Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Lost Poets of the 70s: The Anthology

Yup, the time has arrived. I've drawn this out long enough, I'm sure you'll agree, and now it's time to reveal the name of the "Lost Poets of the 70s" anthology. In a way, this is the book that started Poetry Snark. The original idea came when I saw some of these photos and thought it would be amusing to post them to a blog with commentary. I came up with the name "Poetry Snark" and was shocked that no one had taken it. A phone call to a friend (Trochee) provided me with enough enthusiasm to try it, and the day after the site went up, Foetry linked to us -- how they found us so soon, I have no idea. I'm uneasy about the Foetry crowd, who have sometimes tried to turn this site into Foetry 2.0. But Barron and others have said some pretty hilarious shit, and the hits that link provided really started the site. Now dozens of sites link to us and even now, in semi-hiatus, we still get hundreds of hits a day, totaling around 17,000. In about three months we've had 8,157 unique visitors and 3,532 of you keep coming back for more. I get about an even amount of hate and fan mail. I would like to keep going, and I would like more snarkers on board, so please email me with your comments. Is it worth it? Is it funny? Should I keep snarking on? It's more work than I thought, continuing to come up with snark and keep up with the rest of my life. Let me know what you think in this thread.

But you wanted to know the name of the anthology, not the history of Poetry Snark. It's called New Voices in American Poetry, edited by David Allan Evans and published by Winthrop Press. You may recognize Evans' name from this post, where we snarked his magnum opus "Ford Pickup." Yes, mistuh Evans is one of those editors who feels fit to include himself in his own anthology, which might be forgivable if he was a good editor and poet. As the "Lost Poets" posts have amply demonstrated, he's not. At all. Not even a little bit. Perhaps I owe Todd Swift an apology. This anthology -- and not his Short Fuse: A Global Anthology of New Fusion Poetry -- is probably the worst poetry anthology ever.

Would you like to be the proud new owner of the "Lost Poets" anthology?

Send me your snark. You can post it to this thread, or email it to me directly at poetrysnark@gmail.com. Whoever comes up with the funniest snark, gets the anthology -- I'll even pay for the postage. Any snark received is subject to front page posting. C'mon, snarkers, there's got to be some deserving targets you'd like to nail. Bring out the hammer.


Blogger Ginger Pennebaker said...

i dunno, maybe let's quit before we hurt anyone's feelings

7:05 PM, July 28, 2005  
Blogger Snark said...

I don't think any of them love us anymore...

7:10 PM, July 28, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RIP Snark - couple of months and already no ideas left - or are you going to drag it out as your sort always do? Back to the dead end job for you and your imaginary co-snarks. By-eee.

8:27 PM, July 28, 2005  
Anonymous Paige Morgan said...

Crikey. You people run out of steam that easily? Given that you seemed more interested in people's bad 70's-era photos and fashion than actual poetry crit, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. If you keep going, try publishing under your own names, and find actual things to snark about.

But here, you can have one of my old snarks about Maxine Hong Kingston, as, despite the fact that she isn't trying to be a poet anymore, she's still nuts, and I won't ever take this back.

Maxine Hong Kingston pulled a reverse Laura Riding Jackson, back in 2002, and renounced prose for poetry. She's very open and honest about why she's decided to become (or rather, realized that she *is*) a poet :
1. Poets are always happy.
2. She won't have to plot anymore plots.
3. She'll be free to live and not write any more "longbooks."
4. Poets don't care about money.
5. She wants to be socially irresponsible.
6. Writing poetry is all gift and no labor. The muse flies overhead and drops jewels into poets' hands. All she will have to do is hold up a basket to the sky. Later, she elaborates on this last reason (and I quote): ...fly...I....sky...cry...die...why...fly...fly... All the important words rhyme. They blow out of the sky and all I have to do is write them down. (endquote)

One of the questions that Kingston asks in her poetic genesis is "Why does the muse of lyrical love poetry have a name that sounds so much like error?" (Because it's Greek, you dumbass!) However, it's an even stranger question, because "lyrical love poetry" definitely indicates Erato, and it sounds like she's thinking of Eros, who isn't even a muse. Of course, she pronounces the Latin infinitive "inspirare" as in-SPEAR-ury," so I shouldn't be surprised. But I'm being petty. Why should someone actually have to *know* about western mythology and language in order to question it?

