Showing posts with label School of Quietude. Show all posts
Showing posts with label School of Quietude. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

There is something of the awfulness of an Ed Wood film about James Franco’s Hart Crane biopic, The Broken Tower, except that there’s not, not really. What made Ed Wood everybody’s favorite bad filmmaker was a fundamental joy underlying all of his projects, the thrill of making movies, even if the flying saucer was a paper plate dangling on a string, the dialog wooden, the plot preposterous. The dialog is wooden, the acting atrocious, the narrative movement non-existent in The Broken Tower, but its underlying sense is one of brooding pompousness. You’re cringing at the self-importance of it all from the first frame to the last.

The ultimate crime here is that nothing in this film gives you the sense that Hart Crane was an interesting or an important poet, let alone both. When his texts are presented as voice overs or as text on the screen, they’re too long and rushed – it’s impossible to absorb it all & the passages cited aren’t the ones that inspire an impulse toward further inspection. When Franco as Crane gives a reading, it’s so ponderous & Victorian that both my wife & I nodded off before it was over. Indeed, the impact is so different from Franco’s quite moving reading of Howl in his role as Allen Ginsberg in the Rob Epstein-Jeffrey Friedman film of that name that it’s shocking. The two readings should be studied by film students so that they can understand why an actor is so often better off in the hands of another director, even relative novices to dramatic filmmaking like the documentarians Epstein & Friedman. We’ll get to see Franco try it all a different way when Franco stars as CK Williams (I kid you not) in the forthcoming Tar, a film with nine – count ‘em – directors.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Brothers Dickman
introduced by Kevin Young

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Harry Gilonis (photo by Tom Raworth)

Harry Gilonis saw my link last Friday to Alan Brownjohn’s comment re the UK poetry wars & recalled that “Poetry Review both published his partisan account as if it were neutral, and in addition published no ripostes.” Here is the one Gilonis sent at the time.


Poetry Review
22 Betterton Street
London WC2H 9BX

29 July 2007

Dear Sirs,

I’ve recently read Alan Brownjohn’s piece on the ‘poetry wars’ in Poetry Review Vol. 97 no. 2, and it Will Not Do. We are presented, with an air of high magnanimity, with a regrettable contretemps between “the broad mainstream of modern verse” and Bob Cobbing’s chums with flowers in their hair and beer down their vests. It really wasn’t like that!
The Poetry Society was a membership organisation, mostly made up of amateur readers and writers, mostly non-metropolitan. The Poetry Review reflected their slightly timid tastes, and the Poetry Society was run by a Council mostly made up of minor poets with insufficient public success to keep them busier elsewhere. This was not a mainstream but a side-channel; admittedly not a backwater, but calm and safe; a Norfolk Broad, perhaps.
Contrariwise, the radical efflux turns out to be a bigger body of water than the self-proclaimed mainstream: the magazine Second Aeon reported in one issue at the time the publication of 400 new poetry books from avant-gardists. When Eric Mottram called this a Poetry Revival it was a statement of fact; that the Revival was too large and too variegated to be satisfactorily summed-up doesn’t alter that. Nor was all of its activity outrageously wild, of its moment, doomed to subsequent obscurity. Doubtless Bob Cobbing in full spate might frighten the unfamiliar (he did me!); but that was a small part of what Barry’s ‘radicals’ were propounding, what the Revival offered, what the Review published under Mottram.
This last is probably as good a test-case as one could want, given that the Review’s reach was far wider than 21 Earls Court Square, and copies are still – for the assiduous - findable. Alan Brownjohn’s suggestion that that “average readers of poetry would recognise few of the names” insults the average reader, but might be accurate about the particular provinciality of the Poetry Society pre-Revival; and again post- , as it returned to its slumbers.
I would hope that even if Alan Brownjohn did not then recognise most of the names below, all published by Mottram in the Review, he would now be embarrassed not to do so: John Ashbery, Basil Bunting, Robert Duncan, Roy Fisher, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Barbara Guest, Lee Harwood, Denise Levertov, Hugh MacDiarmid, Barry MacSweeney, Christopher Middleton, Edwin Morgan, George Oppen, Tom Raworth, Iain Sinclair, Garry Snyder… Many are obviously international figures, ornamenting the lists of major publishing-houses.
Nor is it the case that Mottram was as it were ‘prematurely tasteful’, running ahead of his readership; he published, throughout his editorship, conventionally mainstream poets his predecessors (and successors) at the Poetry Review would happily publish - James Berry, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Elaine Feinstein, Michael Hamburger, George MacBeth, F.T. Prince, Peter Redgrove, Penelope Shuttle, Ken Smith, D.M. Thomas. Mottram’s publishing programme does not smack of exclusivist avant-gardism, but of giving a map of what was happening.  Which was the job he was hired to do, surely; a job no editors since – save David Herd and Robert Potts, similarly side-lined – have even attempted.)
When Mottram’s editorship ended the Poetry Review became not merely - in my opinion - a lot duller but also, I’d say objectively, a lot less distinguished. As did the Poetry Society itself, after the Arts Council coup; Alan Brownjohn is disingenuous in saying that the Society never had its grant cut, as if that were the only way disapproval might make itself felt. As he must have known at the time, and Barry would have reminded him, the Arts Council’s chairman, Charles Osborne, was active in his opposition. Roy Fisher - as so often -- got it right: “if you take a poet / you’ll take another, and so on, / till finally you get a civilization: or just / the dirtiest brawl you ever saw.” Peter Barry’s book, which works at being scholarly when polemic would be entirely excusable, deals with the lamentable decision of the UK arts establishment to settle for brawling; and it is a considerable pity that it was handed over to Alan Brownjohn - a beneficiary of the brawl if not a brawler himself - for review. The book, and the era, deserve better.
Yours sincerely,

Harry Gilonis
London SW11 3NY

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

I know, whenever I use the phrase School of Quietude in some pointed fashion, what kind of response I’m going to get, and the comments that sprouted around my note on the elevation of W.S. Merwin to the PLOTUS on Friday were unusual only in the increased number of defenders who turned up to rescue me from those who would simply prefer to tar & feather anyone for the sin of characterizing one of the broad traditions of American poetry. I do appreciate their presence & their willingness to suffer foolishness on my behalf.

