Monday, August 30, 2010

"They resonate with their intent. They telegraph their import, even, paradoxically, their modesty. How many poems about Virgil, about the underworld, do we need? How many carts, wagons, bails of hay, can any one reader stomach?"

Todd Swift on Seamus Heaney. Read the full post here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New from Leafe Press


John Bloomberg-Rissman

This is an adaptation of a manual from the State of California's Department of Correction and Rehabilitations. It outlines the officially-sanctioned techniques and standards for carrying out a state execution.

In the words of the author:

"The above is the cover of a brand new publication, which clearly puts paid to the Conceptual Writing/Flarf debate of this past spring, as well as the eternal ephemeral distinction between SoQ and Post-Avant. Not to mention that people can no longer say that philosophy missed its chance.

It IS NOW available from Laughing / Ouch / Cube / Publications, an occasional imprint of Leafe Press. You'll learn more about some crucial stuff, like how we kill people here in Cali, than you ever wanted to know, which is good for you, like some kind of vitamin. You'll be highly amused. "

R.I.P. Edwin Morgan

A poet I admired for his variety, for his lack of regard for finding his own "voice" and for the sense that the writing of poems was, for him, a making of something; a craft.

Blue Toboggans

scarves for the apaches
wet gloves for snowballs
whoops for white clouds
and blue toboggans

stamping for a tingle
lamps for four o'clock
steamed glass for buses
and blue toboggans

tuning-forks for Wenceslas
white fogs for Prestwick
mince pies for eventide
and blue toboggans

TV for the lonely
a long haul to Heaven
a shilling for the gas
and blue toboggans

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Comment

Ron Silliman is no longer allowing comments on his blog. Before I go on, I must say that I think Silliman's blog is a superb resource; a fantastic list of links almost daily, and Ron's own posts always have something interesting and insightful to say. I like his poetry too.

As for the banning of comments, of course, Silliman has has every right to do what he's done; however, it does change the nature of his widely influential site from a democratic forum to a cultural authority and arbiter of taste. In fact, I've always understood Silliman (the public figure that is - nothing personal) to be an old-fashioned American patrician figure, despite his counter-culture credentials. I guess it's the old story of poacher-turned-gamekeeper. My view of Silliman changed after his response to the brilliant spoof anthology containing the names of 4,000 avant-garde poets over machine-generated poems. Silliman publicly threatened the college-students who produced this with financially ruinous legal action, to protect his 'brand': 'Ron silliman the author'; the very notion that LANGUAGE poetry has sought to undermine. They shalt not take his name in vain!

The removal of comments from Silliman's site is in response to offensive comments about the work of some younger poets he's promoting. Destructive commentators are a problem on public forums, I agree; but it is possible to edit the worst ones out, which Silliman has told us he's done in the past. Personally, I'd prefer to risk offense than shut down critical comment altogether.

Joseph Massey, one of the poets who's flaming by commenters led to the decision, seems to have reacted very sensibly to situation, witness his comment on poet Jessica Smith's blog:

"While the comments — most of them — are irritating, they wouldn’t — couldn’t! — stop me from writing. The work is the work and has nothing at all to do with its reception. The noise is disruptive but pretty transparent — and I’m already over it."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Just back from a week languishing on the shores of the Adriatic, Croatia to be exact. Sun, sea and sand (or at least rocks). One of the books I took with me was "War Music" Christopher Logue's celebrated versions of the Iliad. This has been reviewed on Litter. Logue makes skillful use of anachronisms to situate the concerns of the protagonists in a zone which encompasses our own concerns (as does Kelvin Corcoran's version of the Paris / Helen story, as noted here). Logue's verse isn't particularly innovative, being mainly a series of variations on iambic pentameter, but he has a good ear, and the immediacy of the poem, and it's pacing, is just right. Logue provides a sonorous rhetoric for his bombastic boy's-own heroes which still manages to convince as realistic speech:

My wedded Illians -
Cool Dardan North, dear Ida, dearest south;
And you who come from Lycia and Cyprus:
I reign with understanding for you all.
Trojan Antenor, being eldest, shall speak first.
Our question is:
How can we win this war?

'And I reply', Antenor says,
'How can we lose it?'

This translation is one for our times; the Trojan Anchises' description of the Greeks could be applied to certain parties on the contemporary scene, though I leave you, dear reader, to choose which ones:

They are a swarm of lawless malcontents
Hatched from the slag we cast five centuries ago,
Tied to the whim of their disgusting gods,
Knowing no quietude until they take
All quiet from the world. Ambitious, driven, thieves.
Our speech like footless crockery in their mouths.
Their way of life, perpetual war.
Inspired by violence, compelled by hate,
Peace is a crime to them, and offers of diplomacy
Like giving strawberries to a dog.

Logue is in his mid-eighties now, and it looks unlikely that he'll translate the whole poem; but it seems appropriate for our post-modern condition that our age's translation of Homer should be fragmentary and incomplete.