Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Olson

Attention Span 2011 | Jesse Priest

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Danielle Evans | Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self | Riverhead | 2010

A collection of short stories that seek to describe the experience of minority youths in today’s society, Evans goes a step beyond in her writing and captures something of the entirety of human existence. Each story contains a philosophic energy that is best described by one of her own narrators: “your skin crawls with the sensation that something urgent is about to happen, but you never know what, or when.”

Reif Larsen | The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet | Penguin | 2009

Larsen’s novel uses a complex system of notes and annotations made by his narrator to accompany the prose. What results from these smattering of images, charts, maps and drawings is a hybrid visual/written experience that creates a more complete world for his story.

Ander Monson | Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir | Greywolf | 2010

What intrigued me most about this collection of essays and fictionalized non-fiction is Monson’s use of the internet to add another layer to his writing. Many of his pieces contain different links to his website, which avoids seeming like self-promotion and instead creates an opening for the reader to explore additional research and insight into the ideas that Monson suggests.

David Mitchell | Cloud Atlas | Random House | 2004

What drew me to this novel is its format, which Mitchell describes as being similar to Matryoshka dolls. Each section is a self-contained story that connects in direct and indirect ways to the one following it, and halfway through the novel we begin working backwards through the stories again. What made the novel stick with me, however, is Mitchell’s ability to appropriate different genres and styles in a way that feels seamless and dynamic.

Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Jane Bannard Greene and M.D. Herter Norton | The Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, 1910-1926 | Norton | 1976

These later letters drip with romance and longing, as well as fascinating observations as Rilke traveled before and during the First World War, searching for a place to feel comfortable and to write. “And how much people do,—I don’t know what they do, but for the most part they look busy or at least in love…”

Margaret Atwood | Selected Poems | Simon & Schuster | 1976

An early collection of Atwood’s recently acquired from the bottom of a relative’s dusty box, I was surprised at how Atwood’s early poems still reverberate both with her more contemporary writing and the world we inhabit now. I especially notice ideas and stylistic similarities with her latest novel, The Year of the Flood, that give new immediacy to these earlier poems.

Charles Olson and Robert Creeley, ed. George F. Butterick | The Complete Correspondence: Volume 2 | Black Sparrow | 1980

This volume of the writers’ correspondence takes place when Olson and Creeley’s friendship was beginning to embolden, and contains much discussion of philosophy, language and poetics. It can also be approached as a sort of manifesto-in-progress as Olson and Creeley mused over the logistics of publishing a magazine.

Thomas James | Letters to a Stranger | Graywolf | 2008

“Instead of all this permanence,/ I would have preferred a bouquet of yellow flowers–/ Buttercups perhaps, petals that might shrivel easily./ If you had wanted to ignite this room,/ You should have settled for a honey jar”

Adrienne Rich | Winterface and other poems | Tinhouse | 2010

“Death, good-looking as only a skeleton can get/ (good looks of keen intelligence)/ sits poised at the typewriter, her local, her pedestal… (I say her but who knows death’s gender/ as with life there are possible variations)”

Marjane Satrapi | Persepolis | Pantheon | 2003

I can’t add much to the discussion of this book. I re-approached it this year through the lens of teaching literature, as well as the interesting complexities involved with teaching graphic texts. I found that imagining how its historical contexts, its presentation, and the combination of words and images could potentially add to classroom setting made this reading of Satrapi’s autobiography my favorite one to date, and possibly my most productive.


More Jesse Priest here.

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Attention Span 2010 – Marcella Durand

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George Albon | Empire Life | Littoral | 1998

“Mass resets interior.” Tight.

Kamau Brathwaite | SAVE COWPASTOR |

The complete archives of this Web site, spanning many years, are word-in-and-as-witness to CowPastor’s destruction.

Peter Culley | Hammertown | New Star | 2003

A double writing this, but within sevens, form springs beauty.

Emily Dickinson | Selected Letters | Harvard | 1986

There’s probably a better and fuller edition out there somewhere, and if not, there should be. All the same, life-changing.

Paul Foster Johnson | Refrains/Unworkings | Apostrophe | 2008

We may be “immoderate,” but this book says it beautifully moderately.

