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Sally Ashton
Silicon Valley
Likes cake; eats it too.
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One of my favorite poems. Thanks.
A very interesting consideration. I tend to think, as you've described, that poetry's loyalty is to language, while nonfiction's is to some sense of fact. It does get tricky when the two become so closely linked, when poetry is driven by memory. Do you think poetry requires this exactitude factitude, or was this just the surprise at memory's blurs? In any case, thanks for posting.
A gifted poet and a very wise man, apparently. Thanks.
Two summers ago my daughter called excitedly from Brooklyn to tell me about a wonderful white wine her Portuguese friend had recently introduced her to called Vinho Verde. Hers was our first introduction to a common wine in Portugal that is known in the U.S. as a bright, dry white wine, often with a slight but fading effervescence, perfect for summer weather drinking. The wine is more complicated than that. In Portugal, we had traveled north to Viana do Castello to meet new friends. It was an unseasonably rainy afternoon. After a generous home cooked lunch of traditional Portuguese fare including bacalau, three kinds of sausages, and two regional sheep cheeses from the Alentejo, our hosts drove us farther north toward the Minho River, northernmost boundary between Portugal and Spain. Here in the Minho, a cooler, moister region, grow vineyards from which many of Portugal’s diverse Vinho Verde wines are produced. We arrived in a steady drizzle at the Palácio da Brejoeira, a small but well-known winery and part of an 18th century estate. We would tour the palace, a bit of the grounds, and the now-retired original cellars with their stone troughs for treading the grapes, a practice still used by small producers. However, the vineyard tour was cancelled. We bought a of bottle of Vinho Verde for the night’s dinner, and our host later brought out another bottle at the table for comparison. Because our friends speak limited English and we speak no Portuguese, I only experience the subtle characteristics of Vinho Verde. I cannot find out what exactly makes it distinct from Vinho Branco, or white wine. It was not until we returned to Lisboa that I discovered just what separates Vinho Verde from the Vinho Brancos of Portugal. Scott Laughlin, poet and associate director of the Disquiet program, had recommended we visit a wine bar he had come to know during his stay, Garrafeira Alfeia: Situated in Lisbon's hip Bairro Alto district, Garrafeira Alfeia's proprietor, Pedro, proved to be extremely knowledgeable about the wines of his country and had also traveled extensively in California, Italy, and Spain’s wine regions. He set up an amazing flight of six red wines for us that in his mind best represented Portugal’s major wine regions. He explained that in the past 20 years, Portuguese winemaking has grown more and more sophisticated and it truly is an industry experiencing a dynamic revival after many years of a more limited, traditional approach. Apparently, even many Portuguese people don’t grasp the nuances of these changes. In Portugal, Vinho Verde or “green wine,” can be made from a variety of white wine grapes such as Albarhino. What separates vinho verde from white varietals is the process used to create it(remember port?). The grapes are harvested young, hence “green,” and thereby with a lower sugar content. They are given a brief fermentation, then bottled, producing a dry wine with comparatively lower alcohol content, often a slight fizz, and perhaps a green cast to its pale... Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
. . . isn’t hard to master, Elizabeth Bishop might have written were she considering travel in her famous villanelle, “One Art,” instead of love or life, however you might read the poem. When traveling, you master waiting, or it masters you. When all else fails, waiting is the one thing you can depend on. Still in Porto, we were going to get an early start into the Douro~ ~ the terraced wine region running along the banks of the Douro River respected not only for port production but for their red table wines, or vinho tinto. This time it was only Frank and I, our son to remain happily behind with his girlfriend. There would be one less person to have to wait for at any given time(showers, bathroom, meals, sleep, crankiness, photos). This would simplify the trip. However, we’d just discovered that our GPS was no longer charging. We’d have to replace it. Throughout the trip we’ve often had to search for internet connection, and found cell phones troublesome. At last we secured both and found the number for Eurocar in Porto. Eurocar’s local office said they’d exchange the faulty unit. Just come on down. But how to locate them without a functioning GPS? Traffic moves madly through twisted narrow streets seemingly in every town or city we’ve visited, and roads are frequently unmarked or simply missing from maps. After circling randomly, we tried the GPS again. With the last sputter of charge, the GPS car bitch as I affectionately call her, sent us through a few turns, told us we’d arrived, and promptly died, Eurocar nowhere in sight. So began a series of attempts (harder, faster) to park