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Cara Benson
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This will be thoroughly negligent and absolutely incomplete. Some of these are new; some are from my ever-growing wish I could get to every book I like in a sort of Faustian manner list. In no particular order, rhyme, reason, or otherwise here are just ten: Cleopatra: A Life- Stacy Schiff The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Crisis in the American Century - Chris Nealon Poeta en San Francisco - Barbara Jane Reyes Herso: An Heirship in Waves - Susana Gardner The Black Automaton - Douglas Kearney Stealth- Samuel Ace and Maureen Seaton Event Factory- Renee Gladman The Cows - Lydia Davis Time of Sky & Castles in the Air- Ayane Kawata (trans. Sawako Nakayasu) Illuminations- Arthur Rimbaud (trans. John Ashbery) Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Kristin Prevallet is the author of four books of poetry, including I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time. She is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship and a PEN translation fund award. She teaches Trance Poetics (an ongoing writing and somatic process workshop) and combines integrative methods of hypnosis, energy psychology, and life coaching in her work with clients at her office in Manhattan. Recent poetry and essays are forthcoming in Fourth Genre, Spoon River Review, and the anthology “I' ll Drown My Book”: Conceptual Writing by Women. Go to for more information on the call for work on the forthcoming Hypnopoeia folio. CB: You reference the Poundian notions in poetry of phanopoeia, melopoeia, and logopoeia foundationally in positing the new state of “I make” - hypnopoeia. I take this to mean making from a state of trance, which is resonant with the Surrealists and the automatic writing that Ginsberg, et al., were attempting. I love how you are extending this also to the reader, to connecting to the reader in what you call “mind-focus.” You mention that trance-states are “embedded” in specific poems. Can you give an example? KP: The trance-experiments of the Surrealists and the Beats were about experimenting with a wide variety of altered-waking and near-somnambulistic states of mind in order to generate the artwork or poem. And of course that's very interesting. But a trance-state is not only about creating works of art. It's the state of inner-directed focus that most of us experience 95% of the day. It's the chatter in your mind and the thoughts that are leading you shape your reality (or helping you to undermine and destroy it.) When a poet sits down to write a poem, even if that poem is non-referential and purely sound-based, that is a state of trance. When that poem is published or read outloud, readers enter into a trance that enables them to either connect with the language, sound, imagery, etc., or to drift off into their own mental space and think other thoughts. Certainly there are poems that specifically induce readers into following them into what Pound calls Phanopoeia ("Throwing a visual image on the mind"). Some do this overtly like Eliot's "Four Quartets": Footfalls echo in the memory Down the passage which we did not take Towards the door we never opened Into the rose-garden. My words echo Thus, in your mind. But it doesn't need to be an image that gets thrown onto the mind. It can also be the residual effects of language (The Crystal Text by Clark Coolidge is a good example) that create an emotional response or a more fleeting sensation. Is it the music of the language that does this, or is it the ambiguity of his use of images? I think that no matter what kind of poem the reader will encounter it from his or her own state of mind because, as humans, this is how we get into each other's... Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
A bit of talk on verbosity here this week, from a comment on Derrida, who seemingly always took ten words to do the work of one, to an article containing advice on legalese and brevity. With that in mind, I decided to see just what I might do about the length of a few texts around. This will be my shortest post to date. Isn’t Coming question of accent? foreigner. Of with, program, the were question question. of also in person of from situation, ourselves way in (xenos) think by the our shakes being though of the of length. basically as makes city sophist: speaks not one which What is have our is way hypothesis of himself that paternal parricide, can sense some indicated is even (“debate” says obvious, where combat, into not, translation: 241d). where or is father question articulated reference its if follows evokes blindness (It around the He it not a for this thesis, have have insist for with the be taken I on manikos), over person to inside and he paternal of him his contest to here seeing is we it this blind is will meantime, could takes Foreigner he the for the that great nothing as person, For and discourse, the that–Well man to him young that forms we Sometimes. --Every tenth word from the opening ten pages of Jacques Derrida’s “On Hospitality” I. The Burial of the Dead1 And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,4 Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man6 I will show you fear in a handful of dust. Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, The lady of situations. Unreal City,12 ‘You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!16 II. A Game of Chess1 In vials of ivory and coloured glass In which sad light a carvèd dolphin swam. Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed. Where the dead men lost their bones. Those are pearls that were his eyes.9 The hot water at ten. You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set, But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for lack of telling. HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME --Every tenth line from the first two sections of T.S Eliot’s “The Wasteland” - footnotes have been cut. She told me afterwards that she got stuck on the genitals and never made it to any other part of the body. Each section is separate in that each has a different context, literally refers to a different situation. During part of that time I did not get much of a feel for fragments with an explicitly sexual content. (I love running away with a little Charles Mingus.) If I could have heard new and selected things when you appeared, each of the last in my yard and body, I would write two most singularly influential years. Since her death, however, I decided the poem probably resides in New York City. --111 words selected randomly from Contributors’ Notes and Comments, The Best American Poetry 2001,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Me, too, admiration for teachers. It's a tightrope walk some days. Okay, most. I remember once, literally, I got a rejection letter one year and two months to the date of submission. As a sometime editor myself now, I get it!
