Posted inArt

Why I’m Not Reading Louise Glück

Do you pick a destination in order to have a reason to take a walk, or do you take a walk in order to get to a place you have in mind? Sometimes one, sometimes the other. Are the words a poet uses essentially a means to convey a thought or feeling he or she has in mind, or is the poem’s subject chosen mainly as a way of helping generate the poem’s language? Sometimes one, sometimes the other. But I confess to being more attracted to the second kind of poetry — or maybe it’s fairer to say I prefer reading poetry as if it were written that way.

Posted inPoetry

Scrambled Sonnets, Prosthetic Limbs, and Little Bitter Teeth: Notes on Some Recent Poetry Publications

Ezra Pound said poetry was news that stays news. I thought that in gathering some notes on poetry I’ve read this year I’d bring a bit of news and only after doing so realized to what extent those notes would indicate how today’s poetry can be entwined with medieval Moorish Spain or fourteenth century Tuscany or Elizabethan London or sixteenth century Japan. Sometimes, apparently, poetry can also be ancientries made new again.

Posted inPoetry

The Obscenities Are in Quotes

Whatever became of the New York School? There was a first generation, the last avant-garde according to some (but not so last that there couldn’t be a second generation and a third, and …) as whatever it was that defined the school as a school, beyond the simple fact of friendship, dissolved into the common air of the culture — which is just where it belongs. Wit, urbanity, formal exuberance, a willingness to (as Frank O’Hara famously put it) “just go on your nerve,” a dandyish pose of being more casual and less serious than you really are as an antidote to the unearned solemnity that so often seems endemic to poetry, an affinity for quotidian surrealism and lumpen absurdity and “life-giving vulgarity” (O’Hara again, of course) — these could never be the doctrine of any one school or enclosed by any particular municipality. They are simply things that keep the art of poetry refreshed, allowing it to breathe again after its periodic ascents to those lofty reaches where language inevitably becomes abstract, impersonal, and (too often) lugubrious.

Posted inPoetry

Swallow the Meat in the Jargon

Amelia Rosselli’s is not exactly a poetry or resistance, but it is a resistant poetry. It is highly self-conscious, willed, and formally wrought. At the same time it is the product of roiling psychological and social tensions that the poet can hardly control. As Andrea Zanzotto put it, in 1976, with the authority that comes from being one of Rosselli’s few peers among the Italian poets of her time, she “was born inside this writing, and cannot escape from it; and at the same time she is outside of it, and has always contested it.” Yes, she writes, and with a fury; but she is also written, and by forces that shake her to the core. Her poetry is indissolubly both these writings.

Posted inPoetry

The Most Beautiful Perhaps

I wrote, a few months ago, of Stéphane Mallarmé as a difficult poet—difficult to understand, and difficult to translate, perhaps especially into English. What I should have also said then is that part of the difficulty lies in the fact that his poems in verse, as Peter Manson titled them in his estimable recent translation, that is, his Poésies, constitute only one facet of his work.

Posted inPoetry

Fold by Fold

Out of the amazing trifecta of early modernist French poets, Stéphane Mallarmé is probably the least read and least translated. That’s partly down to the genuine difficulty of his writing, but then the language of Baudelaire or Rimbaud is hardly of the most transparent either; the real difference may be that their lives have spun off an aura of myth that helps guide the reader through or past the enigmatic character of their verse.

Posted inBooks

With a Wild Wahoo!

There’s nothing like an ambitious anthology for redistricting your inner map of poetic possibility. They don’t come along every day, but we’ve had more than our usual share over the last few years. Such books operate on different scales, of course: There’s the kind of anthology that crystallizes a hitherto undescribed tendency in the present, or the kind that takes a somewhat longer view, pointing out a continuing or recurrent thread of practice that suddenly seems to amount to a kind of tradition. And then there’s the kind of book that can turn your historical perspective upside-down

Posted inBooks

Time Out

“A literary event!” — every middlebrow doorstop of a novel gets saddled with that cliché. You’d think aesthetic significance could be determined by weight. Or that literature had no other time frame than that of the publishers’ seasonal catalogue, destined to wait a bit longer to be trashed than the daily paper, but not by much.

Nonetheless, something I’m prepared to call a literary event did take place earlier this year, when in its issue of February 9 the London Review of Books published a twenty-part poem or sequence by Denise Riley, “A Part Song.”