Thursday, July 23, 2009

STL #91: ATOP II Wrap Up: Line and Lineage

I'm going to begin by quoting a paragraph I wrote at the beginning of this second Test of Poetry, written over a year ago. In it I quote the wrap of the previous test, so some of this is three-times removed:
I've decided to undertake another "test of poetry," this time over Don Allen's seminal anthology New American Poetry 1945-1960... In worrying over whether I "passed" the last test, I noticed that in my reading practices, "I accept the [Poundian] model of melopeia, judged on criteria of suitability (sound that echoes sense), vigor, and mellifluousness; phanopeia, judged by resonance [and] freshness; and logopeia, judged by aptness, pacing, and soundness. I find that my taste responds to complicated surfaces, luminous details, competing systems (frames, registers, etc), slight shifts (when I can detect them), assonance and consonance, and reserved mystery" (STL#48). In this second test, I am seeking to deepen and enrich that framework. The anthology in question is well-suited for this purpose. The poets represented in all respond in some ways to Pound's poetics (sometimes to contest or reject it, but never in ignorance of it) and the anthology was the first to include a "poetics" section (it might mark the birth of that discipline, but that's a question for other scholars.) My question for this test is "In what terms, and by what terms, should poetry be judged?" I'll coordinate between the statements on and enactments of poetry and in each post develop some key terms of my poetics.
I didn't refer back to this during the reading project, and at times I felt adrift, picking up on random qualities to harp on. But in constructing a personal aesthetic, an ongoing if not life-long project for me, following your instincts and even the happenstance created by the juxtaposition of different authors and the selection of their poems can be fruitful. Having read back over the last 22 posts (and correcting the typos I saw), I have come to realize some more things about my tastes. Writing through poetry can be very helpful. Though my mode is generally descriptive of my response as I work through the poem, pausing to articulate that reaction allows the poem to linger longer in the mind.

Many of my comments fell into the category of line or lineage. I fell into the gravity of Olson's oracular commentary on the line as the unit of the poem's energy transmission. For those who work "in the open," the line whether or not thought of a unit of breath, is the graphic reflection of the poet negotiating his or (seldom, in this sample) her materials. I was particularly interested in the line in my first posts on the Black Mountain poets (who I spent the most time on), but it continued outside that boundary as well. The work of Larry Eigner and Robin Blaser in particular brought the interface of line and energy into focus for me. Both those poets are very interested in the surface of transmission--often the physical body, especially for Eigner.

Other of my comments were oriented toward the poet's self-constructed lineages and alliances. The structure of the anthology encourages these readings. In the Preface, the very first words of the book retrace three generations at work at that moment--the late flower of Pound and Williams and H.D. Cummings, Moore and Stevens; the mature works of poets who emerged in the 30s and 40s, including Bishop, Rexroth, and Zukofsky, and the emergence of this "strong third generation" into several loose geographically defined nodes. The back matter allows space for the poets to explicitly name their inspirations and co-conspirators, though these names crop up in the verse itself too. Creeley's expression "the company" focuses the concept of self-constructed lineages for me. Though these pacts sometimes encourage the datedness that comes through (the timeless is individualistic) occasionally, they are also nourishing for the field of poetry at large. That primary metaphor of the open field where these poets work is suggestive: the company is out working in this field, but the members' individualism is easily expressed in the very openness of the field. Ultimately, the concepts line and lineage come together. If line is an attribute of "how you sound" it's also a marker of who you sound with. The project of the anthology was in part to create a new nation of poetry out of the (American) earth broken by Pound and Williams and recently tilled by Olson.

I noted a number of poets I'd like to know better. The most surprising were Paul Blackburn, and Jack Spicer, along with Eigner and Blaser. I'm also interested in the bizarre work of Orlovsky and the obscure Stuart Perkoff, though I've a feeling these last two may backfire on me. Since I've some spare time this morning, I think I'll make a card of books to look for, and perhaps report back here later.

So, what's next in the world of STL? I have notes for a few topics that I could back to and finish, I began an album of the month project that I'd like to go back to (and a backlog of topics), and I could do a round up of summer reading (before it's over). Eventually I'll do another Test, perhaps on Copper Canyon's Gift of Tongues, an old favorite. I'll try to post once a week again, starting next Tuesday.

Monday, July 20, 2009

STL #90: New American

John Wieners, Ron Loewinsohn, David Meltzer

One of the innovations of the NAP anthology, is, I believe, the inclusion of the poetics section at the end. In basing so many of my readings on these statements I reveal the assumption that they matter, that codifiable (or at least articulatable) poetics underlie individual poetic projects (and further, that poems are moments in individual poetic projects) (and further-furthermore, that "codifiable" and "articulatable" are words). Allowing only poetics of selected poets is something of a disservice (as is my recent practice of 'group readings') to the unrepresented poets, though the poetics should be deducible from the poetry. But the assumption of individual poetics reveals a main theme in this anthology and in poetry influenced by it: that a poet's work is an individual negotiation of his or her world, however defined. This individualism might be what makes this anthology American poetry "American."

The last item in the poetics section is a poem by John Wieners "From a Journal." He argues against the idea of poetry as an exalted special category of universal knowledge. His poems are only his personal "salvation," or way of knowing himself, and a reader "can do with them what he likes." What can be shared in the reading of poetry is the "different techne a man uses to make his salvation." This is why some many of the poems in from this time going forward incorporate their own poetics as subject matter, either implicitly or explicitly. Wiener's "A Poem for Painters" does. This impressive poem is a meditation on knowing the world through art, starting with the portraiture ("Our age bereft of nobility/How can our faces show it?") and concluding with his own poems (which "contain no / wild beestes, no / lady of the lack, music / of the spheres, or organ chants" but "Only the score a a man's / struggle to stay with / what is his own, what / lies within him to do.") This heroic vision of poetics is immediately undercut by the qualifier "Which is nothing" but doing so gives a existential nobility to Wiener's work.

My other theory of what makes this the anthology American its expansive geography. It's organized into geographical sections, including the Beats whose home is "on the road" in the that "holy triangle" from New York to San Francisco to Mexico City. Poetics and geography aren't necessarily unrelated. The Wiener poem I just mentioned travels from coast to coast and Ron Loewinsohn (born in the Philipines) does the same in "Insomniac Poem." The title suggests the restlessness inherent in the generation that explored the nation (and the world) as they experimented with their writing. Loewninsohn describes being "awake, alone & aware / or our own absurdity" a dour precondition similar to Wiener's that likewise led to a kind of nobility--with this awareness, "we can begin to love & to give / to clothe ourselves in the color / of the Shasta Daisy." A massive enlightenment of the world population, perhaps through poetry, would create "Two & a half billion Gods / crowning the crazy world with sainthood." Some of this generation of wanderers eventually found 'home' some place, like Loewinsohn did in San Franciso, or through some enlightenment like he describes.

