Archive for March, 2012

17
Mar
12

In Pursuit of the Juiciest Wine: Day 112 – Bogle Phantom 2008

For this St. Patrick’s Day, I’m demanding real rock. The shamrock just isn’t as good.

Bogle Phantom 2008This St. Patrick’s Day I’m drinking Bogle Phantom 2008, but with a name like that, you’d think it would best be served on Halloween.

The Bogle Phantom 2008 is blend of 51% old vine Zinfandel, 47% Petite Sirah, and 2% old vine Mouvèdre.

The back of the bottle has a fun story:

In the dark recesses of the cellar you sense a presence, hear footsteps. Why is it these things only happen when you are alone? In the shadows, a glimpse of muddy boots and old blue jeans . . . the lurking legacies of hard work and determination left by those who have come before you.

We are proud to carry on this tradition of our founders with this unique red wine: a deep ruby apparition that personifies the true spirit of the Phantom.

There should be a Muwahhaahaha at the end, too.

To the Phantom.

The label says the color is “a deep ruby apparition.” I wouldn’t say “deep.” “Ruby,” yes. It’s not very deep, and it’s like 80% opaque. I’d expect deeper and darker with a Zinfandel and Petite Syrah blend.

On the antesniff, I thought of a wine for a child. (Yes, I jut invented a word. The “antesniff” is the odor that enters your nose before you consiously sniff. It’s the “before” sniff.)

Now to the sniff sniff. It’s flowery and light with some berries. But a dark fruit and smoke dominate the odor.

It tastes much different than it looks or smells. It tastes like scary. Dark and morbid. There’s a pepper finish, too. In fact, I keep thinking of a dark cellar with a dirt floor and hanging lightbulb with a pull string.

I taste dark berries and cinnamon.

This wine definitely needs some food to bring out the flavor, like a mild sausage. In fact, now that I taste it again, I pick up a dry, mild sausage.

I can also taste the Mouvèdre on the finish.

I’m not sure what I think of this wine. It’s enjoyable. Without food, it’s an 88. With food, I imagine it’s an 89, but it might reach 90. I think provolone cheese would also be a good complement.

You can read the Bogle fact sheet by clicking Bogle Phantom 2008 Fact Sheet. Interesting note: according to the fact sheet “Bogle” means “A goblin; a specter; a phantom; a bogy, boggart, or bugbear.”//

14
Mar
12

The Afterlives of a Poem, or What Happens to Your Poem When You’re Done Writing It

I woke up early this morning thinking about what happens to a poem after you stop working on it, and there are four possible afterlives for a poem.

But before I get there, let’s look at why we stop working on a poem.

One reason is that we think the poem is done. We’ve worked hard at it, had fun with it, and had a good conversation with it, and now there is nothing left to work on or converse with and the only fun left in this poem is reading it over and over again and feeling good.

Another reason we stop working on a poem is because we realize the poem is going nowhere. Oh, you went into the poem with good intentions, but along the way, you and the poem both realized it just wasn’t going to work out or there was too much awkwardness with it, and you couldn’t overcome all the obstacles. It’s kinda like going on a first date, and when you meet the other person, your fly is down, and then an hour after you eat, you realize you’ve had a piece of spinach in your teeth for the last hour, and you also told a joke that you thought was funny, but it turned out to be offensive. At this point, you realize the date is not salvageable, and you part ways.

A third reason for stopping work on a poem is that you no longer know what to do with the poem or the poem is being stubborn and not helping you help it. This type of poem can actually be a worthwhile poem. It’s doing good things, it sounds well, it has meanings you understand and that are just beyond you, and it has good energies. It’s not a bad poem. It’s fine. You could share it with people and they would like it and a journal might even publish it. But still it seems to be lacking something, but you don’t know what it is. This type of poem is like the date where you have a good time filled with good conversations and laughs and that lasts for hours and late into the night, but it feels like it was an only hour, and you walk her home, but she doesn’t give you a good night kiss. “What?” you ask yourself. “I thought everything was going well. What happened?” And so you walk away having had a good time, but you are confused. Maybe there will be some clarity tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow you will get a kiss. But for now, it’s time to be alone.

A fourth reason for stopping work on a poem is that you have come to an impasse. In this situation, you know what is wrong with the poem and you know it can better, but you just can’t figure out how to make it better at the moment. You know you will, but you just can’t figure it out right now. This is the poem you set aside on purpose and let your unconscious work on it for the next few days or weeks. This is the date with whom you play hard to get. You let the other person do the work. “Maybe I’ll kiss you at some later date . . . if you’re lucky.”

So however it has come to be, you stop working on a poem. You always stop working on poem, unless you are working on it in an unconscious manner. But there always comes a point when you put down you pencil or pen or walk away from the typewriter or keyboard. When this occurs, there are four afterlives or possibilities for the poem between now and the next time you look at.

The first afterlife or possibility is that at some future time you will return to the poem and it will be even stronger than you remember it. The sounds will be cleaner and underscore meanings and emotional content, the imagery will be crisper, the leaps will seem downright natural and universal, and it will be clear and sound and feel true.

Another afterlife is that the poem doesn’t change at all. It’s exactly the same as you left it and remembered it. It’s done nothing.

