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Yvan Goll (1891-1950) was a poet, playwright, novelist, and translator born in Alsace-Lorraine who wrote in German, French, and English. He later lived in Paris and the U.S. and was an active part of the literary circles in Paris and Greenwich Village, along with his wife, Claire Goll. In the final years of his life, suffering from leukemia, he devoted himself to writing the poems of Das Traumkraut, translated as Dreamweed by Nan Watkins and recently released in a bilingual edition by Black Lawrence Press. (See an interview with Watkins at The Brooklyn Rail.) These poems, written in pain and in the knowledge of impending death, possess a hallucinatory urgency that ought rightly to earn them a place among the great lyric works of the 20th century in any language. So that his pain not be wasted, Goll transformed it into the kind of art that perhaps only the dying genius can create. For the true artist, nothing is wasted--not even suffering, not even death. Read Dreamweed and you will see that Goll was a true artist, to the end. Here is a poem from Dreamweed: Rosedom* Moon-rose That burns in the heads of beasts Brain-rose Skinned from skulls O hot-tempered rosedom As long as the wheel of the rose Turns and turns The noonday rosary Raves in fevered fields And the rose-eye bores Into my waking sleep Yet woe if the Unrose Ascends from the metals And my rose-hand rises Against the sun-rose And the sand-rose withers O rose rose of roses That alone blazes for the roseless *"Rosedom" is reprinted from Dreamweed, trans. Nan Watkins (Black Lawrence Press, 2012), by permission of Black Lawrence Press. Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
A number of the poets included in my anthology Poems of Devotion (Wipf & Stock, 2012) have superb new books out. Here’s a list of the ones I know of and have read: Bruce Beasley: Theophobia (BOA Editions) (Look for my review forthcoming in Contemporary Poetry Review) Steven Brown: To the Wheatlight of June (photographs by Ben Nixon, poems by Steven Brown) (21st Editions) Morri Creech: The Sleep of Reason (Waywiser Press) Jennifer Grotz (translator): Psalms of All My Days by Patrice de la Tour du Pin (Carnegie Mellon Press) (See one of the psalms and my brief commentary on de la Tour du Pin here.) Marjorie Maddox: Local News from Someplace Else (Wipf & Stock) Maurice Manning: The Gone and the Going Away (Harcourt) Eric Pankey: Trace (Milkweed Editions) (See my commentary here.) I highly recommend each of these. Continue reading
Posted Jul 17, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Keith Flynn founded the literary magazine Asheville Poetry Review in 1994. What began as a regional publication quickly grew to a national one. Keith was the lead singer and lyricist of the band The Crystal Zoo at the time, and he took every opportunity to place the magazine with independent book stores around the country as he toured with the band. The distribution and subscription base grew accordingly, as well as the breadth of submissions from around the country, and indeed around the world. I started as an intern in 2006, and shortly thereafter joined the staff as an Associate Editor, and then later as Senior Editor, my current position. Today, 19 years after our founding, we are distributed across the U.S. and Canada not only to independent book stores but also to many chain book stores. In addition to publishing poems, essays, reviews, and interviews, as we always have, we now hold an annual single-poem contest, The William Matthews Poetry Prize, with a guest judge each year. Through all of these changes, however, Asheville Poetry Review has remained a rather old-fashioned literary magazine. We only accept unsolicited submissions by mail, and we remain an entirely print-based magazine (albeit with some archive material online). We often wonder if this makes us a relic, or whether, in our most whiskey-induced flights of fancy, we might number among the heroic proponents of a noble tradition. Well, time will soon tell whether we can survive the costs of operating as a print publication, a question that has become increasingly difficult to answer each year, largely due to shrinking and disappearing independent book stores and ever-increasing distribution costs. With no outside funding or affiliation (by choice), we rely on subscriptions, sales, and now the annual prize, for the entirety of our operating budget. The process of reading the thousands of submissions that come by mail each year is an often pleasurable one—the tactile relationship with each envelope and page, the visual elements of handwriting, the sounds of tearing and creasing. It seems to me that this gives an editor a more intimate experience with each submission, in the same way that—for me—reading a book or magazine in print is more intimate and more fulfilling than reading it on a screen. But opening one’s doors to mail from the wide world allows for the possibility—and likelihood—of the strange, the scary, and the hilarious. Here are some things that I’ve received in envelopes over the years: -A be-sequined and be-glittered cover letter, complete with an airbrushed glamor shot of the author. -A poem entitled “Sexy Jesus” which consisted of a graphic (GRAPHIC) depiction of the author having sex with—you guessed it—Jesus. To top it off, a cover letter enquiring as to whether we the editors had “the balls” to publish the poem. -An envelope in which every word on every page—and on the envelope itself—was surrounded by and covered with small frenetic pen marks, somehow leaving most of it just legible. I was shocked that the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
