Sunday, 31 January 2016

Alice Notley

It is hard to put Alice Notley into a box. Throughout the four decades of her extraordinary career her style has continued to shift and turn. Active in the New York poetry scene in the 1960s and 70s and indeed married to Ted Berrigan for more than 10 years, she is often associated with the Second Generation of New York School poets. But her work can also be found to reveal darker, almost mystical tendencies at one point while displaying a light, disjunctive style bordering on language poetry at other times. Her later work has a particular focus on book-length projects and often features narrative and character-centred forms.

Notley is the author of over 25 books of poetry. Her many awards include the San Francisco Poetry Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Griffin International Poetry Prize, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. Notley currently lives in Paris.


My below poem took its initial inspiration from Notley’s “Beginning with a stain”.

~ - ~

beginning with a borrowing

with a borrowing
a wording
a spacing
a lining
a sentencing

words are
for uses
on the plains:
mother’s yellow handbag
sister’s silver bracelets abandoned in the drawer of the old room
brother’s battered travel case (blue)
father’s dark and heavy coat

words are
for uses
on the rules:
i steht fuer ich
went steht fuer vergangenheit
away steht fuer fernweh
forever fuer romantik

words are
for uses
on her own:
with a borrowing
a wording
a spacing
a lining
a sentencing

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

William Corbett

William Corbett grew up in in Pennsylvania and Connecticut and attended Lafayette College before moving to Boston’s South End with his wife the psychologist Beverly Mitchell. Until their move to Brooklyn in 2012, their house was known as a kind of literary salon for artists, poets, and writers in Boston and Corbett played an important part in the literary scene of the city.

As the Poetry Foundation notes, “Corbett’s poetry is influenced by the history and geography of New England, his personal friendships with poets and artists, visual art, and daily experience.” Corbett sees himself as “a poet of landscape, weather and consciousness.”

In relation to this Hoover quotes Corbett:

“I seek to make poems that are clear as a cloudless fall morning – the reader ought to be able to see freshly what’s right in front of him and into the distance for miles. My endeavour is to make the everyday memorable, to discover and declare the value in what’s considered ordinary. The language I like best is plain and ringing, clean and accurate as a well-driven nail.”

Corbett has published more than 10 collections of poetry in addition to several collections of essays and prose. Over the years, he has also edited a number of literary journals and magazines including Fire Exit, The Boston Eagle, Ploughshares, Agni, and Grand Street. In 1999, Corbett founded Pressed Wafer Press, a small press devoted to poetry, essays, and art writing. He has taught writing for over twenty years at MIT, and also held teaching jobs at Harvard and Emerson.

Links: (video of a Harvard University panel discussion of Corbett’s significance for the Boston literary scene)

My below poem is a response to William Corbett’s poem of the same title – and then it isn’t.

I found myself struggling to respond to his work as it seems to have an almost “realist”, narrative tendency and frequently deals with nature (in a broader sense). It isn’t something I usually do myself. I therefore started off with a rough narrative text about my own experience of “nature” in everyday life. I then decided to rework the text to achieve a less realist, denser piece.

~ - ~

Cold Lunch
From the office I walk down the three blocks to Ramshorn Graveyard in the January drizzle of my lunch time break. The wind dies down a little when I step into the sheltered green space behind the old church. On three sides the graveyard is enclosed by the high walls of former office buildings. They are luxury lifestyle apartments now. I walk underneath the branches of the trees, planted close to the dirty gravel path which runs around the little cemetery. The air is cool and clear. The hectic streets of Central Glasgow seem far away when I am here. I balance on the curb stones of the path where the ground got soft and muddy with the heavy winter rain. But the grass is long and soft in this ancient space. Patient timeless nature. I watch it wave and ripple as the wind passes over the flat ground. The gravestones here are many centuries old, reminders of the city’s glorious merchant history. Their flat surfaces have now sunken deep into the green. Sometimes split, often overgrown with moss they lie there helplessly. Overtaken now by living things. It is hard to read the names engraved into the stone. Moss embellishes each letter as dust and water gathers in the groves of the words.

Cold Lunch – minus 1 degree
About walking. About dying.
About stepping. About enclosing.
About being. About walking.
About planting. About running.
About being. About seeming.
About being. About balancing.
About getting. About being.
About watching. About waving.
About rippling. About passing.
About being. About having.
About sinking. About splitting.
About overgrowing. About lying.
About overtaking. About being.
About engraving. About embellishing.
About gathering (in the groves of words).

