Thursday 29 May 2008

You, The Living

Matt and I saw this film tonight at The Little Theatre in Bath; I recommend it highly. It's a worthwhile experience. If you're interested in reviews, check out the film's page at Rotten Tomatoes.


Sunday 25 May 2008

From The New York Times to Le Monde

Someone's reprinted my poem from the New York Times science blog "Dot Earth" (itself reprinted from Feeling the Pressure: Poetry and Science of Climate Change) in response to a discussion on a blog on Le Monde, noting how the poem shows the value of statistics and other records.

Saturday 24 May 2008

And a good time was had by all at Mr B's

Last night I read with Richard Lambert and Emily Dening at Mr B's Emporium of Books in Bath, and it was a splendid evening. There were a couple hurdles--the books had to be ordered at the last minute, and Tim Liardet was unable to emcee because he was ill, but Royal Mail Special Delivery brought the books in time and Wayne Hill filled in admirably for Tim. First Richard and Emily read for twenty minutes each--both reading well from engaging work, then a break, then I read from Yet for twenty minutes. The store was packed, and I don't know how many pamphlets I signed/were sold, but I think it was at least ten. My thanks for a wonderful event to Mr B's, Richard, Emily, Wayne and all who attended!

Thursday 22 May 2008

Long Poems : : : Major Forms Conference--Rachel Blau DuPlessis, "'Merely More of a Good Thing?': Considering the Long Poem" (17 May 08)

The long poem as a passionate activity in its investment in a desire.

"The long poem is a work of mastery in which you submit to your own powerlessness."

Seriality--a rhythm of thought; accountability via accumulation

Length as a statement of ambition in relation to a poem. A way of waging/wagering inside time.

Derrida's "The Law of Genre"--all genres are contaminated, parasitic; all writing is always of multiple genres, which means any study of the long poem can only fail as it becomes undermined by the plethora.

"The lyric poem haunts the long poem even as the long poem" surrounds, smashes, trumps it.

"Fill" as one of the ethical horrors of the long poem

Short poem's sense of time immediately present vs. the long poem's "wallowing in time"

The lyric inside and outside the long poem. Zukofsky's A16 (only half a page), all other sections far longer. Sections before and after A16 are elegiac--words unequal to the work of elegy.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Long Poems : : : Major Forms Conference--Charles Bernstein's "The Social Text as Long Poem: Epic Frauds and Phantom Authors" (16 May 08)

Frauds depend on a stable sense of authorship.

cf. Alan Sokal's fake essay in Social Text--motive of exposing intellectual fraud

A hostile or retributive fraud is a hoax with a trap.

Kent Johnson's fraud in the creation of Yasusada, with the supposed Hiroshima survivor publishing poems in Conjunctions, Grand Street, American Poetry Review, raised questions about poetry--do we value it for cultural information instead of aesthetics, etc.? Authenticity of author's identity eclipsing the aesthetic quality of the work. Johnson acts as the police, bringing out the crimes of American editors in their sentimentality toward victims, prioritisation of authentic voice over aesthetics, etc.

Yasusada's Double Flowering as retributive hoax--cf. responses by Forrest Gander (in The Nation) Eliot Weinberger, Charles Simic. The effect of Johnson's hoax depends on his being a white male. Who speaks in a text is always important; we need to know the historical social space in which a poem exists and participates.

Nasdijj--false memoir of Native American life; significance of the fraud addressed in Time by Sherman Alexie.

The fraudsters want their work to be seen as more authentic than that which they are faking. Resentment toward feminism, gays, other races as arbiters of taste.

The ironising of what is being mocked may then increase its aesthetic emphasis in a way that paradoxically shows its possibility.

Long Poems : : : Major Forms Conference--Tony Lopez, "The Twentieth-Century Work in Progress" (16 May 08)

(A number of people have asked me how the conference went last weekend, so I thought I'd post some rough notes for a handful of the papers, beginning with the first plenary. The conference was held at the University of Sussex, 16-17 May.)

As the (poetic) work progresses over time, it must become a bildungsroman as it reflects the author's development, decay, interests, etc.

Inventing as we go the 20th C. work in progress to encompass war, displacement, Holocaust, etc.

Provisional approach necessary: "the sustained provisional."

American long poem: an epic that's lost the plot, e.g., Paterson, The Cantos.

The serial poem: e.g., Jack Spicer, Susan Howe, Michael Palmer--fragments working toward resonance; "meaning becomes a function of position." Cf. Andrew Crozier's The Veil.

