Tag Archives: Wave Books

Best Thing I’ve Heard This Week: Geoffrey G. O’Brien

8 Nov

Yesterday afternoon, the poet Geoffrey G. O’Brien read at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH to promote his recently released collection of poems People on Sunday (Wave Books, 2013). Below is a video of O’Brien reading his poem “Distraction,” which explores etymology, literary history, and criticism through verse form. At the 0:23 mark, chimes from the Church of the Covenant next door begin sounding, creating an unintentionally poetic moment:

Awful Interview: Eileen Myles

29 Aug

.Eileen Myles is the author of more than twenty books, including recent releases such as Sorry, Tree (Wave Books, 2007) and Inferno: A Poet’s Novel (Or Books, 2010). She is also a recent recipient of such awards as a Guggenhiem Fellowship and the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award, in addition to being the former director of the Saint Mark’s Poetry Project

Last year, Wave Books released a double-collection of her poems: Snowflake/different streets. In short minimalist lines, the speakers of these poems address the big, quintessential issues of life—love and death, etc—within small, quotidian spaces. What’s impressive about these poems is Myles’ ability to yoke a commonplace experience into momentary but poignant instances of beauty.

In “Computer,” for example, Myles offers a brief but elegant rumination on using a computer: “I put my impossible / body in your hands” (85); or, likewise, her meditation on distance and email:

emails me
us is

which is
now. (99)

Both of these examples, I think, are indicative of the work in Snowflake/different streets; and her skill at capturing intense emotion through such spare language is admirable.

Moreover, the above excerpts speak, I think, toward one of the thematic concerns of both these collections: the process of composition and material reception of poetry. In the poem “Transitions,” Myles writes:

In my car
so long ago
I loved someone
who read me a poem
on the phone
about the car
of the day

you mean the
one I’m driving

and the fact that
she left it
on the phone
and that was new (3)

The fact that “a poem / on the phone // … // was new” to the speaker (and, we can assume, interesting in its novelty), sets the stage for poems that explore “the emerging / possibility of writing” (26) in alternative mediums and materialities, allowing the poet to “meet [her] new technology head on” (29). Over the course of the past few weeks, Myles was gracious enough to answer a few questions via email for me that address her writing process.

In the acknowledgments section of Snowflake/different streets, you mention that several of the poems in the former of these two collections “were dictated onto a small digital recorder while [you] drove from San Diego to Los Angeles” (84). I was hoping you could address for me your process of composition via dictation. What was the impetus for drafting poems vocally? What were some of the benefits; likewise, what were some of the complications? How do you understand these poems fitting in with the rest of your oeuvre?

It was pure accident. I was leaving a job and I was secretly thinking about writing a book about the job and I sort of maneuvered them in to giving me a going away party while some people I worked with were mad at me for leaving and others simply didn’t like me and some were my friends and so on. It was me working on my saga I think. So I thought well I’ll give a little going away speech and I’ll record it. A guy I taught with there had mentioned he carried such a little recorder to take notes in his car. Well the little speech didn’t record so I thought I’d try writing some poems on it on my drive from San Diego to LA. I’ve written lots since on that phone walking in the snow in Vermont and on my iPhone now. I’ve lost at least one iPhone loaded with poems which makes me sad. But the procedure drives on. Though I’ve seen Herzog’s film about texting and driving and writing a poem is not different. I could kill people. Benefits are an invisible line. Meaning a line of poetry unwritten at least at first gasp and to me that’s an interesting thought.

You also mention that you later discovered that these “new-seeming poems…were not new at all but merely older than writing” (84). Could you tell me a bit about what you discovered regarding the history of dictation in poetry and the arts as you investigated the origin of this process? How do you see your poems fitting into this broader context/tradition?

Well line breaks were late in the history of poems, right? As is writing itself. We don’t know if Homer really was blind but writing returns us to a kind of blindness, a philosophical place I think. I initially experienced my poems in public aloud. The microphone was the introduction of my poems to the world, their first date so to speak with anyone but myself. I realize you’re speaking about the coming into being of the poem but since the poems feels like sound in my head it leaving my head might be its truest moment. The poem getting out.