Surely I could have used some other term, though the only adequately descriptive alternative I can think of is Neophobe. Yes, there is an audience for neophobic literature & always will be. But I would challenge the idea that there is anything “mainstream” about neophobia & I cringe to think of it as “Official Verse Culture.” Even worse, however, is that idea that it should continue to be the Verse That Dare Not Speak Its Name. That, of course, is precisely what is wrong with the neophobic tradition.

If there are to be adjectival poetry, whether we call our particular adjective Beat, Deep Image, Projectivist, Modernist, Surrealist, Actualist, New York School, Black, Gay, Feminist, Visual, Brutalist, Flarf, Hybrid or New Formalist, invariably it must be an instance of a marked case, something that sets it apart from the unmarked noun: Poetry.

Regardless of the noun involved, the Unmarked Case invariably has a history & a politics, one that should be apparent to anybody to the left of Glenn Beck. That phrase in the Declaration of Independence about “all men are created equal” is a good case in point. At the time it was written, it clearly did mean men, white men, white men of property. But when I was growing up in the 1950s, we were told instead that “men” really meant everybody, but anyone who could read the words knew better. Men meant men. This is precisely what those who argue for preserving the “original intent” of the Constitution mean when they propose that the letter of the law is unchanging.

Well into the 1950s (and in some realms perhaps even today), men were simply the unmarked case of people. You don’t find Freud writing about vagina envy. My great grandmother did not have the right even to vote until she was 65. Nobody thought to teach my grandmother how to drive. Whole segments of the world were simply carved off and set beyond the reach of these women.

Similarly, when I was growing up, history was a subject that meant American history, which was by no means the history of everyone who ever lived here. I was fortunate to have one teacher, Charles C. Clarke, who had spent part of his childhood homeless, coming to California with his family from Oklahoma during the Depression. He lived for a year in a potato cave near Fresno. Coming as I did from a “broken home” in the age of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best & Leave it to Beaver, I was painfully conscious – every day – of being the poorest kid in school. Whether I wanted to be or not, I was the marked case & it wasn’t until I met “Chico Charlie” that I realized that this condition was not unique to me, and certainly not “my fault.” And that it connected to an entire network of other similarly marked cases, economically, socially, politically, aesthetically, pretty much in every aspect of life.

The School of Quietude is poetry’s unmarked case, and its most characteristic – even defining – feature is the denial of its own existence. This in large part is because the phenomenon is invisible precisely to those who in turn are defined by it, just as the exclusionary maleness of “men” was once invisible to guys.

If being the marked case has consequences, in poetry as elsewhere in life, so does being the unmarked one, and they’re not entirely positive. Perhaps the worst is not having a clear sense of one’s own heritage as a poet. Where marked case poets tend to be obsessive about the preservation of the work of their ancestors, many major neophobe poets of the recent past are virtually forgotten today. When I wrote about Audrey Wurdemann, the youngest person ever to win the Pulitzer for poetry – she was just 24 –the spouse of Joseph Auslander (who first held the Library of Congress’ Consultant in Poetry post that has evolved into today’s PLOTUS), and the great-great-granddaughter of Shelley, her family contacted me because so few people write about her work (or that of Auslander’s) today. She is hardly the only Pulitzer poet of the 1930s to disappear entirely from view. George Dillon was the editor of Poetry for a dozen years, but I cannot recall the last time I saw anyone cite him as an influence. Robert Hillyer, whose middle name happened to be Silliman, became more notorious for his anti-communist activities, and for seeking to ban the work of Ezra Pound after World War 2. Though published by Knopf in his lifetime, the Wikipedia discussion of his life & work consists of less than 10 sentences. Dillon’s is even shorter.

One might argue that these poets just weren’t terribly good, but these were all Pulitzer winning poets from the same decade that saw other Pulitzers go to Robert Frost (twice), Conrad Aiken & Archibald MacLeish. The other winners? Robert P.T. Coffin, Marya Zaturenska & John Gould Fletcher. What I think this list suggests, really, is that neophobe poetics itself evolved in some fairly significant ways between the 1930s & the 1950s, back when W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich, Robert Bly & Donald Hall were all first publishing poems that rhymed. The shift is every bit as profound as that from the Modernists to the New Americans, but it’s far less well documented, and one doesn’t see attempts to hold conferences to resurrect Wurdemann, Dillon or Coffin the way there has been, say, to explore the life & writing of Lorine Niedecker.

All of which suggests to me that the School of Quietude would benefit from acknowledging its own existence, which would appear to be a precondition for excavating its own history. Frankly, I’d rather they pick a term of their own choosing – School of Quietude was originally intended as a nudge to do so.

Which is why I find D.A. Powell & Kevin Prufer’s Dunstan Thompson: On the Life & Work of a Lost American Master to be one of the more important books of 2010. The first volume in an announced “Unsung Masters” series, Thompson was a one-time student of Hillyer’s & part of the wartime poetry scene, appearing in The New Yorker & Paris Review, even translated by Borges before disappearing entirely. Prufer in particular has done a superb job in tracking down this poet & in getting his work not only back into print but contextualized by a number of sympathetic essays, from Edward Field to Dana Gioia.

Is Thompson a lost master? I’m obviously not the audience for somebody who in his life characterized William Carlos Williams as a “tiresome fake,” but there is some spark in a passage like

The darling boy
Snatched from his mother’s arms
And God-foreseen terrible harms
By that unmerited convulsive pain
Which won the flying coward
An extravagance of valour,
Never even having to think of sacredness again

It’s worth plowing through those crude rhymes, awkward rhythms & melodramatic excess just to get to “unmerited convulsive pain.” These aren’t my values in poetry, but that’s different from declaring that they aren’t values at all. One wonders what might have happened if Thompson had not flunked out of Harvard & had not moved to England & stopped writing. But that question is just part of a much larger narrative that would trace the history of the Harvard Aesthetes as an actual literary movement that leads in part to the Baby Brahmins of Merwin, Bly, Rich & Hall.¹

Or, given his anglophilia, homosexuality & deeply Catholic imagination, it would be even more interesting perhaps to speculate what might have occurred had Thompson drifted down to the North Carolina to meet up with Boston’s other tradition, Charles Olson & Robert Creeley, and especially to meet Jonathan Williams & Robert Duncan.

But such was not to be, and Thompson ends up as a neglectorino in a tradition that – traditionalist as it is – often appears to have only the haziest notion of its own past. It would be terrific if Prufer et al would expand their efforts to bring back many of the other forgotten neophobes from the Harvard Aesthetes onward. But to do so ultimately will require having & deploying terms to discuss relations between these poets. If a term like School of Quietude isn’t to their liking, I’d suggest that they come up with one of their own.


