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Daniel Nester
Delmar, NY
Daniel Nester is a journalist, essayist, poet, editor, and teacher. His next book, How to Be Inappropriate, a collection of humorous nonfiction, will be published by Soft Skull Press in Fall 2009.
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Last February 1 was the New York launch reading for The Incredible Sestina Anthology, held at the beautiful Poets House. Featuring yours truly as the master of ceremonies, we had a host of contributors (or, as I call them, "Sestina Masters"): David Lehman, Sharon Mesmer, Iam Sparrow, Jade Sylvan, Victor Infante, Marilyn Nelson, Patricia Carlin, Sharon Dolin, Scott Edward Anderson, Michael Costello, Jason Schneiderman, Drew Gardner, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Jenna Cardinale, Marilyn Nelson, Brendan Lorber, and Ned Rust. It was an intense afternoon of sestinas, and I was floating. There was a film crew there--Thomas V. Hartmann, Michael Bodapoti, and Nadine Guerrera. Thomas and a College of Saint Rose MFA student, Juliet Barney, took stills. Here's a selection below, and if you want more, here's a link. And another. Sharon Mesmer David Lehman Marilyn Nelson Scott Edward Anderson Sharon Dolin Jason Schneiderman We're in the middle of a tour this month, and hope you can make it out for some all-sestina readings for the ages. Next Wednesday, February 19, we'll be at the NYU bookstore, with Paul Muldoon, Scott Edward Anderson, Patricia Carlin, Victor D. Infante, Jason Schneiderman, Drew Gardner, Carley Moore, and more. We'll be in Chicago next Friday, February 21 at The Book Cellar, with Jonah Winter, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Marty McConnell, Kent Johnson, Jenny Boully, Elizabeth Hildreth, Michael Costello, Kathleen Rooney, and more. And then, in Seattle, the big one: an off-site reading to coincide with AWP, at LUCID Lounge: Patricia Smith, Paul Hoover, Geoff Bouvier, Ravi Shankar, John Hoppenthaler, Sarah Green, Beth Gylys, Sharon Dolin, Nate Marshall, Tomás Q. Morín, Richard Peabody, Tara Betts, Sonya Huber, Aaron Belz, Jade Sylvan, Kiki Petrosino, James Harms, Jeffrey Morgan, Sandra Beasley, Marilyn Nelson, Lynn Kirkpatrick, Jay Snodgrass, and more. More information, go to IncredibleSestinas.com. Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Poet, teacher, and founder of Brooklyn Poets Jason Koo emailed me a few days ago to tell me more about its new venture, The Bridge, which he describes as “the world's first poetry networking site connecting student and mentor poets.” After a few exchanges, it turned into a real interview, which appears below. Brooklyn Poets launched a campaign to develop The Bridge; their Indiegogo page has a video and more details. I enjoyed exchanging thoughts with Jason about poetry and mentoring, as well as new ways of teaching and learning--“delivery models,” as we say in the education business--and, of course, The Bridge. I guess the first question I have would be: Is this a social media poetry site? Essentially, yes. The Bridge would be a social network for poets, though something like "craft network" would be closer to what we have in mind. There are a few examples of poetry networks out there, such as poetry.com, but the design leaves a lot to be desired and there's a lack of seriousness about craft--it looks like a site for amateurs. Ah, the BBS and message boards. I remember them well. So The Bridge will take a different approach, I take it? What we're hoping to build is a space where amateurs can interact with professional, teaching poets--poets who wouldn't be caught dead on a site like poetry.com. You see this on Instagram, where professional photographers share work in the same community as amateurs. But in our community, poets wouldn't just be sharing and commenting on each other's work, liking it, etc.; student poets--a better term than "amateurs"--would have an opportunity to get serious critiques of their work from mentor poets they admire. On poetry.com, a "review" of a work consists of a little comment and some stars and everyone tries to accumulate points and badges. That sounds like a lot of fun, but no one's going to learn how to become a better poet that way. Well, you also have an actual faculty, a super line-up of poets, from Melissa Broder to Jenny Zhang. On The Bridge, a "critique" would, at the very least, consist of a rigorous written response to a student's manuscript, whether it be one poem or a whole book, plus line-edits, etc. This is something I provide all of my college students, but that I personally never received from any of my mentors at the undergraduate or graduate level, great as they were--I'd get verbal feedback in class and sometimes a few written remarks, but never the kind of rigorous critique I was looking for and felt I deserved. Now, mentors will have the choice on The Bridge to add on services, if they choose to; they might offer off-site video or phone conferencing or even make themselves available to meet in person, should the student requesting a critique live in the same city. And they'd be able to set their prices based on those extra services. But Brooklyn Poets would be setting a minimum quality standard... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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There’s always the anxiety that the line to Albany is not the line to Albany. I’m standing in Penn Station near Gate 6, waiting, I hope, for the Empire Service to board. A woman with mid-length blonde hair and a cotton Nehru-style jacket stands ahead of me. I ask if the line is the line for Albany and she says yes. We talk about trains, then why we’re here. She’s a singer, she tells me. Opera and theatre. Teaches part-time at one of the colleges in Albany, not mine. I tell her I’m a writer, professor. Almost in passing, the singer mentions her current project: an opera about a poet. Oh, I say. Which one? William Carlos Williams? She answers in the form of a question, as if I might not know who the name. William Carlos Williams! I say back. He’s my favorite all-time poet! It feels odd saying that; I mean, normally one would say “all-time favorite” when referring to a baseball player or movie. But a poet? Anyway, hearing more about the Williams opera has to wait. It is confirmed that the line for Albany is in fact the line for Albany, and the crowd is moved uniformly toward the escalator. We sit across the aisle, the train half-empty. The singer’s name is Kara Cornell (pictured above), and she lives upstate, a few towns over from me. In the Williams opera, she plays Flossie, the doctor's wife. A baritone-co-star plays Dr. Williams, two girls play the Williams sons as boys. Another couple plays art patrons whose name escapes me. And Ezra Pound. A singing Ez! As way make our way past Yonkers, Cornell lets me look at the score. It’s a full-on opera, The News from Poems, written and composed by Susan Kander. I’d written a libretto once years ago, and I want to say Kander’s name sorta rings a bell. Initially a six-song cycle (“The Red Wheelbarrow,” “This is Just to Say” among them), Kander has expanded the work into a full-fledged opera. Cornell loves her character. “It’s fun because she gets more drunk as the opera goes on,” she says. One scene takes place in Paris, where the Williams family lived from 1928 to 1929. She sings a Flossie snippet in clear mezzo-soprano. “I love Paree, I love Paree!” Even whisper-sung, Cornell’s voice fills our part of the train. No one seems to mind. We have one Facebook friend in common, WAMC’s Joe Donahue, host of The Roundtable. I tell her about The Summer King, an opera composed by my old friend Daniel Sonenberg, about Negro League home run king Josh Gibson, for which I co-wrote the libretto. Cornell’s repertoire is varied: solo, theatre, opera. Lately, there’s been a pattern, if two roles make a pattern. In another, recent performance, the opera Shining Brow, Cornell plays Catherine Wright, another, shall we say, less-than-happy wife of a prominent artist, architect Frank Lloyd Wright. There will be a world-premiere atelier (workshop) performance of The News from Poems... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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At Our Lady of Perpetual Help elementary, the game we played for years was Wall Ball. All you needed was a wall and a ball. Actually, that’s the generic term we used, when one of the sisters or teachers asked us. Wall Ball meant we were throwing a rubber or tennis ball against the two-story tall brick wall and catching it, throwing it again. But then it got boring. So we started keeping score, like how people play Horse in basketball. If you tried to catch the ball off the wall and missed it, you got a letter: A, then an S, then another S.That spells ASS. When you spelled out ASS you assumed the position against the wall, bent over with your arms tucked in, cupping over your crotch, and the rest of us got in line to throw as hard as we could at the ASS target. I still remember the hiss from the tennis balls when one of the boys threw it, the sting as it hit my ass cheek or, worse, the tip of my tailbone. Some people took it easy, but most flung away as hard as they could. There was one day in maybe sixth grade, because we were playing in the back yard near the rectory, where we decided to play DICK ball, and got so far as to have one poor guy stand facing the firing squad, everyone aiming at his crotch. I think he put his social studies text