The last poet in the anthology, David Meltzer, also discusses the poet's work and travels far and wide in his work. "Revelation" travels through time and space to describe a meeting of himself and the Japanese master Basho. There short poem concludes with a meta-discursive formalist gesture: "The haiku will come later. / After dinner & / a Havatampa cigar." This stanza not only fits the spirit of the haiku but the 5-7-5 form. The Hav-a-tampa cigar plant in Tampa, Fla. actually just closed a month ago. The cultural and chronological non-sequitur rattles the formal cage that he set up, and once confirming and rejecting the overloaded communion with Basho, where they drink tea, eat soup, drink beer, and smoke cigars. This sensual cluttering might either delay the clarity of the haiku or constitute it, if not both at the same time.

In this last Test on Allen's New American Poetry anthology, I feel I've finally uncovered an area for academic research: did this generation entangle open field poetics and geographical mobility in a renewed definition of American individualism?

Friday, July 17, 2009

STL # 89: Outsiders looking in and insiders looking out

Ray Bremser and LeRoi Jones

My last post mentioned the impossibility of keeping my own knowledge about the poets, including their future careers, out of my reading of the anthology. However, the fact that Mike McClure served as a hippie icon as soon as the hippies caught up with him really isn't surprising. LeRoi Jones makes a more interesting case. After establishing himself as, essentially, a New York Beat, Jones changed his name to Amiri Baraka and became a Black Nationalist. However, in this selection, there's barely any hint of what you'd generally consider "Black identity." Nor does the apparatus of the anthology provide his race as a context: his bio mentioned he attended Howard and his statement of poetics begins with a question in what could be heard as black vernacular ("How you sound?") The only direct reference to race in these 7 poems is in "To a Publisher": "I ride the 14th. St. bus/ everyday... reading Hui neng/Raymond Chandler/Olson.../I have slept with almost every mediocre colored woman/On 23rd St...." This is obviously denigrating to African American women, and the line's relation to his multicultural reading list suggests severely limited interest in his own cultural heritage. The poems are reference heavy to contemporary writers, European high culture (M.A. in German lit), and pop culture. Of course, it's short-sighted to make a generalization such a small sample (he did write articles about jazz in this period) and even stupider to say that Prokofiev, Gary Snyder, or the Shadow are not part of his cultural heritage. His poem "In Memory of Radio" makes clear that he spent his formative years listening to adventure serials which still influence his work. I mean, he says as much: "Saturday mornings we listened to Red Lantern & his undersea folk./At 11, Let's Pretend & we did we did & I, the poet, still do, Thank God!"The poem is based on an attachment to the hero The Shadow, who, in his secret identity of Lamont Cranston, possessed some kind of (divinity) that only he and Jack Kerouac knew about. The Shadow famously knew "what evil lurks in the hearts of men"--Jones emulates this quality and his position as an outsider who is able to formulate his own cultural identity out of the complete array of available material, picking and choosing from the 'high' and the 'low.'

That's very much the "Beat" position, which Bremser emulates in "Poem of Holy Madness." According to Bremser, the best poets of his generation include a few of the Ginsbery, Corso, Jones, and himself, so humility is not his strong suit. His poems seem to be standard issue Beatnikery, but the discourse over his cultural identity is interesting. He identifies with every conceivable category of outsider: criminals like the thrill-killer Charley Starkweather, blacklisted "traitors," prisoners on the "visionary journey out of jail," "tramps,/ and homosexual cats in drag," atheists, Jews, and especially African Americans. (He writes "give me a black / and miserable hide--and I will un-tar it!") This romanticization by white guys who "dig jazz" has become embarrassing, but that doesn't mean he didn't mean it. It is odd that Jones and Bremser both build outsider identities, but do it with different materials. In fact, Jones builds the outsider identity out of mostly insider materials--not only the references to pop culture and high culture, but in the domestic situations of scenes like watching his daughter pray in "Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note." If you radically simplify things, it's as if the white Bremser is the insider looking to the outsider while Jones is the outsider looking in in order to be out.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

STL #88 Sound Effects

Edward Marshall and Michael McClure

If it weren't for this project, I'm sure I'd never mention Edward Marshall and Michael McClure in the same sentence, or probably in separate sentences. Although my intention is to use the texts alone for my interpretation, I can't help but draw on my prior knowledge of the field. I've never heard of Edward Marshall, and while I know of McClure, I'm surprised by the role he's assigned here. McClure's stature has fallen while Marshall never really gained any. There are six poets in the NAP who are allotted 15 or more pages: Olson, Duncan, Ginsberg, O'Hara, Whalen, Snyder, and Michael McClure. These men (of course) are also all represented by a statement of poetics, so it is reasonable to consider them focal points in the new geography of poetry which Allen is mapping. From out vantage today, Olson, Duncan, Ginsberg, O'Hara, and Snyder clearly still deserve a special designation. Philip Whalen maintains a good reputation, though Snyder's old roommate now seems a less than major figure to SF Renaissance/West Coast Beats. The real odd man out to me is McClure. While not totally forgotten, he is seldom mentioned in discussions of the period. He's remembered for 60's shenanigans like his play The Beard or far out readings accompanied by Ray Manzarek.

This "test of poetry" I'm doing here is on my own sensibilities more than anything. In reading Marshall's one longish poem and the sample of McClure, I came across one passage of Marshall's that I rather admire and one in McClure's that I absolutely abhor. Marshall's "Leave the Word Alone" is a dark family narrative that I don't particularly care for, but one passage stands out. It's right justified, and although that appearance lends to the poems effect, I'm transcribing it in the traditional way for convenience:
Sometimes I hear cries and cries when I go
through the center road to the far
farm where the blueberry
bushes are high
and the upper pasture and
fields--the sheep
nose apples wither and the pears rot--
the ice house turned about and no barn
with cupola
The barn burned down to get fire insurance--
never proven.
In a poem that describes mental turmoil, which intrudes even into this landscape. I've referred before to sonic effects knitting a poem together. That happens here in maybe too pronounced ways--the echoing "far/farms" and the alliterative "blueberry bushes." But check out how that plosive /b/ turns into a /p/ and the /r/ continues through "the upper pasture and/fields--the sheep/nose apples wither and the pears rot..." and then return back to the /b/ of the "barn burned." While overall the poem sprawls, this excerpt shows excellent craft.