¹ To what degree was the turn each made away from the closed forms of their early writing the consequence of having to live simultaneous to the New American Writing, and how much of it was given permission by Robert Lowell’s own turn toward a more open aesthetic in Life Studies?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ruth Padel quits Oxford post

Explains tipping reporters to Walcott’s past

Padel: “I’m sorry

Oxford calls for “period of reflection”

Clive James wants the job

The surprise is not that the School of Quietude is ruthless in its practice of power politics. That has been its hallmark forever – beginning with a century-long pretense that it represents the whole of poetry, rather than just an anti-modernist / premodernist sliver within a far larger spectrum. No, the surprise is that the SoQ is so very bad at it. The charge against Walcott was that he abused his power as a professor & as the canonic comprador poet to the British Empire. But a misuse of power is exactly what brought Padel down. Instead of quietly arranging to have a third party inform the Oxford electors of Walcott’s past indiscretions, she sent emails to reporters, which is not only outside of the circle of Us v. Them, but traceable. It was that last detail that likewise tripped up Oliver North with regards to Iran-Contra, and it is worth noting that nobody has learned anything in the past 25 years.

Walcott represents the tail end of a generation in which more than a few senior professors of poetry simply presumed grad students (and some junior faculty) were sexual chattel.¹ He got entangled in the change of cultural practices & standards as women students, encouraged by feminism, insisted on the right to control their own bodies, which included the subsidiary right to choose with whom they would or would not fuck. His problem lay in presuming that it was 1965 when it was not, a classic SoQ mistake, the literary movement untouched by the 20th century.

Padel’s mistake was in thinking that an email to a reporter was, in fact, “quietly arranging” for third-party intervention. To the degree that SoQ customs mime those of old school Britain (and it is hard to get much more old school than Oxford), going outside the circle is unseemly and isn’t done. For one thing, it looks like competition, which of course is exactly what it is. But just as “amateur” athletics was treated for decades, if not centuries, as though it represented a higher, more pure form of competition than its professional counterpart, when in fact its primary function was to keep people from the “wrong” colors, classes, accents out, the premise that poetry likewise represents some higher calling – above gutter politics – is constructed on a whole chain of notions, every one of them a lie.

The great innovation this time was to have been that Oxford, after 300 years of mostly irrelevant choices (Christopher Ricks!?), was going to go outside of its own “time-honored” tradition & choose a subaltern. The sole question was whether this Other would be female, black or of South Asian heritage. This of course had all the charm of a street gambler proposing the old shell game, which we should note is not so much gambling, but a confidence trick.

If all of this looks every bit as tacky as the GOP’s attempts to “reach out” to the previously excluded, it’s no accident. This isn’t to suggest that Walcott is Oxford’s equivalent to Michael Steele or Padel its Sarah Palin, nor Arvind Mehrotra its Bobby Jindal. But, hey kids, how are these processes not parallel? The interesting distinction is that the GOP Triumvirate of Difference have shown themselves to be more decorous & less of an embarrassment.

Maybe that term should be School of Ineptitude after all.


¹ Not all of these professors were male, though most were, simply because most literature professors were men.

Monday, January 19, 2009

By the time you read these words, this blog may well have crossed the 2,000,000 visits threshold. The Site Meter counter on the left will tell the tale. I continue to be amazed at the number of visits this blog receives each day, on average over 1,700. People click on roughly twice that number of links; the amount of time the average visitor spends on this site has increased by more than 50 percent in the past year. And the numbers continue to rise: it took six years, four months & three weeks to reach two million, but at the current run rate it would take just four years to reach the next two million. The record for the most number of visits in one hour – 197 – was set January 16.

It was Daniel Silliman who first persuaded me that one could blog about serious topics. Laura Willey taught me the little I know about HTML. Lynn Behrendt has stepped in during the past year to make sure that the blogroll is current. If I had a dollar for every typo that Lynn and others have pointed out, I could probably throw one heck of a party for everyone who has ever read these pages.

As it evolves, this blog is less about me and more about poetry, which is, I think, as it should be. My goal in starting the blog was not simply to promote my own ideas about a form I’ve loved & practiced since I was a teenager, but to get poets themselves talking again, without having to go through the grotesque filter of the academy to do so. The presence of more than one thousand blogs in the blogroll to the left is the best test of how well I might be doing.

I have stayed with a simple format, and with Blogspot, the entire time precisely because I want to make the point that any one can do this. It takes no particular genius, and only the most modest computer skills, to create a blog. Some of the features I’ve added over time, such as the links lists that turn up here once or twice per week, could be replicated by anyone. The actual format of the links list owes a debt to the poetry of Ted Berrigan as well as to Robert Creeley’s Pieces. I started by putting together some Google alerts, but at this point the majority of links are suggested by readers.

I’m pleased obviously that some of my ideas – that of the post-avant, the School of Quietude, the idea of a New Western or Zen Cowboy tradition of poetry coming out of the New American poetics – have demonstrated some legs. I agree with my harshest critics that School of Quietude, as a construct, is (as one wag put it) criminally vague, but it was never intended as anything other (or better) than a place holder. The minute someone within that tradition begins to take on the responsibility for describing with much greater accuracy its many sub-tendencies and internal points of contention (which surely exist), the phrase will disappear like fog burning off in a morning sky.

That nobody in the past five years has taken up that challenge suggests just how strongly the poetics of the unmarked case is invested in its own invisibility, in the false notion that it is “just poetry,” with the inevitable implication that any poetics that is preceded by an adjective is in some manner marginal, not to be taken seriously. I don’t agree with the phrase Official Verse Culture (and even less with the concept “mainstream,” which is an outright lie) because I don’t think there is any necessary connection between this verse tradition and institutional power. Power is something that could & should be shared by all the traditions of poetry.

Described and conceptualized correctly, the conservative tradition that I have been characterizing as the School of Quietude has a history that is long & interesting, perhaps more than one might think since its roots are pretty much forgotten. In the U.S., it extends back not to Dickinson & Whitman, but to Jones Very, James Russell Lowell, Sidney Lanier & their peers. One of the great questions for the School of Quietude is why does it let its history languish so? A second one might be why are so many of its greatest practitioners, starting with Hart Crane & Wallace Stevens, perpetually rebelling against its norms? If I were a young poet working in that tradition (and, forty-plus years ago, I was just such a poet), the implications of questions like these would make me think very hard about the long-term wisdom of what I was doing.

