19
Mar
17

On Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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Knowing Knott: Essays on an American PoetMy first encounter with Bill Knott was reading a review copy of The Unsubscriber (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) in a yurt in or nearby Newport, OR. I was dazzled and amazed at his wildness and technique. Next to the collection’s third poem, “Neckognition,” I wrote:

He has mystical line breaks. They do what we try to make them do. Give them a split-end quality. One line is appearance A, the next line changes appearance A into B and into C, until you’re left with A+B+C=an action or event of fluidity. He’s stopped time into discrete parts, but by the stanza’s end, the fluidity of the act is realized. See stanza one. Harmonies in the last stanza.

Here’s the poem:

     In love the head turns
     the face until it’s gone
     into another’s where
     it is further torn

     from its own mirror
     and grows even more
     erased and lost and though
     the former still yearns

     to be his/be hers
     it sees these lovers
     over your shoulder show

     whatever disappears
     can also go as verse
     whose shape’s nape-known now.

This is also a sonnet-variant. I feel in love instantly with this master of forms, language, style, Surrealism, and freedom to explore unlike any other poet, at least any poet I’m aware of, since Gerard Manley Hopkins.

In Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet (Tiger Bark Press, 2017), there are essays from 16 other poets and friends of Knott, who also write about their love for him. The essays are short, and vary in length from three pages to 35 pages, most of which tend to be around five to six pages. The essays are mostly filled with anecdotes that portray the complexities of Knott’s personality, his generosity, and self-sabotage at success. There is also some analysis of his poetry in Michael Waters’ essay “What Had Made Us So Whole: ‘The Sculpture’ by Bill Knott” and in Stuart Dischell’s “On Human Stilts,” but mostly the essays are sketches of Knott as complicated human being. The book also includes six color images of his art, as Knott “was as serious about his painting as his poetry” (113), as Robert Fanning notes in “May Eagles Guard Your Grave.”

In Thomas Lux essay “Bill Knott: Can My Voice Save My Throat,” Lux asks, “do you think Knott’s self-deprecation, his self-denigration, his self-abnegation, might have anything to do with his childhood?” (84). In the 83 pages prior to this, I was realizing much of Knott’s actions are the classic traits of someone who suffers from abandonment trauma. According to some of authors with varying degrees of detail, when Knott was young, his mother died giving birth (though Knott “always suspected she might have died during an (then illegal) abortion” (91), then a few years later, his father sent his sister and him to an orphanage because he couldn’t take care of them, and then the father committed suicide. I believe this contributes to what Jonathan Galassi in “(Not) Publishing Bill Knott” identifies as Knott’s “serious self-esteem issues.” For instance, as Star Black in her essay “Loving Bill” points out, Knott:

[s]omehow felt betrayed by his own accomplishments and connections, as if to be a self-published outside was not quite satisfying, yet to be an insider was fraudulent. Making a decision and then reversing the same decision after he made it was one of his traits. (44)

There are consistent stories throughout the anthology about him pushing away his success (and sometimes pushing away others before they could push him away) as if he wasn’t worthy of it or them, a classic defense move by someone who suffers from the trauma of abandonment.

Perhaps this is why he started to self-publish numerous chapbooks in small print runs, sometimes even only one copy. Knott published at least 11 books of poems with publishers such as “Random House, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the University of Pittsburg Press, Sun Press, and the American Poets Continuum Series at BOA Editions” (Dischell 71), but he was so prolific and printed so many self-published chapbooks that probably no one knows how many books he really released, maybe not even Timothy Liu or John Skoyles who tried to collect everything Knott published.

Knott was a poet’s poet. He was a master of the craft and was always revising, and was even known to put “errata slips into books of his in bookstores” (Lux 85). Despite his constant revisions, Knott’s poems arrive to the reader with the energies and wildness of a first or second draft, which to me is a major accomplishment.

Knowing Knott is a pleasure to read, and can be read in one sitting because it is so engaging and only 114 pages of essays (126 total pages), and it’s very inspirational, too. Prior to reading this collection of essays, I thought Bill Knott was a semi-obscure poet, as not many poets I have met who are my age or younger know of him. After reading this book, I realize how important he was to the generation of poets before me and the generation before them. According to Robert Fanning in Knowing Knott’s last essay, Thomas Lux declared “Bill Knott our greatest living poet. ‘Bill Knott has more talent in his pinky finger [. . .] than Any Poet of his Generation” (115). I believe this book, in some degree, is a calling to future generations of poets to not overlook this poet whose “art lies, in part, in living inside the language, and lies, in part, in viewing it from the perspective of enduring outsider” (Waters 13), and whose poetry is so “hard-core surrealist” that, according to Lux, “If Bill were French and born a few years generations earlier, he would have kicked André Breton out of the [Surrealists] group for being counterrevolutionary” (80). I believe after reading Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet that Knott can teach poets how to be unique, wild, energy driven, as he fully embraced and triumphed in the many forms of poetry, and perhaps more importantly, Knott’s actions will inspire us to be generous members in the poetry community, as he was consistently helping poets with their poetry or helping them financially. In the words of Skoyles, “When we lost Bill, we lost a person with an uncompromising integrity and an enormous compassion for the underdog. [. . .] When we lost Bill, we lost what could be called the conscience of poetry” (97). Knowing Knott will keep reminding us of this and Bill Knott.

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Huff, Steven, ed. Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet. Rochester, NY: Tiger Bark Press, 2017. Print.

