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Sandra Simonds
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Voyage to Cythera My heart is like a bird going on a sea voyage to find utter joy, the way a well-intentioned yet anemic adolescent pins a corsage through the paper nipple of his warped drawing of a young, freckled nude. And just like this, I, myself, radiate that sun-filled madness. So I must ask you, Felix, as we approach the island Cythera together on our funky canoe, why it is that if I feel so light and airy, Cythera is so dismal? As we paddle closer to the shore, the salt- encrusted crows, sonic warnings, caw and caw, and as I dip my bare feet into the weepy waters, and pull our boat to shore I hear, from the distant center of the island, the mud-caked yodeling of ancient men and women. Walking toward the center of Cythera, down its one path, whose dust chokes me, I see a sad procession of headless lovers, a few of them beating on tattered tambourines. As the music grows more intense, I find a scraggly pine tree to hide behind…and just in time! For behold these ghosts and their queen, Aphrodite, that terrible beauty with her obsessed face, who leads the procession towards the town square. Behold the ghosts who circle before her. If you have never seen a procession of ghosts kneeling before their queen, then you have lived a life without trouble. In a sudden state of horror, I turned back and, Felix, brother, guide, companion, father, mother, sister, Virgil, everything— you were gone! Alone here? Could this be true? To suffer the terror of abandonment? How shall I return to any green place, lush with tropical plants? How shall I return to Oberlin, Ohio, to my basement where I keep the drawings of Claire Madonna Smith, that innocent high school girl I love? For this is not an island of dreams but rather an island of suffocating nectars that drip from overgrown, deranged flowers. God, not this island, this weapon of illusions! Never did I think I could be its singular, living, object, the center of its circle of nothingness. I was holding onto a branch of the pine and it broke and the noise of the crack caught the queen’s attention. She looked at me and I could now see that her eyes were two endless black holes full of other black holes full of decimals full of numerals full of crystals full of dominos and land. She began to walk toward me and the blood in my body spilled into the holes that were her eyes and the holes that were not her eyes and the holes that were society and the holes that were not society and in that moment I realized that I was Cythera’s one luscious corpse, Aphrodite’s vibrant victim hanging upside down from a half-dead tree. I couldn’t even taste the vomit in my mouth as the ghosts surrounded me but Felix, I forced myself to look at the dirt of the earth... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
In the middle of a pool of falcons, I am voluptuous but lame. And marbles. And more marbles on the table. I wear a rose dress perfumed with lament. In this room, I have hurt myself so I become dangerous and even the mourner’s bouquet cannot save my wolf head. I am a cadaver, but what do I do with it? I am dead labor, but what do I do with it? It’s like having blood but no prey. My visions are pale gold shadows over my eyes which make my head just ache and ache like some sort of historic idiot. When night falls, I rest on this table and think about the white skin of revulsion. Oh on this bed, I am the secretary of abandonment. A rosary and coins of gold and the leg, the damned blue leg!— there can be no diamond skulls in the world after all. I am the portrait of my own provocations and what strange feelings of strangeness I have felt being here on this table. Oh I am elegant! But irritated. And everyone should desire me. Respond to me, Felix. Once you called me deranged and impure but I am the world and I am that strange creature inside of you, this mysterious table and hand and the constant eyeball of death. Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