So I will keep making this point, obnoxious as it surely is, until somebody shuts me up by actually doing the work needed to describe the true terrain of that side of the literary spectrum. But I agree that once somebody does this, the acronym SoQ will very quickly go into the dustbin of history.

Conversely, I’m also very pleased to see the emergence of actual tendencies of poetry in the U.S. that are clear enough in their aesthetics, their politics, and their sense of themselves to take on names – flarf, conceptual poetics, possibly even American hybrid (a better term than elliptical, tho I’m not convinced that it’s any more descriptive of what’s really going on there than “third way”). More than anything, I think this new militancy represents a generational change in poetry, and all to the good. The poets (if not the poetry) that came after language writing tended very much to avoid such terms and group designations. To a significant degree, I think that that allergy toward self- and group identification ran historically parallel to the ascendancy of the right after the election of Ronald Reagan (& deepened by the so-called fall of Communism). Perhaps we all owe George W. Bush a big vote of thanks for bringing that period to a close. That poets no longer feel so constrained is, I think, a good thing. But I think that there is also lots of room for argument, even among post-avants, as to what’s useful or interesting to do.

For one thing, it’s worth noting that the only literary movement that truly is post-language poetry in the sense of doing things langpo never envisioned would seem to be flarf. Conceptual poetics seems weighted down with neo-Dada / neo-Fluxus nostalgia (& Fluxus already was a movement dripping with nostalgia). Hybrid writing is that aesthetic of not taking sides – it should work out as well for these poets as it did for M.L. Rosenthal’s idea of confessionalism, that pained & silly attempt to suggest that Robert Lowell & Anne Sexton were doing the same thing as Allen Ginsberg & the Beats & therefore really were more interesting than their poetry.

And I don’t think anybody yet has figured out how to handle the evolving revolution in poetry’s relationship to its audience. We have way more than ten thousand publishing poets in the English language, which is maybe ten times what it was when I was in my early 20s & close to 100 times what it was when the New Americans were making their way in the 1950s. In another decade, we will easily have more than 20,000 publishing poets. Does anybody think that the actual reading audience for poetry has grown proportionately? (The only way to answer yes to that is if you think nobody reads poetry – or at least reads it seriously – but poets.) This is a far more profound change than, say, the collapse of trade publishing, the death of bookstores that won’t carry your chapbook, or the fact that we are producing close to a thousand new poets every year when the number of jobs for poets expands by about 50.

All of which is to say that there is a lot to talk about, think about, do if you’re a poet or even vaguely interested in the art. Thanks for coming along for the ride this far. I appreciate your comments, your contributions, and your own blogs more than you’ll ever know.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Change We Can Believe In

Three of the finalists for the National Book Award’s prize for fiction had not yet been born when winner Peter Matthiessen began publishing. Matthiessen, 81, received the award for a revised edition of his 1990’s trilogy, Shadow Country. Matthiessen previously won a National Book Award in the nonfiction category 29 years ago.

Matthiessen is known among poets as one of the founders of The Paris Review, a journal that has been sclerotic and unreadable for decades. Mark Doty, an affable quietist who writes as if the Review has yet to be invented, took the prize for poetry.

Honorary awards were given to Maxine Hong Kingston and Grove Press founder Barney Rossett. In addition to bringing out books by William Burroughs, Charles Olson, Frank O’Hara & other post avants who wrote as though the Quietist world was a Victorian relic, Rossett published Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry in 1960. Not quite half a century ago.

As if to stress the award’s independence from the trade book industry, this year’s ceremonies were held on Wall Street.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The absolute number of reviews that have come to a book of correspondence, the letters between Robert Lowell & Elizabeth Bishop, Words in Air, caught my eye. I don’t recall anything like this for the letters betwixt Robert Duncan & Denise Levertov, two other authors of approximately the same generation and at least the same stature as poets. But the Duncan-Levertov tome was published by Stanford, which lacks the PR engine (fueled principally by ad dollars) of FSG, the publisher of Words in Air.

In each volume, one might argue that there is one great poet & one very good one, the twist being that in the Duncan-Levertov correspondence, it is the male who is the transformative figure in American verse, whereas in the Lowell-Bishop volume the woman is clearly the better poet. While Robert Lowell was once taken for a major writer – he even got his visage onto the cover of Time magazine back in the 1960s – his writing has not worn well over the decades. Today he reads like a blurred rehearsal for his more brilliant colleagues, John Berryman & Sylvia Plath. Indeed, his best poetry often strikes me as terrifically talented but terribly marred by his problems & his meds – at his finest, he reads like Frank O’Hara on way too many Quaaludes. Not so Bishop. As even the recent collected that brought back many of the poems she preferred lost or discarded makes evident, she is a writer of the first rank, no ifs, &s or buts.

The Levertov-Duncan correspondence has the added advantage of documenting one of the most important developments in mid-century poetics, the cultural revolt of a major practitioner, as Levertov abandoned her roots in the New American poetry during the Vietnam period, moving left politically but right aesthetically, a contradictory set of impulses that was matched after a fashion by parallel revolts on the part of LeRoi Jones & Edward Dorn. None of the three would write like their youthful selves again, nor would they appear to have all that much in common with one another, other than their choice for apostasy.

The New American Poetry & the social turmoil surrounding the Vietnam debacle & civil rights movement had just as much impact on the other side of the avant line, as several key Quietists, many of them students of Lowell, went through changes just as profound as Jones/Baraka or Levertov: Robert Bly, Bill Merwin, Adrienne Rich, James Wright, even for a time Donald Hall all dropped the quest for mid-century rhymed verse in order to seek out a more authentic path forward. One might argue that even Lowell made a grudging nod in that direction, but it’s impossible to read Life Studies now without noticing just how much of that book is pure kitsch, For the Union Dead likewise. Or, for that matter, just how much both volumes seek to imitate Bishop’s chiseled verse, albeit with a shaky hand. Lowell’s best poetry would come later in his return to a sonnet form he truthfully understood.

