Wednesday, December 30, 2009


My friend Mark seems to have disabled the "link to a single post" feature on his wonderful blog, Culture Industry, so you may have to scroll down a bit to find his post from Tuesday, December 29, 2009, but it's worth a gander, maybe.

The post is on something that fascinates me: his reading habits.

Mark, you see, is a reader of poetry. A real reader: upwards of..well, let him do the numbers:
I was always astonished by the statement I read somewhere by some recent MFA grad who was gushingly thankful for having been required to read 50 books of poetry during the course of his two or three years in the program. Wow – fifty whole books! (Read that with heavy irony, okay?) Sorry, fella, but it's a really slow year when I don't read at least half again more than that, & lately I've been trying to keep up a pace of at least 100 volumes (counting chapbooks, of course, but also counting big things like The Prelude & "A" & JH Prynne's Poems) every calendar year. And that's not counting magazines, journals, & miscellaneous stuff online. poet & lover of poetry (not necessarily identical subject-positions, we all know) I simply want to know as much of the stuff as possible, to hoover down as much of that sweet word-work as I can. The Doritos effect.
He also evidently re-reads books: 2, 3, 4, 5, dozens of times.

Now, I'm not a list-keeper, the way Mark and my other friend Lazaraspaste seem to be, so I don't know how many books of poetry, or novels, or anything else I read in a year. I tried to keep a list like that last January, and gave up after about a half-dozen entries, bored with the enterprise. But I doubt I read anything close to 75 books of poetry in a year, and I fear I don't read close to that even if I add in the romance novels. Maybe I'll try to keep track this year, just to see, here on the blog.

Dispiriting, but I'm not going to give myself grief over it.

And I wonder what the critics who pathologize constant romance reading would make of Mark's steady consumption of poetry. What unspoken desires and psychic conflicts are superficially assuaged by each new chapbook, but truly (that is, unconsciously) exacerbated, demanding yet another dose?

Currently reading (although I'll start the list officially on the 1st) Sherry Thomas's romance novel Delicious, and re-reading The Ringworld Throne, by Larry Niven (SF). No poetry on the table at the moment, although that will change, soon enough.


This morning's music: Lasairfhiona, a wonderful singer from the Aran Islands, discovered on our last trip to Ireland. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Part of the Process"

I spent this morning--or at least the two good working hours thereof--plugging away without much success at my current work in progress: an essay on Jennifer Crusie, optimism, and popular romance fiction. When done, it will be my contribution to the Crusie collection I'm editing with Laura Vivanco, and my goal is to finish it, or at least a passable draft of it, sometime in early January.

At the moment, the piece is in two parts: an introduction, which talks about the century-old critical bias against literature that aims to encourage its readers, and a discussion of two novels by Crusie, Anyone but You and Welcome to Temptation. I've stolen the first part from an early draft of the introduction to our volume as a whole; as Laura realized early on, it was more the early draft of an essay than of an introduction, and it struck me a few months ago that this was the essay where it belonged. The second part was a conference paper, two years ago, which I'm going to update and expand.

Earlier this month, I used this approach--new introduction + old conference paper, revise as needed--to draft my contribution to the New Approaches to Popular Romance volume. That was an intensely painful process at first: two or three days of maddening frustration, then some kind of breakthrough, then a couple of weeks of solid writing, with every other project put on hold. Got it done just in time for my birthday, which went well. But now?

Well, I'm still in the "maddening frustration" portion of the process with this one, which means much heaving of sighs and snippiness when interrupted, but that will pass. What worries me is that I won't have the luxury of the "solid writing" part of my usual compositional rhythm, what with the new quarter starting on Monday, a couple of syllabi to write, and so on.

The trick I need to master, or master again (did I ever know it?): how to keep a writing project moving forward in small increments, steadily, rather than lurching about in great ungainly surges. And, related to that, the trick of steadily building the scholarly base for this new work, so that I have new ideas, new references, and so on in mind as it develops.


On the musical front, I've decided to work my way through a book of medieval music for mandolin that I got last year at Christmas, and left unopened, mostly, throughout the year. Starting (why not?) with the first song, which I'll practice all week before moving on to the second, and so on. I'll have to switch things up a bit once we have the song parodies chosen for my next Alte Rockers gig, but for the next month or so, this should keep me playing at least a little, more or less regularly.

The first song is this, Cantiga 101 from a gathering of songs for Santa Maria by King Alfonzo X:

The sheet music has a bunch of variations in it, and I'll play with the melody a bit myself once I've mastered the basics--try it on various instruments, etc. Good to have a focus, in any case.

Romance Fiction and American Culture: Call for Papers

Another Call for Papers with a deadline coming up.

Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom?

Edited by William Gleason and Eric Selinger

Call for Proposals—by January 4!

Last April, Princeton University hosted a groundbreaking two-day conference on popular romance fiction and American culture. Gathering scholars, authors, editors, and bloggers, this interdisciplinary gathering featured panels on romance and history (both political and literary), romance and religion, romance and sexuality, and romance and race. Each explored the ways that popular romance fiction has reflected, and also helped shape, American culture from the late 18th century to the present.

Conference organizers William Gleason (Princeton) and Eric Selinger (DePaul University) now invite proposals for a collection of essays that will build on the work of the conference: Romance Fiction and American Culture: Love as the Practice of Freedom? We welcome proposals from academic scholars from any field—American literature, popular culture, religion, women's and gender studies, African American Studies, or any other relevant discipline—as well as from authors, editors, and other members of the romance community who wish to reflect on their practice in light of the volume’s concerns.

We are eager to consider proposals or abstracts on the relationships between popular romance fiction and

  • the history of reading in America, from Pamela to the present
  • American cultures of sexuality, masculinity, and femininity
  • American religious cultures, in Christian and other traditions
  • Race, ethnicity, and exogamous desire
  • “High” culture: literary fiction, poetry, visual art, etc.
  • Other popular genres: mystery / detective fiction, Science Fiction and Fantasy, non-romance bestsellers, chick-lit
  • Other popular media: film, comics, music, gaming
  • The culture of sport (football, baseball, NASCAR, etc.)
  • American political / military culture, from the early Republic to the present
  • American psychological / therapeutic / self-help culture

We also hope for papers on the romance industry in America and the diverse community of romance readers, authors, and reviewers, both as they are and as they are represented in the media:

  • Romance sub-genres—Western, Gothic, Regency, Medieval, Paranormal (vampire, were, empath, etc.), Futuristic/time travel, Multi-cultural, Erotic, Gay/lesbian, etc.—and their shifting appeal to readers
  • American romance and other traditions: comparative studies, texts in translation, transnational encounters
  • Romance publishing: major presses, series and lines, the rise in e-publishing
  • Representations of American romance writers, readers, bloggers, book groups, conventions, etc.

Detailed abstract or draft essay and a short CV are due by January 4, 2010. Final essays will be due in June, 2010. We are happy to answer any inquiries.

Prof. William Gleason, bgleason at Princeton dot edu

Prof. Eric Selinger, eselinge at depaul dot edu

FW: Last Call for Papers for IASPR conference in Belgium (5-7 August, 2010)

To test the handy-dandy “Post by Email” feature here at SSW, I’m forwarding a Call for Papers. 


Last Call for the IASPR conference in Belgium!  Romantic love and its representations in popular media, throughout the world!  Please forward to interested colleagues, listservs, and graduate students—still enough time for them to get proposals together, even if they’re stuck at MLA.

Call For Papers (DUE: JANUARY 1, 2010)

The Second Annual International Conference on Popular Romance:
Popular Romance Studies: Theory, Text and Practice

Brussels, Belgium
5-7 August, 2010

The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR) is seeking proposals for innovative panels, papers, roundtables, discussion groups, and multi-media presentations that contribute to a sustained conversation about romantic love and its representations in popular media throughout the world, from antiquity to the present.  We welcome analyses of individual texts—books, films, websites, songs, performances—as well as broader inquiries into the creative industries that produce and market popular romance and into the emerging critical practice of popular romance studies.

