August 19, 2017

The Pleasure of Getting Lost

Valéry wrote in his “Discourse on Aesthetics:”

      Poets enter the enchanted forest of Language with the express purpose of
      getting lost, getting high on being lost, looking for crossroads of significance,
      unforeseen echoes, stranger encounters; they fear neither detours, nor
      surprises, nor the dark. But the man who comes here excitedly running
      after “truth,” following one single and continuous road...not wanting to lose
      either his way or the road already covered, risks capturing only his own
      shadow. Gigantic sometimes, but still just a shadow. 

To engage with poetry brings a writer into new regions, not necessarily a new landscape but a new attention to possibility, a new consciousness. In time, a good poem will continue to evoke new meanings and, in doing so, refreshes perception and experience with its power. 

May 18, 2017

Float



Ann Carson's new book promises to be interesting. As always, she provides both amusement and food for thought as she explores form. There is no designated order for reading the parts, it is as she suggests "a free fall."
Float, her most ambitious publication since Nox (2010)... a boxed collection of twenty-two individually bound chapbooks in a sleek plastic case, it includes some traditional lyrics, some translations, some plays and scenes from plays—what readers might think of as lyric-dramas. It also features essays, lists, and loosely structured meditations. In fact we might say the pieces “float” in a loose network of relations, interchangeable in order and readable as individual projects, but connected by a strand of interrelated themes—the problem of representation, translation as an act of creation, and the idea of “network” itself. The book, if we can call it a book, contests not only conventional understandings of genre and readership, but, through its collective disjunction, the classificatory modes by which we comprehend our realities. Float urges us, at least implicitly, to reconsider the essential divisions we fashion between subject and object, self and other, bodies and the spaces they inhabit.

Read the full review at http://bostonreview.net/poetry/john-james-astralize-night



On the other side of the spectrum, Robert Hass book recently came out, A Little Book on Form: An Exploration into the Formal Imagination of Poetry.  It's 400 pages.  He orders the manuscript starting with poems of one line, couplets, triolets, quatrains, and in ascending order and he considers the history of the particular stanza and its effect in a poem. The book represents an accumulation of years of notes, and he also makes lists of poems for the reader to investigate.  It is a thorough analysis.

As he notes in the brief introduction, this has been a work in progress for two decades. His modest goal is to explain how the “formal imagination actually operates in poetry,” the “way the poem embodies the energy of the gesture of its making.” Hass begins with analyses of a single line, then two, three, and four, which take up the book’s first 100 pages. Next, he moves on to form (blank verse, sonnet, etc.) and genre (ode, elegy, satire, prose poems, etc.), finishing up with stress and rhythm. Along the way, he draws on hundreds of examples of lines, stanzas, and complete poems from the history of poetry, which he carefully selects to illustrate his points. 

The full review is at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/robert-hass/a-little-book-on-form/

Lately, I've been contemplating the past year's work on my desk, poems, prose, and memoir.  Both of these book offer thoughts about structure.

April 23, 2017

Cecil Taylor: The Attempt to Levitate

Cecil Taylor, jazz musician and poet:

“So poets who perhaps attempt to levitate—the process to achieve that, the thing that all poets have in common, the internal material—is the development of the senses to respond to the particular media you’re working in. And since that kind of work has no basis in commercial reality, then the activity must be about developing those monuments to the flowering of the senses.”

This exhibit was at the Whitney Museum, NY in 2016.

February 24, 2017

Sibelius Kullervo Kortekangas Migrations: Minnesota Orchestra


I'm thrilled that Kortekangas set my poems into the music.  "Migrations" is well matched to the driving and intense Kullervo, composed by Sibelius.  The Minnesota Orchestra performance, conducted by Osmo Vänskä, recorded here on CD, is stunning and beautiful.