Several poets get name-dropped or quoted throughout the book (Tess Gallagher, Alice Fulton, Gary Snyder), and their view of Kingston's new identity is carefully skirted.

I failed at the reading she gave in Seattle. Any question would have been illuminating, but I fled when it was over. It was surreal -- everyone around seemed to have bought the book, and they'd spent the reading nodding and sighing, and asking, at the end, for advice to young writers of color ("Write every day.") I wish I'd had someone else along to pitch a fit with. Listening to her was certainly interesting -- crystallized some interesting problems and questions about the way people see poetry and prose.

What she doesn't mention in the book is that she was so excited about her realization that she was a poet that she had to tell *everybody* -- so she had dinner with Gary Snyder, Robert Hass, and Brenda Hillman. In the book, quotes from poets are pretty vague in terms of expressing approval or disapproval – she's very careful about skirting that issue. When she told Hass, Snyder, and Hillman her reasons, they apparently threw up their hands and had minor apoplectic fits, and said that what she was proposing wasn't possible. She told us that she isn't going to her poet friends anymore for advice, since they've forgotten that poem, "Never was heard a discouraging word..."

Kingston wants to return to the way she was when she was a baby in order to find poetry again. Not child. Baby. She read us a little four-line poem, and confided that she feels very lucky to be publishing things that she composed at 2 years old. (I personally think that Mattie J. T. Stepanek was writing better stuff in the womb, but I'll leave him out of this--). Since she can't get no satisfaction from her poet friends, our "Poet" decided to go out to Nature, more specifically, to watch some elephant seals. "Taking the day off, I was already acting like the Poet. The prose writer of the longbook never goes on spontaneous outings."
At this point, things got a bit mysterious – halfway through what I thought was an anecdote, I realized she was reading us a poem that she'd written about female elephant seals getting "plopped on" by males, and how relieved the other female seals were because they weren't getting fucked. Oh yes, and the poignancy of the fact that the estrus scent causes massive seal rape, and that the females can't run, because they haven't got any legs (should I have asked, do you suppose, about the males not having legs either?). The subject matter was consistent with themes from women's lit courses: (sexual) oppression, female consciousness and community – I'm mystified as to why she felt this needed to be a poem, as opposed to a prose work.

After that, she read us a poem about a broccoli tree that she'd grown. It went something like this (it's very abbreviated in the book): "I saw the edges of the broccoli leaves like little flames, and I communed with the broccoli, and felt the warmth of its gaze. The broccoli and I were one." I'm not going to try to break up her lines for her.
I'm not kidding about the above phrases -- she really said that she was one with the broccoli. At the end of the broccoli poem, she reminisced about George H. W. Bush proclaiming his dislike for broccoli, and admonished us all, not to trust anyone who doesn't recognize broccoli for what it is. She gets my award for weirdest political insertion of the century, I think.
I'm not familiar with the four-word poetry style that Kingston enjoys writing in; it's apparently an ancient Chinese tradition that appeals to her because "it's easier and faster than haiku." She mentioned Lew Welch's "Raid kills bugs dead," and also suggested "Poets are always happy."

Various people pop up throughout the book to suggest that poets aren't always happy. In one instance, Alice Fulton and a friend try to explain the misery that Fulton occasionally suffers while crafting her work. Here's Kingston: "What can there be that is miserable in the world of Poetry?...Such a small art!...What Poet would call another Poet shit?"