Cold Lunch – minus 2 degrees
down to in of.
down when into behind.
on by of.
underneath of to around.
of when here.
on of where and with.
but and in.
and as over.
here of.
now into.
often with there.
now by.
to into.
as and in of.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Wanda Coleman

Known as Los Angeles’ “unofficial poet laureate”, Wanda Coleman grew up in the Watts neighbourhood of the city in relative poverty. Her father ran a sign shop during the day, working at night as a janitor at RCA Victor Records while her mother worked as a seamstress.

Her poetry often deals with the “burdens of poverty and race” as she herself – as a black woman in the South West - often found herself as “a minority within a minority within a minority – racially, sexually, regionally” (Hoover).

In his 1999 review, Alistair Paterson, Editor of Poetry New Zealand said of Coleman’s work:

“Coleman’s poetry, politically aware, darkly humorous, sensual and iconoclastic, presents a remarkable talent developed throughout a difficult life. [...] It’s the kind of poetry other writers can use as a yardstick for measuring their work—it sets a standard and demonstrates what a beautiful, adaptable, usable language colloquial English is.”

Coleman published more than a dozen collections of poetry. She received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Price for her collection Bathwater Wine (Black Sparrow Press, 1998) In addition to her poetry Coleman also worked as a magazine editor, journalist, as well as an Emmy-winning scriptwriter. She lived in Los Angeles until her death in 2013.

Links: (obituary in The National)

My poem below was inspired by the style of Coleman’s “the ISM” and her general willingness to address social topics such as poverty and racism.

~ - ~


I moved into the cupboard under the stairs for pure romance
I kept neatly to my side of the bed
I crawled up the walls with the mice when it was bed time
smoothed my back flirtatiously against the mouldy foam

I boiled my sweet scented bath water in the kitchen kettle
I let the fan heater melt my broken toes
I stuck thin foil across each of the period windows
kept the bucket carefully underneath the hole

I got this amazing deal in a sought-after area
I was so lucky to pay the price
my postcode reflects my inner-most conscience
I need to be here. I need to be here. I need to buy

But you know, in London
You are never really home
There is always something going
When are you ever really home?

Thursday, 21 January 2016

John Yau

John Yau was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, one year after his parents emigrated from China. He studied at Bard College and received his B.A. in 1972 and his M.F.A. in Poetry from Brooklyn College in 1977.

The Poetry Foundation says of Yau’s work which is often situated on the borderline between poetry and prose:

“He is known for his attentiveness to visual culture and linguistic surface in his work. In poems that frequently pun, trope, and play with the English language, Yau offers complicated, sometimes competing versions of the legacy of his dual heritages—as Chinese, American, poet, and artist.”

In addition to his work as a poet he also is also a renowned art critic. His reviews have appeared in Artforum, Art in America, Art News, Bookforum, and the Los Angeles Times.

Yau has received many honors and awards for his work including a New York Foundation for the Arts Award, the Jerome Shestack Award, and the Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram-Merrill Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation, and was named a Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by France.

He currently teaches art criticism at Mason Gross School of the Arts and Rutgers University. He lives in New York City.

Links: (video interview)

My poem below is a response to Yau’s “Chinese Villanelle”. I chose to write a villanelle myself.

~ - ~

A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2

poetry is just a silly thing I do sometimes
it’s not that I particularly care
it doesn’t change the world or shift the fucking paradigm

the others spent their nights with darts or prime
time show food for the telly stare
poetry is just a silly thing I do sometimes

art is nothing but weird pointless pantomime
for people with John Lewis tableware
it doesn’t change the world or shift the fucking paradigm

those leftist plebs longing for the social climb
everyone knows politics is never fair
poetry is just a silly thing I do sometimes

what’s the point of fancy words in verse and rhyme
your wit won’t get you or anyone anywhere
it doesn’t change the world or shift the fucking paradigm

in a deep dark pit of raging fury is where I’m
on those days it’s damn hard to bear
poetry is just a silly thing I do sometimes
it doesn’t change the world or shift the fucking paradigm

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Barrett Watten

Barrett Watten was born in Berkeley, California and attended MIT and the University of California in Berkeley in the late 1960s. Here he met fellow poets Robert Grenier and Ron Silliman and he subsequently decided to attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop where he received an MFA in English (Program of Creative Writing) in 1972.

He edited This, one of the central publications of the Language school of poetry from 1971-82, and co-edited Poetics Journal with Lyn Hejinian. Apart from his numerous poetic publications he also works extensively as a critic, editor, and publisher. He is a Professor of English at Wayne State University, Detroit.

From my own point of view, Watten is one of those people whose theoretical work simply is mesmerizing. Doing my little bit of research for this post I found myself wanting to read every little article and blog post he has ever written… I highly recommend having a look through his blog, Jacket2 contributions, and his readings on PennSound.