legally, inquire of shopkeepers, call Eurocar, search on foot for the illusive address, jiggle the GPS one more time . . . Two plus hours later we were at last on the road, new car bitch calmly suggesting we turn left or turn right, “recalculating” our driving misconduct without complaint until we reached Pinhão at last, our overnight base. (Pinhão can also be reached by riverfront train or boat from Porto. Great idea for next trip). ...The art of losing isn't hard to master. We’d lost several hours of the day in an already trimmed down itinerary. We were tired. Though the river drive had been lovely, we were disappointed at the time lost. However, we could now check into our hotel and freshen up; our innkeeper was charming, anything possible. Pinhão, situated at the confluence of two river gorges stepped with terraced vineyards straight up to a cloud scattered sky seemed like another time, another world. We recalculated. We’d trim to three wineries instead of the several more we’d planned. We’d stay within close proximity to Pinhão instead of a further foray up the Douro. We’d eat at the local restaurant the innkeeper recommended. It was like slipping into the slow lane and letting the world speed by. It was like getting into a boat and floating in... Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
After a few days in 100-degree Sevilla sight-seeing and tapas-hopping with husband, Frank, and our son who both joined me there, we sped off to Porto, Portugal to begin our wine explorations. Frank is an artisanal winemaker interested in crafting wine from grapes less common in California such as Torrantes, a white wine popular in Argentina, and Barbera, Italy’s favorite red table wine. He had heard that Portugal’s winemaking tradition is experiencing a renaissance, branching out into less traditional varieties he is curious to learn more about. While we had anticipated driving into Portugal’s up-and-coming southern wine regions, the Alentejo and Ribatejo, heat and the inevitable realization that we can’t do it all in a few days drove us northward to cooler Porto on the sea. We made the roughly 1367 km, (850 mile) journey in about 6 hours in our rented car. The heat? Both the aforementioned summer solar wattage and our son’s Portuguese girlfriend awaiting him there added to the conflagration. Recognize this iconic figure? It’s the world famous logo for Sandeman cellars, one of the oldest continuous producers of port in Portugal, established in 1790. While Scotsman George Sandeman’s base of trade originally centered in London, his product was the famous port wine of Porto, as well as sherry from Spain. Today, most of the large producers of port have cellars—or bodegas—just across the Douro River from Porto in Gaia. We decided to tour Sandeman’s. Most readers have enjoyed sipping port I’m sure. From a winemaker’s perspective, port is known as a fortified wine. Fermentation, the process by which alcohol is produced while yeast feasts on the freshly crushed grapes’ natural sugars, is stopped early by the addition of brandy, a high alcohol spirit that effectively kills the yeast. This leaves both high residual sugar and high alcohol content. What creates the distinctive tawny, ruby, or vintage characteristics then occurs in the individual aging processes and the quality of grapes used. Tours through the cellars at Sandeman are led by a guide wearing the familiar black scholar’s cloak of Portugal and broad cabellero’s hat, representing Spain and its sherry. Within the shadowed cellars, the guide first appears as a striking silhouette in the distance much as the logo does. However when our guide turned around to speak, all three of us were surprised to discover our mysterious “caballero” was also a beautiful pregnant woman who spoke with a German accent! Grapes have been grown in the Douro River area since Roman times. The steep terraced hillsides along its banks are ideal for grape production, the prevalent “schist,” or stony soil providing the consistent heat needed by the vines. After harvest and fermentation, the barrels of port were traditionally shipped in flat bottomed boats down the river to the bodegas in Gaia. These boats are still used for tourist rides and seasonal races. However after the tastings, we re-crossed the graceful Luis I Iron Bridge by foot, savoring the view of Porto, our only race the ones necessary... Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Out the open French doors of my pensione on a narrow street in Sevilla, the warm silence is periodically broken by church bells, calling doves, the clatter of hooves on cobble and the rumble of luggage being dragged by tourists to their lodging. Cars are impossible in these ancient streets. I left Lisbon. After many goodbyes, last pictures and drinks, after watching the sun set and lights come on across the hills, I awoke to a city bereft of the faces I’d become friends with, then packed up and got in a cab myself. Curving through the narrow streets then out along the river Tagus, I watched the hills of the city fall behind and I knew I felt it. Saudade. As freedom and the 4th of July are integral to America’s identity, so is saudade to the Portuguese. Saudade is variously defined as a deep longing or melancholy for something irretrievable, but is more frequently