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27
Jan
17

On Bonnie Bolling’s The Red Hijab

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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bonnie-bolling-the-red-hijabBonnie Bolling’s The Red Hijab (BkMk Press, 2016, and winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry) is set in Bahrain, a kingdom of more than 30 islands in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. According to H. L. Hix’s “Foreword,” “Of what happens in the Middle East, most North Americans receive little word except from what news media present. Consequently, the readily available image of the Middle East is biased toward conflict and violence” (7). Bolling who lived there for several years provides a unique view of Bahraini culture, an insider’s view, a journalistic view but with empathy.

The first image of empathy occurs in the opening poem, “The Red Hijab.” After describing an ancient area in the Persian Gulf (perhaps Diraz) with an “abandoned double-wide” trailer, a “tangle of razor wire,” stray cats, dirty windows, and a man “wrapped in a potato sack” picking through the trash, a woman appears walking in the rain with a laundry basket and an umbrella. Images like this of people trying to go about their daily business and tasks occurs throughout the book, but here, in the poem “The Red Hijab,” a housemaid wears a “red hijab.” It immediately, at least for me, conjures images of the girl in the red coat from Schindler’s List. In that movie, the girl in the red coat who enables Schindler to fully understand that the holocaust is happening around him, and she inspires him to do everything he can to stop it and to save as many Jews as possible. Bolling, who I assume is the speaker in these poems, however, does not act as a savior. She also does not try to simplify or generalize the Bahraini culture, as western news media might. Bolling’s observation of this housemaid allows us to see a side of life we may not hear about in North American media. In effect, Bolling becomes something like a journalistic embed, who “stand[s] on the corner, leaning next to the sign / that says in three languages: no uncovered women allowed / adjusting and re-adjusting my black hijab, me [a white, female, United States citizen] / on this narrow, broken footpath keeping my silence and distance” (“In Diraz” 7). The woman wearing the red hijab is the reader’s entrance point into the book and Bahrain.

As part of her journalistic acclimation, Bolling uses cultural signifiers, such as Bahraini foods and words like hijab, azan (a call to prayer five times a day by the muezzin), muezzin (the crier who calls for azan from a high part of a mosque at stated hours), Shahada (the Islamic profession of faith), Shamaal (a northwesterly wind blowing over Iraq and the Persian Gulf, which is often strong during the day but weaker in the night), among others, as points of cultural exchange, or at least points of cultural encounter. The encounter for the reader is the disorientation he/she feels when experiencing the unfamiliar and looking for a translation (as I did above with Dictionary.com). This defamiliarization helps the reader shake off the stereotypes of those who live in the Middle East. The speaker must have experienced something like this, too, but now these signifiers are familiar to her. With all this said, one may wonder if Bolling is just wearing a comfortable mask – trying to act like Bahraini while holding on to the security of her white, American privilege. In part I, this may seem the case, but later we realize, part I was just a tour inside the walls of Diraz, and an intimate tour as we sometimes feel the “Oh, we want it all, don’t we?” (“Above the Azan” 28) judgmental disdain some Bahraini have of American tourists.

Perhaps the thematic thesis of part II is best stated in “Gathering Plumeria,” the last poem of section I, when the speaker says, “I am taking / it all in, every side because stories / from the heart don’t lie” (32). By taking the reader behind the walls, deeper into the community where she lives, Bolling introduces us to a few of its citizens and tries to get inside their hearts, such as a woman at home, a young man who will suicide-bomb a coffee shop, “young boys wearing black” harassing an older man because they are bored, and a family whose father’s tongue was cut our and the people who cut it, among others. In “Stars, Moon Rooster” (37), one of the poems I return to most, Bolling, referring to herself in the third person, walks at night and looks into a “house with linoleum,” where she sees a woman and imagines what the woman is feeling and thinking. Using the same third-person “she” to describe herself, Bolling shifts into the woman thinking about hope and how a new born baby is “the embodiment of hope,” until the baby is “thrust / into the arms of another,” and how over the years of life hope “doesn’t matter so much.” Eventually, the wind wakes her from trance, and she returns to her own night journey.

One might consider this presumptuous to assume what someone else is thinking. Perhaps, they would be correct. However, she lived in the community for quite some time and observed and listened to the people. She was a poetic embed, unlike the disembodied “they” providing commentary and generalizations. Frequent phrases in section II are “they say,” “they are saying,” “someone says,” and other variations, and this “they” often makes statements about the Bahraini. Because we don’t know who the “they” is, the statements become almost Orwellian. For instance, in “A Silencing” (49-50), the poem opens with an active voice describing the speaker cooking a meal, then there is the volta “Deep in the village / the blind rooster’s / crowing.” This volta hinges on the apostrophe in “rooster’s.” Do we read “rooster’s” as subject and verb, “rooster is,” or as possessive, “the crowing of the rooster”? Perhaps both as the poem then segues into “This village / is said to be ancient.” This sentence is in the passive voice, as we don’t know the subject, or who is doing the saying. It’s just stated, and the reader wonders if that voice is the same as the next sentence’s voice, “Been the same for centuries, / they say, except for air conditioning.” The community’s character, personality, and culture are anonymously inscribed. This unknown speaks for its citizens. Even the local news realizes that “Someone from outside is fooling them / into going up against each other,” where the “someone” is the unknown voice and the “other”s are at times the young and the old. That “someone” is so strong, it can command young people to cut out the tongues of old people:

     Then, they were on him.
     Do it, someone said, do it now.
     So they did it with scissors.
     They cut-out his tongue –

In essence, the unknown “they” and “someone” are performing a type of erasure on its citizens by telling them what they are and not allowing the citizens to have an ability speak back, while at the same time also erasing their religion, as evidenced by cutting out the tongue of a man who memorized the Qu’ran.

