You know, there are a bazillion books of poetry published in English each year. And so many of them get published into the Great Abyss: no review attention, no notice at bookstores, passed on by the chains. They simply get published and then — poof! — they're gone.
This is the stuff of tragedy. I remember, twenty-odd years ago, when I was first exploring poetry, discovering the likes of William Stafford, John Haines, Karen Brodine, and Nellie Wong simply because I was paying attention to what was coming out from smaller, independent presses. And I fell in love, and have been paying close attention since.
I hope this is mirrored in my blog posts. It's not that I won't ever offer my opinion on a book published by Random House or Harper. It's just that I figure those books have enough support from their huge publishers, and that the little guys — Curbstone, Copper Canyon, Black Widow, Hanging Loose, etc. — both deserve and need the attention that Powell's can pay them. So, that's where I stand. Let's see where it takes us.
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Ron Padgett is a curious sort of person. A habitué of the New York School of poetry, his peers and colleagues include the likes of Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman. Let me come right out and say that I don't generally like the work that's linked to this particular literary movement. Somehow, it doesn't speak to me and move me in my bones, as the likes of Rexroth or Eliot do. This doesn't mean that I don't like the experimental or nonlinear — I love some of it very much. But, for whatever reason, New York School stuff has historically left me cold.
Having thus painted myself into a corner, I now admit freely and to all and sundry that I loved Padgett's new book, How to Be Perfect. It's funny and wise and poignant, fundamentally absurd yet deeply true to life. Padgett fairly dances with language; his words and images and ideas skip lightly across the page, and you're enjoying yourself so much that you don't know you've read something that actually bears the breathtaking honor of being able to inform the way you live your life until it sneaks around behind you and bites you on the you-know-what.
In Memoriam K.
So what will you do tomorrow
now that he has died today?
Why, you'll get dressed and
fix your breakfast as you always do,
then make some coffee for your wife
and bring it to her bed, where she will say
Thank you — the nicest moment of the day,
for me, anyway. And then the sunlight
on the lawn, song in feathers
high in a tree and hidden,
as if their notes were sung
inside my head which is
come to think of it where
I hear them, as I hear him,
he who made me so much
who I am and now must be alone
with him now he is gone.
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As any reader of my blog posts knows, I'm a huge fan of Azul Editions. Their books and authors, published consciously as a countercultural statement, are simply incredible. Each book, each poem in each book, packs a punch. This stuff comes out of far left field, and it's all a reflection of Azul's mission of wanting to remake the world in a better image.
Recently they published two chapbooks that blend well with the rest of their list. The first is by Bertolt Brecht, and it's called Poems on the Theatre. It includes several poems that offer a radical restatement of the role of actor and viewer in the dramatic arts, and of the role the theater plays — or should play — in the world. These poems are masterpieces by one of the geniuses of the 20th century.
Sarah Menefee is a San Francisco-based poet and activist. Her book, The Box, is simultaneously a powerful assertion of the humanity of the most marginalized members of our society, and an indictment of those who would drag us off to war while pursuing a different kind of social war at home. Menefee is a powerful, little-known poet; this is a fine book, and deserves a wide readership.
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Frank Stanford is a cult writer of no little renown. Between 1972, when he published his first book, and his death by suicide six years later, he published seven volumes of poetry, and they're about the weirdest, most wonderful stuff imaginable. Obsessed with darkness, death, and the march of time, his books' characters live out their bizarre and often wretched little lives in a surreal remake of Stanford's Kentucky. Like I said, it's weird, but it's strangely, utterly compelling. These images, these visions draw us relentlessly in, and leave us gasping — for air, for light, for hope, I don't know what.
I dream I am asleep in a boat
with jars full of coins,
drifting through fine rushes.
Moss drips from my ears
and there are many swift wings
humming above me.
On the shore,
a kit fox with cataracts
paws out her eyes,
and in the cockleburs
a dusty robin moves her slow tongue.
Frightened crayfish move in the mud
like lonesome women.
I am afraid a woman
will burn my hair.
Stanford's books have historically been hard for me to get. I've been trying for years, and just this week Light the Dead See showed up.
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A last quick word here: Congratulations to our new Poet Laureate, Charles Simic. His poems, if you haven't read them, are marvelous, deeply echoing the triple tributaries of surrealism, Serb history and myth, and the horrors of our contemporary world. The man's a prophet, and we could do with more of them.
Books mentioned in this post