Last Week in Poetry #2: 4/13-4/19, 2009

To my dedicated readers: I apologize for falling a bit behind. I spent twelve hours in a car this weekend, dined at four different fast food establishments, and stayed at a hotel where every piece of furniture is on wheels. My recovery has been slow at best. With that behind us, let’s take a look at Last Week in Poetry.

1 – Passings and the “Transparent” Fiction of Poetry

It was a sad week for the world of poetry. We lost Deborah Digges, Franklin Rosemont, and Henri Meschonnic, all well before their times. Ron Silliman, though clearly bereaved, was struck most by how these deaths seemed socially disconnected:

“Each operated within a social world in which the other three were more or less completely absent. If you read the responses to the notices on the blog, it would appear that the death of Franklin Rosemont was the most significant, but it has been entirely unacknowledged in the daily press in this country, while obits for Deborah Digges have started to pop up there, though not as widely nor as quickly as those for [American theorist] Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. In France, the death of Henri Meschonnic is being treated as a similar big deal… Weeks like the past one will become much more common as time goes on, not only in the numbers, but in the fact that the poets who pass may well appear to operate in entirely different universes with very little overlap. As this becomes more apparent, the fiction that there is such a thing as poetry will become increasingly transparent. Instead there are poetries, a word that perhaps should never be used in the singular without a hyphen in front of it.”

The reality Silliman envisions is one where poetry receives a second-level inquiry usually reserved for media such as music and film. Tell a new acquaintance that you are a musician and the response “what kind of music do you play?” will invariably follow. If someone invites you to a movie that you’re unfamiliar with, a question about “what kind of movie” it is would be appropriate for clarity’s sake. It’s unusual – at least in everyday conversation – for a self-identified poet to be pushed to modify his profession with the kind of poetry he practices. Sure, a question of influences may come up, but to the outside world – people not writing poetry – a poet is a poet is a poet is a poet.


Glendale, 2008

2 – National Poetry Month Questionnaires (Canadian Edition)

Canadian news source National Post is putting the “inter” in (inter)National Poetry Month, and its art affiliate The Afterword is celebrating by introducing its readers to noteworthy Canadian poets. Featured artists include Desi Di Nardo – famous, in part, for her work that appears on Starbucks coffee cups and Toronto Transit vehicles – and American expat Adam Sol – who asks the question I’ve always wondered myself: could Citizen Kane be made into a decent sestina?

3 – Passings, Two

Sportscaster (sports-poet?) Les Keiter died last Tuesday. I mention his passing because his work as a re-creationist could certainly qualify as a kind of poetry. After the Giants left New York for San Francisco, Keiter spent three summers broadcasting re-creations of games with a “booming voice and excitable embellishments, aided by his Western Union tickertape, crowd noise, and a drumstick and wooden block alongside his microphone.” Keiter’s concern wasn’t absolute accuracy so much as it was creating an exciting representation that was also plausible.

“You might not know what kind of pitch struck a man out, but you remember what a certain pitcher’s key weapon is,” he recalled. “You can’t see the condition of a field after a rain delay, but you know from your preparation what conditions the stadium is usually in when wet.”

Once in a while, when the ticker account stopped transmitting or became garbled, Mr. Keiter would fill in the time by inventing a pitcher-catcher conference on the mound or a batter fouling off pitch after pitch.


Santa Monica, 2008

4 – Poetry Pays… Eventually

Fanny Howe was announced as the winner of the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement. The Chicago-based Poetry Foundation justified its selection with a mouthful of praise, saying that Howe’s work “can be elusive and hermetic, and then abruptly and devastatingly candid; it is marked by the pressures of history and culture, yet [is] defiantly, transcendently lyrical.” I prefer Howe’s own assessment from a 2004 Kenyon Review interview:

“If someone is alone reading my poems, I hope it would be like reading someone’s notebook. A record. Of a place, beauty, difficulty. A familiar daily struggle.”

5 – Louvre Online

From the “it’s about time” files: the UN will launch its free-access-to-all online World Digital Library tomorrow. The site will include “manuscripts, maps, rare books, films, sound recordings, prints and photographs.” No word yet from Google as to whether or not they plan to acquire Unesco’s stunning collection.


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