Category Archives: Books

Steve Kowit — Solo Monk

Tuesday morning, February 6

Linda and I went down to San Diego this past weekend to be at the wedding of my youngest nephew, Mitchell. Aimee and he got married outdoors in February, which would have been taking a considerable chance if this had been twenty years ago. I noticed in the late 1990s, however, that rainfall had already begun declining in winter months in Southern California. The years that I spent in San Diego (1997-2004) were fairly dry, and I yearned for more rain then, as much as I do now. Last winter’s rainfall seems to have been an anomaly, and we are back in an even worse drought than before.

If it had rained, Mitchell and Aimee had already arranged for a tent to cover the area of the ceremony and the four dozen chairs for their families and friends. Both of Mitchell’s siblings were there with their spouses. His older sister led a prayer-invocation, and I was very moved by the special touches of Latino customs at marriages, including the lighting of a single candle from the flame of two candles; the lasso’s symbolic joining; and the exchange of coins as a pledge of providing each other the necessities in the course of the contingencies of a life together.

Earlier in the day, we had had lunch in Solana Beach with Bill Harding, the publisher of Oak Garden Press, and his poet-wife Penny. Bill has also worked as a musician, and he told us of having collaborated with the late poet Steve Kowit when he read his poem, “Solo Monk.” There is a video available if you do a quick search: Steve Kowit Solo Monk.

Thanks to the nation’s ability to get caught up in a sports event, the traffic back the next day was very light, and we scooted home without having to speed up in the least.

“Best” U.S. Poetry Books, 2000 – 2020 (a list in progress)

“Best” U.S. Books of Poetry, 2000 – 2020 (a list in progress)

I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems – by Bill Knott (edited by Thomas Lux) (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2017) – NOTE: My choice for the best book of the year. All genres.

Imperfect Pastorals — Gail Wronsky What Books, 2017

Calligraphy / Typewriters: The Selected Poems of Larry Eigner, edited by Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier (University of Alabama Press, 2017)

So Where Are We? — Lawrence Joseph (FSG, 2017)

The Trumpiad — Cody Walker (Waywiser Press, 2017)

Waiting for the Light — Alicia Ostriker University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017

Enter Here — Alexis Rhone Fancher (KYSO Flash, 2017)

The Stars of Earth: New and Selected Poems — Emily Grosholz (Able Muse Press/Word Galaxy, 2017)

Whereas — Layli Longsoldier (Graywolf Press. 2017)

I Will Not Be A Butcher For The Wealthy — Anthony Seidman (Eyewear Publishing, 2017)

Moonglow á Go-Go: New and Selected Poems — Joan Jobe Smith (NYQ Books, 2017)

Quickening Fields – Pattiann Rogers (Penguin Books, 2017)

Star Journal — Christopher Buckley (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017)

Thousand Star Hotel — Bao Phi (Coffeehouse Press. 2017)

The Darkening Trapeze — Larry Levis, edited by David St. John (Graywolf, 2016)
NOTE: One of the extraordinary collections of the decade. A must-read.

Psychosis in the Produce Department — Laurel Ann Bogen (Red Hen Press, 2016)

Olio – Tyehimba Jess (Wave, 2016)

Questions of Poetics: Language Writing and Consequences — Barrett Watten (University of Iowa Press, 2016)
(NOTE: This book should be read simultaneously with any book on this list that you choose to sit down or stretch out with.)

Squander – Elena Karina Byrne (Omnidawn, 2016)

Porridge — Richard Garcia (Press 53, 2016)

Night Sky with Exit Wounds – Ocean Vuong (Copper Canyon, 2016)

Last Train to the Missing Planet — Kim Dower (Red Hen Press, 2016)

Pacific Standard Time: New & Selected Poems — Kevin Opstedal (Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Presse; 2016)

Wide Road to the Edge of the World — Jack Grapes (Bombshelter Press, 2016; Second Edition, 2017)

The City Keeps: Selected and New Poems 1966-2014 — John Godfrey — 2016

Border Music — Paul Vangelisti (Talisman House, 2016)

The Age of Reasons: Uncollected Poems 1969-1982 — Ted Greenwald; edited by Miles Champion (Wesleyan University Press, 2016)

The Couple Who Fell to Earth — Michelle Bitting. (C&R Press, 2016).

Partly: New & Selected Poems 2001-2015 — Rae Armantrout (Wesleyan University Press, 2016)

Sober Cooking — Lynn McGee (Spuyen Duyvil Press, 2016)

The Missing Museum — Amy King (Tarpaulin Sky, 2016)

A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed — Anthony Seidman (Eyewear Publishing. 2016)

In the Empire of the Air: The Poems of Donald Britton — Donald Britton (Nightboat Books, 2016)

Ask Me about My Poetry — Julien Poirier (City Lights, 2016)

The Swimmer — John Koethe (FSG, 2016)

Coastal Zone — Joe Safdie (Spuyten Duyvil, 2016)

Poems Hidden in Plain View — Hank Lazar (Presses Universities de Rouen, 2016)

Antidote for Night — Marsha de la O (Boa Editions, 2015)

Canto Hondo / Deep Song — Francisco X. Alarcon (University of Arizona Press, 2015)

The Official Language of Yes — Scott Wannberg (Perceval Press, 2015)

What Snakes Want — Kita Shantiris (Mayapple Press, 2015)

Sea-Level Nerve (Book Two) (Prose Poems) — James Grabill (LeGrande, Oregon: Wordcraft, 2015)

The Yellow Door — Amy Uyematsu (Red Hen, 2015)

Twin Extra — Doren Robbins (Wild Ocean Press, 2015)

How to Be Drawn — Terrance Hayes (Penguin, 2015)

As Luck Would Have It — Mark Weiss (Shearsman Books, 2015)

All You Ask For Is Longing: New & Selected Poems — Sean Thomas Dougherty (Boa Editions, 2014)

