This is Justin Jamail's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Justin Jamail's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Justin Jamail
Recent Activity
You're very welcome! Ah - I am afraid the asterisks are the leftovers of a faulty formatting notion I had, which I'll try to clean up, rather than indications of additional material. Sorry for the confusion!
[Guest Author Note: Thank you to Jess and Tony for this fascinating interview and to Hanging Loose Press for permission to reproduce the poems discussed in it!] JM: Your poetry taps out a wry tango with history; you’ve looked at it, through it, over it, beyond it, within it, and around it, describing the historical perspective of the backward-glancing present as “the cartoon with the one perennial frame.” And so we’re here to speak of poetry’s intersection with history, personal and collective. Let’s start with the former. How has your writing process changed with age? I’m not referring to changes in style, like your shift from pop collage to a more conversational mode, but rather, to changes in the way you experience the writing process. TT: My first thought is: how can aging not have changed my writing process (along with everything else!)? But when I try to figure out what those changes have actually been, I draw a blank. If the “writing process” is the manner in which the poems are made, regardless of individual content or style, I think I have to say that there hasn’t been perceptible (perceptible to me, anyway) change since I got going in the early ‘60s. Perhaps I mistake what you are getting at. Feel free to steer me onto the right track! JM: I’m afraid I only have directions to the wrong track. It’s located at the intersection of poetry and history in the broadest sense: that is, at the site where poetry catalyzes cultural shifts that can, ultimately, be historical in their import. I’ve always seen your poems as being quietly countercultural — “The City in the Throes of Despair,” for example, crashes the ethos of “accomplishment” against the sort of openness that allows for “beauty to interrupt constantly.” Do you see your poems as countercultural? TT: The poem you refer to was written in 1967, when the “real” counterculture (politics and sociology more than poetry) was well on its way to being a force in national life; but my work had nothing to do with that, nor was I personally very much a part of it, although I knew many poets who were. I’m not so much countercultural as a classic outsider, whose work is perhaps quietly subversive. Part of the subversion can be a free-wheeling parody of conventional thinking, with an insistence on being gratuitous, stubbornly irrelevant to “normal” society and daily reality. The poem in question is surreal and absurdist, with satiric reference to Robert Moses, real estate developer Samuel Lefrak, and the Borough of Queens (where I grew up). I write different kinds of poems, so one could find examples that are other than what I have just described. But I would maintain that I’m a subversive outsider rather than a counterculturalist, which usually implies an agenda beyond poetry itself. JM: This differentiation you’ve made between the countercultural and the subversive is very useful; it offers a clearer vocabulary for discussing poetry’s role(s) in the public sphere.... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
[Guest Author Note: Scholar and poet Andrew McCarron has kindly shared with us this transcript of a delightful Q&A session between the late great John Ashbery [pictured left] and Andrew's high school students at Trinity School in Manhattan. It blows my mind to think of John walking into one's high school… Special thanks to the Flow Chart Foundation for providing the tape and permission to share this with you. Here's to chap-stick! -- Justin Jamail] Despite the difficulty of his work, I have consistently taught the poetry of John Ashbery in my English classes at Trinity School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. My students have ranged from fourteen to eighteen, and pretty much without exception, the students have loved the challenge. Ashbery’s playfulness, his roving sense of wonder, and the childlike way his poems try making sense of an incomprehensible universe of surprise, contradiction, and changeability, captivate their imaginations. Whereas I started out teaching his short poems (e.g., Some Trees, The History of My Life, and This Room), I’ve since moved on to teaching longer works like Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror, A Wave, and the book-length Girls on the Run. Many years ago, on May 8, 2003, I invited my old Bard College professor, John Ashbery, to a ninth grade English class I was teaching during my first year at Trinity. John had come from the dentist’s office where he’d been given a shot of Novocain. He was dressed in a white blazer and a blue tie for the occasion and was bemused by the interest of the teenagers. Here’s a partial transcript of the Q&A, recorded by my colleague and friend Bill Zavatsky, who was also present: Student: How do you get inspired? Ashbery: I used to wait around for inspiration when I was your ages, but realized I wouldn’t get very much written if I had to wait. So, as the years have gone by, I’ve trained myself to get along without inspiration and it seems to work just as well. Student: Did you enjoy an active imagination as a child? Ashbery: Yes, I used to invent cities and people as imaginary citizens. I would do this on the beach where I grew up, on Lake Ontario, where I’d build sandcastles or houses. I used to make large maps on big sheets of cardboard and put on all the names of the cities and towns. I remember one country where the capital city was Murielsville because of a little girl I had a crush on in grade school. The population was something like 8,957,000. She had the most population of any of the cities. Student: When did you realize you wanted to pursue the life of a poet? Ashbery: Well, I still don’t want to pursue the life of a poet. I started writing poetry when I was in high school actually. It happened when I first discovered modern poetry in an anthology of Louis Untermeyer. Up until then I thought I wanted to... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