The procedural long poem: My Life, Berrigan's Sonnets, Fanny Howe's Introduction to the World.

A successful long poem takes the audience's response into account as it develops. The poet needs to envision an intelligent reader to keep the poem interesting.

W. S. Graham's Nightfishing based on the sonata form. Connections to Coleridge's Rime, Hopkins' Wreck of the Deutschland--post-Christian figure who suffers, reaches a spiritual state.

Stein "irreducibly experimental"

Monday 19 May 2008

Here's Disbelief

Last week, I've just learned, my youngest sister signed her rights to her two oldest children over to the State of Illinois. The story of her second round of drug addiction, loss of her children first to my parents and later to foster care, stint in detox, months seeing the children on a regular visit day, then a "dirty screen" just as she was about to get them back, &c. began in the summer of '06. After this most recent development, it looks like the drama may conclude with my sister Laura and her husband becoming foster parents to Katelyn, 10, and Alex, 3 on Saturday, going to his father Bryan, Joanna's husband, and so essentially returning to Bryan and Joanna.

I'm planning on doing something special with Katie when I go home and having more contact with her once she's at Laura's, but I know how little anything can weigh in the balance against what she's gone through. The last time I was home she asked me to write a story with her as a character in it; I'm going to have to take that up.

Sunday 18 May 2008

John Ash's Disbelief (Selections)

You can get so far but no nearer

"Unwilling Suspension"

The aggression of the ordinary

"The Other Great Composers"

The whole house
was ordered in 1912 from Sears & Roebuck,
one of how many hundred editions of the same design,
and delivered in numbered parts by train.

"The House Comes to Rest in the Garden"

Is anyone more trustworthy than a newspaper?

"Croissant Outlets in Seattle"

They began again,--
under the chestnuts in flower, on the bridges,
under the marvelous clouds, besides the statues.
If anything could be saved they would save it.
If life was empty they would bring food and flowers,
wine and illustrated books.
They staggered home in the evenings
carrying bread and enormous newspapers,
still thinking of the bronze head
they had seen in the museum. Light flashed
from the rim of a lunette. Storms of laughter passed over them.
A party was always going on in the courtyard below,
and as the wall began to crack behind them
they studied the plans for the kiosk they would build.
It was the old urge not to be shut out of heaven,
not to shut heaven out. The sky kissed their hands.

"The Sudden Ending of Their Dream" (second of two stanzas)

Once in the cool, blue restaurant
of the Hotel Brown a friend said to me,--
'You don't realise how much your openness
frightens people: it hits them like a wave,'

and I smiled, not because his words
amused me, but because the scent of peppers
grilling in the kitchen overwhelmed me.
I could not think of ideas or people then--

only of the place, the scent, the way
long white curtains moved back and forth
across the boundaries of light and air.

* * *

[end of final section, 6]

Light poured down the steps of the Hotel Brown,
traversed by a cold, rising breeze, as if to say--

'You are welcome, for the moment. This
is an interval in your life. Soon you must look to
the plots and masks and backdrops of your next act.
Here all moments are intervals. It is like music and like loss.'

"The Hotel Brown Poems"

The more precise the investigation,
the more the 'unknown quantities' multiply.

"Unsentimental Journey"

The first snows have fallen. The yellow begins,
infinite and deep, to play with twenty shades of blue.

* * *

The others eat home-made bread, watered
with the characteristic tears of the epoch.

* * *

I love the clear water and the turbid star.

"From Lorca's Letters"

Thursday 15 May 2008

John Ash's The Branching Stairs (selections)

I won't describe these. You know them

or you remain in exile.

"The Philosophies of Popular Songs"

The monster came up out of the rain--
oh help!--like something vomited
from the dank depths of the gooseberry swamp,
all hirsute and dripping.

* * *

remarks of such a hurtful
and cynical nature, thrown

altogether like a basket of arrow-heads
that they retreated in tears.

* * *

Before the world finally forgot them
it was observed that they had begun to paint

on the underside of the table
a bright blue sky, scattered with gold stars
and the episodes of an epic
were creeping remorselessly across the carpet.

"Life Under the Table"

They fear the time when they cease to recognise
the names in the anathemas.

