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Rob Crawford
Brooklyn, NY
Editor and Writer
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In this third and final installment of poets/reading series interviews, I speak with Douglas Piccinnini (photo, right, by Stephanie Thompson), founder of the CROWD reading series. Topics include starting a reading series to bring poets to you, Douglas's secret past life as a jock, and how readings are different than rock concerts. A secret life as a writer and musician RC: So you're the founder of CROWD reading series. What made you decide to start the series, and did you have a certain goal in mind? "Maybe just a selfish way to bring people out to Bushwick" DP: At the time I was volunteering at Ugly Duckling Presse and I was living in Bushwick and to my knowledge there wasn't a whole lot going on in the neighborhood. I was living in off the Morgan stop, and I had just started graduate school, and I was really curious to meet and find out what other poets and writers were doing in the city, and it was kind of maybe just a selfish way to bring people out to Bushwick in Brooklyn and get the experience of listening and meeting a lot of different poets. And in that time-frame it also constituted me going to two to three, maybe four readings a week, as I still tend to do now, and seeing what's out there and trying to present as diverse a slice of what's going on in the poetry scene as possible. Whether that's in New York or across the country—we've had the opportunity to bring poets from Chicago and California if they're traveling through. RC: What do you think is the purpose ideally of a reading series, bringing poets together. What do you think about the nature of that arrangement, poetry being such an internal art perhaps, and the idea of a poetic community? DP: What I get the most out of going to a reading are the conversations that follow—it's less of like if you were in a rock band and playing a show that was going to launch your career or something like that. It more creates a dialog among the audience members and hopefully the poets themselves, or the readers themselves. RC: Do you see different schools of poetry now? DP: I guess it's tough to say if there are schools now, other than those individuals who go out of their way to announce themselves as being part of a school, like say people associated with Flarf, or conceptual poets who announce themselves as conceptual. But there are trends, I guess, that happen. RC: Have you ever had any bad experiences hosting? DP: I wouldn’t say bad, maybe learning experiences—I think I can be my own worst enemy as a host because I for one don’t necessarily like or enjoy the process of introducing someone by way of a bio, or doing a mini-introductory essay that is often heard at readings. I guess people have different expectations of what should be said for a reading. I’d... Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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"I write every day, on a good day, for more than ten hours. I have always had low-impact, get-by jobs and relish unemployment and am comfortable in poverty. I remember near the end of the sky position I had crazy twitches and cramps in my hand, and then I knew I was finally getting somewhere as a writer." —Tom Blood Pre-trimmed cover of The Raccoon, which functions as both a table of contents and as a poem Tom Blood reading last week in Portland, backed by heckling and haunting strings Tom Blood is an eccentric poet who lives in Portland and writes powerful verse. His new book, The Raccoon, comes out in May. He has been working on the fringes, and no one who hears his story can doubt his dedication. He also has a songlike and captivating manner of reading that can be heard above. The following stanza is from the first poem he reads, "taking dew deep within." it began as a beetle crawling my arm I thought a raindrop sun bang out in a thong ax of sea wings a bear moves within us like King Lear wildly, under a full coffin moon we admit totality and a beast forest affirms we are the beauty The Raccoon is being published by Marriage Publishing House (MPH), a literary offshoot of the music label Marriage Records (co-founded by Curtis Knapp and Adrian Orange). Knapp and Blood have been close friends since meeting at an open mike fifteen years ago. "Poetry was our first and only love at the time," Knapp writes. "From the outset of the record label I'd had it in mind that I would eventually be able to afford publishing books as well." For their first book, MPH released Blood's sky position in 2007. (A friend tells me that his previous collection, Dot, was comprised of quartered 8.5”x11” paper with a card stock cover, held together by a binder clip.) The sky position won the Oregon Book Award for Poetry, awarded by the poet Donald Revell. Flint Jamison is co-president of MPH and the editor of Veneer magazine, as well as being the designer of The Raccoon. Only 350 copies are being printed, and the book will be published in May. In an interesting blend of technology, ordering includes a code for audio of the author reading the book. Jamison described the unique design of The Raccoon and the thinking behind it: “The materials selected are specifically chosen to make the thing easy to hold and subsequently read. The fonts are large and the paper is not overly fetishy or eggshell or textured. There is nothing much to distract, no page numbers, no table of contents, barely a colophon, even. The poem that wraps around the cover is the sequence of titles of the poems. Flipped through, it opens easily because the binding is stitched and we used lightweight papers. Myself and Emily Johnson of Emprint Press letterpressed the covers together. We are using a bible bindery... Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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In the second installment of our poets/reading series interviews is Chris Hosea. He and Cecily Iddings are married poets who publish the poetry newsletter The Blue Letter, which has recently been expanded into a reading series as well. We discuss the early impact of e.e. cummings' capitalization as well as an eccentric performance reading at Ugly Duckling. ("So I was removing all these different articles of clothing that were brands, I was naming those.") "This doesn't rhyme, it doesn't have capitalization, what's going on here?" RC: So Chris tell us about The Blue Letter and how you came to expand it into a reading series. CH: At graduate school, Cecily and I were thinking about a way to publish poetry that we loved and have it reach an audience of people we either knew or admired. We considered a website, but both of us maybe because of the generation we're in had difficulty really connecting to a poem on a screen in a meaningful way. So we decided to start sending out the Blue Letter as a poetry newsletter. For making it into a reading series, actually I had the good fortune to be included in an issue of 6x6, which is a magazine publishing by Ugly Duckling Presse, and I ended up doing some promotion for an event for that issue. I was carrying around these beautiful posters that were designed in a kind of constructivist fashion. And everywhere I went people were happy to talk to me as soon as they saw these posters, they looked so good. I walked into a restaurant on Court Street, Watty & Meg, and the assistant manager there, Sharon Clark, recognized the names of some of the poets on the poster. And she herself had studied poetry at Pratt with Christian Hawkey, and we got to talking and she and the owners were very enthusiastic about having a reading series, and so it wasn't really something that I planned on doing— RC: Was it their idea—I mean, did they suggest it? CH: Well it kind of just came out of talking to Sharon because she looked at the poster, and she's like wow this looks really great, and of course we'll hang it somewhere but what about, could we do a reading here? And so we were just like okay, and started thinking about it, and now our third one is coming up next week—it’s Joshua Beckman, Jeannie Hoag, and Rachelle Rahme. RC: Tell us a bit about your experience as a poet yourself, how you first became interested in poetry. CH: Probably my first encounter with poetry that I really remember strongly was in a textbook, like a fourth-grade English or Language textbook, that was pretty factory-made, but it had this little sidebar, it had this poem by e.e. cummings called "old age sticks," and I'd never seen someone start a sentence without capitalizing the letter, and that was like a revelation to me. I was like this doesn't rhyme, it... Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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On a busy, damp evening this week I interviewed by phone or in person three prominent younger New York poets who also run poetry reading series—Steven Karl, Douglas Piccinnini, and Chris Hosea. Enjoy the interviews, and it's been a pleasure blogging with you all this week. Steven Karl co-leads the Stain of Poetry reading series and is the author of the three chapbooks . Among other things, in this interview you will learn of his change of heart for Emily Dickinson, as well as elusive mysteries about grapefruit. "There's really no money in poetry." RC: How do you see the connection between your work as a poet and your work for a reading series? SK: They're almost inseparable for me in a way, as readings tend to be one of the more immediate ways that I hear new poets or poets that I'm perhaps not familiar with—or even poets that I am familiar with. I remember the first time hearing Dottie Lasky read, and once you hear her read you're like, "Oh that's how her poem is read." So readings kind of form my way of thinking about poetry and reading poetry. And I feel lucky to be working in readings too because, with the Stain of Poetry reading series—it's myself, Christie Ann Reynolds, and Erika Moya—at almost every reading I get to hear one or two poets I'm not familiar with, so it really helps bring in more of an eclectic range of readers which helps me a lot. RC: So what do you think is the function of a poetry community? SK: What is the function? RC: Yeah, I mean what do you think the purpose is, or can you say something about the benefits of it. SK: Yeah definitely, that's one of the ways a lot of us feel real lucky to have a poetry community, and I especially feel that way living in New York. For me it's really nice because I have like six, seven poets that are literately my neighbors, so if I walk three minutes in any which way there's somebody who's writing poems, somebody who I admire, somebody who I find inspiring. And with the larger community, one of the benefits that I really find is being able to get people who don’t live here to come in and see them do a reading, and that’s one of the things that I really enjoy. And then it's also sort of a shared community too, because I guess in a weird way there's really no money in poetry. It doesn't mean that poetry's not competitive, but I feel like people are genuinely happy and excited for each other, because no one's trying get that "book contract." So when you see someone published in a journal, whether it's in print or online, or they're doing a reading, or there's a video that's popped up of them doing a reading, I feel like people are genuinely supportive and pretty excited about it. RC: It sounds... Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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When that I was and a little tiny boy, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, A foolish thing was but a toy, For the rain it raineth every day. But when I came to man’s estate, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, ‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut the gate, For the rain it raineth every day. But when I came, alas! to wive, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, By swaggering could I never thrive, For the rain it raineth every day. But when I came unto my beds, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, With toss-pots still had drunken heads, For the rain it raineth every day. A great while ago the world begun, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, But that’s all one, our play is done, And we’ll strive to please you every day. Continue reading
