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Rebecca Lindenberg
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On Thursday night, Timothy O’Keefe (author of The Goodbye Town, winner of the 2010 FIELD Poetry Prize) and his girlfriend, novelist Xhenet Aliu, got into town. They brought with them Luella, their part-border-collie-part-dobermann puppy, shiny as a shoe, who spent most of the weekend running in circles around our piglet-esque, pennycolored pitbull, Ezzie. Tim and I read together for Utah State University’s “Helicon West” reading series at the Citrus & Sage Café (a cute little house that serves the local artisan-roasted coffee along with very tasty sweet or savory crepes – the best of which is served with just honey-butter, according to essayist and USU professor Jennifer Sinor). Tim and I have been besties for, like, years, but we’d never actually read together before – and it was really fun. Tim’s poetry is unlike anybody’s – at once archly lyrical in its musicality and genuinely austere in its gaze, each brief, beautiful poem satisfies the reader or listener utterly while somehow simultaneously suggesting itself as merely the tip of an immense berg made of something much, much more human than the easy metaphor of ice. Each poem seems to reconcile various struggles within the poet – between form he knows he’s masterfully good at crafting and a powerful urge to do something far more unpredictable than that; between the powerful emotions occasioned by a person or a place or a relationship and the rigorous meditations upon those emotions that I think, for Tim, come right along with them. Simple lines like, “one way is still a way” or, in a newer poem, his girlfriend humming “a song whose words I’d only recently forgotten” sort of haunt my consciousness. It’s not just how he writes – it’s how he thinks, it’s what he notices, it’s maybe even what he elicits from others. On Friday, Tim came in from taking out the dog to report he’d had a brief exchange with our little neighbor girl. She revealed she had a blister on her foot. “Does it hurt?” Tim asked. She thought about it for a minute and said, finally, “If I cry it does.” Below is one of my favorite of Tim’s poems: Little Arithmetic 1, She suns on a hill, all the field becoming its color, horizon what she cannot feel but aligned, lighting the North Pole northerly. A green wind winds shoal to shoal, fallow coast, and spring piecemealing Spring, sewing leaves on a white camisole. 2, She and he and the lake are mostly water. Look—she won't take his shrug as such-and-such a sign—red pouring, pining for. A canoe, skinny trees as far as the eye projects summer spaces. She and he and water are 
t he color of whatever holds them. 3, The leaves are down, the leaves. The forest blows a window, a waiting-to-be. She thinks in red-green. He thinks brown, brown, brown. One of the things I love about Tim - as a poet, as a person - is his relentless pursuit (however unlikely any of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
I love reading about food. Cookbooks, blogs, essays, you name it. And since everybody eats and therefore thinks about food, you can find writing about food from novelists and poets, housewives and scientists, the affluent and the grossly underpaid. Young writers, old men, women who don’t necessarily think of themselves as writers, and some women – like the brilliant essayist M.F.K. Fisher – who changed the way Americans not just write but also eat and think about food. M.F.K. Fisher It’s hard to overstate the importance of M.F.K. Fisher’s contribution to American culture, especially to American letters. The poet W.H. Auden once said of her: "I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose."[1] No everybody knows her writing, but they know her legacy – for example, one of her most charming and fascinating books is a slim volume called Consider the Oyster. Her writing is effortlessly intelligent, which I admire very much, and it’s fiercely charming, which I also love. Without Consider the Oyster, the nineties and early naughties might not have seen the publication of similar meditations on a single food, its history and economic import, its culinary and cultural importance – books like Cod or Salt. Author David Foster Wallace certainly knew his M.F.K. Fisher – he cribbed her title for the essay he wrote for Gourmet magazine, ostensibly about the Maine Lobster Fest but really about ethical eating and the nature of pain, “Consider the Lobster.” When he compiled a whole book of essays, including