That touch is missing from most of McClure. The McClure passage that really rankles me floats in the middle of the page, but again...
I am on a mesa of time and space.
Writing the music of life
in words.
Hearing the round sounds of the guitar
as colors.
Feeling the touch of flesh.
Seeing the loose chaos of words
on the page.
(ultimate grace--
(Sweet Yeats and his ball of hashish.)

I won't even address the cliched diction ("space and time" "music of life" "touch of flesh"). I won't touch on the unresolved absurdity that is "!STOM - ACHE!" I won't mention the laziness of writing in sentence fragments either, but instead focus on the sonic qualities. He completely mismanages consonance. The "round sound" rhyme is cloying, and the clunky last line suggests seems to think it's doing something it isn't. The vowel sequence is cacophonous when it seems to strive for melifluity. The two long vowels and the start clash against one another, and the long /e/ is picked up awkwardly by the end of the last word. It's as if he wrote the line and thought "looks good" but didn't sound it.

The curious thing here is that McClure is one of the few poets to disavow the Pound/Williams tradition. In his poetics piece, he says he "despises" those primary influences most of the other five focal points, preferring Lawrence and Melville. Marshall, on the other hand, name checks Williams and Pound's main emissary to this anthology, Charles Olson. It could be that my modernist rearing has defined poetic competence for me. While I do seek to challenge that paradigm, the many offenses of McClure foreclose that particular path for me. Instead, I'm planning another reading test to challenge my reading practices, once I finish and analyze this one.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

STL #87: Flesh and Stone

Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder writes that his poetic rhythms derive from the rhythym of the physical work he was doing at the time of writing. As a young poet, this work was "riprap," "the daily trail-crew work of picking up and placing granite stones in tight cobble patterns on hard slab." This prosody is seen described in the poem "Riprap":
"Lay down these words/Before your mind like rocks./ placed solid, by hands/In choice of place, set/Before the body of the mind /in space and time." These lines show Snyder's desire to build lines up with short, substantive words. The words are fit together by the recurring sound patterns; the last two lines of the quoted section contain the sonic key to the poem: the long i, the long a and the ahh sound of body (and rock). Snyder's craft is patient and deliberate, the kind of effort needed to build a road up a mountain.

In the longer "Myths and Texts," his rhthyms reflect the tranquility of working on a mountain look out, the occasional heave of attaching logs to tractors, and the chants of Great Basin Indians. Not that riprap in discarded: he still considers "[p]oetry a riprap on the slick rock of metaphysics." We still see the careful constructed lines of "tough, simple, short words, with the complexity far beneath the surface texture. However, he also delves into more a traditionally meditative mode: "One moves continually with the consciousness/of that other, totally alien, non-human.../Attentive to the real-world flesh and stone." This phrase subtly echoes the common expression 'flesh and bone.' In Snyder, "Bones & flesh knit into the rock." John Muir is a figure in "Myths and Texts" who becomes both flesh and stone, melding with the mountain he's climbing. He describe Muir's paralyzing fear, clinging to the rock face and imagining falling into the chasm. After the fear passes, he perceives the rock in detail and his "limbs moved with a positiveness and precision" that he "seemed to have nothing at all to do" with. It is as if his flesh self did fall, and his stone self brought him up the cliff. Near the end of the sequence, there's a sort of reverse riprap. Human improvements, like the flesh's desire to know for knowledge, is not permanent. While the poet sits on his mountain lookout, he observes "It's all falling or burning--/rattle of boulders/steady dribbling of rocks down cliffs." Snyder has a comprehensive poetic that accounts for the "two sources of human knowledge--symbols and sense-impressions." Often they are the same: in the poems discussed here, he creates symbolic discourse out of the sense-impressions of labor and observations. A man can create roads that up, but the mountain will push the rocks back down-- "It's all falling or burning."

Further reading: the complete Myths and Texts

Monday, July 13, 2009

STL #86: the sun will be invisible soon (3 unlyrics)

Philip Whalen, Gilbert Sorrentino, Stuart Z. Perkoff

I hope to wrap up the present Test of Poetry on The New American Poetry in short order, by storming through the fifth and final section in groups of three or two poets. The rules of this test have been that my readings be based on the texts as presented and on the apparatus of the book itself--the authors' notes, the statements on poetics, and the organization of the book. The first four sections represent geographically-centered mid-century poetic movements: the Black Mountain group, the San Francisco poets, the wandering Beats, and the New York school. But as Allen writes in his preface, the fifth group "has no geographical definition"; they are poets "who have evolved their own original styles and new conceptions of poetry." This claim of iconoclasm doesn't exactly fit the first three poets: While Philip Whalen is a well-known San Francisco poet with Buddhist leanings, Gilbert Sorrentino is a life-long Brooklynite who wouldn't fit in so well with the cosmopolitan O'Hara cabal, but the obscure Stuart Z. Perkoff fits right into the Beat sensibility. But the logic operating in the previous four sections implies that the poet's are in conversation with one another. I'm going to try to discover such a conversation among the iconoclasts, using the poetics of one as a starting point for the discussion of the group.

Whalen's "Sourdough Mountain Lookout," dedicated to San Francisco grandmaster Kenneth Rexroth, is a constructivist lyric that packs citations of sources around a recognizable lyric moment (laying on the granite mountainside in the September sun). Whalen calls his poetry "a picture or graph of a mind moving..." and also "bald-faced didacticism moving... from the particular to the general." In his own terms, he's using the lyric form for non-lyric (didactic) ends. The particular, or the originating lyric moment, is the day before his summer job as lookout ends, sunbathing nude while thinking of the words of Heraclitus, Samuel Johnson, Empedocles, his father ("Remember smart-guy there's something / Bigger something smarter than you.") and Buddha. It ends with the Buddhist mantra that is literally translated 'Go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, and establish yourself in enlightenment!' but is (sort-of) phonetically translated by Whalen as "Gate / Gate / Really gone / Into the cool. /Oh Mama!" The last two lines are a wonderful Zennish non-resolution resolution: "Like they say, 'Four times up, / Three times down.' I'm still on the mountain."

Sorrentino's "The Zoo" also frustrates typical lyric meditation within lyric form, using a much different range of reference. He draws from entomology and comic strips. The situation is "the death of the one banana / peeling beetle in the U S A" but it doesn't even flirt with the potential for bathos of the situation. Rather than operating as an elegy for the insect, half the poem describes the beetle in objective terms, while half of it compares it to the baby from Gasoline Alley, Skeezix. The unspoken context is the medium of the newspaper: no doubt Sorrentino's knowledge of the insect was provided by the same source that supplies his tongue-in-cheek frame of reference. The poem doesn't allow the moment to be an epiphanic reflection on the speaker's inner being--in the end the speaker doesn't care or even believe in any of it.