"Bespalko's Devotions" (much stronger in context)

Of course one must presume such charming people
innocent, and perhaps one should ascribe the ruins
(which are so calculated in their disorder
they might be fakes) to the ancient wisdom
of the city fathers who wish to remind us only
that all cities are mortal, that even this most
prosperous, most impeccably bourgeois of cities
will go the way of Ephesus and Antioch,
of Tanis and Sahala. But a doubt remains:

a city is not an axiom.

"The Ruins, with Phrases from the Official Guide"

But I can hardly speak. I feel
I am confined inside a drinking bowl.
I am surely, the seed inside the smallest berry,
and if I were to say more you would not understand me.

"According to Their Mythology"

the city is bound within a ring, a ring

thrown down in boredom.

"Without Being Evening"

Too late to talk of moorings
or bed rock. The scent of mushrooms
or sorrel carries us far away:
an interminable drunken conversation
is the fate of exiles.

* * *

the gulping music lied to us.

"Ghost Preludes" (the beginning and ending)

There must be mountains
inside those clouds
and the sea still exists
where the port once was.

* * *

No use lamenting the caryatids' faces
melting in the rain as if they were modelled in snow--

* * *

But there is a community in despised professions
and when the street musicians look down
into the deep red or blue linings of their instruments' cases
they are like divers, like archaeologists

discovering for the first time after centuries of burial,
centuries of invention and vast migrations no one understands,
a lost beauty, a vanished art like a living face--
Philip of Macedon's tomb.

"Street Musicians"

Now the storms, the heavy heat confirm
distance from the event is no protection--
besides you live in a country where half the population
are criminals or fools, all of them
staring through sealed windows at the vast
cataclysm that is the weather.

* * *

Yes we also look at the sky.
At intervals it turns black.

"The Weather, or The English Requiem"

Monday 12 May 2008

Istanbul, Day 3, 23 April 2008

One of my favourite things about Istanbul is the street cats. They're everywhere, and it seems everybody's happy to give them a bit of leftover sandwich, etc. Some people I spoke to had their own street cats, ones who would visit regularly for food and affection. I first decided to photograph some of the street cats I saw as I was walking from Kadir Has to Eminönü.

My next stop was Eminönü Mosque. I was so tired, though, I didn't go inside. It's even more awe-inspiring and beautiful in person.

Saturday 10 May 2008

"The Forecast" on a New York Times blog

My poem, "The Forecast," from the newly published anthology Feeling the Pressure: The Poetry and Science of Climate Change, has been reprinted on Andrew C. Revkin's New York Times science blog, "Dot Earth," in his entry for 2 May.

Friday 9 May 2008

John Ash's The Goodbyes (selections)


The pianist commences the sonata about the angels and the rain.
It is so slow, so lingering we will soon be fast asleep

dreaming of pink rooms with musical animals and roses
while our teeth rot in sympathy, and outside
the autumn air grows dense as a preserving oil

We must start now on the long route back
to 'the evidence of our senses' but it is hard,--
we may have to unlearn as much as we learn,

"Great Sonata I" (first three stanzas)

Our lives
have been folded away like a letter

bearing a message of terrible
and never posted.

"Our Lives: A Symphony"

And each individual--
their clothes, their hair or the small movements of their hands,
impresses us as the element of a pattern we wouldn't, just now, alter a stitch,
although we know sadness is in it like an ink-stain

"The Threshold Moment"

we're listening and leaning into a distance htat's
immense, capable of any transformation--

How far? How deep? Who will come with us?
Everything is in there, even the mountains
where the elephants go to die.

* * *

The clear air's full of the feeling of curtains rising
and everyone's ears are tuning up.

"Music Understood by Children and Animals"

turns to the furniture of permanence.

* * *

the goodbye like a black stair-
case leading
back into whatever you were.

"The Goodbyes"

Wednesday 7 May 2008

John Ash's The Bed

Not long after I learned I was going to Istanbul I learned John Ash has made the city his home for some years. I'd read and enjoyed his poems thereabouts before and began reading his Selected Poems from Carcanet in preparation for the chance of meeting, as he teaches at Kadir Has. I am so glad this opportunity arose, for I learned I love John Ash's poetry; Ash is a contemporary Calvino, taking the imaginative possibilities of a real city into its archetypal psychology. Here are selections from the selections of The Bed in the Selected Poems.

It is all perfect: the mirrors are hardly tarnished at all
and still flicker with the faces of unhappy children.

We have stepped into the frontispiece of a new book:
it is called 'The History of Pleasure'.

"Even though" (final stanzas)

The cat screams and hisses in the pipes all night.

