Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac – do I have to say anything?

A key figure of the Beat Generation, famed author of the ground-breaking On the Road.

Kerouac is of course mostly known for this prose works, but he also wrote a large number of poems. Like his prose, his poetry was strongly influenced by the improvisational style of jazz. He wanted “to be considered as a jazz poet blowing a long blues in an afternoon jazz session on Sunday” (Kerouac).

His most well-known collection, Mexico City Blues was published in 1959, followed by the posthumous Scattered Poems in 1971.


My below response to Kerouac draws from his idea of “jazz-like” poetry. It uses the lyrics of the jazz standard “Black Coffee” as a starting point – a theme on which to improvise...

~ - ~

Black Coffee (Take 12)

A standard like black coffee
solo on a xylophone with
one hand across the bars
the rhythm of the rain
glass pane mirror metronome:
    Love’s a hand me down brew

A flavour like black coffee
bitter in my veins
milk curdled ‘round the silver spoon
pumpkin spice spout cup mockery
sugar on the floor:
    Since the blues caught my eye

A feeling like black coffee
burning time like toast
morning nutrient recipe
toxin trace in every face
stomp-down down-town countenance:
    Feelin' low as the ground

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Robert Duncan

Kenneth Rexroth once referred to Robert Duncan as “one of the most accomplished, one of the most influential” of the post-war American poets, yet he himself insisted that he is a derivative poet who borrowed from sources as diverse as Dante, Pound, Blake, H.D., Stein, Yeats, Garcia, Lorca and St. John of the Cross. His way of mixing different influences in his densely woven, multi-layered poems was also described by Stephen Stepanchev in American Poetry since 1945, who saw Duncan’s poems as “a compositional field where anything might enter: a prose quotation, a catalogue, a recipe, a dramatic monologue, a diatribe.”

Duncan was born in 1919 in Oakland, California and studied at the University of California-Berkeley. Due to his friendship with Charles Olson and his stay at Black Mountain College he is often associated with Black Mountain poetics. He was however also a key figure in the emergence of the San Francisco Renaissance in the 1950s.

Duncan published more than twenty collections of poetry. His honours include the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine, and three writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1985 he also received the National Poetry Award.

Duncan died in San Francisco in 1988.


My poem below is a response to Duncan’s “Poetry, a Natural Thing”.

~ - ~

Poetry, a language thing

neither rigid definition nor ideological certainty
further the poem. “pronoun verb preposition
conjunction verb
conjunction preposition pronoun verb determiner noun
preposition determiner noun.”

The poem
emerges somewhere between the written
and the         read
popularly drawn toward mystical half-meanings and evasive metaphor.

The appearance of coherence based upon
the cultural expectations
of a (formal) pattern of white space
around a string of symbols which
in the lateness of the world
encourage deciphering
as formal and material aspects are suffused.

A visual or sonic pattern or rhythm
a play
or puzzle reference intended for the
well-informed poetic archaeologist.

This is one line open to textual interpretation.

A second: introduction of the disruptive techniques
of postmodernism de-constructivism third-wave feminism
or pop and collocation,
creating an ever-expanding field of
reference on
the page,

“literary signifiers of otherness and intrusion”,

borrowing from those who wrote
this first.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Kenward Elmslie

Kenward Elmslie was born in New York City in 1929. He grew up in Colorado Springs and Washington, DC and studied at Harvard University before moving back to New York City in the 1960s. He became a central figure in the New York School and promoted the work of fellow poets such as John Ashbery, Joe Brainard, Anne Waldman, and James Schuyler through his work as editor of Z Magazine.

Elmslie’s first writing experiences were as a lyricist and librettist, a fact which is still evident in his work which often explores the intersection of experimental poetry and musical theatre. In addition to his musical collaborations, he has also worked extensively with visual artists.

Elmslie’s honors include a grant from the Ford Foundation, the Project for Innovative Poetry’s Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Poetry, and an award from the National Council of the Arts.

I highly recommend going on his website (enable pop-ups!) and having a listen on Penn Sound – his stuff is simply amazing!

Links: - this is officially my favourite website ever!

My little poem below is a silly response to Elmslie’s “Feathered Dancers” and is strongly influenced by a recent new (feline) addition to my family.

~ - ~

Feathered Dancer

On invisible string you tow me over Persian rugs and parquet
chuckling while he is chasing with razor claws.
“panem et circenses” he thinks of me as both, you think it’s okay
but I have holes now, a broken quill, crushed in his paws

I lost my feathers, my dreams, been pondering dying
I see Icarus’ fate drawing closer each day
still you drag me out again and again for the pleasure of the lion
I call it cruel, cynic, you call it play.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Carla Harryman

Carla Harryman was born in Orange, California and studied at the University of California, Santa Barbara and San Francisco State University. Her genre-disrupting poetry is usually associated with the Language poets as it explores fictive and essayistic elements as well as performance.

