Humble Pie is (IMHO) one of the great, under-recognized bands in rock 'n roll history. And this is one of the all-time great songs. This is the band circa 1989. Jerry Shirley is still on drums, but it's long after the days of Steve Marriot and Peter Frampton. That is Michigan's own Charlie Huhn* on lead vocals and rhythm guitar--doing a more than credible job.
But do we really need to sort the good––at least, among the living––from the great? And at what price? My sense is that the frantic preoccupation with poetic reputation among living practitioners is divisive and inimical to the best interests of the art. I would settle for a stronger sense of community among poets, and a place for any serious poet at the poetry table. One of the strangest experiences I have had (more than once)** at the AWP Conference is talking to a fellow poet while their eyes dart about the room, searching out someone more interesting, more important, to talk to.
Yes, I can laugh about it, but it makes me very tired, and sad about the whole enterprise.
At the risk of sounding arrogant, it also leads me to believe that they have never read my work.
Our first duty as poets is to write the best, most true work of which we are capable. To do so is an act of grace. Pay attention, work hard, be kind, and let the devil have the rest.
* "The Great(ness) Game," by David Orr, New York Times Book Review, February 22, 2009, p. 14.
I am working on one more poem, but have also begun gathering materials and reading for "Project X." Among the books I am reading, Mexico: A Study of Two Americas (1931) by Stuart Chase, with illustrations by Diego Rivera. I picked this up several years ago at Raven Books in Amherst, Massachusetts. Chase (1888-1985) was an economist, philosopher and advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Chase is generally credited with coining the phrase "The New Deal."
If I said more, I would be way ahead of myself.
We are supposed to have a bit of a blizzard. A good day, in other words, to build a fire and read. Went to the doctor's yesterday to have the bolts on my psyche tightened a bit. Next week I have an appointment at the retinologist's.
In a room of the Prado many people stop to gaze at Breughel's The Triumph of Death, a window into the nightmare of plague––a great battlefield where Death's legions begin the massacres. Like everyone, I search for myself among the living, the ones fleeing, among those trying to escape the canvas.
_______________________________ From Of this World: New and Selected Poems, by Joseph Stroud, Copper Canyon Press (2009).
I bought this excellent book at the AWP Conference, after recommendations from Dan Gerber and Rick Bursky. I had never previously heard of Joseph Stroud, and now I think he is one of America's greatest living poets.
The cover--a painting by Martin Johnson Heade--is entirely coincidental to my analysis.
I took the train to Chicago on Wednesday morning, traveling down with Sue William Silverman and the poet Pablo Peschiera. Sue and I always laugh about the fact that, though we live in a small town with a non-existent "writing community," the only times we ever see each other are at the Post Office or at AWP. Pablo and I walked from Union Station to the Hilton to register, and then went out for lunch. Because sushi is impossible to find in Grand Haven, that's what I went for. I thought the Tamarind (I think that was the name of it) just around the corner from the Hilton, was pretty decent, sushi-wise.
I enjoyed the panels, particularly when it was apparent that the presenters had actually prepared. Too many people seemed to be "winging it" in Chicago. The only disconcerting moment was when an audience member at the panel on writing about illness made a lengthy statement about how the panel was "failing" the audience by not recognizing that people were suffering and...well, uhmmm, ...I am not entirely sure what her point was. I do think the panel moderator handled the situation gracefully.
One of the most interesting presentations I went to––and this surprised me––was the poetry pedagogy forum. I went only because friends Mike Theune and Todd Davis were both presenting papers. If you haven't gone to one of these at the AWP Conference, I strongly encourage you to go. The presentations were great and the format--sitting in a circle of six to eight people and trading ideas--is strangely effective.
On Thursday, I had lunch with the poet and playwright Barbara Lau, a good friend from our Warren Wilson days. I hope to see her again in June when I am in Iowa at the Summer Writing Festival (Barbara lives near Iowa City), and also in Michigan, where there is a good chance one of her plays will soon be staged. On Friday, I had long and wonderful lunch with poets Todd Davis and David Shumate.
I stayed at the Hotel Blake on South Dearborn, which was formerly the Hyatt at Printers' Row. I love the Blake; a tiny––nearly boutique--hotel. The staff is friendly and unobtrusive, they recognize their guests by sight, the rates are decent, the rooms are very nice (though they could use refrigerators) and the neighborhood (kitty-corner from the Harold Washington Library) is quiet. Because I arrived in Chicago exhausted on several counts, I was asleep in my room before 9 each night. I didn't go to any of the evening events, completely missed the Warren Wilson party, and even excused myself from a post-panel dinner because of a crashing post-panel headache.
I sometimes wonder whether it might be possible to hold an occasional non-alcohol-fueled social event at the AWP Conference; perhaps an afternoon tea. For several reasons––some obvious, some not––I completely avoided the party-scene in Chicago. I suppose I am old and boring, but I do the best I can.
