Wednesday 28 February 2007

Current Issues and Forthcoming Readings

I received an acceptance yesterday, and that returned my attention to poetry; I hope to spend more time on my work now that I'm healthy again, my father's on the mend, and the semester's underway.

"Reckoning," an enigmatic little poem, will make its first appearance in The Liberal, and Orange Coast Review will reprint two poems that were first published in UK magazines, "As If to Say" and "San Fernando Valley Love Song." I am glad to see poems gaining a longer shelf life and a larger audience in this way and wish more US magazines would consider work that's previously appeared only in print in the UK (and not at all on the web). When both magazines are primarily available only in their country of origin, I don't see why they shouldn't reprint work from abroad.

So it's been a good if slow start to the year, with acceptances also from TLS (for "The Diagnosis," which appeared only weeks before my father's illness, strangely) and Great Works. There are also two prose poems up at Free Verse. A handful of magazines have held my work for 5+ months now, and that's starting to feel like the norm, unfortunately.

There are several events coming up. I'll be moderating "Poets in Conversation" at the Bath Literature Festival, with Tim Liardet and Gerard Woodward as the conversing and reading poets. I've heard it's sold out. That will be Thursday, 8 March, with a 7 for 7:30 start, at The Victoria Art Gallery. It should be a good event.

I'll be giving a paper on Peter Reading's -273.15 (which I can't recommend highly enough) at the Poetry and Public Language Conference at the University of Plymouth, 30 March-1 April. If you're in Bath that weekend, you might want to check out the Globalisation and Writing conference at Bath Spa--I'd be there if I weren't in Plymouth. For details of the latter, e-mail conference organiser Jonathan Neale at j (dot) neale (at) bathspa (dot) ac (dot) uk.

There are two readings for June. One will be a benefit for Macmillan Cancer Care at the Italian Garden at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire (what a location!), on the evening of Friday, 8 June (details forthcoming). Fellow readers include Sally Carr, Linda Saunders, David Hale, Sue Chadd, and Matt Bryden. The next will be for the Bath Spa reading series at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute, on Thursday, 14 June, with Moniza Alvi.

Monday 26 February 2007

Just breathe

At last, some good news--and it's great news. Dad's now breathing on his own. He won't have to go away to a special rehab clinic to retrain his diaphragm; whatever recuperation he needs, he'll be able to be home with his family and friends. They've also removed the dialysis catheter, so his fluid levels must be sufficiently lowered and manageable now. In the next few days he'll be moved out of ICU.

I can hardly believe it. His downturn was so bad, so fast, that I prepared for the worst and imagined myself spending my April visit between his clinic and the family home. Just two days ago a clinic representative came to speak to Mom and evaluate Dad's condition, to decide which rehab centre he should go to.

The last big question is whether he will be paralysed in his lower body. That seems small beer in contrast with what we anticipated, but of course it is huge and I am hoping the fact that he has pain response means that in time he'll be able to walk again. Oh, I can't wait to hear his voice again--that will be wonderful.

Thursday 22 February 2007

Michael Benedikt, American prose poet and promoter, has died

I will remember him for his contribution to the promotion of prose poetry through his anthology, The Prose Poem: An International Anthology (1976), and publication of his own prose poetry.

Wednesday 21 February 2007

An update, or from bad to much, much worse

My father went into hospital to be treated for a rare kidney disease that was causing him to retain a terrible amount of fluid--up to forty pounds at one point, and because of an abscess that developed on his upper spine during his stay, that was not caught in spite of his increasing immobility, he may leave fully paralysed, even unable to breathe on his own. How can this be possible?

As the pulmonologist has confirmed that Dad now seems unable to breathe without assistance, there will be a tracheotomy this morning Illinois time and a feeding tube will be installed in the afternoon. Yesterday the pulmonologist spoke to my mother about moving him to a special rehab facility in St. Louis, Chicago, or Indianapolis--hours away from home and family. How long the rehab takes depends on the extent of his paralysis, which we don't know yet. The scary part is that one doctor compared the location and nature of the injury to Dad's spine to Christopher Reeve's injury.

My father is probably the most restless person I know, always moving from errand to errand, task to task, event to event, in and about the house, the yard, the town. The thought of his spending the rest of his life immobile (and he's a very fit 66, cycling 25 miles most days for over a decade) grieves me more than I can express. Of course I still hope, but each passing day seems to bring news of greater debilitation. I stare at nothing and ache.

Friday 16 February 2007

A few things about my father, I

Two weeks ago yesterday, my father went into hospital for what appeared to be a kidney problem. He'd never been in hospital in my lifetime, so just his going in seemed a little surreal. For the first week, we were focused on the diagnosis of the kidney problem, then something else began: he became increasingly pained and paralysed. I'd call my mother to learn his progress and hear his yelps in the background (literally, "Ow! ow! ow!" in rapid, vivid succession).

Last night, an abscess in his cervical vertebra (i.e. his neck) was discovered as the cause of the unusual paralysis and excessive pain, and he was rushed into surgery. Today, I received a call from my mother, and until I could finally ask whether he were alive, I thought it was the archetypal dreaded call, the news of death from a distance.

All week I've had the worst illness in some time--a high fever with a chest infection; I was sure it was bronchitis again, but yesterday the GP told me, before noon, she'd seen seven people that day with the same horrible virus. To my mom I called it a "sympathy illness" as a half-joke, but the more I think of it, the more I believe it.