described by the Portuguese as something essentially indefinable. At times it seemed to me that they prefer keeping it that way, as if the experience of saudade is as essential and dear as, well, as the concept of freedom is to Americans. While one might agree that people everywhere value freedom, America has made it a lifestyle. Freedom is our essential cultural lightning rod, fireworks, red-white-and blue bunting and all. However, how freedom is defined is not only politically charged, but deeply personal and in that sense, indefinable. Perhaps that’s something of the significance of saudade in the Portuguese psyche. Saudade shapes fado, the music I’ve posted these past 2 weeks, a music both celebrating and keening in the same song. Here is Amalia Rodrigues, the fadista who brought fado, and Portugal, back to life after the Salazar regime. As those of you in the States prepare and celebrate America’s freedom tomorrow, so I celebrate saudade from my pensione in Spain, understanding now what one writer explained, that saudade is not only a sadness for what has been lost, but a simultaneous tender joy in having once known such love for some one, some place, some thing. It is a privilege to know such sorrow. Adeus, Lisboa! When we get to wine country, I’ll let you know. Continue reading
Posted Jul 3, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
The program ends. Yesterday, I forgot my notebook and pen for the first time. I teared-up reading a Pessoa poem aloud to the last workshop(see below). The heat and humidity broke into a sweet rain, opening a completely different scent, feel and view of Lisbon. Like cracking an egg, or maybe like throwing wide a window. The sky was lead and the city stood out against it as if seen for the first time. Even the tourists looked like momentary divinity. I try now to think of a way to not write a last Lisbon entry, and in spite of driving to Sevilla this afternoon, I think I have figured out how. . . so no final adeus Lisboa for now. In the afternoon while it rained, Kim Addonizio brought it home with poetry and the blues harp mourning like a train, followed by a reading by bestselling young novelist and former heavy metal guitar player(he still enjoys the band Moonspell) José Luís Peixoto. José, it turns out, is also a poet, his first love. Here’s one he read. when it was time to set the table, we were five: my father, my mother, my sisters and me. then my older sister got married. then, my younger sister got married. then, my father died. today, when it’s time to set the table, we are five, except for my older sister who is in her own home, except for my younger sister, who is in her own home, except for my father, except for my widowed mother. each one of them is an empty space at the table where I eat alone. but they’ll always be here. when it’s time to set the table, we’ll always be five. as long as one of us is alive, we’ll always be five. -José Luís Peixoto Fernando Pessoa is everywhere in Lisbon, his birthplace, and his boyhood home still sits only steps away from where I've been staying. As in the photo above, his presence seems to linger in the cobblestone streets and shade Portugal’s identity and its writers. What can I say here about him that will do justice to this enigmatic poet, creator of the heteronym, master of the mask and alterego? Last night I heard a lecture by our foremost Pessoa scholar and translator, the poet Richard Zenith, who is currently at work on Pessoa’s biography, but instead of a borrowed insight or anecdote I’ll offer a poem of Pessoa's that goes a long way toward creating a sense of this country and my unexpected feeling toward it. THE COLUMBUSES Others are bound to have What we are bound to lose. Others are apt to find What in our discoveries Was found, or not found, In accord with Destiny. But what they cannot have Is the Magic of the Faraway Which makes it history. For this reason their glory Is tempered brilliance, given By a borrowed light. -Fernando Pessoa – Himself from A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe Edited and... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
It is impossible to translate; we are always translating: Alone at a café table set on uneasy cobble under some broad-leaved tree, I wait for my lunch and enjoy a breeze. At last. At last a breeze, at last a moment to consider the past several days, the rush and press of them, memories already shifting into an unsorted memory I will call “Lisbon” before long. 10 days in and I too have shifted, easily navigating tram, metro, train and the often steep, slick cobble underfoot as I follow the Disquiet schedule of lectures, readings, workshops and events around the city, Lisbon built like San Francisco upon hills along a waterfront. What I have learned: to move slow in the afternoon(now), how to count change(or be short-changed), how to say “no Portuguese,” passably. It’s the time in a trip you begin to think, “I could stay,” your other life for the moment the memory. Traveling, like a translation of experience from one life to another, is itself a “placeless place” you may begin to feel at home in. Translation, the movement of meaning from one language to another, is the topic of many discussions here where a number Luso(Portuguese)-American writers work alongside