Conraband of Hoopoe — Ewa Chrusciel (Omnidawn, 2014)

The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven — Brian Teare (Ahsahta Press, 2015)

Earth — Cecilia Woloch (Two Sylvias Press, 2015)

Scattered at Sea — Amy Gerstler (Penguin, 2015)

The Voyage of the Sable Venus — Robin Coste Lewis (Knopf, 2015)

The Chronicles — Ramon Garcia (What Books, 2015)

Against Conceptual Poetry — Ron Silliman (Counterpath Press, 2014)

Panic Cure: Poetry from Spain for the 21st Century Forrest Gander, Editor & Translator (Otis Books/ Seismicity Editions, 2014)

The Chair — Richard Garcia (Boa Editions, 2014)

The Other Odyssey – Richard Garcia (Dream Horse Press, 2014)

Messenger to the Stars: A Luis Omar Salinas (New Selected Poems & Reader), edited by Christopher Buckley and Jon Veinburg. (Tebot Bach, 2014)

Open 24 Hours — Suzanne Lummis (Lynx House Press, 2014)

Towards the Primeval Lightning Field — Will Alexander (Litmus Press, 2014)

Like a Beggar — Ellen Bass (Copper Canyon, 2014)

I Want a Job — Carol Ellis (Finishing Line Press, 2014)

Ice Children — Edward Harkness (Split Lip Press, 2014)

Borderless Butterflies: Earth Haikus and Other Poems / Mariposas sin fronteras: Haikus terrenales y otros poemas — Francisco X. Alarcon (Poetic Matrix Press, 2014)

The Magicians Union — James Cushing (Cahuenga Press, 2014)

Revising the Storm — Geffrey Davis (Boa Editions, 2014)

Patter — Douglas Kearney (Red Hen Press, 2014)

Oh, Salt/Oh Desiring Hand — Holly Prado (Cahuenga Press, 2013)

Lightning Dialogues — Michael Kincaid (Nemesis, 2013)

Imaginary Burdens: Selected Poems — Michael Hannon (Word Temple Press, 2013)

Vital Signs — Juan Delgado (with photographs by Thomas McGovern) (Heyday/Inlandia, 2013)

Our Obsidian Tongues — David Shook (Eyewear Publishing; 2013).

A Wild Surmise: New & Selected Poems & Recordinss — Eloise Klein Healy (Red Hen Press, 2013)

Start with a Small Guitar — Lynne Thompson (What Books, 2013)

Bleed Through: New and Selected Poems — Michael Davidson (Coffeehouse, 2013)

Varieties of Religious Experience — Christopher Buckley (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2013)

Spiral Trace — Jack Marshall (Coffeehouse, 2013)

The Story of My Accident Is Ours — Rachel Levitsky (Futurepoem Books, 2013)

Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary — Harryette Mullen Greywolf Press, 2013.

Deep Meanings: Selected Poems 2008-2013 — Gerald Locklin (Presa Press, 2013)

Plume — Kathleen Flenniken (University of Washington Press, 2013)

The Cineaste — A. Van Jordan (Norton, 2013)

Even So: New and Selected Poems — Gary Young (White Pine, 2012)

Collected Poems — Ron Padgett (Coffeehouse, 2013)

Revelator — Ron Silliman (BookThug, 2013)

Spectrum of Possible Deaths — Lucia Perillo (Copper Canyon, 2013)

This Constellation Is a Name: Collected Poems 1965-2010 — Michael Heller (Nightboat Books, 2012)

Life on Mars — Tracy K. Smith (Greywolf Press, 2012)
(NOTE: This book was translated and published, in its entirety, in Mexico.)

Western Practice — Stephen Motika (Alice James, 2012)

Thrall — Natasha Trethewey (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)

The Naked Eye: New and Selected poems, 1987-2012 — Jack Grapes (Bombshelter Press, 2012)

Gaze — Christopher Howell (Milkweed Editions, 2012)

Tomorrow, Yvonne: Poetry & Prose for Suicidal Egotists — Yvonne de la Vega (Foreword by Ray Manzarek) (Punk Hostage Press, 2012)

Olives — A.E. Stallings (Triquarterly, 2012)

Walking Across a Field We Are Focused on at This Time Now — Sara Wintz (ugly duckling press (2012)

notes from irrelevance — Anselm Berrigan (Wave, 2011)

Music for the Black Room – Sarah Maclay (What Books, 2011)

Invisible Strings — James Moore (Graywolf, 2011)

Steady, My Gaze — Marie-Elizabeth Mali (Tebot Bach, 2011)

Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems — Michael McClure (edited, and with an introduction by Leslie Scalapino) (University of California Press, 2011)

THE GRAND PIANO: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography (Parts 1 – 10) — Rae Armantrout; Steve Benson; Carla Harryman; Lyn Hejinian; Tom Mandel; Ted Pearson; Bob Perelman; Kit Robinson; Ron Silliman; Barrett Watten (Mode A/This Press, 2010)

Two — Paul Vangelisti (Talisman House, 2010)

Mean Free Path — Ben Lerner (Copper Canyon, 2010)
(This book owes more than has been generally acknowledged to Barrett Watten’s poetry. Whether Lerner has read him or not, he’s absorbed much of the implications of Watten’s formidable and inspiring writing. The dispersal of a poet’s influence often leads casual commentary into overlooking the commitment required by those who prepared the way.)

Lighthead — Terrance Hayes (Penguin, 2010)

So Quick Bright Things — Gail Wronsky (What Books, 2010)

Usher — B.H. Fairchild (Norton, 2010)

The Judy Grahn Reader — Judy Grahn (Aunt Lute Books, 2009)

Odalisque — Mark Salerno (Salt, 2009)
(This book deserved a major prize.)