For the last few years, I’ve shared and exchanged poems with a number of poets on the Post-Flarf listserv. What I love about the listserv is that I can send around poems that I think are atrocious. It’s a place where experimentation, writing bad poetry, posting “found” poems from the internet and writing highly “distasteful” poems is actively encouraged. I also like that the list isn’t about publishing poetry in magazines but rather sharing work with other poets in an open space. I asked poets who have been active on the list to talk to me about the aesthetics of Post-Flarf, the differences between Flarf and Post-Flarf and what they’ve found in common with fellow poets on the list. (The list is an open one, so if you are interested in joining, please email me at [email protected]) Sandra Simonds: I invited people to enter this conversation who are active on the Post-Flarf list but who have not been invited to the top-secret Flarf list. This is our revenge. What do you want to say to those people? Maurice Buford: The primordial Flarf List is a coterie of vampires. They are a secret bunker built atop a tree fort. Since its inception, many people have left the Post-Flarf group for what appear to be legitimate reasons I can no longer recall, and some have since rejoined. Go figure. Maybe it has to do with our haircuts. Sandra Simonds: No one commented on my poem, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. I guess it sucked. Tiffany Denman to Sandra Simonds: I liked that poem a lot but couldn’t get past the grape flavor of the title which sent me into a whirling discontent for which I blame Jada Smith. Following M-word 3, the poem is peerless perfection with penguins. Sandra Simonds: I wrote it to get through watching the movie. I sort of know that the poem sucks, but that’s how I feel about the majority of the poems that I’ve posted to the list. I started writing the Post-Flarf poems after work when my baby was asleep. I would have a glass of wine and writing them seemed to be a way to blow off steam and not worry about writing “good” or “serious” poetry. Anyone else feel this way? Tiffany Denman: I feel a similar release or freedom from pressure in writing Post-Flarf and I think there is a hilarity present in the poems we write/read in the group. But there’s also something very heady about them, too. I constantly think of the Apollo/Dionysus, Tate/Ashbury contrasts when considering Flarf/Post-Flarf/Conceptual. Smart smartasses. Sandra Simonds: None of us are that funny, so why are we on the Post-Flarf list? In fact, most of the poems from you guys seem to be sort of serious. Wait! Why are we on the Post-Flarf list again? Tiffany Denman: Let’s face it, none of us are comedian poets (thinking Eugene Levy, Doug Ross, wha?). There’s irony but not parody. No one, outside of, well, us may be... Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
How can iambic pentameter be anti democratic? super curiouso
Of course. Ron's contributions to poetry and thinking about poetry have been invaluable.
Interesting!I think that all of my examples argue that the sonnet does allow for a lot of variation. BUT then some people would argue that those sonnets are not sonnets--of course I think that those people tend to be reactionary conservatives so....
Want to make it clear that *I* don't think the sonnet is a fascist form. Rather, I think the idea of calling any form fascist is an interesting one and I hope that WCW did in fact say it, just because it's an interesting argument.
Thanks, Jilly.
hmmmm....maybe Diane is our key! Thank you.
but! I am sympathetic to Williams's statement (if he did in fact say it cause no one seems to know)since one of the ways to be new or "modern" is to break free from old forms, right? Pound would have never said this about the sonnet. Some of my twitter friends did dig up an interesting endorsement of the sonnet from Williams in regard to the poetry of Merrill Moore (who the hell is that?)...apparently a psychiatrist who wrote like 30 million sonnets.