This conference has three main goals:

  • To bring to bear contemporary critical theory on the texts and contexts of popular romance, in all forms and media, from all national and cultural traditions
  • To foster comparative and intercultural analyses of popular romance, by documenting and/or theorizing what happens to tropes and texts as they move across national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries
  • To explore the relationships between popular romance tropes and texts as they circulate between elite and popular culture, between different media (e.g., from novel to film, or from song to music video), between cultural representations and the lived experience of readers, viewers, listeners, and lovers

After the conference, proceedings will be subjected to peer-review and published.

IASPR is pleased and proud to announce that the Keynote Speakers for the conference will be Celestino Deleyto, University of Zaragoza, Spain, Lynne Pearce, Lancaster University, UK, and Pamela Regis, McDaniel College, USA.

Please submit proposals by January 1, 2010 and direct questions to:

We are currently pursuing funds to help defray the cost of travel to Belgium for the conference.  If these funds become available, we will notify those accepted how to apply for support from IASPR.

Monday, December 28, 2009

To Blog or Not To Blog...

My latest post, over at Romancing the Blog, opens the question, at least for me.

The hiatus here will continue at least through New Years--but as you see, I have a new look, a new photo, and some new links in the list. More to come, maybe, in a few days.

Something pretty, for your trouble. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Great Debate (Judy Grahn Edition)

Fascinating debate on Monday night, in my Modern Poetry class, over how to read a short poem from Judy Grahn's "She Who" sequence (1971-72). Grahn's a lesbian feminist poet, and this sequence is a wonderful mix of theological, political, and interpersonal poems.

Near the middle, we get this boast:
I am the wall at the lip of the water
I am the rock that refused to be battered
I am the dyke in the matter, the other
I am the wall with the womanly swagger
I am the dragon, the dangerous dagger
I am the bulldyke, the bulldagger

and I have been many a wicked grandmother
and I shall be many a wicked daughter
Given this poem's invocations of "She Who," a sort of neo-pagan Goddess, I've always connected that line about "the bulldyke, the bulldagger" not only to sexual terminology of the period, but also to the bull-leaping and Goddess worship back in Knossos, as in this picture:

I take it, that is to say, that this poem is entirely self-celebratory--a sort of chant or rune in which the "I" who speaks gets to take on the time-defying, deliciously "wicked" nature of She Who herself.

What, though, to make of the poem that follows?
foam on the rim of the glass
another wave breaking

foam on the rim of the glass
another wave breaking
she once wanted to be a sailor

now she sits at the bar, drinking
like a sailor
My students were sharply divided. Some thought this was a sad scene: a woman who "once wanted to be a sailor" reduced to drinking away her sorrows, with the pervasive lowercase letters and that sharp linebreak at the close ("drinking / like a sailor") emphasizing the downbeat tone. Others took "drinking / like a sailor" as a livelier twist, such that this woman who once wanted to be a literal sailor has now discovered that kind of adventure and open possibility in her bar-life, and by extension in her erotic or communal life there in the bar.

For some, that is to say, this was a step down from the poem before it, and for others a continuation of--an instance of--the "wickedness" with which that poem ends.

Your thoughts, O Blogosphere?

Monday, October 19, 2009

On Today's Agenda

It's Monday, and that's my long day this quarter. I got in about an hour ago (10 am), and won't leave until after 9 pm, when my night class gets out and I hit the freeway home.

So: what am I up to today?


Spent some time this morning on a committee project. I'm chair of our department's one-year-old Curriculum Committee, ascending to that noble throne last month. On the table first is a new one-course "Diverse Traditions" requirement for English majors, which we approved last year without ever quite defining what counted as a "Diverse Traditions" course.


As you can imagine, this has led to a certain amount of internal wrangling & Chicago-style politicking. I'm not at liberty to divulge the details, but broadly speaking, we're having to decide which courses will count for this requirement.

Here's some of the language I've been playing with to define the requirement, which I'll bring to the committee and to the department overall in the future for debate. Your thoughts, everyone?
In “Diverse Traditions” courses, students will study authors, texts, or topics that have historically been marginalized by the dominant culture’s literary canon. [I keep wanting to add, "hereinafter referred to as "DCLC," pronounced "De Klerk," but I'll save that for the meetings.]

To receive “Diverse Traditions” status, a course must focus on at least one of the following:

1. Works in English by racially or ethnically marked authors (e.g., Latino/a, Asian American, African American, Native American authors), with attention to how such categories of difference have been constructed and contested over time;

2. Works in English by women, especially authors who have historically been excluded from the literary canon, with attention to how the relationships between gender, authorship, and social power have been constructed and contested over time;

3. Works in English by sexual minorities, especially authors who have historically been excluded from the literary canon, with attention to how the relationships between sexuality, authorship, and social power have been constructed and contested over time;

4. Works in English by working-class authors, especially authors who have historically been excluded from the literary canon, with attention to how the relationships between class, authorship, and social power have been constructed and contested over time;

5. Works in English by immigrant, exiled, or diasporic authors, especially authors who have historically been excluded from the literary canon, with attention to how the relationships between national identity, authorship, and social power have been constructed and contested over time;

6. Works in English by religious minorities, especially authors who have historically been excluded from the literary canon, with attention to how the relationships between religion and social power have been constructed and contested over time;

7. Non-Anglophone works (in translation) from predominantly Anglophone countries (e.g., Britain, Ireland, the United States), with attention to how such literature complicates or counterpoints the national literary narrative of that country;

8. Works by Anglophone authors from outside England and the United States, especially by authors who have historically been excluded from the Anglo-American literary canon;

9. Works of new interest in light of emerging categories of diversity (e.g., Disability Studies, Masculinity Studies), if the course introduces students to these emerging theoretical approaches in a way that will profitably complicate the way these works are taught or read in other contexts.
By separating these out, my plan is to allow debate and voting--if necessary--on each one, line by line, so that no single category can sink or delay the program as a whole.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

From “Spring,” in James Thomson’s The Seasons

A lively discussion's underway over at Teach Me Tonight about the nature of love (here and here) in romance novels and elsewhere. Whenever I hear these discussions, I think of a line from James Thomson's The Seasons—"Perfect esteem enlivened by desire"—which Jean Hagstrum borrowed for the title and epigraph of a very good book a few year ago. The line comes from the "Spring" section of The Seasons, and although you can find the whole text on Google Books, I thought I'd post the immediate context here, for easier reference. (I've added the verse-paragraph breaks, to make the selection a bit easier to read.)


One thing I do notice: Hagstrum (and I, following) have always cut off the quotation at "enlivened by desire." In fact, there's an immediate adjective: "desire / Ineffable." What to make of that, I'll decide another time.


But happy they! the happiest of their kind !

Whom gentler stars unite, and in one fate,

Their hearts, their fortunes, and their beings blend,

'Tis not the coarser tie of human laws,

Unnatural oft, and foreign to the mind.

That binds their peace, but harmony itself

Attuning all their passions into love,

Where friendship still-exerts her softest power,

Perfect esteem enlivened by desire

Ineffable, and sympathy of soul;

Thought meeting thought, and will preventing will.

With boundless confidence : For nought but love

Can answer love, and render bliss secure.


Let him, ungenerous, who, alone intent

To bless himself, from sordid parents buys

The loathing virgin, in eternal care,

Well-merited, consume his nights and days ;

Let barbarous nations, whose inhuman love

Is wild desire, fierce as the suns they feel ;

Let Eastern tyrants from the light of Heaven

Seclude their bosom-slaves, meanly possessed

Of a mere, lifeless, violated form ;

While those whom love cements in holy faith.

And equal transport, free as Nature live,

Disdaining fear. What is the world to them?

Its pomp, its pleasure, and its nonsense all?