What Bolling does in section II’s other poems and throughout the book’s poems is to give voice to the people who have been erased or overwritten. Through her journalistic end-paused and end-stopped lines (there is very little enjambment in these poems), and her movements between physical and psychological realism, she allows us to read below this anonymously created palimpsest to reveal more than “conflict and violence” and to show how

                       so many stories separate us.
     So many nations.
                       We search our tongues,
     desperate for a phrase, some scrap
                       of language or utterance
     that will allow our worlds
                       to come together for a moment (“Only Bread, Only Water” 51-3),

Perhaps this is why we hear a rooster announcing morning so often in The Red Hijab. It’s a language we all understand, as well as the food and love that persist throughout this collection of poems.//

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Bolling, Bonnie. The Red Hijab. Kansas City, MO: BkMk Press, 2016.

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18
Nov
16

Redactions: Poetry & Poetics 2016 Pushcart Nominations

Redactions: Poetry & Poetics has made its nominations for the 2016 Pushcart Prize. In the order of appearance in issue 20 are:

  1. Angie Macri’s “Young Seahorse Viewed as a Transparency Object.” Page 6.
  2. Randy Gonzales’ “Becoming.” Page 18-19.
  3. Rob Cook’s “The Empty Dress.” Pages 22-23.
  4. Amorak Huey’s “The Observer Effect Is Not the Same as the Uncertainty Principle.” Page 26.
  5. Steve Mueske’s “The Crossing.” Pages 32-33.
  6. Kristina Marie Darling’s “Jane Dark Addresses the Husband (II).” Page 41.

To read these poems, stories, and more, order a copy of issue 20 from here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/redactionspoetry.

You can also read the Pushcart Prize nominated poems here: http://www.redactions.com/pushcart-poems.asp.

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11
Nov
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): It’s All About You

POETRY ASSIGNMENTS

Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night

//

Table of Contents

Introduction

  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You

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It’s All About You

a: What a Baby You Are; or The Medium of Time Travel; or The Poetry of Casey Kasem

This idea comes from Karen Head, author of Shadow Boxes (All Nations Press, 2003), though I don’t know if this idea appears in her book, but . . .

This is what Karen did, if I have it correct, or some part of it. She went back to the year of her birth & used songs from that year as starting points for poems. For instance, she has a poem titled “Light My Fire,” in which she weaves in certain events from the time period of her birth & the song. She then talks to those events & to the song & wraps them all together in a poem that talks back to her existence & to the reader.

So we are going to try something similar. You will use song titles from songs that were on the top 40 chart during the week of your birth (well, for those of you born in 1970 or after). Or you can use titles of songs that came out in the year of your birth, or the titles of albums, or the titles of books, or whatever else you can think of.

The point is to discover the immediate effects of your surroundings when you were born, by using the title of something as the lense through which you will perceive those surroundings.

I’d been interested in hearing from someone born in 1973 & who has used Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” as their song title. Man, I want to know how that got woven into your life.

b: Conceptual Music; or How the Solipsist Applied Loop Quantum Gravity to His Existence

Ok. We will be doing a similar thing in this assignment, but now we will do it using the time period of when you were conceived.

If you don’t understand the second title to this assignment, it will be explained, in part, in an upcoming poetry assignment, “Break on Through to the Other Side; or T+3, T+2, T+1, T=0, T-1, T-2, T-3, T-2006 AD; or The Big Crunch as Big Bang in Reverse; or Neo Takes the Red Pill of Negative Eternity.” Look for it soon. [See Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions.]

Happy New Year! A Time to Reflect. A Prose Assignment!

This was inspired by Christopher Howell, who at the end of one of his semester-long creative writing classes would have students write a paper on what they have achieved with their poetry in the semester. This assignment will be similar.

You are to respond to the following questions. The response can be in journal entry form, essay, or however you want. The questions are:

What are you doing with your poetry?
In what ways has the poetry you have written this year been successful/unsuccessful?
Where would you like to go with your poetry? or what would you like to see/hear happen to your poetry?

Optional:
What’s going on in contemporary poetry?
What do you like &/or dislike about the current happenings in poetry?
What would you like to see happen to contemporary poetry?

Oh, be honest with yourself!

(9-16-06 addendum) Below is an example in verse, instead of prose. It’s from William Heyen’s book The Confessions of Doc Williams & Other Poems (Etruscan Press, 2006.) After reading it, read Pound’s “A Pact,” which you can find in Personæ: The Shorter Poems. A revised edition prepared by Lea Baechler & A. Walton Litz (New Directions, 1990).

   The New American Poetry

   It is the poetry of the privileged class.

   It inherits portfolios.

   It was born in the Ivy League, & inbred there.

   Its parents filled its homes with bubbling Bach,
           silver & crystal brightnesses
                       for its surfaces.

   It does not hear the cheap & natural music of the cow.
           Its vases hold gold-stemmed roses, not ponds with logs
                       from which turtles descend at our approach,

   neckfold leeches shining like black droplets of blood.

   It swallows Paris & Athens, tracks its genes to the Armory Show.

   It waits by parlor coffins, applies rouge to Poe & Beau Brummell.

   Its father is Gertrude Stein, not Whitman, who despises it,
        though it will not admit it.

   Old women with children do live in it.

   It does not harvest thought, or associate with farmers.

   It does not serve in the army, or follow a story.

   Inviolate, buttressed by its own skyhook aesthetics,
           it revels in skewed cubes,
                       elliptical appositions.