A third possibility is that any problems you had with the poem have somehow sorted themselves out, or at least some of them. This is a magical moment. And you feel delighted and relieved. This poem might still need a little work, but the big work has taken care of itself.

I’m not sure how those three afterlife possibilities occur, but they do.

The Afterlife of a PoemThe fourth afterlife is the one that woke me up, and I think I know the causes of this afterlife possibility. The fourth possibility for the poem after you stop working on it and then return to it sometime later is that the poem gets worse. We’ve all experienced this. We all know this feeling. In fact, from what I’ve heard from most people is the poem being worse is the typical afterlife result of a poem. But why does the poem get worse, especially if when we left the poem we thought that it was a strong poem. Especially after we had such a good time with it and we got a kiss good night.

Here is what I think happens. When we are in the act of writing a poem, we are gods that know everything. We know what each word means or how we want it to mean, we know how each sound is contributing or how we want it to contribute, and we know what the images are doing or how we want the images to perform. In fact, there are certain words, sounds, and images that act as pillars for the poem. These pillars hold up the poem. (Yes, all the words, sounds, and images are pillars holding up the poems, but some bear more weight than others.) These pillars are initially filled with personal meanings and associations and/or immediate associations. The pillars also contain immediate energies that arise from a poem in its first drafts. While we are in the first composition of the poem, we can create all sorts of magic to make those pillars stand tall and firm. If they wobble a little bit, we just wiggle our fingers at them and cast the magical spell “Stay.” And the poem stays. What we are doing here is imposing on the poem. We are hovering over the poem and controlling it. When we walk away it will, of course, collapse.

But this collapse doesn’t have to happen. Before you leave the poem, you need to stand outside of it and really talk to the poem. You need to ask a word, image, sound, or rhythm something like, “I know that if I say ‘bison’ I will think of the animal and meat and some of those cave paintings in France, and those all have special meanings for me, but will the reader be able to experience those things? Will my unique experiences confuse the poem? Are the associations to ‘bison’ mine own or are they more universally shared? Will anyone else think of meat or paintings or will they just think of the animal? or might they even think of other things like a baseball team?” In addition, some of the associations that you have during the writing of the poem you might forget when you return to the poem after some time has passed, and that is why the poem becomes worse. You have become the reader who is not intimate with the meanings that only you knew at the poem’s composition. The poem is not speaking beyond you.

This means before you leave the poem, you have to make sure those pillars are solid and coated in stainless steel. They have to endure. And the pillars also have to be real. They can’t just exist inside of you or in some “imaginary gardens.”

Charles OlsonAnother reason a poem gets worse after you leave it is that it loses energy. A poem in its early stage has lots and lots of energy. It’s a “high-energy construct,” as Charles Olson called it. There’s excitement in writing the poem, and sometimes the writing-excitement energy can be confused with the actual energy of the poem. If the actual poem doesn’t have much energy and the energy you are experiencing is just because of the excitement of writing it, then after you stop writing and then return to the poem later, there will be less energy than you expected and the poem will seem worse.

But there’s also an energy discharge, and this one is harder to explain, but I’ll call it original energy for now, but I’ll provide more subtle definitions below. A poem always radiates energy. The stronger the poem, the more energy it radiates it and the more sparks it can provide in peoples’ lives. The problem is how to contain that original energy of the poem. Each poem starts off in a high-energy field. (Well, many do.) The poem screams to be written. It’s knocking on the doors to your brain and heart and soul, and saying, “Let’s write. I’ve something new to add to the universe that will change people.” or “Let’s write. I’ve something cool to say.” That energy and the energy that results when you write the poem are the energies that are hard to sustain. The energy slowly leaks out. This is why a poem can also seem worse after stopping work on it and returning to it later. These are the hardest energies to sustain during revision.

Allen GinsbergIn fact, in my experiences, revision tends to revise away that original energy, especially too much revision. I think this is why Allen Ginsberg says to “revise lightly.” I like that advice, but for me, it’s slightly different. For me it is “revise quickly.”

I used to work on poems for days or weeks and sometimes years. I used to revise and revise and revise. In my revisions, though, by the end, the final poem never seemed that great. Oh sure, there were all these technical pyrotechnics, but the poem was no better for it. The poem just showed that I knew some poetic techniques and that I had learned something about poetry. The technique had become the poem. The poem was without energy or with little. The energy that was there was me saying I wrote this poem and from me reading it. But this is not the point.

I’ve found that once I’ve stopped working on a poem, it became really hard to come back to it because I couldn’t remember the original energies. “Remember” might not be the best word nor “original.” Maybe it is that I could not feel the the impetus energy. I can’t feel the impetus energy. Impetus energy being the energy that caused the poem. Original energy being the energy of the poem as it is being written.

So what I’ve learned to do is to revise quickly. I think all my years of enduring revisions have prepared me for this. But now I need to revise quickly. I need to contain that impetus energy before it goes away. I need to condense days, weeks, or years of revisions into one moment. I need to be able to quickly determine if a word, image, or sound is going to go beyond my personal associations and be relevant to others. I need to make the language crisp now. I need to make sure all the harmonies are tight now. I need to make sure the rhythms rise and fall in the best spots now. I need to contain all this energy now so it will endure, because if I come back to it later that impetus energy will be gone. There will still be original energies and they will radiate, but the impetus creative energy will be gone.