Whalen was a well-known poet. Sorrentino became well-known as a novelist. I have never heard of Stuart Z. Perkoff outside of this book. Two of his three poems here are non-starters, interesting only for being dated to sixties cliches but written in the fifties. The third transcends this hippie-ish vocabulary even as it utilizes it. "Feasts of Death, Feasts of Love" begins as a 'going up the country' pastoral, as "beautiful girls & boys" frolic in the sun. The setting turns out to be a Jewish summer camp ("off in the wisconsin woods, where there were neither jews nor cities"). The sun doesn't only warm the young bodies, but it shines a revealing light on the horrors of the Holocaust. It's yet another critique of the lyric, along Adorno's lines: how to write of the sun and youth with knowledge of genocide. The fairly long poem alternates the camps scenes with grave descriptions of the condemned "howling in the crowded boxcars / howling in the dark barracks... silent / in the furnaces." It concludes with the sun, but not the sun that dapples the boys and girls playing, but the sun that will eventually burn out.

Oddly enough, Whalen uses the same concept when talking about "the sun / Which, as I said, will disappear / Anyway it'll be invisible soon." It probably shouldn't be surprising that late poetry-- verse written long after the dominance of the form, should upend one of its traditional images. These poems all challenge the lyric form in some way. Whalen and Perkoff use it to show a mind moving to a didactic conclusion, while the mind moving in Sorrentino drains a seemingly relevant poetic trope of its potential gravity.

Friday, June 26, 2009

STL #85: Very Funny Fellows

Triple Play: Kenneth Koch to Frank O'Hara to John Ashbery.

Before widening the scope of this piece, I had planned on calling it "Kenneth Koch Is a Very Funny Fellow...Right!" (in tribute to Bill Cosby's comedy album). But when I sat down to draw by thoughts together, I was struck by the idea that the flip side to my tempered enthusiasm for Koch is my unbounded admiration for O'Hara. He has a wider range than Koch, yet even his funny poems are richer. To round out that generation of New York poets, I then decided to bring in John Ashbery, another wise guy who has made a lot out of a wry, ironic tone.

I like Koch, but have found him limited--his reworking of W.C. Williams or Frost's "Mending Wall" as "Mending Sump" are worth a smile, but don't go anywhere. He's a cut-up, but the apparent lack substance in his work makes you question it (right?). But a poem like "Fresh Air," though not a direct reworking of a source and longer than the two I mentioned, has many small pleasures, mostly in the charming, droll tone, but isn't as fully engaging as any of the O'Hara or Ashbery poems here. The poem mocks the codification of poetry into lineages, techniques, and workshop lessons ("My second lesson: 'Rewrite your first lesson line six hundred times. Try to make it into a magnetic field.'")

I think of a similarly light tone when I think of O'Hara, even though, as this lengthy selection shows, he can turn on a dime into something as moving as the last lines "The Day Lady Died": "and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of/leaning on the john door in the FIVE SPOT/while she whispered a song along the keyboard/to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing"(the lack of the period at the end really makes this). O'Hara was "mainly preoccupied with the world as [he] experience[d] it" and, as much as anyone ever did, writes in what seems to be his natural voice, which happens to be witty and ubane. Some of his poems do seem to be jokes, at least structurally speaking. "Why I Am Not a Painter" is a sort of a shaggy dog story--sometimes you've got oranges and sometimes you have sardines.

All the New York poets have the wit and diction I referred to above as 'urbane.' But the title "How Much Longer Will I Be Able to Inhabit the Divine Sepulcher" might not appear funny at all--perhaps it recalls 17th century devotional verse. I haven't seen much of the voluminous criticism on Ashbery's works, but I'm sure that relationship has been worked out. My theory is that the poem is narrated by Jesus in the tomb, and he's hanging around trying to figure out what happens next. The idea of Christ saying "Huh" is funny enough by itself. The rest of the threads through place and time, perhaps weakening the identification of JC as the speaking voice (who says "I'm/Named Tom"--at once the master and doubting disciple) but engages an uncertain relationship with the divine throughout.

According to Nabokov, "Satire is a lesson, parody is a game." A game is by nature more rewarding--it's open and agile where a lesson is closed and rigid. In the anthology, O'Hara and Ashbery's work is more expansive--you get a greater complexity of tone than in Koch's accomplished wise-guyism. O'Hara and Ashbery swing from serious to humorous, while Ashbery at his best is both at once.

Further reading:

Ashbery: so much to read--I'd like to revist The Mooring of Starting Out, and then stroll through the rest

Koch: On the Great Atlantic Railway

O'Hara: Standing Still and Walking in New York

Thursday, May 14, 2009

STL #84: Lines of Influence

(On Barbara Guest, James Schuyler, and Edward Field)

I have been sitting on this one for a while now so to crank it out I'll resort to both my writing tricks: 1)I'll declare an arbitrary time limit for myself (let's say one hour) and 2) begin by stating what it is I want to do with this piece.

In this piece, I want to consider the question of influence in the work of Barbara Guest, James Schuyler, and Edward Field. This focus seems especially apt given the obvious stamp of Wallace Stevens on Guest's early work, Schuyler's articulation of abstract painting's influence on his cohort of writers, and Fields's apparent separation from that primary influence of other, more well-known of the "New York poets."

I've read and enjoyed Guest's work from the 70s and 80s, and while I like these poems they are obvious apprentice work. As I said above, you can clearly see the influence of Stevens in the tourism of poems like "Santa Fe Trail" and "Piazzas," the gentile conversationalism in "Sunday Evening" (the very title of which beckons for a Stevensian comparison) and the focus on the imaginative intelligence in all the poems. These elements all come to a head in  "Parachutes, My Love, Could Carry Us Higher." It begins with an address to an interlocutor which is straightforward in tone but deceptively obscure in meaning:

I just said I didn't know

And now you are holding me

In your arms, 

How kind

The very next line is the refrain that provides the title.  It's not an easy line to interpret. The following imagery suggests the parachute is billowing in water as the speaker floats up past "[p]ink and plae blue fish." Following the repeated phrase, though, the speaker is trembling in "mid-air,"  having just finished swimming, and by the end of the poem she is "treading water/Near it, bubbles are rising and salt drying on my lashes, yet I am no nearer/Air than water." She is "closer to you/Than land and I am in a stranger ocean/Than I wished." This is a wonderful, mysterious poem.

