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Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

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You’re at your computer. Tickets are a tense, electrifying JBB-Cover-Smallfew seconds from going on sale. Eyeing the time, you’re hitting “Refresh,” and elsewhere, all your friends are doing the exact same thing. That’s Paul Siegell’s jambandbootleg. A widespread, high-spirited head rush. Desperation, fretfulness—all out life-leaping. “The party starts in the parking lot,” indeed. With poems shaped like a guitar, the American flag, even a Golgi apparatus, Paul’s monumental artworks could easily transform into posters. His is a poetry of exploration, heart and astonishment. Simply put: read Paul Siegell’s music. Read it as if listening to the most banging bootleg.

LOT’S OPEN!!!

Please check it out here: A-HEAD Publishing, and here: AMAZON

(Amazon’s already on backorder. Oops! But go ahead. They’ll still fulfill it. Pronto!)

FOR REAL???

“For centuries, people have tried to take words and turn them into music. What Paul Siegell does in his collection of poetry, jambandbootleg, is take music and turn it back into words. And he does it exceptionally well, capturing both the excitement of concert-going and the poetic essence of the improvisational music scene.” —MARC BROWNSTEIN, bass player of the Disco Biscuits

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PLUS, another great poem by Painted Bride Quarterly contributor Arlene Ang:

What Happens to the Postwoman When She Stops Delivering the Mail

~@~

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Kazim Ali’s recent American Poetry Review columns have been stunning. His most recent is a bad-assed belletristic constellation of texts (where he makes a common cadre in media studies—Paul Virilio, Jean Baudrillard, Slavoj Zizek, and The Matrix—meet up with Melville & Dickinson), and it transcends the boundary of a “column” to become an essay.

Ali thus reminds me that 1) poetry magazines are indeed the ideal venue for aesthetically gorgeous and intellectually rigorous essays; and 2) the term “belles lettres” has unfortunately come to be used as a derisive moniker for essays that rely on “long, spooling, New Yorker style stuff” (as the fictional Charlie Kaufman says of Susan Orlean’s work in the film Adaptation). The art of the relevant tangent makes some readers—and teachers of college composition—roll their eyes.

But what if the effect of the artful essay could be similar to the most stunning poems? Or, to twist this line of thought to include the work of Kathleen Graber (check out http://pbq.drexel.edu/issue78/content/prose/1.html ), Ciaran Berry (http://www.siuc.edu/~siupress/berrythesphereofbirds.html ), and Gregory Pardlo  (http://www.aprweb.org/bookprize/pardlo.shtml): what if some of the best poems could be described as essayistic?

All of which brings me back to Kazim Ali’s recent APR column, “Write on My Wall.”

When he uses a riot of texts to ponder the body and its boundary(less)(ness) he makes me wonder about the “boundaries” of literary magazines. Does PBQ reinforce or blur its boundaries when, say, I link to APR?

http://www.aprweb.org/

To Henry Israeli at Saturnalia Books?

http://www.saturnaliabooks.com/

Or the Crab Orchard Review?

http://craborchard.siuc.edu/

(All of whom have published my essayistic trifecta above—Pardlo, Graber, Berry).

Online, are PBQ’s boundaries rigid or porous? On one hand we engage in a mutually constitutive game: we reinforce the cred of the sites and sources we link to, and by linking to them we reinforce our own. But we also soften our own edges. Building links into this blog I feel like Whitman’s noiseless patient spider; sending out filaments I conjure a web of ideal works, call our aesthetic into view.  But spider webs are virtually invisible things; you’ve got to cock your head to see them.

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I once dated a guy who summed up each of his exes in one pithy line. There was the redhead who smelled like baked organic goods and left him for a woman. There was the way-too-young painter who showed up on his stoop in the rain with a glass bowl of goldfish whimpering like a puppy and begging for love. There were, of course, and in no particular order: the anorexic who made the world’s best mashed potatoes, the bore who in awkward moments would spout knock-knock jokes, the crappy poet, the would-be home-wrecker, the wannabe prude, the Jesus-freak-turned-Wican-turned-yogi, and, uhm, me.

I lived in fear of what I would become. It seemed “the tall, thin one with soft hair who was equal parts wise, compassionate and hilarious” was out of my reach. Would I be “the one who was always hungry and thought magic was pulling nickels from behind kids’ ears”? How about “the one who never remembered to shave”? Fortunately, the guy beat me to the punch. He made me: “the one he dumped on Valentine’s Day”.

While I can’t say I’ve been a big fan of his since then, I will admit that I love that he never named names. Especially since he was one of those types that liked to surround himself with his exes, throwing parties where we’d all stand around ducking knock-knock jokes and wondering who the crappy poet was. As you can imagine, after one particular Valentine’s Day, I didn’t bother showing up for the parties, but the no-name-naming stuck with me, and I thought of it again this morning when I read about Elizabeth Edwards.

Edwards, as you likely know, is the wife of one-time Presidential hopeful John Edwards. John had an affair—one of those headliner fathering-a-child kind of affairs—and Elizabeth has been extremely forthcoming in her thoughts regarding the affair. She grants interviews; she’s written a memoir, but she does it all under a single condition: that the name of the woman—Edwards calls her simply “The Unwelcome Woman”—not be uttered.