   Ultramarine critics praise it, wash their hands of subject matter.

   It is tar-baby minus the baby, minus the tar.

   Its city is not the city of pavement or taxis, business or bums.

   It dwells on absence & illusion, mirrors refulgent flames.

   Deer that browse beneath its branches starve.

   Its emotions do not arise from sensible objects.

   It passes rocks as though they were clouds.

   It does not flood out is muskrats.

   It sustains itself on paperweight petals.

   It does not define, catalog, testify, or witness.

   It holds models before the young of skillful evasion,
           withering heartlessness.

   It lifts only its own weight for exercise, does not body-block,
           or break up double plays,
                       or countenance scar tissue.

   It flails in the foam, but has no body & cannot drown, or swim.

   In his afterlife, Rimbaud smuggles it along infected rivers.


                                                  (1984)


   “The New American Poetry” from The Confessions of Doc Williams & Other Poems. 
   Used by permission of Etruscan Press.

a: Won’t You Give Me Three Steps / Gimme Three Steps, Mister, / Gimme Three Steps Towards My Core? / Gimme Three Steps / Gimme Three Steps, Mister, / So My Poems Won’t be a Bore

   With the end of the year near,
   it’s time to reflect on your poetry, dear.
   So here are some questions you can ask
   yourself about your poetic tasks.
   What are the three most important things
   you do to make your poems sing.

Bustin’ the rhyme here. Reflect on what are the three most important aspects of your poetry right now?

For instance, for me:

  1. Clarity. Trying to create poems with visual, syntactic, & thinking clarity.
  2. Music. Well, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Doo wop doo wop doo waa.
  3. Gleaming the other. Creating the poem that extends beyond itself. (For instance, in a poem about a compass that is about how the compass works & how it gets me home, is it also on another level about, for example, love, politics, justice, or is it an ars poetica. Can the poem convert lead to gold, etc? And why or why not?)

b: Three is a Gesture, Ten is Gaining Depth; or Three . . . That Ain’t No List, Now, Ten, Well, There’s a List for You; or Rounding Out the Top Ten – the Next Seven

What will complete the top ten list of what you are doing with your poems? And why? What will you try to improve or make more significant?

You will probably have to meditate on these aspects, & you will probably have to explain to yourself & your poems why.

For example, waiting to make my list:

  1. Imagination – or longer starings.
  2. Pivots – unique turns or shifts, wonderful seamless leaps.
  3. Tone – to see how tone affects meaning.
  4. Voice – to see if it is necessary for voice to match content.
  5. Image – is this connecting? Is there a better way to present it?
  6. Square look on page – to see how shape & poem interact.
  7. Ambiguity – as an experiment to encourage gleaming.

The David Lehman Experiment; or The Best Poetry According to You

That’s right. Each year you will compile your own anthology of the best poems you read that year, but the poems could have first appeared in a year other than the one you are reading. So for instance, if you happen to read Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder’s poem “Whoso List to Hunt” (ca. 1526) and you think it is one of the best poems you read during the year, then include it in your anthology.

This activity is continual. But you will start a new anthology at the beginning of each year.

The Ed Hirsch Experiment; or Keeping Track So You Don’t Forget; or The Reading Journal

Ed Hirsch has a fine new book out: Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2006). This book, basically, is filled with two- or three-page essays about a poet and the poet’s poetry. The first part is about individual non-American poets (and it’s quite impressive the number of poets he mentions that I’ve never heard of, but after reading Hirsch’s essay, they become poets I want to read – there are, of course, poets I have heard of and read). And the second part is about American poets.

Each essay talks about something wonderful the poet did or how wonderful a poet is/was. Each essay is filled with enthusiasm and love and a deep understanding of the poet and the poet’s poetry. Hirsch has been able to turn his head enough to find something in each of the poets he writes about.

So this is what we are going to do. We are going to keep a reading journal. We are going to write about every book of poetry we read. We are going to put into written words why we like, or dislike, a certain book, or poet. You will be able to record your early responses to each book. Later, you can add to the responses. Or later, way later, you can see where you were at this point in your poetry life. I think, in part, it will help us understand how a book of poems works, or will help us understand a particular poet with more depth and clarity – and probably our own poetry.

You can also couple this poetry assignment with the previous assignment. You can write about each poem in your anthology.

Yeah, we are going to learn why we really like something. And through the writing of it, we will aid our memory about a poet. You can even rewrite poems in your journal. That’s always a good idea.

The next assignment or two will get us back to writing poetry, but in the meantime, it’s good to reflect through prose.

Go forth!

Making Closure; or Getting to Know You / Getting to Know Every Word About You [use a high, squeaky, out-of-key voice to sing that]; or Damn, Is My Vocabulary that Small? And After All of that Highfalutin Schoolin’, too, Sheesh; or I’m Gonna Make You Smoke All Them Ceegars Until You Learn to Hate Them; or The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Remedies; or How to Avoid the T. S. Eliot (Old Possum) Syndrome; or Shaking Off the Funk; or Getting Rid of Your Wouby (Mr. Mom anyone?); or Keeping it Fresh; or How Boring Am I?; or Mama Needs a New Pair of Words (and how to avoid making your point)

You are gonna need all of your poems for this one. Go through all of your poems and find the most frequent word(s), image(s), idea(s) that appear in your poems. Well, maybe not all of your poems, but over the last year or two or three.

Now use those words, images, ideas, in at least every other line of the next poem you write. And then do it again with the next poem. And the next. Keep doing it until those words, images, and ideas are out of your system. Or until you at least understand how to use them with significance, and not as an easy fall back.

