Saturday, June 30, 2007


Recently I did a quick, inaccurate survey of poems I’d submitted to magazines over the past three years, and found I’d submitted 94 poems and had 7 accepted (one was long). I was prompted by a friend who’d checked his numbers and had about 10 times as many poems accepted as I had and also submitted about 10 times as many as I had. I am very interested in what other people’s experiences are—not acceptance rates but just submission numbers. Some people send out 10 poems a year and others (who amaze me!) send out 1,000.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Let's Do It

It’s time for another William Logan quiz, now that his latest review, “Let’s do it, let’s fall in luff,” has been published in New Criterion. The rules are the same as last time. The six poets reviewed are:

1) John Ashbery
2) Henri Cole
3) Cathy Park Hong
4) Frieda Hughes
5) Robert Lowell
6) Frederick Seidel

And here are the six excerpts from the review. Match the poet with the quote that refers to his or her work!

a) “Misery doesn’t love company—misery is company.”

b) “Were _____ unfortunate enough to develop Alzheimer’s, the poems wouldn’t change a bit.”

c) “ … so near to being illiterate, you weep for English syntax.”

d) “_____ sees the advantage … of making things new by making them partly incomprehensible.”

e) “The fretted, distressed lines itch to be something else and end up like nothing but themselves.”

f) “a restless artist who believes that originality requires constant change (unfortunately, as with urban development, if you tear down too much, you have no urbs any more).”

On a more serious note, Logan’s observations on poetry and class are interesting:

The rich are different from you and me. They write better poetry, or did when poetry was an art of leisure. It sometimes seems that, in the centuries after scops stopped singing for gold rings in the meadhall, few men except Sir This or Lord That had the free time to bother with verse—if you weren’t nobility, or landed gentry, or clergy, you were about out of luck. Later, poetry made some great poets rich, like Shakespeare and Pope, and some rich poets great, like Byron and Shelley. Wordsworth and Coleridge were able to scrape by without much by way of day jobs; and neither Tennyson nor Browning ever had to shovel coal. There are exceptions, but many well-known poets never earned a pay check. Only in the twentieth century did poetry become a middle-class art not just read but written by the middle class.

Friday, June 22, 2007

First Day of Summer

Can it be that I've not posted here since May? -- and even then was circumspect and silent about what was going on. I was teaching a course that I hated (not poetry) -- someone else's program, from start to finish, and, I couldn't please that person nohow. The class has been blessedly over since Memorial Day. Then my work revved up into a new gear, and now I am working on staff (80% now, full time come July).

More about the job later. First, I want to post some exciting news: On Saturday, June 23rd, my poem will be featured on Poetry Daily. This is the poem that was published in Field last April, and that, in itself, was exciting. So many stressful things happening right now -- my son's wedding in three weeks, construction on our deck out back, the new job with its mega-commute -- and that's just part of it -- that I haven't been sending things out. So this is a real boon. The email came while I was at work and totally surprised me. I've had Poetry Daily as my home page for years, and it's been a dream of mine to be featured there. I hope you will read the poem, and I hope you will like it.

In other news … Robert's panel has been approved for AWP '08 in NYC. He'll be presenting on a panel on "poetry and religion" with Marianne Boruch, Laura Kasischke, Greg Rappleye, and Roy Jacobstein. I so want to be able to be there! I'm sure Robert will want to post the details as the day nears.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Not So Plain Style

As a counter to the lines from Rilke below and another favorite quote, here’s a passage from Tony Hoagland’s “On Disproportion,” from Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft:

I have a friend who once edited a poetry magazine and returned manuscripts with a note saying, “a little more savoir faire, please.” Arch and arrogant, I thought at the time. Now I can understand, I think, what he meant, and reading many poems I, too, often want to say, “a little more excess, style, violence, savoir faire, please.” It was Rilke, our great model for the ecstatic poet, who asks in the Ninth Duino Elegy, “Are we, perhaps, here just for saying: “House, / Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Jug, Olive tree, Window,— / possibly: Pillar, Tower?” These lines, suggesting a life’s work in the plain style, imply that an artist would be well exercised if kept on a diet of all nouns.

