Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Remote Poetry Festivity, Bookwise Anyway

In an effort to sympathetically align myself with O, Miami, I figured I'd read a new book on contemporary poetry by a critic named David Orr, Beautiful and Pointless, which got a good review in Slate. It's a short book, just a couple of Metro North rides long. I like reading accessible nonfiction when I feel like I'm more or less exactly the target audience -- in this case, pretty knowledgeable and interested in art in general, but not much about poetry in particular. And I feel I have a pre-existing stake in the topic, since it analogizes very closely to modern classical music.

It's an admirably straightforward book, and I'd recommend it, but I think Orr misses a big piece of the puzzle.

He very directly states his agenda -- not writing a how-to-read kind of book, but filling in the context about "what modern poets think about, how those poets talk about what they're thinking about, and most important, how an individual poetry reader relates to the art he usually likes, always loves, and is frequently annoyed by." He supplies that context crisply, in chapters covering the extent to which poetry is inherently personal (less than assumed); the importance of form (not supremely so); and the professional and academic world of poetry, how it affects both what poets do and which poets are taken as significant.

It's informational and relatable, and Orr takes time to deflate the kinds of stereotypical claims about poetry that are either romantically fuzzy or academically obscure. He doesn't quote all that much poetry, and a generous handful of those excerpts are there to show off an unfavorable aspect. I came out wanting to read Elizabeth Bishop and Kay Ryan, but not with a big list of threads to follow. It's not that kind of a book.

What I think is missing is a basic account of why reading poetry is pleasurable in the first place. Knowing the context helps you enjoy more things, I think. But talking about art has got to start with the emotional reaction you get from it, and Orr skirts this point a few times. That emotional effect is always tied into your aesthetic reaction: for some reason, you construct an arrangement of words and juxtaposed ideas, and it's emotionally transfixing. Except that in modern art, where the overt emotional content is frequently muted (if it's not scorched into something disturbing), it's a much more subtle effect and therefore really hard to enjoy at first.

I don't know how you teach that, but I think you have to look at the problem squarely. I guess you want to find lucid modern poetry, where you can attend to the imagery floating through it and the surprising scene changes, and also enjoy the brush strokes of the words. (The Amanda Lamarche poem Pete just read for How Pedestrian seems to fit that bill, even if it's inexplicably downcast. So does the first poem that Orr remembers liking, Philip Larkin's "Water.") As opposed to needing to crack something completely cryptic. That's the level I suspect you need to zero in on. I don't think there's much help in being aware of the world poets that live in.

Again, I think there's a big parallel in how people talk about modern classical music, and there's a real void where you'd talk more subjectively (or, hey, poetically!) about how the expressive thread of a piece moves and skips around. That's not really the nuts and bolts of harmonic practice or form, but that's what you need, as a listener, to pick up on if you're going to be pulled in emotionally. So I wonder if there's a similar fruitful yet underexplored conversational area in modern poetry. I've wandered off my turf here, so maybe there's good writing about this someplace? I'd like to know about it. And I'd still like to know more about modern poetry, too, at least the lucid kind.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sunglasses & Architecture

I'm on a poetry blog in Canada today!

Katherine, the founder, producer, curator, etc. of How Pedestrian (the afore-linked Canadian blog) had the dubious honor of getting to live with me in my quasi-squat (I should name it--the home--"it"--easier than quasqua--) for the first ten days of April, since we had brought her down here to contribute her massive poetry skills to O, Miami. And then, she needed a place to live, and it--the house I live in--has all kinds of bedrooms. I just had to do some basic up-sprucings, like borrowing a mattress from a friend, purchasing sheets for said mattress, pillows, replacing the broken toilet seat, buying a couple garbage cans (for the kitchen and bathroom) buying a hot plate (which didn't get there till halfway through her stay, alas); you know, generally scrambling to get it--the place--to a level that's livable for humans not quite as self-negligent as myself.

She was a super patient guest, and really understanding, and happy to be in Miami (she's from Toronto). So, thankfully, it worked out.

I eventually had three visiting poets/artists living in its three bedrooms (I drove around town in my rental SUV borrowing mattresses from two other friends (one of them was actually a former futon of my own that I sold over the summer for a six-pack of Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA (how I've grown...)). I slept on the floor (on a yoga mat on a Thermarest lightweight camping mattress (the one that's been bloodstained with my noseblood since Temagami in, what was that, 1996?)) in the main room. Like a guard dog ("actually, all was not well, what was I doing there at one o'clock in the morning?"). Kind of awesome (since I'd been sleeping on said mat/tress combo in the main room since January anyways, it wasn't really a change for me).

It was really great living in a house with several other awesome creative humans. I miss having roommates.