A few years ago Cal Bedient and David Lau started publishing the incredible journal, Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion. I asked contributor, Joshua Clover, to say a few words about the journal and he told me the journal is one that “recognizes we are in a proto-revolutionary moment, not yet knowing what direction or character it will take, uncertain, anxious, but full of go-for-broke commitment. He went on to say that Lana Turner is not a journal “for those who wish to stand on the siding judiciously watching the trains rush by, discussing their character, imagining the best possible train. It is not a train for everybody (and I hope it stays that way!) and it is wildly imperfect. But it is happening.” Each issue of Lana Turner contains almost 300 pages of poetry, essays, artwork, experimental fiction and reviews that carry on the tradition of the left-wing avant-garde. One of the things I most like about the journal that many of the pieces are extremely opinionated so much so that I’ve found myself throwing a copy of the journal across my living room in exasperation (which is, in my opinion, a rare thing for a journal these days.) I sent David and Cal a few questions about the magazine and the following are their responses. At the end of the interview, you will find both editors’ bios and a sample poem from each. Enjoy. One of the things I most enjoy about Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion is that, while there’s a diversity of work, there seems to be an editorial direction that really unifies the journal. What are you looking for when people send you work to maintain, from issue to issue, this unity? Cal Bedient: We look for work that is alive, rare, difficult, arresting, you know the list. There are no new criteria and the old ones have been rehearsed ad nauseam. So let that be. We do not like work that says, “Like me; I’m human and unassuming just like you. I ask only a little of your time, a bit of appreciation for my hip intelligence, my sentiments, my (you may be pleased to discover) clever way with words and sounds. I ask for passive acceptance.” Strong poets want to discover how much can yet be asked of a poem—an inexhaustible question. Which is to say, how much can be asked of the author and the language. Terrifyingly, everything. The art is cruel, like all things excellent. No magazine of any length can be brim full of masterpieces but we feel we have been fortunate not only in the work we’ve solicited and work that has come to us unbidden. Much of the poetry in each issue is poetry, in Yeats’s plain, simple sense, of “the whole personality”—wholly engaged if not unified. We are somewhat elastic, however, when it comes to partial poetry if it is experimental or political: not that it can’t be both. The first, the... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Yes, but why stop there? A 500,000 line poem could be turned into 35,784.83345 SONNETS. Why not turn all LONG poems into manageable 14 line nuggets of JOY?
Yeah some has got to know where the fascist thing came from. Help us. I love Berrigan's sonnets but left him out because he gets sooooo much time and space whenever the sonnet comes up. Also interesting is how Dickinson and Whitman basically had no use for the sonnet while their contemporaries wrote so many of them (a lot of horrible ones, I should add). Check out "The Baby Sorceress" for example!
I guess it would be worse if you had a 500 line poem and someone said that you should turn it into a sonnet.
I know but don't you think it's catchy phrase--"a fascist form"? I want to say it over and over!
I know what you mean, to some extent. I feel very nervous every time I push the "publish" button on here. I think it gets easier the more you do it though. Maybe? Also, trying not to obsess over the idea of failure. Like what you say doesn't need to be perfect? I think that this way of thinking takes practice. I definitely need to work on it. Thanks for your honesty.
Leslie, I agree that there's a time issue with women who are raising children. (baby is crying right now in fact. Do I finish writing this reply or do I respond here?) All of these little choices pile up on a daily basis. Adrienne Rich is so good on this subject. Criticism takes such a sustained effort in terms of time (at least for me) that it's much easier to just not do it. Poetry, I can write much more quickly.
Awesome poet too. Everyone, check out Lorraine's poetry too.
Thanks! Looking forward to reading with you in the fall.
A similar situation the National Poetry Foundation's conference in Maine that I attended four years ago. Great conference but I lamented the fact that the conversations were dominated by men. (Also, seemed that there were wayyyy more men than women). Hope that changed this year. I really want to attend the next one (4 years from now) partially to see if this dynamic has at all changed.
I also like to interact with my friends who share articles etc on Twitter. Sometimes the interaction includes the original author, but usually never does.