But Rilke the poet, in the poem itself, hardly slows down at his own suggestion; he whirls, pirouettes, leaps, spins, commands, begs, refuses—and goes on to add, “but for saying, remember, / oh, for such saying as never the things themselves / hoped so intensely to be.”

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Gazer Within

This may be my favorite quote ever, from Larry Levis’ essay “The Gazer Within”:

“I find I’ve been speaking, all along, about the attempt of the imagination to inhabit nature and by that act preserve itself for as long as possible against ‘the pressure of reality.’ And by nature I mean any wilderness, inner or outer. The moment of writing is not an escape, however; it is only an insistence, through the imagination, upon human ecstasy, and a reminder that such ecstasy remains as much a birthright in this world as misery remains a condition of it.”

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Knock on the Door

Greg posted ten quotations on poetry that are important to him and I thought I’d try the same, but maybe I’ll start with just four or five.

First, this is from Robert Pinsky’s Poetry and the World:

I want to say—as humbly as possible—that despite all the complexities of literary theory, for all the ingenuities of ambition or expectation, the trouble with most poems that fail—one’s own poems, or poems written in workshops, or submitted to magazines, or published in books—may be described simply: they are not interesting enough to impart conviction. Most of them fail to be surprising or musical or revealing enough to arouse much interest; to read them, one must be a professional (and certainly not an indolent or drowsy professional). It sounds silly to say so, but some explicit sex, or a few jokes, or a bizarre personal confession, might make these poems more interesting.

Second, here’s Rilke from the Duino Elegies:

Praise the world to the Angel, not the unsayable: you
can’t impress him with glories of feeling: in the universe,
where he feels more deeply, you are a novice. So show
him a simple thing, fashioned in age after age,
that lives close to hand and in sight.
Tell him things. He’ll be more amazed: as you were,
beside the rope-maker in Rome, or the potter beside the Nile.

It’s true that my own poetry doesn’t exactly follow that prescription,
but then, neither does Rilke’s!

Third, here are three short quotes from Charles Simic’s book of prose, Orphan Factory:

America is God crazy, as everyone knows. It’s impossible to be an American writer without taking that into account.

The secret ambition of every true poem is to ask about gods and devils even as it acknowledges their absence.

Aestheticism, humor, eroticism, and all the other manifestations of the free imagination are suspect and must be censored.
Obviously that last quote is Simic’s comment on the negative impact of the American critical bias.

Fourth, Adrienne Rich also has something to say about the “free imagination” in her great essay “When We Dead Awaken”:

For a poem to coalesce, ... there has to be an imaginative transformation of reality which is no way passive. And a certain freedom of the mind is needed—freedom to press on, to enter the currents of your thought like a glider pilot, knowing that your motion can be sustained, that the buoyancy of your attention will not be suddenly snatched away. Moreover, if the imagination is to transcend and transform experience it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very life you are living at that moment. You have to be free to play around with the notion that day might be night, love might be hate; nothing can be too sacred for the imagination to turn into its opposite or to call experimentally by another name. … To be a female human being trying to fulfill traditional female functions in a traditional way is in direct conflict with the subversive function of the imagination.

Finally, Yannis Ritsos’ poem “Motionless Swaying”:

As she jumped up to open the door,
she dropped the basket with the spools of thread—
they scattered under the table, under the chairs,
in improbable corners—one that was orange-red
got inside the glass lamp; a mauve one
deep in the mirror; that gold one—
she never had a spool of gold thread—where did it come from?
She was about to kneel, to pick them up one by one, to tidy up
before opening the door. She had no time. They knocked again.
She stood motionless, helpless, her hands dropped to her sides.
When she remembered to open—no one was there.

Is that how it is with poetry, then? Is this exactly how it is with poetry?

—Yannis Ritsos