Essays

Joe Weil: “The Thing About Things: Notes on William Carlos Williams”

There are many poets who enjoy disliking William Carlos Williams. He wrote poems that seem distinguished only by their adherence to the “tossed off.” They make no major claims. They seem jotted off.

So why study the man at all? First, it is hard to see Williams because he is everywhere, in all the schools of American poetry. He took the English conversational lyric as invented by Coleridge and developed by Wordsworth, and turned it toward American speech patterns: OK, sure—the sense of a self-consciously casual utterance, language that was wrought from a busy life and ranged between the phatic, the cranky, the ecstatic, the overt, and the obvious.

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T. Zachary Cotler: from Elegies for Humanism

The following three essays are excerpts from Cotler’s monograph Elegies for Humanism, which will be published as a book by Rare Bird Books this year.

“Outlasting Artifacts”
“Transitioning”
“World-building”


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Joe Weil: “Looking at Ballad Form, and the Nature of Voice”

One of the things that may irritate a post-structuralist reader about Auden is that he delights in “knowing” things—even those things which are ugly and disastrous to know. For example, his greatest praise of old masters: “About suffering, the old masters were never wrong.” Auden likes being right. He likes being elegant. He likes making a point in as clever a way as possible. He even likes his ambiguity to be gin-clear. This annoys readers, especially those who come out of the postmodernist woodwork to feed on endless non-commitments, non-linearity, and statements that dissolve and are contradicted or made impotent by the sheer process of deconstructing one’s deconstructions. Stevens claimed that a great disorder is an order (well ahead of chaos theory). Post-structuralism with its absolutist hatred of saying anything is, well, to put it in the language of my forbearers: fucking boring. Auden, at his worst, is also a bore. He can be pedantic, overbearing, a spewer of opinions, a snob, a writer of high-falutin doggerel. At his best, he is the greatest poet to come out of the formalists, and for the same reason Ashbery is probably the greatest poet to come out of the post-structuralists: because he is good at saying what he enjoys saying, because he takes great delight in his own utterance for its own sake, because no old bone wearies him if he can find a happy way to chomp on it. This is no small virtue. If a poet is not enjoying his own spew, what damned good is he? Auden’s ability to wrap things up annoys a reader only if that reader is deaf to the sonic joy of Auden cracking wise. The pleasure in Auden is not in what he says, or even in how he says it, but in the sheer pleasure he takes beyond how or why—a pleasure that, in his best poems, becomes a palpable presence throughout. When I want to witness a poet enjoying himself I turn to Ashbery or Auden. With great craft and skill, they sit in their respective sand boxes, and both are infantile in the best sense. At any rate, let’s inspect one of Auden’s more famous poems, the imitation ballad, “As I Walked out One Evening.”

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Djelloul Marbrook: “Unpunctuation: Enabling Poetry to Sail Close to the Wind”

Forego punctuation and you forego caveat and the ace up your sleeve. Nothing is going to save you from yourself. You’ve entered uncharted waters. Count on there being dragons. You might drop off the end of the earth, or you might sail the Milky Way.

There is the music of gods, demi-gods, nymphs and dryads to be had, and rhapsody even Walt Whitman and Hart Crane failed to reach.

This is the testament of much of W.S. Merwin’s poetry.

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Mary Cisper reviews Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s Hello, The Roses

Hello_the_Roses_300_450Hello, the Roses
Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
New Directions, 2013
ISBN: 9780811220910

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Trevor Calvert reviews James Meetze’s Dark Art

Dark_Art-02_1024x1024Dark Art, I-XII
James Meetze
Manor House Monographs, 2013
ISBN: 9780985909536

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Hazel White: “Sonnet to Dead Reckoning”

On August 28, Hazel White performed this work at the For-Site Foundation event at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, in response to Nathan Lynch’s sculpture installation, “Dead Reckoning,” in the BAN7 exhibition. (Images courtesy of Nathan Lynch.)

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John Liles reviews Karen Lepri’s Incidents of Scattering

“Of heat and work—stoppage, Earth in its Orbit” (Incidents of Scattering, 30)

On October 10th, 1858, George Phillips Bond would be the first human to photograph a comet.

That same year, Robert Virchow proclaims, standing upon the shoulders of those who came before him, “Omnis cellula e cellula” (every cell originates from another existing cell like it).

At just about this same time, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace are announcing to the world their theories of evolution and natural selection.

The second law of thermodynamics had been formulated just ten years earlier and had still not yet given way to entropy by 1860.

It was within this scientific climate that John Tyndall, a physicist and magnetism expert, would publish The Glaciers of the Alps, Being Narrative of Excursions and Ascents, And An Account of the Physical Principals to Which They Are Related. The title serves as a wonderful synopsis; the book was written by Tyndall as he himself trecked and calculated through the Alpine Mountains. It is this work that Karen Lepri’s debut book of poetry, Incidents of Scattering, “takes a deep breath from.” Tyndall’s work on the fundamental forces of air, heat, and light stood (and continues to stand) unparalleled on the planet earth.
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Donald Revell: “A Family of Mountaineers: Barbara Guest’s Exceptionalism”

A Family of Mountaineers: Barbara Guest’s Exceptionalism

He was particularly indignant against the almost universal use of the word
idea in the sense of notion or opinion, when it is clear that idea can only signify
something of which an image can be formed in the mind.
—James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

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Norma Cole: On Distraction

This essay was adapted from a talk given at Saint Mary’s College, 12 March 2014

“I was hesitant to take the case, having my mind already on another case.”
Norma Cole, “Mars
(Mars, Listening Chamber Press, 1994)

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