Styrofoam — Evelyn Reilly (Roof Books, 2009)

Lucifer at the Starlight — Kim Addonizio (Norton, 2009)

Easy — Marie Ponsot (Knopf. 2009)

Under the Quick — Molly Bendall (Parlor Press)

Upgraded to Serious — Heather McHugh (Copper Canyon, 2009)

TIRESIAS: Collected Poems — Leland Hickman (edited by Stephen Motika; afterword by Bill Mohr) (Nightboat/Seismicity Editions, 2009)

Hammers and Hearts of the Gods — Fred Voss (Bloodaxe, 2009)

Hilarity — Patty Seyburn (New Issues Pres, 2009)

Indigo — Ron Koertge (Red Hen, 2009)

The White Bride — Sarah Maclay (University of Tampa Press, 2009)

Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems Charles Harper Webb (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009)

Half the World In Light: New and Selected Poems — Juan Felipe Herrera (University of Arizona Press, 2008)

It’s Go in Horizontal: Selected Poems 1974-2006 — Leslie Scalapino (University of California Pres, 2008)

My Piece of the Puzzle — Doren Robbins (Eastern Washington University, 2008)

The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems 1951-1993 — Charles Bukowski (Ecco, 2008)

God Particles — Tom Lux (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

The Alphabet — Ron Silliman (University of Alabama Press, 2008)

The Messianic Trees: Selected Poems — Kit Robinson (Adventures in Poetry, 2008)

187 Reasons Mexicanoes Can’t Cross the Border —Juan Felipe Herrera (City Lights, 2007)

Desire — Lyn Lifshin (World Parade Books, 2008)

Backscatter: New and Selected Poems — John Olson (Black Widow, 2008)

The Age of Huts (Compleat) — Ron Silliman (Futurepoem, 2007)

Murmur — Laura Mullen (Futurepoem, 2007)

Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 — Robert Hass (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2007)

All that Is Not Given Is Lost! — Greg Kuzma (Backwaters Press, 2007)

Elegy — Mary Jo Bang (Greywolf, 2007)

Vertigo — Martha Ronk (Coffee House, 2007)

Beg No Pardon — Lynne Thompson (Perugia Press, 2007)

The Wind-Up Gods — Stefi Weisburd (Black Lawrence Press, 2007)

The Pleasures of the Damned — Charles Bukowski (edited by John Martin) (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2007)

The Kitchen Sink: New and Selected Poems 1972-2007 — Albert Goldbarth (Greywolf, 2007)

DRIVE: The First Quartet (1980-2005) — Lorna Dee Cervantes (Wings, 2006)

City Eclogue — Ed Roberson (Atelos, 2006)

Facts About the Moon — Dorianne Laux (Norton, 2006)

The Persistence of Objects — Richard Garcia (Boa Editions, 2006)

Toward the Winter Solstice — Timothy Steele. (Ohio University Press/Swallow, 2006

The Good City — Sharon Olinka (Marsh Hawk Press, 2006)

Red Snow Fence — Harry E. Northup (Cahuenga Press, 2006)

Days By Themselves — Brooks Roddan (Blue Earth Press, 2006)

Blue Guide — Stephen Yenser (University of Chicago, 2006)

A Wreath for Emmett Till — Marilyn Nelson (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

A Room in California — Laurence Goldstein (Northwestern University Press, 2005)

A Word Like Fire — Dick Barnes (Handsel, 2005)

My Nature Is Hunger: New and Selected Poems — Luis J. Rodriguez (Curbstone, 2005)

Ostinato Vamps — Wanda Coleman (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004)

Poems for Infidels — Gail Wronsky (Red Hen Press, 2004)

The Face: A Novella in Verse — David St. John (Harper, 2004)

The Temperature of This Water — Isle Yi Park (Kaya Books, 2004)

Sparrow: Poems — Carol Muske-Dukes (Random House, 2004)

Abracadabra — Eric Priestley (foreword by Quincy Troupe) (Heat Press, 2004)

The Urban Poems — David Hernandez (Fractal Edge Press, 2004)

The Subsequent Blues — Gary Copeland Lilley (Four Way Books, 2004)

Million Poems Journal — Jordan Davis (Faux Press, 2003)

Call Me Ishmael Tonight — Agha Shahid Ali (Norton, 2003)

Late — Cecilia Wolch (Boa Editions, 2003)

Collected Works — Lorine Niedecker (edited by Jenny Penberthy) (University of California Press, 2002)

Memoirs of a Street Poet — Frank T. Rios (Sawbone/Temple of Man, 2002)

The Splinter Factory — Jeffrey McDaniel (Manic D Press, 2002)
(It is worth noting that he is one of the few poets on this list to have a substantial number of poems translated into another language and published in a stand-alone volume in that language. Tom Lux is another such poet, as are Ben Lerner, Tracy Smith and Cecilia Woloch.)

Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry — Alan Dugan (Seven Stories, 2002)

walking barefoot in the glassblowers museum — ellyn maybe (manic d press, 2002)
NOTE: One of the best titles for a book of poems since Stephen Keller’s The Nostalgia of the Fortune Teller.)

Hip Logic — Terrance Hayes (Penguin, 2002)

Tsigan, The Gypsy Poem — Cecilia Woloch (Cahuenga Press, 2002)

Freud by Other Means — Gene Frumkin (La Alameda Press, 2002)

Embarrassment of Survival: Selected Poems 1970-2000 — Paul Vangelisti (Marsilio/Agincourt, 2001)

The Unraveling Strangeness — Bruce Weigel (Grove, 2002)

The Laugh We Make When We Fall — Susan Firer (The Backwaters Press, 2001)

The Street of Clocks — Tom Lux (Houghton Mifflin, 2001)

Mercurochrome — Wanda Coleman (Black Sparrow, 2001)

Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortunes — Francisco X. Alarcon (Creative Arts Book Co., 2001)

Rancho Notorious — Richard Garcia (Boa Editions, 2001)

Dying for Beauty — Gail Wronsky (Copper Canyon, 2000)

“Notes from Irrelevance” and “Revelator”

Friday, December 12, 2018

I have withheld two books from the list of “best” books of the current decade until this point so that they can receive a special note of commendation. It’s all too easy for a list to mute the distinctiveness of a particular item, and today I want to call attention to a pair of books that are each a single poem. From first line to last, each book is in the mid-sixties in terms of page length; these are books, therefore, that can be read at a single sitting, in the same way that one could listen to a double-album. You’ll want to have some liquid refreshment close by, though reading these books may well absorb you so thoroughly that you will neglect that sip of tea or ice water in favor of scribbling a note to yourself about your favorite lines. Of course, you might also find yourself wishing you had a manual typewriter, so that you could sit and type up a copy of the poem for yourself, slowing down your “impression” of the poem by imagining how each word arrived, unexpectedly, to the poem’s realm.