Now I'm back to being in it--quasqua--by myself. And still sleeping on the mat/tress in the main room. I slept on one of the borrowed mattresses for a few days, but had to return it (and one of the others as well). There's still the DFH mattress in one of the bedrooms, but in that same bedroom there was also a drip bucket that was in place to collect the water from the hole in the ceiling (leak in the roof), and some pesky mosquito decided to lay eggs in it while I wasn't paying attention, so that wing of the house is overrun with bloodstrawmouth bugs right now. Which I'm unwilling to go in and actively kill (I killed one, but it just felt so futile, given how many insects were clouding me for the few minutes that I attempted to lay on the DFH mattress (which, incidentally, is the futon that I brought all the way to Miami from Boston (with a layover in Pittsburgh), which makes it also half-Zac's, who also probably would have appreciated that I sold it for a six pack of beer)), so I'm guessing that if I leave the room alone for a few more days, the mosquitos, with nothing to drink, bloodwise, will fail to live much longer. But, by then, I'll have to return the futon.

Boy, have I got work to do today that this is helping me avoid! hOmestretch, Miami!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gulf Stream Number 5

The latest Gulf Stream Online (No. 5) is up and running, as of the 15th. Check it out.

My style sheets are going strong, with (mostly) minimal degradation!

In related news, a couple of poems from the last issue that I was editor of (No. 3) were selected for Sun Dress Press's Best of the Net 2010.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

This Week in Sports Thwacking

Even if you don't play golf or watch golf, PGA Tour golfer Kevin Na's widely YouTubed odyssey in the rough last Thursday makes for good TV. I'm not sure what I like more, his Will-Arnett-style "Oh, come on" after stroke 11 or the round of polite golf-clapping he gets when he's finally back on the fairway after stroke 12. We can all relate.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I Also Have a Used Car to Sell You

Monday, April 11, 2011

With Brothers Like These

Fucking amazing.


So, driving Anne Carson and Robert Currie to and from their hotel and their performances, and getting to hang out and talk with them was massively awesome, since what they do in art, poetry, and life is hugely inspiring to me in a multitude of ways. But their actual performance of the actual piece (NOX, based on Carson's most recent book), with choreography by Rashaun Mitchell, dancing by him and Silas Riener, and music by Ben Miller was pretty damn amazing.

We're one-third of the way through O, Miami. I'm running out of superlatives.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Gremlins from the Kremlin

Have I mentioned yet how exhausting it is to be co-running a month-long poetry festival? I'm not sure why, but this is the cartoon I just watched, to take a break from my day of trying to add some much-needed documentary content to

It--watching the WB cartoon--had something to do with this:

which I never, ever, get tired of watching.

In other news, I got to witness the tail end of rehearsal for this event last night, which was awesome. And got to meet Anne Carson, one of my real intellectual heroes, and tell her how much I appreciate her having written Economy of the Unlost--undoubtedly the obscurest of her books (which she acknowledged, making me all the happier)--and talk to her a bit about it and Paul Celan. So that's cool.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

And It Taught Us All an Important Lesson about Holes

Slate's indispensable "Explainer" feature tackles the question this week of why people generally don't get sucked out of holes blown in airplane fuselages. (Topical, in terms of holes but happily not people getting sucked out of them. I should note optimistically that neither Maddie nor myself are irrationally fearful of people being suddenly sucked out of aircraft.) The really worthwhile read, though, is a Sydney Morning Herald story linked by Explainer, flight attendant Nigel Ogden's account of his rather unbelievable 1990 experience of holding on to a pilot half-blown out of the cockpit after the improperly installed windscreen blew out. Wild stuff. Keep that perspective next time you have a bad day at work!

Monday, April 04, 2011

My Pants

So I know I blog about my pants with odd frequency, but now my pants-wearing has been covered in a major metropolitan newspaper as well. So, boo-fucking-yah!

"A legion of trumpeters and percussionists introduced Cunningham, 32, and co-founder Pete Borrebach, 28, who wore a more muted outfit of maroon pants and a buttoned-up shirt."

It should also be noted that this day of maroon pants-wearing broke a streak of 5 straight months of wearing the same pair of pants every single day, which I think was a new record, even against my own pantially-austere track record.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Dept. of Facetious Thereminiana

A day late for April Fool's Day: among all the Internet-facilitated fake tech product announcements stands out the Moog Polyphonic Theremin:

The world is a better place for each addition of a deadpan, three-minute-long theremin joke. And I say that even as more of an Ondes Martenot guy.

The blonde, Austrian-accented Dorit Chrysler is not a made-up person, incidentally, she's an actual thereminist.

Friday, April 01, 2011

It Begins!