in his pants. Sister Katherine, our principal, got wind of that and put the kibosh on it. Rarely did Sister Katherine come out herself to stop some ruckus. In the Facebook page for our old school, everyone said they hated Sister Katherine with a passion, but I liked her a lot. I was scared of her something serious, but my mom worked for her, and I’d see her after school. She’d be calm, laughing at some joke my mom made. She had a deep voice, which she would make even deeper when she would be serious. When she hollered, she spoke in only spondees; nothing was unaccented when she would cry out, slapping the back of her left hand onto the palm of her right with each syllable, “GIVE THE BALL TO ME HONEY BUNNY.” It sounds hilarious now—who calls anyone honey bunny when they’re angry?—but trying to hear her voice when she says that in my head still sends a tingle up my neck. Sometimes Sister Katherine would do that to me, and I think she did it to show there was no favoritism toward her secretary’s son. But the other boys and girls, especially the delinquents, had no doubt I was a big brownnoser. As much as I still care about what people think of me, I didn’t really care what they thought about that. Maybe it’s because it involved my mom, and my mom didn’t take any shit from anyone. She was nice to everyone at school. She’s six... Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Here in Albany and the Hudson Valley, poet and activist Dan Wilcox is known for many things: founding member of "3 Guys from Albany," photographer with "the world's largest collection of photos of unknown poets" (some of which I posted guest-blogging for BAP here), member of Veterans for Peace. and host of the Third Thursday Reading Series at the Social Justice Center. But to me, it's his blog, where he writes reviews of local poetry events, that is his true claim to fame. There, Dan expresses his unfiltered, unpretentious opinions on what, to him, poetry and poetry readings should be. More often than not, I disagree with him, sometimes vehemently so; but I keep reading his reviews. Like many of us, I hate-read pompous literary blogs or Gawker, and despair over the culture's alternatingly icky and air-kissy discourses. Dan Wilcox's reviews are neither. There's something else, some other quality, that's hard to pin down. Part of it is his Andy Warhol diary-like focus on small specifics, like the turnout and the weather outside. Then there's the recurring cast of odd characters who go to the same open readings and read the same poems. He's also, like your guest correspondent, unapologetically crude and a fan of dirty jokes. One day last summer, I wrote a parody-homage of a Dan Wilcox Blog Reading Review, which appears below. The set-up: What if Dan Wilcox went to an open reading in hell? What would he write in his no-holds-barred, Wilcoxian prose? I read it once in front of him and he liked it. *** An on-going (during the dark season) series held at the eighth bolgia (my favorite) dedicated to fraudulent advisers or evil counselors, this is the first Solstice Open Reading I’ve been able to get to this millennium, mainly because most of the readings are held on the third Thursday of the month when I host the monthly open mic at Yama’s Court in the Second Circle here in the Dark Underworld. The curator & host of the series, Publius Vergilius Maro, who bills himself as Virgil for short, has done a real credit with this occasional series for all of us who were not found worthy after the general resurrection and last judgment. Poet Allen Ginsberg was first to read. Allen read his crowd-pleasers: one “America,” resembled a stand-up comic routine, with subtle (or not so subtle) political overtones. With many of references to historical figures (the Wobblys, Tom Mooney, Sacco and Vanzetti) that were lost on the two members of the audience who were obviously more bestiality- and buggery-obsessed. Next was Anne Sexton. The suicidal sibyl dressed in a black and white cocktail dress, which exposed her well-toned female arms. She gave an intricate introduction that lost the crowd at first, but won them back with use of interesting use of rhymes in her second poem—“I Have Been Her Kind” I think was the title—although marred by slam-like preachy-ness. Her work reflected a lot of the current work I hear... Continue reading