Who in each other clasp whatever fair

High fancy forms, and lavish hearts can wish;

Something than beauty dearer, should they look

Or on the mind, or mind-illumin'd face ;

Truth, goodness, honour, harmony, and love,

The richest bounty of indulgent Heaven.


Meantime a smiling offspring rises round

And mingles both their graces. By degrees

The human blossom blows ; and every day,

Soft as it rolls along, shews some new charm

The father's lustre, and the mother's bloom.

The infant reason grows apace, and calls

For the kind hand of an assiduous care.

Delightful talk ! to rear the tender thought.

To teach the young idea how to shoot,

To pour the fresh instruction o'er the mind,

To breathe th' enlivening spirit, and to fix

The generous purpose in the glowing breast.


Oh, speak the joy ! ye, whom the sudden tear

Surprizes often, while you look around,

And nothing strikes your eye but sights of bliss

All various Nature pressing on the heart ;

An elegant sufficiency, content,

Retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books

Ease and alternate labour, useful life,

Progressive virtue, and approving Heaven.

These are the matchless joys of virtuous love ;

And thus their moments fly. The Seasons thus,

As ceaseless round a jarring world they roll,

Still find them happy; and consenting Spring

Sheds her own rosy garland on their heads :

Till evening comes at last, serene and mild ;

When after the long vernal day of life.

Enamour d more, as more remembrance swells

With many a proof of recollected love,

Together down they sink in social sleep ;

Together freed, their gentle spirits fly

To scenes where love and bliss immortal reign.

This & That

Trying something new here: the "write it in Word, as a Blog Post" option. We'll see if it works.


This from Ben Friedlander, over at Facebook: "Tropes involve mental processes; grouping them under the heading 'metaphor,' which is done surprisingly often, is a little like using a globe for a street map."

I remember an interesting discussion of Auden's line, "The hourglass whispers to the lion's roar" (or "lion's paw," in other versions of the poem) that tried to walk students through the set of mental processes it takes to make the line meaningful. Where was that? Reading Poetry, by Tom Furniss and Michael Bath. From the results of this Google search, it looks like the line gets used that way a fair amount, actually.


So now the test: will this post? Is it preferable to the usual interface? One click, and we'll see!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

LIVE at the Poetry Foundation!

Well, not LIVE exactly, but close enough. A column of mine, "Ten Poems I Love To Teach," has been published by the Poetry Foundation, and last week I was interviewed for about an hour for a possible podcast about two of the poems, "The Sun Rising" and "Wild Nights," to be hosted there as well. When it goes up, I'll post the link. In the mean time, you might want to take a look at the new Learning Lab the Poetry Foundation has set up, especially if you're a teacher. Lots of resources, some of which I was a consultant or editor for.


(A twinge: not that this will count for my promotion. But compared to the colleagues I have who were passed over for tenure, for flimsier reasons, I don't have much to complain about--and unlike some of my colleagues at other schools, especially public universities, I haven't been asked to teach for free or even cut back on travel. From now on, when someone asks me whether the glass is half full or half empty, I'm going to tell him, "Dude, I have a glass." Pollyanna, c'est moi.)


This is the first time I've posted anything here in several months. As I wrote last year (last school year, or Jewish year, take your pick), I find Twitter and Facebook now do the job of social connection that this blog once did. I'm not sure whether I'll have the time to post here with any regularity, or to do so particularly thoughtfully. But the mood struck, and the computer was on, so here I am.


The picture I've added above is of the late, great poet Ronald Johnson in his kitchen, back in San Francisco, I believe. The book I co-edited on Ron--the link is to your right--has sold perhaps a hundred copies so far. A labor of love, as they say, as was Ron's work, so I don't feel terribly bad about the slow sales. As the poem says, I never expected much!


Tonight is the Sharing Fest at my wife's church: a fundraiser for parishes in Haiti, Nigeria, and Mexico that she's run for the past seven or eight years. Last year, as usual, this was a terribly stressful time for her, not least because she was heading for Haiti herself soon afterward. This year, someone else is finally running the show, and there's no trip to follow. Much calmer, chez nous, but a real sense, also, that a year has passed.

It's as though I've had three or four New Years in a row: the school year starting, the Jewish holidays, now this. I have such vivid, horrid memories of the time when R was away: sleeplessly grinding out an overdue essay on the poet Lawrence Joseph, taking care of the kids and R's father, who was staying with us at the time, hearing from an editor that my piece was simply too late to use. It all worked out, in the end--but not without some anguished phonecalls back and forth to the tropics (Blackberry works in Limonade!) and a flurry of groveling emails.

Now that piece is out, and the Parnassus essay on Darwish and other Palestinian poets that followed, hot on its heels. I have several projects in motion--books, a new journal, classes, new committee work--but nothing that has me as unhappy as I was a year ago.

As good a time as any to return.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bi-Annual Review

The other day I found a "Projects List" dated September 20, 2007.

At that point, I had 27 active projects. Or, rather, 27 active projects listed; there were at least three others that I must have been repressing at the time. Let's call it 30, more or less.

So--how'd I do?

Three of the projects I simply backed out of. One I pursued, but it failed, and in failing, took another down with. Five are still in progress, although of those, one is close... Well, let's be cut & dried about this. Five are still on-going.

So: twenty projects, of various sorts & sizes, done, and five to go. Plus a few new ones? Yes, but the total is still well below 30. Heck, it might even be in the high single digits!

Turning a corner? Here's hoping.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Take a Message to Bibi

Evidently Bibi Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, has been calling David Axelrod and Rahm Emmanuel "self-hating Jews." Most of the rebuttals have been of the "no they're not!" variety. Here's a different one, courtesy of the great Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska. (Thanks to Bob Bires for sending me the poem this morning.)

In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn't know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they'd claim their hands were clean.

A jackal doesn't understand remorse.
Lions and lice don't waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they're right?

Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
in every other way they're light.

On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NEH Musings; Finkelstein on Mackey

Yesterday I wrote this:

Shirts to the laundry today? Move the long-sleeves downstairs, and the short-sleeves up. Purge NJ's closet: he's grown out of half his clothes. Stacks of trash & old boxes from the basement storage out to the alley. (Water damage--perfect opportunity to clean things up and out.) Lots of things to do.

Of course, today should really be all about the NEH seminar: emails to participants, gathering handouts, planning the first week, etc. And it will be--but as I listen to the Giggle Twins play foosball downstairs (my daughter & her sleepover friend) before camp, I find myself thinking, oddly enough, of an essay by Norman Finkelstein: "Nathaniel Mackey and the Unity of All Rites," Contemporary Literature XLIX, 1, 2008.

Here's how the essay begins:

Casual readers perusing the 2006 winner of the National Book Award
for poetry probably got quite a surprise when they opened Nathaniel
Mackey’s Splay Anthem. Their first shock would have come from the
eight-page preface, an unapologetic declaration and exposition of the
obsessive seriality that has possessed Mackey’s poetry since he began
publishing it more than twenty years ago. Bristling with neologisms
and arcane references, the preface presents Mackey’s entwin(n)ed
sequences as a practice akin to the poetics of the Kaluli of New
Guinea, a poetics that “posits poetry and music as quintessentially
elegiac but also restorative, not only lamenting violated connection
but aiming to reestablish connection, as if the entropy that gives rise
to them is never to be given the last word” (Splay Anthem xvi).

After quoting nine lines of the poem, Norman ends the paragraph this way:

The eccentric lineation and spacing, the enjambment making for a
continuous but still unsettling syncopation, the free-floating pronouns,
and above all, the disquieting physical intimacy that seems to
be part of some strange act, part performance, part ritual—this
“croaking / song / to end all song” (3) might be more than enough to
dissuade our hypothetical poetry-shelf browsers from turning the
page, National Book Award or no. For despite divisions into individually
numbered poems (some enigmatically composed beneath lines
across the page) and sections, the book proceeds relentlessly through
such strange enactments for the next 125 pages. In short, Mackey’s
poems cannot be read casually; they may not be readable as individual
poems at all.