Notes from Irrelevance — Anselm Berrigan (Wave Books, 2011)

Revelator — Ron Silliman (BookThug, 2013)

(For those who know of my work as an editor and publisher, my interest in and preference for “long” poems will come as no surprise.)

BACKLIST (Best poetry books 2000-2010)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 — A follow-up list of best poetry books from the preceding decade

Lid Three

Several days ago, I posted a list of books worth looking at if you want to be part of a complicated discussion involving contemporary poetry. A few of the books I listed would probably be regarded as belonging to the category known as “difficult” poetry, which no doubt left some people wondering exactly where I stand. Like some people’s relationship, it’s “complicated.”

I know some poets don’t like “difficult” poetry, but I don’t hold that against them. Some of these poets have written work I truly admire. The late Steve Kowit, for instance, is one of those whose poems I often savor and reread, but he was still haplessly beating a dead horse the last time he read at the Long Beach poetry festival, in mocking the influence of critical theory on contemporary poetry. I had heard it years before, and it really wasn’t that funny then. To lambast the alleged deleterious effects of theory on contemporary poetry in this decade came across like a comedian in 1969 telling jokes about beatniks. Anachronistic humor is so tedious. (Fortunately, the best poems of Steve Kowit will be work that endures, in part because the emotions that these poems summon end up being difficult ones to think about.)

I often wonder how academic poets, especially those whose primary job is training aspiring poets in MFA programs, expect discussions about poetry not to be difficult. I’m not just referring to the acolytes of Billy Collins, by the way, whose anecdotal, mildly humorous verse has worn all too thin, all too quickly. Metrical verse can be “difficult,” too, and poets who espouse avant-garde poetics often flounder when they encounter metrical verse. For that matter, all too many MFA teachers seem to have no idea of what a caesura in a line of metrical verse actually does. I am not, under any circumstances, defer to the massive and inexcusable ignorance that seems to be acceptable at the university level right now. If you can’t hear the poem, then you haven’t read it. Then, too, if you’re one of these purists who has to have it one way or the other, then take your homogeneity elsewhere and clone away, baby, clone yourself away into insipidity. I intend to have the best of both ways.

I’ve been fine-tuning the list for the current decade, and in the process discovered that I had mistakenly assigned one book to the “backlist” of the previous decade’s “Best of.” Ultimately, by 2020, what I aspire to compile is a list of books that will intrigue those who read contemporary poetry enough to make them want to investigate the unfamiliar titles. As a brief installment of books that will certainly be substantial contenders for that final list, and which appeared in the first decade of the century, here goes:

Mean Free Path — Ben Lerner (Copper Canyon, 2010)
(This book owes more than has been generally acknowledged to Barrett Watten’s poetry. Whether Lerner has read him or not, he’s absorbed much of the implications of Watten’s formidable and inspiring writing. The dispersal of a poet’s influence often leads casual commentary into overlooking the commitment required by those who prepared the way.)

Lighthead — Terrance Hayes (Penguin, 2010)

Odalisque — Mark Salerno (Salt, 2009)
(This book deserved a major prize.)

Lucifer at the Starlight — Kim Addonizio (Norton, 2009)

Easy — Marie Ponsot (Knopf. 2009)

TIRESIAS: Collected Poems — Leland Hickman (edited by Stephen Motika; afterword by Bill Mohr) (Nightboat/Seismicity Editions, 2009)

Hilarity — Patty Seyburn (New Issues Pres, 2009)

Indigo — Ron Koertge (Red Hen, 2009)

It’s Go in Horizontal: Selected Poems 1974-2006 — Leslie Scalapino (University of California Pres, 2008)

The White Bride — Sarah Maclay (University of Tampa Press, 2009)

Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems Charles Harper Webb (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009)

Half the World In Light: New and Selected Poems — Juan Felipe Herrera (University of Arizona Press, 2008)

My Piece of the Puzzle — Doren Robbins (Eastern Washington University, 2008)

God Particles — Tom Lux (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

Backscatter: New and Selected Poems — John Olson (Black Widow, 2008)

The Alphabet — Ron Silliman (University of Alabama Press, 2008)

The Messianic Trees: Selected Poems — Kit Robinson (Adventures in Poetry, 2008)

187 Reasons Mexicanoes Can’t Cross the Border —Juan Felipe Herrera (City Lights, 2007)

The Age of Huts (Compleat) — Ron Silliman (Futurepoem, 2007)

Murmur — Laura Mullen (Futurepoem, 2007)

Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 — Robert Hass (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2007)

All that Is Not given Is Lost! — Greg Kozma (Backwaters Press, 2007)

Elegy — Mary Jo Bang (Greywolf, 2007)

Vertigo — Martha Ronk (Coffee House, 2007)

The Wind-Up Gods — Stefi Weisburd (Black Lawrence Press, 2007)

The Pleasures of the Damned — Charles Bukowski (edited by John Martin) (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2007)

DRIVE: The First Quartet (1980-2005) — Lorna Dee Cervantes (Wings, 2006)

Facts About the Moon — Dorianne Laux (Norton, 2006)