Links: (Watten’s blog) (several posts by Watten on Jacket2)

My below poem took its inspiration from Watten’s “Statistics” which is included in the anthology. I found myself seriously struggling to create an adequate response to his work, so this one is merely a first attempt. It uses language about the concept of “statistical significance” as well as quotes from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

~ - ~

significant / white
“we prefix so significant and infidel a word” when the null hypothesis specifies the undesired. the abandoned. the past. the value of a parameter measured in abstraction is all. “a most significant event befell the most insignificant”. the data are yet beyond the curve. a bell to be called statistically at a given confidence. γ = 1 – α. “no doubt to enhance its value by a notion so strangely significant of its scarcity.” (which here might well be knowledge or maybe clarity) the computed confidence for that parameter fails to contain. the whiteness on the edge below. (the corner of my eye - faded marginalia). the value specified by the null hypothesis (as to say the status quo). we pose the question. we ask for details. “a significant illustration of the fact, again and again repeated” we gather evidence beyond the borders of the known. it remains as a matter of good scientific practice: “they have significantly complimented me upon my facetiousness”. a level is chosen. “a remarkable and most significant one” (here: mere interpretation?). set to 0.05 (5%). in any experiment or observation involving a sample, a book, a paper, a sheet - there is always the possibility slipping into whiteness. “this one is very happy and significant”. an observed effect would have occurred due to error alone. (question unanswered) “pity if there is nothing wonderful in signs, and significant in wonders” if the p-value p < 0.05. the first inference “it seems a significant provision of nature” - an investigator may conclude the observed actually reflects upon the surface of the purest. “whiteness has been even made significant of gladness”. yet “second: it is a little significant”. investigators may then report that the result points between lines i.e. “his life, as they significantly call it, untouched”. thereby confirming the null hypothesis. abandoned by clarity: “every revelation partook more of significant darkness than of explanatory light” is white.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Tom Clark

image: Moritz Nähr [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1941 in Chicago, Tom Clark attended John Carroll University and the University of Michigan before going to England on a Fulbright scholarship. In addition to earning an MA at Cambridge University he spent some time hitchhiking across the country together with Allen Ginsberg.

Over the years Clark has published more than 30 collections of poetry. He is particularly famous for his sport-related poetry but also frequently addressed the state of contemporary America. As a poet mainly associated with the off-handed, witty poetry style of the New York School, Clark also established himself as a leading opponent of the language movement.

The poet Billy Collins wrote of Clark’s work: “Tom Clark, the lyric imp of American poetry, has delivered many decades’ worth of goofy, melancholic, cosmic, playful, and wiggy poems. I can never get enough of this wise guy leaning on the literary jukebox, this charmer who refuses to part with his lovesick teenage heart.”

In addition to his work as a poet Clark also published a number of novels and biographies of people such as Ted Berrigan, Robert Creeley, Ed Dorn, Jack Kerouac, and Charles Olson.

The recipient of awards from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts, Clark has been an instructor in poetics at the New College of California since 1988. He lives in Berkeley, California.

Links: (Tom Clark’s blog with poetry and essays) (his author page at Jacket Magazine)

My poem below took their inspiration from Clark’s “You” poem series. They also draw in parts on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s famous philosophical work Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

~ - ~

You (XVI)
1.    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
2.    Cups of tea on your sofa in the early morning sun.
3.    Your arms.
4.    And lips and perfect cock.
5.    Philosophy is not a theory but an activity.
6.    With the curtains drawn.
7.    Long walks along the canal, through the park, towards a slice of cake and coffee.
8.    What is thinkable is also possible.
9.    Books piled up.
10.    Thoughts kissing, begetting others.
11.    It will mean the unspeakable by clearly displaying the speakable.
12.    Not without hesitation.
13.    Yet eventually.
14.    Operations can vanish.
15.    Logic must take care of itself.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Charles North

Born in Brooklyn, New York, poet and writer Charles North grew up in New York City and earned degrees from Tufts University and Columbia University before attending Kenneth Koch’s poetry workshop at The New School. The Poetry Project in New York City was central to North’s development as a poet.  He went to numerous readings, published in Project magazines, and befriended other poets of his generation, including two who would become close colleagues, Tony Towle and Paul Violi.

Since his first collection Lineups (1970), he has published nine books of poems, as well as collaborative books with Towle and with the artist Trevor Winkfield.