that one, he used the title again for that volume. M.F.K. Fisher made some very astute culinary observations. (For example, she observed that almost everything about an entire cuisine can be reasoned or explained by considering the fat that cuisine predominantly uses in its cooking – the French preference for butter, which smokes at a very low temperature, explains a lot of the ingenuity that cuisine requires; Italian use of olive oil, which smokes low but not as much so as butter, determines many of that cuisine’s flavor combinations; many Asian cuisines prefer peanut or other nut oils that smoke at a very high temperature, so many of those cuisines include traditional dishes that exploit the possibilities inherent in cooking at very high temperatures. Some would argue that the Chinese “wok he” or “soul of the wok” is really just a clean enough oil over a hot enough fire.) But M.F.K. Fisher didn’t really write about food – it was ostensibly her subject, but mostly, she wrote about people. How to Cook a Wolf is about rationing during wartime, so it's also about wartime. And it's about courage, fortitude, and human resourcefulness. It's about dignity, and it's about identity. And all of her books work like this. Below is a short excerpt from the essay “Borderlands” which can be found in her collection, Serve It Forth. In the essay, she’s in Strasbourg with her husband, Al, who’s away most of the day on business. The weather... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
This past Christmas, my parents came out here to Utah for the holidays, and the four of us (myself, Joseph, and my mom and dad) went out to Bountiful, Utah for a dinner with Joseph’s folks at his grandmother’s house. Joseph’s grandmother ran a couple of restaurants in Salt Lake City for awhile – one of them, called Brad’s Café, served home cooking to a big lunch crowd of workers. A popular menu item was “Hot Hamburgers,” which Joseph remembers as “one bun and two patties, served as two open-faced burgers, smothered in brown gravy.” Brown gravy, by the way, is what cooks outside the Jell-O Belt might know as “pan gravy,” made from whisking a roux into the fat and juices and scraps left from roasting a bird or a rump roast or even pork shoulder. You can buy this in powdered packets labeled simply “Brown Gravy,” though that’s not what Joseph’s grandmother does. Joseph’s grandmother cooked daily for a crowd in the restaurant, and weekly for the crowd of family that gathered at her house for a traditional Mormon Sunday Dinner. Joseph’s grandmother is a sturdy, unapologetic woman whose basement has been the refuge for many a grandchild in various stages of transition, and whose generosity never falters; despite the fact that the fused vertebrae in her back make it almost unbearably painful for her to stand or work more than five minutes or so at a time, she presented us with a mountain of home-made cookies and candies, and a homemade dinner of spiral-cut ham, honey-glazed and glistening, slightly-opaque green Jell-O salad with whipped cream on top, as well as the kind of salad that has lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and vinagrette. There were white rolls and butter, Jane’s hot mustard (of course), and what my mother would call potatoes au gratin. “This looks amazing,” I said. Joseph’s father Frank said, grinning, “It looks like a Mormon funeral in here.” The casserole dish my mother would call “potatoes au gratin” Joseph’s family (and everybody who’s spent the requisite amount of time in the Jell-O Belt) would call “funeral potatoes”. They aren’t quite potatoes au gratin, though the principle is basically the same. Some people make them with cubed or scalloped potatoes (I slice them thin), some with grated hashbrown-style spuds. Some people use onions (I do), others prefer without. Often, funeral potatoes include a can of cream-of-something soup from the food storage (chicken is a popular choice, though I’ve also seen mushroom, broccoli, and asparagus). Since I don’t usually keep cream-of-whatever around, I just use sour cream. And then, of course, cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. Usually cheddar – I use sharp cheddar but I’ve seen them made with everything from Velveeta to Danish Fontina. Even my lactose-intolerant boyfriend can’t help but have a little. “But I love them,” he says later, with a tummy-ache, “they just don’t love me back.” Certain aspects of Mormon culture find their way into the lives of everybody who lives in... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
