A Further Serendipity: Concerning Having Nothing to Write

DH readingI doubt there’s a writer who doesn’t experience times when there seems to be nothing to write. I’d wager, though, that that block or absence of inspiration often isn’t so much a lack of some subject as much as the result of some paralyzing judgement by that tyrannical Inner Editor every writer has that this or that matter isn’t worth writing about or that the writer, for whatever reason, just isn’t up to doing it justice.

Yesterday, the late Donald Hall‘s last poem in his notebook popped up in my newsfeed:

DH The Last Poem

Here, Hall turns the Inner Critic’s answer to the question of what’s worth writing about around, a witty if somewhat bitter solution to the problem.

Then, today, I chanced to read these remarks of Allen Ginsberg on William Carlos wcw15Williams facing the same void:

He’s almost dying, he’s got one foot in the grave (at that time, actually, he was saying, “I’ve got one foot in the grave”). And he thought he had cancer of the anus, actually, at that point. He was very sick, and he was also morbidly fantasizing, and he thought he didn’t have much to write about. (Around that time, I went to see him and he said he had nothing to write about – what can he write about? the cancer of his behind? – I think I mentioned this before). And I said, “Oh, there’s hundreds of young poets in America who would be interested in your behind! – Yes, of course, write about cancer in your behind, anything you can”.

Here, I’d argue, is a different response to the Inner Critic, one that tosses out its conventional, aesthetic criteria for some that are more radical, more ontological:  what’s there to write about? Whatever there is to write about.

 

Poeticritical Serendipity

Gloria_Graham_Lyn_HejinianDonald Wellman reviews Lyn Hejinian’s The Unfollowing, describing it as follows:

Fourteen lines on each page, that’s sonnet length. Little rhyme [or] syllogism employed. No tidy conclusions. Each line as long as it needs to be. Most discontinuous with one another but not necessarily so. It seems there may not be a logic other than method in the construction of Lyn Hejinian’s The Unfollowing (Omnidawn 2016). Nothing follows, no conclusions, the title says it all.

The well-read might be circumspect about a book composed in this manner, sections riming with a sonnet’s length, parataxis the lines’ principle of arrangement, by a poet long-associated with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry (Hejinian is included in both Silliman’s In the American Tree (1986) and Messerli’s “Language” Poetries (1987)), published in 2016.

Such readers might be prompted to further reflection over the implications of these guendercompositional characteristics of Hejinian’s book when they read in Alice A. Kuzniar’s Delayed Endings: Nonclosure in Novalis and Hölderlin about Karoline von Günderrode’s fifteen-verse “Ein apokalyptisches Fragment” (published in 1804), that “…each verse appears as a disjointed fragment in an unconnected, nonteleological series”.

I leave this juxtaposition to speak for itself, for readers with ears to hear and hearts that care to.

 

“Rothenberg’s concept of ethnopoetics works as a brilliant counter to the dominant literary regime of tight ass Brits and their Yankee counterparts.”

I’ve said to anyone who will listen that any understanding of poetry—what it has been, Technicians of the Sacredis, and can be—ignorant of Rothenberg’s ethnopoetics is rootless and perverse.

Here’s an appreciation of his project I happened on by chance. Poets, ignore it at your peril!

Rothenberg Poetry University

The writing life

Insights, like poems, sometimes just fall on your path, like the leaves from the trees thisIMG_3124 time of year.

A friend wrote me, and his experience so paralleled mine, and many others’, it was light work lineating his letter into the following poem. If you’re a thinker, writer, or artist, I imagine you might well agree.

 

Brief aus München

 

Yesterday I had a day

sitting for hours at my desk

playing internet-chess, thinking,

 

“this novel that’s kept me

from doing anything useful

a year now will never work”

 

and it was all my fault: I

chose this way, I

was sticking to this

 

idea, I was thinking

I could be not only a

writer but a novelist,

 

my father was right,

I left the right path

when I went to Berlin…

 

This morning, I got the idea,

I don’t know from where,

how it could work. Sun

 

shining on my balcony,

and I think: “Best choice ever,

to live and work like this.”

“The poetry wars never ended.”

DftPWChicago Review has just posted a lively, provocative conversation with Kent Johnson and Michael Boughn about the motivations driving that equally lively web-journal Dispatches from the Poetry Wars.

