Monday, November 24, 2008

Political Cartoon

Political humor 

Image taken from accessed 11/24/08.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How to Read John Ashbery's Poems

In August of 1974, John Ashbery's poem 'Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror' was published in Poetry magazine. In 1975, a book of poems by Ashbery was published and titled after the 'Self-Portrait' poem. That book is famous for winning the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Edward Byrne writes in his blog of his experiences in the world of poetry during the mid-70s. It turns out that Byrne was a student of Ashbery's in 1975. Reading Ashbery's poems can be difficult.

In March of 2005, Slate magazine published an article titled 'The Instruction Manual: How to Read John Ashbery'. Here is an excerpt:

It is hard to talk concretely about Ashbery's poetry, because his subject is, so often, aesthetic consciousness—what he calls "the experience of experience." On the one hand, the poems have the dashed-off look and feel of pop culture-inflected postmodernism, inspired by the radical innovations of Dada and French Surrealism. On the other hand, at their heart is a kind of high Romantic yearning for wholeness: In a sense the poems are simply about being unable to give up that longing. At the center of an Ashbery poem isn't usually a subject (à la Philip Larkin) but a feeling (à la Jackson Pollock). That feeling is conjured up by the interplay between aesthetic conviction and amiably bland bewilderment; amid all the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life is the enduring hope that, as one speaker puts it, "at last I shall see my complete face." The best thing to do, then, is not to try to understand the poems but to try to take pleasure from their arrangement, the way you listen to music. It's only then, for most readers, that the meaning begins to leak through.

To read the full article, go to the Slate website.

More recently (Dec 8, 2008), the Christian Science Monitor ran a little review of Ashbery: Collected Poems 1956-1987. The review is helpful in understanding better how to read Ashbery's poetry. Here is an excerpt from that little book review:

Reading Ashbery involves the ability to make sudden shifts between slangy and literary language, between rational analysis and irrational intuition, and to fuse seemingly unrelated images from paintings, film, and daily life. His poems seem to narrate stories – but they are stories constantly interrupted by paradoxes and contradictions, all part of a storytelling sensibility that loves unsolved and unsolvable mysteries.
Call this volume of Ashbery’s work a training guide for imaginative calisthenics.
For the full article, go to the Christian Science Monitor website.
Another help in reading Ashbery's poems is to begin by saying 'Let me understand Ashbery's poetics.' Generally, once a reader understands a poet's poetics, that reader can more easily 'unlock' the meaning of that poet's poems. What is poetics? Well, this Wikipedia entry can tell you better than I can. How to understand Ashbery's poetics better requires, I believe, an understanding of the situation of poetry within Yeats and Eliot - and then understand that Ashbery felt the need to create something extra-Yeatsian, extra-Eliotian if you will. Whereas Yeats and Eliot especially despaired over the lack of a coherent expression capable of including all of experience, Ashbery joyfully goes about his own project of creating poetry that acknowledges and embraces some of the more salient challenges of our times, consumerism and the formation of self being among them.
David Herd has written a book that should prove helpful as well in reading poems by Ashbery. Published by Manchester University Press, John Ashbery and American Poetry was reviewed in The Guardian (March 10, 2001) by Robert Potts. Here is the first paragraph from that review:
"I live with this paradox; on the one hand, I am an important poet, read by younger writers, and on the other hand, nobody understands me. I am often asked to account for this state of affairs, but I can't." This self-assessment by the American poet John Ashbery is fair and succinct. Much admired, winner of many prizes, stylistically over-influential, Ashbery has nonetheless provoked hostility and scepticism from uncomprehending readers. His poems slide through a variety of voices and styles with quickfire cuts between sensations, comments and events; sometimes the disruption of expectation is so frequent that it becomes easy for a sceptical or lazy reader to feel that the poems are nothing more than a random agglomeration of words, images, quotations and phrases.
Follow this link to read the full article.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The following is excerpted from a post at Dustin Brookshire's blog, "I Was Born Doing Reference Work in Sin". In this post, Dorianne Laux tells us why she writes. What I have here is the first paragraph only; for the full essay, go to Dustin's blog.

I have recently begun to think of writing as what Susan Sontag calls “a wisdom project” in her forward to Another Beauty, a collection of autobiographical essays by the great Polish poet Adam Zagajewski.

“...autobiography is an occasion to purge oneself of vanity, while advancing the project of self understanding—call it the wisdom project—which is never completed, however long the life.”

I am still hard at work on this project of the self. The solitary self, as well as the self in relation to the world and the unknown universe we swirl around in, uncertain of our purpose or future. When I wrote the poems that would become my first book, I didn’t think of it as a book, but rather as a need to understand the basic questions that all human beings ask: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What is beauty? Why is there suffering? Where is truth? These questions would arise in me in the form of poems, and in making the poems into a collection, I tried to arrange them in a shape, find a path for them to travel to make clearer those questions. I write to know the questions.

Read more about Dorianne Laux at the Poets dot org website.
Read Ms. Laux's poem 'Shipfitter's Wife' at the Poetry Foundation website.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bob Dylan and His Poetic Lyrics

The following was originally posted by Edward Byrne at his blog, One Poet's Notes, on Sunday, November 16, 2008. His blog is serves as an adjunct to the Valparaiso Poetry Review. What I have here is the beginning of the essay only.