I probably should have gone to a meeting.
The Book Fair was large, interesting and confusing––am I the only person who had a difficult time telling the "Southwest Hall" from the "Southeast Hall"? Only occasionally could I find my way back to the appropriate tables after making a mental checklist of what I wanted to purchase. I did, however, manage quite a haul of new books, and will be writing about them here in the near future. I made a special point to look for fellow bloggers, and was very pleased to meet Anne Haines, Christine Hamm, and John Gallaher. I also had a chance to catch up with the amazing Matt Hart (a friend from our Warren Wilson days). I saw the beautiful and elusive Mary Biddinger from a distance (the second installment of Barn Owl Review is fabulous, by the way), said hello to my friends at the University of Arkansas Press, and several fellow Michigan poets, including Philip Sterling, Rob Haight, Kathleen McGookey, Joe Matuzak, Josie Kearns, Christine Rhein, Julie Stotz-Ghosh, and David Dodd Lee. I bought Robert VanderMolen's new book, Water from Michigan State University Press, but somehow missed his signing, which was Friday at 10 a.m., not Friday at noon. My apologies, Robert!
My train didn't leave until late in the afternoon on Sunday, so I went to the Art Institute to see the Edvard Munch show. No, they did not actually have "The Scream," (my guess is that the Norwegians, since getting the painting back, don't want to let it out of the country) but the show did include several of my other Munch favorites. If you like the work of Edvard Munch (what poet doesn't?) the exhibit is worth a special trip to Chicago. Quite by fortunate accident, I had lunch at the Institute with the poet Gail Peck (another Warren Wilson friend); it was a perfect coda to my trip to the AWP.
And our presentation? I thought our panel, Bad Poems by Great Poets: Where They Went Awry, What We Can Learn went very well. We had a capacity crowd (though we were in one of the smaller rooms on the 8th floor of the Hilton) and didn't lose much of our audience during the proceedings. Everyone was articulate and well-prepared, if I say so myself. There were also some good questions and comments after we were finished. I am hoping we can have the same team ( Roy Jacobstein, Laura Kasischke, Margaret Rabb, Robert Thomas and myself) put a proposal together for the Conference next year in Denver. It was also good to see so many friends in the audience, including the poets Karla Huston and Rick Bursky. _______________________________
The painting is Night in St. Cloud (1890) by Edvard Munch.
The numbered sections of the poem may be viewed as independent snow squalls within a larger metaphorical storm, or perhaps more accurately, as blizzard-like meditations that dissolve, in nearly cinematic fashion, in and out of the poem, permitting the discursive meditations of the poet. The device is reminiscent of the opening scene in Citizen Kane, where memory is triggered by decorative bric-a-brac––the swirling snow within a shaken crystal ball, the scene becoming clear only for a moment when the snow settles.
Okay, Be that Way. I Do Have Other Projects to Work On
If our notions of poetic form are arrayed along a continuum of poetic discourse from lyric through to narrative and dramatic structures, the multi-track, extended lyric resides in that line segment where multiple narratives are brought into the poem to expand, enrich, and add texture to the song. The poet who walks this section of the wire must simultaneously and by turns, sing, juggle, swallow swords, exhale flames, and snap a whip at the ferocious lions growling below. The work is dangerous. Every performance has unique challenges. Strategies and structures must be imagined and put into place to allow a successful crossing above the waiting crowd.
Did traditional arts advocacy groups in Michigan "take a dive" on Governor Granholm's proposals to cut arts-funding (along with the Department of History, Arts & Libraries), in return for a promise (express or implied) that the Governor would assure funding for the arts in the President's Stimulus Package?
That would explain the silence after the Governor's State of the State message and the (otherwise, inexplicable) endorsement by ArtServe of Michigan of the HAL-elimination proposal.
If so, with Congress about to vote, and arts funding out of the Federal Stimulus package due to the Coburn Amendment, that looks like a very bad bargain on someone's part.
Makes one want to press a wheel of brie directly against one's black eye, doesn't it?
Pass the Chardonnay, Muffy.
The painting is Stag at Sharkey's (1909) by George Bellows
As some of you have already heard, yesterday, the US Senate voted to adopt an amendment to the federal stimulus that would bar any stimulus money for arts and culture. Please read the message below from Americans for the Arts as well as our steps of action needed.
Just a few minutes ago, the U.S. Senate voted to accept, by a vote of 73-24, an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) which states, "None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project."
This amendment, which was supposedly intended to restrict objectionable spending in a few select federal infrastructure programs, will resulted in prohibiting any spending through the economic recovery in these areas. This is the first clear vote on the arts that has occured in the U.S. Senate since July 12, 2000. The Senate final bill passage is still unclear, although it is expected to take place later tonight. Next week they will have a House-Senate conference committee to agree to a final version for the President to sign.