Here are awesome reviews:
The Guardian:
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/feb/23/sibelius-kullervo-etc-kortekangas-migrations-cd-review-vanska-minnesota-orchestra?CMP=share_btn_link

Helsinki Sanomat:
http://www.hs.fi/kulttuuri/levyarvostelu/art-2000005097084.html

San Francisco Chronicle http://www.sfchronicle.com/music/article/Sibelius-Kullervo-review-10934690.php

Klassik Heute (Germany)
http://www.klassik-heute.com/4daction/www_medien_einzeln?id=22157

Pizzicato: Remy Frank's Journal about Classical Music (Luxemburg)
http://www.pizzicato.lu/finnisches-vom-feinsten/

Infodad.com / TransCentury Communications
http://transcentury.blogspot.fi/2017/03/new-explorations.html

MusicWeb International (United Kingdom)
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2017/Mar/Sibelius_Kullervo_BIS9048.htm#

Finnish Music Quarterly
http://www.fmq.fi/2017/05/minnesotan-memories-of-migration/

Crescendo Magazine (Belgium) Apr 7, 2017
http://www.crescendo-magazine.be/limmigration-finlandaise-en-musique/

The CD is available anywhere, but also at: http://www.minnesotaorchestra.org/buy/merchandise/cds-a-merchandise

To get the poems:  http://www.wildwoodriver.com/  The four poems are drawn from the books Cloud Birds and Echo and Lightning.

RondoClassic Magazine. (Helsinki, Finland):





December 26, 2016

Democracy: A Poem by Leonard Cohen




In these dark days Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman found comfort and hope in the work of Leonard Cohen. Together they recorded this new version of “Democracy.” Amanda composed the piano and Neil recorded the lyrics. Their friends David Mack and Olga Nunes created this stunning video to go with the song. 

December 13, 2016

One River Many Stories



Congratulations to Tom Isbell and the cast at UMD Theater.  "One River" has been chosen to travel to the KCACTF Region 5 Festival this January. This is a unique and moving performance that celebrates the history and people of the St. Louis River in Minnesota. And yes there are a few poems of mine in the script.

Also--if you missed your chance to see "One River" this fall, or would like to see it again--there will be having an encore performance at the Marshall Performing Arts Center at UMD in mid January before they leave for the festival. Hope to see you there!  

Kayla Peters playing the character of Sheila Packa in the play. 








November 26, 2016

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes believed in humanity and he had hope for a world in which people could sanely and with understanding live together. 

Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967


Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!


From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes.  Retrieved 25 Nov 2016.  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/langston-hughes

November 22, 2016

Wislawa Szymborska

If history has taught us anything, it is that civil liberty and democracy can change in one day. Polarizing political campaigns turn into extremism.  Slogans and rhetoric can mask many things. People need to stand with the victims of violence and prejudice. Everybody needs to be treated with dignity and respect. We must stand together for justice and peace. 

HATRED 
The Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

See how efficient it still is,
how it keeps itself in shape—
our century’s hatred.
How easily it vaults the tallest obstacles.
How rapidly it pounces, tracks us down.

It’s not like other feelings.
At once both older and younger.
It gives birth itself to the reasons
that give it life.
When it sleeps, it’s never eternal rest.
And sleeplessness won’t sap its strength; it feeds it.

One religion or another –
whatever gets it ready, in position.
One fatherland or another –
whatever helps it get a running start.
Justice also works well at the outset
until hate gets its own momentum going.
Hatred. Hatred.
Its face twisted in a grimace
of erotic ecstasy.

Oh these other feelings,
listless weaklings.
Since when does brotherhood
draw crowds?
Has compassion
ever finished first?
Does doubt ever really rouse the rabble?
Only hatred has just what it takes.

Gifted, diligent, hard-working.
Need we mention all the songs it has composed?
All the pages it has added to our history books?
All the human carpets it has spread
over countless city squares and football fields?

Let’s face it:
it knows how to make beauty.
The splendid fire-glow in midnight skies.
Magnificent bursting bombs in rosy dawns.
You can’t deny the inspiring pathos of ruins
and a certain bawdy humor to be found
in the sturdy column jutting from their midst.

Hatred is a master of contrast-
between explosions and dead quiet,
red blood and white snow.
Above all, it never tires
of its leitmotif – the impeccable executioner
towering over its soiled victim.

