Saturday (Winter Returns) Musings

I would encourage everyone to check out the latest issue of New Madrid. I’m not plugging this journal just because it is from Murray’s MFA program and because I worked on journal. I’m very proud of where the journal is going and this issue (our theme was intelligent design) is very well done. There are a lot of wonderful pieces but here are just a few “Breasts” by Pamela Johnson Parker, Slow Fuse of the Possible: A Poet’s Psychoanalysis by Kate Daniels, Mouse by Mark Brazaitis, Small Talk by Lauren Smith, and Call it Beautiful by Scott Doyle. I’m still finishing the issue but please go to the link (listed under my links section) and check it out.
This article appeared in the the Sunday Book Review section of the New York Times:

In October, John Ashbery became the first poet to have an edition of his works released by the Library of America in his own lifetime. That honor says a number of things about the state of contemporary poetry — some good, some not so good — but perhaps the most important and disturbing question it raises is this: What will we do when Ashbery and his generation are gone? Because for the first time since the early 19th century, American poetry may be about to run out of greatness.

What strikes me about it is it’s the same old question. When the old “greats” die, will there be anyone to replace them? I have news for poets, this isn’t just a poetry problem. I also think it is a bit narrow minded to say that just because the older generation is passing on, all poetry is doomed to mediocrity. The younger generation learns from the greats, they idolize the greats, and then they move beyond them. That’s is and always will be the cycle. I don’t think poetry is any different.

Thursday Musings

I read about this on EV this morning. He makes some decent points, but I’m not sure if his criticism is so much about American literature or just Americans in general:

“The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” Engdahl said. “That ignorance is restraining.”

We are isolated and we don’t translate enough. However, it seems like this comment falls under the same stereotypes I was warned about when I prepared to spend six months abroad my junior year in college. Americans are stuck up, we only worry about ourselves, we have no clue what is going on in the rest of the world, etc. While I think that these stereotypes have some kernel of truth, I also think that that insularity may have something to do with why American literature works. I keep think of Whitman, and how many scholars consider him cocky and far too celebratory of his own genius, but isn’t that part of what made and makes Whitman remarkable? Are we full of it? Probably. I think the real question is have we earned the right to be, and in some instances I would say yes.

John Ashbery has a poem in this weeks issue of The New Yorker:

The Virgin King

They know so much more, and so much less,
“innocent details” and other. It was time to
put up or shut up. Claymation is so over,
the king thought. The watercolor virus
sidetracked tens.

Something tells me you’ll be reading this on a train
stumbling through rural Georgia, wiping sleep
from your eyes as the conductor passes through
carrying a bun. We’re moving today,
today on the couch.

I have a hard time with Ashbery. In grad school I really struggled but I was intrigued. Lately, spurred on by his collages and new poem, I’ve considered giving him another look. I know it was my failing that caused me to back away from him. That being said, I can’t honestly say I know what the hell this poem is about, but I like it and that’s a good place to start.

I mentioned EV above and on a similar note, I finished reading Harry Revised the other night. I loved it. I loved everything about it. I started to notice that the last third of the book (when everything begins to unravel for Harry) that the humor became scarce, but I wasn’t bothered by it. It seemed just a natural progression through the lives of these characters and at the end of the book I was profoundly sad but hopeful for Harry. Hopeful that in forgiving his wife, he could begin to forgive himself.