The Persistence of Objects — Richard Garcia (Boa Editions, 2006)

Toward the Winter Solstice Timothy Steele. (Ohio University Press/Swallow, 2006)

Red Snow Fence — Harry E. Northup (Cahuenga Press, 2006)

A Wreath for Emmett Till — Marilyn Nelson (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

A Word Like Fire — Dick Barnes (Handsel, 2005)

Ostinato Vamps — Wanda Coleman (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004)

The Face: A Novella in Verse — David St. John (Harper, 2004)

The Temperature of This Water — Isle Yi Park (Kaya Books, 2004)

Sparrow: Poems — Carol Muske-Dukes (Random House, 2004)

Late — Cecilia Woloch (Boa Editions, 2003)

Collected Works — Lorine Niedecker (edited by Jenny Penberthy) (University of California Press, 2002)

Memoirs of a Street Poet — Frank T. Rios (Sawbone/Temple of Man, 2002)

The Splinter Factory — Jeffrey McDaniel (Manic D Press, 2002)
(It is worth noting that he is one of the few poets on this list to have a substantial number of poems translated into another language and published in a stand-alone volume in that language. Tom Lux is another such poet, as are Ben Lerner, Tracy Smith and Cecilia Woloch.)

Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry — Alan Dugan (Seven Stories, 2002)

walking barefoot in the glassblowers museum — ellyn maybe (manic d press, 2002)
NOTE: One of the best titles for a book of poems since Stephen Keller’s The Nostalgia of the Fortune Teller.)

Hip Logic — Terrance Hayes (Penguin, 2002)

Tsigan, The Gypsy Poem — Cecilia Woloch (Cahuenga Press, 2002)

Embarrassment of Survival: Selected Poems 1970-2000 — Paul Vangelisti (Marsilio/Agincourt, 2001)

The Laugh We Make When We Fall — Susan Firer (The Backwaters Press, 2001)

The Street of Clocks — Tom Lux (Houghton Mifflin, 2001)

Mercurochrome — Wanda Coleman (Black Sparrow, 2001)

Rancho Notorious — Richard Garcia (Boa Editions, 2001)

No one should think, by the way, that having a book just listed means that everything he or she has written deserves equal attention. Past success is not a reliable indicator of future success, at least in art. In sports, past success can be useful in creating gambling odds (for bettors) and WAR (“Win above replacement”) statistics (for coaches). In poetry, past success more typically is a source of bewilderment. How did a poet who wrote many very fine poems (among some of the best of his generation, in fact) in Shadow Ball turn out such a mediocre collection of poems in Brain Camp? One can only hope that it was a temporary lapse, and that his next book will mark him as comeback poet of the decade. This falling off, however, should not efface the level of accomplishment in Shadow Ball. With the exception of a few poets, Webb’s poetry is far better than the bulk of the work published by Tupelo Press, for instance. I will have more to say about that press in a future post. In the meantime, rest assured that the absence of its books from my list is not an accident.

A Lake on the Earth / A Word Like Fire

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 – Robert Mezey and Dick Barnes

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A LAKE ON THE EARTH / A WORD LIKE FIRE

I’ve been keyboarding material in a pamphlet I issued back in late 1982 that served as a catalogue for Momentum Press. I wanted to do a mailing to libraries in hopes of generating more book orders, since surprisingly few libraries were ordering volumes of poetry that certainly deserved a place on the shelf next to the ones that were winning the big book prizes. Indeed, one of the books I had published in 1980 had landed on a list of five finalists for the best book of poetry published that year. I have no doubt that the editors and publicist at Knopf had never heard of Leland Hickman’s Great Slave Lake Suite until the day that title appeared in the finalist list. Many of the other titles I published deserved equal attention, and some had received resoundingly respectful notices. There were enough such reviews, in fact, that I felt I might improve sales if I put together an overview of the press up to that point. About two years earlier, I had done a joint catalogue with Dennis Koran’s Panjandrum Press and Mudborn Press (edited by Judyl Mudfoot and Sasha Newborn) in Santa Barbara, and that had generated some sales, so it made sense to try it again. (Unfortunately, the recession of Reagan’s first term of office had a devastating effect on small presses and bookstores, and Momentum Press never recovered.) In creating computer files of excerpts from two dozen reviews of Momentum Press books the past couple days, I have once again realized how fortunate I was to have so many talented poets entrust me with their work.

Indeed, it is only in recent years that I have fully appreciated what a large percentage of the writers, whose debuts I gave precedence to, proved to be individuals possessing an enduring and substantial talent. The number of novels or books of poems produced since the late 1970s and early eighties by Jim Krusoe, Alicia Ostriker, Kate Braverman, Holly Prado, James Grabill, Jim Moore, and Michael C. Ford far outpaces the production of most authors associated with typical small press of that period. Equally unusual are the instances in which the poets I published achieved some measure of posthumous recognition; Leland Hickman and Dick Barnes most certainly fit that category. Lee Hickman was on the verge of being forgotten as a poet, until I nominated him to Stephen Motika at Poets House in NYC. Stephen’s Nightboat Books collaborated with Seismiscity Editons at the Otis College of Art and Design to published TIRESIAS: The Collected Poems of Leland Hickman at the end of the past decade.

Today, though, I want to point to another poet whose work received some glowing reviews, but only after he died. I hope I don’t end up sounding too aggrieved at this development, but I must admit that it was difficult to repress an internal rant about the tardy praise for Dick Barnes’s poetry that I read online yesterday in venues such as Ploughshares, New Yorker, and the Library of America blog. Donald Hall and Tom Sleigh are full of praise for Dick Barnes in the 21st century, but where were they when I published A Lake on the Earth in 1982? If anyone deserved more attention at that point, it was Dick Barnes, but he was one of the most modest men I ever met, and modesty has rarely helped anyone achieve immodest literary stature.