I find it very difficult to understand the thinking of poets who spend a lifetime writing and publishing the same kinds of poems, over and over and over. I don’t mean poets whose work simply bears certain hallmark stylistic or thematic elements—that’s the mark of many a genius whose bodies of work are varied and exploratory. I also don’t mean poets who always write in traditional form, or who always write in the freest of verse—these poets often achieve great variety of effect within similar structures. What I mean are poets who write poems in the same voice, tone, and mood, with identical stylistic techniques, and which have the same aesthetic effects on the reader in book after book after book. Living poets that spring to mind are Kay Ryan, James Tate, Mary Oliver, Charles Wright, and Billy Collins (who, to his credit, has published a book of haiku with Modern Haiku Press—the Billy Collins book you've never read, but should). Don’t get me wrong—I like the work of each of these poets. But it does trouble me on some level that the reasons I like the poems in Book A are the same reasons I like the poems in Books B, C, D, and E. The poems look the same, sound the same, taste, feel, smell the same! What mundane activity will be the subject of Collins’ melancholy humor today? Which animal or plant will be the source of wisdom in Oliver this week? I wonder what Ryan’s line breaks will be like in this new book . . . Are these poets so essentially un-creative that the work they create is homogeneous? Or have they simply found a style at which they can achieve mastery? Are poets who employ various styles, forms, and voices diluting their abilities, Jills and Jacks of all trades and masters of none? And then one thinks of Emily Dickinson, whose mastery is so undeniable and her achievement so towering that one begins to think that her work alone is sufficient reason for any poet to attempt to build a body of work made of bricks of the same color, size, and shape . . . One thinks of the haiku masters, whose bodies of work are contained in tiny syllabic packages of often astonishing beauty and power . . . Dear reader, I seek your input. Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for your insightful comment, David. I think that what misgivings I have about irony are based on the observation -- and the experience -- that in the most profound encounters with the holy (i.e., the divine, the sublime, the spiritual -- the other), irony and ornament are stripped away. But I do also acknowledge that irony can characterize our attempts -- usually our frustrated attempts -- at transcendence. -LH
In my first post here at the Best American Poetry blog, I outlined my perspective on the devotional mode in poetry; in my second post, I offered some samples of work from my forthcoming anthology, Poems of Devotion (Wipf & Stock, Nov. 30, 2012); in my third post, I discussed virtuosity and simplicity in art. For my final post, I'd like to offer a few more samples from Poems of Devotion. I offer them without comment, except for a few notes: 1. Robert Seigel, "A.M.": Pentecost is the biblical event when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples, appearing as tongues of flame. (See Acts 2.) 2. Malachi Black, "from Quarantine": According to the author, "Cast as a crown of sonnets, the ten movements of Quarantine derive their logic and arrangement from the Christian monastic prayer cycle known generally as the canonical hours (horae canonicae). Quarantine traces the passage of one day, from predawn prayer ('Lauds') through sunrise ('Prime'), morning ('Terce'), midday ('Sext'), afternoon ('None'), sundown ('Vespers'), night ('Nocturne'), midnight ('Vigils'), and concludes at early morning ('Matins')." 3. Anna Connors is the youngest poet included in the anthology. She was a student in two of the undergraduate writing classes I taught as a graduate student at Indiana University. She is remarkably precocious. She is an immensely talented poet and is accomplished in a host of academic areas. I, for one, eagerly await the work she will produce over her lifetime. ROBERT SEIGEL (b. 1939) A.M.* Yellow flames flutter about the feeder: a Pentecost of finches. *"A.M." is reprinted from A Pentecost of Finches: New & Selected Poems (Paraclete Press, 2006), copyright 2006 by Robert Seigel, by permission of the author. MALACHI BLACK (b. 1982) from Quarantine* Sext I have known you as an opening of curtains as a light blurts through the sky. But this is afternoon and afternoon is not the time to hunt you with the hot globe of a human eye. So I fluster like a crooked broom in rounds within the living room, and try to lift an ear to you. I try. I cut myself into a cave for you. To be a trilling blindness in the infinite vibration of your murmuring July, I cut myself into a cave for you. Vespers My Lord, you are the one: your breath has blown away the visionary sun and now suffocates the skyline with a dusk. If only once, I wish that you could shudder with my pulse, double over and convulse on the stitches in the skin that I slash wishes in. But, Lord, you are the gulf between the hoped-for and the happening: You’ve won. So what is left for me when what is left for me has come? *"Sext" and "Vespers" are reprinted from Quarantine (Argos Books, 2012), copyright 2012 by Malachi Black, by permission of the author. PHILIP METRES (b. 1970) from “A Book of Hours”* 1. You threw me down, Lord, on the bed I did not know I was making, unmade,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for reading, and for your kind words, John.