If this is not taken out of the final bill the project submissions that were sent to Governor Granholm would be void. Senator Debbie Stabenow voted for this amendment and we need your help to get her to re-think her decision as she could be vital in getting this language taken out while the bill is in conference committee.
NOTE: I just e-mailed Senator Debbie Stabenow (D., MI) on this issue, who (for reasons I do not understand), apparently supported Senator Coburn's amendment. I also e-mailed Senator Carl Levin (D., MI).
If you value the arts, act NOW.
If you want a piece of the pie, you'd better demand it this weekend.
So I am the only person in the State of Michigan who thinks slashing arts funding and eliminating the Department of History, Arts & Libraries are bad ideas.
You all agree with Governor Granholm that "the arts are not a priority in Michigan"?
Is this the spirit of the UAW?
Is this the spirit of Jimmy Hoffa?
Of Cranbrook and Ox Bow?
Of Iggy Stooge and the Chili Monster, of the Grande Ballroom and the MC5 and "Kick Out the Jams," the spirit of the home state of John Sinclair?
Of Pewabic Pottery and Interlochen?
Of the Stone Circle Poets?
Of Diego Rivera and the murals at the DIA?
Is this the spirit of the workers, weeping, when they first saw the murals? When they realized how Rivera had glorified their labor and their lives?
Is this really the state where they wrote the Port Huron Statement? Where the Students for a Democratic Society was founded?
Is this the spirit of the 73 miners and their wives and children, trampled in the Italian Hall in Calumet because they dared to organize a solidarity dance during the Copper Strike of 1913?*
Where is the old spirit, the good old, "Hey, kids! I know! Let's put on a demonstration!"
Is this the spirit of Kukla, Fran and fucking Ollie?
To quote Marvin Gaye, "What's goin' on?"
What the Hell happened to you people?
* 1913 MASACRE by Woody Guthrie
Take a trip with me in nineteen thirteen To Calumet, Michigan, in the copper country. I'll take you to a place called Italian Hall Where the miners are having their big Christmas ball. I'll take you through a door, and up a high stairs. Singing and dancing is heard everywhere, I will let you shake hands with the people you see. And watch the kids dance round that big Christmas tree. You ask about work and you ask about pay; They'll tell you that they make less than a dollar a day, Working the copper claims, risking their lives, So it's fun to spend Christmas with children and wives. There's talking and laughing and songs in the air, And the spirit of Christmas is there everywhere, Before you know it, you're friends with us all And you're dancing around and around in the hall. Well, a little girl sits down by the Christmas tree lights, To play the piano, so you gotta keep quiet. To hear all this fun you would not realize That the copper-boss thug-men are milling outside.
The copper-boss thugs stuck their heads in the door; One of them yelled and he screamed, "There's a fire!" A lady, she hollered, "There's no such a thing! Keep on with your party, there's no such a thing." A few people rushed, and it was only a few. "It's only the thugs and the scabs fooling you." A man grabbed his daughter and carried her down; But the thugs held the door and he could not get out. And then others followed, a hundred or more, But most everybody remained on the floor. The gun-thugs they laughed at their murderous joke, While the children were smothered on the stair by the door. Such a terrible sight I never did see. We carried our children back up to their tree. The scabs outside still laughed at their spree. And the children that died there were seventy-three. The piano played a slow funeral tune, And the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon; The parents they cried and the miners they moaned, "See what your greed for money has done."
Why Won't ArtServe of Michigan Stand Up for Michigan Artists?
Why is ArtServe of Michigan, which bills itself as an advocacy agency on behalf of the arts, supporting the elimination of the Michigan Department of History, Arts & Libraries? Here is their explanation,* which makes no sense to me.
Friends, if you support arts funding, if you are an advocacy agency for artists, if you believe as I do that "arts are a priority" even––especially--in a difficult economy, demand a seat at the table and fight for arts funding.
Put down the brie and Chardonnay. Back slowly away from the Eames chair.
Get back in the fight.
_______________________ * To paraphrase: "Golly, times are tough, and after all, this is what the Governor wants to do. If we don't complain, maybe someone in Lansing will come up with a different way to fund the arts. Pass the brie, Muffy. Be a darling, Biff, and get me another glass of Chardonnay."
O Artists? Writers? Poets? Dancers? Musicians? Historians? Tourism Officials? Librarians? Where Art Thou?
The silence is deafening in Michigan from everyone who should be rising up to question and oppose Governor Jennifer Granholm's poorly thought out proposal to eliminate the Department of History, Arts & Libraries.
No wonder everyone from this state with any real talent R-U-N-N-O-F-T'ed a long time ago.
Editor Edward Byrne at the Valparaiso Poetry Review accepted two of my poems from the Martin Johnson Heade series. My work will appear in the 20th Anniversary Issue of VPR, due out in the fall of 2009.