Is there a lesson for young writers in the survival of Barnes’s poetry? Well, it might be a good idea to find a friend who respects and cares enough about your work to keep speaking up for it. If it weren’t for Robert Mezey, in fact, Dick Barnes would not be visible at all right now, except in the backlist of Momentum Press and a few other even more underground projects. Here are the links to the notices on Barnes’s A Word Like Fire, which was edited by his good friend – and most extraordinary poet himself – Robert Mezey. Let me pause and say it here, since I don’t see it said often enough in places that should know better: Mezey is among the dozen or so poets in the past half-century who have written truly memorable poems. I first heard him read at San Diego State in the spring of 1968, and he has remained a model of devotion to poetry as the supreme art of the imagination ever since. In the course of speaking up for other poets, both as an editor and translator, he has not surprisingly been neglected in terms of appropriate honors for his own poetry. If anyone deserves the George Drury Smith Award, for instance, it is Robert Mezey, but I fear that reading is mainly fashion these days. That Mezey reads and speaks up when the work merits praise, regardless of the writer’s so-called reputation, is one of the traits that Mezey shared with his former colleague at Fresno State, Philip Levine. While Levine is certainly one of the most prominent figures in American poetry, it is Mezey I find myself thinking more of these days, and wishing that I could have studied with him. Indeed, at the very least, I wish I could find the money to have him come and give a reading at CSU Long Beach.

By the way, there are two poets the equal of Dick Barnes who are missing from the list I posted the other day. I know of two other poets who are long-time friends of these two missing poets who would spot each absence right away. I doubt, however, there is anyone who can name them both. And so it goes….

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/08/29/a-word-like-fire-selected-poems

https://www.pshares.org/issues/spring-2005/word-fire-dick-barnes

http://blog.loa.org/2011/10/tom-sleigh-on-dick-barness-word-like.html

Finally, I wish to note that on the Amazon company’s page on which A Word Like Fire is advertised as still available, one can read the comment to the effect that all future anthologies should contain Barnes’s poems. Apparently, no one takes this kind of pronouncement seriously, since as far as I know only Suzanne Lummis, Robert Mezey and myself have included Dick Barnes in their anthologies. Odd, isn’t it, that all three of us live in Southern California, supposedly a place with little capacity for literary discrimination?

An homage to William Gass — Happy New Year

December 31, 2017

I can’t pretend it’s been an easy year. The second half of the previous year was a truculent wayfaring in which I barely managed to extract my mother from the dire circumstances in which she had voluntarily committed herself. Salvaging her meager estate was no small challenge, and I found myself last January on my hands and knees, shoving into garbage bags the detritus left behind by a sibling. The year ended with my sister-in-law’s belabored passing, and then the sudden death of a much admired colleague.

Yesterday evening, though, I received a link to an article that has just been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, a publication which I supported with monthly donations for quite some time, but which I no longer have the luxury of doing. I assume that others who are prospering more in this so-called “boom” economy will pick up the slack. Any publication that carries articles such as Chuck Rosenthal’s homage of William Gass deserves to survive without having to hold constant fundraisers.

If you wish to pour yourself a nostalgic libation, and savor some fine writing, here is a link that will give you a glimpse at how writers manage to find each other when they most need that abutment.

Models of the Universe:  In Memory of William Gass

Happy new year!

Larry Eigner — “calligraphy / typewriters”

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

ENDLESS SONG RETURNING: Selecting the “Selected Poems of Larry Eigner”

In the second half of the 1970s, several poets I talked to mentioned at some point how the Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara (first published in 1974) did not include many of the poems they had grown fond of through their extended reading of O’Hara’s Collected Poems, which had appeared three years before the condensed version. When I conducted an interview by mail with Donald Allen, I deliberately kept away from any question that might have irked him, and yet I wish he had been willing to talk, in the mid-1990s, on record about his editing of O’Hara. He was notoriously reluctant to answer autobiographical questions, however, and I felt fortunate to get any substantial information from him about his childhood and youth. There has been a subsequent Selected Poems of O’Hara, though I don’t expect to have spent much time with it until I get around to writing an essay on FOH.

I suspect that sometime in the mid-2040s there will be another “Selected Poems of Larry Eigner,” whose four-volume set of Collected Poems will provide much to choose from. I was recently given an early Christmas present by my esteemed colleague at CSULB, George Hart, in the form of a copy of Calligraphy / Typewriters: The Selected Poems of Larry Eigner. Geroge knew of my interest in Eigner’s work because I hauled back, from some academic conference at the start of this decade, all four volumes that Stanford University Press had published, at a considerable discount, I am happy to report. Professor Hart has been working on a project involving Eigner’s letters, some of which have been published in Poetry magazine, and at one point I volunteered to let him borrow my set of Eigner’s volumes so that he could refer to it in his school office and keep his own personal copy to work with at home.

Calligraphy / Typewriters will no doubt be the primary source for Eigner’s poems for the rest of this decade and all of the next one, and it certainly accomplishes one of its major purposes: to make more of Eigner’s poems part of the postmodern canon that is taught in colleges and universities. (Less and less poetry is taught at the high school level, and it is highly unlikely that Eigner’s poems will be read by anyone but a very precocious epebe at the second level.) For those who first became acquainted with Eigner’s poetry through Donald Allen’s classic anthology, it might come as a slight surprise to realize that the first poem by Eigner in that volume, “A Fete” (dated by Allen as written in July, 1951) is not included by Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier in the Selected. Nor are three other poems favored by Allen included in Eigner’s Selected: “A Gone”; “Passages”; and “Keep Me Still for I Do Not Want to Dream.” In a similar pruning, Allen’s sequel to NAP, The Postmoderns, included nine poems by Eigner, at least three of which are not in calligraphy typewriters.