A bit later in the acknowledgments section, you state that, in response to your dictated poems, you “wrote a set of ‘pencil poems’ which were in praise of the fine fat pencil [you] were using” (84). Could you, again, address the process of composing with a pencil, relative to dictation or, likewise, a computer/word processor? To you mind, what are both the benefits and difficulties of doing so? What do you think composing by pencil offers you that other material forms do not? To this end, how overtly do you think the materiality of the composition process (and material conditions in and under which you compose) has affected your writing over the years?

There’s something very bodily about a pencil and even gradeschooly – the very person who learned was learning to write held this instrument. The smell, the growing bluntness, the whole thing. I simply love a good pencil. I’ve bought a few of the exact kind. When I teach I often use my pencil to write on poems and it makes me want to do it. The material itself leads me away from drudgery and towards a world of play or early discovery. The difficulties I don’t know if there is one. You’re signing on for many levels of publication with a pencil. You will type it on a computer later. You’ll edit it. It might be in a magazine. But the original piece of paper sits like skin with the really vulnerable marks of the pencil on it. I tend to fall in love with my materials. In the 70s I worked in an office funded by the department of corrections to defend prisoners. We had cabinets filled with yellow legal pads and I think they also supplied black pentel pens. I think of it as such a 70s pair and it was there when I was discovering poetry so I still feel serious and pure when I sit down to these. I like blue books too, mostly for prose though. These are our studios. There’s nothing but to take these things seriously. Any of us who came up in the 60s and 70s who learned to write when penmanship was still taught in schools and poets worked on manual typewriters have maybe a slight sorrowful feeling about the development of poet on computer. I like the future and the present but very rarely did anything get lost on paper or ruined like rewriting a poem on a computer can do. There’s something first about all that stuff that I want to insure.

With regard to the pencil you used in the aforementioned pencil poems, you confess that it was “stolen from the mailing list in the lobby of INTAR, NYC” (84). The fact that you lifted the pencil reminds me of a time in my life when I made visual collages with the self-imposed restriction that I couldn’t pay for any of the materials: everything needed to be free, found, or stolen. I realize this question is a bit tangential, but could you address the financial pressures and complexities of being an artist (either generally speaking, or as it pertains to your own life)? Or, perhaps more broadly stated, could you speak about the relationship between art/poetry and money when one is enmeshed in a hyper-capitalist, consumer culture?

It’s the big question. I mean how does a poet survive? I was hell bent on being poor when I was young because it was my only way to have time and space and reclaim a childhood of the mind. Then by the time I hit my 30s I thought wait wait I didn’t mean really poor. I mean not always! So I had to figure out how to do it really in time meaning aging and growing professional somehow. My only idea has always been to keep simply a poet in some way but also let it fan out into you know performer, art critic, novelist, teacher. I try to never turn into anything else entirely. It hasn’t been easy but I’m less controlled by money at this moment than any other time. I think time is the issue. How to be alone or with your group in time. How to find all the nooks and crannies in it you need to know and develop and laugh and be marginal. How not to become cruel in living. I think poets are kind of symbolic people. While we’re struggling in the hyper capitalist consumer culture doing this radiant thing we’re doing it for everyone. We have to learn how not to hate it.

You wrote both Snowflake and different streets in a minimalist, short form mode that rids itself of superfluous ornamentation. I was wondering how you see your writing (or if you even do) conversing with that broader aesthetic tradition (e.g. haiku, micrograms, etc.). Certainly your publisher, Wave Books, has a tendency to promote such work (i.e. Andrade’s Micrograms and Beckman’s The Inside of an Apple and Your Time Has Come); at very least, do you see a contemporary push toward short form/minimalist poetry? If so, what similarities and differences does your writing (and other writers of today) have with the writing of previous eras that work through this aesthetic?

