Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cows for PoP

Quick update: we made it to 100%!  10 students educated!  Thanks everyone who helped out. 

I'm 50% of the way towards my Pencils of Promise fundraiser (that's 5 students educated!) and hoping to get to the full 100% with your help.  I've got 5 copies of Black Cow that I'm ready to personally autograph (with a big thank you) and post anywhere in the world to the first 5 people who donate to the campaign. It's tax deductable, and you'll have that warm and fuzzy feeling of having helped educate a student with every donation, plus you'll get an autographed copy of a book that author Jessica Bell called a "masterpiece which I will keep treasured on my bookshelf." There are currently more than 61 million children without access to education, but together we can do something about it.  Thanks in advance for helping me educate more readers (and don't forget to drop me a line with your postal address after you donate so I can get your book to you!)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Poetry Monday: Charles Bernstein

At ModPo this week, we're onto the Language Poets. It's still early days in my readings and was hard for me to choose who to feature here, because this work doesn't always come easily - it takes time to absorb, and one week just isn't enough (but it's a delicious taste - a tasting platter).  Our first two poets are Ron Silliman and Lyn Hejinian, both of whom I've now spent some time with and have been enjoying hugely. There are similiarities between Silliman and Hejinian's "autobiographical" poetry, though neither lends itself to ready reproduction. I liked "Albany" so much that I rushed straight out (well, clicked on a URL link straight to Amazon since there isn't a bookstore within 500 miles of here that carries the book) and bought myself a copy of The Alphabet, which I intend to take my time over. Hejinian's "My Life" is a beautiful full length work with recollections that do justice to the disorder and sensual coding and ongoing creation that is drawn from and turns into memory. I'm afraid I'll have to get that one as well because four sections is not going to be enough. I can see that ModPo is going to be far from over for me when the 10 weeks are up.  We're also working on Bob Perelman's "Chronic Meanings", and a bit more on Dickinson too as we explore Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson, but today, I've skipped forward a bit to Charles Bernstein's "In a Restless World Like This Is". This is a short poem, the full text of which can be found here: Following is only the briefest of excerpts - the last few lines:

As far as you go
In one direction, all the further you’ll
Have to go on before the way back has
Become totally indivisible.

I picked it because it's relatively straightforward, but still incredibly powerful in the way in which it drives us around (the corner) on a fractured, noisy road to nowhere (the restless world we live in) where nothing is fixed and everything is circular. In a PoemTrain discussion about the poem, Eli Goldblatt calls this a post-9/11 poem about how difficult it is to find words; to get back to a place where we can make sense. To me, Life itself seems to be the subject - the "the hocus pocus/Of the dissolving days" full of entropy, where, despite our illusion of memory, or of coming at life from "all three sides at once" (past, present, future perhaps) there's no direction home

Monday, October 22, 2012

Poetry Monday: Frank O'Hara

We're at week 7 of ModPo onto the New York School Poets including Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and Barbara Guest. The course begins with O'Hara's "The Day Lady Died", a poem rich with the details of life in New York City, immersing me back into a world so familiar to me it's part of the rhythm of my own breath, while still being entirely foreign and disconcerting (a dichotomy that was obvious to me on my last visit). Above all, the poem, which I'm not going to excerpt here, because it has to be read in its entirety, is the most striking, moving elegy to Billie Holiday, and perhaps to artistic greatness in general - the one vivid image that comes at the end and changes everything which precedes it.  This is a poem that begins and ends with breathlessness, which becomes its form. There is really only one very long, run-on sentence, made breathless with conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs ("and", "of", "then") which creates an impression of motion and busy-ness. Between the motion - the speed, are proper nouns in all caps ("NEW WORLD WRITING", "GOLDEN GRIFFIN", "PARK LANE", "NEW YORK POST", "5 SPOT"), which serve as markers, like neon signs that we pass on our way to the end point, which is not, after all, the Long Island dinner destination he mentions in the beginning ("Easthampton"), but rather, a moment in the past where aesthetic greatness is enough to stop the breath, stop the activity, stop everything.  This could be the most moving poem in the course for me so far. Go now, though I know you too are rushing to get ready for a dinner destination, stop everything and read:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Finding the Peace of Life: New Interview at the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs

Five years ago, author and interviewer Ernest Dempsey did a wonderful  interview with me about my novel Sleep Before Evening on News Blaze. Ernest and I caught up again this week to discuss my novel Black Cow. In the interview, we explore all sorts of things such as the meaning of success, the target market, my feelings about the 'rural life', the subject matter of my poetry book Repulsion Thrust, and lots more.  You can read the full interview (and please do add your comments) here:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tea and ModPo