As a writer and a thinker, I love that the ‘uttering’ feels too intense to Edwards; as a regular ole gal, I’m a little like, uhm, who are you? The artist formerly known as Prince? I mean, isn’t a Jennifer Flowers a Jennifer Flowers no matter how bitter the smell? Enlighten me, folks. What am I missing here?

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Where was I?  It was a barbecue.  In Brooklyn.  We were on a roof where you could see a lot of the city.  We could also see that we couldn’t see a lot more of the city.  Bigger buildings occupied significant swatches of the panorama.  If you got up on the structure housing the spiral staircase down into the apartment you could see the Statue of Liberty.  Otherwise, you couldn’t.

Someone said, “That new Filet-O-Fish ad?”

Someone Else said, “I know, right?

Someone Else’s Girlfriend said, “When that comes on?  I have to stop everything.”

At first I thought this conversation was headed toward hating the ad.  I would not be surprised to learn that some people find it annoying.  In the ad, bearded white guys, (maybe hipsters, maybe regular guys, probably some frustrating new hybrid), hang out in a garage while a Big Mouth Billy Bass look-alike sings/raps/laments that one of the beardos is eating McDonald’s only sandwich invented to combat declining Friday sales during Lent (see History here) while he, the bootleg Billy, isn’t eating one, said incantation accompanied by what I believe is the tune/beat that the old Casio SK-1 used to play when you pressed the “samba” button.  At once, you are awash in uber-hip trends you didn’t even know existed and nostalgia you didn’t think it was possible to feel.

It’s a pretty obnoxious piece of video.

But it’s also got a lot to love in it, that love being of the “I can’t believe all of this stuff I know about is happening at once” variety.  This is like a strange dream that takes place in my parents’ old house except it’s not because there’s a pool in the basement and for some reason all of my coworkers are sorting the recycling to pay for my walkathon, you might think, while watching it.  Except you can’t think that, because the ad is so absorbing that you cannot think anything, cannot do anything except be enveloped in the insane collage of half-remembered tropes that really only point back to themselves.  That kind of love.

My barbecuing someones, two out of three of them beardos themselves, of course, loved it.

“That is my favorite thing to watch in the world,” said SEG.

“She punched me in the neck to make me stop talking when it came on last week,” said SE.

“Yeah, I get really happy whenever it comes on too,” said S.

They weren’t, I note now, speaking of poetry.  And maybe they couldn’t have been.  But  I think ads—and I’m talking about good ads, ads that verge on being works of philosophically important works of art—take up a lot of the space in our minds that poetry could these days.  Part of the issue here is the “coming on” that ads do.  (I’m resisting an unfortunate extension of the unintended sexual metaphor embedded there.  Please award me two points for restraint.)  The opposite of verse, advertising seeks us out.  They come to us (knowledge that makes searching for ads on YouTube an uncomfortable business, by the way).  But more problematically, good ads prey on our love for unexpected allusion, dream-like images, and just-out-of-reach ideas.  They satisfy our craving – promising even greater satisfaction down the line, granted – for momentary sublimity, or, to be less grandiose, novelty.

As I’ve said before, using pixels far below these words on this very page, I’m not the first person to point this out.  In fact the Germans are already up to something.  And as much as I think the Late Capitalist ship is going down, I am a pretty big fan of consumerism.  In fact, my little brother and I once bonded importantly over the short-lived Messin’ With Sasquatch Ads, a moment that entailed a nearly identical conversation to the one I recount above.  It was he who, at the age of 13, posited: “ads are better than TV now.”  He meant that they are funnier. And that they have better learned the lessons of juxtaposition and gesturing toward what is hilariously not on the screen we can see in the early seasons of The Simpsons and the late ones of Seinfeld (when they mostly abandoned the studio audience and thus the pace-murdering laugh track).  In fact, the ads probably taught those lessons first, and they stepped up their game when real storytellers appropriated the techniques.  The gist of all this is that those “groundbreaking” Dove ads are crowding Sonnet 41 out of our minds.  Not because, as the standard logic goes, ads are so mindless that they stupefy (I think this is an acceptable usage) us through mere exposure, but because they are such sensational delicacies.

I filled up on tastily carcinogenic flame-broiled sausages and left the rooftop barbecue early to come home and grade papers.  These days I find this task more difficult than I used to do, I think because my episodic TV drama addiction has gotten way out of hand.  And true to form, after two disappointing essays in a row, I sat down in front of Hulu to catch up on the few remaining episodes of Rescue Me I haven’t seen.  Dennis Leary’s fireman character, regular viewers know, just keeps encountering self-creating problems and I was eager to see which ones he would face in the episode entitled “Pussified.” Ahem.

The episode kept being interrupted by the same spot, an Ad Council PSA warning teenage drivers to pay attention while they drive.  In the ad, Fred Willard, in top form, plays a poor imitation of typical teen.  I know the thing by heart.  When I say that I believe Fred Willard’s deadpan is a true invention of beauty, my tongue is well away from my cheek.  Murder probably is not on the long list of acts I would commit to be able to deliver words the way he does, but it’s close.  Watching the PSA, I recited Mr. Willard’s lines along with him, just as I sometimes used to do with my recording of Dylan Thomas reading Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, practicing the cadence that wrings the perfection from words and images we’ve heard and seen before.