Posted Oct 23, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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What follows is an adapted version of an essay I contributed to Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine, edited by Mari L'Esperance and Tomas Q. Morin and published by Prairie Lights Books earlier this year. The book collects accounts of Philip Levine as a teacher and mentor, and it was a real thrill to be included in the book, alongside some great writers. Strictly speaking, Levine wasn't a mentor as much of a professor I had one semester. As I hope I explain here, he is much more than that, but the process of wanting a mentor, and accepting one, and seeking one, at least in my experience, is a complicated one, at least if you're me in your mid-twenties. I'm hoping to include this essay as well as its companion piece on another person I now call my mentor, Afaa M. Weaver, in a collection next year tentatively called Shader: 99 Notes on Grief, Puberty, and Making Out in Church, from 99: The Press. *** When was the first time I saw Philip Levine? I’m pretty sure it was the first day of classes at New York University in the fall of 1995, out in the lounge with ratty couches, on the second floor of 19 University Place. He sat next to Gerald Stern. They talked about the food in New York and the great poets of Cleveland. Who? Hart Crane and…where in Ohio is Rita Dove from? Some of us joined naming names. Who else? d. a. levy? Yes, d. a. levy, I threw in his name. The desire to impress fogs my memory. Later, Levine sat at the end of the seminar table as we walked in, dressed in a sweater and collared shirt, nice jacket. I had been in the city for a year, had committed to making something of myself as a poet, and assumed Levine and I would be simpatico, fellow blue-collar travelers. I might have even thought that I had “outgrown” Levine’s poems, fancying myself a more experimental type. The sequence of different disguises I wore in those days is still unclear. What is clear is I was at once worshipful and ambivalent about being in the same room as the poet who redefined, for me, what was acceptable subject matter in a contemporary poem and how to go about writing about work. Here I was, 26, old by grad student standards, with this 67-year-old poet, in the flesh, about to read our poems for the next 15 weeks. *** I do remember the first time I read Levine’s poems. It was the fall of 1991, my first poetry workshop, led by Michael S. Weaver (now Afaa M. Weaver) at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey. I was a non-matriculated student who had limped through undergrad. We’re talking figuratively, but I also wore a polio brace on my right leg from a landscaping job accident. The figure I struck then was Dickensian. My leg clacked as I walked. Weaver assigned several poets... Continue reading
Posted Oct 22, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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What follows is the introduction I wrote for The Incredible Sestina Anthology, which is about to be released by Write Bloody Publishing. Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Greetings from the Capital Region, 800,000- and four counties-strong. We're north of the Hudson Valley, south of the North Country, west of Western Massachusetts, east of Central New York. So now you know where I come from (or from where I come). Anyway! Stacey invited me to post here once in awhile to pass along news of events going on and stuff that goes on. So here goes. Frequency North: The Visiting Writers Reading Series at The College of Saint Rose, is my little series, and starts up this Thursday, October 27, with two super novelists, Dana Spiotta and Tobias Seamon. Spiotta has been racking up quite a critical round of applause for her new novel Stone Arabia. Seamon's latest, The Emperor's Toy Chest is a follow-up to The Magician's Study. I published a sestina of his over at McSweeney's. I just came across this piece of his on that site as well. On November 10, Megan Abbott, a mystery-noir master, comes to the series, which should be a blast. The Nitty Gritty Slam is the first proper poetry slam round these parts in over a decade. I've been keeping score and generally putting Frequency North support behind it. It's a combined effort with Albany Poets and Urban Guerilla Theater. We started last month, and it's been a real hoot. It's held at Valentine's, a rock club/bar that hosts lots of what has been called alternative music for quite some time now. Slams happen on the first and third Thursdays, and what's been interesting, for me at least, is that since there has been no set-in-stone slam here for so long, the work is quite strange, quirky. People read off the page. They're not overly rehearsed, as is often the case with slammers. It's hosted by a man named Dain Brammage (on right). Think about it. OK. Let's move on. The New York State Writers Institute has an excellent line-up of writers, all top-notch, many familiar to those on the poetry world: Wayne Koestenbaum, Philip Shultz, not to mention Colson Whitehead and events sponsored by Fence magazine. Most events are held in the white concrete moon colony that is the SUNY-Albany campus, which only makes arriving at a warm room and a reading all the more miraculous. That's it for now. More soon. Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Greetings from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where I am waiting for my flight to the Motor City, where I will connect to my flight home to Albany International Airport, where I will be picked up by my lovely wife and little daughters. I’ve been on a mini-tour of Atlanta and Morrow, GA. Wednesday night, I was at Clayton State University, at a series hosted by Brigitte Byrd, who was a lovely host. I got a hold of Byrd's latest book, Song of a Living Room, published by the mighty Ahsata Press. The collection of superb prose poems leaps from folk tales to bedtime stories to semi-autobiographical meditations on language and writing (originally from France, she peppers some pieces with full sentences in her native tongue), and general alchemic ratatouille of what she calls “lyric occupation.” I read some new memoir stuff I’ve been working on in my sabbatical year, including, as an audible at the line of scrimmage, the tale of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to my hometown of Maple Shade, NJ. Before I read, I was told the lake in Clayton hosts two "aggressive swans" (one is pictured above), which made me giggle. I suggested that if Clayton decides to have a football team, that should be their name, shortened to "Agswanns" or something. Brigitte and her companion Scott treated me to supper last night. We sat outside, where it was a “chilly” 64 degrees. I could get used to such chilliness, certainly in the months to come in Upstate New York. The evening before that, I read in Bruce Covey’s What’s New in Poetry series with two better craftspeople than I: Matt Henriksen and Lee Ann Roripaugh. I’d met both poets in the past, mostly at AWP-type clustereffs, but had not heard either read their work. Roripaugh read from published and newer poems, including one in Spam form that had this listener in stitches. Her mention of a “squirtier turkey baster” alone made it worth the price of admission. She also read a list of “squalid things,” an imitation-homage of/to Sei Shōnagon’s pillowbook. Henriksen read from his most recent book, Ordinary Sun, a mix of prophetic and twangy poems. It was great to hear the poems in his own voice. He also read and talked about a special section he edited for Fulcum: An Annual Poetry and Aesthetics dedicated to the late poet Frank Stanford. Henriksen provides notes towards a biography, twenty unpublished or uncollected poems, fiction and correspondence. It's fascinating stuff. He was kind enough to give me a copy and I’ll continue to read it on the flight today. Bruce Covey was a great host, and accompanying him was Gina Myers, new to Atlanta from Saginaw, Michigan, as well as a couple Emory University creative writing fellows. As readers of the BAP Blog know, Covey a super poet—a unique meld of experimental methods with and humor and precise feeling. He’s put together a nice series at Emory, which you should go to for sure. OK.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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-- Eleanor Berry, "The Free Verse Spectrum" "I know some will say it is a mingled language. And why not so much the better, taking the best of both the other? Another will say it wanteth grammar. Nay, truly, it hath that praise that it wanteth not grammar. For grammar it might have, but it needs it not; being so easy in itself, and so void of those cumbersome differences of cases, genders, moods, and tenses, which, I think, was a piece of the Tower of Babylon’s curse, that a man should be put to school to learn his mother-tongue. But for the uttering sweetly and properly the conceits of the mind, which is the end of speech, that hath it equally with any other tongue in the world; and is particularly happy in compositions of two or three words together, near the Greek, far beyond the Latin,—which is one of the greatest beauties that can be in a language."