Rachel Levitsky | Neighbor | Ugly Duckling | 2009

This book illuminated the complex workings of my 30-unit tenement building within the larger political and social systems within which we exist.

Michèle Métail | La route de cinq pieds | Tarabuste | 2006

Another example of Métail’s innovating form around content around form (going way past Oulipo): in this case, a route through China in five-syllable form drawn from Chinese classical poetry.

Jennifer Moxley | Clampdown | Flood | 2009

Bought at and devoured after her reading at the Poetry Project this spring. (And The Middle Room shortly thereafter.)

Charles Olson | Call Me Ismael | Johns Hopkins | 1997

Some necessary ecology to which I was way too long delayed.

Kristin Prevallet | [I, Afterlife] [Essay in Mourning Time] | Essay Press | 2007

Gets into, beautifully, the disconnects between land, life, death, action, “me” and “world.”

Karen Weiser | To Light Out | Ugly Duckling | 2009

Communiqués from the gorgeous static of growing things.

Honorable mentions: Lyx Ish’s essay in Avant-Gardening, Black Geographies and the Politics of Place; C.S. Giscombe’s Prairie Style; Maurice Maeterlinck and L.L. Langstroth’s books on bees; Kevin Varrone reading from passyunk lost at the Poetry Project (and now the book has finally arrived!).

More about Marcella Durand here. Her Attention Span for 2008, 2006, 2005, 2004. Back to directory.

Attention Span 2010 – Benjamin Friedlander

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Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Lawrence Rosenwald | Selected Journals 1820-1842 and 1841-1877 | Library of America | 2010

Memory is the ultimate power, it “holds together past and present, beholding both, existing in both, abides in the flowing, and gives continuity and dignity to human life.” The slackening of that power tells the story—or rather, withholds the story—of Emerson’s final years, in which he suffered from dementia, and which he passed, in part, by rereading these journals.

Herman Melville, ed. Robert C. Ryan, Harrison Hayford, Alma MacDougall Reising, G. Thomas Tanselle; historical note by Hershel Parker | Published Poems: Battle-Pieces, John Marr, Timoleon | Northwestern UP | 2009

Though you wouldn’t think so from their prose, Emerson is the more sensational poet; Melville, the more metaphysical. Even in Battle-Pieces, he attempts to worry the essence of a truth. Which isn’t quite right: his poetry is too adept, too carefully worked, to be a mere attempt; it’s we who do the worrying. Assured as a sailor’s knot. And just as unlovely—unless you love knots.

K. Silem Mohammad | Sonnagrams | Slack Buddha | 2009

From one point of view—mine increasingly—craft is the ability to shape a meaningful context for interesting words. And it’s in this sense that Mohammad lives up to his model. The Bard he takes apart letter by letter, leaving everything changed except the form, had a mammoth vocabulary, and little fear (at least on stage) of the vulgar. But Mohammad has less fear. And more laughs.

Aífe Murray | Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language | U of New Hampshire P | 2009

For a hundred years biographers have overturned stones looking for Emily’s lovers while the ones who knew all the secrets stood invisibly in the shadows. This lovingly researched book helps to part those shadows. A story worthy of James: the hiring of Margaret Maher, fought over by two rich families. Worthy of Tillie Olsen: the poet’s funeral, her white casket hefted by Irish servants. Out the back door and across the fields, a final concession to visibility.

The Charles Olson Research Collection | Thomas J. Dodd Research Center | University of Connecticut Libraries | Storrs

Free with visitors and unimaginably wealthy in unpublished material, the Olson Archive, like the Rembrandt Museum, or Stonehenge I suppose, is well worth a trip across the world. Even with a finding aid, there are plenty of surprises—the papers are organized in service to their editing, which is to say their own logic is subordinated to hierarchies of genre. Which are often arbitrary, even whimsical: notebooks are scattered all through the collection, sometimes marked as notebooks, sometimes as prose, sometimes as poetry. I even found a heavily annotated copy of a John Wieners book marked as poetry, because of a few lines of verse on the inside cover. All of which makes reading into a kind of archaeology. Do you like digging? You will dig it.