This is the context I bring to a review, such as the one in the Los Angeles Times by Jamie James (presumably the Indonesian restauranter) that claims

Lowell was the most famous and influential American poet of the generation that came of age after World War II,

an assertion that is true only in a world in which time stops forever in 1955, prior to the arrival of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, The New American Poetry and a half century of other work. Such inaccurate hyperbole is not minor even in a world in which we’re told Sarah Palin was ready to become Commander-in-Chief, but it pales as nonsense when set alongside this opening passage of a review of the very same book by James Longenbach, a University of Rochester prof, in The Nation:

Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell are the two most prominent members of the second wave of modern American poetry - the generation of poets who came of age after the groundbreaking achievements of T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens. Other poets of this second wave may seem more relevant: George Oppen's combination of formal adventurousness and emotional lyricism has been especially influential over the past twenty years, and the profligate energy of John Berryman (perhaps the most gifted poet of the second wave) has yet to be assimilated. But Bishop and Lowell continue to dominate the stories we tell about twentieth-century poetry ….

One wonders about the alternate universe Mr. Longenbach must inhabit, rather the way some old hardened Marxists somewhere may still debate the theoretical contributions of Enver Hoxa. Are the winters in Rochester really that hard? Is the city devoid of contemporary literature, or even work of a half century (or, for that matter, century) ago? Has nobody there heard, say, of Ted Berrigan?

Even more, one is taken back that The Nation, which in recent years has seemed to have widened its literary perspective from the inverted telescope of the Grace Schulman years, suddenly has reverted to this sort of nonsense. Nothing in the half-paragraph above is accurate. First, Bishop & Lowell are hardly figures of a second-wave of “modern American poetry,” so much as late inhabitants of a pre-modern poetics that struggled to stay relevant in a world in which Gertrude Stein & Ezra Pound had already rendered the 19th - (if not 16th-) century verities they upheld marginal & silly. Second, the trio of “groundbreaking” poets are conspicuously minor when set alongside the aforementioned Pound & Stein, not to mention Williams, Zukofsky, H.D., Langston Hughes & Hart Crane. Only Stevens can really be said to have functioned at that level. Eliot’s success, as has been evident now ever since the facsimile edition of The Waste Land came into print in 1971, was in fact the handiwork of Pound, whose radical editing made that poem interesting. One need only read The Four Quartets to get a sense of just how dreadful Eliot can be left to his own devices. Moore is a more interesting question in that she’s a much better writer. The tragic limit to her career was an internal need to play both sides of the aesthetic divide to her own (very short term) advantage. She was the American modernist the anti-moderns not only loved, but employed. (She was also, even more than Stevens or Crane, the first true “third-way” poet.) Williams, on the other hand, was an embarrassment, precisely because he was willing to point out the obvious – that these poets were not modernists, but rather holdovers from the previous regime who “dominate” only when their advocates airbrush history.

But airbrushing a half century of literature takes a lot of white-out in 2008. Still it goes on. If you look at Yale’s one online-to-the-public course in modern poetry, taught by English Dept. Chair Langdon Hammer, whose sessions are available in both video & audio formats, you will again see a curriculum of exclusion, of calculated, even willed ignorance. Three sessions on Frost, three on Yeats, three each on Eliot & Stevens, two on Crane, Auden, Moore & Bishop, but only one on Pound, one on Williams, one on Imagism, none on Stein, none on Zukofsky, none on the Objectivists, none on modernism in other languages.

Every time I point out the distortions of history that are the hallmark of the School of Quietude, I get howls of complaints from younger quietists. Their protests generally fall into two camps – one that asserts that such airbrushing of history never existed, the other conceding it, but arguing that those days are long behind us and that such self-lobotomizing approaches to writing no longer apply. But Hammer’s course was recorded in 2007 and these reviews of Bishop & Lowell’s correspondence are less than two weeks old. There may well be many younger poets of a more traditional bent who don’t share this will-to-denial that so characterizes these wannabe power-brokers, just as there are traditional poets – take Wendell Berry as an example or the writing of the late Thom Gunn – who continue to produce first-rate poetry.

But there is a larger and more vocal layer, of which Longenbach, James & Hammer are but three, who seem to want their world never to have changed (and who must be pained to realize that Tender Buttons was written over a century ago). Their approach to literary history is the equivalent of the unhappy child who sticks her fingers in her ears and hollers “La La La” when she doesn’t want to hear that it’s time to go to bed. Little do they realize just how long they’ve already been asleep.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

America’s first poet laureate, Joseph Auslander

It’s worth thinking about this, five years later:

I have never thought of myself as an experimental writer, but this project is clearly a step into un- (or at least under-)charted territory. My idea is to write briefly from time to time mostly about my writing and whatever I might be thinking about poetry at the moment. Other subjects (music, politics, etc.) may enter in, as they do in life.

Blogs have been around for awhile now, but to date I haven't seen a genuinely good one devoted to contemporary poetry, so it may prove that there is no audience for such an endeavor. But this project isn't about audience. The fact that the blog has the potential to carry forward the best elements of a journal and seems inherently prone to digressive, if not absolutely plotless, prose gives me hope that this form might prove amenable to critical thinking.


That was my first blog, August 29, 2002.

Five years hence, the audience question appears to have been answered – by the size of my blogroll more than the number of visits I’ve had here. It’s no longer even remotely possible for me to keep my list of other blogs up-to-date. My presumptions – that this format was conducive for critical thought and (not clearly stated above, I see now) that there was a hunger among poets for the ability to discuss craft, books, trends, politics, whatever, outside of the funneling framework that is the academy – were correct.

Another unstated presumption – that I would be able to do what I wanted in notes no longer than the one above – has proven shakier, to say the least. I had during the previous year tried a few such notes, modeled after Adorno’s Minima Moralia, a book that’s haunted me for 25 years, but my sense of the “finished” essay had me polishing single paragraphs for weeks. Few were ever completed & I never published any of them, even here. The looser, more ad hoc template of blogging proved far readier to get across what I was after.

My world in 2002 was very different. My twins were just ten years old, for example, and we could vacation in a two-room cabin, a considerable change from the five-bedroom manse we had last week in North Carolina. Gil Ott, Robert Creeley & Jackson Mac Low were all around. All were poets whose wisdom I looked to as a guide for my own actions. The Iraq War referred to something that happened during Bush I. Bush II was saying bellicose things about the government of Iraq, but relatively few people actually believed he would be stupid enough to initiate another war without even catching Bin Laden. The governor of California was Gray Davis, the most aptly named politician ever. Few people outside of their immediate circles had ever heard of Barack Obama, John Roberts or Samuel Alito. The population of the city of New Orleans was 484,000, some 210,000 greater than it is today. Forbes in 2002 named Britney Spears as the world’s most powerful celebrity. Later that year, Senator Paul Wellstone & his family would die in an airplane crash. The San Francisco Giants would win the National League Pennant only to lose the World Series to the Angels. Barry Bonds hit 46 home runs and drove in 110 runs, the same number of homers & 13 fewer RBIs than he had during his first year with the Giants in 1993.¹ In 2007, Bonds, reduced by age to a part-time role (he has just 314 at-bats thus far), still leads the Giants in homers with 27.