the general diversity of north American participants. Each guest writer, scholar, or cultural leader—and the list is formidable—has touched on this paradox that lies at the heart of all human communication. As the world renowned fiction writer António Lobo Antunes said last evening through headphones and the voice of a translator(!), “Translation is the black and white version of a color photo.” Or, as Paula Rejo, a magical realist painter puts it, “You always see the light reflected.” Or in the words of Jacinto Lucas Pires, another fiction writer, “Translation is a shadow language.” Language itself, our method of connecting thought to thought, can be experienced as a sort of floating space between people, a space that we try and inhabit together. Dance- Paula Rego Well, let’s have a poem then, this by Nuno Júdice. LISBON LIGHT The light crossing the room between the two windows is always the same, although on one side it’s west - where the sun is now - and on the other it’s east - where the sun has already been. In the room west and east meet, and it is this light that makes my gaze uncertain for not knowing which hour held the first light. Then I look at the thread of light stretched between both windows, as if it had no beginning and no end; and I start pulling it inwards into the room, winding it up, as if I could use it to tie up both ends of the day into midday, and let the time be stopped between two windows, west and east, until the thread unwinds, and everything begins all over again. Nuno Júdice from A Matéria do Poema, 2008 Translation by Ana Hudson, 2009 Centro Nacional de Cultura, a historical literary foundation and primary sponsor of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
I wake up to the sound of clattering dishes coming through the open window of the room where I’m staying, the hostel’s kitchen crew getting ready for the morning rush of hungry travelers, some in for a night or two, many, like myself, part of the Disquiet program and staying for 2 weeks. The motors of morning—birds, blowers, a shower running, the air conditioner’s hum, a church bell tracking time—all familiar by now, even the filtered light that manages to slide between buildings to begin the day. What I’ve had the most difficulty becoming familiar with is the Portuguese language, one by sound frequently compared to Russian. Having studied Spanish many years, I expected to find a familiar latinate I’ve encountered in Italian and French, languages I can roughly navigate via phrasebook, careful listening, and the kindness of native speakers. However, Portugal’s early global dominance allowed the language to develop with exotic influence from Moors, Africa, Brazil, China, Japan. Vowels bend and disappear, r’s hover somewhere between palate and throat, and the unpredictable s slides and unexpectedly shifts to my best-phonetic-attempt-while-sipping-beer-at a street café might be pronounced “zgh.” (maybe “shz?”). But, I’ve managed the basics, ordering coffee and pasteis de nata, Lisbon’s national, irresistible pastry. But back to sounds. Besides leading a workshop, I’m here to discover as much as I can about one of Portugal’s voices, its literature, especially its poetry. Can you quickly name a famous Portuguese poet besides Fernando Pessoa? I would like to introduce you to another national treasure, the revered poet, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen….simply called Sophia. Yes, Portugal is a country which embraces poetry and poets. Read more about Sophia here, including more poems. Here’s one I’m fond of. FURIES Banished from sin and the sacred Now they inhabit the humble intimacy Of daily life. They are The leaky faucet the late bus The soup that boils over The lost pen the vacuum that doesn’t vacuum The taxi that doesn’t come the mislaid receipt Shoving pushing waiting Bureaucratic madness Without shouting or staring Without bristly serpent hair With the meticulous hands of the day-to-day They undo us They’re the peculiar wonder of the modern world Faceless and maskless Nameless and breathless The thousand-headed hydras of efficiency gone haywire They no longer pursue desecrators and parricides They prefer innocent victims Who did nothing to provoke them Thanks to them the day loses its smooth expanses Its juice of ripe fruits Its fragrance of flowers Its high-sea passion And time is transformed Into toil and the rush Against time ~Sophia I have been saddened to discover that much of Portuguese literature remains untranslated, and I will continue to introduce you to a few more poets that I discover over the next days. Okay? A bit more music to go out on. The sounds of fado, another national treasure, the music of Lisbon played in streets and cafés as well as on professional stages. Here is Ana Moura, a popular performer. Tonight, I’ll attend a tribute... Continue reading
Posted Jun 24, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