Oh I think that poets like Creeley and Lorine Niedecker and Larry Eigner have been introducing us all to moments for a while. The measure of each of their poems well tiny is not the word but something that is both swift and slow. You can watch the curtain ripple. I’ve really wanted to do very little. Hardly it be a poem at all. I think that’s the lyric impulse. To do next to nothing. To live there.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: The Inside of an Apple

2 Aug

AppleWhether fair or not, it’s difficult for me not to think of Jorge Carrera Andrade’s Micrograms (Wave Books, 2011) when reading Joshua Beckman’s The Inside of an Apple (Wave Books, 2013). To begin with, Beckman helped translate Andrade’s poems; moreover, both collections contain short form poetry that focuses primarily on the natural world.

Andrade’s manifesto “Origin and Future of the Microgram” defines the microgram form as a:

Spanish epigram deprived of its subjective hue…an essentially graphical, pictorial epigram. Through its discovery of the deep reality of the object (its secret attitude) it arrives at a refined emotional style. An epigram, then, reduced in volume, enriched by complex modernity, widened to everything that makes up the vital chorus of the earth. (3-4)

In addition to describing the general parameters of the microgram, Andrade traces its lineage through the Japanese haiku, outlining their shared trajectory through Latin America poetry. The formal and sonic resonances between the microgram and the haiku can be seen and heard rather clearly when reading the poems. Take, for example, the poem “Poplar”:

The poplar dips it brush
into the sky’s sweetness
and makes a landscape of honey. (48)

The poem likens the poplar tree to a painter, its branch to a brush, honey to paint, and the sky to a canvas. The poem offers us a vision of the natural world wherein a tree becomes an artist, and its creation becomes one element of the natural world transformed into an aesthetic contrivance. Andrade manages to build all these transformations into a three line poem with a concise and economical style.

As with Micrograms, much of Beckman’s new book centers on short, image-based poems describing the natural world. For a matter of comparison, read [Stars], the first poem in Beckman’s The Inside of an Apple:

that form from bells
      planes that act
like stars
        drunk blue
palette of early

              in which

an electric
light swings
over the yard
   it is a branch (1)

While slightly longer than Andrade’s “Poplar,” the poem still maintains a compact form with its twelve lines never exceeding four words. And just as “Poplar” transforms a tree into a painter, Beckman’s turns stars into bells; but, conversely, he also turns planes and electric light into stars and tree branches. Yes, Beckman’s poem exhibits a “drunk” poetic wherein a boozy brush paints a “blue / palette of early / night” in such a way that it confuses the natural and synthetic worlds.

While at first blush, confusing the man-made and natural worlds may appear disharmonious with the microgram’s tradition, it is, in fact, the very trajectory Andrade predicted for the form. Toward the end of his manifesto, Andrade asks: “Can one indicate the future itinerary of the microgram?” The answer, of course, is yes; and the poet offers us his prediction:

The earth’s skin has gradually begun to thicken with the works of men: tunnels, train tracks, buildings of all sorts. The metallic tower of the wireless telegraph is the tree of the modern eclogue. The waves and messages that cross intermittently in the sky have begun to replace birds. The “insignificant heroes”—as someone called the beings in my micrograms—will surely be defeated by the mechanical world…But this does not signal the death of the microgram. It will be reborn, rather, adorned with an urban character. The hero will no longer be the oyster or the swallow, but any of those mechanical creations that are transforming our time…And the microgram, that tiny lyrical composition whose name only I have invented, will bloom again, more vital and suggestive than ever. (25-26)

Returning to the transformations that occur in Beckman’s [Stars], then, we see not an aberration or bastardization of the microgram, but its natural progression and growth. In fact, the opening stanza of Beckman’s poem [That being alive] addresses this point most overtly:

That being alive
  the bees buzz around
not fields in which their lovely flowers grow
but a big plaster apartment
kinda honey and yellow (14)

The bucolic fantasies of poetry from ages past have passed. No longer do bees swarm fields, pollenating the flowers growing there; rather, they “buzz around” a “big plaster apartment.” Indeed, the landscape of our “mechanical world” has altered dramatically, and the poet must account for these alterations if the microgram and its newer permutations intend to “bloom” in our contemporary times.