So, this afternoon, the phone call. I am alone all day, half-sleeping, half-striving to revise my lesson plans so Annie McGann can teach my Sudden Prose class tomorrow. Consciousness comes in patches. The phone rings, and I think WORK. I answer, expecting it to be Steve May, brusque while kind, but I hear Mom's voice, gentle, tentative, and familiar.

The words "Intensive Care" have had no meaning in my life until now. No family member, no friend has been there before.

I want to tell you a few things about my father.

My father was born in Washington D.C. but grew up in St. Louis. This manifested in his love of custard and of the Cardinals, and something I came to think of as “the St. Louis stop.” Once I was in the back seat, my father driving, my mother on the passenger side, and we came to a street sign. Dad touched the brake—no more—and we were headed through the intersection. Mom chastised Dad about it and he asserted that that was the way they did it in St. Louis. In spite of the many years he has lived in Illinois, he always stops at empty intersections like a man in St. Louis—or so I have come to believe.

My father should have lived in another country. If he had lived in England, say, he might have believed more readily, more deeply that it was not his fault that he was laid off, that it was a matter of economics. I don’t think my dad ever completely got over that. He took a pride in being a company man, in racking up years of service, in watching his responsibilities progress over time.

My father is proud of his own father. He brought me Dale Etter’s poems in typescript and in print, musty from the attic, pages not yellow but brown and often crumbling. Perhaps it was part of Dad’s way of saying that I, though adopted, was as much an Etter as any of his other children. Perhaps his father’s old manuscripts were proof of that, and of a kind of fate in my becoming his daughter.

My father never stops talking—never. Even in his sleep, he snores, which is to say that even if you will not grant that he never stops talking, you must concede that he rarely stops producing noise. I remember sitting on the sofa in the living room, my heavy U.S. history book splayed on my lap as I studied for a final exam. Every four or five minutes he popped in with something to say—about the weather, about the news, about dinner, whatever. After a number of these interruptions, I told him he had to leave me alone if I were going to do well on my final. There have been too many times I have said, “Stop, Dad. Just stop talking.” Now I wish I were, and had been, more patient.

My father’s never ceasing to talk, or make noise, has frequently embarrassed me, especially when I was a teenager. This is to say, he talks up strangers on the slightest opportunity. I remember it mostly happening with gas station attendants and waitresses, who had no choice but to smile at his banter. Many in the Midwest responded genuinely to it, conversing with him easily for a few minutes before they had to excuse themselves to continue with their work. But I remember a waiter at Biaggi’s, where we’ve had a number of perfect meals together, who replied to Dad’s comments with tolerance rather than grace. Given my own behaviour, I understood his response, but I was divided between recognising myself and feeling indignant.

Thursday 15 February 2007

Not poetry, but poetries

In his blog of 25 January 2007 (which, if you're not familiar with it and are interested in different poetries, I can't recommend highly enough), Ron Silliman writes:

"I always try to avoid the term 'experimental' when discussing post-avant writing, not just because of implications of the retro scientism in this age of stolen nuclear missiles, genetically modified corn & weaponized anthrax – that by itself is problematic – but because of the insinuation that the writers of an experimental work (e.g., The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, on whose subtitle I was outvoted) don’t really know what they’re doing. That’s the flip side of the same complaint Bob Perelman makes in IFLIFE:

the gestures that Language poetry triumphantly says are still radical are actually super-codified

which is in fact true (even tho I don’t hear any langpos 'triumphantly' making any such claim). With the plausible exception of Rusty Morrison’s grammar sampling, all of the co-authors here are using literary devices that are considerably older than language poetry, some decades older. They aren’t so much 'experimental' as they are in the experimental tradition. I know that last phrase will cause a few readers to choke, but since Blake & Baudelaire it is clear that an evolving and expanding community exists, of which these five writers represent certain aspects of the current generation. The value of the devices they employ isn’t that they’re 'new,' but rather that they empower indeterminacy and surprise."*

I've called one vein of my work experimental, avant, post-langpo/post-Language Poetry, and conceptual, but have never settled on one term. The problem with conceptual poetry is that some of what goes for "mainstream" poetry (another problematic term) is also idea- or concept-driven, i.e. the work of Peter Reading and Geoffrey Hill, and possibly also Christopher Logue's
War Music. In agreement with Silliman's statement above, I've tended to find "experimental" the least descriptive; and I regard "post-langpo" as too school-centred for definitional accuracy. I suppose for now I'll use avant and conceptual as placeholders while I hold out for a more precise descriptor or name. Any thoughts, ideas?

*Used here with Silliman's permission.

Sunday 4 February 2007

Take 1: Claire Crowther's Stretch of Closures

Were Claire not a dear friend of mine, I'd be warmly reviewing her first collection, Stretch of Closures. As she is one of my favourite people, I cannot ethically review it, but I still want to tell everyone what an intriguing, accomplished volume this is. In lieu of a review then, I'll be posting a number of poems from the collection (with her permission, of course). Enjoy!


O Source du Possible, alimente à jamais
Des pollens des soleils d'exils . . .

Jules Laforgue, Complaint du Temps et de sa Commère L'Espace

Broken red slats of a blind horizon
behind a rope
between an oak and a concrete post in a clearing
light up a honey-green leaf of girl
down the line. Once, boys grasped the handgrip and
into a draft of unsure sky.
Such machinery of
to the ground once made a cloud
of men, a storm that
in from a sea. The sun has no time
left for fire. A torch
spots of gold, tiny as pollen grains.
The slats are
off from the sky, worn out.
She runs beneath them while they
fly down
again and again like rare Red Wakes.

Claire Crowther

(If you'd like to buy a copy and read the book entire, you can do so here for the UK, here for the US.)