Posts Tagged ‘Poetics

14
Apr
15

Review of Alexandra Socarides Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics

Socarides – Dickinson UnboundIn Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics, Alexandra Socarides reads Emily Dickinson’s poems to understand how the materiality on which Dickinson wrote her poems affected her poetics. Socarides examination is divided in to five loosely linked chapters, plus an “Afterword,” and each chapter examines a material aspect of Dickinson’s writing practice.

The first chapter examines how the folded sheets of paper that Dickinson wrote on and that would later be bound with pinholes and red thread (the fascicles) not only affected the composition of individual poems but the manner in which they were arranged. As for the composition, for instance, larger pieces of paper allowed Dickinson to expand poems, while smaller pieces forced her to condense. Socarides also contends that the poems were not ordered thematically, chronologically, to be printed, or ordered in any other method that is often attributed to Dickinson’s organizational method. They were ordered, Socarides suggests, not only so the poems could be rearranged, but so Dickinson could examine the limitations and possibilities present in written texts (private) and printed texts (public dissemination). This side of the argument is proven well by comparison with other writers of the time who had similar practices and by the process of how she made her fascicles, despite the easy options that were available to her in a 19th century industrial culture with ready-made notebooks. However, as for an individual poem, Socarides tries to read the poems as an experiment in lineation based on the width of the page. Here the argument is less convincing as Dickinson clearly had a line in mind, most likely informed by ear and rhythm, and the edge of the page did not affect the length she heard. Even if the page was too narrow to contain the whole length of the line before extending onto a second line in the written drafts, Dickinson was clearly hearing beyond the edge of the page. In the end, Socarides does show that fascicles should not be read as books, but they should be read as something that is made and that does work.

The second chapter looks at poems that were part of an epistolary practice and a copying practice – poems first written in a fascicle and copied into a letter or first written in a letter and then copied into a fascicle or letters written as poems – and how there was no distinction between the epistolary and poetry genres for Dickinson, despite what critics have claimed. Dickinson, like others in 19th century America, was not concerned with the differences of genre but was concerned with the act of composition and the tension that exists between private and public communication. Socarides convincingly shows how the letter and poem are often indistinguishable by closely examining the context and the spacing and indentation of “As if I asked a common alms –” and how it is laid out in the letter in which it first appeared. As a result, critics relying on the demarcation between modes of writing to inform their criticism now have to reassess how they approach Dickinson’s compositions. More important, perhaps, is how the concern of printing or laying out Dickinson’s poems and letters has overshadowed how Dickinson was challenging the media of private and public acts of composition and her use “I.”

The third section examines another genre – the elegy, which Socarides defines as a poem shaped by the conflict of individual bereavement and the traditions of memorialization. In this way, Socarides shows how Dickinson challenges the assumptions of a particular genre by realizing poetry’s inability to represent loss and provide consolation. Socarides contends that the use of “or” – either as indicator to variations of revision or how it is used in a poem – interrupts time and causes a looping effect, which is in contrast to the temporal flow of an elegiac poem. The argument extends further into the fascicles themselves, which consist of multiple folded pieces of paper each one with a beginning and ending and often containing variations on portraying or interacting with death. In other words, the “or,” the folded sheet, the whole fascicle, and the numerous poems centered on death highlight the interruption of life’s journey by death, which is a creative reading of the materiality of the fascicles.

The fourth chapter opens brilliantly but confusingly. Socarides reads “I felt a Cleaving in my Mind” in relation to Dickinson abandoning her fascicle writing practice and turning to loose-leaf-paper-poem writing and to show how “the poems are the paper” (106). The premise lies on the idea that the fascicles have a sequence, which earlier Socarides claims did not. If the reader can navigate around that, then the argument that the loose-leaf-paper-poem writing confounds sequence (both spatial and temporal) and enacts the limits of sequence as an ordering device becomes a fascinating argument, not to mention the comparisons between the fascicles and the metaphors and images in “I felt a Cleaving in my Mind.”

