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Craig Morgan Teicher
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Well, it's been a fun week. I thought I'd use my last post to respond to some of the comments and thoughts raised by my post of a couple of days ago, in which I asked whether and why folks write book reviews. Rather than be particularly organized, I'm just going to list some of my thoughts and opinions on the subject. And then, I'll be signing off. -It seems to me poetry reviews have a relatively small impact on poetry sales, because most poetry books are bought by libraries (for whom pre-pub reviews in PW and LJ matter most) or by an extremely educated audience. Therefore, I think the purpose of poetry reviews is mainly to keep the art form in line, meaning to generate a conversation around books. So, though I rarely write them, I don't think negative reviews are a bad idea. -That said, negative reviews written for the purpose of making the reviewer look smarter than the book under consideration are always a bad idea. People trying to look smart rarely do look smart. -A primary concern for a reviewer should be writing an interesting piece of prose, a piece worth reading. This may be more important--I tread lightly here--than being right, or even accurate. It's certainly more interesting. See the reviews of Randall Jarrell and, more recently, William Logan. -To Mr. Hummer, who seemed so inflamed by the notion of a poetry publicist, understand I'm not referring to some weird world where poets themselves have publicists coordinating their appearances. If you've published 11 books, someone has done the publicity work on them--sending out review copies, pitching them to the distributor, maybe trying to line up a review or two--whether it was a publicist at the press or the editor or you. It's an essential part of the publication process. But poetry hasn't sold out. -I review books to help myself read them better, to get inside some of their thoughts. -I review books to make a small part of my living. -I review books because I think it's important to practice writing prose. There is no excuse for poets who can't string a standard sentence together, but can wield fragments like knives. -I review a lot of prose so that I am made to read books I wouldn't otherwise read. -I don't necessarily believe that poetry needs to strive to reach a wider audience. It's one of those things that needs to be sought. Those who need it find it. If more people need it, more people will find it. Poetry is its own gatekeeper. Continue reading
Posted Oct 31, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
As promised, today is my birthday. I'm 30 years old, pretty much twice as old as I was 15 years ago. Birthdays are very strange: it's as if one can really mark the passage of time, can stop and take a look. As I write this, I'm already making my way to 31. So, in a celebratory spirit, I thought today I would share a series of random facts I have in my head which aren't particularly useful, a kind of momentary constellation of me... 1) I once heard, maybe in a movie, Bob Neuwirth referred to as Bob Dylan's "amanuensis." 2) The Diaper Genie requires special bags. The Diaper Champ requires no special bags. That's why The Champ always wins. 3) I was a collector from a young age, storing my GI Joe figures posed in a cabinet, not ever playing with them. 4) I do not play piano, though I wish I did 5) As a kid, I once asked me dog if she was excited that it was my birthday. 6) I have smoked many thousands of cigars. 7) Roy Haynes subs for Elvin Jones, who was apparently in rehab, on one of Coltrane's "Live at Newport" albums. 8) Harlem--125th St.; Fordham...Mount Vernon West...Bronxville; Tuckahoe; Crestwood; Scarsdale; Heartsdale; White Plains; North White Plains. 9) When I used to be able to write a poem in one sitting, I used to write a poem every year on my birthday. 10) I'm not sure if my Friendster account is still active. 11) States I've visited: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Washington, Hawaii, Oregon, Illinois; New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Missouri, California, New York, Georgia, Colorado. 12) At least two magicians have pulled a coin out of my ear. 13) Morning People. Why? 14) There is no rule number 6. 15) I didn't drink soda till well into my teens. Now look at me. Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
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I taught a little class last night to a group of undergrads about freelance writing and book reviewing. Which makes me think about the AWP panel I'm leading for the NBCC at next year's conference called "The Practice and Purpose of Poetry Reviewing." What I always say to creative writing students when I talk about book reviewing is that they're entering a landscape vastly different from the one I entered, and I only entered a few years ago. Obviously, the Internet has rapidly and irrevocably changed the way books--and anything--are talked about. We now live in an age where some large segment of "professional" book criticism takes place in a medium somewhere between the customer comment and the fancy print book review. Literally, everyone's a critic, if they want to be and can type. But then the AWP panel will be specifically about poetry reviewing--why and how it's done. I'm often asking poetry publicists what a review means to them--does it help sell books in a meaningful way? Then I wonder what other reviewers think. To what extent are poetry reviews there to keep the art form in line? What's the point of a negative review? I'm curious whether readers of this blog read many reviews, especially of poetry, and whether they write them, either on blogs or for print or online lit mags or newspapers or wherever. Why do you do it--reading or writing? I'm groggy today--it's just too early, no matter what time it is. So no album today. I'm too grumpy to listen to music. ugh. Tomorrow is my birthday. Talk to you then. Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