—Sir Philip Sidney, The Defense of Poesy "When Ezra Pound called for the "direct, objective treatment of the thing itself," he was in some sense echoing the historicism of late nineteenth-century thought. Historicism implicitly rejects systems, whether an ideological or a theological sort; and, in attempting to understand historical events without the benefit of any transcendent framework, it tacitly accepts the end of absolute value and absolutist authority as signaled by the French Revolution, Though Pound’s polemic addressed itself to eradicating the "emotional slither" he identified with late Victorian poetry, it inadvertently limited the poet almost exclusively to the ironic mode. Since mythical elements, and expressions of direct sentiment, would be curtailed by any rigorous adoption of "direct, objective treatment," the lyric poem might well lose the chief sources of its resonance. One way for the poet to render some justice to the complexity of experience is by turning to his own divided consciousness as his chief subject and presenting the consciousness directly while ironically qualifying the mind that discovers it. Or the poet might take different, fragmentary, but conflicting views inherent in an experiential situation, relate them to one another, dampening his own intentions and judgments, and energize the poem through an ironic interplay of multiple but partial "truths." Poets, especially ironic poets, became in some sense historicists of the imagination."—Charles Molesworth, The Fierce Embrace: A Study of Contemporary American Poetry “I don't understand this talk of Coltrane being difficult to understand. What he does, for example, it to play five notes of a chord and then keep changing it around, trying to see how many different ways it can sound. It's like explaining something five different ways.”—Miles Davis "Like many others, I grew up in an age which preached liberty and built slave camps. Consequently, reformers of all varieties terrify me. I only need to be told I'm being served a new, improved, low-fat baked ham, and I gag."—Charles Simic, The Poet’s Notebook “Can it be said that any of these entertainments expresses the hearts and minds of the... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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I. That ambivalent, oblique, laconic way of speaking, it’s very self-defensive, but it thinks of itself as very up-front. A really charming guy last night, one of the musicians, said to me ‘Hey, man, you got a really interesting voice.’ You know, I was very charmed. And he said, ‘Yeah, the way you really push it out there--you can hear every beat.’ [laughs.] That’s terrific. That’s the way I feel it. These words, taken from an interview with Anne Waldman in Ron Mann’s 1982 documentary Poetry in Motion, come from the most laconic of 20th century laconic American poets, Robert Creeley. Creeley’s sound-driven poetry is in a sense halfway between Cage’s silence and, say, Michael McLure’s shaman-fire. As a twentysomething wanna-be poet commuting to Rutgers University’s Camden satellite campus, I first saw the film on a VHS tape rented from TLA Video in Philadelphia. The documentary was 4-5 years old by then, and I rented it on countless occasions, accumulating some serious late fees. Sometimes, I took the train across the Delaware River for the sole reason of hearing the clip where John Giorno yelps his poems over a prerecorded track or Jayne Sanchez duels with Jamaaleen Tacuma’s bass. The documentary’s angle or thesis was that poetry, as a heard form, can be freed from the academy’s grip, which according to several of the featured poets, is “so hard to understand.” As someone forced to read Pound and Eliot at a premature point of my writing life, I agreed with these assertions wholeheartedly. Watching the film again, I also recall feeling that I was somehow more hip than the academics. Creeley, a poet in academia almost all of his writing life, at first seemed staid and laid-back to me, certainly not as viscerally satisfying as the poets reading with the bells and whistles, like Ed Sanders of the Fugs, for instance, with his "musical tie." Creeley’s comments that immediately follow his reading of “Self-Portrait,” however, have always helped me appreciate the poem. On the surface, the speaker does seem rather coy, “laconic,” and “oblique” in his meaning and intention. Over the years, I grew to like the poem more and more as my ear changed; Creeley’s pauses in his performance and line, after tens of listenings, I learned, provided a perfect form for the sound and meaning contents of the poem. It indicated deeper ambiguities. Here's the poem: Self-Portrait He wants to be a brutal old man an aggressive old man, as dull, as brutal as the emptiness around him, He doesn’t want compromise, nor to be ever nice to anyone. Just mean, and final in his brutal, his total, rejection of it all. He tried the sweet, the gentle, the “oh let’s hold hands together” and it was awful, dull, brutally inconsequential. Now he’ll stand on his own two dwindling legs. His arms, his skin, shrink daily. And he loves, but hates equally. The structure and sounds the poem sets up is just like the jazz I’ve learned to... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks, Lisa. It really is a clever book. I contacted the co-author a few years ago to maybe interview him, and then life happened, but I'd still like to ask him questions.