For instance, my common words and images are: shadows, the moon, and mountains. And I need to purify myself of them so I can grow and move on. Right now they are so easy to use. I know they are inexhaustible material, but, dude, I need to break free for awhile, ya know? I need to learn how to use them with power, again, as I did when I first discovered/used them. Maybe this doesn’t happen to you, but if it does, you will find out and cure yourself.

Go refresh!

[11-11-16 Note: To make this easy, copy and paste your poems into a Word Cloud generator.]

Self Parody; or She Who Laughs Bests, Laughs at Herself; or Popping the Ego; or How to Make Nelson Muntz “Ha Ha” at You

Nelson MuntzNow that you’ve been examining your poetry, it’s time to make fun of it. Hyperbolize yourself. Generalize yourself. Write a self parody of your poems’ tendencies. Shake it up.

Ask yourself, “Am I still being original? Am I still being fresh? Am I making it new?”

You should do this assignment every couple of years. Starting now. Then every two or three or five years (five might be too long), consider where you’re. If, for example, your voice tends to be the same, make fun of it, so you can explore other voices. If it’s your tone that tends to be the same, bust it up. Check your syntax: are you following the same techniques because they create a cool effect? If so, make it laugh for you, and then go explore other syntactical arrangements.

Stay fresh my friends. Make it New!

I tend to say “Go forth!” at this point, as if you are a noble knight on a gallant steed, and you are about to go on an exciting journey or heading for battle. But this time I will put on a fool’s cap with a little bell dangling from the top, spin once, twice, thrice, and with a giggling cackle, a “Ha Ha,” and a jocoserious tone announce to you, . . . “Go Jest!”

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Go Forth!

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09
Nov
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity

POETRY ASSIGNMENTS

Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night

//

Table of Contents

Introduction

  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You

//

Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity

The Dr. Carlos Response Poem

Write a response to William Carlos Williams‘ “The Red Wheelbarrow.” There is enough information in this poem to piece together a story, i.e. the wheel barrow is glazed with rain water suggests it has recently rained. You may even want to fill in the spaces between the words or lines in the “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

(9-16-06 addendum) Notice how each stanza in the poem looks like the profile of a wheelbarrow. Thanks for sharing that observation, William Heyen.

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The Dr. Carlos Response Poem II: The Wrath of Flossie

Pretend you are Flossie Williams (Dr. Carlos’ wife) after having read the following note on the refrigerator door:

   This is just to say

   I have eaten
   the plums
   that were in
   the icebox

   and which
   you were probably
   saving
   for breakfast

   Forgive me
   they were delicious
   so sweet
   and so cold

a: The Dr. Carlos Response Poem III: City Talk

Yes, another response poem idea, but . . . Ok.

In Dr. Carlos’ Paterson, at times it seems the city of Paterson is trying to talk or is being talked for, though sometimes it is Dr. Paterson. So here’s the assignment: pretend you are a city writing a poem.

Other alternatives are to be a mountain or a lake, but something with a history & a story or stories to tell. I guess this means you are limited to narrative, but if you can break free of that, then most cool!

b: The Beatific Beatrice Response, or Dante? Who’s He?

From what I’ve learned, Dante & Beatrice met only four brief times, but Dante was horribly in love with Beatrice. And I think Beatrice didn’t pay him much mind after their visits.

With that in mind, we should explore how Beatrice felt after The Divine Comedy was finished & published. How would she have responded?

c: Beatrice Takes A Journey With Sappho, or Hell Hath No Fury Like a Beatrice with a Pen

Write a new Divine Comedy but from the point of view of Beatrice & using Sappho as her guide. Or maybe just write a canto for the Inferno, a canto for Purgatorio, & a canto for Paradisio.

//

Sapphic Love

Bust of SapphoAs we know, we only have one complete & full poem/song of Sappho. The rest are all in fragments. Sometimes translators leave those blanks in their translation. This assignment, which I imagine has been done before, attempts to fill in those blanks – not all blanks to all her poems, but for just the blanks of one poem. For instance, consider fragment 24C:

   ]
   ]we live
   ]
   the opposite
   ]
   daring
   ]
   ]
   ]

or 24D

   ]
   ]
   ]
   ]
   ]
   ]in a thin voice
   ]


   Quoted lines from If Not, Winter by Anne Carson, copyright © 2002 by Anne Carson. 
   Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

So put words, lines, stanzas where the brackets are.

One may also just take a fragment like “I would not think to touch the sky with two arms” (fragment 52) & wrap a poem around it.

I imagine in your final draft, to tip your hat, you should italicize Sappho’s words.

Other poems with only fragments from poets like Anakeron or the iamb inventor Archilocos, etc. can be used in place of Sappho.

Good Sappho books are 7 Greeks by Guy Davenport (NY: New Directions, 1980), or If Not, Winter by Anne Carson (NY: Vintage, 2002). The former is awesome, & the latter is equally as impressive. Mary Barnard’s book, while also impressive & awesome, doesn’t leave the blanks.

//

This One’s for the Ladies; or “Oh, Please. Enough With the Worms, Already. If That’s What You Want to Call It”; or “Andy, Andy, Andy. Will It Ever End With You?”

Andrew Marvell wrote a wonderful poem, among many others. But the one we are concerned with is “To His Coy Mistress,” which is quoted below.

Alas, then. You are to be the Coy Mistress & respond to Andy’s pleas. Using meter & rhyme might be nice, or you can contemporize the whole situation if you wish. That’s it.