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"Well, shall we/ think or listen? Is there a sound addressed/ not wholly to the ear?" --Williams Carlos Williams, "The Orchestra" The above is my favorite bit of poetry about music. Williams was thinking about classical music in "The Orchestra," but the same thinking applies to "America's classical music," jazz. The answer, of course, to Williams' question, is we should think and listen. I say this by way of explanation for why all my yammering about jazz this week on this blog. Obviously, I'm writing about it because I like it a lot and my directive as BAP guest blogger was to post "about anything you like." But then, of course, jazz seems to me to have several intimate connections and overlaps with poetry, some of which I thought I might elucidate today. Listening to jazz, as anyone who does it a lot knows, is an active process, an act of will. You must actually listen, concentrate, think. Jazz is music not address wholly to the ear, but also to the mind (the imagination, the short and long-term memory) and to the body. At its root, jazz is based on the idea of variations on a theme the listener knows, either because it's a popular song that everyone knows (or knew, in the case of many standards), or simply because the theme was just played for the listener at the beginning of the tune. But then, it gets weirder and more interesting than that, and this is where it seems to me we get into a realm that jazz and poetry share. Not only is a jazz listener meant to suspend the basic melody and rhythm of the song being heard in memory, but also all the solos that unfold in that song, the unfolding of the solo from one moment to the next, and, further, every other rendition of that song, every song like it, and, in a way, every other song, period, from the past, present, and future. While a jazz listener is experiencing the music he or she is hearing, he or she is also comparing it to other music, hearing how decision these jazz musicians have made in terms of melody, rhythm and a number of other factors comment on other musicians' decisions about other music, how other musicians make meaning and feeling with their instruments. Poetry, I would argue, works the same way. When reading a poem, we're not meant to simply interpret the words the way we would a sentence spoken aloud in a conversation. We're meant to compare the words in the poem--taken together and apart--to all other uses of those words, to the echos those words carry from other speakers. The poem is a collection of associations pinned together, disguised as a kind of coherent piece of writing. It's actually much more dynamic than that, in motion like a jazz tune, changing its meaning and feeling not only as it unfolds in the poem, but as its words are used in the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
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Today has been a different kind of day, with a good deal less time in it, so I'm posting later, and I'll be brief. More on the issues tomorrow, but today I think I'll just yammer about an album and be done. Greg Osby is one of the leading contemporary jazz composers and soloists. As far as I can tell, each of his albums is well thought out and unique, a project in its own right rather than simply a collection of compositions and sols. In light of my recent Louis Armstrong tear, I've been finding myself drawn to one Osby album in particular, his St. Louis Shoes, a collection of originals and others' compositions inspired by the musical history of Osby's home time. It also recalls the music of Armstrong and his early collaborators. At the same times, Osby's tunes, especially the first track, are often dark and haunting. And the soloing from this excellent band, which includes trumpeter Nicholas Payton, is first rate. I wish I had more in me today, but I don't. Be back tomorrow. Continue reading
Posted Oct 27, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