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I am not sure if I would be interested in machine-generated poetry, or poetry at all, if it wasn’t for reading the work of Racter. Short for “Raconteur,” Racter was touted to be the first computer program program to write a book. Called The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed, Racter’s literary debut and swan song was published by United Artists Books in 1984 and went out of print shortly thereafter. New copies fetch a good price on Alibris and Amazon. I used to keep a copy of The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed in a desk I had when I worked nights at the Rutgers-Camden's Paul Robeson Library. I would read passages, At all events my own essays and dissertations about love and its endless pain and perpetual pleasure will be known and understood by all of you who read this and talk or sing or chant about it to your worried friends or nervous enemies. Love is the question and the subject of this essay. We will commence with a question: does steak love lettuce? This quesion is implacably hard and inevitably difficult to answer. Here is a question: does an electron love a proton, or does it love a neutron? Here is a question: does a man love a woman or, to be specific and to be precise, does Bill love Diane? The interesting and critical response to this question is: no! He is obsessed and infatuated with her. He is loony and crazy about her. That is not the love of steak and lettuce, of electron and proton and neutron. This dissertation will show that the love of a man and a woman is not the love of steak and lettuce. Love is interesting to me and fascinating to you but it is painful to Bill and Diane. That is love! then read something my creative writing professor recommended to me. John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror stands out a as good example, or maybe Wallace Stevens. I would then marvel at how, at least on the surface, this computer program, “written in compiled BASIC on a Z80 with 64k of RAM,” could be more inventive than my own work. It was, to be honest, vastly depressing.[1] Back then, even with all the science fiction reading under my belt, back issues of Omni strewn across my room and progressive rock posters taped to my walls, it never occurred to me that there was a human somewhere along the line in Racter’s compositions, either keying in the program, coming up with the idea in the first place, or suggesting words for the machine what words to spit out. I think I wanted to believe a machine could write these poems, if for no other reason than to believe I could build such a machine myself. “A poem is a small (or large) Machine made of words,” William Carlos Williams writes, after all. But Racter was a program, not a machine, and one authored, or written, by William... Continue reading
Posted Sep 13, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Hey there. Daniel Nester here. I've guest-blogged before in this space, so I'll cut to the quick and start posting things. If you want to know more about me and whatnot, check out where I live online as well as my usual blogging space, the group blog We Who Are About To Die. I'll start off with a scan of W.H. Auden's "daydream College for Bards," from his essay "The Poet and The City" collected in The Dyer's Hand. I love bringing this up when, as the seasons seem to dictate, people start talking about the utility of graduate, and even undergraduate, writing classes. I think I first encountered the Auden quote reading Clayton Eshelman's piece in the collection of poetry/prosody, Conversant Essays, in a class given by Mark Rudman. David Lehman mentions the Auden Daydream College in his introduction to the 2008 edition of Best American Poetry. Writing in 1991, Erica Riggs addresses Auden's Item #5, the bit about cultivating a garden plot. Good ole Wystan stipulates this, Riggs writes, "perhaps to teach them how a crop is brought to "'ripeness.'" Riggs continues to say that "a gardener can do much, using experience and judgment to produce asuccessful crop, just as a poet may bring critical judgment to bear on the composition of poetry. But the crucial processes of germination and fructification draw energy from earth and sun in their seasonal cycle--vast powers that he can only hope to engage by being humbly responsive to them." I'll leave this this kicker-quote, also found in the Riggs. "I am always interested," Auden writes, "in hearing what a poet has to say about the nature of poetry, though I do not take it too seriously. As objective statements his definitions are never accurate, never complete, and always one-sided. Not one would stand up under a rigorous analysis." Continue reading