Blogging, it turns out, has changed the world of poetry in ways that I don’t think we fully realize just yet. There are poets who have begun their careers through blogging, at least one literary genre – flarf – that has its roots there, more than a few collections of physical books that have grown out of blogs. Blogging embodies, more than any other phenomenon I know, the web’s ability to erase or otherwise transform the limits of geography. Poets are linking up on the basis of mutual interests, which is a great thing, especially if you live somewhere other than New York or San Francisco. That ultimately may be its greatest impact. The constrained model of national poetics with which I grew up in the 1960s has little bearing on what actually is happening now. Poets like Sina Queyras, Christian Bök, or John Tranter are not merely instances of Canadian or Australian poetry. A poet like Tsering Wangmo Dhompa can have an impact both as an American poet and in her homeland of Nepal. Of these four, I believe only Queyras has a blog – my guess is that no more than one in ten English-language poets have active blogs, which still means that there are at minimum 10,000 publishing poets in the language right now, a number I would contrast with the low hundreds of poets publishing during the 1950s.

Of the various concepts and phrases I’ve come up with here over the past five years, none has generated more wrath than the School of Quietude. Perhaps the two most common complaints are that the idea is too simplistic and that it describes poetry as it existed at some moment in the past, but not now. Both criticisms are largely correct. There is a project – one for which I have no stomach, personally – filling in a far more adequate mapping of the conservative tradition(s) of poetry, first in the United States and then more globally. The phenomenon means something quite different in the U.S., in the islands (not just England, Ireland, Scotland & Wales, but Jamaica & New Zealand as well) and in other parts of the world – I make a point of noting English-language articles about poetry from Nigeria & India, for example. The day is coming when we acknowledge that they’re as much a part of “English literature” as anything done in Amherst. And not just the writing that mimics what was being done in London in 1805 either.

I will, of course, continue to note the depredations of the School of Quietude where they seem apparent – every single American poet laureate, with the sole exception of William Carlos Williams in 1952 (who was appointed but never served, largely for reasons of health), has been a member of this same small coterie dating back to its creation as the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1937, endowed by Archer Huntington, the semi-legitimate heir to Collis Huntington, one of the railroad barons of the 19th century. That sort of institutional oligarchy may not be as prevalent as it was, say, in the 1950s, but it has hardly disappeared. On the other hand, Huntington’s endowment has become less of a reward each year. $35,000 in 1937 would be worth $491,364 today, using the Consumer Price Index as our guide to inflation.²


¹ With the sole exception of 2001, the year he hit 73 home runs, Bonds’ numbers from 1993 through 2004 are absolutely consistent. The idea that Bonds suddenly “got powerful” outside of that one year is a fiction.

² Some other guides suggest a value as high as $5 million.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The use of names in jacket blurbs or, for that matter, as points of comparison anywhere is a process that needs to be handled with considerable delicacy if it is not to descend instantly into nonsense. In Dave Itzkoff piece on the new Library of America volume of Philip K. Dick novels in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review notes, Jonathan Lethem recently penned a piece on Dick that

tells us Dick is a bit like Dostoyevsky, a bit like Robert Altman, a bit like Bob Dylan.

The result, Itzkoff argues, is not unlike the famous scramble suit of Dick’s A Scanner Darkly,

all one sees is a shifting set of characteristics that add up to a vague blur.

But Lethem’s triangulation of the sci-fi master has the virtue of having at least put if not the “right,” at least reasonable¹ stakes in the ground. What happens when the names invoked are profoundly, even goofily, inappropriate?

This thought ran through my head as I gazed at the rear cover of Copper Canyon’s new volume poetry by Marvin Bell, Mars Being Red. The names invoked on the jacket are, in this order, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot & Allen Ginsberg. That is such a peculiar troika that it’s ultimately unfair to Bell, whose poetry may not be my favorite, but for whom one could certainly make an argument. Bell is, at least to my reading, a victim of his own book jacket at least to the degree that these names set up expectations on the part of unfamiliar or unsuspecting readers. There are lots of reasons one might want to read Bell, might want to read this book, would find this book utterly fascinating, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot or Allen Ginsberg, with the possible plausible exception that Ginsberg wrote passionately about the war in Vietnam & Bell here writes his most topical poetry ever, taking on Rumsfeld, Cheney & Bush. Yet one could say that Donald Justice, with whom Bell taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop early in his career, likewise wrote passionately about Vietnam, as did James Dickey & Robert Bly. The choice of Ginsberg in this context seems especially gratuitous.

And it’s not even the claim the jacket is making. The actual quote, from an unnamed author at Booklist reads as follows:

T.S. Eliot meets Allen Ginsberg . . . [Bell’s poetry] will fascinate those interested in seeing what language can sometimes do in the hands of an expert.

To suggest that Bell’s poetry is in any manner the aesthetic lovechild of Eliot & Ginsberg does a kind of violence to all three – and it reminds us that Booklist doesn’t get knowledgeable people to write about the books it covers – but it is Bell who is most deeply wronged here. Because it is what is unique about his poetry that seems to me to be exactly what is being paved over by such a crude analogy.

Eliot, after all, was the anointed one amongst large portions of the School of Quietude (SoQ) right at the moment when Bell emerged as a young poet & settled in at Iowa City for two solid generations before his recent retirement (he’s now teaching in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University in Oregon). Eliot was the poet raised to canonic heights by the New Critics, the point on which the older Fugitives and the younger Brahmins around Robert Lowell in Boston could all agree.

Iowa City was a major node on the New Critical map because René Wellek taught there between 1939 & ’46, tho he was originally greeted with open hostility by the old guard literary historians. Robert Penn Warren taught there for a semester in 1941. When John Berryman, one of the Brahmins, taught in the Workshop, his students included W. D. Snodgrass, Donald Justice, Philip Levine, Robert Dana, Constance Urdang, Donald Finkel & Henri Coulette. And when Murray Krieger, who had studied with both Warren & Allen Tate & taught at Kenyon, was named M.F. Carpenter Chair in Literary Criticism at Iowa in 1963, it was the first named chair for that discipline in America.