When I was young, it seemed logical to me that the most virtuosic performances should be the “best” music, and most worthy of my appreciation. As my tastes ran more toward classic rock than toward classical music, I was particularly an advocate of Led Zeppelin’s most fiery guitar and drum solos, or their more complex picking patterns in songs like “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Black Mountain Side”. As I grew older, however, I began to sense deep flaws in this way of thinking, as it privileged a proposition about music over the actual aesthetic experience of music. As I began to ponder this distinction, I noticed more and more how much I could be moved by the most simple of songs. Don’t get me wrong; I still love Led Zeppelin! But I now love realms of music that at one point seemed illogical for me to appreciate. The same goes for visual art and literature. I have grown into an attention to and profound love of the aesthetic experience of art, rather than allowing myself to be led by rationalistic a priori notions of what forms the most powerful art “should” take. I believe that only after experiencing a work of art should one attempt to identify the objective features that create the possibility of a powerful aesthetic experience. In this way, the aesthetic experience is neither entirely subjective nor entirely objective, but subjectivity and objectivity coexist—indeed, must coexist—in the aesthetic experience. Federico García Lorca examines that mysterious quality in art (for him, most particularly in dance, music, and poetry) that lends it power to transport an audience. He calls this duende, a dark force of the earth, something other than the “muse” or the “angel,” rising from the mortal center of the artist rather than arriving from without, and many other things besides. Lorca gives an example of an old flamenco dancer at a competition: Years ago, an eighty-year-old woman won first prize at a dance contest in Jerez de la Frontera. She was competing against beautiful women and young girls with waists supple as water, but all she did was raise her arms, throw back her head, and stamp her foot on the floor. In that gathering of muses and angels--beautiful forms and beautiful smiles--who could have won but for her moribund duende, sweeping the ground with its wings of rusty knives. -from "Play and Theory of the Duende" She gives an utterly simple, unadorned performance—hardly even worthy to be called a dance. But her performance is so impassioned, so full of the acknowledgment of death, so full of duende, that she is awarded first prize, over all the ornate performances of her young and beautiful competitors. This is part of what I’m getting at when I talk about the experience of a work of art. The superficial features one might expect beforehand to produce a powerful aesthetic experience are not reliably the ones that actually do produce the greatest effect. It is not perfect execution... Continue reading
Posted Nov 1, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Yesterday, I posted here about the devotional mode in poetry and my forthcoming anthology, Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets, and featured two poems from the anthology. Today, I'd like to highlight the work of two additional poets from the anthology about whose work I am very enthusiastic. As far as I can tell, Patrice de la Tour du Pin has been little known in the U.S., but thanks to the efforts of poet and translator Jennifer Grotz, he has begun to reach an English-language audience in literary journals, and will continue to do so in Grotz's translation of his collection Psaumes de tous mes temps [Psalms of All My Days], forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2013. Patrice de la Tour du Pin (1911–1975) was a French, Catholic poet who achieved fame for individual collections of poems as well as Une Somme de poésie, a three-volume multi-genred work he wrote and continually revised throughout his life. Late in his career, de la Tour du Pin distilled and collected his most powerful lyrical poems, written in the form of psalms, into Psaumes de tous mes temps [Psalms of All My Days]. As Jennifer Grotz says, "These psalms articulate his struggle to find poetic authority and spiritual meaning in the midst of world war and modern tumult." I'm thrilled to be able to include four of de la Tour du Pin's psalms in Poems of Devotion, and I'd like to share one of them with you here. More of Grotz's translations of