There is, yet, another difference between Beckman’s The Inside of an Apple and Andrade’s Micrograms that bears mention. According to the Ecuadorian poet, a microgram should be “deprived of its subjective hue” and offer readers an objective account of the natural world. And certainly, there are instances throughout Apple wherein Beckman composes in a dispassionate voice. Take, for example, the following poem:

flowers from
    the outside
now, full of
  living water
like a cloud (22)

Short, terse, and image-based, the poem reads very much in the style and voice of the microgram and haiku traditions. But, at least to my mind, Beckman’s poems succeed most often when they don’t rid themselves of a “subjective hue” and, instead, infuse themselves with a twenty-first century subjectivity. The most common manner in which he does this is through the inclusion of a first-person speaker who narrates his own life, such as: “I ate an apple, that’s fine / and after Anthony left I got a whiskey” (13).

More interesting, though, are the linguistic ticks that create a more generalized aura of a twenty-first century subjectivity through voice; for instance, in the poem “Silver streamers dazzling winter”:

was the half moon
and today was basically
the half moon too.

A glacier’s blue
and water
in the middle of a lake
is blue.

I only had one day
during which I could get myself
out into the middle of it
and I did,
                    kudos to me. (8-9)

The use of the word “basically” helps create a conversational tone, as well as implying the lack of desire to name or discover specific details of the moon’s waxing and waning. Instead, the speaker contents himself with a “basic” assessment of his natural surroundings, affecting a voice that implies a rather cursory or off-hand investment with the natural world. Likewise, the use of the colloquial “kudos to me” contributes to a common, everyday idiom that reads as self-congratulatory in that Facebook status-update sort of way.

But I mean this in no way, shape, or form as a pejorative statement; in fact, I feel this is one of the greatest strengths of the collection. The Inside of an Apple reads most vibrantly when the voice sounds current, casting off the sometimes antiseptic and somewhat stale tones of haiku and its modern derivatives. To this end, Beckman (whether consciously or not) updates the microgram even more radically than Andrade predicted through the inclusion of a “subjective hue” that, through voice, locates itself within our contemporary moment.

Bashō once wrote that, “To know the pines, you must go to the pines,” arguing that one must immerse oneself within their environment if one wants to properly understand and write about it. Likewise, Andrade understood that the microgram can offer us a vision into the “deep reality” of the world around us if only we engage with it upon its own terms. It would appear, then, that Beckman absorbs his environment and its deep realities through images of natural-to-synthetic transformation and the inclusion of a voice that is distinctly of and for the twenty-first century.

Vouched Visitors: “Poem” by Rachel Zucker

4 May

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Adam Robinson, editor of Publishing Genius Press and author of Adam Robison and Other Poems and Say, Poem.

* * *

Here’s the poem I think I’ve read more than any other poem on the Internet. It’s by Rachel Zucker, and it’s called, “Poem” and it was in her book Museum of Accidents which came out from Wave in 2009. Read it, it only takes a breezy 3 minutes.

I don’t love it because it features a “who’s who” cast of cool poets, though that works nicely, or even for Matt Rohrer’s smart advice — “the next time you feel yourself going dark / in a poem, just don’t, and see what happens.” I have a predilection against poems that reference “poetry, writing of” because poems are for everybody, not just poets. But of course “Poem” is about what is happiness, and about we ain’t got it, and it does it with a light touch. Also it’s about motherhood — something I care for not a whit — I’m embarrassed by it! — but I feel like the poem is exceptionally well dressed and looking at me. The perfectly pitched, conversational tone! The turn at the end! The jokes! My favorite line is when she’s in Deborah Landau’s office — “and Deborah said, “Mark, I’ve got / Rachel Zucker here, she’s happy, // I’ll have to call you back.”

Even the sorrowful ending acknowledges more happiness than it should.

I don’t think I like the idea that we shouldn’t acknowledge how miserable life can be just because we are US Americans, and this poem doesn’t, but it is still aware of the problem of complaining.

And last night I was at an open mic reading that went on for 45 minutes. I loved it. Why are they so bad? The worse the poem — the more it drifts toward the dark — the more I like it. But I don’t really like it. I’m not moved by it — I just think, right on, way to go, no one gets me either. But I also wonder, like, how hard can it be to write a good, resonant, dark poem? Zucker’s “Poem” (such a relevant title) makes it seem not only easy, but like there is no other way to do it.