Yet as that class list makes clear, the teacher does not predict the student. Robert Grenier was the student of Robert Lowell just as I am very much the student of Jack Gilbert. For all of the conscious inbreeding implicit in a program like the Iowa Writers Workshop picking alumni like Bell & Justice to lead it for the next generation, the Workshop was hardly the paradise of the old formalism & in fact functioned much more as a counterbalance to it within the broader spectrum of the School of Quietude.

This actually is what I think Booklist must be getting at with its inclusion of “Allen Ginsberg,” who was never anything but the antithesis of Quietude during his own lifetime. In fact, the Workshop proved much closer to the new free-verse aesthetic of “open,” “naked, or even “leaping” poetry that grew up around apostate SoQ institutions like the American Poetry Review & poets such as Phil Levine & Robert Bly. A much more appropriate name than Ginsberg here would have been Kenneth Rexroth, the god of the Copper Canyon aesthetic generally, and an importance source for many of the poets who opted out of the old formalism but didn’t buy into Bly’s crabbed version of internationalism as its alternative.

How Rexroth, the one-time anarcho-surrealist who was published early on by Zukofsky among the Objectivists & later functioned as a grumpy uncle to the Beats & other New American poets in San Francisco, gets to be adopted by this side of the School of Quietude & becomes, in fact, an important resource, is a long story worth some investigation. An awful lot of cultural revisionism can be traced back to this phenomenon, which would have surprised Rexroth were he alive today almost as much as the new diversity & liveliness in present-day Iowa City might have surprised Ginsberg.

Within all of this movement within the SoQ, Bell has always been a middle figure, fully capable of writing formally & yet comfortable with most of the tenets of the so-called Open poetry. Further, Bell has never been one of the dapper bards in suits comfortable with corporate boards & the like. In this sense, he’s the antithesis of the likes of Edward Hirsch, Dana Gioia & Robert Pinsky.

But to characterize this as T.S. Eliot meets Allen Ginsberg is plausible only in a world in which the readers aren’t going to recognize any poets less famous than those two.

The Whitman reference is even slipperier. If one takes Whitman’s primary literary legacy to be a rejection of the tradition of European closed verse forms, a preference for indeterminacy & the rejection of closure, none of that is true of Bell, who fits 61 poems into 81 pages here, using 12-point type. But the claim that’s being made isn’t finally about Whitman the poet. Quoting (again without naming the actual author) Harvard Review, the jacket says, in its entirety,

Bell has the largest heart since Walt Whitman.

That sounds like a diagnosis of congestive heart disease, but is really not much more than a claim that Bell is an empathetic, caring guy, not the sort of thing you’d write about either Jack Spicer or Robert Frost or Ezra Pound, not in fact a statement about writing at all.

These are the only names actually mentioned on the jacket of Mars Being Red. None really has anything to do with Marvin Bell. It might have been far mor powerful to write, for example, that Marvin Bell’s students have included . . . and listed some of the more successful of those poets, a list at least as powerful (and considerably longer) than Berryman’s. Or to have discussed his own actual context and influences. The remainder of the back cover text does not do much more than indicate that these are Bell’s most overtly political poems.

My question is: does this serve the poet? I can’t imagine that it does.

I’ve written before that I think that that the School of Quietude generally has a hard time discussing influences & forerunners, in part because it doesn’t do much to preserve their legacies. One doesn’t hear of, for example, Robert Hass & Galway Kinnell as representing a “School of John Logan,” although Logan manifestly was the most influential poet in the development of each. The result of which is that Logan has become a classic neglectorino.

In contrast, look at how post-avant poets continue the work, say, of a Spicer or a Frank O’Hara. O’Hara may have been dead for 41 years, but he has a new book out, Poems from the Tibor de Nagy Editions. Spicer is demonstrably more famous now than when he died and is about to have multiple new volumes of his poetry & correspondence out.

You will find few contemporary poets, if any, actively trying on the writing style of an Amy Lowell the way they do Gertrude Stein, tho the two women were born in the same year. Similarly, SoQ modernists like Conrad Aiken, Archibald MacLeish & Edna St. Vincent Millay don’t engage contemporary poets in quite the same way as Pound, Williams or Zukofsky. Why not? It would be easy enough to argue that, well, the Whitman - Dickinson - Pound - Williams - Zukfosky - Olson - Grenier - Goldsmith line of writing survives because it’s objectively better or more powerful or more formally innovative, but it’s obvious also that SoQ poets don’t believe that. Why then do they let their own heritage vanish into the mists of time?

The result is something like what we see on the back of Marvin Bell’s book. Names are invoked, but not meaningfully. It’s no help to the poet and no help to the reader.


¹ I might have chosen Roger Corman in lieu of Bob Altman.

Monday, April 09, 2007

“It must be hard getting out of graduate school without a book contract.” That sentence, which was spoken publicly at a party a few years back by a poet who has received both a Pulitzer & a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, is still the single dumbest thing I’ve ever heard said about contemporary poetry by somebody actually involved in the practice. Most poets, even School-o-Quietude prima donnas, don’t get out of grad school with book contracts – the speaker here meant by a trade publisher like FSG, since indie presses seldom bother with contracts at all & university presses for the most part work on a book-by-book relationship. A poet with an ongoing relationship with a university press, the way Alan Dugan was situated with Yale, is rare and noteworthy.

That sentence came roaring back into my head for the first time in awhile over the weekend as I pondered what, in fact, it might mean for two more or less simultaneous anthologies to appear with 193 poets between them, 180 of whom must all be instances of the School of Quietude, while sharing just four poets who appear in both volumes. Now obviously there are differences between the two volumes that go well beyond the fact that one is well edited, the other rather poorly so, or that the Poetry Daily website has a fondness for the patterned poetics of so-called new formalism that Pittsburgh editor Ed Ochester doesn’t share. The simple reality is that of the 149 poets included in the PD anthology, just four were from poets included by Ochester in his misleadingly titled American Poetry Now.