I don’t have the time right now to do what is the most obvious piece of research: what other anthologized poems by Eigner are not included in this Selected? This is not necessarily meant to be a criticism of Faville and Grenier’s editorial choices. If anything, it is meant to call attention to the considerable challenge they faced in assembling this collection for the University of Alabama Press. It is, in fact, the mark of a major poet that no one can agree on a list of their best poems or be amicable about which ones serve as most representative of the poet’s major themes. I am always dismayed at how many of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson are not included in anthology selections.

If I were to draw upon this collection as a source for an anthology of postmodern poetry, and limit myself only to this volume, here is a list of the poems that would make my short list of Larry Eigner’s representative work:

“a poem is a” – page 123 (September 4, 1967)
“p o e t r y” (for Jane Creighton) – page 235 (November 26, 1974)
“the reality behind” – page 183 (June 23, 1971)
“how it works” – page 188 (July 26, 1971)
“shadowy / gesticulations” – page 189 (August 30, 1971)
“space space space space” – pages 306-307 (February 5-13, 1986)
“the snow / bank / melts” – page 120 (March 14-24, 1967)
“head full / of birds the languages / of the world” – page 121 (March 30 – April 23, 1967)
“the flock / on the ground” – page 241 (9/12/75)
“the street / plastered with leaves” – page 132 (November 3, 1967)
“many how a” (for Clark Coolidge) – page 232 (July 2, 1974)
w i n t e r – page 196 (December 23, 1971)
“finishing” – page 212 (October 24, 1972)
“a full life” – page 195 (December 19-21, 1971)
“far” – page 233 (October 10, 1974)
“the / frosted car” – page 245 (12/24/75)
“hills” – page 261 (September 24, 1978)
“earth slopes and” – page 264 (March 7, 1979)
“anything” – page 200 (March 24, 1972)
“morning / again” – page 321 (June 4, 1991)

The poem dated September 24, 1978 is the initial one in the “Berkeley” section of calligraphy typewriters. I remember first seeing that poem in Ron Silliman’s blog, on September 18, 2007. Silliman described the poem as consisting of “five nouns” and insisted that the poem “can’t really be read any other way.” I remain skeptical of that claim, since my first internal embodiment and registration of that poem was to hear “clouds” as a verb. The shift and merge of noun and verb in that poem is precisely the “readiness” called in the title of the book in which that poem was first collected. As a parallel demonstration of blending, the same emphatic nominative repetition occurs in the middle of the poem “the reality behind,” in which a poetics that intertwines subject and predicate reveals an image worth depending on.

Anyone intrigued by Eigner’s poetry would be well advised to scour anthologies of the past half-century to see what other poems have been nominated as worthy of repeated readings. Most certainly the ones chosen by Allen deserve to be set alongside those in Calligraphy / Typewriters, and I hope that an expanded version of this volume includes Allen’s choices. For that matter, so does a compressed version of this volume need Allen’s choices, too.

All this aside, however, it cannot be emphasized enough what a fine job Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier have done in conveying the incremental wisdom to be found Eigner’s poems through a successive arrangement faithful to his development as a poet. Grenier, who is one of least appreciated and most intriguing poets in the United States, and Faville have made their task look easy. I would like to add that it was gratifying to see a continuity in the contributors to this project. The late Leslie Scalapino’s O Books Fund supported this book’s wherewithal, and George Mattingly, the legendary publisher of Blue Wind books, chipped in with cover design. My congratulations to both of them for an outstanding job.

Charles Bernstein, one of the Modern and Contemporary Poetry series editors at the University of Alabama Press (along with Hank Lazar), makes an astute decision to write a concise introduction. My only quibble with that self-imposed limitation is that he doesn’t remind the reader sufficiently of Eigner’s debt to Williams. The use of “again,” for instance, as a pivotal enfolding most probably derives its impetus in Eigner’s poetry from the end of Williams’s reductive version of his own poem:

come
white
sweet
May

again

And while all of the poets named by Bernstein are indeed part of the conversation to/from/in which Eigner scoured his faceted diction, so too we find other unexpected voices enlarging Eigner’s context, for Eigner indeed was a poet with “a mind of winter,” wo most certainly saw the nothing that was is there, and the nothing that is. Once again, however, I would not want my own idiosyncratic engagement with this book to distract readers from what truly deserves our applause. The paragraph by Bernstein that flows from page x to page xi, the one that begins “Eigner’s work offers,” is an absolutely brilliant piece of insightful recognition.

Finally, I would note that the blurbs on the first inside page are all by men. Is there no other woman poet-critic other than Lyn Hejinian who is willing to speak up for Eigner’s poetry? In asking this question, I am not so much referring to commentary before the book’s publication, but serious writing about it in the decade to come. If a young female critic wants to become the next Marjorie Perloff, a chapter-length article on Eigner would be a good place to start.

(Note on Eigner’s poems in The New American Poetry: Of his nine poems, perhaps it is just a coincidence that both the first one and the last one feature automobile imagery in their opening lines: “Now they have two cars to clean” is the opening line of “Do It Yrself”; and “A Fete” begins “The children were frightened by crescendos / cars coming forward in the movies.” On the other hand, perhaps Allen was (unconsciously?) responding to Eigner’s physical limitations and embellishing his “image” of mobility’s kinship by invoking a car culture that was certainly a major trope for many of the poets featured in this anthology.)