In "Poet and Painter Overture,"Schuyler argues that the poets of New York are more influenced by their painter friend and colleagues than anyone else. In the New York of the 1950s, "writers and musicians are in teh poet but they don't steer.".. If you pursue too literally the analogue between painting and writing, you are bound to be disappointed. While there is something to mapping non-representational use of words in something like John Ashbery's Tennis Court Oath to abstract art, it might be better to compare the arts more loosely. I wrote a paper in graduate school (that I think was quite good, actually) that compares the New York painters' flatness with the poets' "flatness." See how clever I am with the quotation marks there--the picture field actually is flat and the the painters can manipulate that fact with techniques ranging from distorted perspective to collage. For writers following the painters' lead, "flatness" is more in attitude than anything else--as Schuyler says, "'Writing like painting' has nothing to do with it." It's hard, impossible, pointless, stupid therefore to make a direct comparison between a flat field painting by Robert Rauschenberg and the interior monologue in "Freely Espousing": 

or Quebec! what a horrible city

so Stubenville is better?

the sinking sensation 

when someone drowns thinking "This can't be happening to me!"

the profit of excavating the battlefield where Hannibal whomped the Romans

the sinuous beauty of words like allergy

the tonic resonance of 

pill when used as in

"she is a pill"

on the other hand I am not going to espouse any short stories in which lawn mowers clack.

That last quoted line I read as a dig at the suburban fiction of John Updike and his ilk. As we wander toward that wonderful destination, we pass through a number of 'items' arranged on a field--places, thoughts, words as words, none inflected nor poignant as the inevitable central image/symbol of a lawn-mower-clacking story.

While Schuyler establishes connections with New York painters, Edward Field looks to different fellow artists. In his bio he discloses "I am trying to make the New York theatre scene." I can't find online that he ever made it, but I re-examined his poems to look for any performative influence. Read with that in mind, I guess they both sound a bit like monologues: they don't advance 'plots' but can be read as psychological portraits. El Interneto says he used his theatre training to develop a compelling reading style. I can see that, though the poems don't particularly grab me.

Further reading in Guest and Schuyler, but not Field. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

STL #83: Four Beats

I'm going to cut a huge swath here and do about 45 pages and four poets at once. The Beat canon has shifted a little since the publication of the anthology. From Allen's quartert of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, and Orvlosky you might drop K (whose gift was prose) and Orlovsky (presently more a character in Ginsberg's biography than anything else) and draw Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti in from other sections. Despite criticisms and shortcomings, these Beats all have something to offer.

Of course, those offerings aren't necessarily on display here. The best writing by Jack Kerouac in this collection is the first few autobiographical sentences of his contributor's note: "After my brother died, when I was four, they tell me I began to sit motionlessly in the parlor, pale and thin, and after a few months of sorrow began to play the old Victrola and act out movies to the music." I am not a Kerouac-basher. People who shake off an adolescent admiration for On The Road tend to over-react and find his work adolescent. His style has its limits to be sure, but I've reread some of his novels with interest. Unfortunately, his cult to big enough to keep everything he ever wrote in print, including his bad poetry (and it's all bad). The thought that he wrote over 250 "choruses" of Mexico City Blues is distressing. The dozen included here don't have much to offer, and are as fatuous and mis-informed as his detractors would have it. One of the things about Kerouac that I find fascinating is that he was a Roman Catholic in continual confession, not the hip Buddhist gunning for Enlightenment as he claimed. But as he wrote in his note on poetics here, "I have trouble covering up my bullshit lies."

Ginsberg's towering achievement is unquestionably Howl and his ode to Walt Whitman "A Supermarket in California" is an American-lit anthology stand-by for its allusions, imagery, and 'discussabilty.' In his "Notes for Howl and Other Poems," he describes how his line is "one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of breath." This of course sounds a lot like the Projectivist rap promoted by Olson, except for Olson the breath represents WORK rather than thought. This difference makes sense, since Olson works his learning and sources pronouncedly than Ginsberg, who even when squirreling into Eastern or visionary traditions is much more open to inspiration and the first-thought best-thought ethos. In "A Supermarket in California," his first line/thought-breath contains Whitman, the night, and his headache--it is a reproduction of a moment in time when Walt Whitman came into his mind. When he goes "shopping for images" inside the store, enumerations sweep into his head. What is so delightful in the poem is the 'fact' that he follows Whitman through the store, follow only in his "imagination by the store detective" (when the opposite is "real".)

Less hallowed than "Supermarket" or Howl is Corso's "Marriage." As I write through these pieces, some of the hallmarks of the Beats become apparent: loose, spontaneous conglomerations of nouns jammed together in long baggy lines, gestures toward Eastern philosophy, and an a-political protest of institutions like marriage. It's a do-nothing kind of protest because it never proposes doing anything about current conditions. In "Marriage," Corso even imagines capitulating to the square institution. To not be ridiculous, the do-nothing critic must temper his critique with humor:

I see love as odd as wearing shoes

I ncver wanted to marry a girl who was like my mother

And Ingrid Bergman was always impossible

And there's maybe a girl but she's already married

And I don't like men and --

but there's got to be somebody!

Because what if I'm 60 years old and not married,

all alone in a furnished room with pee stains on my underwear

and everybody else is married! All the universe married but me!

The most puzzling (and least well-known) of these four Beats is Peter Orlovsky. I feel genuinely uncomfortable reading his "Second Poem." It starts off as a pleasant description of a desultory morning, seeming like a poised naivete hiding a savvy hipster. The line "like my farther/I've done flick the ashes & buts" strike one as a bit odd, but probably intentional. This momentary doubt flares up as a flurry of misspelled words ("frist of all"; a "nock on the door"; "pancaks") turns up over the next few lines. Flipping to the back biography, we read "I.Q. 90 in school, now specialized IQ in thousands." It's harder for a savant to succeed in literate art than a visual one, but the imagination can transcend traditional intelligence. But intuiting a little about his relationship with Ginsberg, the situation and execution of this poem about making a "paradise" of his "room-land" gets a little ooky. Putting that context aside, it can be read as a self-portrait of a marginal man with a powerful imagination: "My life and my room are like two huge bugs following me around the globe."

Further reading? Maybe Orlovsky, maybe Ginsberg's Wichita Vortex Sutra

STL #82: SF Omnibus

For the first time in a month, I've returned to the green pastures of STL. I was ready to dispense with the remaining SF poets, with the strong memory in mind of having completed a three part critique of Lew Welch, Richard Duerden, and Philip Lamantia and ready to write up notes on Bruce Boyd, Kirby Doyle, and Ebbe Borregaard. Much to my surprise, I find my memory has been playing tricks on me again, since all I had on the former three was as follows:

Lew Welch is the apocryphal author of the perfect American poem "Raid kills bugs dead." His "Chicago Poem" is a hate song to the city of broad shoulders.