In the beginning of the film Napoleon Dynamite, the credits come up as a collage of weird culinary Americana – ketchup and tater tots, mustard and corn dogs, peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, cheeseburgers and mayonnaise, nachos studded with black olives. Plate after plate appears on a background of maroon shag rug, then baby-blue carpeting, then avocado green linoleum, and so forth. Blast from the past, bomb shelter fare, served in rooms decorated in a similar idiom. Set in Preston, Idaho, where writer-director Jared Hess grew up, Napoleon Dynamite comes right out of the Mormon Corridor, the so-called “Jell-O Belt,” that spans a certain area of America’s Intermountain West. It sort of radiates outward from Salt Lake City, Utah, reaching deep into Idaho and into Wyoming, very slightly into Colorado, trickling a little ways down through Arizona and then hopping by patches all the way down to certain parts of Southern California. This exceedingly beautiful part of America includes the surreal red rock deserts of Moab and Monument Valley, the sublime limestone cliffs of Zion and St. George, the lava-rich soils and aspen forests of the Grand Escalante, the eerie stillness of the Great Salt Lake, the rangey splendor of the Wasatch and Uintas, the windy high plains and ranchlands around Rock Springs and Laramie, the stubborn fields and pastures of Idaho all the way up through the formidable Grand Tetons. It’s dominated by some of the most beautiful and various and mysterious country in the world. The poet James Galvin, who has a ranch in Wyoming, has at times written about this land, the people who live there, its weather and its other weathering forces – a different portrait, perhaps, than Napoleon Dynamite. He writes in “Ponderosa,” The bolt came down like knowledge, but the tree did not explode or burn. It Caught the jolt and trapped it like a mythic girl. Its trunk was three Feet through lightning couldn’t blow the ponderosa into splinters, And couldn’t burn inside without some air. A week went by and we Forgot about it. 
But lightning is a very hot and radiant girl. When Heat bled out to bark, the tree burst into flame that reared into Silence under a cloudless sky. There does seem to be something about the land in this part of the world that inspires mythic thinking, or at least otherworldly thinking. The enigmatic rock formation from the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the bundle of hexagonal basaltic columns known as Devil’s Tower, an ancient volcanic plug (the volcano around it long since worn away) rising out of the flatlands of eastern Wyoming.[1] Devil’s Tower, Wyoming Much of this land was hard to settle, and harder still to scrabble a living out of. So much so that a lot of it remains very sparsely inhabited. Indeed, southern Utah was considered so barren and unnecessary (and its mostly-Mormon and otherwise Native American population so “Other”) that the U.S. government wasn’t too bothered about the fact that radiation... Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
It’s an absolute delight to be guest-blogging again here at Best American Poetry. I’ve just returned from a marvelous residency and a series of readings from the new book, and since I’ve been traveling I have found myself talking quite often – and often at my interlocutor’s behest – about Utah. Specifically, why do I live there (no, I’m not Mormon – I moved here for grad school in 2003), why don’t I leave (the mountains, the boyfriend, the good life, the job market), and what is it really like. We sometimes joke that Utah’s unofficial Chamber of Commerce slogan should be “Utah: Not nearly as bad as you thought.” But then, I should probably add that I myself have kind of an affinity for quirk, and there’s plenty that’s quirky in Utah. So this week I’ll be blogging about living in Utah, and specifically about food in Utah. Food is, I think, a marvelous lens through which to look at culture, and place, and philosophy, and well, maybe also poetry. I hope you have half the fun reading that I’m having writing these pieces…so without further ado… Welcome to the Jell-O Belt In 2001, the good people of Salt Lake City, Utah eked out their competitors in Des Moines, Iowa to become the number one consumer of Jell-O not just in Christendom, but in the whole wide world. The state legislature celebrated by drafting and passing a resolution that would make wobbly puddings, wiggly salads, and sugar-free hospital desserts the “official snack” of the Beehive State. To commemorate the occasion, Jell-O brand spokesperson and family-friendly comedian Bill Cosby made a visit to Utah, during which he declared, "I'm proud not because you are the number one in consuming gelatin, but because you are the number one family state," he said. "In consuming all of this pudding, you have said you are a state that brings family wherever you go."