Paul Hoover highlights Harryman’s interest in exploring narrative in particular, quoting her:
“If narrative is imitating anything, it’s the intention to convince the audience to enjoy its imitation, whatever the lack of truth or reasonableness.”

Harryman has authored seventeen books including numerous collections of poetry. She serves on the faculty of Eastern Michigan University and is currently a Senior Artist-in-Residence in The University of Washington at Bothell’s MFA in Poetics Program.

Links: (A Harryman Feature in How2)

My below poem was inspired by Harryman’s poem of the same title.

~ - ~

My story
The phone rang. 10 times. A strange voice answered. The woman sat on a park bench writing in her notebook on a sunny October day. The story was vacant. I answered the door. The room remained highly doubtful. Instead of a woman there was black and white. It happened simultaneously, one after the other. It happened before it even began. The phone rang. Tuesday was dark and rainy. The voice on the other end coarse with suspense. A woman without characterisation stepped into the room when I was turning the pages. A pile of ripped paper on the floor. She raised the tip of the fountain pen from the paper and paused. She never got phone calls from anyone. It was up to her to make the most out of the thinly veiled stereotype rom-com plot. The story stepped in wet from the autumn rain shaking its umbrella. Her response made little difference as long as she remembered to answer the door. The obvious landmarks removed, we were left with little in the way of orientation. I was on page 20. Little was known about any of the characters. A pile of ripped paper on the floor. Her intentions remained oblivious. They ran out of ink halfway through her life. She put the milk back into the fridge on a date past the printed numbers. A nondescript moon abandoned in the sky. Verses in a jumble in the kitchen drawer with the tape and the matches. The setting could be practically anywhere. The main plotline, snapped and tangled, forgotten in a corner. The phone kept ringing on and on. Her fate as a minor character mattered most to the slow-moving parts of the story. She waited for something. All of her efforts didn’t move the plot forward a single inch. She changed characters in the bathroom of the railway station just beyond the border. I was on page 58. She wondered when the next chapter might finally be over. It felt as if someone had earmarked this page in her life. Trapped in a three act structure she considered a Brechtian intervention. The introduction of a new character required some radical changes to the plot. A pile of ripped paper. These things seeping through language like dirty linen. A time. A frame. Looking back I wonder about her sometimes.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

James Laughlin

As Hoover points out in the anthology, James Laughlin was primarily known “as the leading publisher of avant-garde poetry” and the founder of New Directions Publishing.

Laughlin was born into one of Pittsburgh’s leading steel-making families in 1914. He attended Harvard University before embarking on a trip to the Europe where he sought out Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. Upon his return to the US he founded New Directions Publishing with money from his father. The first edition of the New Directions in Prose & Poetry series was published in 1936. The anthology included experimental writing from contributors such as Elizabeth Bishop, E. E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, Pound, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. In the following years New Directions emerged as the publisher who shaped the careers of countless poets and playwrights including Tennessee Williams, Paul Goodman, George Oppen, Robert Creeley, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Kenneth Rexroth, Denise Levertov, and Robert Duncan.

His own writings however remained mainly unknown outside of literary circles. As John A. Harrison and Donald W. Faulkner point out in the Dictionary of Literary Biography:

"[Laughlin] is perceived as a minor poet, in part because he has chosen to publish so little [...]. That [he] continues to apologize for his poetry is unfortunate, for it has been recognized as fresh, concise, full of wit, of impeccable quality, lucid, ironic, and often intense."

Laughlin received the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 1992. He died in 1997 at the age of eighty-three.

Links: (New York Times Obituary)

My below poem is a found poem which was inspired by Laughlin’s “The Inn at Kirchstetten”. Laughlin’s poem claims to be the reproduction of “notes pencilled in the margins of a book of the Dichtungen of Georg Trakl”. My poem “flippant tone” is likewise entirely made up of marginalia – in my case from the notes left by the previous owner of my copy of “Postmodern American Poetry”.

~ - ~

flippant tone

- lens       process
    → mediating devices
(urgent) matter –  universe                 (or) god
            perception   berkeley sight (as  )
   (is this the)
actual      physical      process
practical manifesto
  details   →     Δ   in      stance
poetry     (or should I say)
   reality   (?)
                     → process reader
→ poetry in constant
                 -  time
   - coherence in performance
& ownership
            - pressures           of   poetry- democratic
                        ‘sacred’ nature
                    mobile energy
impulse poems
→ scientific immaterialism
(or)      conscious of agency
  long         → looking in both ways
in & out of discourse →      
→ flawed
individual, idiomatic, body carries
  accrual of     lang. hist. percep’n.
 - syllable  →  bits  →  fragments
oral field
               - non-semantic   expectations
  - breath →     
                 - as part of
                        a comm’y.
→ field of bodies
                  (the)         connection btwn
                               rather than  similes
intrinsic rhythm of the body as opp. to
            perceptive                          field
                                  - score
       - performance
         element       artificial
            → prosthetic   * process → levelling the hierarchy
                                         an institution
                 - sustainability
      - eco poetic
- communal
→ flippant tone
Charlotte County Florida 1921

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Clarence Major

"Liz 2" by Vince Viloria - Flickr: Liz.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Clarence Major was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1936 and grew up in Chicago where he attended the School of the Art Institute before joining the US Air Force in 1955. He founded the literary magazine Coercion Review in 1957, which put him in contact with many poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley. In 1966, Major moved to New York City and became associated with the Umbra Workshop group of black writers.