Quantum Foam

Quantum Foam

It’s kind of like the Big Bang. I can’t see the Big Bang, but I know everything that happened shortly after. I know the quantum foam that appeared at 10-72 seconds after the Big Band and the inflation that occurred at 10-41 seconds after the Big Bang, but I can’t see the Big Bang anymore. It’s gone. I can feel original energies, but I can’t feel the impetus energies.

Of course, this revision technique is unique to me. I know others who can revise for lengthy periods of time and still maintain energy in the poem. But I do think energy leakage is the reason for a poem feeling worse after you come back to it some time later.

Still my revise quickly method is applicable to everyone, or at least worth consideration. When you revise, be aware of what the poem is doing. That is, is it doing something immediate and personal and something you hope it to do or is it doing something enduring and universal? If it is the former, don’t leave the poem until it is doing the latter. Make sure you have strong pillars. Analyze your energies. Are the poem’s energies coming from the excitement of writing or are they the genuine energies from the poem? If the former, don’t leave the poem until the energies are the latter. Always try to revise to keep impetus and original energies. Do not revise away impetus and original energies.//

11
Mar
12

On Richard Swigg’s Quick, Said the Bird: Williams, Eliot, Moore, and the Spoken Word

A version of this review may appear in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose issue 16, due out in early 2013.

       Now the music volleys through as in
       a lonely moment I hear it. Now it is all
       about me. The dance! The verb detaches itself
       seeking to become articulate    .

                           And I could not help thinking
                           of the wonders of the brain that
                           hears that music and of our
                           skill sometimes to record it

                                (W. C. Williams, "The Desert Music")

Quick, Said the Bird

The title of Richard Swigg’s book, Quick, Said the Bird: Williams, Eliot, Moore, and the Spoken Word (University of Iowa Press, 2012), is a bit misleading because you might think this book will be about page poets (Williams, Eliot, and Moore) and stage poets (spoken word poets). I mean, don’t we nowadays consider W. C. Williams, T. S. Eliot, and Marianne Moore as page poets – that is poets we read on the page with the quiet voice in our head? And don’t we consider the spoken word poets (the stage poets) as all voice, body, and stage presentation? Isn’t that the dichotomy we find ourselves with in today’s poetry? save a few poets who are simultaneously page and stage poets, like T. S. Ellis, Sean Thomas Dougherty, and Rob Carney, among others. But what the stage poet has is vocalization that infects the body with meaning. Unfortunately, we lose that infection when we only read poems in our heads.

Swigg in Quick, Said the Bird reminds us of the importance of reading Williams, Eliot, and Moore aloud. In fact, Swigg seeks:

to render the speaking voice of the printed text – one that has to be deduced from the marks on the page, is constructed out loud, stays subject to the changing pace and the needs of breath-control, emphases, and enunciation, then possibly ends a verse sequence (an unfolding temporal sequence, not static fragments) in a way that is totally different from the beginning. It is an interpretation of lines by performance – a discovery of meaning’s unexpected contours by lips, tongue, and throat – that can often revise the mind’s interpretation of a poem that has been largely known through silent reading (xiv).

In fact, Swigg will put auditory importance above the text: “I find overall the surest way forward is to remain an independent vocal reader of the verse” (xv). So, while he will listen to the many recordings of Williams, Eliot, and Moore reading their poems and keep a “sympathetic yet critical relationship to the recordings,” he will put more emphasis on how he reads the poem, which I find a good move. I mean, I will at times listen to a poet read a poem of theirs, but I will use their readings more as possible way as to how to read the poem. Often, poets don’t read their own poems well for a variety of reasons. When I read another poet’s poem aloud, I can slow it down and dwell on a specific sound or set of sounds. I can focus on a rhythm or harmony. I can find more clarity in the sonic units and build to a more meaningful reading from those units. I can build a whole auditory experience from researching various voices. I think Swigg is doing something similar, too.

T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot

In addition, the poet may change how he or she reads the poem. For instance:

By 1946, when he [Eliot] came to record The Waste Land  [. . .] [h]e had seemingly long forgotten what was once so immediate to him in the poem’s original daring resonances when he first read the poem to friends in June 1922. Then “He sang it & chanted it[,] rhythmed it,” says Virgina Woolf, intimating the vocal variety and energy which characterize (without the singing) Eliot’s virtually unknown and only recently published recording of the poem at Columbia University in 1933 (38-9).

Plus, by Swigg reading it aloud, he can pick up nuances. For instance:

The “garret” clinks out the bones’ fright merely, “Rattled by the rat‘s foot only, year by year”: a line of such resurgent confidence, as one reads it aloud, that this “I” can truly be said, with the poem’s time sense rhymingly redeemed from emptiness, to have outlasted “year to year” what once spread from “ear to ear” as a wintry chuckle (44).