I wish that the whole thing were just an Andy Kaufman (if so, it's magnificent), but that's doubtful, I think,as evidenced by the fact that the germ of this book originated with the Massey Lectures from 2000. If it were a joke, or a satire, we'd have heard about it, and the blurbers would be comparing her to Janeane Garofalo, not calling her "irreverant, serious, playful, but always instructive." I think I quibble most with the "irreverent," as my firm belief is that you have to actually be acquainted with whatever you're being irreverent about. Incidentally, the above review was published in the Library Journal, but as you've no doubt noticed, irreverent is misspelled. Do you think maybe he meant "irrelevant?" Also, the Andy Kaufman strikes me as a mode that's anathema to the mothers of women's lit (and I'd place Kingston among them, I think). Their goals almost always involve revealing something hidden, usually intentionally suppressed -- _or_ revealing the woman/mother/daughter's life at its pared down best. Kingston, to my knowledge, has stayed within the realm of traditional women's lit (which I don't mean as a criticism, in itself). She spoke a bit about the Odyssey, and Athena's "two-word poem," "Now hold." Her emphasis was on family ties, three generations of Ithacans warring, and also the powers of both Odysseus and Penelope united in the Chinese Fa Mook Lan (which is an interesting way of rendering both sexes in one character, and again, characteristic of fem. lit.) Apparently, Kingston hopes that readers of her poetry will live happily ever after, just like the characters in the Odyssey after Athena comes along. Do you think there's a happily ever after implied in the Odyssey, anywhere? Especially coming from Athena, who keeps infusing folks with vigor so that their spears pierce helmets, until she's ready for them to stop. At that point, she negotiates everything as Mentor, an older man, which makes Kingston's feminist spin on it even stranger.

She's not ridiculously over-confident (at least, not always). One of her great concerns is that the muse of lyric poetry only comes to the young, never the old (particularly the over-60 crowd -- someone break the news to Kunitz gently, please). Her solution is to hang out with younger poets, and sneak the inspiration from them when the muse hits. However, for those who aren't famous and have no young poets to hang out with, she had a suggestion, an ancient Zen technique that she discovered after September 11, of drawing enso -- infinite circles. There's one on the back of her book. She said you were only allowed to do this when you reached 60 (which means I have to wait another 35 years); proposed that people get some black paint and a mop, and start in on their kitchen floor. After September 11, all she did for a while was make enso. I don't know enough about zen, but I'm so skeptical I wonder if it's a 9/11 urban zen legend.

To her credit, it's valid to wonder how short a poem can be and still be a poem. Someone asked about June Jordan, and she told us about a project of Jordan's where students went to a church and took turns speaking from the pulpit, and being witnessed by their peers (on subjects religious and secular, I believe). Certainly, much of society lacks an arena for public speaking outside of rotary and debate clubs. And things changed when Hogg and Scott went round the countryside, writing down the oral ballads.
However, Kingston is less interested in these questions than in her own poetry. The book includes a sequence that, if I recall correctly, she says has already been published. It reads like someone's dayplanner/diary, with line breaks. Went shopping. Had very bad toothache.
She namedrops furiously: "Must write letters to Toni Morrison and Nikki Giovanni," and concludes that her poems were published because she included birthdays, specific dates, and names of famous people – "Poets shouldn't rely on missing information for mystery."

Twelve years ago, Kingston lost a manuscript in a fire, and I wondered whether this was a result of that grief. She suggested that it wasn't, but true to form, when a recent issue of Poets & Writers came out featuring her on the cover (celebrating her now restored and completed novel), not a single mention was made, even in the lists of publications, of her brief foray into poetry.

6:29 AM, July 29, 2005  
Blogger Dr. Vivian Bell said...

now that, dahlinks, is a snark.

1:40 PM, July 29, 2005  
Anonymous Paige Morgan said...

Thanks. I do try. I might even post another one, as I ran into something foul today, and had time to write about it. That's somewhat rare; I like poetry, and by that I don't mean that I like complaining about it.