It’s always ready for new challenges.
If it has to wait awhile, it will.
They say it’s blind. Blind?
It has a sniper’s keen sight
and gazes unflinchingly at the future
as only it can.

October 23, 2016

Meridel Le Sueur as a Poet

Nests
by Meridel Le Sueur

There is a nest in the marble pillar of your neck
Where young birds fly.
They beat their spiced wings within the blossom of your breasts,
Full flower.
The red and restless birds of your pulses are ravenous
And flutter sharply against my hands.

Night, and the fluttering of small birds
In the fragrant copse of your flesh, beloved,
Amidst white grasses, fragrant and sweet.
The silent singing of winged birds
Startled from their crimson marshes
By a too bold hunter;
Startled winging against your pale opal flesh, their sky,
Night and the throbbing of passing wings, multitudinous,in your body.

Your skin is tremulous with the amorous movement of caged birds.
One I captured, trembled in my hands,
And shut its green shadowed eyes to my flame lips,
My captive bird, beloved.

Your body is full of little birds moving in their sleep.
My lips find them in the intimate nest of your neck,
My lips startle them into flight beneath the marble arch of your arm.
Your body is full of little birds singing as they fly.


Poetry Magazine
May 1924
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=16366

September 3, 2016

Forms

As a poet, I obsess over forms and patterns of language. Caroline Levine has a fascinating new book that examines form in the fields of literature, cultural studies, and politics. She eliminates boundaries at the same time that she explores a myriad of forms, and she offers a fresh way for writers to consider their material.

She is a person sensitive to pattern, and she begans this book with a reference to Jane Eyre.  In the description of Lowood, the school that Jane Eyre attends, Levine notices the organization of the day: girls lining up in two straight lines, ascending stairs to a room where in fours, the girls assemble in circles around the tables.   She explores these recurring and interesting shapes in Brontë's writing for its aesthetic and social implications.  She borrows a concept from design theory, the affordances of form.  She says:

"Broadening our definition of form to include social arrangements has, as we will see, immediate methodological consequences. The traditionally troubling gap between the form of the literary text and its content and context dissolves. Formalist analysis turns out to be valuable to understanding sociopolitical institutions as it is to reading literature. Forms are at work everywhere," Levine writes in the introduction. She continues with the analysis:

Over many centuries, form has gestured to a series of conflicting, sometimes even paradoxical meanings. Form can mean an immaterial idea, as in Plato, or material shape, as in Aristotle. It can indicate essence, but it can also mean superficial trappings, such as conventions—mere forms. Form can be generalizing and abstract, or highly particular (as in the form this thing is what makes it what it is, and if it were reorganized it would not be same thing). Form can be cast as historical, emerging out of the particular cultural or political circumstances, or it can be understood as ahistorical, transcending the specificities of history. In disciplinary terms, form can point us to visual art, music, and literature, but it belongs equally to philosophy, law, mathematics, military science, and crystallography.  Even within literary studies, the vocabulary of formalism has always been a surprising kind of hodgepodge, put together from rhetoric, prosody, genre theory, structural anthropology, philology, linguistics, folklore, narratology, and semiotics.  
…forms are the stuff of politics….the work of political power often involves enforcing restrictive containers and boundaries—such as nation-states, bounded subjects, and domestic walls. But politics is not only about imposing order on space. It also involves organizing time: determining prison and presidential terms, naturalization periods, and the legal age for voting, military service, and sexual consent. Crucially, politics also means enforcing hierarchies of high and low, white and black, masculine and feminine, straight and queer, have and have-not. In other words, politics involves activities of ordering, patterning, and shaping. And if the political is a matter of imposing and enforcing boundaries, temporal patterns, and hierarchies on experience, then there is no politics without form.  
For a long time, I've called poetry a pattern language, and I'm delighted to bring this method of seeing patterns to a broad spectrum of perception, composition, human experience.

Levine, Caroline. Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network. Princetown University Press. c2015.