What strikes me, nags at me, in this opening is the figure it invokes of the "casual reader" and "poetry-shelf browser" who would pick up a book based on its status as an award-winning text, only to find him or herself "dissuaded" from turning the page, precisely because this poet's work "cannot be read casually." Why does this figure haunt me so?


Then I stopped and got busy.


Procrastinating last night I sketched a new draft table of contents for my romance book. Still not done with that, but at least I opened the file and played around a little.

More NEH work today, and some urgent emails about Brisbane. If I can, I'll get back to musing on Mackey, though. His piece has some relationship to this NEH seminar, and I want to figure out what that relationship is. More on that later today, I hope.

Monday, June 22, 2009

So, For My Next Big Number?

Shouldn't be thinking about this now--too many other things on my plate--but I've been mulling over some possibilities for my next Parnassus review.

From my chats with Herb, I gather that there are a bunch of Collecteds as yet unclaimed: Jack Spicer, Robert Creeley, Barbara Guest, Thom Gunn. A few more that I know of, both Collecteds and new Selecteds: Helen Adam, for example, and Judy Grahn has a Reader coming out soon. (I've always loved the Common Woman poems, & had the chance to teach a few from the Nelson anthology last spring, to good effect.)

Who else have I thought about doing? Eamon Grennan, whom I read last fall. Reznikoff. Oppen. Zukofsky. (I'm probably too close to you, Mark, to get the nod for that.) Harvey Shapiro. Mike Heller. William Bronk. Some combo of these--i.e., Henry Weinfield did a book on Bronk and Oppen, so that's a threesome that could be considered. Nate Mackey, whose prose I know better than his poetry. I'd love to write about Norman Finkelstein again, but don't know whether Herb would bite, except perhaps in an omnibus of some kind. (On poetry & the sacred? Joy Ladin did such a bang-up job on that a few years ago, I doubt its time has come again. And Norman, you and I go back a ways, which is an issue chez Parnassus, as it should be.)

Some of the poets I'd love to spend time with--Duncan, Eluard--have been written about recently, so they're out of the running. Some that I've touched on in the past--Sherman Alexie, say--have new work out, but I'm not keen on turning back to old projects, even if the opening to that Alexie piece was one of my best gambits. (It went sharply downhill from there.) I'd love to do something on the books by Larry Joseph that didn't make it into my symposium piece, Into It and Lawyerland, but he and I have known one another a very long time, so the rule above applies. A pity: that's a project I'd like to build on.

International poets? Translations? (I don't have any languages to speak of, anymore.) Who have I missed? Maybe Agha Shahid Ali? What would y'all suggest?

Five-Week Drill

Five weeks ago I posted a "six-week drill": a list of fourteen things I needed to do before my fourth NEH Summer Seminar kicks off at the end of June. Well, the end of June is fast approaching--I have one week left in that drill, which hasn't exactly worked out as planned. Let's see how I did, and what's left.

What do I need to write & do by then, or to get there?
  • Wrap up logistics for the NEH seminar. Books, readings, housing, stipends, festivities, etc.
Ordered the books, arranged the housing and stipends, set up the opening festivity. Still need to copy the readings, and gather anything I don't have in the files. Also need to buy binders, etc., to put them in. Budget cuts meant no student assistant for this, so I need to get on it.
  • Do reading for the NEH seminar--not just the assigned stuff, but a general refresher course, to shift back into poetry-teaching mode.
Did some of this, and need to do more. Pleased at how much I've been enjoying the poetry criticism / intro to poetry textbook / poetry itself that I've been reading recently--the year off from teaching 220 (Reading Poetry) was maddening by the end, but it's clearly
  • Choose the poets / texts for my Modern Poetry survey next fall. Something new, but not too new. Sick of the huge sweeping survey, but if I only did, say, 6 or 8 poets, who would they be? (British, Irish, American, as I please.)
Worked on this, and came to a tentative decision: use volume 1 of the Rothenberg / Joris Poems for the Millennium anthology, supplemented by some more canonical readings in link, pdf, or handout form. This morning, another array came to me: Eliot, Williams, Stevens, Hughes, Auden, Loy, Millay, H.D., de Burgos. But if I can spend an hour or two brainstorming what the supplementary list would look like, I still think the R/J might be the way to go.
  • Prep and teach another four weeks of classes. Ahem. Which means something like four more novels. (I miss teaching poems. Four more poems I could handle.)
This took more of my time than I anticipated. But it's done, and the classes are graded, and you just can't argue with that.
  • Revise the introduction to the New Approaches book.
The file's been opened, but I haven't done this yet.
  • Revise my own essay for the New Approaches book.
  • Edit four more essays, maybe five, for NA.
There were four, and three of them are done. One to go.
  • Write and distribute the Call for Papers for JPRS, the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, of which I am the Executive Editor.
Wrote it, got feedback--as soon as I get the final thumbs-up from my Managing Editor and the president of IASPR, we'll be ready for distribution.
  • Assorted work for IASPR, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance.
Did some assorted work for IASPR, although I think that most of it was associated with the next bullet point:
  • Do more fundraising and planning for the Brisbane Conference (AKA "Popular Romance Studies: an International Conference")
That took a lot of my time in the past few weeks, but in the final talley we have 24 talks from a half-dozen countries: Australia, India, Indonesia, Korea, New Zealand, and the US. I've wrangled them into panels, too.
  • Decide on the topic for my own Brisbane paper. Can write it in July? While teaching NEH seminar? Hmmm...
This also took a lot of time. As you know from earlier posts, my original thought was to speak about Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, the Clapton album with the Nizami subtext. Watching a recent Bollywood film, Rab ne Bana di Jodi, inspired me to speak about watching Bollywood as an non-Indian American, or maybe to look comparatively at the topos of "redemption through love" in RNBDJ and the romance novel Redeeming Love (a classic of Christian inspirational romance by Francine Rivers, which I've been meaning to consider for classroom use).

In the end, though, I just don't think I have enough time to work up that talk before the conference, so I've decided to focus on something I know as much about as anyone these days: popular romance pedagogy. With a nod to my series of NEH poetry workshops for middle-school teachers, I'm calling the talk "How to Teach a Romance (and Learn from One, Too)." The other, comparative piece I'll save for next year's PCA, maybe.
  • Take care of final logistics for Brisbane: hotels, publicity, contact with local authors and writers' groups, etc.
Did a lot of that, and once we have the final thumbs up from everyone about the schedule, with a website up and so forth, I'll do a bit more.
  • Revise my monograph proposal on romance fiction (including Byatt? Many decisions to be made for this, still.)
This, no work on at all. Which bothers me, but there's simply too much urgent work that needs to be done, displacing thought about this. I can live without it a while longer, if need be.
  • Learn (on trumpet) the music I'll be performing with my son's junior high school band.
Did it, and had fun playing with him. Wish I could spend more time on music again.
  • Learn (on guitar) the parts for five more Alte Rockers songs. (Have I told y'all about the Alte Rockers? Remind me to do so, if not.)
Did it, with great anxiety. I haven't had to play lead before, & was unprepared to start. As an unexpected plus, my son took up the rhythm parts on about half of the songs. Good times, that, and a long-term plan brought to fulfillment.

In addition to the work I listed, there was a fair amount of unexpected work to be done: committee work, for example. And there's still a lot of work to do before next Sunday, when the NEH seminar starts, and even more before I leave for Australia. Nervous about both of those.

In short, I could use to pick up the pace a bit. But not an unproductive period, either.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Reading Weinfield

Reading Henry Weinfield's The Music of Thought in the Poetry of George Oppen and William Bronk, published by Iowa earlier this year.