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Today, if I may, and simply because I may, I'd like to point your attention to my favorite book, which is also my favorite kind of book, if by favorite I mean the book I most often pull off my shelf, though I haven't read it cover to cover and hope never to do so. (My favorite book of another kind is Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet, which the book in question is not, nor does it try to be.) This book is, of course, The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings by Richard Cook and Brian Morton. If you don't know it, you probably don't listen to jazz, in which case you've probably already clicked away from this paragraph, which is now talking rather rudely behind your back. The Penguin Guide is a mighty reference book, containing capsule reviews of thousands of in-print jazz recordings made since the genre's first flowerings. When I say it's my favorite kind of book, I don't mean to say I'm in love with reference books of all kinds--you won't find me pouring over a pile of concordances and dictionaries in my free time--but with books packed with what I call "little bits," tiny discreet prose pieces that that give a colorful take on a particular topic and then close up shop. A short attention span like mine--and what begets poetry and poets if not a short attention span in love with literature--feats on these little reviews, gobbling two or three at a sitting, then saving the book for later, like the last few cookies on the plate. But what a bountiful plate--as soon as I've had what seems to be my fill (looked up all the albums by Sam Rivers, as I did this morning, for instance), leaving the plate seemingly empty, lo and behold, it is full again as my craving shifts to Ornette Coleman! I'm being a bit silly with my cookies here, but what I'm getting at, too, is that I think it's this kind of reading that has in fact drawn us as a culture to the Internet. Folks are always bemoaning the Internet's affect on our cultural attention span, as if the Web has killed the patient brain cells that would allow anyone to crack the heavy covers of Swan's Way. But I would argue that the Internet also answered for a craving that was there all along, the same one that has always had the intelligentsia flipping right to "The Goings On About Town" section of The New Yorker before tackling this week's often underwhelming short story. By which is mean it is not merely bad that we read briefly and widely online--diving into In Search of Lost Time is no more an act of will now than it ever was. I love these kinds of reference books, especially when they're about music. On an average chilly Monday, you might also find my nose buried in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, which, admittedly, is rather awkwardly written, but is... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
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Hello all. First let me say it's an honor to be here before you, doing my part to add to the text-horde, helping to create a diversion so someone else can commit the real crime. Or perhaps to fight the real crime. Anyway, I'm pleased to be here, blogging for the next week. I promised David Lehman I'd write about jazz, and I will, a bit later. But I thought I'd begin with some thoughts on a bit of po-biz news that intersects with another part of my professional life. I make a part of my living as a technology reporter for Publishers Weekly, for whom I've written many stories about the burgeoning E-book business over the past couple of years. It's recently come to my attention that the poetry and short fiction publisher BOA Editions, Ltd., has just made three of its book available for the Amazon Kindle e-reader device, which seems to be to be a good opportunity to think about the potential for e-books and the poetry scene. (First, however, I should disclose that BOA is indeed publishing my next book in May, though no one at BOA told me that they had been working on producing Kindle editions of BOA books, and I found out when I happened to scan the BOAfacebook page (and we'll leave the intersection of poetry and social networking for another day). BOA is the first mostly-poetry press I know of to do Kindle books (though I know, too, thatGraywolf has begun to publish at least its fiction in electronic form), so BOA seems like a good place to start). As you'll see here at the top of BOA's website, three books--collections of prose poems by Russell Edson and Nin Andrews, as well as a book of stories by Martha Ronk--are now available for the Kindle. And for only $7. Now I know that many a book person probably cringes at the thought of their precious books being reduced to ones and zeros, especially precious poetry books, which are more like talismans to ward off ignorance and existential loneliness than bound stacks of papers. I'm the same way, believe me. I LOVE my books. One of my favorite things is to fall asleep with a book on my chest--sometimes, I'm not even reading the damn thing: I just put the closed book on my chest and close my eyes. Books are warm and friendly; electronic files are abstract and confusing (though I would think a Kindle or Sony reader is at least slightly warm, electronic as it is). But then, the Internet has made this, I'd think, the most literate moment in history. We spend more of our time than ever reading various kinds of texts, researching our interests, commenting. I can't help but think that's a very good thing. Sure, we're less tempted to actually speak to other people, but unless you're very weird, you still do (if you are weird, you probably found a way of not speaking to people... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2009 at The Best American Poetry