This weekend [November 15, 2008] an article appeared in
The Times discussing publication for the first time of nearly two-dozen poems written by Bob Dylan almost forty-five years ago. Apparently, the poetry had been handed to photographer Barry Feinstein in the 1960s by his friend, Bob Dylan. Feinstein, who often photographed Hollywood celebrities, also had followed Dylan on his European tour in 1966 and had taken a cover photo of the singer for The Times They Are A-Changin album.

Dylan’s poems had been stored along with Feinstein’s Hollywood pictures that inspired much of the material in the twenty-three poems. Recently rediscovered, the photographs and poems are now available in a new book,
Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric, published by Simon & Schuster. Some of the poems are reprinted in Times Online, which describes their appearance and content: “the lines are skinny, the rhythms abrupt, the language sparse and telegraphic and abbreviated, the situations jarring and dreamlike, the comebacks frequent and snappy. There are laments, complaints, musings, skits (a hilarious screen test, for one), parables (converting those wardrobe department shelves into a repository of human lives), nightmare scenarios (the lurching paranoid fantasy that begins ‘after crashin the sportscar / into the chandelier’ and sounds like a hellish rewrite of ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’), and plenty of dry tombstone epigraphs.”

Perhaps almost as interesting is the accompanying commentary by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who is credited as contributing an introduction to the book. Collins addresses questions concerning Bob Dylan’s status as a “poet.” Initially, Collins explains why songwriters rarely produce lyrics that achieve the criteria to qualify as lines of poetry: “Whenever the question comes up—and it does nearly every term—of whether or nor rock lyrics qualify as poetry, I offer my students a simple but heartless test. Ask all the musicians to please leave the stage and take their instruments with them—yes, that goes for the backup singers in the tight satin dresses, and the drummer—and then have the lead singer stand alone by the microphone and read the lyrics from that piece of paper he is holding in his hand. What you will hear can leave only one impression: the lyrics in almost every case are not poetry, they are lyrics.”
for the full blog entry, go to One Poet's Notes.

Click here to visit Bob Dylan's website.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Al Hellus

A poet I met years ago (1994), Al Hellus, died last Friday, November 14, 2008. His obituary is in The Saginaw News today (November 16). Here it is in full:

Hellus, Al
Saginaw, Michigan

Passed away Friday November 14, 2008 following a lengthy illness. Age 50 years. Albert William Hellus was born September 11, 1958 in Saginaw to Donald E. and Beverly (Musser) Hellus. He was a member of Holy Family Catholic Church. Al was very involved in politics as a teenager and young adult. He was a longtime poet and member of the Plastic Haiku Band in the Saginaw area.

Surviving are his mother, Beverly Hellus of Saginaw, a brother, Daniel (DeeAnna) Hellus of Freeland, a sister, Erika (Ronald) Maxwell of Saginaw, four nieces and nephews, Dylan and Danessa Hellus, and Cameron and Terra Hayden; and many loving friends. Al was preceded in death by his father, Donald E. Hellus and his grandparents.

Funeral service will take place 5:30 PM Tuesday November 18, 2008 at the Reitz Herzberg Funeral Home on S. Midland Rd. (M47). Fr. Ronald Wagner will officiate. Friends and family are welcome to gather at the funeral home on Monday from 5-9 PM and on Tuesday from 10 AM until the time of service. Memorial offerings may be given to Emmaus House or the American Heart Association.

Saginaw resident Gina Myers remembers Al at her blog, I Was Born in Saginaw, Michigan.

I remember Al as a self-described Arts Activist. He often organized fundraisers to benefit non-profit agencies such as Emmaus House. He organized the Drainage Basin Artist's Alliance. He created the Rouse for Theodore Roethke which brought, in the course of ten years, on an annual basis poets such as Tess Gallagher and William Heyen to Saginaw. Prior to that he organized the poetry slams held in Old Town Saginaw at the Red Eye Coffee House. I met Richard Tillinghast, Keith Taylor, Ed Sanders and other poets in that venue. Al introduced me to many people including the River Junction Poets when he decided to help me record a video introduction to Theodore Roethke and his poetry. Al had chapbooks published by Mayapple Press and also by Ridgeway Press. His titles are listed at the
Michigan Poetry site. I'm sure Al is looking down on us from a better place. He is missed.

One of my favorite poems of Al's is his 'alternative baseball' poem. Here it is:

alternative baseball

the surrealists
take the field
& the crowd roars!

a right foot
flopping into
left field
with a glove
on its big toe

an assortment of
noses & teeth & eyeballs
& time pieces
blasting hot ones
across the infield

while the dugouts fill
with migrating salmon
& middle management executives

an inflated
fifty dollar bill
steps up to the plate
waving a Louisville Slugger
sprouting branches
& leaves & tiny fists --

it is enough
for a standing-O

and Magritte's head
rolls from the bleachers
laughing & shouting:
ARF ! ARF !"

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Recommended Reading for President-Elect Obama

Are you not aware? The Poetry Foundation contacted Charles Bernstein, Patricia Smith and Forrest Gander to ask them which poem they would each recommend for President-elect Barack Obama. You can listen to the podcast at the Poetry Foundation website.

Don't want to listen to the podcast? You can check out the recommended reading as follows:

Charles Bernstein (b. 1950) recommends "The Bomb" by Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987). The poem was published in 1962 and is online here.

Patricia Smith (b. 1955) recommends "For My People" by Margaret Walker (1914-1988). The poem was published in 1942 and is online here.

Forrest Gander (b. 1956) recommends "The Blaze of the Poui" by Mark McMorris. The poem was published in 2003 and you can buy the book from the University of Georgia Press.