Near the start, this passage leaps out at me: "...the book as a whole is not really driven by any particular thesis. I believe that Oppen and Bronk created great and enduring poetry, and I have simply wanted to articulate what it is in their work that I find so valuable and distinctive" (3-4).

How rare, how sweet, that project seems. The luxury of it, even.

More passages, more thoughts, in the days to come.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Just learned (just checked) that my local public library has the new third volume of the Rothenberg / Joris Poems for the Millennium anthology, this the one that focuses on international romanticism.

Will go check it out, in every sense of the word.

Inclining, today, to order vol. 1 in that series and supplement it with handouts, pdf files, links, and the like. It's more relentlessly avant-garde than I'd ordinarily teach, but that means the other material won't be hard to locate. And so far, anyway, I haven't found anything remotely like it for the first half of the 20th century.


Spent the morning working on NEH and Brisbane business. Oops! Just thought of two emails to send about right back...

OK, they're sent. Basically making sure that the funding we have is in place, even as I decide whether to put any more of my own funds on the line to bring scholars to Australia. How much am I in for so far? About $250. Maybe another $250, if that gets some folks from India to come?

(Wish I had the check from my last Parnassus piece in hand, to help me figure out my budget. A teaser from the lastest piece, on various Palestinian poets, over here at the Big Jewish Blog. Scroll down until you reach the inset quote, to find it.)


Spent last evening guilty, heartsick. My daughter had come home crying from school, for a variety of reasons, one of which had to do with a teacher. Sent an angry email to the teacher, who had no idea that she'd caused my girl such grief. She's been a beloved teacher of both my kids for many years now, and felt ill-used, even betrayed. But when Meg's crying for 90 minutes, thinking her favorite teacher had sent her packing on the last day she'd be at the school...well, 'nuff said.

They've since patched things up, and I've written to apologize, but the damage is done. Now I'll spend a day looking at my email, hoping for an 'apology accepted' and wishing I'd kept my temper in check.


A nice note from D-- about my PromotionFail(tm):
I'm shocked! Parnassus is the most distinguished place to publish on contemporary poetry. I would kill to get a piece there! And it is obvious that you are doing more significant service -- to the entire Chicago area -- than any lit teacher on the planet. The NEH programs by themselves are world class service to the profession. In all honesty, at [UNIVERSITY] you would have been promoted years ago."
Thanks, D! Per my chair's advice, I've printed the email and stashed it away for next time. Keep those cards & letters coming, as they used to say.


A Facebook "tag" the other day got me thinking about books that stay with me. My slightly inebriated list of 15, per the request, looked like this:
1. Andre Norton, Witch World
2. Frank Herbert, Dune
3. Robert Persig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
4. Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces
5. A. S. Byatt, Possession: a Romance
6. Jennifer Crusie, Bet Me
7. Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel's Avatar
8. Jerome Rothenberg, A Big Jewish Book
9. Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
10. Philip K. Dick, VALIS
11. Ronald Johnson, ARK
12. Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era
13. Frank O'Hara, Selected Poems
14. Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
15. Laura Kinsale, Midsummer Moon
Somehow I missed Lord of the Rings, which I've read and re-read since childhood, and Earth House Hold, the book of essays and journals by Gary Snyder that's been calming me down since that whole email thing last night. And a host of others. But an interesting exercise, and one I may try with my students someday.


Perking myself up with this song, this morning (it's Wednesday now, about 9:30 my time). Some bad news about Brisbane--a couple of speakers unable to come--but by gum, I'll be there, and it'll be grand.

(I find the embedded quotation from Bob Marley in the chorus oddly moving--the ripples of culture that spread from the Hebrew Bible to the African diaspora to world pop to indigenous rock, counterpointing the genetic distance between any & all of these groups. Something to be done with that--but for now, just watch & think of me.)

Monday, June 08, 2009

This morning, at least...

This morning, at least, I find myself aware of two different impulses at work in my syllabus musings.

On the one hand, there's the simple desire to get a syllabus together, order books, and gear up for next year.

On the other, there's the desire to rethink my own sense of modern and contemporary poetry--to figure out what, now, really moves me, as a reader and teacher and scholar.

I've wanted to let the latter determine the former. That is, I've wanted to choose the books and poets for the class so that they'll let me do the reading and research I want, concentrate on poets I love, and so forth.

The trouble is, the categories of "poets I love and want to investigate" and "poets I feel one really ought to teach in a Modern Poetry survey" may overlap in less-than-optimal ways. My inclinations these days draw me to re-read American poets of the '50s and after, but my sense of pedagogical duty leads me to assign an earlier group of poets, and one that spans national boundaries.

As a result, I spin my wheels.

Maybe the thing to do is re-run last year's double-Norton survey, trimming a few poems from it and polishing the lectures, to simplify task #1. And, meanwhile, force myself to read more independently, following my curiosity, until a clearer array of books, authors, texts, comes to mind? Postpone the sexy new Modern Poetry course until I know what to do with it?


Here's the mix I taught a few years back, with a week on each:
T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land and Other Poems

HD: Collected Poems, 1912-1944

William Carlos Williams: Collected Poems, 1909-1939

Muriel Rukeyser: Out of Silence: Selected Poems

W. H. Auden: Collected Poems

Elizabeth Bishop: Complete Poems

Robert Hayden: Collected Poems

Stevie Smith: New Selected Poems

Philip Larkin: Collected Poems

Wendy Cope: Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis
Of these, who would I do again, and who would I cut?

Bishop is a cut. Rukeyser's a maybe. Larkin and Cope I'd put on the block. That leaves five: Eliot, H.D., Williams, Hayden, and Smith. Three men, two women. Could add four more and be done. But who?

Every choice seems bad this morning, which suggests a survey would be best.


Faith, Doubt, Myth

Who'd I do last time?

On the Big Survey Syllabus: Dickinson, Hardy, Hopkins, Yeats, Frost, Pound, H.D., Eliot,Graves, Smith, Kavanagh, Auden, Oppen, Bishop, Duncan, Larkin, Merrill, Ali. All as individual lyrics or short excerpts (in H.D.'s case) from longer texts.

Of those, a few get taught in other courses or have been taught, by me, too many times: Hopkins, Frost, Bishop, Larkin. Kavanagh was there for a single poem; I don't know the work all that well.

Not in that list, but right for the topic: Snyder, Ginsberg, Grahn, Howe, Mackey, Ostriker, Johnson, Schwerner. Many of those, I note, in long poems, rather than individual lyrics. Larry Joseph, whom I've now written about at length. Joy Ladin. Norman Finkelstein.

Nine classes, though--that's all I've got.

Hmmm... Who sounds like fun to me, now?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Models I'm mulling over for 366 (Modern Poetry):
  1. Books about modern poetry: The Pound Era, maybe some biographies & critical materials. A few suggestions came in--see the comments for my last post--but I could certainly use some more. Rachel Blau du Plessis' The Pink Guitar? Who writes well, readably well, about modern poetry outside the US?
  2. Poets and their Prose: choose some modern poets whose essays and / or letters are available, and build a course around them
  3. Another big survey, with one or two anthologies. Maybe pair Poems for the Millennium with a volume of the Norton, or pair the two Oxford anthologies (Nelson's & Tuma's).
  4. A thematically-chosen group of modernist poets, focused on one or another of the topics that went really well last time, like "Think Globally, Write Locally" (modern poets of various peripheries-become-central and / or poets with a particularly international purview) or "Faith & Doubt" (modern poets of religion, religious crisis, revisionist religion, mythology, etc.) or even "Modern Love," although I wonder whether the students from my Love Poetry course would be sick of that by now.
  5. Looking at option 4 here, I could simply reprise my two-volume-Norton survey from last time, dropping the units that didn't go so well and so forth. Tweak the old, rather than leave it behind.
Any thoughts about which books / poets might fit well in options 1, 2, or 4 here?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Best Books on Modern(ist) Poets?

So here's the question.