2:24 PM, July 29, 2005  
Anonymous Paige Morgan said...

So, do you poetry-snarkers actually read poetry, or look for poetry that you like? If you did, I'm sure you'd have no trouble finding pieces that are worth snarking about as well.

Born Magazine has published a multimedia poem: Why Do You Stay Up So Late?, words by Marvin Bell, graphics by Ernesto Lavandera.

I don't know Bell's poetry well, and not much about this poem excited me. Even after only two lines, I began to suspect that the poem was going to be a lame answer to the title question:

Late at night, I no longer speak for effect.
I speak the truth, without the niceties.

Not a very appealing definition of poetry.

I am hundreds of years old,
but do not know how many hundreds.
The person I was does not know me.
The young poets, with their reenactments of the senses,
are asleep.

As for speaking the truth, the next lines start out by being irrelevant and uninteresting, and end with Bell apparently mocking a younger generation. It may not be what he intended, but it certainly comes across that way.

The poem continues with an abrupt transition into snow and winter, and I suppose that Bell could argue that winter is like the late night of the year, but the imagery is so tired; probably as tired as the poet, who, like so many young writers, is "frozen on the white page" until "a spark somewhere" removes the ice and reveals blue sky and fields "threaded with grain."

This poem is lost. First the night was something that allowed the speaker to access the truth, and senses that are out of reach to less aged writers -- but then it's a deathtrap that needs to be melted by something as cliche as a spark? The speaker's not-exactly-ringing endorsement at the end of this is "I am possible." It's a wonder that his imagination is fertile enough to grow grain.

I was still sort of hoping for an idea, a feeling, that would cut into me when the lines "I have in me / the last unanswered question" popped up on the screen. But no:

Yes, there are walls,
and water stains on the ceiling.
Yes, there is energy
running through the wires.
And yes, I grow colder
as I write of the sun rising.

It made me long for Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide -- and I'm not dissing Adams. But any poem that makes me wish for a comic sci-fi novel before it's over is having problems.

This poem lacks any sense of concrete time or space, other than what it's been charitably given by association with Lavandera's illustrations. They didn't feel as self-contradictory as the poem, but that isn't saying much. And they didn't distract from the text, but they didn't add anything, either, other than unmistakable cues like "Restart poem" to let me know that it was over. Illustrated poems can be fabulous, but pretty lights won't hide mediocre poetry.

Near the end, the speaker tells us "If I die here / they will say I died writing." No, you died of writing, and of complications caused by lack of revision.

Enough snarking from me. I'm going to go and bask in the greatness of Stanley Kunitz.

4:06 PM, July 29, 2005  
Blogger Mothafuckatash said...

Mouthy-mouthy your mouth full of mouthwash.

Yes, that was some beautiful snark.

I just took a giant shit on my cat and he still snoring.


7:55 PM, July 29, 2005  
Blogger Snark said...

Odd that you people would even be reading and posting here, given all that...

I'm not finished. I'm just busy.

But bring on the snark -- here or in your own blogs. Links?

12:22 AM, July 30, 2005  
Blogger Peel said...

I heard Jorie Graham was going to be in a movie.

Confirm or deny.

3:57 PM, July 31, 2005  
Blogger Agent Trochee said...

Jorie Graham will play "Stephanie's mother" in Domino One; "Stephanie" is played by her daughter Emily Galvin. the movie was filmed in 2002 on the grounds of Harvard and is due for release sometime this year (if not already); whether this is to theatres or straight to DVD is unknown to me.


in other news, i am back on the scene. i have been very busy. the fog is lifting.

10:56 PM, July 31, 2005  
Blogger Peel said...

Yes, I read the title on IMDb, but very little information is given; I was fearful of a hoax (O, my little spirit would be crushed!). I'm a-waiting.

7:22 AM, August 01, 2005  
Anonymous midnightscholar said...

