mean by the attention it deserves?
RQ: What was the strongest physical reaction you've ever had to a poet/book of poems? What about to a reading?
VRZHU: I’m not allowed to talk about that. And that wasn’t me, it was somebody else.
RQ: To whom have you reacted this way?
VRZHU: Hey, I mean, like next question, alright already? Can we move on here?
RQ: What was it like studying in an MFA program after already having published four books of poems? How did it change your own work?
VRZHU: Do you blah blah blah blah? What was it like blah blah blah blahing? How did it blah blah blah? What *is* it with you, man? What is this? The third degree? [pauses] Hold on a moment, give me a moment. [put head between legs] Okay, okay, get a grip on yourself. [sits up] Sorry. What were you saying?
RQ: So many poets are rushing to get that first book out, spending hundreds of dollars on contests and reading fees. Do you believe this is the best way for young poets to get noticed?
RQ: What message, if any, do you have for the several thousand people who are going to graduate this year with MFAs?
VRZHU: Dear several thousand people: You are the future leaders of the world, and, together, you can set the world on fire! It’s a bold new dawn, the air is fresh, and the herring are running. Seize, catch those herring with your bare hands, laddies! But remember: catch and release. For he who releases shall himself be released. But he who guts and packs in ice shall himself be gutted and packed in ice, and then fried up with onions and butter. I say to you: remember to give back. Remember to uphold what’s good about the past, and forge what will be good about the future. For you are the future, our future, the future that awaits this still young nation, this emerald continent still in onesies. Wait, did you say MBA or MFA?
RQ: What would Bob Hicok launch from a giant sling shot?
VRZHU: Bob Hicok. [waves] Thanks, Bob!
Today, Vrzhu Bullets of Love presents an interview with Elisa Gabbert and Kathleen Rooney. They have two books of collaborative poems out, Something Really Wonderful from Dancing Girl Press, and That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness from Otoliths.
About That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness, Mark Wallace says that it’s “Just more entertaining than poems are supposed to be. And I'm not using the word 'entertaining' as some kind of sly putdown either. These poems have more human interaction going on in a couple of lines than many writers manage in a couple of books. The linguistic energy and, really, virtuosity, can be stunning. These are poems that know what people are like when they're around people.”
Elisa Gabbert holds degrees from Rice University and Emerson College. She lives in Boston and is a poetry editor of Absent. She is the author of the chapbooks Thanks for Sending the Engine (Kitchen Press, 2007) and My Fear of X (Kitchen Press, forthcoming). Her poems have been published in Colorado Review, Pleiades, Eleven Eleven, Meridian, Washington Square, LIT, Cannibal, and other journals.
Kathleen Rooney is an editor of Rose Metal Press and the author of Reading with Oprah (University of Arkansas, 2005). Her collection Oneiromance (an epithalamion) won the Gatewood Prize and is forthcoming from Switchback Books. Her essays have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Ninth Letter, and Western Humanities Review, and her poems have appeared in Quarterly West, Court Green, and Harvard Review.
Although the interview took place by email, picture us sitting in an outdoor café in the Mission district of San Francisco, on Valencia street. The weather is in the mid-60’s, no humidity, and there’s a light breeze. There’s a scent of citrus and bougainvillea in the air.
VRZHU: So. Why collaborate on writing poems? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
ELISA GABBERT: One advantage is that we get to write about things and in ways that we don't get to alone – both in the sense that we feel "allowed" to do things we wouldn't otherwise and that the process of collaboration presents different opportunities. We make room in our collaborations for wackier subjects, a sillier voice, stupider lines. The point of course is not to be stupid, but there's a freedom in the process, maybe because neither of us is wholly accountable (and because readers can't assume that the speaker in the poem is the author, since there is more than one author), and that freedom creates unexpected results. Unexpectedly good, when it works. We write pretty much every day, but we always allow ourselves to fail.
Another advantage is that it keeps us producing when we're in our own respective writing slumps. (Though I'm not sure Kathy actually has slumps.) Even when I can't seem to eke out a poem on my own, I can write with Kathy because she's doing half the work – I don't have to be brilliant all at once, I only have to write the next line to keep it going.