[1] A visit to the official website for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints will lead you swiftly to one of the central tenants of Mormonism. “The Family is Central to God’s Plan,” announces one headline, under which appears a quote from one of the church’s more important elders, David O. McKay, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” The vaguely threatening, implicitly judgmental tone is almost certainly deliberate – the LDS church runs a pretty tight PR ship. It is under the banner of “family” that many things are forbidden – R-rated movies, alcoholic beverages, gambling – and more tacitly disapproved of – radical politics, for example, and for some, even higher education. (A billboard on I-15 south from Salt Lake City to Provo shows a clean shaven, smiling young man who’s chosen an online education through a Mormon institution, instead of a traditional state university or private liberal arts college, “So he can spend more time with family.”) Monday night is the church’s official “family home evening,” and it is the faith’s general... Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Many thanks again to Stacey Harwood and the Best American Poetry Blog for having me as a guest this past week. It’s been really exciting and wonderful for me to have this occasion to muse about poetry and related subjects, and to have this community to muse it to. There were so many things I wanted to write about and couldn't possibly have gotten around to in the days and space of a week’s blogging, so rather than try to cram in one more, I thought I’d just propose a few of the questions and notions I’ve been kicking around, that others might kick them around with me, here or elsewhere in the world. I like lists, so… Some Things I Wonder About When I Wonder About Poetry Derrida talks about “the proxy of the sign” and Heidigger talks about the way language “calls” something absent into presence, but by needing the word in the first place, language reinscribes the absence. What is the relationship of language to absence? Better yet, what is the relationship of language to presence? What are the consolations of language? Something about language as an organ of perception. How the word “rosemary” tastes different than the words “blue paint”. How the word “soberly” weighs something different in the palm of the mind than the word “whim”. Something about attention. Every time we sat next to each other that week, we couldn’t even listen to the readers, we were both so busy attending to every moment our knees or fingers or shoulders didn’t touch. When we use the term “sentimental” as a form of derision, what is it exactly that we’re accusing a poem (or poet) of? Is it the overly familiar? The cliché, the kitch? Is it the overly candid, the naïve emotional outpouring? What’s the opposite of sentimentality, then? Is it restraint? That seems such a hard word, so correctional. So antithetical to Blake’s “exuberance is beauty.” Is it silence? Speaking of Blake, I love a good aphorism. Jim Richardson writes splendid aphorisms, like “All stones are broken stones.” Like “Who breaks the thread? The one who pulls, or the one who holds on?” To all of the teachers who feel I never learned anything from them: Take my word for it, it’s all in there. I keep relearning how much you taught me each time my life changes and I find I need this or that insight you imparted; each time I suddenly understand something I otherwise just remembered. So if it doesn’t show, it’s just because it isn’t time yet. Given the choice between a black cocktail dress and a good pair of jeans, I will choose the black cocktail dress every time. And yet I own five pairs of jeans. If you're having trouble writing, it’s probably because you’re having trouble accessing sensation, or possibly because something in your soul is a little off-kilter, or maybe for some reason you don’t feel safe. All of these problems, I find, can be... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks for always commenting, Jessie. (I know at least you and my mom are reading this!) :-) And thanks again for helping to make this opportunity for me. You are *wonderfulness*.