So said Michel Foucault in Different Spaces. I arrived in Lisbon Saturday by airship—the jet—a kind of airborne floating space, “a non-place going places,” a placeless place that is at once threshold and destination, neither “here” nor yet “there,” time traveling between zones, continents, and consciousness, across 5600 miles and hours that expanded, contracted. I flew, to “—Lisbon, the Tagus, and the rest— A useless onlooker of you and of myself, A foreigner here like everywhere else, —” Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet Disquieted, I came to Disquiet: Dzanc Books International Literary Program, a brand new, two week literary and cultural conference held in Lisbon, where I will teach and be taught, engage with the heritage of Portuguese literature, contemporary writers, and the rich and vibrant Portuguese culture. I will bring highlights, hoping to prove a more useful onlooker than the native son Pessoa, above, suggests. It has taken these few days to disembark from traveling’s “non-place,” but I feel on terra firma today and look forward to bringing news of Lisbon to you. But now, “The morning unfurls itself upon the city,” and I’m off to find breakfast before my workshop begins. How about a little music to go out on. Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
One thing I enjoy about guest blogging here at BAP is the company I get to keep for a week. I also enjoy the surprising synchronicity that often occurs between posts, the happy associations of ideas, themes and perspectives that seem to gather resonance as they collect. I am a collagist at heart. I love the art of fragment. I'm offering a closing poem here that seems to bring a few ideas from the week together, a familiar poem and one from the west coast where my fragmentation dwells. It has to do with food, and I have sooo enjoyed BAP's new "cooking with the poets" feature. It has to do with winter, a December poem, and it speaks something into what the best hopes of this season express. It also includes an orange, which I think is the state fruit of Florida (?), and Lauren Wolfe just posted a tropical Menorah from Florida. There you have it. One more item from the west before I type in Gary Soto's fine poem, something new, exciting and worth adding to your links, is the International Poetry Library San Francisco, a dynamic project founded in 2008 by educator, poet and editor Kimberly Mahler. The concept, modeled after both Poets House, NYC, and the Poetry Library, London, seeks to create a major poetry resource on the west coast as well as represent the work of significant international poets. Though still in the development stage, collections are already being formed and cataloged. You can join them on Facebook to keep up with their progress. There's a lot of orange in the picture, don't you think? Oranges by Gary Soto The first time I walked With a girl, I was twelve, Cold, and weighted down With two oranges in my jacket. December. Frost cracking Beneath my steps, my breath Before me, then gone, As I walked toward Her house, the one whose Porch light burned yellow Night and day, in any weather. A dog barked at me, until She came out pulling At her gloves, face bright With rouge. I smiled, Touched her shoulder, and led Her down the street, across A used car lot and a line Of newly planted trees, Until we were breathing Before a drugstore. We Entered, the tiny bell Bringing a saleslady Down a narrow aisle of goods. I turned to the candies Tiered like bleachers, And asked what she wanted - Light in her eyes, a smile Starting at the corners Of her mouth. I fingered A nickle in my pocket, And when she lifted a chocolate That cost a dime, I didn’t say anything. I took the nickle from My pocket, then an orange, And set them quietly on The counter. When I looked up, The lady’s eyes met mine, And held them, knowing Very well what it was all About. Outside, A few cars hissing past, Fog hanging like old Coats between the trees. I took my girl’s hand In mine for two blocks, Then released it... Continue reading
Posted Dec 12, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
I love the Macy's here in northern California. I don't know what they're up to in your community, but here they are basically giving away product. As fast as they can. Do you have any discretionary income at all? Take it to Macy's. As my mom would say, I kid you not. #1, their ads almost single-handedly keep our local newspaper afloat. They run at least one full-page sales ad in the paper EVERY day. It's far more usual to see 3-4 full pages. #2, they are constantly combining 20% off everything with an all day extra 20% off coupon, combined with gift bucks if you spend a certain amount, plus an additional 20% off everything if you open a charge card with them. They might like the look of you and throw in a handful of extra merchandise. This began in November with a "best sale of the year" two day sale, followed by a pre-Thanksgiving sale, Black Friday all weekend, a Friends and Family pre-sale where you could buy cheap stuff but not take it home til December 2 when they ran the sale for real for 5 days, followed the next day by a Giant One Day Sale for two days, followed yesterday by the More the Merrier sale still underway, prices sinking 30, 40, 50% off plus the coupons. This will go on indefinitely until you simply must go down with large sacks, scoop up any remaining stock and let the poor delirious employees go home at last. And just think how much you'll save. But you can't buy gifts there; everyone you know has been hauling stuff out of Macy's for the last month, too, and already have whatever you bought. They probably have two. I am buying