"Prose for Roy Fisher"

In the last photograph to be taken
before the entire area was sealed

off, a black flock of birds descends
towards the snow-bound city--

descends in the shape of a neckline,
descends like a frustrated wish.

"The Last Photographs" (final stanzas)

The recital of nostalgias begins.

"Orchestral Manoeuvers (In the Dark)"

...the violin resumes before the rose can fade
or the stars fall out of the polished arc of heaven.

"Advanced Choreography for Beginners"

yes, the world is simple
and very far from our lives

* * *

I like this picture
even if its charm is suspect

"Salon Pieces"

but the longing stays with us--

I mean the golden longing

* * *

And a song is the engine
that builds this different climate....

* * *

We have to love the past
it is our invention.

"The Rain"

concluding in signatures
of a fantastic and lethal elegance.

"Accompaniment to a Film Scene" (last lines)

I escaped

and ran over some mountains--
they cannot have been so high
it is only now that the light reflected from their snows

is dazzling...

* * *

but I embraced the violent innocence
I found in America's great heart.

"Glowing Embers: Paraphrases & Fictions"


is all, like star-light

the worn linen
of a life.

"The Bed"

(nb: I also copied the whole of "Sonata in Two Sentences" into my journal)

Monday 5 May 2008

Let's Hijack a Medi-Van

Return airfare from Heathrow to O'Hare for my prospective dates (21 July-12 August) has dropped below 500 pounds, so I'm starting to have hopes and make plans. In March, the best thing I thought I could do for my father from afar was have him sent Season 3 (Series 3 for you Brits) of Battlestar Galactica, as Mom had bought a new laptop and he could catch up on what he'd missed. Now I'm thinking it's been fifteen-plus months since my father was somewhere besides a hospital, rehab centre, or the family home at 220 Arlington Drive, and I'd like to take him out for a nice dinner. In the past, we've all enjoyed wonderful dinners at Biaggi's, and as it's on the fancy side as local restaurants go, it seems appropriate for the occasion.

So I called my parents tonight and ran the idea by each of them. For my father, as usual, the issue was money: "But it's fifty dollars for those vans." For my mother, predictably, the issue was practicality: "I think the wheelchair vans only do medical trips." This conjunction--the limits of insufficient money, the limits of what was practical--were depressing as a teenager, but I wasn't going to be brought down by that tonight. "We'll hijack one," I said to Mom. "We'll get a medi-van and make it take us to Biaggi's rather than the hospital." At this my mother burst out with a gleeful laugh: maybe we could, it said to me. Let's do it.

Istanbul, Night 1 and Day 2, 21-22 April 2008

I arrived in Istanbul some time after five p.m. on the 21st but didn't properly arrive at my hotel until nearly eight as there was confusion over the airport transfer; so all I did that first night was have dinner near my hotel, at Doy-Doy. As it was quite warm, you can imagine how disappointed I was that they didn't serve alcohol on account of their proximity to a mosque, in this case The Blue Mosque. Here is my view of The Blue Mosque from Doy-Doy's terrace.

That thumb in the right corner of the picture isn't mine, but that of a friendly foreigner who wanted to help me obtain the best shot after I'd agreed to take a photo of him and his girlfriend--he seemed keen to return the favour.

The next morning I went to Kadir Has University to meet the faculty and teach a class introducing the prose poem. By the time I'd taught, we'd been to lunch, and I'd settled the arrangements for my next teaching session on Thursday, it was mid-afternoon, so I decided to visit nearby sites, beginning with The Greek Patriarchate. At the Patriarchate is a beautiful small church, the Church of St. George. Here are two interior pictures.

(To see more detail, click on any photo to enlarge it.)

Next I walked to the area of Eyup and its summit at the Pierre Loti Cafe and had a cup of tea as I looked out over Istanbul--there's a grand view from there (but with the humidity there was a heavy mist, so the photos I took there didn't turn out well), then back down into Eyup to do a little shopping.

Early evening I rejoined the faculty at Kadir Has, from which we took taxis to Taksim and drank beers at the outdoor tables of a bar I believe was called Urban. After a while those with children headed home, and those remaining, Mel and Selhan, took me to Lades Restaurant for authentic Turkish food. Such a day!

Friday 2 May 2008

"Pleurisy" in today's Times Literary Supplement

This is a poem I wrote when staying at Lytton's in January, his noisy radiator providing some of the inspiration.