The disadvantages are the same as with solo writing, I think – the tendency to get into a rut, write the same poem over and over. Starting to manufacture surprise rather than really surprise each other/yourselves. I guess a potential disadvantage is to cannibalize your solo career, but I don't think either of us has experienced that.
KATHLEEN ROONEY: I think what Elisa said is pretty thorough, but briefly, to answer the "why collaborate" question, I guess that one answer, in addition to "because we are friends and it's fun" is that collaboration is really almost its own separate form, and we both had a desire to try our hand at it. We are definitely writing short pieces that mostly have line breaks, so they are, technically "poems," but it's almost as though we are writing in a separate, discrete genre with its own rules and conventions, which leads kind of nicely into your next question.
VRZHU: What ground rules, procedures or constraints did you use in your collaboration?
KATHLEEN ROONEY: One freedom that collaboration has given us thanks to its constraints is actually freedom from total freedom. Sometimes, being able to sit down and just write whatever you want can be daunting if not impossible, and having some rules or regulations—self-imposed or otherwise—to bump up against and react to can be extremely generative. Virtually every time we set out to write a poem, before we put even one word on the page (or in our case, in the email), we decide together on either an established—a villanelle, an exquisite corpse, a pantoum (which we recently tried and learned we largely suck at), a quatorzain, a beautiful outlaw, etc.—or an invented—a backwards, an inside-out, a pearl/peril, a mad lib, etc.—form. This helps us have at least some focus or direction to help rein in or coherently shape some of the wackiness/silliness that Elisa mentioned earlier.
Only very rarely do we set out to just write a poem in which we proceed with no obstacles or rules from line to line to line until we pronounce the poem "done." And even in the occasional instances where we do proceed that way, neither of us, individually, is truly "free" to write whatever or however we want; there is always the knowledge that our own line or lines will inevitably be interrupted/ subverted/sabotaged by the line or lines of the other author. But this built-in, predestined, co-authorial frustration seems to have been good for both the poems we write collaboratively, and the ones we do solo in that it has caused us to be more open to happy accidents and surprises in our writing, and it has helped liberate us from being attached to habits or phrases that we might otherwise treat as too precious. Put another way, I guess because we are always either intentionally or unintentionally killing each others' so-called darlings, collaborating has helped us behave more murderously toward our own, which has led us both in new directions.
In a way, it's like we're playing Foosball, but against each other as opposed to on the same team. One of us kicks the ball one way and the other kicks it back at another crazy angle and so on until we exhaust that round and reach some kind of goal. We score a point—it doesn't matter for who—and then we do it all again. It's very playful, but it's also very serious; we are both determined to try to make good poetry, but also to have fun doing it, and to not be afraid if we don't end up with a "winner" (to sort of confuse and beat the metaphor even further) every time.
VRZHU: Ah, thanks very much. You've already answered my next two questions. It's interesting. Elisa, you talked about the freedom (in a good way) that collaboration gives you as writer, that the other writer is a spark to get and keep you going. And Kathleen, you talked about how the collaboration also throws a frame around (restrains/contains in a good way) your writing—maybe that the collaborator takes the role (of part) of the revision process for you. It sounds like you two are a good match. So, with that, can you each tell me a little bit about y'all's book, That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness? What were you expecting when you started, and how (if they did) did your expectations change? How did the other person surprise you? And how would you describe the resulting book?
ELISA GABBERT: We didn't really set out to write a book. We just started writing to see what would happen. I think the first thing I got excited enough about to try to publish was our quatrains – we wrote pages and pages of them. Some we tried to write word by word as we'd heard Matthew Rohrer and Joshua Beckman had done, but we did better when one of us would write the first and third lines, at the same time, and then the other would complete it by writing the second and fourth. Some of these are in the book. My favorite poem we've ever written is one of these (the one that starts "Say your prayers, princess…") which we considered as a title for our chapbook.