Chapter five picks up on a mostly neglected area of study – Dickinson’s later writings on scraps of different types of paper. Here, Socarides trains us how to read these fragmented and less formal writings. Again, Socarides sees it as Dickinson confronting the issues of sequence and relationships, as well as closure, which arises with her many variant endings for poems. During these later years of writing, Dickinson had many unfinished poems, but, nonetheless, she saved these unfinished poems to preserve “the material site of this [writing] process” (132).

The “Afterword” teaches us how we can apply Socarides’ materials readings to other poets, such as William Carlos Williams and Robert Creeley, and she highlights the significance material culture had on writing for 19th century American women poets.

While each chapter and “Afterword” focus on a specific aspect of materiality and each could be a stand-alone essay, Socarides, in the end, successfully shows a relationship between the material being written on and Dickinson’s poetics, which is Dickinson exploring the public and private media of communication and confounding various genres of poetry. This book is not just for Dickinson scholars but is also for those interested in materiality or the revision and writing process. It’s a book that will change how you read and approach literature, and, as a result, is highly recommended.

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Socarides, Alexandra. Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

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28
Jan
13

Christian Wiman’s Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics ) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 10, which was published circa April 2007.

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Christian Wiman's – Ambition and SurvivalChristian Wiman’s voice is strong & powerful in Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet (Copper Canyon Press), and if I were younger, before I knew who I was, before I knew my writing ways & its limits & its strengths, this book would have influenced my writing, as much as Ezra Pound’s essays did. Instead, Wiman is just influencing my thinking.

An early challenge of this book, a challenge that is discussed throughout the book in various ways, is a response to form. Wiman notes the argument of the critics that since:

our experience of the world is chaotic and fragmented, and because we’ve lost our faith not only in those abstractions by means of which men and women of the past ordered their lives but also in language itself, it would be naive to think that we could have such order in our art. (p 94-5)

Wiman responds to this argument:

What I am interested in, and what I want to focus on here, is a kind of closure that compromises itself, a poetry whose order is contested, even undermined, by its consciousness of the disorder that it at once repels and recognizes. (p 95)

And what underlies Wiman’s response are two thoughts. One, Wiman wants us to confront our conventions & forms. From that I extrapolate, we are the new generation, and this is our obligation. Wiman is shouting for my generation.

The second thought and what underlies much the book is the conflict that many poets/artists have – the separation of art and life. Should there be a split? Wiman thinks not. He wants more life in poetry. More experience in poetry. But he doesn’t want a life that is lived for an experience to put into poetry. He realizes that we live in a universe of a large-order through which we flounder in our own chaos and there is an inability to express that perfectly. So, is the poem “more authentic if rough and unfinished,” as critics would suggest? It’s a theme that keeps me thinking throughout the book.

Another theme is silence – the silence between the finished poem & the beginning of writing the next poem, and how the poet handles that silence. Wiman is quick to realize that all of us poets don’t write a poem a day (& I wonder how many of us younger poets actually do write a poem a day). For those who don’t write every day, there is much silence to fill. Wiman tells us why some poets drink – drinking fills the horrible silence (or perhaps quiets the screaming anxieties of not writing, either way there is silence that needs to be dealt with). Wiman, however, suggests writing prose, which is not the same as writing poetry, but it does rid the silence and the prose will have lots of attachments to the poet’s poetry. This theme of silence is explored with more intimacy and details throughout the book, though not directly.

Now, I want to talk about that Poundian voice I mentioned earlier. It comes through loud and clear in “Fourteen Fragments in Lieu of a Review.” Here’s the opening fragment from what was supposed to be a review of an anthology of sonnets.

There isn’t much literature there couldn’t well be less of. A four-hundred-page anthology of sonnets? It takes a real aberration of will to read straight through such a thing. Another man might win an egg eating contest, with similar feelings, I would imagine, of mild shock, equivocal accomplishment  obliterated taste.