While conversation often takes a certain turn in various social interactions outside of literary gatherings when the word "poet" rings out in response to the sooner-or-later query "what do you do?" (which usually stands in for what do you do for a living, which isn't actually what I do for a living, poet, but it is my vocation, unless you count teaching which isn't, as we know, the actual writing - I digress...), soon as it comes out that I teach poetry in prison even the ice clinking in glasses comes to the proverbial stop. So I started collecting bits and pieces of my responses in order to hand out as index cards at the next party, and then paragraphs formed, and then some of them found their way into print. I'll offer excerpts here: From an upcoming piece: Poetry is not a path guidance counselors ever recommend. Not that there aren’t career poets. Those prize winners, grant recipients, and endowed chair holders who paid their dues back when dues paying paid off. Even assistant Profs can ride tenure track to a lovely life of summers free, semesters on sabbatical, and even occasional paid travel as Visiting Poets. It used to go something like this: BA at an esteemed liberal arts school, MFA or MA, maybe the PhD. Publish. Teach. Keep publishing. Retire. Yes, William Carlos Williams was a doctor and many of the Beats didn’t teach. Plenty I suppose have dug ditches or graves or waitressed (which I’ve done) or split for Paris (not done) or joined the Peace Corps or something else noteworthy or noble to eat to live to write. But teaching feeds my writing. I’m in the poems when I’m teaching. To be in them is integral to writing them. [Now that I teach, see how I describe it differently, above? Many blessings to teaching poets everywhere.] Back to the track. During graduate work the aspiring writer acquires her “demonstrable” experience. In fact, most 100, 200, even 300 level ENGL courses are taught not by big names (they are Visiting Tuscany), but by students working their butts off to avoid more loans. Then the poet/teacher can “demonstrate” to another institution of higher education that she, too, ought to be an endowed whoever on her way to wherever. At least, that’s what I’d heard when I signed up for an MFA a few years ago. Now the PhD is required (the new MFA!) and there are no university teaching jobs, except in Dubai. Unfortunately, nobody told me that that first degree is the gateway drug and you don’t come out with any option whatsoever for paying for your own “room” anymore anyway. Or even plane tickets. But when I was getting the MFA it was my job to set up a teaching gig as part of the degree. I lived near Albany so SUNY seemed ideal. Better yet, NY State Writers Institute. Now there’s a feather in the beret! One of the bigs had an upcoming reading.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Akilah Oliver at Millay Colony for the Arts "Grief is a complicated emotion but also an inadequate word in many ways." --Akilah Oliver I stumble over tense. Akilah knew that face. There is one face on every face when grief strikes. From A Toast in the House of Friends: go often now when i imagine life i think of what should be finite, the guise of limitability, the desire for stop are there greeters there [are you one] when we former ghosts arrive is this sea deceptive, as if alive or an actor, the world masked in my own way there was a time when i stumbled over a tense: says/said now, bereft, in anticipation of how night collapses into its own effluence i conjugate occasions, ask just for time, just a little time, to get love right Akilah Oliver passed away unexpectedly in February. The poetry community from where I live it was/is stunned. In a poetry class I teach in a NY State Prison for males, we, while also dealing with Gil Scott-Heron’s recent passing, dug into Akilah’s work. We wrote from her “meditations (redemption chant)” our own breathing in grace grace grace out face to the sky poems. I sat in a room with men in green and grief and wrote. Akilah did this. There is a memorial reading tomorrow night in NYC at The Poetry Project, a venue Akilah supported and curated for and attended and performed at with right love. I’ve asked for lines in honor of -- as a toast to -- her and will offer them here. Go to the reading if you’re in NY. Buy her books and hold them open. Some words for/of Akilah: ...I hope she would like it if I described her voice as a "vibrating speech act". ...She was reading on stage and at a certain point they took turns reading poems from the audience, one of which I had submitted ("Incantation"). She started out slowly..., as she got to about the 5 line she really tuned in, her voice and body got into it, she became a part of the poem. By the end she said "wow/whoa!" as if she had 'been in there w/me'. I felt for the first time someone had really understood me, or that was a better performance than I could have done w/my own poem (definitely)....I thank her again, posthumously, for her amazing ability to tune in. [I]ntelligence, caring, a love of cocktails & a woman for whom "the road" seemed to really be her home. Ever expanding outward, here here to the most liberated mind I know. "What are the limits of your body?" - Akilah, 2006. I think about this often. In the context of when she asked this, the conversation was on lots of types of bodies: literal, physical, mental, imaginary, etc, etc. Thank you, Akilah. Akilah’s gaze, all she draws in and holds. still. As the beneficiary of Akilah's gifts at various points in my life, beginning long... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Sam, I love the distinction you make between "cu" and "whole"! My worries are moving targets. And then there's O'Hara "But how can you really care if anybody gets it, or gets what it means, or if it improves them. Improves them for what? For death? Why hurry them along? Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears)."