Duerden's "Musica No. 3" is a topologically engaging poem about a sea cave. I had to draw a sketch, but I think I understand it.

Lamantia seems to have thought he moved beyond a juvenile surrealism, but I'm not so sure. There's a poem called "Terror Conduction" with lots of words in ALL CAPS. I can't bear to go on.

But come to think of it, I don't have too much more to say (though I do like that Welch poem, especially the resolution where he decides "I'm just/going to walk away from it. Maybe/ A small part of it will die if I'm not around/feeding it anymore."). And since I'm so far behind, I've decided to deal with the last three in similarly brief fashion.

Bruce Boyd's "Venice Recalled" reads like a Projectivist (Black Mountain) poetics. He speaks of a company of poets whose speech is "only open & discursive." This company, "we who would live openly," exists at and as "the natural peripheries" of language. That credo expresses the outsider tendency (but not the self-importance) that unifies the scenes around which this book is organized (though transcends).

If Boyd is a Projectivist ex officio (am I using that correctly?), Kirby Doyle is a Beat undercover. He has the Corso reform school pedigree and his poem "Strange" has a "Howl"-esque construction of long thought-breath lines knit together with a repeated "or" beginning each line. It's a neat little period piece based on how the world is "groping about" through a dozen different similes.

Borregaard seems famous for being obscure. He has a cool name to be sure, which might in some way way bear a connection to his penchant for obscure words. The poem "Some Stories of the Beauty Wapiti" contains a fistful unusual words, from "wapiti" (a large deer) to "oleo" (margarine), "wastrel" (a dissolute), "vatrix" (unknown), "hyades" (a star cluster), and "nedda" (an Italian woman's name). His tendencies in the poems here seem to point toward a Rothenbergian ethno-poetics, which might be my next anthology test.

So if there's a lesson here, it's that categories enforced by the anthology were loose to start with and, as Allen admits, became "obviously irrelevant." But next week I'll move into a category that is still used, if not relevant: the Beats. I hope to write more regularly over the summer months, dealing with Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, and Orvlosky quickly before diving right into the New York poets.

further reading: Of these six, I'm most likely to seek out more Welch: Ring of Bone (collected) and How I Work as a Poet (essays).

STL #81: Jack Spicer

While going through the Allen anthology has introduced me to many enjoyable voices, reading Jack Spicer for the first time makes me feel I'm in the presence of something truly great. I had heard of Spicer, but this isn't what I expected. (The great stuff never is.) "Imaginary Elegies I-IV" seems to both embrace and push away the Poundian Imagist standard that undergirds so many of these poetics. Spicer said in his "Letter to Lorca" that he "would like to make poems out of real objects" like a collage artist does. But he comes out against images as such; he wanted "to make things visible rather than to make pictures out of them." Over time, things "become garbage" but poetry, by making visible, can correspond, co-respond, to the world.

"Imaginary Elegies" begins with a consideration of this correspondence. It begins "Poetry, almost blind like a camera/Is alive in sight only for a second." If poetry captures images of say a specific bird in flight, it is only "the continuous Platonic pattern of birds flying" that lets us hold it in our mind. We use "disciplined adjuncts/To the moment of sight" to make sense of our impressions. As a poet then, Spicer might write of the sun, but really would rather "praise the very tall blond boy/Who ate all my potato chips at the Red Lizard." It's the Platonic ideal that provides the center of discourse. That's all well and good--the real turn comes in the next section when he describes the moon as "God's big yellow eye remembering /What we have lost or never thought." This isn't a normal eye, not a " yellow camera. It perceives/What wasn't, what undoes, what will not happen." But, in the third stanza, "God's other eye is good and gold." This Apollo's eye is accurate and absolute as opposed to the questioning tentative Dionysiac moon-eye. The poet is to "be like God" and use these two eyes.

But the final section of the poem (and presumably the last of four elegies, though it's not clear how that works) what that injunction means, or more precisely "what I thought/When I wrote that." That thought is gone, "No realer than old/poetry." Though "Time does not finish a poem," Spicer seems to be waiting it out in this fourth stanza. The originating image that inspired this poem is far gone, all that is left is moderated by memory and language. The poem ends with a more modest directive than "Be like God." Instead, "The birds are still in flight. Believe the birds." Yet we are left with the same conundrum of the image. Is this "the Platonic pattern of birds flying" that we believe or the real birds at a real moment in time?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

25 Writers Who Have Influenced Me

So, I've been tagged with a Facebook note on 25 writers who have influenced me. I'm not sure how to respond. Influenced me how? Influenced my pretend career as novelist or poet? Influenced my negligible career as a literary critic? Or influenced the way I see the world, or think about nutrition, politics, teaching, etc. ? I tried to make a chart that included the writer, a key work, and the nature of the influence, but soon realized I'd never finish that. Instead I've opted for a chronologically arranged list of writers who influenced me in one way or another at some point in my life. I did this to capture ways of thinking that might not hold sway over me now, but nevertheless have had some lasting impact on me. After completing the initial list, I had way too many writers, but I cut away mercilessly to (almost) twenty-five.
Phase One: The comic book and Fantasy years. I start here because, starting around the age of ten, I started to make completely independent choices about what to read. As a young boy, I read what was given to me and might have picked up something laying around the house, but since nobody particularly encouraged these interests I had to go out of my way to get them.

1. Marv Wolfman. Writer of the adult-seeming super hero soap opera The New Teen Titans
2. Michael Moorcock. Creator of the anti-hero wizard king Elric. I didn't realize Moorcock was parodying Tolkein and Robert E. Howard, both of whom I read and loved. I checked out some of his books lately and found him to be unreadable.
3. Ursula K. LeGuin. Loved her Wizard of Earthsea trilogy. I reread those books with interest recently, and enjoyed other of her social science-based science fiction too.

Phase Two: The Don Quixote years. Named after Don Quixote's Bookstore in Everett WA where I bought bales of used paperbacks while in high school. Now firmly self-identified as a reader, I read more comprehensively in more 'serious' literature.

