“…This transaction fixed Ralph in his resolution of becoming a poet. I did all I could to dissuade him from it, but he continued scribbling verses till Pope cured him. He became, however, a pretty good prose writer. More of him hereafter.”
-The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Category Archives: poetry
I’m not sure I want to do this
Instead of marrying the day after graduation,
in spite of freezing on my father’s arm as
here comes the bride struck up,
saying, I’m not sure I want to do this,
I should have taken that fellowship
to the University of Grenoble to examine
the original manuscript
of Stendhal’s unfinished Lucien Leuwen,
I, who had never been west of the Mississippi,
should have crossed the ocean
in third class on the Cunard White Star,
the war just over, the Second World War
when Kilroy was here, that innocent graffito,
two eyes and a nose draped over
a fence line. How could I go?
Passion had locked us together.
– Maxine Kumin, the opening stanzas of her poem “Looking Back in my Eighty-First Year.”
You can read the whole thing here. It’s a great companion piece for “Lucinda Matlock.” A dizzying last stanza.
Invasion of the Poetic News
1) Parallel Octave‘s music director Joe Martin will be interviewed on WYPR Baltimore’s The Signal tomorrow, talking about the glorious paramecium/cornucopia of short film and poetry that is ANTHOLOGY I. The Signal airs Friday at 7 PM and Saturday at 1 PM, and streams online here.
2) My friend B brought it to my attention that my poem, “The Illustration,” which I knew was going to be in URBANITE’s print edition, is also now online. I like the accompanying picture of an enormous bird.
I can haz poem
in the current issue of Explosion-Proof. The poem, titled “Ready To Lead Stanford Into The Future?” is one of the more humorous offerings I have, and is about receiving alumni-solicitation junk mail while hung over. The magazine also has a great essay by Marina Weiss on Horace. They have a launch party tomorrow if you’re in NYC.
In other news, I have just written my first Polish composition for class. I think most Polish kindergarteners would laugh at me. (I have a brother. My brother’s name is ____. He is a computer programmer. He likes books. Etc., etc.)
In other other news, I clearly haven’t been posting the long journal-style blog entries I meant to after starting intensive Polish. It must be that I am worn out from intensive Polish. Still, if I don’t start now, it will be hopeless to blog in Poland proper. Color me resolved.
In other other other news, tomorrow is the last day for the ANTHOLOGY I ticket promotion. (Buy by June 15th and receive all kinds of glorious free Parallel Octave merch.) Our screening is July 8th at the Creative Alliance. More info here. Tickets ($10) at http://www.creativealliance.org/tickets.html or (410) 276-1651.
Events relating to Parallel Octave pre-screening planning
are probably are another reason blogging has been light.
the Andrew Motion-authored Philip Larkin biography. Motion says in the introduction that learning more of Larkin’s life can only increase “our sense of his achievement.” I think he’s right, but it has decreased my sense of almost everything else, including my hitherto uncomplicated enjoyment of the poetry and admiration of the writer. I started typing up a couple of passages for this blog, including the one relating the events of exactly how Larkin died, on November 29, 1985, and then decided I would prefer not to. They are not pleasant to contemplate. I recommend reading the book, but I don’t recommend dwelling on it.
Motion is a very good and very restrained writer. This biography has also increased my sense of *his* achievement. The passage which I was going to quote but now am not is one of the best-written biographical passages I’ve ever encountered.
If you want to know exactly why, how, and to what extent Larkin deserves the ___ist labels (fill in any blank you desire) the book will tell you. If you want to be brought nose to nose with a portrait of human suffering, the book will show you that, as well. It shows many things. It’s best, I think, to encounter them in context, though, rather than excerpted.
Larkin’s way of life and way of death was so bleak that I am actually looking forward to the next biography–Ted Hughes–as a respite. Which tells you something. Hughes may have had a life which was, in many ways, agonizing, but the man who wrote “Full Moon and Little Frieda” was not someone who didn’t know how to enjoy himself.
At least I hope so.
taking stock (at close quarters, art is a fishy business)
(1) Anthology I applications close tomorrow. Several different cities, states, and countries represented, as well as people coming to filmmaking from all sorts of different backgrounds: theater, film proper, visual arts, science fiction. I’m excited.
(2) Yesterday we had the first ParOct core group meeting of 2011, combined with brunch. (Rehearsal should always be combined with food.) It was glorious. We did some re-recording and setting parts in/for “Animula.” We have chosen ten poems (the same ten for Anthology I) on which to focus in core group: we are making choices, we are taking notes. We have a script. This is very exciting, after eight months of improv where everything got changed every time. Feels like the right thing to be doing.
(3) My first workshop poem of my last MFA workshop: today.
(4) My last MFA reading: also today. 8 pm, Gilman 388.