   To His Coy Mistress

      Had we but World enough, and Time,
   This coyness Lady were no crime.
   We would sit down, and think which way
   To walk, and pass our long Loves Day.
   Thou by the Indian Ganges side
   Should’st Rubies find: I by the Tide
   Of Humber would complain. I would
   Love you ten years before the Flood:
   And you should if you please refuse
   Till the Conversion of the Jews.
   My vegetable Love should grow
   Vaster then Empires, and more slow.
   An hundred years should go to praise
   Thine Eyes, and on thy Forehead Gaze.
   Two hundred to adore each Breast:
   But thirty thousand to the rest.
   An Age at least to every part,
   And the last Age should show your Heart.
   For Lady you deserve this State;
   Nor would I love at lower rate.
      But at my back I alwaies hear
   Times winged Charriot hurrying near:
   And yonder all before us lye
   Desarts of vast Eternity.
   Thy Beauty shall no more be found;
   Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
   My ecchoing Song: then Worms shall try
   That long preserv’d Virginity:
   And your quaint Honour turn to dust;
   And into ashes all my Lust.
   The Grave’s a fine and private place,
   But none I think do there embrace.
   Now therefore, while the youthful hew
   Sits on thy skin like morning dew
   And while thy willing Soul transpires
   At every pore with instant Fires,
   Now let us sport us while we may;
   And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
   Rather at once our Time devour,
   Than languish in his slow-chapt pow’r.
   Let us roll all our Strength, and all
   Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
   And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
   Thorough the Iron gates of Life.
   Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
   Stand still, yet we will make him run.

//

Dealing with Rejection

With my 99th literary-rejection letter just received, & number one hundred at hand [as of November 7, 2016, I am at 1085 rejection letters], I was reminded of Mike Dockins’ poem “Monsoon” about his one hundredth rejection letter, which then sparked this assignment.

Your assignment is to write a poem dealing with rejection, & if it deals with rejection letters from literary journals, all the better, & perhaps even more preferred.

Here’s Dockins’ poem, which first appeared in 5 AM & also appeared on Verse Daily on February 18, 2004:

   MONSOON

   Dear 100th rejection slip, I am learning to spell
   monsoon. I look forward to your square blue ocean:
   starfish and whales of polite sentences wriggling
   on harpoons, black tide awash with monsoon,
   my lamp a fiery moon rising on krilly semi-colons,
   maybe a sleek marine scribble. Soon, soon.
   I see the in the Arabian Sea, approach Panaji
   from the southwest. How kindergarten, how 1978,
   how monsoon. I am in love with your maps
   and hieroglyphs – how jejune. When you cry
   à la loon from my blustery mailbox I’m going
   to order a fat drink speckled with plankton,
   festooned with a paper umbrella bending in
   monsoon, tiny tsunamis crashing the salted rim.
   I might even kiss the postal clerk, Irishman
   that I am, monsoon I long to be. I’m a candle-boat
   on the anniversary of something terrible
   and beautiful, some atom balloon, adrift on
   a waveless lagoon, wailing monsoon monsoon.


   Used by permission of 5 A.M.

//

On Second Thought

This one has a long tradition, & now it’s your turn. You are to write a response poem to one of your friend’s poems. You can pick up on a theme & say “Yes, & in addition to that . . .” or “No. It’s more like this . . .” or “What about this?” Etc. (Of course, phrase those utterances with a more poetic sensibility.) Most important, it’s gotta be a response to your buddy’s poem!

//

Here, Let Me Try

This is in line with the above assignment, “On Second Thought.” This time, however, you will take one of your buddy’s poems & revise it for him/her.

Whether you keep the revisions for yourself (& be a kinda cool literary thief who won’t go to jail, but who may have to buy their buddy a bottle of wine if the poem comes out good – you know, a fine) or whether you return it (like Ez did with The Waste Land to Tom) is up to you.

//

Laundry Time

This idea comes to me from Kat Smith after she heard W.S. Merwin read a poem at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. It is also something that Lorca has done, & should provide for a good summer long exercise.

The assignment is a celebration of our clothes.

You are to write a poem about a particular piece of clothing you wear or someone else wears.

I plan on writing every time I go to the laundromat, so by the end of summer, & after all the laundry, I hope to have a series of clothing poems.

Ok. Go Sing, celebrate, & clean your clothes.

//

The Wally Stevens Anecdote

[This assignment arose from a Michelle Bonczek idea, and is used with permission.]

It is simple. Here it is.

Write a poem with the title “Anecdote of Me Reading a Wallace Stevens Poem.” You can insert your name in place of “Me.” I imagine you can do it with any poet, but I imagine it is funnier with a Wally Stevens poem.

//

Art Response Poem

Find a painting or a sculpture, one that isn’t too famous or popular, & write a poem about it, or a response to it, or let it evoke something. Perhaps even create a narrative about the scene. The Pre-Raphaelites might be most helpful for the latter.

//

07
Nov
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America

POETRY ASSIGNMENTS

Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night

//

Table of Contents

Introduction

  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You

//

Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America

Money Sucks; Money is Oppressive

Somewhere along the way money was thrust upon us. We are now forced to use money against our will. Some of us are no good with money, & yet we are forced to deal with it. And the lazy wealthy – who are talentless, make money off the poor working people – they break our backs. But what if the currency was different? . . .

I think humans are creative people. I think money stifles creativity, except for the creative scammers – the lazy wealthy, the usurers. But what if the currency of the world was Art?

That’s your assignment. Explore a world in which Art is currency. The Art currency of your world can be whatever you want – paintings, music, poems, sculptures, etc., or a combination.