We can’t hear that nuance from silently reading in our head

In Quick, Said the Bird, Swigg focuses on Williams short-lined verse (and at the end he briefly addresses Williams’ longer poems with the “triadic layouts”), Eliot’s The Waste Land and other poems but not The Four Quartets (which I find to be Eliot’s most musical poetry, especially the first page and a half which melt me), and Moore’s poetry from before 1940 to remind us that poetry needs to be read aloud:

So, though the poetic text is not an over-rigid score, and though Moore, Eliot, and Williams can play the voice against “typographic dispositions,” the read-aloud words on the page provide the clue not just to the intonation but to the vital forward movement of the poem, by syntax or sequential impetus: what I describe in this book, together with other acoustic features, by the language of metrics, rhyme, rhythm, assonance, alliteration, aspirates, syllabic emphases, and speech-sounds, as well as by a wider linguistic portrayal that invokes cries, whispers, leaps, thrusts, sinking, resurgences, lingerings, or rapped-out curtness (xvi).

William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams

He also spends considerable time revealing harmonies in these poets’ poems, especially of Williams, whose voice we usually consider to be “short-line bursts of breath,” and he explores the subtle harmonies of Moore. I’m grateful for these moments, because harmony is my favorite aspect of poetry because of how it sounds in the ear and how it can yoke together words or images on an unanticipated level to draw together disparate items and find a commonplace for them. Harmonies are another level of discursiveness the poet can use. It’s another way for the poet to leap.

Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore

Swigg makes us hear how Williams has a “brash speech style” (2), how with Eliot’s voice you get the sound of an insecure self who almost wants to hide from the voices of the public, yet whose voice is what holds the fragments together in The Waste Land, and how Moore’s voice becomes almost like a bridge between the two but with the extra dimension:

to what has so far been largely discussed as voices, “personages” or “some good characters” [. . . ] whether in the form of outgoing address, dialogue, or solitary speech, with the effect of syntax, sentences, rhyme or non-rhyme, conventional metrics, or word-blocking balancings. Moore’s example takes us further to governing frame which holds such effects together; for what discussion of William’s short-line poems has only indicated, and what is to become more explicitly important in the treatment of Eliot’s later verse-paragraphs – visual containment cramming acoustic variety inside itself to the point of spillage – is the tension which Moore makes central. If Eliot and Williams are dislocated from their native scene, and seek a way back to newly occupiable ground, Moore, another foreigner in her own country – rejecting those who would reject her style of speech – brings into play the figures and multitudes of a sounded world which now is hers alone, and no others (16-17).

However, Swigg does not compare which poet is better musically, but he does set them “side by side as vocalists to whom we actually listen” (118). As a result, Swigg enables us to hear the effects and how each poet’s use of sounds adds to the meanings and densities of their poems.

While he talks about sounds, Swigg also intermittently explores how each poet is an American poet while estranged to it. For him, Moore “projects outwards the thrust, agilities, and surprises of a unique speaking voice” (28), Williams is the more native, and Eliot:

by going further from a homeland then Williams and Moore in their own necessary distancings, Eliot, for all the emotional cost, is then most intently native – not by harking back to American shores, as in the Boston “nighttown” sequence of the draft, “He Do the Police in Different Voices,” but, as in the first lines of “The Burial of the Dead,” by feeling his way into unspecified ground with the divining care shown by Williams. The latter’s nameless plants “enter the new world naked” but Eliot can name his shoots when, by a participial probing of dormancies –

                                                   breeding
       Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
       Memory and desire, stirring
       Dull roots with spring rain

– he begets a shift of season and pace. Time is on the move, like the seaward river later in the poem. With the pulse of such currents, Eliot sounds out the rhythms and resources, the pluralities and singularities, that now, at risk of overflow – yet vitally so – enter the speech of The Waste Land (36-7).

I find this book significant because I can’t recall such an undertaking in devoting a study to the sounds of poetry. Sometimes you get a brief paragraph or two or maybe a chapter in a book, or maybe you’ll find an essay here and there, but a whole book devoted to the sounds in poetry is rare and delightful.

While reading this I hoped for a longer book that accompanied more poets, but then I thought Swigg was correct in choosing these poets because, as mentioned above, we tend to treat Williams, Eliot, and Moore as textually cerebral and as poets we only read in our heads. In Quick, Said the Bird, Swigg lifts Williams, Eliot, and Moore off the page and makes us hear them, and hear them unlike we’ve heard them before. For this I give high praise and congratulations, and I live in envy for I wish I wrote this book or a similar one.

I think Richard Swigg’s Quick, Said the Bird should be read by anyone writing poetry today, especially page poets (save Linda Beirds because she’s got the most amazing and effective sounds, and Swigg, I’m sure, could write a book about the sounds in her poetry). I suggest that today’s page poets read it because it will help them hear things in a new way or unexpected ways. Mainly, Quick, Said the Bird will give today’s poets auditory effects to steal from. Because of this book, I now have so many great devices I can use to bring out new meanings, enhance meanings, or make meanings more entertaining in the poems I will write.