Picture: Steve McCaffery, the structure of the sonnet I. Is the Sonnet a Fascist Form? Somewhere, supposedly, William Carlos Williams calls the sonnet “a Fascist form.” Can someone tell me if this is true? I asked a number of poet friends, looked and looked, but couldn’t find the quote ANYWHERE. Even if he didn’t write it, the phrase has an irresistible ring to it and lots and lots of poets agree that writing in any form is like being told what to do by an authoritarian jerk. But…wait a second…I’ve read poems by Fascists and the poems don’t look anything like sonnets. Not even close. All that those poems do is praise guns and airplanes in long, messy lines. So, what’s the deal? I guess even Fascists don’t write in Fascist forms. II. Sonnets and Power Now, it’s easy for me to fool myself into thinking that I’m in love so sometimes I get all tangled up in love triangles, squares and octagons. Maybe it’s a poet’s disease. Last summer my partner and I had a whole bunch of problems that eventually led to a seven month separation. During that time, I thought that I had fallen in love with a few men at the same time (all poets, of course, since they suffer from the same disease) which culminated in my buying a plane ticket (never used) to meet a man on the internet I’d never met who kept saying nice things to me (and my poetry) on Facebook. I know, I know—it’s pathetic and embarrassing but here’s the thing, at the same time as all of this messy stuff was happening, I was writing sonnet after sonnet so I couldn’t stop myself from getting involved deeper and deeper in all of these pretend romances because I swear to god it was totally helping my poetry. Auden talks about how Shakespeare‘s Dark Lady sonnets are all about the humiliation that comes with what he calls the “Vision of Eros.” Basically, what he says is that when the Dark Lady becomes a real person, and not an object that he can control, he gets frustrated because he never really liked her in the first place. He’s just trapped in his own sexual obsession and frustration. Exactly! I was never really in love with these men, but I did want them to want me, like it was a game, a game perfect for TRANSLATION into the sonnet form. In real life relationships people are always vying for power but in the sonnet, it’s the poet and the sonnet that are in a struggle to the death. The problem is that the poet is at a huge disadvantage because the sonnet has the history OF THE SONNET on its side and almost always wins. As Sina Queyras asks in an essay on the sonnet for the Harriet Blog: “Are you writing the “writing the sonnet or is the sonnet writing you?” III. How Do We Define the Contemporary Sonnet? There’s no consensus... Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you, JSA Lowe. One of my professors, David Kirby, taught a class called the "unworkshop" which was really fun. We basically wrote ANYTHING that wasn't poetry (reviews, complied a personal anthology etc).
Recently, a lot of attention has been paid to the fact that more men are being published than women. Because my sense is that there’s also a lack of women writing about poetry, I wanted to explore this topic in more detail with a number of women critics I admire. The following is the lively roundtable I moderated over the last few months between Sina Queyras, Elisa Gabbert, Shanna Compton, Juliana Spahr, Vanessa Place and Danielle Pafunda. * Sandra Simonds: For years, much was made of the male-dominated blog comment fields. I’m thinking particularly of Ron Silliman’s blog. It seems like currently group-run blogs are very popular—HTML Giant, Montevidayo and the Rumpus immediately come to mind. The comment fields still seem to be the “front lines” of poetry engagement. Are they still as male-dominated in these forums as they were during the “Silliman-era”? If so, can you hypothesize as to why? Elisa Gabbert: It really depends on the blog, who runs it and the kind of environment they create. I’ve seen plenty of blogs/websites that create a “safe” atmosphere for women, mostly by being quite obviously by, for, and about women – see The Hairpin or Jezebel. Her Kind, the new VIDA blog, seems to be an attempt to create a similar space for women writers specifically. The problem here, such as there is one, is that comment fields turn into a middle-school dance, with the girls huddled in one corner and the boys on the other. The “boys” don’t want to read and comment on the “girl” blogs because they’re either not interested or know they’re not supposed to be; the “girls” don’t want to comment on the “boy” blogs because the “boys” do their best to scare them away. The comments on HTML Giant, for example, are still dominated by young men, though the regular crew seems less aggressively aggressive than they used to be. Even on my blog (I’m the only author, I’m a professed feminist, and I am very welcoming to women who comment), I probably get two or three comments from men to every comment I get from a woman. I’m ambivalent about this reluctance of women to speak. On the one hand, I understand that they don’t want to get caught up in online arguments (it’s easy to fall into a hole and let it ruin your day) or risk being attacked, which is a very real risk. (Identify as a feminist online and you will be called stupid, whiny, boring, irrational, a bitch, a cunt, a dyke, a man-hater; you will be accused of being on PMS and needing to get laid; you may even be outright threatened with assault, rape, or murder.) On the other, if nobody speaks, then people remain ignorant. Speaking up to asshole idiots in comment fields is tough work and often pretty thankless, but I’m so grateful when I see someone else doing that work – it sets an example, it reminds us that everyone and everything doesn’t... Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2012 at The Best American Poetry