Where was I?  I was here in my chair where I type these words now.  And I was, ludicrously or not, out there somewhere in the landscape of possibility we see, patchily, when we encounter and reencounter real poetry.

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Years ago, at St. Mark’s New Year’s Poetry Festival, Bob Holman stood up and spoke this poem: “If you see something / say something: / banana.”

The crowd cracked up.

That was the first successful 9/11 joke I can recall. And, unlike Gilbert Godfrey’s earlier failed attempt at a 9/11 joke at the Friars Club roast of Hugh Hefner (a joke that made the grief-stricken the crowd shout “TOO SOON!” and made the comedian leap instead into a raunchy rendition of “The Aristocrats”— the “greatest dirty joke ever told”– all of which is captured in the documentary film of the same name), Holman’s timing was perfect.

The MTA’s “If You See Something, Say Something” security ad campaign was launched in 2002. New York City had already long been in the grip of Orange Alert, so long that we’d become accustomed to being mobilized. Eyes open, cell phones at the ready: something seen, something said. Unattended baggage on a subway? On it. Notice someone in bulky or inappropriate clothing? Suspicious! Dead guy riding the Q? OK, that one took longer to call in.

[Sure did: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,182321,00.htmlhttp://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,182321,00.html ]

The “See Something, Say Something” public service motto, emblazoned all over NYC public transit has become part of the cultural wallpaper, a comforting refrain for those of us who use buses and subways and occasionally teeter on the edge of the void: what happens if I’m down here and it happens again? London’s subway bombings? Eep?

And just as the heart torques toward hysteria, we recall our role: be a good citizen. If you see something, say something, and that way maybe the whole thing can be avoided. And even better: since everyone else sees those signs too, then they’ll see/say something and that will further expand the force of ground-level urban surveillance, and we’ll all be safe in a web of like-minded onlookers looking out for each other. Force multiplied.

But the MTA’s motto puts us in a tightly restricted position. It’s not asking us to do more than describe what we see. “Be alert,” “Be wary,” “Take notice,” “Report.” And as much as my love of poetry would have me argue that the act of description goes a long way toward conjuring the world(s) we inhabit, it is not an act of explicit reflective interpretation. It is not an act of analysis, or sense-making; it does not ask us to ponder or question or wonder. All of which, granted, might interrupt the crucial flow of information: evidence on the ground must make its way quickly to security forces who can take appropriate action, or we’re all in trouble.

But we’re also all in trouble if we don’t actively practice the art of reflection, analysis, interpretation. Deliberate force expansion is not deliberative democracy. Perhaps the best supplement to Orange Alert is a robust blogosphere—essayistic blog entries where writers perform the act of thinking, enact an urgent expression of idea, critique what we come to take for granted.

“If you see something, say something: banana.”

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Gotta love the ironies of digital culture. A big fretful debate among publishers is whether the printed word is on the way out. But the first big internet retailer made its money selling books online. Amazon is a great example of what some folk call “convergence culture”— the term is a bit slippery: for some it means the way older media forms appear inside the newest media channels (like books and movies and TV shows showing up online); for others it refers to the way the technologies themselves are converging (that we can watch videos on our cell phones, which double as e-mail devices, and internet sources).

And now the Library of Congress is getting into the game. Check out their digital archives. The LOC has made its Slave Narratives, oral histories, and American Life archives available online. “Nearly 3,000 of the oral history interviews are now available on the Library of Congress’s W.P.A. Life Histories Web site, memory.loc.gov/ ammem/wpaintro/wpahome.html, with more to come.”

Since the late 1970s the Library of Congress has been quietly unpacking and vetting the contents of the WPA’s Federal Writers Project, making the materials available to researchers. During the Great Depression, as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the federal government employed over 6000 poets, essayists, journalists, and writers to interview and document the stories of the nation. Editors included John Cheever, Zora Neale Hurston, Studs Terkel, Ralph Ellison, Dorothy West, Kenneth Patchen and many more. They produced the famed American Guide Series, and they also produced the Slave Narratives. The timing was crucial: social and economic crisis met up with the literary, historical, and sociological imagination of the federally-employed writers. Plus, in the late 1930s the population of once-enslaved people was dwindling. Armed with microphones and notebooks, the editors went out into the nation and collected their stories. The editors also amassed oddball anecdotes and local histories. They believed—even in the face of a culture rife with white supremacy, anti-immigration laws, and the like—that they could celebrate a national culture of diversity. W. H. Auden called the whole project “one of the noblest and most absurd undertakings ever attempted by a state.”

And now all that material is available online. You can download audio files and listen to the voice ex-slave Fountain Hughes.

Take that, Facebook. I got yer “25 Things” right here.

Or, better still:

Dear 21st Century Writer, what should a poet do with those voices? What would a novelist do? Or an essayist?  What would you do? Would you listen? Bear witness? Or…

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