Swiggs’s auditory investigations should also be read by anyone studying, teaching, or preaching Modernism, and, most important, Quick, Said the Bird: Williams, Eliot, Moore, and the Spoken Word should be read by anyone who is not reading poetry aloud or who thinks it doesn’t need to be read aloud.//

I just thought to add this appropriate image I made the other day, which is a slight variant from Zukofsky’s “A12”:

Poetry IntegralReally, that sums up this book.//

09
Mar
12

In Pursuit of the Juiciest Wine: Day 111 – Baron Philippe De Rothschild Escudo Rojo 2008 Maipo, Chile

Quick, Said the BirdToday I started reading Richard Swigg’s Quick, Said the Bird: Williams, Eliot, Moore, and the Spoken Word (University of Iowa Press, 2012). The book is about the sounds in the poems of William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot, and Marianne Moore, and so far it’s not about spoken-word poetry. So far it’s damn terrific. I mean, “Wow, someone devoted a whole book to discussing the sounds in poems!” You’d think there’d be more since poetry is sound. It’s meanings mostly arise from its melodies, harmonies, rhythms, intonations, and breathings, yet few write about this things other than an essays. So here’s a whole book, and I happy for it.

Baron Philippe De Rothschild Escudo Rojo 2008Tonight’s wine is Baron Philippe De Rothschild Escudo Rojo 2008 Maipo, Chile, and when I uncorked it, it gave a tremendous pop, which is very fitting considering the book I’m reading. And as I poured it into the decanter, I got a very wonderful smell of juicy fruits and berries.

For now, I’m going to let it decant a bit longer while I add some more thoughts to my review of Quick, Said the Bird, which should appear here in a day or so.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

While you wait, here’s a little story about this bottle. I picked up in Hannaford Farms in Rutland, VT, about two-an-a-half months ago on our way to Dixfield, ME, to visit my girlfirend’s father and step-mother for Christmas. I’ve been saving it ever since. Well, I’ve been wanting to drink it, but I had to save it for an occassion when I could write about it since I don’t know where else to get it. Mahan’s doesn’t have it 😦 Boo.

Anyway. From the back of the bottle:

[. . .] the Rothschild name comes from the German phrase “Das Rote Schild,” a reference to the red shield which originally served as the Family sign. “Escudo Rojo” is the literal Spanish translation.

“The Red Shield” of wine. Hmm. Well, I’ve been shielding you enough from a description. So in the words of the French, allons-y le bouclier rouge.

The back of the bottle also says this wine is blend of “four traditional grape varieties,” though it doesn’t say which ones, and I can’t find any sources on the internet. Based just on the waft I got from pouring I’m going to guess one of them is a Cabernet Sauvignon, and I’m positive about that, and I’m going to guess Syrah and Merlot.

Now, that I’ve smelled it with integrity, I’m sticking with my guess. I’m also adding that I love this nose with cherries, peppers, and a hints of cantaloupe and earthiness. It smells juicy. It smells like there’s a Washington Merlot in there, which may be why I’m getting juicy green apples. Oh, and vanilla. And some cola. My gosh, I’m drooling over the possibilities.

The color is dark, royal purple that is 85% opaque.

The finish is tart as you might get from a green apple. Why do I always pick up the finish first?

It’s also a bit bitter on the finish.

The nose is way better than the taste. The nose is all hope and warm fuzzies of goodness. The taste is kind of ordinary, or maybe my expectations were set to high from the nose.

You know what. I’m changing my Merlot from above to Carmenere. That’s what is hurting this wine. To me Carmenere smells like Merlot, but it doesn’t taste like. It’s like Merlot is The Beatles and the Carmenere is the Dollar Store version of The Beatles, or The Monkees. (I thank Harvey for that Beatles-Monkees analogy.) Carmenere’s DNA is very similar to Merlot, too. Actually, the more I sip it, the more I pick up some luscious cherries and pepper. It’s getting better with each sip. The bitterness and tartness are fading. It’s juicy and dry at the same time. It’s juicy on the palate and dry on the gums. It’s lip smacking. There’s some smoke, too.

Anyway, I’m liking this more and more. I think it will go good with a spinach salad that has crumbled bacon. It should also complement smoked gouda cheese.

I’ll say 88 points, or a B+.

I don’t remember what I paid for it, but I wouldn’t pay more than $12 or $13.

Oh so I did some more research. This wine is:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon 40%
  • Carmenere 37%
  • Syrah 18%
  • Cabernet Franc 5%

Okay. I taste that Cabernet Franc, now, but it’s good. I usually despise the Cabernet Franc, but it’s hiding itself inside the Carmenere. It’s wearing Carmenere camouflage.

To read the tasting notes I found, which also includes the blending notes, click Baron Philippe De Rothschild Escudo Rojo 2008 Tasting Notes. It even has a map so you can locate Maipo Valley, Chile.

Their tasting notes say it’s “round, fruity.” I say it’s “cubical and dark berry.”//

08
Mar
12

Jennifer Reid Interviews Carrie Oeding on Our List of Solutions

The following interview will appear in issue 15 of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose.