I am very excited about this; VPR is a great place.
Romania is perhaps the only country in the world where young women come up to you after you have read your poems, poems which some of them haven't understood a word of, to hand you flowers, bouquets of flowers. As a custom it seemed very sweet, and if some poets consider it insincere and false, because you're even more incomprehensible over there than you are here, I think their reaction is shabby and selfish. What the Romanians respect is poetry, any poetry: whether they've understood it or not, they think it civilized to hand you a bouquet out of respect for the art. There's no such respect in this country: here you are more often thought of as some con-artist guru, or as a clown who isn't terribly funny, or as someone pretentious, someone who doesn't understand that he lives in a democracy, where we are all equal, and therefore all equal in talent and brains. And always, in such a country as ours, the poet, who publishes his work in the naive expectation of being thanked for this gift, is often judged not on the merits of the work, but for his or her life, his or her behavior, judged for his or her morals. For finally, you see, there's no money in poetry, so why is this man or woman doing it? There must be something wrong with him, with her. This is capitalism in concert with that detestable vestigial Calvinism that grows everywhere here. It's depressing. How many people attended Poe's funeral? Whitman was one of the few.
-Larry Levis being interviewed by Robyn Selman, "Roll Call: The Many Lives of Larry Levis," in A Condition of the Spirit: The Life and Work of Larry Levis, Edited by Christopher Buckley and Alexander Long (Eastern Washington University Press, 2004), p. 271
There is a profound logical disconnect between congratulating yourself on attracting several thousand new jobs in the film industry to Michigan in the same speech in which you propose to eliminate the Department of History, Arts & Libraries on the grounds that (as your press secretary put it) "The arts are not a priority."
Sharpen your pencil and try to reconnect the dots.
NOTE: "HAL" is the Michigan Department of History, Arts & Libraries. Governor Jennifer Granholm is apparently set to announce tonight in her State of the State message that she is eliminating HAL, as a means of balancing Michigan's budget. Her press secretary says, "Right now, arts are not a priority."
The current budget of HAL is approximately $52.2 million. The state's anticipated deficit is approximately $1.6 billion.
At the same time she is announcing the elimination of HAL, Governor Granholm is going to announce the creation of a new film production studio in Pontiac. The total investment in the studio facility will be $54 million. It is estimated that the studio will directly employ 1,500 and indirectly employ 3,500 people. Which government agency was instrumental in bringing this privately-funded project to Michigan? The Michigan Film Office. Where is the Michigan Film Office located? Let's check our handy chart on the organization of Michigan government. Oh...right. It's part of the Michigan Department of History, Arts & Libraries.
UPDATE: I called the Department of History, Arts & Libraries and spoke with Mark Hoffman, the Acting Director of that office. He told me that the Michigan Film Office was moved out of HAL a year ago, when a state tax-credit program for the film industry went into effect. I don't think this seriously affects the point I am trying to make, however.
...[If} there is one thing we all hate in books, it's losing interest, feeling bored, not caring about the next sentence. In the end, you don't only write the books you need to write, but you write the books you would like to read yourself.
JM: Is there a method to it?
PA: No. The deeper I get into my own work, the less engaging theoretical problems have become. When you look back on the works that have moved you, you find that they have always been written out of some kind of necessity. There's something calling out to you, some human call, that makes you want to listen to the work. In the end, it has probably very little to do with literature.
George Bataille wrote about this in his Le Bleu du Ciel. I refer to it in The Art of Hunger, in a essay on the schizophrenic [Louis] Wolfson. He said that every real book comes from a moment of rage, and then he asked: 'How can we read works that we don't feel compelled to read?' I believe he is absolutely correct: there is always some indefinable something that makes you attend to a writer's work––you can never put your finger on it, but that something is what makes all the difference.
From Paul Auster, The Red Notebook: True Stories, Prefaces and Interviews (Faber & Faber, 1995), pp. 112-113.
I am a writer who lives and works in West Michigan. I am a graduate of Albion College, the University of Michigan Law School, and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. I have published three full-length collections of poetry: Holding Down the Earth (Sky Books, 1995), A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000) which won the Brittingham Prize, and Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007), which won the University of Arkansas Press Poetry Series. I have also published three chapbooks: Eros, Psyche and the Death of Narrative (Candle Creek Press, 2006), The Afterlight (WVU-Legal Studies Forum, 2006), and The Divisible Field ( WVU-Legal Studies Forum, 2008), and have completed a fourth manuscript, Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds. I am working on a novel. My work has received a Pushcart Prize, the Mississippi Review Prize, the Paumanok Poetry Prize, the Greensboro Review Literary Award in Poetry, and the Arts & Letters Prize. I was a Bread Loaf Fellow in 2002. When not writing, I work full-time as corporation counsel for a local government and also teach part-time in the English Department at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.