So it’s worth taking a closer look at how each book was edited. PD picked 149 poets who had appeared on its online Poem-a-Day web feature since an earlier anthology in 2003. That suggests that its editors had maybe 1,000 different poets to choose from – and this no doubt is partly why the book has a shapeless Noah’s arc feel to it – it was just trying to represent too much. The Pitt Poetry Series that Ochester has been editing now for forty years prints four books a year, meaning that he had something akin to 160 possible books to choose from. If I go on the PD website, I can look at the archive for just the past year – another bad editorial decision from Boller & Selby – so that I can see at most about one-third of what the editors had to work with. If I go on the Pittsburgh Press website, I can find a catalog for the Pitt Poetry Series that lists 128 titles, a few of which are listed twice (presumably because these volumes came out both in hardback & paper bound editions), so maybe 120 or so books overall, with a list of exactly 80 authors. One of those, tho, is Ed Ochester for editing APN¹ itself. Whether or not this represents the entire series is impossible to tell, tho I suspect that there may be at least some older volumes that are out of print and thus not listed.

In any event, in picking 47² poets for this anthology, Ochester also omitted at least the other 31 listed in his catalog, including Allison Joseph, Carol Muske, Odysseus Elitis³, Lyrae Van-Clief Stefanon, Gabe Gudding, Gary Gildner, Aaron Smith and Rick Hilles. Going through the catalog, I don’t think there was a general principle determining who did or did not get included, beyond say the fact that those poets with multiple Pitt volumes – Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Robin Becker, or Alicia Suskin Ostriker – are all represented. The real reason is, I suspect, Ochester’s sense of how many pages he wanted to allocate to each poet and the size volume the press could afford.

There are, as it happens, some Pitt poets in the PD archives who did not make it through the much tighter funnel in that anthology. One case in point is Penn State professor Robin Becker, whose poem “Sound View” appeared on the Poem-of-the-Day website on August 7 of last year, excerpted no less from her most recent Pitt book, Domain of Perfect Affection. The poem begins with the sort of labored simile & hyperactive verb phrase that seems to parody the notion of “creative writing” itself:

Like driftwood,
        a deer
foams toward shore.

It’s impossible not to guffaw at an opening sentence like that. Unfortunately, the rest of the poem makes plain that this isn’t a satire on bad writing, but rather is the real deal itself. Reading Becker’s selection in APN, however, suggests that “Sound View” represents some sort of lower limit of bathos toward which her work might descend. It’s not that Becker’s not given to ludicrously figurative language –

I like to watch
your breasts float like two birds
drifting downstream

– but rather that, at her best, she’s not a poet of figurative language at all, but rather of relationships. Indeed, in “Adult Child,” likewise in APN, the only false notes occur precisely where Becker uses metaphor as filler:

Now that my parents are old, they love me fiercely,
and I am grateful that the long detente of my childhood
has ended; we stroll through the retirement community.
My father would like to call the woman who left me
and tell her that I will be a wealthy woman someday.
We laugh, knowing she never cared about money
but patiently taught him to use his computer and program
the car phone. In the condo, my mother navigates
a maze of jewelry, tells me the history of watches,
bracelets, rings, pearls. She says I may sell
most of it, she just wants me to know what’s what.
I drive her to the bank where we sign a little card
and walk, unaccompanied, into the vault, gray boxes
stacked like bodies. Here, she says, are the titles and deeds.

Ignore détente and stacked like bodies and this is a decent piece of writing, concise & perceptive. The two metaphors don’t add anything – they really are filler – but they’re not so wildly inappropriate as to cause more than an instantaneous wince. And this poem is much more characteristic of what Ochester has chosen to represent of Becker in his anthology – and indeed even from Domain of Perfect Affection on the Pitt web site. So the mystery is not why did Boller & Selby not choose to include Becker in their anthology, but how did that particularly garish & silly piece get chosen for Poem-of-the-Day in the first place.

Again, I think this may come down to Ed Ochester being a better editor than Diane Boller & Don Selby (tho, I suppose he could have done Becker an even bigger favor by just getting her to drop “Sound View” from her book). In trying to represent a much broader view of American poetry than Ochester, Boller & Selby lack a perspective that enables them to select out what’s best about a poet whose work might differ from their own aesthetic. There are poems in their anthology – Ron Slate’s “The Demise of Camembert” for one, Meghan O’Rourke’s “Anatomy of Failure” for another – every bit as embarrassing as “Sound View.” Ochester at least makes a case as to why Robin Becker is a serious poet & why I might want to read more of her writing. That really is his job as editor and he executes it consistently. With its one-poem-per-poet for all but two of its contributors, PD leaves everyone pretty much exposed to whatever the individual poem might happen to be. In some cases, that’s a fatal mistake.

Although Ochester himself argues in the introduction against “poetry gangs,” it’s the certainty of his vision that makes his book work. In general, Ochester likes poetry that is straightforward, narrative & not too given to literary flourishes – he himself notes the presence of humorous poems here, and it does sound as if the one participant of the New American Poetry he actually enjoyed was Frank O’Hara. There’s also a lot of writing by people of color here, to such a degree that I went through Ochester’s omissions to see if he was upping the quota to give the end product more of a multicultural feel – he’s not, Pitt really does have good track record in this regard. It may well be the single best publisher of conservative poets of color in the country.

The end result is a Pitt poetics that is as internally consistent from one poet to the next as anything you could want from any movement, including language poetry. Indeed, I think the range here is quite a bit more narrow than one finds in In the American Tree, let alone something more recent & post-avant like Stephanie Young’s Bay Poetics. So in what way is this not a cabal? Is it because it theorizes itself as not one? Or because the poets just aren’t in touch with one another? Because they don’t support each other in the development of their work? Because they don’t find ways to build on one another’s insights & perceptions? In what way here is not having a community an advantage? It’s hard for me to figure this one out, other than to say that “not being a group” is one very important feature of this very cohesive gang of poets.


¹ Ochester doesn’t publish himself in the series, although nobody would think less of him if he did. He may feel that there is a value in having an outside editor for his work. Autumn House, a Pittsburgh-based press that mostly focuses on School of Quietude poets from Pennsylvania, has been his publisher in recent years. Although I live in Pennsylvania, I’ve never seen an Autumn House book in a bookstore. Four of their books are available through SPD. At least if Ochester published his own work, we’d be more apt to see it.

² On Friday, I characterized American Poetry Now as including “four dozen poets,” and the back cover lists 48 contributors. However, Muriel Rukeyser, tho listed on the cover, does not show up elsewhere in the volume.

³ Arguably the author of the single best volume ever published by the series. Given that Axion Esti is an outlier for this series, which generally doesn’t publish poetry in translation, the omission makes sense.