Our List of SolutionsCarrie Oeding’s first collection of poetry, Our List of Solutions (42 Miles Press, 2011), enters the conversation on poetic schools and forms with a distinctly new voice that draws upon the way art and literature have constructed their selves throughout the years. It wrestles with the notion of human authenticity, the relationship of self to other, and how to make meaning in a world full of a multiplicity of meanings, which are simultaneously socially constructed and individualistic. At its crux, the book questions what it means to be human and how to reconcile our ontology as dialogical beings with the consciousness that we also want to want for ourselves, that meaning ultimately resides within an individual’s recognition of the complex relationship of what makes a self, a self that cannot exist without its interaction with others. While the speakers of these poems can appear lonely, this book celebrates loneliness as a connection to the all of human experience. Unlike Anton Chekov’s banker in “The Bet” who despises “freedom and life and health, and all that in your books is called the good things of the world” and who further declares “I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a mirage,” this collection of poems embraces the flaws and foibles of humanity as that which allow us, if we are mindful, to love who we are. This interview took place over the course of a month through email.

Jennifer Reid: Poets and poetry are often placed into different schools of thought or categories: language poets, narrative, lyric, spoken word, etc. The poems in Our List of Solutions do not neatly fit into any one category. How might you classify them among the various terms poets and critics throw around these days?

Carrie Oeding: I know that these poems are voice-driven, but they are neither talky, ultra-talk poems nor discursive poems. I know that these poems are trying to work something out on the page. I know that the book wrestles with ideas of authenticity, and implicitly raises such questions as How can I perform authentically among performers? while that question seems impossible to answer. How can you perform authentically when everything is artifice? This question is what I struggle with when I write – how can I write a poem that surprises and delights me? I learned to be greedy from early on – pull from wherever poetry surprises me.

I’m circling around your question as I want to get something right here, with what I mean. I agree, Our List of Solutions does not fit neatly into a school of poetry. But it’s reacting to a number of things that frustrates me about poetry. I love so many poets and poems, but there is a lot I detest about the art, too. I wish I were a sculptor, but I would likely feel the same way, wouldn’t I? Poetry to me is gestural, an experience, communicative. Which is what sculpture is to me, too and why I love it. You approach, question, exchange with the work. When I feel like I’m reading something that is unnecessary or kidding itself or so done, done, done, I feel like it’s exemplary of the underbelly of social interactions and how we’ll fool each other. I don’t exclude myself from this scrutiny. And it drives me nuts, and it makes me write, at least that was what drove some of this first book. I want to explore other perspectives now. What I like about what I’m saying above is that it’s kind of bullshit, except when it’s not. Art has so many reasons for existence, just like human interaction.

JR: I love what you say about poetry being gestural, a communicative experience. We all have stories to tell, and the telling is a human interaction, you know? We don’t just tell stories for ourselves to hear them, even if we are trying to figure something out for ourselves. What narrative does this collection of poems tell?

CO: There is an arc to the book, which implies there is a narrative, but the progression in the book is of perspective, not of event. In the beginning of the book a lot of the speakers push at what kind of authentic reaction or experience you can have when the self seems limited, constructed. The book shifts, and its speakers, while still just as restless and biting in some ways, begin to find new perspectives about the self and meaning-making that they wish to be surprised by in the first half of the book.

JR: You hit on something here with which I continually wrestle. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of sociology and philosophy, each of which are an attempt to understand the nature of humanity. An act poetry itself, it seems to me, also does this. As humans are social beings, as evidenced in language being a human characteristic, one could make the claim that humans by nature are dialogical and dialectical beings, we stretch ourselves outward toward the other, and through other, we come to know ourselves. How do these poems speak to this characteristic of humanity?

CO: This book is all about the other. A number of the speakers in the book are afraid they are nothing without the other. This is particularly frustrating to these speakers because they feel the other is limiting at times, which is really a frustration with the self. They look to the other for a means of making sense of the self, for ways to live. The speakers sometimes wrestle with the social constrictions of meanings available to them. And these options feel imposed on them at times, for instance in “The Women Wear Black.” But these poems find a reason to be, which fights past this, found in the performance. This is the authenticity, what you do with these artifices.

JR: That’s a really interesting paradox, and so true of humans. In a way we do perform the roles that we come to be socialized into. Stepping outside of these roles can cause alienation, but realizing this, becoming conscious, causes alienation as well. The poem “Joy” seems to me to capture this sense of alienation. Can you talk a little about what that poem wrestles with and what it tries to reconcile?

CO: I actually mean performance here as a positive, not as getting by or playing the part, but that the only authenticity these speakers have is to take artifice, social construction, and roles and do something new with them. Perform. This can potentially create new ways of making sense and meaning.

So you have this conflict here, which you point out, of limited choices: playing a role or standing outside, alienated, which is the position my speakers fear. But in a poem like “Joy” while the speaker does feel alienated for wanting something “more” than what’s available to her, she has a bigger concern, which is how to find it. To me, the speaker’s need to speak is not to express feelings of alienation. It is to work out her problem with how our options for experience and making sense of this experience feel limited and to work out what to do about it.

JR: The title of this collection implies that the speakers of these poems see solutions to their conflicts, tensions, apprehensions, problems, etc. From where does the title come?

CO: I think the title for some might be too quickly seen as ironic. Meaning, the collective, the community, thinks it knows how to be, how to define, and the individual speakers in the poems react to these ideas, as they are nothing like solutions, which is the irony. But I think there is something else going on. Making lists indicates someone will know how to achieve the solution – this is the problem that the book sets up. There’s that gap between what to do and how to do it. I want to point out that it’s not irony, because I am not just setting up this tension to notice, these speakers are trying to do something about it. There is a “reach” from the speakers in the poems to do something about.