de la Tour du Pin's work can be found online at Blackbird. PATRICE DE LA TOUR DU PIN Psalm 41* My God, I know only my debt, all my life carried in debt-- and you who repay it in a word! Forgive me my shamelessness: you who have hedged me in from all directions at once, deliver me in time for your day of rest. Set the night sky back in motion, reweave the constellations into a scaffold for your praise. On that day when you judge the taste of my joy with your lips, my sorrow at your Passion, will you be able to say: “Here is a man who valued me over thirty radiant ideas”? -translated from the French by Jennifer Grotz *"Psalm 41" by Patrice de la Tour du Pin, translated by Jennifer Grotz, appears here by permission of Jennifer Grotz. Another marvelous poet featured in the anthology is Amit Majmudar (b. 1979), a diagnostic nuclear radiologist, poet, and fiction writer who has published two collections of poetry and a novel to date. The work I chose to include in the anthology is a prose work that transcends genre distinctions called "Azazil." It is a revisiting of Paradise Lost from a mystical Islamic perspective, taking the form of an epic prose poem, and it is profoundly beautiful and powerful. Here is an excerpt. Two notes the reader might need are that ishq in Islam is a self-effacing love for Allah and Allahu akbar... Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
A certain kind of irony is fashionable in contemporary American poetry. The kind of irony I mean is a tonal façade of disaffection, of jadedness. Read a handful of the thousands of literary magazines or books of poetry published in the U.S. every year, and you’re sure to encounter it frequently. The underlying tenet seems to be that sincere expressions of emotion have to be balanced with a significantly greater amount of pretending to have little investment in the subject at hand. I imagine that this has come about out of fear of the sentimentality we often associate with previous eras, but also out of the effort to sound “contemporary”—and, problematically, it seems that we as a literary culture have a rather narrow notion of what it means to sound that way. I see this fashion as no more than that—a fashion, and certainly not a necessity, as critics and poets have so often implied in recent years. I’m hard-pressed to think of a more useless, even counter-productive, dictum than Arthur Rimbaud’s famous “Il faut être absolument moderne” [“One must be completely modern”]. The problem is this: One is inherently a product of one’s time. If a poet or artist consciously attempts to “be” modern (or postmodern, or contemporary, or whatever term you prefer), she or he is simply attempting to conform to a necessarily simplistic notion of the characteristics she or he associates with the fashions of the era. Perhaps a more useful directive can be found in Archibald MacLeish’s “Ars Poetica”: “a poem should not mean / but be.” While not everyone will find this prevalent mindset as troubling as I do, I think it bears reflection. What are we writing? How are we going about it? What unexamined assumptions are informing the way we write? I don’t mean to imply that the particular kind of irony under discussion cannot produce great work. I think immediately of W. H. Auden, a real master of irony. I think of Elizabeth Bishop’s hot-to-the-touch “One Art.” I think of Dean Young’s work, which is full of this irony of disaffection, and at its best is heartbreakingly beautiful. But when ironic distance becomes the default modus operandi among so many poets, it’s time to call it into question, and perhaps it’s time to leave behind this self-imposed restriction. Irony is no more modern/postmodern/contemporary than sincerity. Irony does not make a poem “relevant” or “up-to-date.” And yet these assumptions seem to underlie much of what is being written today. Though irony is so prevalent in contemporary poetry, thankfully the body of work being produced transcends even the most widespread fashions. The poetic mode that most interests me is what I would call devotional—a mode to which the kind of irony I’ve been discussing is usually antithetical. The term devotional has unfortunately become associated with greeting-card or “inspirational” verse, which is typically doggerel infused with cliché sentiments of appreciation, encouragement, or consolation, and/or overly simplistic religious ideas. This is decidedly not what I mean... Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Oct 27, 2012