(5) Best Youtube comment ever, from the video for TMBG’s Birdhouse In Your Soul:
What you’ve just wrote is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone who read this is now dumber for have seeing it. I award you no thumbs up, and may God have mercy on your soul.
Everyone who read this is now dumber for hav[ing] seen it.
(6) There is no #6.
(7) Really, Intiman Theatre? Really? Is there no such thing as a financially stable theater in this country? What would it take to have one? (Via AJ.)
(8) I’m your only friend; I’m not your only friend…
(9) It is possible to create a song to the tune of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” with the refrain “In the poems of Philip Larkin.”
(10) Ich habe ein poem, “Checking Out,” in the current issue of the Hopkins Review. (Winter 2011, Vol. 4, #1.)
The title is (I didn’t realize this until after it was published) obviously taken from the States song of the same name, from the album The Path of Least Resistance, which I listened to constantly while in NYC. (The poem is about being in New York.) Yes, this is my first poem published in a print journal.
In the poems of Philip Larkin,
all the women interfere
with writing poems and being alone;
they are greatly to be feared.
In the poems of Philip Larkin,
all images lead to death:
whether windows, horses, boats or trains,
all death, death, death, death, death–
(12) (more theater roundup): WashPost article on Irene Lewis leaving Centerstage. Also via AJ.
“I always knew it would be a split,” Lewis says of the roles she’s had to play. “Artists are mostly anarchists, and when you run an institution, you have to be a pragmatist. So that tension is considerable. And you have, what, 70 employees, and they’re depending on you to choose things that keep the doors open but not” – she leans forward on the word, and pauses before finishing – “to compromise. So I never did ‘A Christmas Carol.’ And an old production manager who used to work here said, ‘Irene, I don’t think a lot of people would stay here if you did.’ ”
(13) Women in literary criticism? What women in literary criticism?
(14) Nice to have a free moment, even if only a moment, to blog again.
(15) We begin our readings with a poem by another author, and I’m going to read an unpublished (and unedited, and unfinished) piece of Larkin free-verse journaling that I dug up from the Andrew Motion biography. No doubt he would not wish to have it read. It’s too long to post the whole thing here, but here’s the beginning:
What is there in me that justifies my ignoring other people?
I used to think it was art: but at close quarters art is a fishy business…
To me art is a sneaking mixture of wish-fulfillment, telling the truth,
And arranging the filings of life to the magnet of my character.
And I don’t like my character.
I wouldn’t back it for twopence, and I don’t advise anyone else to do so either.
– Philip Larkin, untitled poem, from Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life by Andrew Motion, chapter 23, p. 181, Faber & Faber: 1993
What Motion says to introduce this is quite lovely, too. Oh, why not do everything out of order. Here goes. Same page:
Slowly but surely Larkin crushed Ruth’s happiness beneath his own worries, and when the new term began they were as unsure about their future as they had been before announcing their engagement. Reluctant to end it so soon, they resumed their semi-separate lives — Ruth in Malet Street, Larkin in Dixon Drive, where his self-pity soon erupted in a piece of free verse too rambling to call a poem, but too interesting for him to discard. He tore it out of his manuscript book but kept it among his other papers…
(16) Where they hung the jerk who invented work–
in the poems of Philip Larkin.
(17) Larkin is a rather unsavory man, to put it mildly–so unsavory that an English dept. grad student I ran into a few days ago told me that he uses Larkin’s essay, “On Jazz,” as an exemplar of how not to write jazz criticism, as well as how not to write, or think, period. (It’s apparently an extremely paternalistic and borderline racist text. I admit I have not yet read it, but I do trust this person’s assessment.)
As Motion says in the intro to the biography,
…each of us creates a highly personal version of his character to accompany his [Larkin’s] work.
which is, of course, true–I have the Larkin in my head, a very congenial man–and learning more about who he really was is slowly crushing the image of that congenial fellow. Larkin was no Cowper, I guess, is the best way to put it.
Reading the biography, however, is not crushing my affection for his poems, which cannot, I believe, be crushed, no matter how much I learn about his personality and politics. But I no longer wish, as I once did, that I had been able to meet him.
(18) I was watching the TMBG Birdhouse because I was watching the Pushing Daisies rendition of the same song, with Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene, and I was watching that because I was watching “Suddenly Seymour” (one of the texts I teach in the musicals class) and got link-referred to Ellen Greene in another clip…
and there was a YT comments discussion about how Pushing Daisies had not been renewed but Scrubs had, et cetera, and they were bashing Scrubs, and I mistakenly believed at first that the commenting people were objecting to Scrubs‘s use of interpolated fantasy musical numbers, and perhaps even blaming Scrubs for popularizing a trend of such numbers (and for similar numbers appearing in PD) and I thought a larger point could be made about musical numbers in television shows, but then I realized it had nothing to do with that, but only to do with preferring one show over the other.