I've been mulling over the syllabus for next year's Modern Poetry course. Ten weeks, meets once a week (nights), undergraduates. Last fall I taught a crazy, sweeping survey, organized by topic, built around the two-volume Norton Anthology of Modern / Contemporary Poetry. The assignment for a week's reading looked something like this:
Faith, Doubt, Myth: In Vol 1, read Dickinson, “Brain is Wider” 38; Hardy, “Hap” (44); Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” “As Kingfishers,” “Spring,” “The Windhover"; Yeast, “Hosting of the Sidhe,” “The Magi,” “Dialogue of Self and Soul,” Frost, “Design,” “Directive,” Stevens, “Sunday Morning,” from “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” (on-line; Google it); Pound, “The Return,” HD, “from The Walls Do Not Fall” and “From Tribute to the Angels,” Eliot, “Preludes,” “The Waste Land,” “Journey of the Magi,” “Little Gidding,” Graves, “To Juan at the Winter Solstice,” Smith, “Our Bog is Dood,” “God the Eater,” Kavanagh, “Canal Bank Walk,” Auden, “As I Walked Out One Evening,” “In Praise of Limestone,” Oppen, “Psalm,” “from Of Being Numerous.” In Vol. 2, read Bishop, “At the Fishhouses,” “Over 2000 Illustrations…,” Duncan, “Often I am Permitted to Return to a Meadow,” Larkin, “Water,” “Church Going,” “Faith Healing,” “High Windows,” Kumin, “In the Absence of Bliss,” Merrill, “b o d y,” Ali, “Ghazal.”

Needless to say, I sometimes had some doubts as to whether all the reading was done. Needless to say, my students felt a bit overwhelmed--frustrated, too, that they'd read vastly more for any given class than we could discuss at length or in depth. On the other hand, this had the advantage of letting those students who had a taste for Yeats find Yeats, Oppen find Oppen, Smith find Smith, and the like.

I'm up in the air as to whether I should teach the course the same way again next fall, with some sort of minor tweaking--a different anthology, say, or pair of them for contrast--or whether I should (as I usually do) try something quite different.

One "quite different" model I've mulled over for several years now would build the course around books about modern poets and modern poetry. Earlier this evening I paged through Frank Lentricchia's Modernist Quartet, for example, and was struck by how much knowledge students would gain from it about not only the work of the four poets he discusses (Frost, Stevens, Pound, & Eliot) but about their lives, their times, their contacts, and so forth. Of course, these are all American poets--Eliot switch-hits, but is treated here as American--, all of them are white, and all of them are men. I won't teach a class like that, even if I do like the associated video:

But if I were to build my course around some books about modern poetry, in English or even more comparatively, what are the best texts out there to choose from? Not textbooky texts, but books designed to be read for pleasure, however erudite. Biographies, cultural histories, that sort of thing.

Alternatively, if you had to pick 9 essential "modern poets"--not exclusively American--who would they be? Anglophone only lists are good, but I'm open to teaching folks in translation, also, if good translations are out there.

Suggestions, anyone?

The Other Night in the Chat Room

Yo Eric! When do you go to the land down under?


Unless you're making a dirty joke (to which the answer is, "how soon have you got?"), it's not until July 26. First comes the NEH seminar: 4 weeks, M-F, 3 hrs a day!


Ah, I thought you looking more immediately for reading material for that long flight.


No, not yet--although I will be sooner than I think. I may do something on love & popular music for this conference; we're branching out, in the Association, from just romance fiction into romance in other media.


Branching out sounds like a good idea. But how would you keep it related to "romance" as in the sort of novels you currently study?


We call it "representations of romantic love in popular media," so we get some parameters from "romantic" (as opposed to agape love, say) and "popular," but in practice these are going to get a bit blurry, I suspect.


Popular media--I see. Presumably contemporary popular media. I was wondering about Renaissance love poetry and so on.


Actually, once you get "popular" into the mix, you have a wide open field. Sir Walter Scott, Byron, both bestsellers, so they'd be in the mix; in the Renaissance, I wonder if the opposite of "popular" might be "court," but I'm not entirely sure...


Scott, Byron...this broadens things considerably. At a certain point, I wonder if it doesn't simply become "representations of romantic love in literature and culture." But by then, you've drifted pretty far from your original interests.


Well, yes and no. MY original interest is the broad one (lit and culture), but if you think about it, we'll have defined a field from the popular on up, rather than from the literary down, so the question of whether this or that is "worth studying" won't come up. (As it does, now, with the romance novels--many of which are actually in some interesting dialogue w/ Scott, Byron, Milton, Shakespeare, etc.) Me, I'm thinking of doing something on "Layla" for Brisbane: Clapton's & Nizami's.


Gotcha. But plugged or unplugged?


Oh, plugged! I'd love to do a reading of the whole album--it's presented as Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, so how the blues about money, etc., fit in will be fun to think through--also the male comradeship & rivalry as enacted by Clapton's & Duane Allman's guitar duels, the mix of voices--could be a very fun project, I think.


For sure--especially since you would go beyond the lyrics to deal with matters of musical form. And you can't beat that extended piano solo.


Yes--and figuring out how to "read" it, musically (and as a commentary on the lyrics, AND as a lead-in to "Thorn Tree in the Garden") will be a treat. Can you think of any pop music criticism that does anything like this? Damned if I can, off the top of my head.


Maybe Anthony DeCurtis; he's about the most sophisticated pop music critic I know (we hung out at Emory; he had a temporary gig there while I was finishing. He had written a dissertation on contemporary fiction, but eventually dumped academia and became editor of Rolling Stone.)


Hey, sounds promising! Thanks!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Keenaghan on Duncan (Contemporary Literature)

If I'm going to start publishing in peer-reviewed journals again, I'm going to need to spend a lot more time reading them. I cut back a few years ago because so many of the pieces I read were poorly written, pedagogically useless, and profoundly insular in their thinking. They'd been written, it seemed, in order to cut a notch on the author's CV--a motive I can respect, I suppose--but not one that spurs me to go and read them.

But enough of that griping! As I say, I need to start publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and that means I have to find journals and pieces that I can respect, or at least find interesting. I'm going to start with Contemporary Literature, a journal that I've published in and reviewed manuscripts for, over the years. It happens that their latest issue has a piece about a poet I like, Robert Duncan, by a critic whose work I've previously enjoyed, Eric Keenaghan. (My collection of essays on Ron Johnson has a Kennaghan essay in it.) Even the topic appeals to me: "Life, War, and Love: The Queer Anarchism of Robert Duncan’s Poetic Action during the Vietnam War." (OK, the first part appeals to me; the subtitle is clunky, but no one worries about such things anymore, right?)

What follow are some quotations from the piece, interspersed with comments from me. I didn't cut & paste page numbers; if you like the ideas, go and find the piece yourself!
"In Duncan’s anarchistic philosophy, poetry is not a revolutionary’s tool; rather, it is a creative means of striving toward an alternative vision of life, one rivaling the state’s idea of what life ought to be."
Hmmm... Does "the state" have ideas? Feels like a first-class reification to me, like a student speaking of "society," but I'm not sure if the move is Keenaghan's or Duncan's.

Reading on, it sounds like it's Duncan’s: OK, he's a poet, not a critic, & can do what he wants.
In a 1969 installment of his serially published H.D. Book, he asserts, “As the power and presumption of authority by the State has increased in every nation, we are ill with it, for it surrounds us and, where it does not openly conscript, seeks by advertising, by education, by dogma or by terror, to seduce, enthrall, mould, command or coerce our inner will or conscience or inspiration to its own uses” (2.4: 47).
Says Keenaghan, Duncan's work and thought "can help us rearticulate current conceptions of biopolitics by foregrounding how poetry and desire play significant roles in resisting the state."

I'm not sure I care about that project ("resisting the state"), or believe that it's possible for poetry to play a "significant role" in it, unless you think of "poetry" in the broad sense of "imaginative productions": all the arts, popular culture, and the like. Perhaps if some specific case were before me--marriage equality, justice in Israel / Palestine--I could be convinced. Keenaghan will talk about the Vietnam war as an instance, I gather.