In my imagination, the currency is paintings. So the painters are the wealthy, & the art critics are the bankers & the stock brokers, who invest in trends – Dada is down 20 points today, Cubism is up 5 1/8, Dogs Playing Poker remains unchanged, etc.

As Mike Dockins said when I explained this idea to him, “I wrote a poem today. I’m rich.”

Go forth. Make art. Have a wealthy life!

(9-2-06 addendum): Definitions for paragraphs one & two of poetry assignment: The Rich – Work for a living. The Wealthy – Pay the Rich their salaries. In paragraph three, the wealthy are beautiful, but the bankers and stock brokers – the usurers – are still evil and vile.

//

Writing like the Politicians Speak

This is what I wrote to myself halfway through Tim Parks’ Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and the Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence (W. W. Norton & Co., 2005):

If you want to write a poem of/on politics, try the following method: Use meter &, perhaps, rhyme. Create the appearance of stability. Lay on top of that the language of ambiguity & uncertain clarity. Use a twisted syntax with its own logic – flowing & contradictory. Make sure there is a lot of change happening in your narrative, or lyric. And end as you have begun (but try to cover a time frame equal to a generation or two or five.) – for nothing really changes – hence the stability of meter & rhyme to carry the chaos of content.

But this will only work, I think & maybe wrongly, if you are writing a political poem of direct confrontation. It may or may not work if you are just brushing up against something political as your poem naturally moves on its own way.

Ok. Now go get Poetilitical. If you want, start your poem “With Usura” as Pound begins Canto XLV of The Cantos & as Parks begins Medici Money.

//

Quarter Tales; or Two Bits is Worth One Poem, or a Shave & a Haircut

California QuarterThe U.S. Mint is pressing out the new quarters with state themes. Each state quarter has a few images on the tail’s side that are associated with the state’s culture, personality, history, geography, myths, etc. For instance, California’s quarter “depicts naturalist and conservationist John Muir admiring Yosemite Valley’s monolithic granite headwall known as ‘Half Dome’ and also contains a soaring California condor” (U. S. Mint).

Your assignment is to create a narrative from the images that appear on a state’s quarter. Each image must appear in the poem, & hopefully each image will appear twice to make the narrative cyclical, like the quarter. (You do not necessarily have to write about the state the images are representing.)

For more information & for pictures of the quarters, go to this PDF from the U.S. Mint: https://www.usmint.gov/downloads/mint_programs/50sqInfo.pdf.

It’s advised to actually hold & stare at the actual quarter you are writing about. The quarter may affect you in ways a picture of it cannot. Its texture might effect your perceptions, or it may even talk to you. Who knows? But the physical connection with the quarter will only be beneficial.

If you are lucky & determined enough, you could have a whole book of 50 poems, which, of course, will be titled Quarter Tales, &, of course, people will only be able to purchase the book with quarters. And if you are doubly lucky, you might even get it published by 2008 – the year of the last five state quarters: Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, & Hawaii.

//

04
Nov
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Miscellany; or Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here

POETRY ASSIGNMENTS

Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night

//

Table of Contents

Introduction

  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You

//

Miscellany; or Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here

Bridge Building, or Setting up House

I’m sure all of us have many strong, individual poems. And I’m sure many of these poems have relationships with each other, and I imagine many have no relation one another. And I imagine these unrelated poems would like to be collected & find a home in a book or a chapbook, but their inability to relate with each other keeps them in their own little poetic studio apartments.

Ok. Here’s the assignment: Get those poems out of their apartments. Gather those unrelated poems & make bridges between the poems by writing poems that can find/make relationships. Do this for as many of the poems as you can. Let your poems make friends with each other. Let them share their talents & let them split the mortgage.

//

The Overlooked

I guess this would be considered a personae piece.

You will take on the voice of a character in a story who is one of the following: someone we are told is there but not talked about (a scenery character), someone who is mentioned in passing, or someone who is known to be there but not mentioned. Then give that person a voice. For instance, I did the voice of one of the crew members that was sailing with Odysseus when they encountered the Sirens. There are plenty of others. For instance, one of the spear-carrying warriors fighting with Lucifer in Paradise Lost.

//

Dream Poems

[This assignment arose from a Michelle Bonczek idea, and is used with permission.]

Write a poem about a dream a famous person (real or fictional) may have had.

It can even be done without allusions!

a: First Things First . . . Second, Third, Fourth, . . .; Indices Are So Useful; or Amateurs Borrow. The Great Ones Steal, Part Two

This idea came from reading the index of first lines in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry and realizing the string of first lines sounded like a long poem.

Then, when I was at AWP, I stopped at the Nightboat Books table, & picked up one of their recent releases The Truant Lover, which is a fine book by the way – it has an Emersonian structure about it.

Within The Truant Lover there is the poetry assignment that I am assigning, but that Juliet Patterson got to first. Here’s the poem, which is used with Nightboat Books’ permission:

   Index of First Lines 

   A slash of blue
   Asphalt/colorless
   Again the cry that
   But she is/a stranger yet
   By the time you read this
   Coming late, as always
   Darling,
   Dear
   Dear/I could/send you
   Dear/I would/have liked
   Dear friend/I regret to inform you
   For love we all go
   I’ll send my/own two answers
   Many times loneliness
   No words/ripple like
   Oh,
   The things of which we want
   The proof of those we knew before
   There is another loneliness
   We meet no stranger, but our self
   We had not expected it
   When I hoped/I feared/When I feared/I dared –
   where we/owe but/a little
   You must let me/go first

(What’s good about Patterson’s poem is that it actually works within the context of the book, as you will discover when you read it.)