Before I get further into the Pound voice, I need to side track for a moment. Anyone who wants to learn about sonnets, what sonnets should do, how they should behave, and how they work in larger view than iambic pentameter, voltas, etc., needs to read this essay. It’s a damn fine discussion that won’t be heard in the classroom, and he presents arguments/ideas, again, that make me think. New arguments and ideas. Now, returning to the Pound voice. Yes, Wiman is like my generation’s Pound. Both worked for Poetry magazine. Pound as Poetry’s foreign correspondent and Wiman as Poetry’s editor. Both are smart & influential. However, Wiman doesn’t come across as authoritative as Pound, in tone that is. Wiman is authoritative, but his authority comes across different. His tone is like what Pascal says and that Wiman quotes, though not in reference to himself. “One must have deeper motives and judge everything accordingly, but go on talking like an ordinary person.” This is what I like about Wiman. He talks smart, but he also talks ordinary. Yeah, I could have drink in a bar with this guy and have a good time chatting, whether it be about poetry or something else.

There’s much more to be said about this book, but not the room to do it. So now I must end this celebratory review, and I have three ways to end it, but I don’t know which way to choose, so here are my three endings.

One. I’ll leave you with these three out-of-context quotes that underscore the themes of Ambition and Survival.

[A] poem that is not in some inexplicable way beyond the will of the poet, is not a poem. (p 123)

There are varying depths of this internalization, though varying degrees to which a poet will inhabit, bridge, endure, ignore, enact (the verb will vary depending on the poet) the separation between experience and form, process and product, life and art, and one can see a sort of rift in literary history between what I’ll call, for simplicity’s sake, poets of observation and poets of culmination. (p 134).

I’m increasingly convinced that there is a direct correlation between the quality of the poem and the the poet’s capacity for suffering. (p 136)

Two. Ambition and Survival is really a search for this: how “[m]ore and more I want an art that is tied to life more directly” (p 23).

Three. I recommend Ambition and Survival to two types of people. One, those who write poetry. Two, those who write poetry & who are two to three years out of college & who now have to create their own writing energies in the absence of the energies a college created and radiated out, & who, in the absence of energy, are starting to question the significance of poetry in their life or the need to write it.//

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Wiman, Christian. Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2007.//

16
Jan
13

Juliet Patterson’s The Truant Lover (2006)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 8/9, which was published circa April 2007.

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Juliet Patterson's – The Truant LoverJuliet Patterson’s poems in the The Truant Lover (Nightboat Books) have the feel of elliptical poetry; however, while elliptical poetry makes the reader feel like they are missing a necessary part of a story or chunk of information that fills in the blanks of the narrative, The Truant Lover has a back story that is given to us by the book’s title and by the prefatory poem, “Note.” As a result, the reader can be engaged in the book’s happenings & not feel like they have just walked into a movie midway through. Because of this strategy, there is an elliptical feel (which I enjoy, as I enjoy how elliptical poetry thinks despite the missing information) without too much head scratching. And so the book works because we are in a collection of poems that revolve around “a meaning inseparable from its absence.” A book revolving around absence & wholeness & the imaginary & the real, or “of all that withdraws / & remains.” What do I mean? I mean that “some of the worst things in your life / never happen.” That is how the book works: through vague narratives & tight lyrics.//

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Patterson, Juliet. The Truant Lover. Beacon, NY: Nightboat Books, 2006.//

30
Dec
12

Melissa Kwasny’s Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry, 1800-1850 (2004)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 4/5, which was published circa early 2005.

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Melissa Kwasny's – Toward the Open FieldMelissa Kwasny has compiled a collection of worthy essays by poets on free verse, or the movement toward free verse, beginning with William Wordsworth’s “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” & up to & including Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse.” As with all anthologies, there should be some surprises, or unique opportunities that are seized, & both are had here. Included in this collection are two often overlooked essays: “Modern Poetry” by Mina Loy & “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” by Langston Hughes. But that is not what makes this anthology a unique & exciting collection of poetics. What puts this anthology over the top & is it contains essays from poets of non-English languages, including Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé, André Breton, Federico García Lorca, Paul Valéry, & Aimé Césaire. Kwasny’s Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry, 1800-1950  (Wesleyan University Press, 2004) also comes with a decent “Selected Bibliography” for other sources of essays on poetics, but it does lack an index.