In addition to his work as a poet he has gained wide recognition for his numerous fictional works as well as for his paintings.

Major is professor emeritus of 20th-Century American Literature at the University of California at Davis.


My below poem took its inspiration from Major’s 1985 poem “Inside Diameter”.

~ - ~

Inside Diameter: 8 megapixels

express yourself
at arm’s length
at a slight upward angle
the position is a classic
forget the reclining muse
strike a pose
put on a smile
it’s in your hands now
the position is so
so well-worn
the position works so well

choose your filter
add a caption hashtag
you might wanna experiment with props
throw in a little wink
a supersize sandwich
choose a striking setting
a bit of cleavage never hurt anyone

this is who you are
keep it real
don’t overdo it
flat design won’t reduce the penetration
don’t be fooled
let them see you
there are many ways you can make it work for you

the position is a classic
you cannot count the variation
just don’t be too obvious
just don’t be fake
be authentic
the keyword let me spell
it out is “verisimilitude”
that is to say “life-like”

as the position continues to be
struck and turned
don’t let them see your
shattered display
your broken nails
and bleeding gums
battles are won and lost
in this position
the position is so
so well-worn
the position works so well

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

David Lehman

Image by CBI

David Lehman was born and raised in New York City. He went to Columbia University and Cambridge University before embarking on an extraordinary career not only as a poet but also as one of most important editors, literary critics, and anthologists of contemporary American literature. Lehman inaugurated The Best American Poetry series in 1988, a series of publications which has earned high acclaim for introducing contemporary American poetry to a larger audience.

In his numerous poetry collections he “reveals a playful fascination with formal gamesmanship” (Hoover) and irony. The poet John Hollander writes of Lehman:

“This increasingly impressive poet keeps reminding us that putting aside childish things can be done only wisely and well by keeping in touch with them, and that American life is best understood and celebrated by those who are, with Whitman, both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.”

Lehman’s honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches both at the New School and New York University.


My below poem borrows from Lehman’s “The Difference Between Pepsi and Coke” in the way it is constructed, while dwelling on some political ideas close to my heart.

~ - ~

Can’t sing

Can’t sing; worries about his job a lot
and the economy; just followed his old uni friends
into a spineless career; dreams about going to space
some day or become prime minister; likes that
weird indie folk artists that you were crazy about last year;
tried to lose a few pounds in the last years to look better in
the dark suit he has to wear to work each day even if
that’s tailored and he always looks pale; cannot help
but look awkward in front of the cameras and slightly
helpless when he smiles; and still George stands for austerity
and social injustice; doesn’t really care about
macroeconomics or true change; won’t hand out money to anyone
who hasn’t earned loads of it; is part of the club;
considers dignity sacred, more so than life itself;
wants you to work hard and earn and earn and earn
so you can buy more; he wonders what his life would be
like if things had gone differently back in Oxford; loves
his wife and children, and his country; goes to bed, hopes
for the best

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Rae Armantrout

Rae Armantrout is one of the founding members of the West Coast group of Language poets. Born and raised in California she attended the University of California in Berkeley where she studied with Denise Levertov before moving to San Francisco State University for her MA.

She has published more than a dozen collections of poetry and her 2009 collection Versed was awarded both the National Book Critics Circle Award (2009) as well as the Pulitzer Price for Poetry (2010).

What sets her work apart from many other Language poets is her constant exploration and confrontation of the lyric. As Ron Silliman describes her work in the preface to her 2001 selected poems, Veil:

“the literature of the anti-lyric, those poems that at first glance appear contained and perhaps even simple, but which upon the slightest examination rapidly provoke a sort of vertigo effect as element after element begins to spin wildly toward more radical...possibilities.”

Armantrout is a professor and director of the New Writing Series at the University of California, San Diego.


My below poem was inspired by Armantrout’s poem “Language of Love”. As her poem made me think about the connection between poetry, language, and love I decided to compose a poem which explores these aspects. In my below poem I am using the first and the last line of Lord Byron’s famous “She Walks In Beauty” as well as the poems general form to explore aspects of tradition of the love poem.

~ - ~

love by language, love

she walks in beauty through the night
   a silly habit hard to beat
in verse as in relationships
   especially when grammar strays
two blocks away from any kind
   of decent midnight takeaway

by flicker of a porchlight left
  on vicious droves of b’s or n’s
around my head and in my ears
  keep me awake though centuries
to ponder every single flab
  of nightly moths caught in a net

constrained by 26 and white
   my margin in your ancient fist
still quivers like each simile
   among the blatant simple speech
you used to blush when little said
  A heart whose love is literate!