Japan As I hope we all know by know, a couple of weeks ago an earthquake of Richter scale magnitude 8.9 shattered Japan and bumped the sudden black flood of a tsunami out of the ocean’s depths, sent it pouring over the country, an archipelago which all-told has about the same land-mass as the state of California. Over 11,000 people died in this series of events, in whose aftermath a broken nuclear reactor in Fukushima is burning like a blaze in tree roots, threatening to erupt into a firestorm at any moment. Radiation is seeping into water and evaporating into rain clouds carrying trace ions as far as Boston to fall generally on the world. Babies in Tokyo can’t drink the water, apples grown miles from the power plant are totally unfit for human consumption, and now the radiation is beginning to appear as dangerous levels in the sea. Hundreds of billions of dollars of damage have been done to the nation’s infrastructure, decimating the economy of a country that was already feeling the chill of the current economic climate. With grace and stoicism, the people of Japan have pulled the dead from the rubble, the cars from the second and third stories of houses and buildings they were washed into, have bandaged the wounded and staunched the nuclear wound as best they can. It is always hard for us to imagine what effect a sudden and incomprehsible tragedy can have on a place, on the individual people who experience it. This isn’t a failure of imagination on our part, and it doesn’t make us callous or uncaring when we cannot muster a feeling of emotional identity with people who are suffering so acutely. In fact, I think even when we ourselves are suffering very acutely in the face of sudden and unbelievable tragedy, it is hard for us to feel emotional identity with our own experience. There is nothing to prepare us for the unbelievable. We have no ready response to absolute psychic devastation. To feel estranged from tragedy and suffering and loss is a way the mind has of keeping itself safe. It is why we have phrases like “unspeakable horror”. It is why we have phrases like “I am so sorry for your loss.” That last one is not a meaningless cliché, it is a way of saying “There’s just nothing I can say. But I want you to know, I care.” It is a phrase our family heard a lot of for awhile, after my partner Craig disappeared on a small island called Kuchinoerabu-shima, off the southern coast of Japan. When he was a kid, Craig’s father John was in the air force, and for awhile they lived on the American military base at Okinawa. Craig and his brother Chris were young, but Craig had memories of the place that were vivid and immediate in the way that only childhood memories ever can be – memories of a scorpion fish hovering just below the sea’s surface,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 1, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
She would indeed, I am a great admirer of Danielle's work! Thanks for mentioning her here!
Maledizione is a pun. Male means "bad" and "edizione" means "editions" or "issues", so the name of the press translates as "bad editions". But the word Maledizione itself means curse or hex, an act of utterance designed to bring about a magical result, like a dark spell. I thought it was a pretty clever name for a publisher!
For today, some poems by just a tiny few of the contemporary lady poets whose work I really enjoy and by whom I feel both influenced and bettered. Interview by Kathryn Cowles, from Eleanor, Eleanor, Not Your Real Name Interviewer: I'm going to ask you a question. There is a right answer, and I'm very serious, and I want you to answer seriously. Seriously, but also honestly. Here is my question: What do you do if you find a dead cat? Eleanor: Name it. Interviewer: Wrong. What do you do if you find a dead cat? Eleanor: Mouth to mouth, depending on the newness of its deceasedness, the likelihood of revivification, and whether or not it's an ugly cat. Interviewer: Wrong again. Eleanor: Was the cat on my property or my neighbor's? Eleanor: Is it summer or another season? Eleanor: Put it in the freezer to buy time. Interviewer: No, no, no. Eleanor: Light its cigarette. Eleanor: Ask it to light my cigarette. Eleanor: Brush its black, or grey, or tawny hair out of its eyes and shed a single tear. Interviewer: Stop it. Lies, all lies. Eleanor: Kill another cat so it has a friend. Eleanor: Show it photographs of my children. Eleanor: Actually, I have no children to show. Interviewer: This is not at all what I had in mind. Eleanor: Chalk a line around its silhouette for future reference. Eleanor: Of course, I'm assuming the dead cat is on the ground. Really, it could be anywhere. Eleanor: Up a tree, or nailed to the side of a building. Eleanor: Utilize catnip in creative ways until it stops playing dead, that old trick. Eleanor: Wait for Jesus to come. Interviewer: You never say what I want you to say. Eleanor: Taxidermy. Eleanor: Halo its head, lend it my wings. Eleanor: Are you listening? Eleanor: Do you really want to know? Eleanor: You can learn a lot about a person by asking. “I am in love, hence free to live” by Vera Pavlova, from If There Is Something To Desire, There Is Something To Regret (trans. Steven Seymour) I am in love, hence free to live by heart, to ad lib as I caress. A soul is light when full, heavy when vacuous. My soul is light. She is not afraid to dance the agony alone, for I was born wearing your shirt, will come from the dead with that shirt on. Camera Lucida by Claudia Keelan Though the photograph deceives The viewer is drawn to its light, Vision itself a device Where the world becomes An animated drawing. The lover, for example, is hollow in the middle, Standing beside the skeleton bones Of a 19th century hoopskirt. And though you can’t believe it, She’s you. The Door Opens by Martha Ronk, from Vertigo One painter put a thick white line where the door opens into the dark room and women make beads and light stripes the floor. Each time paint becomes light, we are asked to believe. The... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Languages are difficult. When we first moved to Rome I couldn’t speak a word of Italian, but I took classes and learned to talk for both of us. Once weekend we were wandering around this art installation at a villa outside of town. Someone introduced us to an Italian publisher from a press called Maledizione, I laughed at the name. He smiled. So you speak some Italian, he said. Not really, I said, but I’m learning. Me too, he grinned. I hear it’s a beautiful language. Wild onions grew in the yard, and wherever people stepped, the smell of crushed scallions rose into the sun-stung air. I think it was Rilke who said “everything worth doing is difficult.” Which is bollocks, by the way. There is nothing at all difficult about enjoying a good bacon sandwich, and it is absolutely worth doing. People sometimes say that Love is difficult. This, I think, is true. But I also think Love simplifies many other things – whether or not to get up in the morning, for example, who to call. Bernadette Mayer says, “Obfuscation bewilders old meaning.” When do we pass from difficulty to opacity; from opacity to meaninglessness? And what are the productions of meaninglessness? Say language is an organ of perception. Now, say “lemon”. Can’t you taste it? Remember the ancient Greek problem of the “heap”? Are two grains of sand a heap? Are six? Six hundred? Six-hundred and one? Which grain of sand transforms the accumulation into “a heap”? Surely, this matters more to the heap than to the sand. The Cantos are difficult. They’re difficult in a way that teaches me nothing except how to feel very, very small. Which, I suppose, is not really nothing. But Gertrude Stein is difficult in a way that teaches me to wonder why, after all, sugar is not a vegetable. It grows. Is flower feminine? It’s not a very manly word. But is asphodel? After we’d lived in Italy for a few months, I gave a reading at the house where Keats died. Afterwards, you and your son and I went out to dinner. On the way home from dinner, giddy with poems and wine and Sardinian food, we saw people rushing out of the internet shop where I always bought our bus tickets and phone cards. Then smoke, then a noise like the canon they fired each afternoon in the park down the street. Then all the glass cascading from the windows. I was afraid, I wanted to go home. No, you said, I think I saw who did it. We have to go see if we can help. I was mad at you, not because I didn’t want to help, but because it meant me speaking for us both again, since I alone was learning this new language. The caribinieri arrived. I talked, embarrassedly just listing words from the pages of a chapter on description: brown hair, black shirt, yellow how do you say? stripe. I said in Italian... Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Oh, thanks so much, Jim, for the exceedingly nice comment. I'm happy you found things to like!
America’s Next Top Poet So, I’ve been watching America’s Next Top Poet. If you haven’t seen it yet, there are things I don’t want to spoil for you, so I’ll just give you the basic premise. You can catch up on Hulu if you want – there are only two rounds left this season but each one’s gonna be a doozy. Basically, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, this is a spin-off of Tyra Banks’ wildly successful show, America’s Next Top Model. Alas, our version is a little less picturesque. First of all, a model is lucky if her career lasts until she’s 30 or 35, which is (by contrast) more or less when a poet can expect her career to begin. There are a couple of just-starting-their-MFA youngsters on the show. There are also a couple of contestants who came later to poetry. But for the most part, the baker’s dozen original contestants are emerging or recently-emergent poets in their later twenties to mid-thirties. The host and judge, aka the Tyra Banks of the poetry world, is a well-known writer whose career is by no means over, but who has begun to enter what can best be described as the retrospective phase of that career – a Collected under contract, maybe on faculty still but not really teaching much, starting to talk to an editor about what to do with all that correspondence. Somewhere, a grad student is writing a paper that features their work. I’m not telling who it is – you can guess, but I think you should just watch. I’m also not telling you who on the panel of judges is poetry’s counterpart to ANTM’s eccentric but likeable drag queen runway coach, Miss J. But I will tell you that apparently Paul Muldoon is the Nigel Barker of the poetry world, so you’re not totally in the dark. The show was originally going to film in New York City, but after the “NYC vs. MFA” debate, the producers didn’t want to be seen as weighing in too heavily one way or the other, lest they should alienate viewers. Instead, they decided that America’s Next Top Poet should be set in a small city on the Gulf Coast, ravaged by hurricanes and oil spills, in hopes that the presence of poets in that community would raise visibility and support economic prosperity. As you’ll see when you watch the show, as noble as this sentiment may be, this has mostly resulted in a series of ill-advised encounters with beleaguered locals that’s created an insurmountable town-and-gown antagonism between those attached to the show, and those attached to the town in which it currently takes place. There was one incident in a downtown dive bar involving a concealed weapon, a live chicken, a thermos of gin and tonic and a bad karaoke rendition of Erasure that has since become the stuff of reality TV legend, as well as an SNL sketch and a John Stewart punchline. Perhaps you saw the “Poets... Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Bex, not hex. Stoopid spellcheck.