JR: What solutions are offered?

CO: That’s an interesting question for me to consider. A lot of this is for readers to come to. But I would point you back up to question #3 after you read the book.

JR: And this sort of circles back to the idea of humans being inherently connected to others. We test our hypotheses against the collective human consciousness. I know that’s such a pretentious poetical term thrown around often in discussion of poetry, but I think there’s something to it nonetheless. Each of us embodies an entire pool of consciousnesses: our ancestors, our parents, the culture of people in which we grow up, the people and experiences we meet that counter our previous consciousness. In some ways it’s impossible to find an authentic self in this mix. I think the poem “Apology to Meditation” wrestles with this. On the one hand the speaker is critical of her friend who wants to stay in the moment while the speaker sees all moments simultaneously interacting to create meaning, but at the same time the speaker desires a singularity of meaning, which can never be the case. Which other poem in the book do you feel offers a solution of sorts to this dilemma?

CO: I think the book’s speakers are less concerned with the reality of authenticity and the self and more concerned with how to live with this self and with others. The speakers essentially ask How shall I live? and are uninterested in asking, Who am I? or worse, How will attempts at understanding always fail? Personally, what will get me out of bed and engaged in life and art and ideas and relationships is asking this first question.

For me, “Apology to Meditation” is also obsessed with the idea of not giving up the obsessive thinking: “Dear Meditation, I’m sorry, I know I am getting you all wrong, but now you know how a person can feel and why they wouldn’t want to let that go.” I’m not sure if I see the speaker in “Apology” as desiring singularity of meaning. Maybe so. Maybe if she could really nail it on the head and get it “right,” which IS impossible, a kind of impossibility that the speaker in a poem like “Another Farewell Song“ loves because it calls for loquaciousness. Not mindless chattering, but to really invest in language to name her experience.

JR: Within these poems, I see the speaker/narrator (as opposed to the characters who also speak) being very in control of the movement of the poem. Would you agree with this or do you think this control unravels at junctures, which may also tell us something about humanity.

CO: Absolutely! Which is funny to me, because if someone said they were reading a book of poems whose speakers or language were very controlled, I wouldn’t jump to read it. Control works differently here. The speakers in Our List of Solutions aren’t controlled as in chiseled out, as in each word is like passing a kidney stone.

These poems have a very particular perception of self, other, or meaning-making, and it’s hard to hang on to, to get at exactly right. No, I don’t mean this, I mean THIS, the speakers want to say. Not this usual way of interpreting or responding but this way, slightly askew, slant. And it’s very important to me to nail exactly what this problem is, this tension that the speakers are working out on the page. The last thing on earth they’d want would be to be misinterpreted, when the reason they’re mostly speaking is because they are frustrated with how others interpret and how there’s a lack of surprising interpretations and ways to live in their world.

I think control is unspooling all around the speakers while they talk, the potential for it to. They are trying to work something out through language and performance to stave off coming undone. They are tenacious and stubborn, not fragile.

Our List of Solutions adJR: I totally agree, which is why I was taken aback by one of the blurbs on the back of the book that refers to the women in this book as fragile. It’s true that there is a loneliness in these poems, but that’s sort of the human condition, and, in a sense, that makes all humans fragile, but the women in these poems do not accept fragility per se. They seem to find strength in their relation to other and, therefore, within their selves. We are so bound to others as humans – they are in essence what allow us to construct the self, and by definition the self is supposed to be singular. Poetry really fleshes out this dynamic. The act of writing a poem is such a singular act, but at the same time it draws on everything outside and inside of a self. I think all poets must wrestle with this, so what poets do you feel most inform this collection and your work?

CO: There are poets who I guess guided the work, in the sense that when I found them, they opened up poetry for me, or gave me permission to play, or who just excited me. Mary Ruefle, Kenneth Koch, Stevie Smith, Gertrude Stein, Larry Levis, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Fredrick Seidel, or Russell Edson. Dean Young’s First Course in Turbulence, Claire Bateman’s Clumsy, Mattea Harvey’s Pity the Bathtub, Louise Gluck’s The Wild Iris – single collections often played a bigger role. But a lot of specific or singular works influence this book – the voices in the fiction of Barry Hannah, Grace Paley, Lydia Davis, Miranda July, and Amy Hempel, just to name a few of the biggies. Jazz, by Toni Morrison. That book IS voice.

There are other factors informing the work just as significantly. Visual artists, music, my perspective on interpersonal exchanges, one particular day in a certain city, five years in a liberal Appalachian college town, eightteen years in a sparse Midwestern farm, five summers in North Carolina, you see.

JR: How much revision and reshuffling did this collection go through before you felt it was finally done?

CO: That’s hard to delineate, as when I write I always revise. So, on the individual poem level, I rarely write a “complete” poem and then work on revising it. I’ll just keep it in motion and evolution until it’s done (which was anywhere from two days to a year for poems in this book), and then it’s done done.