...LONG passages about Foucault. I'm glad he turns to Dewey instead, eventually...but still, this is the discourse (even the diction) I have trouble with: "Poetry, he [Duncan] believed, was an especially useful discursive praxis for reimagining freedom and commonality, outside the biopolitical state’s liberalist life model."

Do I really have to learn to talk like that?

Keenaghan offers a reading of Duncan's poem "Up-Rising," starting out by putting the poem into the context of its publication history. A lot of quoting from the Letters here--letters between Duncan and Denise Levertov. "The controversy surrounding “Up Rising” resulted, for Duncan,
in a year-long writing block, which would lift only in July 1966. Duncan’s production was stalled because he was “[w]aiting for the content of ‘Up Rising’ to undergo its sea change or alchemical phase towards rendering up its purely poetic identity” (Duncan, Letters 528). In other words, he was waiting for that poem’s content to become, of its own accord, something more than an occasional political piece. But that “alchemy” did not happen on its own."

That could be useful to me in the classroom. I teach "Up Rising" now and then.
Rather than as a transparent expression of his own antiwar politics, Duncan encourages us to read the outrage or wrath of “Up Rising” as a product of its writing, a community’s reaction to the reality of a war in the process of becoming real only as it trickles down from the level of the state to the level of the people. Making the war real through communal poetic endeavors is to partake in the exercise of producing new forms of life, outside the state-endorsed American way of life that idealizes individual personhood.
That strikes me as a bit less useful, not least because the poem isn't a "communal" endeavor.

Duncan disliked Levertov's war poems becuase in them, according to Keenaghan, "The state
impinged upon the individual, forcing her to voice her resistance with the same language that the state itself promoted—that of personality and personhood, privacy and privation, property and propriety."

Hmmm... could be useful, although I'd say that it's still at such a high level of generalization that it's not all that engaged with the poems as such.

Writes K,
By opening ourselves to language’s sentimental force, we foster an intimacy that lets the truth of the situation, what Badiou terms the “real,” disrupt our acceptance of an American way of life and cult of personality prescribed and administered by the state.
That invocation of Badiou strikes me as entirely tactical, the sort of thing that one learns to do in graduate school. I find the description of the "American way of life and cult of personality" here to be vague and overgeneral. On the other hand, the notes of sentiment and intimacy strike me as true to Duncan's work: it is both sentimental and intimate, at its best.

I like this:
In his late essay “The Self in Postmodern Poetry” (1979), Duncan wrote that he lived by the tenet “mistrust thy self,” a perversion of Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” “All of experience seems my trust fund to me; I must cultivate the mistrust that alone can give contrast and the needed inner tension for vital interest” (226). Another way of putting this would be, One must war not with others but with one’s own self. Life bears intellectual and material benefits only if one “cultivate[s]” a “tension” with one’s own experience.
Says Duncan (in an essay short-cited as "Returning"),
"I see my creative imagination raising a war in things in order to come into the world of opposites and contraries. . . . For, until we see the elements in their dynamic strife, as contraries, we cannot begin to transform contraries into contrasts” (61). Such dynamism, once restored to oppositional elements, would let Duncan rediscover what he calls the “aliveness” of things, in their pluralistic and incomplete natures. “Here, as in physics,” he continues, “the difference between the inorganic and the organic, the bios, is that between a crystallized form and a form of unresolved inner struggle” (61). Perpetual, internal struggle is the only way we know we’re alive. For poetry to help us live, writers must continually combat their precepts and reinterpret their experiences to avoid static—and statist—complacency.
I can think of any number of poets--poets who write about politics and those who write about many other things--I could read in light of these ideas:

“Each of us must be at strife with our own conviction on behalf of the multiplicity of convictions at work in poetry in order to give ourselves over to the art, to come to the idea of what the world of worlds or the order of orders might be” (111–12). This turmoil, to which one consciously and willingly subjects one’s self, is a means of “carry[ing] into the public field the inner battles of the individual poet’s soul” (112). Contention, war, strife—they transform privacy into publicity; they break the wall whereby the liberal American subject safeguards her own self.

ARGH! There, again, that twist into a radically different diction: "the liberal American subject." Maybe I could read that contrast in dictions in some useful way, as itself a kind of "strife"?


What I like most in the piece seems to be the scraps of Duncan! Listen to the contrast between the poet and the critic in the following:
“The very life of our art is our keeping at work contending forces and convictions,” no matter if they do prove to be “painful disorders.” It is a “creative strife,” this “breaking up the orders I belong to in order to come into alien orders.” This aesthetic obligation is utterly ethical, a testament to the poet’s social responsibility.
Keenaghan's gloss is true, I suppose, but tonally jarring: the adventure, the romance of Duncan's "alien orders" (like Ruth amid the "alien corn," in Keats) is lost. Duncan's vision may be ethical, even "utterly" ethical (whatever that means), but it's not only ethical, not simply a matter of "social responsibility."


Ooh! Duncan and Browning? Nice!
Duncan writes of his admiration of Robert Browning’s dramatic lyric: “Against the private property of self, he created a community of selves, taking existence in other times and place, other lives, other persons” (113). This community facilitates the writer’s development of “conscience,” which “lies in the depth and wholeness of his
involvement in the work where it is” (114). Such “involvement”—in both the senses of “participation” (another recurrent word) and of “folding” (as in the author’s invagination into the text)—precipitates what Duncan terms “a crisis in language and world,” not a consolidation of one’s opinion about either (114).
Not sure about that "invagination," but the rest I like, including the attention to various senses of "involvement."


Useful, this:

The crisis at the heart of Duncan’s Vietnam-era poetic is summed up in the following sentence: “All national allegiances—my own order as an American—seemed to be really betrayals of the larger order of Man” (115). If we are not open to the multiple possibilities language awakens us to, if we choose the nation-state and its way of speaking over the other possibilities presented by poetry and its inwardly and outwardly conflicted authors, we lack the resources to productively contrast Americans’ liberalist understanding of personhood as private, bourgeois, and propertied, as well as proper and proprietary. We opt to become like President Johnson, who, in “reading a script rationalizing his monstrous actions, written by a
public relations agent, is dehumanized by a mediating language” (138). If we read poetry, rather than a propagandistic script, we have a better chance of encountering “an other speech”; our new linguistic contacts reintroduce us to our selves. Alienated and altered, we find ourselves “belonging to the process of the Cosmos,” not to the
“progress” lauded by modernity and Western nations (123, 114).
Now we move into the LOVE part of the essay, from Eris to Eros. A longish passage, which quotes a longish passage, worth quoting.

First Keenaghan, then Duncan, then K again:

To conduct his chief enterprise of narrating “the fiction of what Man is,” “the would-be poet stands like Psyche in the dark, taken up in a marriage with a genius, possessed by a spirit outside the ken of those about him” (H.D. 1.3: 67, 68). Alienated from his “ken,” the male poet cross-identifies with his gendered mythic other and imagines himselfas “possessed” and “married” to a force that dispossesses him of himself. As in the classic myth, Eros is that husband:
We are drawn to Him, but we must also gather Him to be. We cannot, in the early stages, locate Him; but He finds us out. Seized by His orders, we “fall in love,” in order that He be; and in His duration the powers of Eros are boundless. We are struck by His presence, and in becoming lovers we become something other than ourselves, subjects of a daemonic force previous to our humanity. (69)
Through eroticism, liberalist fictions of personhood are undone. Vulnerability, becoming undone by an otherness that augments us, is necessary, though risky, for telling the tale of the human differently.

Because politics is born from an irresistible seduction, Duncan does not speak of writers as Romantic agents realizing their will through authorship; instead, writers are, first and foremost, readers. In reading we are most vulnerable, or open, to desire’s unknowing nature and thus to language’s politically transformative force.