Posted Sep 12, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Sometimes I am a dirty little bird. My feet wrap around branches winds will never clack together. My tongue lies in the splatters of rain that pool in low spots. I swallow what feet say to the ground, and none of their claims are sweet enough to caress my mouth. I stand for hours. I close on nothing. I cannot sit up, and I do not bow. Sometimes I am nothing but a dirty little bird with a wet beak. Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
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-- Phil Rizzuto [from Oh Holy Cow! The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto] Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
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My favorite movie of all time is the 1980 Harold Ramis-directed comedy Caddyshack. It will take too long on this Sunday afternoon post to explain why in full; I will say that I watch it at least two, three times a year, that I've been trying to write about my love for the movie in that sort of high-meets-low culture way I admire in such essayists as Susan Sontag, Chuck Klosterman, and I daresay David Lehman. I wanted to finish the piece in time for my new book, but that was not meant to be. One aspect of Caddyshack that has fascinated me, and one that has led to several blind alleys and writing blocks, is how to sum up the critical reception of the movie over the years. Like my favorite rock band, Queen, critics' reception to Caddyshack has softened--from denunciation, to strident ambivalence, to begrudging praise. Here's some examples over the years from the New York Times' on how their take on the Bill Murray-Chevy Chase vehicle has changed. Exhibit 1, 1980: "Forgettable." This is a passage from the late Vincent Canby's assessment of the state of cinema in 1980. In Caddyshack Studies, the phrases "amiable slob-comedy" and "immediately forgettable" turn up over and over again. Canby does reflect the critical reception at the time. Variety's January 1, 1980 review writes calls this "vaguely likable" movie a "too-tame comedy [that]falls short of the mark." Roger Ebert, writing the same day, says Caddyshack "feels more like a movie that was written rather loosely, so that when shooting began there was freedom--too much freedom--for it to wander off in all directions in search of comic inspiration." Exhibit 2, 1981" "Very Funny." This 1981 profile of Rodney Dangerfield mentions Caddyshack as "very funny"--a rather generous assessment this early on in the movie's history. Is the tide turning already? Exhibit 3, 1985: "Popcorn loneliness." Maybe the tide turns back a year later. This piece, written by Esther B. Fein, sums up the conundrum I have had over the years when I recommend not only Caddyshack, but any comedy, for friends to rent at home. Written early on in the VCR home rental era, the piece examines how watching a move alone at home, without other people in a theater, affects how one appreciates--or under-appreciates--a movie, especially a comedy, horror, or cult film. "You lose a lot on the box," one screenplay developer is quoted saying. Exhibit 4, 1986: "Funny, original." The New York Times' TV listing precis is a literary genre unto itself, part aphorism, part fragment, part haiku. And so to see this March 30, 1986 listing classify Caddyshack as "funny, original" means that either the listing-writer did not read the Canby assessment, or he or she thinks Chevy Chase's "I was born to lick your face" love song is as funny as I do. Exhibit 5, 1988: "Irreverent." There is no actual demolition derby in the movie--not unless you count the collision of the Judge and Al's boats. Perhaps it's... Continue reading
Posted Oct 11, 2009 at The Best American Poetry