I sort of think any of us are only as smart as the people we can convince to talk and argue with us. So, in this case, that would be you. Also, I totally could have 8 Miled that shite and I didn't. :). Baby cat says hi. Throw that slimy blue thing fr spoo and tell him his auntie hex loves him.
Jessie, You are so *totally* the person, and you deserve fullest credit because I can't stop thinking about our talk - I just didn't want to presume to represent you! I didn't want to get you wrong, which is also why I didn't try to put your words and arguments in - but do it here, in the comments! Do it! I'm not trying to be the only voice here, I'm just not sure I can represent anybody else's but my own. And say hi to Arthur. He's a charmer, math and all. I love you. Thanks for being such a good hostess and such a good friend. xo, Bex
Poetry Matters Thank you, Best American Poetry and Stacey Harwood, for inviting me to blog and muse here for the week. I’m really excited, and since this first post turned out rather long I want to promise that my intention is to post wildly various things all week. Tomorrow, thanks to a suggestion from Nicky Beer, I’ll be musing about what kind of reality TV show “America’s Next Top Poet” would look like. For now, since this is a conversation that came up this weekend (and I’ve been thinking on it ever since), below are some thoughts on why poets worry about poetry’s relevance. To all who take the time, thanks so much for reading. So I was just visiting some pals in L.A. And my friend has this book on her shelf. It’s called Can Poetry Matter? I have never read this book, but it seems like a strange title to me, in no small part because its author is, ostensibly, a poet. I imagine most poets would say, Well, yeah. But people seem to want to talk about this – can poetry matter, does poetry matter, how much, and to whom? In fact, the very friend who had this book on her bookshelf wanted to talk about it, so we sat down at her dining room table one afternoon and just talked about it. She is passionate, articulate, and anxious about this question. She and I didn’t answer the question, and I do not propose to answer it here. I don’t even really propose to examine it here. Rather, I want to examine – briefly – another question: Why is it that poets feel this question has such urgency? Might we even be doing poetry itself a disservice by insisting on revisiting this question over and over again? Might we be convincing ourselves and others that our art, plagued by fears of its own irrelevance, is ultimately doomed? I mean, nobody ever asks, can math matter? Nobody asks, can physics matter? Nobody argues that the current state of cell biology is very worrisome and we should talk about it. We don’t usually ponder the relevance of astrophysics or theoretical math. Or catechism or pizza or mountain biking, for that matter. Well, you might say, we don’t ask that because obviously cell biology and math and physics are useful, because mountain bikes are useful, pizza is delicious, and even religion is useful in devising communities or ethical codes (arguably, pizza is also good for this). What use is poetry? I perceive this as a very Puritanical anxiety, though the question about the role of the poet in society is as old as Republic X, and perhaps something about Plato’s banishment of the poets from his ideal state finds its way into our current anxieties. Perhaps all poets secretly feel like interlopers in an otherwise-virtuous world of even-keeled and industrious citizens. Perhaps Plato’s repudiation, based though it is on poetry’s emotional efficacy, rhymes with some deep-seated Puritanical anxiety about poetry’s... Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Mar 25, 2011