few to no gifts this year. My immediate family does a used book exchange. My kids will get stuff; they always do. If you invite me somewhere, I'll bring you a bottle of wine (my husband is a winemaker) or maybe a book of poems. I've got a new one out after all. But I promised to talk about Real Men here. "Real Men" is my Macy's ad. I just keep reoffering Real Men every day and you keep coming back because it's unthinkable that I won't at some point say something Real. While I can't give you 20%+ off anything, I can at least type the promise of Real Men. But if there is such a thing, I'd far rather hear your idea of who or what a real man is and would find it cool if you left a one-line definition in the comments section below. Everyone I love has been a real man at some point in his or her life, and to each and every one of you I would like to once again recommend a visit to the Art of Manliness blog, just as I did here last Father's Day. I admit I hadn't returned to it myself since last June, but... Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Outside the open window The morning air is all awash with angels. I'm imagining many of you across the country will wake up to a morning like this--snow!--from all the weather reports I've seen. Snow, and lots of it. I couldn't help but repost this couplet from the Richard Wilbur poem included at the end of yesterday's entry. But close that window! Even here in California, it's too cold for that. The solstice presses upon us and we gather our traditions close to prepare for the darkest night of the year...Cards have begun to arrive in earnest, invitations extended or hoped for. The morning air is all awash with angels. I'm typing in the dark. I'm always a day behind (and a dollar short, sadly) on the west coast. If I tried to compose and post the same day, you'd never see this until evening on the east coast. So I sit with laptop and down comforter and think of the distances. The computerized bell on the Presbyterian church strikes six... Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses, Some are in smocks: but truly there they are I can't believe that the commentator on the News Hour just called the health care overhaul and debate, "sausage making." No kidding. Is there a sausage zeitgeist after all? Do the angels know my name? Now they are rising together in calm swells Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing; In my beginning poetry class, I won't let students write poems using angels. No angels, no butterflies, and no "love." Perhaps that's why I'm so smitten by Wilbur's poem. He leaves butterflies out. Now they are flying in place, conveying The terrible speed of their ominpresence "The snow fell at the rate of an inch an hour. Whiteout. Flights cancelled." And yet, my youngest son arrived at JFK after a year abroad this evening at 8pm. My friends, Lisabeth and Colin, en route from San Diego to a new home in Massachusetts driving their packed car and dog, get stuck in first Albuquerque, then Amarillo, waiting out the storm. and now of a sudden They swoon down in so rapt a quiet That nobody seems to be there. I don't know about angels. If they are like snow, okay. Otherwise I'd rather not see any. In the Bible they are terrifying. They are not like what my beginning workshop students want to say they are. "Oh, let there by nothing on earth but laundry, Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam And clear dances done in the sight of heaven." That more or less sums it up for me. But, when it first falls, after the first few hours, before the plows, the first footprints, the car accidents, the lost power, before the elderly woman bundles up, goes out to her snow-filled walkway and wields the shovel of her late husband--then, the way the world seems to wait in its stillness of snow,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
A good poet friend, Nils Peterson, recently lent me an out of print gem. Perhaps some remember the book since it was in print in the early 1960’s and likely has hung around in many poets’ bookshelves long since the way it has in Nils’ (along with a good many other out of print gems, that emeritus elf). The Contemporary Poet as Artist and Critic edited by Anthony Ostroff is subtitled as Eight Symposia and proves to be just that, an intelligent and revealing meeting of opinion. Each symposium is comprised of three poets’ critiques to a “recent” poem of an “important contemporary,” followed by the author’s own response to the poem and to the peer commentary. What an intelligent idea! As Ostroff remarks in his 1964 foreword, “the scheme introduces something new in literary criticism,” that is, “calling upon poets to perform the essential critical task.” Which puts me in mind of the Foreword to this year’s Best of. While 1964 no longer serves as contemporary, the list of participating poets is stellar and to which I do a disservice by merely highlighting: Auden to Berryman to Bogan, Deutsch to Dickey to Justice, Kunitz to Lowell to Miles, Ransom, Rich, Roethke and Rukeyser. A regular pantheon! (please forgive me for those I left off). Is there another recent if not contemporary collection similar to this in its intent? Ostroff’s symposia prove to be a superbly illuminating and enjoyable set of conversations by some of the most-admired 20th century+ poets who thoughtfully consider the work of their peers for the purpose of understanding instead of ranking (or should I say rankling). How civilized! Imagine! I have yet to read all the entries, but I found this author’s response speaks as volubly into our contemporary moment. Richard Wilbur speaks to the critique of his poem, “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World” as given by May Swenson, Robert Horan, and Richard Eberhart. “…I can only say that it is good to be so thoroughly understood. However troubled by the desire to please, poets soon come to ignore most of the criticism they receive; approval or condemnation are not interesting in the absence of understanding...