Anyway, we just kept trying different approaches until we got bored with one and moved onto another, and eventually we realized we had enough material to put together a book, even if we only used our favorite poems, a fraction of the number we'd actually written. And by this time we'd placed a lot of the individual poems in magazines, so it didn't seem impossible. We came up with a "short" list of our favorite 60 or so poems and started playing with order. (Later, when the pub date got pushed back, we ended up adding another 30 or so newer pieces.)
I would describe the book as kind of a romp. I personally can't read our poems without cracking up, so I hope readers find them funny too. But I think there's "heart" and intellect behind them too. It's not an arc-based book—you can open to any page and just read the poem that's there. It might even be best that way. Like listening to iTunes on random. Other adjectives I'd throw at it—youthful, obsessive, nostalgic. Insane. Voluptuous. (In a way we never could be.)
KATHLEEN ROONEY: To add to the adjectives that have been tossed out there, I'd add "Tiny." One of the reasons this book is so successful (to us anyway—the reviews have yet to pour in) is because, as Elisa said, we didn't set out with any grandiose notions or master plans. We started small, and in a way, this is a book that really owns its essential tiny-ness.
We did not set out telling ourselves, "Okay, this shit is going to be major"; we were more like, "Let's do our best and see what happens." As a result of this acceptance of the value of being in some sense "minor," I think we were able, when the time came, to put together a book that adds up nicely to something unified and pleasing as a whole.
To digress a bit and talk about the title of the book, it's from the Theodor Storm poem "At the Desk," which goes, in its entirety:
I spent the entire day in official details;
And it almost pulled me down like the others:
I felt that tiny insane voluptuousness,
Getting this done, finally finishing that.
This is a book that pays a lot of attention to detail, and I think that in addition to obsessive, you could say these poems also feel a little compulsive, probably in some part due to the fact that we fire our emails back and forth in little bursts almost all day every day, usually during the working week. In the hope that our respective employers aren't reading this, I'll admit that we do a lot of our writing while we are actually "At the Desk" working our 9-to-5s. And I can't speak for Elisa here necessarily, but I think that the fun of having these poems to write on top of our day-to-day "official" work gives us a necessary feeling of "tiny insane voluptuousness" to get us through our sometimes boring gainful employment. Sometimes (a lot of times?) at office jobs, activity gets confused with productivity; you have to spend some of your eight requisite hours "looking busy" so it's satisfying to get some truly productive poetry-work done in addition to office tasks and meetings. It's a pleasant, giddy, intoxicating feeling that we hope translates to the reader.
VRZHU: Elisa, I love the idea of reading this book in shuffle mode, though I think the book also hangs together. I don’t know about you but I sometimes get a wee bit tired of the “arc, arc, arc” that seems to be the current paradigm for poetry books. Kathleen, you speak the truth about anyone who is in the “writes, but doesn’t teach” category. Or maybe it applies to writers who teach, too. I don’t know.
You’ve mentioned a little how your working together has leaked into your own writing process (being a little more merciless with your solo poems) but can say anything else about how your own process and poems have been affected? Or are the collaborative poems and your solo poems in different compartments? And has this changed how you look at putting together poems with each other, or putting together a book?
KATHLEEN ROONEY: I think that putting together this book and putting together the chapbook Something Really Wonderful were helpful to me in that Elisa has an excellent sense of order and resonance. I found (and still find) myself continually impressed by decisions she made (and makes) in terms of which poems should go next to which others and so forth. Even when we are doing something as simple as assembling submissions for literary journals or deciding on our lineup of poems to do for a reading, I learn a lot from her sensibility about what should go with what, and what will create the most pleasing grouping. Elisa, what's your secret?
ELISA GABBERT: Aw, thanks, Kath. I wish I knew the secret—I'm actually finding it extremely difficult to order my solo collection. It may be that I can more easily apply my editorial eye to the collabs because I have a little more distance on them. I think I'd do a better job ordering a stranger's collection than my own. Or ordering an anthology—like I'm really good at making mix tapes.
To reciprocate on the learning-from-each-other thing, Kathy has a knack for incorporating bizarre but all-too-true details from actual life and/or little-known facts in poems, and I like the knick-knacky, lived-in texture it lends. It's something I've tried to emulate without imitating.