Tom Raworth | Windmills in Flames: Old and New Poems | Carcanet | 2010

I wish I could be satisfied with a poem, but what I really seek to know is the mind that made it. And minds I like as little as poems when there’s no body to hold them, no world for the body, no history for the world. Some poets give you their world, or give you their response to it, and some call you into the world, or from it, with a voice that has as much meaning or matter as any discourse. Raworth is the former, but in a manner so unique as to seem the latter. Almost a sonar, sending you back minute-by-minute information, his narration is almost never enough, but has to be heard, a ping-ping-pinging … a sounding that gives you an object and its motion, with little time to react.

Tom Raworth | Earn Your Milk: Collected Prose | Salt | 2009

Turning to Raworth’s prose from his poetry is a little like clicking on the plus sign on Google maps, watching the world grow larger within a shrinking horizon, ever more knowable. At one point, there are even street names. Hell, there are even directions available. It’s the same world, but close up. I’d call it comfy, but that’s going way too far.

T. D. Rice, ed. W. T. Lhamon Jr. | Jim Crow, American: Selected Songs and Plays | Harvard UP | 2009

Blackface minstrelsy has always been disreputable, but before it became synonymous with racial domination it formed the cutting edge of popular culture—and Rice, if anyone, held the blade. Hard to believe this is the first collection of writings to bear his name on the cover.

Lisa Robertson | R’s Boat | U of California P | 2010

Robertson’s poetry is tactile; and dense, but pliable. Reading it is a little like pressing one’s way through a spongy medium, like a fly in marmalade. Alive in a substance that nourishes, or suffocates; that has to be escaped. Except that this is language, not jam, so Robertson abets our escape, guiding our senses beyond the medium, toward a world of imagination, possibility, desire.

Gianni Vattimo with Piergiorgio Paterlini, , trans. William McCuaig | Not Being God: A Collaborative Autobiography | Columbia UP | 2009

The story of a professor’s life, which is to say: a life of the mind lived as something other than the spirit of history. “Although a decent knowledge of languages has helped me along in life, I confess that vis-à-vis Gadamer I felt like a worm. As far as I could tell, the only one who understood less than me was a beautiful prince from some African tribe, whom I tried to seduce. Unsuccessfully, because of the language barrier.” A bit of a feint, since Vattimo understood well enough—he was the first to translate Truth and Method. Thus: “Gadamer in the end is a watered down Hegelian, like me.” Which is only deprecatory if you want to be God—modesty is Vattimo’s own truth and method. Making him a good seducer; and this, a thoroughly likeable book.

Albery Allson Whitman, ed. Ivy G. Wilson | At the Dusk of Dawn: Selected Poetry and Prose | Northeastern UP | 2009

The most ambitious African American poet of the nineteenth century, formally speaking, and the most prolific up until Dunbar (with whom he shared a stage at the Chicago World’s Fair), A. A. Whitman is hardly known, even to experts. Born a slave in Kentucky, he became a pastor in the A.M.E. church, publishing six volumes of verse between 1871 and 1901, the first of which is no longer extant. But despite his church affiliation, there is little religion in his poetry. For the most part, he’s a cultural nationalist, a little like Tolson, who shares Whitman’s narrative scale and sense of form. Not to give any false impression of Modernism: this is a poetry indebted to Bryant’s neoclassical side. It’s a shame that all four long poems appear in extract—that this could not be a Collected (especially since the book is already too expensive for casual purchase)—but what a gift to have any edition at all, especially one so scrupulously researched. Opening this book makes the nineteenth century a little larger.

More Benjamin Friedlander here. His Attention Span for 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003. Back to directory.

Attention Span – Megan London

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Edward Foster, ed. | Postmodern Poetry: The Talisman Interviews | Talisman | 1994

Gertrude Stein | Stanzas in Meditation | Sun & Moon | 1994

Nathaniel Mackey | Splay Anthem | New Directions | 2006

George Oppen | Selected Poems | New Directions | 2003

Albert Glover, ed. | Charles Olson: Letters for Origin | Cape Goliard | 1970

Juliana Spahr | The Transformation | Atelos | 2007

James Howard Kunstler | The Long Emergency | Grove | 2005

Ben Belitt, trans. | Federico Garcia Lorca: Poet in New York | Grove | 1955

David Gershator, trans. | Federico Garcia Lorca: Selected Letters | New Directions | 1983

Anthony Storr | Music and the Mind | HarperCollins | 1997


More Megan London here.