Posted Apr 14, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks for your comment. There is certainly some controversy surrounding the recording, and your link looks like a helpful resource on this. I should note for readers though that the Walt Whitman Archive features the recording: http://whitmanarchive.org/multimedia/index.html
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What better way to celebrate National Poetry Month than with Walt Whitman reading from his poem "America." (First four lines are preserved; click through for poem text.) He reads so slowly! And afterwards, he gets naked. America Centre of equal daughters, equal sons, All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old, Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich, Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love, A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother, Chair'd in the adamant of Time. This recording—a cassette of a 1951 radio broadcast of an 1889 or 1890 vertically cut Edison wax-cylinder—was found in the apartment of elevator operator Roscoe Haley following his death in 1982; "an eccentric collector, his Manhattan apartment was jammed full of recordings, books, and papers." Thank goodness for hoarders. And cheers to poetry—"Newton's health, and confusion to mathematics." Let us all, without missing one, be exposed in public, naked, monthly, at the peril of our lives! let our bodies be freely handled and examined by whoever chooses! Let nothing but copies at second hand be permitted to exist upon the earth! Walt Whitman by Thomas Eakins, mid-1880s I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked, I am mad for it to be in contact with me. Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Here we'll look at two important books of poetry that share the unlikely status of being unavailable from an American publisher. Firstly, Douglas Crase's The Revisionist is a truly exceptional collection of poems. When published by Little, Brown in 1981, the book received astounding acclaim—quotes on the back cover are from James Merrill, John Hollander, and John Ashbery. More than this even, Crase was named a MacArthur Fellow in recognition of his achievement. The book interfuses many elements, including a pastoral attunement to the natural world, a unique coloring that recalls a sense of early America, powerful apocalyptic tones, and a finely balanced voice that is both philosophical and lyrical. Though Crase has not published a collection of poetry since The Revisionist, we can be glad for this one. In the meantime he has written two other intriguing and unique books, Both: A Portrait in Two Parts, a dual biography of botanists Rupert Barneby and Dwight Ripley, and a collection of readings with the idiosyncratic and fascinatingly original title Amerifil.txt: a commonplace book. Other writings include an introduction to Emerson's Essays: First and Second Series and a catalog essay for the Tibor de Nagy's recent retrospective exhibition on the New York School. Though a poetry publisher should certainly reissue The Revisionist, and I hope one will, even if this weren't to happen anytime soon, the strength of the work will ensure that it reaches readers, through whatever means people will be reading in the future. Among so much richness, including "Heron Weather" and "There is No Real Peace in the World," it could be rather hard to choose. For me, though, the following opening section of the title poem fits comfortably beside the strongest lyrical voices of the twentieth (or twenty-first) century. From "The Revisionist": If I could raise rivers, I'd raise them Across the mantle of our past: old headwaters Stolen, oxbows high and dry while new ones form, A sediment of history rearranged. If I could unlock The lakes, I'd spill their volume over the till I know you cultivate: full accumulations swept away, The habit of prairies turned to mud. If I had glaciers, I'd carve at the stony cliffs of your belief: Logical mountains lowered notch by notch, erratics Dropped for you to stumble on. Earthquakes, and I'd Seize your experience at its weakest edge: leveled Along a fault of memories. Sunspots, I'd cloud Your common sense; tides, and I'd drown its outlines With a weight of water they could never bear. If I had hurricanes, I'd worry your beaches Into ambiguity: barrier islands to collect them In one spot and in another the sudden gut That sucks them loose to revolve in dispersion with The waves. If I had frost, I'd shatter the backbone Of your thought: an avalanche of gravel, a storm Of dust. And if I could free volcanoes, I'd tap The native energies you've never seen: counties Of liquid rock to cool in summits you'd have to Reckon from. If I could... Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Excellent readings at KGB tonight by Matthew Zapruder and Eileen Myles. An especially full house listened to their work with close attention—prompting Zapruder to note in appreciation between poems, "I really like how quiet it is in here. A lot." Myles engaged the audience just as fully and during a few pieces had to combat the added challenge of a recurring siren on East 4th—a true New York reading. Zapruder read primarily from his new book Come On All You Ghosts (Copper Canyon), with highlights including "Aglow" and "Never to Return." His work features a strong lyricism that is willing to wander in and out of the everyday. Myles (whom Bust Magazine dubbed "the rock star of modern poetry") brought a raw edge to the evening, channeling the punk spirit of the East Village. This was truly an interesting pairing and one of the best I've seen at any reading. Myles read first from her new novel Inferno (OR Books, awesome flame cover optional)—the story of a young female writer in the literary scene of Patty Smith-1970's New York. She followed this with poems from a forthcoming volume from Wave Books (of which Matthew Zapruder and Joshua Beckman, also in attendance, are editors). Her work drew frequent laughs at her bold imprecations and outlandish, wry wit, as is heard in this video of "Transportation" and "Like." With a casual atmosphere and featuring some of the best poetry being written today, KGB—skillfully hosted by Laura Cronk, Megin Jimenez, and Michael Quattrone, and founded by David Lehman and Star Black—continues to be one of the finest and most enjoyable reading series in the city. Poets Joshua Beckman, Dorothea Lasky, and Chris Hosea Excerpt from "Never to Return" by Matthew Zapruder (Come On All You Ghosts): Next to me almost aloud a book said doctors can already transplant faces. Another said you know January can never be June so why don't you sleep little candle? A third one murmured some days are too good, they had to have been invented in a lab. I was paging through a book of unsent postcards. Some blazed with light, others were a little dim as if someone had breathed on the lens. In one it forever snowed on a city known as the Emerald in Embers, the sun had always just gone behind the mountains, never to return, and glass buildings over the harbor stayed filled with a sad green unrelated light. The postcard was called The Window Washers. In handwriting it said Someone left an important window open, and Night the black wasp flew in and lay on the sill and died. — Rob Crawford is the author of Brilliant Families, forthcoming from Counterpoint Press. An editor at Overlook Press, he attended Phillips Academy Andover and Yale University. His writing has appeared in Golden Handcuffs Review and Publishers Weekly, and he lives in Brooklyn. @rcrawford7 Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Friday afternoon I dropped by McNally Jackson to find Anatomy of Influence on the shelf at last, a book I’ve been looking forward to for over a year. As Bloom’s student and friend, I’ve often wondered at the shift from his early gnomic studies of poetic influence through to large popular bestsellers like Shakespeare and The Western Canon. Recently turned eighty, he says this latest will be his final major critical study. As a synthesis of two sides of his work, a focused return to his most characteristic subject, and in many ways his ultimate critical statement, Anatomy of Influence will be of strong interest to readers of literary criticism. I’ve pretty much finished the book this weekend, and there is a lot to process and to explore—some of the most interesting observations are almost asides—such as the impact of Yeats’s Byzantium poems on Stevens' late “Of Mere Being.” Fully a third of the book is dedicated to Shakespeare, with the other towering figure being Walt Whitman, the American Bard. (Most recently I saw Bloom speak on late Shakespeare at the Classic Stage Company, where the interviewer plunged into uncommon regions of awkwardness by knowingly forcing his guest to state that the production they were about to stage, Double Falsehood, is a Shakespeare forgery—Bloom handled this with humor and grace, quipping, “A very accurate title, in fact.”) This is not to say that Anatomy of Influence is not in some ways a strange book. Readers primarily familiar with Bloom’s popular works may be confused by the idiosyncratic Gnostic elements of his criticism; though this strain doesn’t fully resonate with this reader, this doesn’t impede my appreciation. Other difficult sections include the emphasis on Lucretius and the dense, fascinating chapter on Yeats’s bizarre theories and deep struggle with Shelley. (Following this is a chapter on James Merrill’s subsequent agon with the Irish poet, which Bloom convincingly argues Merrill wasn’t fully able to overcome.) This is also one of his most personal books, reflecting on why this subject has meant so much to him. Other highlights include a chapter on his literary hero Hart Crane (subject of a forthcoming James Franco film—sources tell me this prompted Bloom to call Franco a quote "madman"). Some thirty-eight years after Anxiety of Influence, Bloom continues to see influence operating between poets (often on an unconscious level) through “misreading” or the reinterpretation of earlier poems. This is pared down from the complex vocabulary of the earlier work to two main concepts—the swerve of reinterpretation and the rare aprophrades, “the return of the dead”—an overcoming of influence through direct confrontation, creating the uncanny illusion that the later writer preceeded the earlier. The final chapter covers four other contemporary poets: Ashbery, Ammons, Merwin, and Charles Wright. Having studied Ashbery in an independent project with Bloom, this is especially fascinating as a new statement. I also encourage readers to see the fascinating essay in 1976’s Figures of Capable Imagination. In both books Bloom reveals the shockingly deep connection between... Continue reading
Posted Apr 10, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Hi everyone -- below are some event highlights for the week. Monday KGB Bar – Matthew Zapruder and Eileen Myles Poetry Project – Rachel B. Glaser & Amy Lawless Tuesday New York Public Library – The Little Magazine Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow POD (Brooklyn) – Douglas Piccinnini and Zach Barocas Wednesday Poetry Project – Elaine Equi and Ron Padgett Thursday Metro Rhythm (Williamsburg) – Lasky, Guez, Schoonebeek, Brandt & Helms Friday Supermachine (Brooklyn) – Paige Taggart, Justin Marks, Jeannie Joag, Andrew James Weatherhead Saturday Yardmeter (TBA) Continue reading
Posted Apr 10, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Apr 10, 2011