Here’s the assignment: go find a poetry book with an index of first lines, like a Norton Anthology, or the new Migration by Merwin, or The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats (Volume 1), or whatever. Then string together the first lines to make a poem. Or, as it seems Patterson did, use the second line to push the poem forward a bit. You can even make a series of poems. And remember, you can also just use this as a “trigger” to begin a poem. When you’re done with the first lines, you can stare & revise until something else arises.

b: Making New Use of Your Bookcase

Your bookcases are lined with books, & for the most part, the spines of the books face out so you can read the titles.

Here’s the assignment. Use the title of the books, as you did with the index of first lines, to string together a poem.

Ok, go forth line by line, or title by title.

//

Eavesdropping

[This assignment arose from a Michelle Bonczek idea, and is used with permission.]

You need to be in a coffee shop or bar or diner or restaurant & be writing a poem. The moment you get stuck or pause in your writing is the moment you listen in on a conversation. The first phrase you hear will then have to be worked into the poem within a few lines.

Should you get stuck or pause again, repeat the process.

A variant of this can be done at home & with no one around. Instead of listening when you pause, you can flip through a dictionary, randomly stop on a word, & then bring that word into the poem within a few lines.

//

The Boring & the Mundane

This is your assignment: watch a pot of water boil, or coffee brew, or a bathtub fill with water. Look at a crack in the sidewalk. Put your ear on your front lawn & listen. Put your ear to a tree. Put your nose over a clean drinking glass & smell. Lick the back of a book you hate or your favorite book. Touch an iron rail.

Observe something ordinary – but observe. Later, reflect.

Maybe even watch your computer reboot.

That is all. Except maybe do it when you are completely bored out of your skull, or when you have far too much energy.

Go forth!

a: For the Slackers; or Pound, Merwin, Hemingway, & You; or the Art of Discipline

Some of you are already performing this assignment, & you are therefore excused from it. The rest of you, including myself, must do this. It is imperative to get yourself writing consistently.

In the recent issue of Poets & Writers [I think it’s the July/August 2005 issue] there is an article about & an interview with W.S. Merwin. We learn that Merwin once visited Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. One piece of advice Pound gave to Merwin: write seventy-five lines of poetry every day. That’s your assignment – write seventy-five lines per day for at least one month.

If that seems too many lines per day, or not enough, then adjust to your personality. (I will be writing one page per day – approximately forty lines per day). But you must write enough to form a sustained amount of time for mediation.

b: No Cop Outs

Already some of you are finding excuses out of this assignment. “Oh, I’m going away this weekend. I won’t have time to write.” In that case, I refer you to Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, as I have read, wrote 250 words per day. If he was to go fishing on Saturday, he wouldn’t wimp out on writing. On Friday, he’d write 500 words to compensate for his lost day of writing – thus keeping up his 250-words-per-day average. So, if you are going away for the weekend, on Friday write 225 lines – seventy-five for Friday, seventy-five for Saturday, & seventy-five for Sunday.

c: The Cop Out to the Cop Out

Someone, probably me, is already planning this one: “Oh, I managed to write one hundred lines of poetry yesterday, so I only have to write fifty lines today, & then my average will still be seventy-five lines per day.” No. No back-ended compensation. Future compensation is ok because you are planning & anticipating. You are making up for a period of time when you know you cannot write. With backwards compensation, you are just slacking. There will be no slacking. If you have time to write, write your seventy-five lines.

//

OK Pardner

This one came from Renée Roehl’s kid, Dario, & his writing class.

Start a poem with “Ok Pardner, this is it.” Partner can be used in place of pardner should you choose. This seems to provide for a strong, exciting opening.

One might also want to refer themselves to Ed Dorn’s book-long poem Gunslinger. One might also want to refer themselves to Chris Howell’s poem “The Holdup” as it first appeared in Third Coast Spring 2003 (quoted in full below).

   The Holdup

   Give me your money, he said.

   We don’t have money, they replied,
   we have eggs.

   Oh, very well, he sighed, give me your eggs.

   We don’t have complete eggs, they said, only
   the shells.

   Well, then, give me your shells, quickly
   before I become tense.

   The shells we have are broken, they said,
   we will give you the pieces.


   (“The Holdup” is used with the permission of Christopher Howell and Third Coast.)

//

Overcoming Scriptophobia

ScriptophobiaThis one comes to us by way of Aimee Nezhukumatathil. As I understand it, she looks up information about a phobia, & then she takes on the voice of the phobia or the voice of someone with the phobia & writes a poem with that voice. The poem she read at AWP 2004 was about the fear of poetry (metrophobia). The poem appears in her book Miracle Fruit (Tupelo Press, 2003). But make sure to not make of the fun of the person with the phobia and try to create a three-dimensional character, a character who has the phobia but is not defined by or limited to just the phobia. You can be playful and have fun, just don’t make fun of the character, because there is at least one person out there suffering with the phobia you choose.

A place where one can start to look for theses phobias is: http://www.phobialist.com/.

//

The Rainbow Connection

Compose a poem with the phrase “choking on a rainbow.” This is a phrase that comes from a satire article in The Onion about a young poet. Variants can include “eating a rainbow” or “cooking a rainbow” or whatever. You know?!

//

The Reader’s Digest Experiment

Write a poem titled “An Abridged Version for the Modern Reader.” I found this sentence on the title page of a Stendhal book published by Reader’s Digest that I found in an antique mall in the-middle-of-nowhere, Washington.

//




The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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