4. Albert Camus/Herman Hesse. Now that's what I mean by serious! I alternated between The Stranger and Steppenwolf as my favorite book for a few years, though I can't remember what Steppenwolf is about anymore. Perhaps I never knew.
5. Philip K. Dick. "The Empire never ended"; “The symbols of the divine show up in our world initially at the trash stratum." That's freaking my shit out man!
6. Jack Kerouac. Ah, I will live a life of bohemian freedom!
7. William Blake. Romantic poetry, along with beatnickery, seemed a way out.

Phase Three: College. My main sources for books were the Student Co-op bookstore, the University library, the smelly used bookstore downtown, and the non-smelly store that opened up across the street and drove the smelly one out of business. This list was really long, as I took a heavy load of lit classes and was transformed by virtually everything I read. As you see, this is a pretty canonical list, and in paring it down I removed Homer, Ovid, Tolstoy and Yeats.

8. Chaucer.
9. Shakespeare. Everyone who uses English (for things like, you know, thinking) has been influenced by Shakespeare.
10. Borges.
11. Nabokov.
12. Beckett. "I had just crawled out of the shelter for my evening guffaw and the better to savour my exhaustion." In a ranked list, Beckett might come in number one.
13. Ezra Pound.
14. Sam Hamill and Kenneth Rexroth.
15. Ralph Ellison and Maxine Hong Kingston. There's a dearth of minority writers on the list, I know. I studied Ellison and Kingston with an old school New Critic who was fascinated by the formal innovations of these two, and showed me that formalism and cultural identity are closely linked.

Phase Four: Twenties In the last half of my twenties I hung around, got an MA, moved to Seattle. I got back into comics in my twenties, but am limiting the number of comics writers I let onto my list. I have to think of them as "writers" rather than "artists," so I'm arbitrarily ruling that anyone who draws as well as writes is ineligible. That's stupid and I'm embarrassed for writing it.

16. James Joyce
17. William Carlos Williams
18. Raymond Chandler
19. Steven Shaviro: His book Doom Patrols was a "theoretical fiction" that helped me wrap my head around critical theory and also introduced me to the work of Grant Morrison.
20. Alan Moore/Grant Morrison: Two pretty darn similar writers of comic books.
21. Greil Marcus/Glenn MacDonald: Two music writers with radically different tastes and writing styles.

Phase Five: Thirties
In which I moved to Austin to go to grad school. While I have continued to read after finishing my dissertation, I don't know what's influenced me yet.

22. George Oppen would appear high on a ranked list.
23. Lyn Hejinian. I've gotten deeply into the "Language" poetry that descended from Stein and Zukofsky. I chose Hejinian because I read both her poetry and criticism with great interest--for other poets it's one or the other.
24. Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner were friends. Any subject either of these critics write on I am immediately interested in because they write with a comprehensivness and authority I could never approach. I also like the poetry and short fiction of Davenport. (One of the obsessions of his short fiction is a bit off putting)
25. Louis Zukofsky and Charles Olson did not like one another. They did, however, both write gigantic poems that are by turns perplexing and incandescent and that you could read for the rest of your life.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole!

I missed the official Down the Rabbit Hole day when bloggers made posts which were significant departures from their normal styles. In that spirit, here is a list of 25 random facts about me personally.

  1. I am likely to be evasive, coy, or chary when talking about myself.
  2. "I get confused every day" is a line from a Sonic Youth that I like.
  3. I used to go to the comic book store almost every week. Now, it's more like every other week. (But I know what comes out every week.)
  4. I've taught a university course on comics.
  5. I got married in Las Vegas. Her name was Lola. She was a dancer.
  6. The preceding item is partially false.
  7. I'm pretty good at identifying Republicans by sight.
  8. I think fences built with the inside facing out are sociopathic.
  9. I think the work I do is important.
  10. Almost every day I think of Ben Franklin's advice to end the day by thinking "What good did I go today?" and "What good will I do tomorrow?"
  11. I have never uttered the phrase "President Bush" except when quoting a source. Not during the reign of 41 and sure as hell not during 43.
  12. 44 is my new favorite number.
  13. It used to be 11.
  14. Before that it was 3.
  15. I giggle to myself at the thought of adding "For a long time I used to go to bed early" to my list.
  16. "I lived through the eighties one time already."
  17. I like extreme heavy metal (your black metals, the death metals, the grindcores), but only as an intellectual, analytical appreciation usually associated with avant-garde concert music.
  18. I like avant-garde music (your Alban Bergs, your Bartoks, your Morton Feldmans) but only in a very visceral, instinctive way.
  19. I love making lists. The most ambitious is my Top 100 songs. The last time I did it, my top 5 was "Tonight’s the Night," Neil Young and Crazy Horse; "Divorce Song," Liz Phair;
    "Idiot Wind," Bob Dylan; "Tracks of My Tears," Smokey Robinson & The Miracles; "Brompton Oratory," Nick Cave.
  20. I'm having trouble thinking of things to add that don't have to do with books, films, and music I like.
  21. I like punctuation. I also like prepositions.
  22. One time, during a sensitivity training (there's no story there; I just work for a university), I had to write down the five most important things in my life. Then I had to talk to someone I didn't know very well without mentioning any of those five things. That really wasn't a problem.
  23. In A Pack of Two, when Carolyn Knapp writes, "I seem to spend a great deal of time just staring at the dog, struck by how mysterious and beautiful she is to me and by how much my world has changed since she came along," she could be describing my life.
  24. A rare steak and some roasted brussels sprouts sounds like a perfect dinner to me.
  25. My top ten lists of all time list: all those "begats" in the Bible; the catalogue of ships in The Iliad; all the stuff Gargantua ate in Gargantua and Pantagruel; All Known Metal Bands; the ways that Elizabeth Barrett Browning loves thee; "Top 10 Albums of 1986" by The Rocket staff; "The Comic Journal's Top 100 English-Language Comics of the 20th Century"; "Top 5 Break-up Songs" in High Fidelity; "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"; Seven Deadly Sins/Heavenly Virtues (tie).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

STL #80:"I Find My Surface" (Robin Blaser)

I know enough of Robin Blaser to associate him with Jack Spicer, but that's it. In his 5 NAP poems, all dated 1956, I find a poet sensitive to the natural world and his mortal body's relationship to it. He speaks in a tone of disclosure--a 'listen, I've got something to tell you' frankness that avoids overtly 'poetic' effect. For example, "Now let me give you this experience./We change. No lies."