But I do think there is something to be said about fantasy musical numbers in television shows.
(19) Not to put too fine a point on it,
You’re the only bee in my bonnet–
Make a little birdhouse in your soul.
(20) Something also to be said about how, in the landscape of musical numbers within television shows (and films!), songs originated as “music” and songs originated as “theater” have equal currency. Everything’s available to be played in the jukebox, or performed by the TV show characters. This puts us in interesting mimetic situations, where lyrics that were never intended to be interpreted literally, or used to have a character achieve a dramatic objective, are suddenly implanted on characters…
Also something to be said about the ability to use voice-over in musical numbers in TV and film. My class found that very interesting.
(21) I’m your only friend,
I’m not your only friend,
but I’m your little glowing friend,
but really I’m not actually your friend,
but I am…
(22) Great example (in #21) of lyrics that have metrical features interposed by the music–features that the text alone, as lyrics, does not convey.
I also love the transfer of emphasis from one iteration to another of the phrase “only friend.” It’s a lot like that old drama exercise:
I love you.
I LOVE you.
I love YOU.
(23)…the canary by the outlet in the light switch
Who watches over you–
Make a little birdhouse in your soul.
(25) SO MANY THOUGHTS RIGHT NOW
(26) Should probably
go to campus deal with laundry comment on twelve stories and four poems eat lunch return gear to DMC respond to some emails first.
(27) Also, this question of how to best punctuate page versions of lyrics that were clearly composed for oral performance and obviously just contain long strings of connected phrases.
(28) ..make a little birdhouse in your soul…
My friend R. sent this to me, and she, in turn, got it from Poets.org and their poem-a-day list. We now bring it to you. SOS has long been a proponent of MelvillePoem.
The Maldive Shark
by Herman Melville
About the Shark, phlegmatical one,
Pale sot of the Maldive sea,
The sleek little pilot-fish, azure and slim,
How alert in attendance be.
From his saw-pit of mouth, from his charnel of maw
They have nothing of harm to dread,
But liquidly glide on his ghastly flank
Or before his Gorgonian head;
Or lurk in the port of serrated teeth
In white triple tiers of glittering gates,
And there find a haven when peril’s abroad,
An asylum in jaws of the Fates!
They are friends; and friendly they guide him to prey,
Yet never partake of the treat–
Eyes and brains to the dotard lethargic and dull,
Pale ravener of horrible meat.
heading off to brunch, and then SOUTH PACIFIC at the Kennedy Center in DC. (Bart Sher’s production. I’m very glad that I haven’t entirely missed my chance to see it.)
I heard a lot about the Kennedy Center the entire time I was working at OSF, because various productions would transfer there for part of the summer. However, I’ve never seen the place. I’m as dressed up as I feel one can be for a matinee, and very excited.
Spent yesterday completing more applications, including some I’d been putting off awhile. The first one’s hard: the second and third are quicker: and by the fourth in a twenty-four-hour period, you just don’t care any more. You’re faster, less self-preoccupied, and more efficient. If I have nothing to do next year, it will not be for lack of having asked for things.
Enough about that. Something else exciting: Linebreak is putting out a straight-to-ebook poetry anthology, Two Weeks, with good formatting. Submissions close this Tuesday at 6 pm. Here’s what they have to say about it:
For years, ebooks have been ignored by most poetry publishers. Today, the few poetry ebooks available are little more than cut-and-paste versions of their print counterparts. And many fail to preserve line breaks and other basic formatting.
We’re certain we can do better. That’s why we’re creating an all-new, ebook-only anthology of contemporary poetry. Beginning on Tuesday, January 11, we’ll start accepting public submissions. We’ll compile and design a cutting-edge, multi-format ebook. We’ll publish it.
And we’ll do it all in exactly two weeks.
Sounds good, yes? Submit away…
don’t change a thing this time
…Take Charlie Parker’s grave all overgrown with weeds in Kansas City. Add nothing,
Except an ocher tint of shame. May all your Christmases be white & Bird be still
in L.A., gone, broken, insane. Take Beauty before her habit mutes & cripples her,
Then add some grief. But don’t change a thing this time, not even a white gardenia
Pressed against her ear. Not even one syllable of her name. “In my solitude”
Is how the song began. All things you are, & briefly, as, in solitude, it ends.
– Larry Levis, excerpted from “7. Coda: Kind of Blue” from “The Perfection of Solitude: A Sequence,” Selected Levis, 161
What I like most about this is the way he’s telling you how to interpret the scene even as he’s showing you the scene.
To High Spirits
You have taken the vodka
That I was probably
Saving for tomorrow.
Go on and take it
For there’s more enterprise
in waking naked.
– Kenneth Koch, New Addresses, NY: Knopf, 2000. (62.)