At a time when Instapoets are lionized as The Big New Thing (because of their sales numbers) and the art is otherwise domesticated (in the MFA program and English class), I know of few more vital, critical, and necessary sites of resistance than Dispatches.

A nod to Louis Dudek

Louis DudekOne striking difference between, say, France or Germany and Canada is how the respective countries honour their cultural traditions. I remember seeing in Tübingen a plaque on a bookstore commemorating the one night Goethe slept upstairs, and, on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, the house where André Bréton resided during World War Two is indicated by a memorial from the French government, while the struggle to preserve poet Al Purdy’s A-frame is still fresh in my memory. Happily, we do have a counterexample to such willed amnesia, the Writers’ Chapel in Saint Jax Cathedral in Montreal, that features plaques for such canonical figures as F. R. Scott and Mavis Gallant and where, this evening, poet, critic, and scholar Louis Dudek will be honoured with a plaque of his own.

Bruce Whiteman provides a gracious portrait of Dudek on the occasion of Dudek’s death in 2001. I, too, had a chance to hear him read one snowy, weekend afternoon, and he was gracious enough to seek me out for a meeting when I published a polemical article on the reigning poetic aesthetics in Canadian anglophone poetry the year of his death. As it’s unlikely I’ll be able to attend the ceremony in his honour as I hoped and planned, at least I can post this notice here, now, and direct interested readers to a poem of mine that engages Dudek’s late poetry, “Reading Dudek’s The Caged Tiger.

Gratitude by the syllable

IMG_2590Tomorrow, here in Canada, it’s Thanksgiving. Regardless of the nature and origins of the holiday in the U.S. and Canada, there is mounting evidence of how gratitude can shore up happiness. It was this insight that inspired my composing the following poems, each noting some experience for which I felt spontaneously grateful. You can read the sequence, here.

Thanks!

RE: Itō Jetnil-Kijiner Niviana Pato

A lot of poetry stories get conveyed down my newsfeed. Here’re three of special http _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_thumb_1_12_Plato-4.png_200px-Plato-4significance from this week.

First is a short film of Hiromi Itō reading her poem “The Moon”. Itō is (in)famous in Japan, often credited with opening the space for a frank, fresh, new women’s writing. I discovered her in Rothenberg’s and Joris’ Poems for the Millenium, then her Killing Kanoko, a selection of poems translated by Jeffrey Angles, whose title poem recounts the common but no less hair-raising homicidal resentment mothers feel for their newborns. I still owe Action Books a review of her Wild Grass of the Riverbank—watch for it here….

Next is a short article by Bill McKibben concerning the poets Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and Aka Niviana, two young women, one from the Marshall Islands, the other from Greenland, who grapple with the realities of climate change poetically, a topic often ventured here. I already knew of Jetnil-Kijiner:  I teach her poem “Dear Matafele Peinam” every year to my introductory English students.

Finally is an interview with a poet not too well known in Anglophone poetry circles (or so it seems to me), Chus Pato, arguably one of the most important poets writing in Galician.

 

Sometimes even just thinking sings

randonnée urbaine 5.10.10 Mile End

The sun, the warmth, the beauty

of my quarter make it

 

possible almost to forgive

the world for including

 

the likes of Ford and Legault

A Minor Festschrift for Michael Heller

michael hellerIn Montreal, Concordia University’s Liberal Arts College sponsors an annual lecture. One year, it was Helen Vendler; another, a reading by Allen Ginsberg; and, once, poet Michael Heller, who riffed off Walter Benjamin’s reading of Paul Klee’s painting “Angelus Novus” (see the ninth of Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History), to develop what he termed a “phantomology.” The details of his argument are immaterial here, but, what’s to the point, of all the lectures I’d heard at this yearly event, his was the only one I hung on every word.

It’s been my luck to remain acquainted with the man and his poetry and criticism since, work that connects the present to the Objectivist tradition in poetry and poetics, especially Heller’s friend and mentor, George Oppen, and that develops an independent vision and practice of its own.

It’s therefore a great pleasure to see Heller’s work appreciated in a manner of micro-Festschrift at Jacket2, that features new poetic and critical work by Heller and himself along with a collection of appreciations. Read it all, here.