Two recent essays/tracts of mine include embedded poems of protest. Poems that urge action beyond the reception of the poem. These pieces consider the role of the poem in politics and politics in the poem. I’ll excerpt briefly from both here: from "nobodyislisteninginginginginginginging" [forthcoming in a massive section Jonathan Skinner edited for Interim Magazine in which he asked that we poets read poems as pieces of advocacy to our politicians about the corruption and disaster of big oil] “Of course this is the crux of [Jonathan’s] call – of the concern (of some of us) for the human(ities). Grappling with what it means to be human has been reduced to (an) economics. Or was that always the case? After all, slaves and women were the excluded domestic economy upon which the dominant male’s political participation depended. From the classical Greeks on up to the founding and then some of the good ole US of A. "Would that the poem could have its gravitas and pathos and ethos and eros and humor and yes politics any which way it would have them. '…any shortcut between the two realities seems fatal to poetry.' (Marcuse) Leslie Scalapino did not think poems to be political acts, but 'could go along with them.' Or, I’ll add, per Rimbaud, in advance.” from “The Secret of Milk” [with eohippus labs] “Is this poem complicit with the hegemonic actors/systems that produced its topic? Have I fetishized [its subject] per Žižek?…What, if anything, does the lyric (nearly song) effect that reportage or rhetoric doesn’t. "To begin, I wanted to engage with language (dialogically and/or dialectically) of milk consumption and commercial dairy practices. (I think I want(ed) a relationship with an abject subject.) There is a time to present and, like Reznikoff, allow the reader to come to her own conclusions (she does anyway, right?). And then, as David Cope says, there is a time to kick down the door so the poem does not recede into the closet. Or as Eileen Myles puts it, where was the A=I=D=S poems? No subject object verb agreement, no. "Of course there was the Duncan/Levertov split which is what we’re talking about. Field and standing in the field singing/screaming. These are reductive and perhaps not so very productive binaries. I’m indicating at these stripes too expediently. "And then there’s Oppen who stopped.” These excerpts are not the poems. Because most days I am interested in poems and politics, I’m also interested in the (im)possibility of the poem in relation to politics. Economics. Late-late-late disaster capitalism which seems to have swallowed all the ics there is/were. That is not all I want of a poem. I do not, for example, want to think that the moments in a poem or a poetry that do/es not confront politics are simply or always ignorance or denial or privilege at play/work. Back to Duncan/Levertov. Robert Duncan famously exchanged with Denise Levertov first on poetics and then on poetry and politics. The latter, from what I understand, in... Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Well there goes my all Derrida all week plans....
He did seem to get off on the wrong foot with folks a fair amount...
I’ve been thinking about blogging and being a guest and l’étranger and Derrida “On Hospitality” and Adorno “On Lyric Poetry and Society” and thinking about this space (language) as a threshold. An entry point. A door which gives up passage to something. This post, or a poem, as Derrida’s “private sociality.” (I am not asking what you are wearing.) Or personal and public. How the social is rendered in my internal now external or, depending on how fast I type, simultaneously now both. Words. Uploading and spellchecking and revision, notwithstanding. Which is bunk. I clean for company. (Up into the social. Down into the personal. Loading.) But I don’t really come to anything, stranger, without tripping over Adorno initially as indictment: “the pressures of the struggle for survival allow only a few human beings to grasp the universal through immersion in the self or to develop as autonomous subjects capable of freely expressing themselves. The others…have the same right, or a greater right, to grope for the sounds in which sufferings and dreams are welded.” Do I know that in the midst of struggle for survival that no sounds have been wrought in this way? Certainly many significant and well documented cases can be and have been made for the opposite. Read Zinn’s Twentieth Century and you will find poems. Which I mention to complicate the point, not discount it wholesale. I am not arguing for an elitist poetry of willfully detached poems from a solely “privileged” position. Though, who is the arbiter? Further on, Adorno: “A collective undercurrent provides the foundation for all individual lyric poetry. When that poetry actually bears the whole in mind and is not simply an expression of the privilege, refinement, and gentility of those who can afford to be gentle, participation in this undercurrent is an essential part of the substantiality of the individual lyric as well: it is this undercurrent that makes language the medium in which the subject becomes more than a mere subject.” This undercurrent is, if prepositionally specific, a carrier for the social to the individual and a river in which we all swim, drink, become infected-cleansed, then die. It is what trails every “I” I write. This is what Adorno was counting on. That the internal struggles within the exemplary art and artist are affected by and of the stuff of socio-historical conflicts, and as such the poem is taking part qua part. That poetry can bear the whole, and that this has import in and of itself without insisting on a further function. This seems to be so in his argument regardless of what we US career poets can be so consumed by -- numbers. The numbers, or lack, in the poetry audience. They are about the same as of the pot bangers in front of any given city hall or legislative building anywhere in the US (Madison aside). Is this correlative? Is at last poetry no more than a vehicle for a “private sociality”? A medium in... Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Jun 8, 2011