My Kelly Writers House ModPo mug has finally arrived, and I feel like I'm now part of the in-crowd. No matter that I'm drinking Ecco rather than coffee and that Al Filreis and his fantastic teaching assistants are all thousands of miles away from where I'm sitting. It feels like I'm right there, participating in the discussions about "Howl", about Jack Kerouac's "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose", and about "October in the Railroad Earth".  If it's Wednesday, it must be Robert Creeley.  I might have to procure a black beret myself like TA Max if we keep on this way. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Poetry Monday: Howl

ModPo has moved on to the Beats. This is relatively familiar territory for me, but it doesn't mean that I get to slack off. Though much of the poetry we're readig this week appears spontaneous, easy to understand (compared at least to some of the experimental poets we just left), we need to do more than read, absorb, and chat about the work. This is a close, intense series of reading that looks, among other things at rhythm, syntax, the pouring forth of incantatory images, and, particularly in Allen Ginsberg's  "Howl", parataxis - that's the technique where dissimilar images are put together in a seemingly unrelated way, with the reader left to make the connection between them.  Here's but a fragment of Ginsberg's most well known poem - chaotic, and seemingly random ravings, but actually carefully constructed to follow, as ModPo's Al Filreis puts it: "the "syntax" and "measure" of the soul," or as Ginsberg said, "Ideally each line of 'Howl' is a single breath unit. My breath is long — that's the measure, one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath."  So here's a taste, and if you want more, you can click on the YouTube clip below the fragment and hear the big G read it himself in full (no harmonium, though I heard him recite "Howl" in person at St Mark's Church many (many) years ago with his harmonium and never forgot it...).  Full text of parts I and II can be found  here:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving
  hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the 
  starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the
  supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of
  cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels
  staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkan-
  sas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,

Monday, October 8, 2012

Poetry Monday: Gwendolyn Brooks

ModPo went quickly through Gertrude Stein and I was amazed at how powerful her work ended up being for me. I don't think I'd ever read her poetry on my own. My first readings left me with no impression whatsoever, but the closer I looked the more intense the impact of the work on me, and indeed on my own work. I found myself lingering over the rhythms, going back to the lines again and again in my mind. The most oddly evocative for me was the strange "IF I TOLD HIM A Completed Portrait of Picasso". This was almost completely meaningless for me to begin with, but I kept returning. Stein's own reading was hypnotic - her voice so pervasive, that I think I shall hear all poetry in that voice now. My own poetry has started to show slight hints of that repetition and wordplay - I even began a poem last week with a quote from her "Composition as Explanation".  I'm not quite ready to leave Stein behind, but this week ModPo has moved on to the anti-modernists of the 1930s, and the poets of the Harlem Renaissance.  We're not specifically doing any Langston Hughes, though I do love him and will come back to him here at some point (you can hold me to that), but so far my favourite poem this week is Gwendolyn Brooks' "truth". Here's just the first stanza. You can get the whole poem here.

And if sun comes
How shall we greet him?
Shall we not dread him,
Shall we not fear him
After so lengthy a
Session with shade?
Though the poem is as political and powerful as anything written by the angry "communist poets" whose work precedes it, what I like about "truth" (and other work by Brooks) is that the message never overwhelms the medium. The poem is never didactic. It never yells at the reader. It makes its point through the inherent power of its imagery, its personification, its metaphor, and the emotive power of its rhythms.  In some way, I can see the impact of Stein even here, in the most un-experimental of places.  I may have Steinitis. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Muse is back: Conferencing in your Pyjamas

Every October for the past five or so years, I've been invited to give some kind of training session at The Muse Online Wriers Conference. The conference itself has grown to huge proportions, and this year there are about six pitch sessions (yes, you can pitch at this conference and you don't need to get dressed first), a whole host of workshops including creating tension in the novel, writing fight scenes, writing a novel in 30 days (better take this one if you're doing NaNoWriMo), creating fantasy worlds, mythology, paranormal, characterisation, the list goes on and on. There are also intense one hour chats, including one that I'm doing on how to write book reviews. This session will be a complete one hour primer on reviews – why you need them, how to get them, and how to give them to garner publicity for your own book.  That's a lot to cover in an hour - fortunately I'm a pretty quick typist - we're even offering a few prizes to attendees. Taken collectively, the conference covers a tremendous amount of ground in one week, with a ton of handouts that, alone, are worth the cost of attending.  Did I mention a cost?  It's all free.  Doesn't get better.  Drop by and say hello.