Also, I've noticed that my writing process has slowed down in the past year or so. I used to write a poem pretty much in one go, and lately I tend to collect a few sticky thoughts and phrases and let them gradually coalesce into something larger and connected (in ways I didn't necessarily foresee) over a few days or weeks. I hadn't thought of this as related to collaboration until now, but maybe it is. Maybe it's partially something that's bleeding over from our line-by-line method, which has a kind of strobe effect that slows the creation of the poem. And since the poem is coming from more than one head, you don't always know what it's "about" until it's over. Same thing when you're not writing in real time.
VRZHU: Since I have you here, what are you each liking in poetry at the moment? What are your recent poetry crushes? What are the old standbys you go back to? And how about outside the world of left-margined writing, who’s stuff is exciting you these days?
ELISA GABBERT: My most recent poetry crush is Rachel Blau DuPlessis. Lately whenever I think something is going to be too "avant" for me I end up really liking it; conversely more "traditional" books have been leaving me cold – like I can evaluate the poems as good or bad but there's not much else to think about. To put it another way, if someone asks me about a book I've just read, I like to be able to put more energy into describing the form/process of the book than its success or failure, which counts but is ultimately less interesting. Some recent reads that fell into this category for me: Human Resources by Rachel Zolf, The Men by Lisa Robertson, I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone by Anna Moschovakis.
Sadly, perhaps, my own writing probably more resembles that of the dead men than the living women.
I used to read mostly novels and a little poetry, and I've flipped ratios in the past several years, but I'm usually at least trying to read a novel. Right now it's The Blood Oranges by John Hawkes, which is weird and lovely. The last great novel I read was Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison.
KATHLEEN ROONEY: My most recent and ongoing poetry crush is Kate Greenstreet. I've liked her poetry and her blog for a while now, but I've gotten to meet her at a couple of readings she's done here in Chicago, and now I am an even bigger fan than before. I'm kind of fascinated by the idea that seems to captivate the popular imagination (or some segment of it) about how Genius Artists have the tendency to be/are entitled to behave like huge, insensitive/socially inept jerks. Kate Greenstreet is living proof that a person can be a really brilliant poet and a really funny, humble, and gracious person. Of course, I know that there are lots and lots of other examples that also prove this, but I was taken by how genuine and nice she is, both when she's reading and when she isn't. She's excellent at promoting herself and her work (through touring in particular) without seeming like a sleazy self-promoter.
I also love the poetry of Carol Guess, whose latest book, a collection of prose poems called Tinderbox Lawn, Abby and I are publishing later this fall on Rose Metal Press. That's probably an obvious statement, because we wouldn't publish it if we didn't love it, but still. I'm with you in that I don't like to think that every single book of poems needs to arc, arc, arc (I like collections that are just collections of disparate, or loosely related poems), but her book is appealing to us in that each of the poems stands on its own while also working together to tell a mysterious, romantic, disturbing story.
Other contemporary poets whose books I've enjoyed lately and have kept coming back to and thinking about are Cate Marvin and Christian Hawkey. My old (which is to say, dead) stand-bys that I habitually revisit are John Berryman and Weldon Kees, among others. And Elisa and I have been translating Max Jacob lately, so we keep returning to his work.
As for prose, I can't get enough personal/lyric essays (I read Michael Ventura's "A Dance Among Ruins" a couple months ago and I can't forget it), and lately I've been on a Nelson Algren kick. I just finished his book-length essay Chicago: City on the Make and am now in the middle of his novel The Man with the Golden Arm. Algren said "Literature is made upon any occasion that a challenge is put to the legal apparatus by conscience in touch with humanity." I don't necessarily think all literature needs to challenge the "legal apparatus" as overtly as his did, but I like that he thought that, and that he embodied these values—or tried to—in everything he wrote. I like it when people do what they say, I guess.
VRZHU: Great shout-outs, Elisa and Kathleen, thanks. And, again, I’m struck by the complementarities of your work together and its influence on you: Elisa with your mad manuscripting skillz and Kathy with your bizarre-alltootrue-actual-little-known tchotchke/tapas/meze/dim sum, enrichment program for poems. Ok, here’s the penultimate question:
Would each of you fill in the blanks to the following phrase: “….to forge in the smithy of my _____ the uncreated ________ of my ______.”