[Guest Author Note: I asked Andrew McCarron and Anthony Antonucci to share the news of their project to write a literary biography of their friend and mentor the classicist and poet William Mullen. Their essay is below along with a reproduction of Mullen's Enchanted Rock, which was selected by John Hollander for inclusion in the 1998 edition of Best American Poets.] Think of this post as a press release. We are currently in the process of composing a short literary biography of the late classicist and poet Dr. William C. Mullen (1946-2017). Professor Mullen died last November, just two days shy of his seventy-first birthday. As the unofficial stewards of his literary legacy, we wish to share the insights that we have gleaned from our mentor’s life-in-letters and to demonstrate our gratitude for the compassion, companionship and exemplary model of the life of the heart and mind that he embodied for us. Bill spent the majority of his dynamic career teaching Global Classics at Bard College, a liberal arts campus in New York’s Hudson Valley, where he was a colleague and friend of the poets Robert Kelly, Joan Retallak, and the late John Ashbery. Unlike these celebrated authors, Bill built an international reputation as a scholar and a translator, rather than a poet. Harvard’s Gregory Nagy, for example, referred to Bill’s book Choreia: Pindar and Dance (Princeton University Press, 1982) as the best book ever written on Pindar’s odes. In the margins of his works and days, when he was not pursuing his research, participating in conferences, and teaching his popular seminars, Bill wrote poetry. Although individual poems of his were published in The Best American Poetry series (1998) and elsewhere, he didn’t live to see his dream of an original book of his own verse in print. Twenty-four hours before he died alone in the graveyard behind the church rectory in the bucolic hamlet of Barrytown, New York, his home for a quarter century, Bill sent us a collection of thirty new poems. In this email he expressed pride in a series of poems he’d recently completed, though he also lamented the complex circumstances that inspired them. This exchange marked Bill’s final communication with the land of the living. The remarkable thing about someone’s poetry is that the spiritual fingerprint of that person is contained in their words long after he or she is gone. And perhaps those fingerprints are especially vivid for poets who write primarily for themselves, free from the constraining literary personae demanded by identification with any specific school of writing (e.g., Language Poetry, Beat Poetry, New York School Poetry, etc.), or by the suggestions of market-minded editors and publishers. Indeed, reading Bill’s poetry suggests that it’s in the private work of unpublished writers that we can more readily glimpse the unique role that poetry can play in how we go about making meaning out of our lives as we attempt to decide how to occupy the tent of night. Bill’s poems draw on the traditions... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
[Guest Author Note: I recently had the pleasure of coming across The End of the Evening - a board game created by Kenneth Koch - at the New York Public Library's Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection. What follows are reproductions of the game, courtesy of the New York Public Library and the Kenneth Koch Literary Estate, and reflections by Kenneth Koch's daughter Katherine.] JJ: So this object is amazing and brings to mind so much of the excitement of being around your father. I am thinking most especially of the combination of inspired zaniness and extraordinary learnedness that one experienced with him (and also reading his poetry!). Did you ever actually play The End of the Evening -- what was it like? What were the rules? Who won? This is three (maybe four) questions! Katherine Koch: I was my father’s eleven-year-old test subject for The End of the Evening. He wanted it to exist as a real, playable game with the satisfaction and fun of games, the surprise and uncertainty that can come out of a very simple structure. My father always loved and was confident about trying new things, new forms, new ways to find an audience to surprise and exhilarate them. This was 1967, an exhilarating moment in our culture, very much so in New York City. All kinds of social and generational barriers were being broken down and all kinds of money started being available for projects in the arts, the wilder the better. So, the idea of making and finding a market for poetic board games—he wanted to do more than one—seemed possible—why not? As with many different forms he tried out, he wanted to subvert it at the same time as he followed its rules. He loved making up palindromes, for instance, but only if they were ridiculous and required an equally ridiculous backstory. At one point he felt he’d successfully “destroyed” the palindrome when he came up with things like, “Anna Anna Anna Otto Hannah Otto Anna Anna Anna.” One subversive thing he does in The End of the Evening is he tricks the player. I’m not sure this would have gone over so well if it had been played as a real game: if you land on the square “HOPELESS NEUROSIS—advance 8 spaces,” you land on DIE, and are out of the game. After the first time you played this wouldn’t be much fun. The Old Age section of the board consists of four squares that say DIE, one square that says “LIVE—Move backwards one roll,” and one square that says “LIVE IN ITALY CROSS BRIDGE GO TO COMINCIA.” It’s kind of funny and means that old age is almost impossible to navigate, but it’s unfair if you’re actually playing the game. On the other hand, if you land on PSYCHOANALYSIS and have to go back 18 spaces, you end up back in childhood, back at the square called SLEEP. This is witty and more fun, since you get the chance... Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
[Guest Author Note: Professional sportswriter, Chicagoan and Mississippi native Dayn Perry creates exuberant and frequently ribald poetry which generally takes flight from baseball cards and other images of ballplayers. I could not rest easily without sharing these with more people. Dayn Perry's futile efforts can be found here, mainly.] Young Charlie Manuel packs his shotgun shells with loose-leaf tobacco. That way it just stings a little. Young Charlie Manuel once benched all of West Virginia ... Continue reading
Posted Oct 23, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
I hope that you find these executive summaries Helpful, though yours, darling, are the transaction costs I have least wanted to minimize... Continue reading
Posted Oct 22, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Justin Jamail is now following The Typepad Team
Oct 20, 2018