Monday 28 July 2008

August Kleinzahler profiled in the LA Times

"I'm really just a nice, middle-class Jewish boy from New Jersey. If you take a swing at me, I'll probably swing right back. I write poetry." -- August Kleinzahler

I love August Kleinzahler's poetry, and I love his scrappy, no-bullshit attitude. The LA Times' John Gilonna has prepared an exellent profile on this excellent artist. Enjoy.

SAN FRANCISCO -- August Kleinzahler gets into fights at poetry readings.

Once, in Ireland, he traded insults with a host he found verbose. At a reading in a New York bar, he told a noisy drunk to shut his trap. Fists flew after the guy made a crack about Kleinzahler's coat, a sentimental hand-me-down from his father.

Kleinzahler goes to readings because he is a poet. He just doesn't act like one.

He is, at 58, the bad boy of American poetry, whose public outbursts make academics cringe. He dismisses university writing programs as "multimillion-dollar Ponzi schemes" in which Volvo-driving poet-professors are too fearful of risking prizes or promotions to make waves.

Kleinzahler considers himself an outsider, compelled to stir up trouble. He has labored largely in obscurity -- more popular in London than in New York. And though as a rule he stubbornly avoids the poetry establishment, he surfaces now and then with a bone to pick.

In literary journals, he takes poets and critics to task for what he perceives as their slights and shoddy work. A few years ago, he even skewered Garrison Keillor's radio poetry readings.

So what if he's unpopular? It keeps his name in play. "I make my living off these stooges," he says.

You can read the rest of Gilonna's profile here.

For a sample of Kleinzahler's poetry, click here.

Bill Murray helps out at Poets House event

Bill Murray, seen here in a portrait by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, was one of hundreds of people who turned out at an event for Poets House in New York.

Listen to the Studio 360 report here:

And listen to Bill Murray recite poems by Thomas Lux, Martin Espada, and Galway Kinnell here:

Now if only Toronto has its own Poets House. And its own Bill Murray.

Friday 25 July 2008

Lucia Perillo on her "writing space"

The American Poetry Review has a column called APR in the Studio in which poets are invited to describe their studios, workrooms, desks, or wherever it is that they compose their poems. In the May/June issue of APR, Lucia Perillo, who David Kirby has called "the funniest poet writing today" in the New York Times, took the column in a different, more intimate, direction, and described instead the state of her "internal" writing space, that place in her physical brain where her poems come from. Poetry Daily has made that column available to read online. Here is a sample:

In what computer people call the meat world, I wrote always in a place that had a window. Otherwise there's not much to say (a door rests on top of two filing cabinets that have been moved from window to window). Of more interest is the internal studio. What to call it—encephalic? Virtual? Made-from-meat-yet-not? The broodio? The stain?
Here's a picture, because what we find most titillating about this column is the image that gives us a glimpse of the poet's actual furniture and rugs.
Though I am not enough of a scientist to be able to work out the mind-body correspondences, like anybody else I start in the deep hub that's said to be reptilian. It's also where the doctor saw something anomalous when she looked at my brain scans, a wispy streak like the tail of a comet trailing across my corpus callosum (I knew it was bad when she called it interesting). So the generative reptile center is defective, and what comes out of it is scrambled, gnarled, free? (the hospitable way to say it) from conventional language. Or you could say the place is a wreck, and what comes out of it is gibberish.
You can read the rest of Perillo's column here.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment

There's been an recent outcry in some poetic circles that "narrative" is the devil's music, a capitalist, patriarchal construct. Poppycock, I says! A narrative is whatever you write it to be.

Poet Tony Hoagland, seen here looking eerily like actor Matt Frewer when he guested on Star Trek, released a book of essays last year called Real Sofistikashun which I thought was wonderful. Perhaps my favourite essay in the book was one called "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment" which mirrored a lot of my current thoughts and concerns with recent fashions in contemporary North American poetry.

That essay is available, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation, to be read online. Here is a sample:

In the last ten years American poetry has seen a surge in associative and “experimental” poetries, in a wild variety of forms and orientations. Some of this work has been influenced by theories of literary criticism and epistemology, some by the old Dionysian imperative to jazz things up. The energetic cadres of MFA grads have certainly contributed to this milieu, founding magazines, presses, and aesthetic clusters which encourage and influence each other’s experiments. Generally speaking, this time could be characterized as one of great invention and playfulness. Simultaneously, it is also a moment of great aesthetic self-consciousness and emotional removal.

Systematic development is out; obliquity, fracture, and discontinuity are in. Especially among young poets, there is a widespread mistrust of narrative forms and, in fact, a pervasive sense of the inadequacy or exhaustion of all modes other than the associative. Under the label of “narrative,” all kinds of poetry currently get lumped misleadingly together: not just story but discursion, argument, even descriptive lyrics. They might better be called the “Poetries of Continuity.”
You can read the entire essay here.
You can order the book here.

Monday 21 July 2008

Nick Laird on Science and Poetry

Here's an interesting article in which Nick Laird (pictured) ponders -- and even, cautiously, calls for -- a poetics that is more engaged with the universe on a scientific level. It's a topic of great interest to me, and one that I am actively working out through my own recent writing. Here's a snippet:

In general, though, modern poets have taken more easily to Freud than Darwin, for reasons obvious enough: Freud's work privileges the human, Darwin's does not. But the remit of science is forever widening. Neuroscience is asking what the self is made from. Evolutionary biology seeks to explain behaviour. Quantum mechanics overturns notions of causation. Astronomy attempts to discover the texture and origin of the universe. In these inquiries, the "hows" become the "whys".
Just as Emerson called for a new kind of poetry that was commensurate with America, and Whitman obliged, should we hope for poetry capacious enough to map the new countries of science? There are problems. Can complexity of this kind be versified? Poetry evokes better than it explains. There is also, for the poet, the danger of simply being seduced by new terminology, the taste of exotic words. The poem becomes a list. And there is the lack of shared reference. Mention a telephone or tree, a marriage or goose-bumps, and we have some similar notion of what is meant. Our experiences of science are either abstract or mediated. How far can we imagine what a cell is like? Or a radio wave? Outer space comes to us only through telescopes and satellites.
Read the entire article here.
And for further reading, here is Albert Goldbarth's poem "The Sciences Sing a Lullabye."

Saturday 12 July 2008

Save Al Purdy's house!

This is the house Al Purdy built by hand (with the help of his wife Eurithe, and later, Milton Acorn), and behind this house is Roblin Lake, the muse for so many of Purdy's poems. The cultural significance of this house cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, it has become necessary for Eurithe Purdy to put the place up for sale. “It's become too much for me,” she has said in a story in the Globe and Mail.

The idea of some Saab-driving nincompoop buying this property and tearing it down to build a garrish three-storey cottage send paroxysms of disgust down my spinal cord.

I know there are a few writers in Canada, and some who were close to Purdy, for whom purchasing this property would be no more of a financial strain than it would be for most people to buy a new pello chair from Ikea. (I just checked my Super-7 ticket, and I'm not one of them.) Why wouldn't they pool their resources and buy this place? It should be a museum to Canadian letters, or a writer's retreat like Pierre Berton House in Dawson City.

Read more about it here.