ELISA GABBERT: "….to forge in the smithy of my psyche the uncreated corpus of my body."
KATHLEEN ROONEY: "….to forge in the smithy of my basement the uncreated resolution of my carbon footprint."
VRZHU: And here's the last question: If you had to have a small animal attached to your forearm, what small animal would it be?
ELISA GABBERT: WTF, I recently wrote a poem about my recurring dreams of having vicious small dogs attached to my forearms. It definitely wouldn't be a dog. I'm going to go with starfish.
Thanks so much Michael, this was fun and I learned about myself, too.
KATHLEEN ROONEY: I want to say seahorse because they are one of the coolest creatures I can think of (the males bear the young!) and they also seem small enough to make the situation you’re describing seem manageable, but that would be cruel since I do not live underwater, and the seahorse would probably “drown” in the atmosphere. So, um, butterfly.
VRZHU: And thanks and vente props to you both.
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About Otoliths: The intention is for Otoliths to appear quarterly, to contain a variety of what can be loosely described as e-things, that is, anything that can be translated (visually at this stage) to an electronic platform. If it moves, we won't shoot at it.
The publishing arm of Otoliths began as print editions of the e-zine Otoliths, but has since expanded to include books & chapbooks by authors associated with the journal. It brings out both text & visual poetry by some of the most exciting writers in the contemporary scene. For further information, contact the editor, Mark Young.
c/o Mark Young
8 Kennedy St
About dancing girl press publications:
dancing girl press, an indie publisher & art studio, was founded in 2004 to publish and promote the work of women poets and artists through chapbooks, journals, book arts projects, and anthologies. Spawned by the online zine wicked alice, dgp seeks to publish work that bridges the gaps between schools and poetic techniques--work that's fresh, innovative, and exciting. The press has published over 30 titles by emerging women poets and creates handmade limited editions of 100 or so of each title. Our books are available via our website, at select independent bookstores, and through author readings.
Also a purveyor of paper, ephemera, and vintage-inspired arts and crafts, our studio space hosts readings, discussions, and workshops related to poetics, publishing, DIY, and books arts.
editor: Kristy Bowen
production assistant: Rebecca Bowen
Since it's YouTube posting Saturday (well, okay, Sunday now I just realized), I wanted to share a video by Duffy, the Welsh singer/songwriter who's album, Rockferry, has been a huge hit in the UK and is now landing on our shores. She's Dusty Springfield with a little Lulu thrown in and a whole heapin' help of Motown and what the Brits call Northern Soul. This album has been on constant rotation at my apartment while I've been writing and editing some new work. The lush, wall-of-sound warps you back to 1965 in an instant, yet it's modern at the same time. This song is Warwick Avenue (named for one of the Underground stations in London) and this simple, elegant video is brilliant.
THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
A few weeks back we posted the idea of commemorating Spring and the iconic photograph of Edna St. Vincent Millay in a blooming tree. Seemed like a zany but noble idea to bring poets together to recreate this charming image.
A great number of poets and writers showed up both days and took their Millayesque portraits. On the fine suggestion of Kim Roberts folks brought picnic items last Saturday and a great little Spring soiree took place under treeshade.
Appropriately, Terrance Mulligan and Martha Sanchez-Lowery brought some of Millay's poems to be read aloud. Terry read Millay's poem about Spring (titled "Spring") which clearly shows the bard of Camden, Maine wasn't that crazy about the season.
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
We also passed Millay's long poem "Renascence" that got her started as a young teenaged writer. We took turns reading passages aloud under the shade of a nice pine tree adjoining the dogwood. It was an amazing afternoon.
Of course the whole purpose was to take our Ednaesque portraits and we did do that. To see the portraits and see a list of participating Ednas, please visit the Project Millay page on the main VRZHU Press site at www.vrzhu.com/edna.html
We'd love to receive feedback. Maybe we can make this an annual event. Perhaps we can start a tradition for poets to recreate around the country. Perchance the world. Any excuse for a picnic, eh?
Leave a comment for the Ednas.
The Millay Project.