Of the 5 poems, all invoke some animal. He chooses less anthropomorphic animals like fish, snakes, and birds. 3 of the 5 mention (human) skin and 2 mention breath. Skin and breath are both interfaces between himself and the natural world, between the surface where his internal depths meet the external world. Skin meets the air where human warmth butts against the chill of the where; breath takes in that cold air, warms it, and turns it back. Blaser shows us that skin in like breath in "Poem by the Charles River." On observing the dead fish floating on the surface, he writes "I see them stretch the water to their need/as I domesticate the separate air to be my/breath." In the tradition of the Romantic Sublime, the outer world inspires introspection. In observing that "These fish die easily" he implies the question, 'do I?' He implies that question, but stop shorts of asking it, instead focusing on the act of interpretation: "I find my surface in the way they feed."

He shows that breath is like speech (another surface, or interface, or limen) in "Herons." I don't think I can excerpt the poem effectively to show him make the equation, so here it is complete:

I saw cold thunder in the grass,
the wet black trees of my humanity, my skin.

How much love lost hanging there
out of honesty.
I catch at those men who chose
to hang in the wind
out of honesty.
It is the body lies with its skin--

Robed in my words I say that the snake
changes its skin out of honesty.

And they
hanged there with some symmetry
died young
like herons proud in their landscape.

Now it is age crept in, nobody younger knows
the quick-darting breath is
our portion of honesty.

I don't totally know what to do with the poem, which has some echoes of Shakespeare (sonnet 74) and Pound ("In a Station of the Metro" and "Mauberly") but following through my equation (skin=breath=language or surface=interpretation) helps. At the beginning, there's something to observe, which is both nature but some how the self (so maybe the self situated in nature). Whatever it is, is "my skin." The object of perception then shifts from something of the natural world to something that seems political, men hanging from trees killed because of their honesty. Since the historical context might suggest lynching, skin takes on a different sense. In the center of the poem, skin and speech are equated: "Robed in my words I say that the snake/changes its skin out of honesty." Skin is linked with honesty, a function of speech, and in the end honesty is explicitly linked with breath. (This reminds me of Pound/Olson/"Objectivist" axis linking the poetic line with the breath and with the measure of sincerity.) The interesting thing that I'm grasping onto as I work through this idea of surface or interface being the equivalent of expression. Poetry, as honest language, happens on the skin.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

STL #79: 2008 in Review

I'm going to combine two things I did at the end of last year: recap the year in reading and semi-quantitatively review the music I listened to most. Almost all the music I listen to is computer-mediated, so I actually have a record (obscure pun) of what I listened too, but the reading list is based on spottier records and recollections.

First, the reading. As before, anything with text is eligible, but the list is still pretty traditional--more novels than I would have guessed. The list is presented alphabetically.

  • 1968. A captivating cultural history of the year change coalesced in cities across the world: New York, Mexico City, Prague, London. The most remarkable passage in it is a RKF's quote on the GDP: "Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans." The world, obviously, has changed again since then.
  • Anna Karenina. The big book with which I started this year. A expanse of vision in the best tradition of the novel. The only comparable novel I read this year was Adam Bede.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8. The serial comic of the year in a year that was not great for comics (at least for me). I enjoyed JSA (not for the non-initiated) and the current New Krypton storyline too. In more ambitious comics, DMZ intrigued me, though it's nowhere near as fully realized as Y: The Last Man, which wrapped up this year.
  • The Dew Breaker. Much better than I would expected. The fractured narrative reflects the trauma and instability of the characters' stories.

  • The best political horserace blog. It's stats-savvy analysis (the guy has a background in sabermatrics) got me through to election day.
  • For Your Eyes Only. I read books by most of the stable of suspense writers I go back to: Graham Greene (Our Man in Havana and the excellent Tenth Man), Allan Furst (Red Gold), Simenon (the one Monsieur Hire is based on) Peter Abrahams (the one where the douchey pool guy goes "A million sounds right") among them. This real surprise was Fleming, a precise and even sensitive writer. There's a unexpectedly moving bit where Bond, a killer of man, meditates on his trigger finger.
  • I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets Transmissions from the semiosphere that had been racing into outerspace since 1941. This book pulled the visionary art back to the present.
  • The New American Poetry 1945-1960. An ongoing project.
  • Of Human Bondage. While Adam Bede should take this spot, I have a nostalgic yearning for the days when a long book like this could just unspool--one day in the life of Philip Carey after another. A sequence of first sentences of chapters gives you the idea: "The day broke gray and dull. It was a week later. When they reached the house Mrs. Carey had died in--it was in a dreary,respectable street between Notting Hill Gate and High Street, Kensington--Emma led Philip into the drawing-room. Philip parted from Emma with tears, but the journey to Blackstable amused him, and, when they arrived, he was resigned and cheerful.Philip came gradually to know the people he was to live with, and byfragments of conversation, some of it not meant for his ears, learned a good deal both about himself and about his dead parents."
  • "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" I single out this short story because it brief and compelling. Quite unexpectedly, Ursula K. LeGuin was the author of the year. I read six of her sf & fantasy books this year, and I discussed her work briefly in STL #76. So many sf writers of the 70s are fascinating--I realized after reading 1968 that they turned their speculative skills to contemplate the culture rupture of the time. Le Guin fascinates me because the framework of her speculation is the social sciences. "Omelas," for instance, is an extrapolation of the practice of tribal practice scape-goating, while her Earthsea books build a folkways of magic and just as Left Hand of Darkness invents an alternative sociology of sex.

Honorable Mention:
Persistence of Vision by John Varley (another compelling 70s sf artifact); Poem of a Life (wish this had been published when I was working on my dissertation); Master and Margarita; (So unlike Tolstoy of the preceding generation); Writing is an aid to memory (I posted on this in STL #64). Elizabeth Willis's Turneresque (maybe I'll expand on this sooner.

The work of the Planet Money podcast, starting with its genesis on the This American Life "Giant Pool of Money" episode, should get special mention for making the economy not only comprehensible but fascinating.

On to music, but briefly. Like last year,
I used play counts of music acquire in the last 400 days to determine what should be on here, then used my judgment to finalize it. I mix single tracks with albums and present them in no order whatsoever.

  1. "Bar Woman Blues" Jenny Lewis
  2. "Aly Walk With Me" Raveonettes
  3. "Bye Bye Bye" Plants and Animals
  4. "Dr. Carter" Lil Wayne
  5. Stay Positive The Hold Steady
  6. "Tiger Phone Card" and "Seeing Hands" Dengue Fever
  7. Jukebox Cat Power
  8. "Becky" Be Your Own Pet
  9. "I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me" Annie
  10. "Swimming Pools" Thao
  11. She & Him Volume 1
  12. "Time to Pretend" MGMT
  13. For Emma, Forever Ago Bon Iver
  14. "Murder in the City" Avett Brothers
  15. The Stage Names Okkerville River