(these three poets) have been willing to perform the humble, fundamental task of criticism—the interpretation of the work in the light of its apparent intention. Three critics would not have been so modest or so penetrating.” The appreciation in his words is understandably palpable. And unfortunately still contemporary. Wilbur goes on another good four pages specifically answering their critique with civility and equal insight. It’s kind of like watching My Dinner with Andre. Somewhere in the midst you realize how rare true conversation has become. At a minimum, find yourself a copy (me first!), but perhaps some other remarkably generous editor can put together a similar symposia with similarly inclined poets. And if someone decides to pursue a symposia as practiced by the ancient Greeks, some “convivial meeting for drinking, music, and intellectual discussion,” can I... Continue reading
Posted Dec 9, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Speaking as an editor speaking of rejection I will say this. Rejection involves the Golden Rule: it is better to give than to receive. You didn't really expect me to say the opposite, did you? Anyone who has risked rejection by submitting a piece of writing knows the spectacular if momentary rush of success and satisfaction that comes upon opening an acceptance letter or email. So too on the other end of emotion's spectrum when your work is rejected: deflation, discouragement, frustration. Etc. And it doesn't really help that a given editorial team "particularly admired" a certain piece. If they admire it, why don't they just go ahead and publish it? Let's not enter that quagmire, but I will say that saying a poem "came close" may offer some distant encouragement to some poets, and some lessening of angst to some editors who offer such small comfort, but in the short term that's all it is. Small. Very small and very Unsatisfying. And No, No Comfort. I've never had the experience summed up any better than in this fine poem by Marjorie Manwaring first published in the DMQ Review where Manwaring was subsequently invited to join the editorial team. Anyone with the ability to render this particularly nasty but necessary (?) experience so wittily as a poet is someone you want as an editor. Rejection Letter from Gertrude Stein Dear Poet Dear Author Dear Someone We are pleased very pleased To regret sir. Regret to inform you the list for Talents selected not you dear. So many many and many Many talents not you dear. Received many fine not you. Thank you extremely fine thank you. Keep us I mind please keep us. Please keep Your submission in mind. Entries so fine many fine Winners selected not you. Not you. Not quite What we need At this time not quite. Keep in mind best of luck next time. Editors wish you this guideline. Best of selected regret. Not chosen you were not able. We inform our regret. We reject your receive. We receive we regret. Inform you we do. We do as we do. Today: To do: Don’t forget. Difficult choice we regret. Space an issue weren’t able. Limited Space unable. Please Accept this issue Our complimentary Gift to you. Letterpressed gift in which you Do not appear we regret you. We regret to reject with respect Please accept. Do Not not accept This reject If you do If you do With respect With respect We reject you. -by Marjorie Manwaring Continue reading
Posted Dec 8, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
But first—woooooooot! Just JUST finished teaching my last class of the semester. That’s the last of it for this meat grinder. Okay, okay. No more sausage. And I do have something more serious to consider today. It’s Monday, afterall. But once you get started with a metaphor, it’s so hard to let it go. As editor of a poetry journal, the DMQ Review, I must admit the first thing I read in any new issue of the annual Best American Poetry Anthology, once I’ve scanned the list of names on the back cover for my own personal favorites, is the pair of introductions to each volume. These introductions, the guest editor’s and the series editor’s, are always must-reads. In his, David Lehman offers both an introduction to the guest editor as well as an incisive “year in review” look at the world of poetry, its trends and trend-setters. Never afraid of the Big Questions or the hot topic, Lehman opens this year’s consideration asking, “What is a poet?” The guest editor, on the other hand, must provide a rationale—if not defense—as to why she or he is naming these poems “Best” out of all the poems published in a year, as well as why he or she feels qualified