Publisher’s Weekly noted that

“North’s work constantly greets us with the deft presence of a mind devilishly enamored of improbable form and substantial ideation … there is a pervasive wistfulness and lyric rush that pervades even the most artificial of forms, as if blueprint ink was running from the draughtsman’s tears”

Hoover says of North’s work: It is “reminiscent of the metaphysical poetry of Andrew Marvell, [and] is often gently humorous, moving with ease from high to low levels of rhetoric.”

In addition to his work as a writer, North edited the poet/painter anthology Broadway with James Schuyler in 1979, and ran the Swollen Magpie Press with Paul Violi from 1976-1982. Among his awards are two NEA Creative Writing Fellowships and four Fund for Poetry awards.  In 2008 he was awarded an Individual Artist’s Grant by the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.


The below poem was inspired by North’s “A Note To Tony Towle (After WS)” which uses a similar structure.

~ - ~

Not to

One must have swallowed three decades of game show hosts
Not to feel empty on a Monday morning
One must have squealed each curl of pubic hair
Not to feel lonely on a Friday night
One must have scratched the stickers off the back of each IKEA fish stick,
have sucked the straw of six generations of iPhone battery leaks
One must have hugged every new soft minty sanitary towel
Not to feel
Not to feel

One must have held on to 6,000 air miles of pina coladas
Not to feel dizzy with frustration every day
One must have leaned on the heavy metal rods of eternal porn film wisdom
Not to feel the rising of the bile in your throat
One must have kissed the sweet lips of neo-liberal consensus
Have licked along the voluptuous curves of hedge fund gluttony
One must have touched the private parts of 20 years of everyone’s Google search history
Not to feel
Not to feel

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Amy Gerstler

Amy Gerstler was born in San Diego and received her BA in psychology from Pitzer College in 1978. She subsequently moved to Los Angeles and received her MFA in nonfiction from Bennington College in 2000.

Known for its wit and complexity, Amy Gerstler's poetry often deals with themes such as redemption, suffering, and survival and – as critic Sarah Gorham puts in in 1991 – “strip[s] down all basic assumptions about beauty and truth and holiness, and begin[s] a struggle for redemption from the gutter”. In a review of her 2009 collection Dearest Creature, the Los Angeles Times called Gerstler "one of the best poets in the nation." 

She has published more than a dozen poetry collections, two works of fiction, and various articles, reviews, and collaborations with visual artists. In 1991 Gerstler won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for her collection Bitter Angel.

She is now a professor in the MFA writing program at the University of California, Irvine and lives in Los Angeles.


My below poem is inspired by Gerstler’s “BZZZZZZZZ” and uses some of the first phrases of her poem while also incorporating parts of the text for an online “love compatibility” horoscope.

~ - ~


There’s a certain philosopher I’ve fallen in love with. His hands are weighty. His breath smells long, silent and deep. His thoughts are neither captives nor violent lovers. They’re capricious. Like stubborn cats they hide quietly in the darkest corners, and leap fiercely from beyond the shade. He thinks only of improving the future of the world and humanity, and builds pillars of books for the fates to rest. I watch him discussing the tides with the ancient muses, his eyes reflected in their perfect white spheres. I follow him through the cellar door of his airy chamber. Up a tower of a thousand steps I often chase him, gathering hand-written notes I can never read. But when I reach the room he is never home, having gone to find an answer. Yet I stay and bent down to collect the pages: my story scattered about the floor in beautiful circles like autumn leaves around a curious tree.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Ann Lauterbach

Ann Lauterbach was born in New York City in 1942. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Columbia University before moving to London for a period of time to teach and work as an editor. She returned to the US in 1974 and - as the Poetry Foundation puts it – “immersed herself in the art world, working as an art consultant and an assistant director to various art galleries”. She has published nine poetry collections as well as one book of essays (The Night Sky: Writings on the Poetics of Experience (2005)).

John Ashbery to who’s work her poetry has often been compared, said about Lauterbach’s writings: “Ann Lauterbach’s poetry goes straight to the elastic, infinite core of time.”

She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation. For over 15 years, she has taught at Bard College and co-directed the Writing Division of the MFA program. She lives in Germantown, New York.


My below poem is inspired by Lauterbach’s “Platonic Subject” – while her poem reflects on Platonic Realism I decided to address the question whether we have free will.

~ - ~

Being Determined

Waiting for the bubbles to rise in the hot water as I make my cup of tea.
My decision just another bubble, following the pull of nature’s law.
My steaming cup - entailed by the precise state of the universe
at a given time t0 together with all the laws of nature:
sperm, ovum, a zygote cell growing, lizards slithering across wet, sandy soil,
bubbles rising, steam gathering heavy on the inside of the lid.
At a given time, as expected, I watch it. Being determined.
Caught in a bubble or free to drift, defy the tale -