I recommend this anthology for every poet’s library as a great reference & to remind us of where we came from & what we are trying to do. I also strongly urge that every MFA program across the land incorporate this anthology into their creative writing poetry classes, as a historical primer for free verse. This anthology is too beneficial for our younger poets to overlook. I do hope another volume comes out that features more essays from 1950-2000 by more contemporary poets. There is always growth in poetry, & there has been significant growth since 1950.//

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Kwasny, Melissa. Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry, 1800-1950. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004.//

29
Dec
12

James Longenbach’s The Resistance to Poetry (2004)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 4/5, which was published circa early 2005.

//James Longenbach – The Resistance to Poetry

After reading the first paragraph of “Preface” in James Longenbach’s The Resistance to Poetry (University of Chicago Press, 2004), I was ready to have a page-by-page argument with Longenbach. I thought his premise was not well-founded. His argument, or apology, is interesting: “Poetry is it own best enemy” & “Poetry’s mechanisms of self-resistance are themselves the source of our pleasure.” One of the premises on which he builds his argument is:

Poets who embrace these aspects of language are inevitably schooled in the art of self-resistance, and they consequently tend to recoil from any exaggeration of the cultural power of writing poems. At their most brazen, these poets have erred on the side of underestimating their art, aware that to exaggerate the extent of poetry’s purchase on attention is to weaken it.

But after I got into chapter one & after I finished chapter two, my attitude towards the book changed. I was not resistant to it, I was embracing it. I was learning. I was realizing & would conclude after finishing the book that Longenbach’s argument is not really the big point of the book, in my mind. I think Longenbach uses the argument so that he may discuss the beauty of poetry – the complex beauty of its inner workings –; the argument allows him to push forward in sharing his understanding of poetry. This is a book of poetics, & a brilliant book of poetics it is. Chapter two, “The End of the Line,” is an enthralling, in-depth study on the relation of line, syntax, & rhythm of free verse. This is the chapter that made me give myself to the book because I was learning, & on its own this chapter makes the book completely worthwhile. Another chapter, “The Other Hand,” is devoted to the use of “or” & its many implications & resulting effects. The chapter concludes: “‘Or’ is our means of defending ourselves against our own strength.”

Each chapter James Longenbach’s The Resistance to Poetry has a specific aspect to study & can stand on its own. Each chapter is tonally enjoyable & insightful. There is not a dull, unintelligent, unimaginative point in this book. You will learn from Longenbach. This book will make you love poetry more, & it may even make you a better poet.//

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Longenbach, James. The Resistance to Poetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.//

26
Dec
12

Natasha Sajé’s Bend (2004)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 4/5, which was published circa early 2005.

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Natasha Sajé's – BendA certain poet lamenting about his newest collection of poems – it not having enough good poems – shared his uncertainty about the book with Ezra Pound. Pound, trying to put the new collection of poems & the poet into perspective, commented something like, “If you are lucky enough to have one or two good poems in a book, then you have a good book.” Sajé’s book has more than a couple of good poems, & one great poem – thus a great book, if we extend Pound’s line of thinking.

“I See” is a poem I keep returning to. It is an intelligent poem that “bends” Gertrude Stein’s “A rose is a rose is a rose.” But the poem itself is not heavy-intellectual, like Stein can be; it’s the reverberations that create this intelligent poem – & so far the reverberations have sustained themselves for over a year with the reader. This poem, among others, shows how the lens of language can “bend” perception, can bend what isn’t into what is, so as to realize “then what can’t be mistaken / for something that it’s not?” This poem also succeeds because the poem makes us experience what the speaker experienced & in the same manner, & I suspect in the same amount of time. The experience traveled to the page & all the way over to this reader, which is what a great poem does. I’d love to quote more of the poem, but the experience needs to be had in full.