to make such determinations. Tricky and instructive. This year, I am particularly intrigued with guest editor David Wagoner’s introduction to Best American Poetry 2009. Wagoner doesn’t shy away from the hard questions either, asking at one point, “What is a poem?” Between the two of them, these editors are taking nothing for granted! What I found really fascinating was the submission test Wagoner put himself through during his guest-editing stint in order to gauge current response times, effectively asking why can’t poetry editors make up their minds sooner!?! He relates how on December 1, 2007, he submitted poems to fifty American magazines, and 13 months later had not heard back from almost a fifth of them! Nine journals still had not responded! This is news most poets could have provided themselves, but coming from the founding editor of Poetry Northwest, this is news indeed. Did he use a pseudonym, for chrissake? When he was still serving as editor, Wagoner says his own policy was to reply in a month. This made me wish I’d submitted to Poetry Northwest before! Editors are often writers, too, and know both sides of this conundrum, making those who don’t respond to their contributors within some “reasonable” time frame seem less than compassionate. At the DMQ, response time is typically 2 months. For us, a virtual team of far-flung editors, our method of collecting and distributing online submissions on a monthly basis doesn’t allow for a quicker turn-around. Submissions must be processed, distributed, reviewed, returned and re-processed. This takes untold hours. If our submissions suddenly doubled, there’s no way we could keep current response times without some serious restructuring. . .And we, like many journals, are an all-volunteer operation. The DMQ editorial team is a cracker-jack... Continue reading
Posted Dec 7, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
I know, I know. I’m writing this at the risk of being forever categorized as the blogger of processed meat. If you spend much time here at the Best American Poetry Blog, you will typically find at the bottom of an entry the suggestion “You might also like:” with 3 links to previous entries. I always wonder what those suggestions are based on, the profile of the visitor or the associations of the current posting? Likely the latter. However, often enough the blog-gods suggest that I might also like: the M-m-etc.-mortadella entry. Of course I would; I wrote it, AND I’m at least temporarily still crazy for Mortadella di Bologna (see said former entry). And it’s strictly coincidental that my introduction to this week of guest-blogging should once again veer toward a meat grinder’s product, but alas. Such is the case. Here at BAP, as it’s fondly referred to after typing the full name out a couple of times, we guest bloggers move freely from the highbrow to the lowbrow. I for one was swept off my feet by last week’s guest blogger Lera Auerbach’s engaging entries. What a stunning combination of reflection, music, photos and video. If you missed them, go back and catch up. I especially recommend the video documentary, Return to Dresden (yes, embedded right there). Brava Lera, and thanks. It was a remarkable week. Besides Lera, Nin Andrews posted a bitch of a poem, and what could be hotter than a man in the kitchen (a man in a yurt??)—I ask you. As you can see, there’s always something to pique anyone’s interest here at BAP, from the sublime to the, er, sausage. So as I considered how to dive into my own guest blogging stint, I was reminded of the story my good friend Rich tells about the time he ran for the school board in our community. One evening during the campaign, the candidates were given the opportunity to give speeches to the voters. Rich tells how the candidate before him got up and introduced himself. “Good evening. I’m George Buonocore. In Italian, buonocuore means good heart. If I’m elected that’s what you’ll get, a good heart.” I happened to have had this gentleman as a high school science teacher. I could picture him, tall, dark, doe-eyed, soft-spoken. Buonocuore to the core. After his opponent had elaborated his strengths and strategies, Rich, also Italian but of stockier build, took the podium. “Good evening,” he said to the audience. “My name is Richard Salsiccia. Salsiccia. In Italian that means sausage.” While ultimately he didn’t win the election, his good humor served him well. I’m looking forward to spending time here this coming week with the best of company, and like Rich, serving up what I can. See you tomorrow, PST. Continue reading
Posted Dec 6, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Yo, bitch.
Laura-Also Dylan Thomas' birthday today, and here, a reading of his Poem in October celebrating his 30th...strange coincidence.
It sure would be nice to have a West Coast reading sometime...sigh. Have fun!
I have to say my romanticism for the process has faded. The wool looks more like what I'd expect that Scottish dish Haggis looks like, and if Grace's meatballs look anything like those shanks of wet wool, Grace please at least get some tomato sauce to cover them.
This redeems the city of Bologna once and for all! Thanks Terrence.
The duck story makes me cry. I must go to Indiana. I have never been.
I've enjoyed your posts. Thanks-