I saw this, too Peel, and was afraid we'd all been hoaxed, when I came across this after a Google search:


Apparently it's the real deal. I just hope they were able to do justice to Jorie's hair, what w/ shooting on digital video and all -- hair like that deserves at least 16 mm.

6:49 PM, August 01, 2005  
Anonymous midnightscholar said...

Actually, I am kinda psyched about the movie now -- check out Emily Galvin:


7:00 PM, August 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go Page go!!

I think we should give this site over to you. You snark the snarkers, then you outdo them on snark.

That was beautiful.

7:15 AM, August 02, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Snark, we all need a summer vacation. Its August for chrissakes. Beach time. Recharge your batteries. Then come back.

Paige, Kunitz is one of the best. I am in awe of him. I am so glad he is still with us.

7:19 AM, August 02, 2005  
Anonymous paige morgan said...

Thanks, anonymous(es).

And snark, it shouldn't be that surprising that I look at your site. Surely you don't think that your audience is made up of entirely of people who sit around googling "Louise Glück (used to be hot)".

The lack of negative criticism in poetry is a problem. I assume that's part of the reason for starting this blog. But snarking lost poets of the 70s? There's a reason that they got lost, and as attempts to stick it to the man go, it's bland.

And I like snarking, and you gave me a good opportunity. As for links and such, maybe. But snarking all the time is dull; a well-written paean (there are plenty of mediocre ones) never hurt anyone.

6:49 PM, August 02, 2005  
Blogger Peel said...

Jorie's hair on the big screen!

Finally, life-size!

9:05 AM, August 03, 2005  
Anonymous paige morgan said...

Or better yet, why not snark some of the lamely vague poetry reviews that are out there?

On another note, I, too, am looking forward to seeing Jorie's hair on the big screen.

10:34 AM, August 03, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paige, always glad to oblige. :-)

I really agree with you about lame poetry reviews, and I think there is a good reason for Poetry Snark to exist. Its a genuine reaction to intellectual dishonesty. I am a poet, and a few years back did regular reviews for a number of prominent literary magazines. I always did my best with my reviews and responded honestly to what I thought of the work-- but I was pretty much appalled by the way that whole system works.

There are way too many vague little puff pieces out there, too many reviewers who are poets (and anxious to see their own work recognized and thus reluctant to offend a potential publisher), too many poets reviewing their friends or writing a review as a favor for a colleague, to many reviewers who socialize in the literary crowd (and nothing is more cronyistic than the Boston poetry scene, believe me) and who use their work as an opportunity to grease some social skids, etc.

Many of these reviewers are smart and interesting people who mean well, but let's face it: there is pressure on reviewers to give poetry books good press, to be known as the reviewer who writes good blurb. Reviewing has become an extension of marketing, and the social rewards, if you are willing to play that game, can be great.

I was sent books all of the time which were written by people I knew, and I would *cringe* because I had strong feelings about *not* reviewing people I know, but it happens all the time, and if you refuse to play along you have to be preapred for a little ostracism. I always pleaded dictatorial editors "But daaaahling! Stratis never let's me review who I want! I am lucky he gives me anything at all to review!"

Unfortunately it is pretty much a given that if you don't promote your friends, they won't promote you, and since there really isn't anyone else out there promoting poetry, and since reviews don't pay sh*t.... well, do we see where the pressure is coming from?

I was also courted by editors and writers when I happened to give a glowing review. In my case those reviews were sincere, but the whole experience left me feeling kind of dirty. The temptation to play it, have fun, and get more free lunches at the Harvard Faculty club is pretty steep. I'm not kidding.

The result: absolutely useless, butt-kissing, vanity reviews. I hated it. Hatchet jobs are not much better-- I don't particularly care to read a review by anyone with any agenda. Its tiresome.

Personally I think they key to reviving the review process might be to bring back the tradition of anonymity. I would love to see honest-to-god peer reviewing which is basic in the science community. Bring some real energy to the process. It will shake out the people who write reviews mainly to promote themselves at the very least, and make reviews into something that might be worth reading.