Nonetheless, Natasha Sajé’s Bend (Tupelo Press, 2004) is filled with more intriguing stories/experiences that bend unexpectedly, more lyrics that twist freshness from the mundane or anticipated, & more dialogues between language & perception, but all the while the poems stay clear & inviting. The language is always fresh, always moving, & always bending.//

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Sajé, Natasha. Bend. Dorset, VT: Tupelo Press, 2004.//

30
Apr
12

Abraxas Press

ABRAXAS Crow smallWe at Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose just began a subscription swap with ABRAXAS. For whatever reason the swap didn’t happen at an earlier time because of miscommunications and whatever. And, oh, I wish those miscommunications had never happened because ABRAXAS is devoted to poetry and in a beautiful way.

When I received my package, it blossomed open with these 2″ high x 1.75″ wide poetry books. Some had paper covers, some matte, and some gloss. Inside each was a poem from poets such as Ted Jonas, D. R. Wacker, Julia de Burgos, d. a. levy, Ingrid Swanberg, Jack Spicer, and Vladimir Mayakofsky. The micro books were released by poems-for-all.com, which I first assumed was an imprint of ABRAXAS Press. Poems-for-all has this to say about their tiny, portable poems:

They’re scattered around town – on buses, trains, cabs, in restrooms, bars, left along with the tip; stuffed into a stranger’s back pocket. Whatever. Wherever. Small poems in small booklets half the size of a business card to be taken by the handful and scattered like seeds by those who want to see poetry grow in a barren cultural landscape.

There are 1071 of these little poems floating around the world giving people surprises and tiny bursts of joy. I wonder what the print run for each micro book was, especially when you consider that they must have been put together with a monk’s like meditative attention to detail.

Also included are some well-made, numbered, limited edition broadsides from Costmary Press. Is this another imprint? Anyway, the broadsides vary in size and in paper stock, but they are all consistently well made and, if I’m not mistaken, they are the result of letterpress printing, which means love, care, dedication, and quality.

Then there is the grass/grasshopper green eight-page pamphlet anthology titled Suzuki Grass. When you look at the color of the cover and text pages, you just know there’s going to be this Zen quality about the poems. The saddle stitched pamphlet is about 8.25″ high x 4.25″ wide.  This was released from Black Rabbit Press. Is this another imprint? I’m starting to doubt these are all imprints, but there must be a connection other than the love and beautiful presentation of poetry.

And they also included a few back copies of ABRAXAS.

ABRAXAS Crow

ABRAXAS publishes contemporary poetry, with a special emphasis on the lyric mode. We also publish poetry in translation, as well as essays, criticism and reviews of small press poetry books.

Abraxas was the name applied by ancient gnostic sects to the Supreme Being, who was, collectively, all the spirits of the earth. The magical “abracadabra” was derived from ABRAXAS.

How about that?! A journal with emphasis on the lyric mode in a narrative-driven-poetry America. Ah, it’s love. Based on my previous experiences with this journal and just thumbing through the back copies, ABRAXAS has an eclectic taste and likes the poetry that explores language. All this poetry is contained in 6.25″ wide x 9.25″ high journal. Some covers are gloss and some are matte-like. I kinda like the matte more, but the gloss brings out the color cover images better. One issue even has standard paper for the poems and some gloss paper for the color photographs. Now, there’s an editor (Ingrid Swanberg) who understands the printing world. Oh, and on top of it all, issues are only $4. I have no idea how they can charge so little. I want to know who there printer is. (Ha, they probably print it onsite.) And subscriptions are only $16. It’s a deal. You can order here: http://www.abraxaspressinc.com/Order.html. I suggest you do. They are luscious.

To learn more about them, visit their About Us page.//




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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