POEMS SELECTED FOR THE FOLLOWING PAIR OF ANTHOLOGIES

The New American Poetry

A Fete
Noise grimaced
B
Environ s
O p e n
A Gone
Passages
Keep me still, for I do not want to dream
Do it yrself

THE POSTMODERNS

“from the sustaining air” (February, 1953; SP 8)
Do it yrself
“the dark swimmers” (July, 1954; CT: Selected Poems, 10)
“the wind like an ocean” (“the wind an ocean”; August, 1965; CT: Selected Poems, 101)
Letter for Duncan (August 31, 1959; CT: Selected Poems, 35)
“flake diamond of / the sea” (May 14,1960; CT: Selected Poems, 59)
“That the neighborhood might be covered”
“I have felt it as they’ve said” (September,1954; CT: Selected Poems, 54)
“don’t go”
“the bare tree / alternate”

The Garden City Horse Sculpture

Friday, December 8, 2017 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)

The transition from graduate student to faculty is perhaps even harder than writing one’s dissertation, if only because the time allotted to turn one’s attention from the latter task to the former endeavor is so brief. No sooner had I finished defending my dissertation in the late spring, 2004 (and it was not a slam-dunk; not everyone on my committee believed that what I had written deserved their signature) and submitting a revised version to the graduate office at UCSD than I was heading to Idyllwild to teach for six weeks, and then back to San Diego to teach a summer extension course in poetry, all the while packing to head to Lynbrook, New York and teach English as a Second Language at Nassau Community College.

The drive from where Linda and I lived in Lynbrook to the NCCs campus was about nine miles on surface streets, and one day we ended up taking a different route. About three miles from the campus, we noticed a park with a statue of a horse and got out and took some photographs.

IMG_0075

“Welcome to the Village of Garden City” declares an oval sign, at a spot on its breastbone where a medallion might hang. NCC was in Garden City, a place I’d first heard of when I looked on the copyright pages of books published by Doubleday, and saw its headquarters listed as Garden City, New York. The company was located on Long Island for about three-quarters of a century (1910-1986) and I believe the building it occupied on Franklin Avenue is still in use.

IMG_0084

As a youth, I had not the slightest idea where Garden City might be, nor did I care. It seemed odd to me that a publishing company in New York wouldn’t be located in Manhattan itself, but with the exception of a half-dozen writers, Doubleday’s authors were never of much interest to me. That Doubleday found itself being packaged and repackaged as part of the corporate expansion into the cultural domain was hardly a surprise. I don’t know of many people who worry that its backlist might perish from the conversation (e.g., Form and Value in Modern Poetry (Doubleday Anchor) by R.P. Blackmur; or the poems and essays of Robert Graves).

Linda and I remember the statue of the horse with bemused affection, though. While we passed by that park just that once, the occasion in retrospect still seems more than a droll chance encounter. I suppose it might be thought of as kitsch, and yet is it any less appealing than the work of Jeff Koons? He should be so lucky as to have this piece of work to his credit.

IMG_0083

Kevin Opstedal’s Poems in the San Diego Reader

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Three New Poems by Kevin Opstedal

https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/dec/06/poetry-you-swan-dive-spoonful-drano/

Several months ago, the poetry editor of the San Diego Reader wrote me and requested that I spread the word that he was looking for submissions, and so I contacted several of my favorite poets on the West Coast, ranging from Carol Ellis in Portland and Kevin Opstedal in Santa Cruz to Cecilia Woloch and Gail Wronsky in Los Angeles. I have just heard from Kevin Opstedal that the current issue of the San Diego Reader features three of his poems: “Mona Lisa in a Sombrero”: “Spilling the Kool-Aid”; and “Folded into the Azure Origami of Twilight’s Last Gleaming.”

Opstedal’s poems have been published in a multitude of chapbooks as well as larger volumes, and he was one of the poets featured in a recent anthology I co-edited with Neeli Cherkovski, “CROSS-STROKES: Poetry between Los Angeles and San Francisco.” You can find my commentary on Opstedal’s work in entries in this blog on January 28, 2016 (“The Poet Laureate of PCH”) and April 21, 2017 (a review of “Pacific Standard Time”).

https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/dec/06/poetry-you-swan-dive-spoonful-drano/

Tim Reynolds, Paul Blackburn and the Archive for New Poetry

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Tim Reynolds, Paul Blackburn and the Archive for New Poetry: Now Online

I met the poet Tim Reynolds back in the early 1980s. He was working as a word processor for ARCO in DTLA and living in a SRO hotel not far from the Japanese-American Museum and the Temporary Contemporary. I don’t remember how I met him, though I do remember the first poem of his that I ever read, in the September, 1967 issue of Poetry magazine.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=30713

I was 19 years old, and it still makes me flinch to think of what a hapless ephebe I was. Not that I wasn’t trying. With floundering attention, I had stood in the aisle of the library at Southwest Community College the previous spring and read John Berryman’s 77 Dreams Songs, all to no avail; I had not been able in any way whatsoever to figure out what he was saying about a character named Henry. This particular issue of Poetry, whic contained work by Jean Garrigue, Galway Kinnell, Josephine Miles, Aram Saroyan, Richard Tillinghast, and Richard Eberhart, was not much more penetrable. It should come as no surprise that the only poem in that issue that really interested me was entitled “Going Home” and was dedicated to Mick Jagger.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=30713

When I finally did meet Tim in person, I mentioned this poem and he said to me that he had not known which of the people on the cover of the Out of Our Heads album was Mick Jagger. He had thought that Brian Jones, who was in the lower right hand corner, was Jagger. “Going’ Home,” of course, was the last song on Aftermath, an album that appeared a year later.

In the years after reading “Going Home,” I had become a slightly more astute reader, and managed to acquire a couple of Tim’s books of poetry. It was a privilege to include his poetry as part of Poetry Loves Poetry, in addition to asking him to read in the Gasoline Alley Poetry Series. He now lives in Long Beach, California.

In 1965, Tim read on Paul Blackburn’s radio program. Blackburn was known for being the host of a poetry program as well as for tape-recording readings at St. Mark’s Poetry Project. It is my understanding that Blackburn assiduously got down on tape a considerable number of readings, many of have been digitized by the Special Collections Department at UCSD, and are now available on-line.

According to Nina Mamikunian, “The collection is available at lib.ucsd.edu/blackburn. Additional information about the collection and its release is available athttp://libraries.ucsd.edu/blogs/blog/paul-blackburn-audio-collection-now-online/.”

But if these links don’t work, try this one:

https://library.ucsd.edu/dc/object/bb1436376x