I always had the intuition that what I was writing during my years at Ohio University (my Ph.D. program) were falling together, but someone, I don’t remember who, said to me in my MFA program not to force a project on too soon. Of course, my intuition, like all intuition, was informed and I was making a collection intentionally at this time. But I didn’t stop to really assess until about three-fourths of the way through. I didn’t need to, because I knew something was evolving and I’d stop and examine it when the time came. There’s nothing romantic or mystical about it, and I don’t think I’ll write all books this way, but it was really exciting to write a book this way. I hope it will help any future collections, it they happen, by remembering this following of the perspective and the language, rather than gripping foremost to a project. I don’t think this is always a bad thing, but man, you see a lot of books of poems for which it is.

JR: What advice do you have for poets trying to get their first book published?

CO: Well, I guess if they are at the point where the book is done and they’re going to publish it, then good luck and make a thorough list of all of the contests and open reading periods. Don’t hold out for 3-4 prizes that you think are the best. This isn’t the determining factor if people are going to read your book or not, not in the poetry world. But if you’re at the stage where you ask, “Is this book I’m working on publishable,” any advice would really depend on where the work is at. Publishing every poem in a literary journal isn’t a determining factor in if the book is publishable. There are so many variables – there really is no real narrative for how things should happen. I don’t know. Look at your manuscript. Is there something new going on? I hope so.

//

Oeding, Carrie. Our List of Solutions. South Bend, IN: 42 Miles P, 2011.

//

Jennifer Reid is a Ph.D. student in Educational Policy and Leadership at Marquette University where she also works as Student Affairs Communications Director and teaches courses in English. She earned her MFA in poetry from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University, where she also studied English and technology with an emphasis on publishing. Her writing has been published in Town Creek, Knock, Willow Springs, The Strange Fruit, Marble, Redactions, and other venues. She has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She currently lives in Milwaukee, WI with her partner Dan and basset hound Higgins.

Carrie Oeding was born and raised in Minnesota. She has lived and taught in Washington, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Greensboro Review, Best New Poets 2005, DIAGRAM, Brevity: A Journal of Concise Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhere. She was awarded the Claude Kantner Award in her final year at Ohio University, where she received her PhD in Creative Writing/American Literature. She teaches at Marshall University and lives in Huntington, WV, with her husband, poet Kent Shaw. Oeding is currently working on a collection of essays and a second collection of poems.

//

03
Mar
12

In Pursuit of the Juiciest Wine: Day 110 – Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Philippine 2010

Southern Miss Golden EaglesToday, my girlfriend and I were accepted into the PhD Creative Writing program at The University of Southern Mississippi. It’s a three-year program, which is awesome, and it has good writers there. We are happy to both be accepted into one school that is the same for both of us. It relieves a lot of pressure. We still have six other schools to hear from, but Southern Miss is a great choice.

Now for some crazy, random stuff. I currently teach once class of Introduction to Creative Writing at SUNY Brockport, where I received an MA in English a long time ago and where my girlfriend is finishing up her Masters. The team name for SUNY Brockport is the Golden Eagles. The team name for Southern Miss is the Golden Eagles, too. Wait. There’s more. The people who lived in our magnificent apartment before us, also got accepted into Southern Miss. That’s crazy. They went for a Masters in Dance, but still it is crazy.

Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Philippine 2010So to celebrate, we will be drinking Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Philippine 2010 from Côtes-du-Rhône Villages. A cuvée is a blend, but I’m not sure what a Cuvée Philippine is. (Literally, “cuvée” translates into “vat.”) I hope it’s good, especially since it has been decanting for three hours.

But first, what makes up this cuvée? It is 55% Grenache, 35% Syrah, and 10% Carignan, and the grapes come from vines that are 10-70 years old. I hope most of them come from the 70-year-old vines. And since it is mostly Grenache, I’ll assume it is from the southern Rhone region.

To the tasting! Allons-y.

This wine has the color of a black cherry and is 90% opaque.

The nose is smoky and earthy. I mean real earthy. I can smell the dirt from where the vines grew. There are also black cherries, strawberries, and lavender.

Oh my goodness. What a texture. So soft. So round. So solid. There are no holes in this. The taste is steady. It’s not compartmentalized.

I pick up darkness on the taste. It tastes like midnight in the Garden of Eden the night before the fall. This is the wine they would to need to drink after they were expelled. It even has a little bitterness to the finish. The finish is also dark and with a little pepper.

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

"Expulsion from the Garden of Eden". Thomas Cole. 1828.

In less metaphorical terms, it has dark berries, especially tart black berries.

This wine is $13 at Mahan’s in Brockport. It’s well worth the price. I imagine this would go good with some woody mushrooms, like Shitake mushrooms. It will also go good with hamburgers, especially if the outside of the hamburger is slightly charred. I think it will also go well with kielbasa.

The finish really dominates this taste. It lingers and it needs food to make it end.

I can see why Robert Parker gave this 90 points. This is a typical dark wine that he would like. If you like, dark, earthy wines, you will love this, especially at $13. It is a little too dark for me, as wines Robert Parker likes often are. But I can see how he gave it 90 points. But based on what I like, I gave it 89 points, but I respect what it does.//




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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