One book review that I really love btw is Rain Taxi-- the editors have great integrity and a good eye for quality.

Reviews I tend to dislike reading are the ones typically by "name" poets that you see in the APR or in their "Collected Essays", and which are clearly promotional pieces for their friends. Tess Gallagher comes to mind as someone whose essays and reviews tend to make me gag.

My two bits!

11:39 AM, August 05, 2005  
Anonymous paige morgan said...

Ack, this is the second time I've written this, due to internet error.

Anonymous, you make excellent points. And I wrote an impromptu review of a friend's reading a couple days ago, mainly because I wanted to capture the essence of it for another friend who wasn't present. And it's true that I was so surprised and dazzled by the sequence that I paid no attention to the second reader, and even skipped the after-party so that I could go straight to my computer. I wasn't trying to sell X's poetry to anyone: the recipient already knew and loved it. But as a result, another organization is asking her to read. And while I wrote neither less nor more than I honestly felt, she *is* a friend. And that probably did make a difference.

I don't know Tess Gallagher's reviews, though she and I have a few mutual friends. Today it is a selfish good thing that I can't comment one way or the other on them.

PoetrySnark *does* need to exist; I haven't really doubted that. But I think the snark can improve: going after lost poets of the 70's, or even lost poems by current poets, often displays the same laziness or lack of craft as the poem/poet who's being targeted. My standards for snark are hardly (if at all) lower than my standards for poems.

That's really what led to my own snarkfest -- nothing personal against snark or the others.

I also wonder whether some people's reviews, even if published anonymously, would be recognizable. But that's something that I'll keep thinking about.

I just noticed that my MHK snark is up on the front page: I'm flattered -- thanks, snark.

2:19 PM, August 05, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I review a friend, it is entirely with sincerity and out of love for their work-- a lot of my friends really are writing wonderful things. I have no problem with that. I am howver uncomfortable with the degree of "hustle" which is often prevalant in the reviewing world-- sometimes it is really blatent and cynical, but sometimes, *even when it is not intended as hustle* the temptattion to make hay while the sun shines.

Example: After writing a sincere and positive review of a certain poet, the poet's editor (one of those very prominent editors who most young poets would be very, very happy to have look at their work) called me up, thanked me and took me out to lunch. Yes, I was delighted, and yes, I really did love the book I reviewed, and yes, I know the world is imperfect and friendships get people places, but.... Something inside just tells me that this shouldn't be a part of the reviewing picture. I am not reviewing to beef up my literary contacts and spice up my social life, but I can't deny that my positive reviews have netted me new friends, one particular negative review lost me a friend, and one refusal to review cost me another friend.

As for quality of snark: right on. I think you did a fine job, and maybe this will encourage more.

I love Tess, btw. I think she is a fine person. I meant no disparagement. The reviews made me cringe because they were just a bit too gushy and obvious. She was writing with the mind of a friend rather than a critic.

7:03 AM, August 06, 2005  
Anonymous paige morgan said...

Anonymous, you're farther than I am, though I've seen glimpses of what you describe. Maybe the problem is one of low self-esteem on some level: J is self-conscious about his work; K writes a glowing review; and because J can barely believe it, he wants to do something in return. And so it begins. But you're farther than I am; I don't know.

I didn't mean to sound like I have a grudge against Tess, by the way. She's a lot of fun. But I've heard her speak clearly, and a couple of other times I've heard her content to verbally lube up poems, and your comment on her written reviews made me think of the latter.

And thanks. It'd be nice if more new people decided to join in; it seems apparent, given the number of hits this site has received, that they're watching.

11:43 PM, August 07, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for posting the wonderful old pict of ole J. D. Whitney. I fully intend to email him and give him plenty of shit. HA! it kills me.

in case you do not know, he's still publishing. not as good as the old stuff, but good stuff in an academic sense.

7:18 PM, October 13, 2005  

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