Poetry therefore obliquely restores human agency to politics, which Duncan reconceives as politicized passion: “What we follow is enacting the role of Isis in reading or writing, for we must search and gather what we are searching for as we do so” (“Two Parts” 98). Just as Isis must collect and reassemble her husband Osiris’s dismembered body, readers are charged with collecting and remembering a desire deemed irreconcilably other.


“And those of us who saw and acknowledged came into a work or quest: to gather up out of the darkness of democracy and communism the thing we saw. It was the new Adam. It was the new Eros that Psyche saw” (98).


To write is “to recall the Palace of Eros,” Duncan writes elsewhere in The H.D. Book (1.6: 132).
I think I need to read The H.D. Book.


Near the end of the piece, Keenaghan begins to convey some of the romance of Duncan's ideas, catching their tone in a way I enjoy:
This queer nationalism is a process of establishing cosmopolitanism that begins when we set pen to paper or pick up a book, those acts through which we find ourselves “leaving the mother-land or father-land of the national state and entering a Mother-land of an international dream” (132). In sum, poetry’s political act begins when we let the written word we have gathered seduce us, when we let the page lure us into a global, communal life that has not yet come to pass. Such beginnings are endings, too; for when we accept them, we also embrace the termination of our fealty to the state, at least for the duration of reading and writing, and instead think in terms of the life of the world. To embrace such an attitude is always painful. Finding one’s self necessitates declaring war on the only life, on the only nation and self, one has ever known.
This set of ideas strikes me as useful in reading, not only Duncan, but a variety of other poets (Ammiel Alcalay, for example). And the piece as a whole has introduced me to some exciting passages from Duncan's prose: essays, The H.D. Book, the letters. I found it less helpful as a reading of particular poems (i.e., "Up Rising") and as you've seen, I experienced a visceral revulsion against some of its political material. Still, all in all, I'm glad I read it.

More of these to come.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Easing Back

Spending such time--so much time, I mean--teaching romance fiction this quarter that poetry has become extra-curricular again: inviting, escapist, romantic in its own right.

This is, I think, a very good thing indeed.

Bronk & Duncan, recently. And, for the plane tomorrow, Lisa Steinman's introduction to the art, which I've had on my shelf unread months now.

Easing back.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Is To Be Done?

"No serious poetry can be described as self-expression."
--Robin Blaser

You know how, in football, they have a "two-minute drill"? Two minutes left in the half or the game, and they snap off a series of plays without a huddle, maximizing yards in the time that's left? (I think that's what it means, anyway. It's been decades since I watched a football game.)

So here's the deal: I'm in a six-week drill.

Six weeks from now, my fourth NEH Summer Seminar, "Say Something Wonderful: Teaching the Pleasures of Poetry" kicks off at DePaul. Six weeks from now the final, copyedited manuscript of New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction heads off to MacFarland. Six weeks from now this unfortunate--but productive--academic year will be gone, daddy, gone.

What do I need to write & do by then, or to get there?
  1. Wrap up logistics for the NEH seminar. Books, readings, housing, stipends, festivities, etc.
  2. Do reading for the NEH seminar--not just the assigned stuff, but a general refresher course, to shift back into poetry-teaching mode.
  3. Choose the poets / texts for my Modern Poetry survey next fall. Something new, but not too new. Sick of the huge sweeping survey, but if I only did, say, 6 or 8 poets, who would they be? (British, Irish, American, as I please.)
  4. Prep and teach another four weeks of classes. Ahem. Which means something like four more novels. (I miss teaching poems. Four more poems I could handle.)
  5. Revise the introduction to the New Approaches book.
  6. Revise my own essay for the New Approaches book.
  7. Edit four more essays, maybe five, for NA.
  8. Write and distribute the Call for Papers for JPRS, the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.
  9. Assorted work for IASPR, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance.
  10. Do more fundraising and planning for the Brisbane Conference (AKA "Popular Romance Studies: an International Conference")
  11. Decide on the topic for my own Brisbane paper. Can write it in July? While teaching NEH seminar? Hmmm...
  12. Take care of final logistics for Brisbane: hotels, publicity, contact with local authors and writers' groups, etc.
  13. Revise my monograph proposal on romance fiction (including Byatt? Many decisions to be made for this, still.)
  14. Learn (on trumpet) the music I'll be performing with my son's junior high school band.
  15. Learn (on guitar) the parts for five more Alte Rockers songs. (Have I told y'all about the Alte Rockers? Remind me to do so, if not.)
What do I not need to do in the next six weeks?
  1. Finish the Crusie book introduction, and get that moving again. (That's first off the bat AFTER Brisbane, when I'm chuffed and ready for action.)
  2. Decide on future long-term projects (books, peer-reviewed articles, etc.). Many sound promising right now, but there's no need to choose among them until I get past the short-term hurdles.
  3. Buy or learn any other musical instrument.
  4. Give myself grief over anything. Eh-nee-thing. Including whether or not I'm blogging, here or anywhere else.
There's probably more, but that's enough for now. More as it comes to me.

And, since I'm going to Australia, how about a signoff song from Yothu Yindi?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Opened, tonight, The Opening of the Field.

"I saw a snake-like beauty in the living changes of syntax."

Thinking that I may need this back.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


A scatter of very sweet emails and comments have me rethinking the shut-down. If I can think of ways to make this sucker sing, I'll bring it back. Suggestions on the ways are certainly welcome, although I suspect they have more to do with everything going on in my non-virtual life (classes, commitments, etc.) than with varieties of blogging experience.

In any case, I'm touched. And grateful.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Shutting Down

Well, folks, it's time to make this official.

As of today, I'm shutting down this blog.

The keeping-up-with-friends that I did on this blog I do now via Facebook and Twitter. The thinking out loud that I did here? *Sigh* Well, I hope it was of use to somebody, but given my promotion debacle this year, I think we can all say that it didn't serve me very well, and it's sure not going to help me in the future.

If you think that's galling, imagine how I feel about my NEH seminar work. My college made it clear: teaching an NEH seminar for K-12 teachers is less valuable than writing a peer-reviewed journal article, even if the former changes lives and the latter usually drops without a ripple into the MLA / JSTOR / MUSE vortex.

I could cry, folks, but what's the point? The Powers That Be have spoken.

I'll still be on line; you can find me at Teach Me Tonight and Romancing the Blog and maybe my old Big Jewish Blog too. But my heart's just not in this blog anymore, and with this school year coming to a close, it just seems time to stop and take stock of what's worth going on with, at least in professional terms.

Maybe this summer will set me right. Maybe working with teachers again, or going to Brisbane, will make me want to take up blogging about poetry and teaching again. For now, though, I'm just sad, and tired, and done.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Myself and Strangers?

Gertrude Stein says somewhere that she writes "for myself and strangers."

I need something more than that, I think.

Writing simply for myself--an essay, for example, written solely to advance my career--feels a bit unsatisfying, although now that I know the promotion demands it, I'll write a few this way. They won't be entirely "for myself" now, after all, but for my family, just as the pieces I wrote before tenure were. (Each essay, each book, had a job to do, then. Once I had tenure, that motivation vanished, and I flailed about for a very long time before finding something more that I cared enough to write.)

Writing for strangers? I've never done it. In theory I find it an intriguing idea: to write about something that I think is worth knowing, without any particular audience in mind. In practice, though, I don't think I'd be motivated to get the job done.

What I like, in the end, is writing for--and editing for, and organizing for--someone or something or some group of people that I actually care about.

The love poetry book wasn't just to get me tenure: it was everything I knew about love at the time, a portrait, however distanced, of the first years of my marriage. The Jewish American poetry book grew out of a couple of friendships; so did the Ron Johnson book, although that was also for Ron himself, a sweet man and a lovely poet, and for my father, who wanted me to finish it, so I did, eventually.

The Parnassus pieces? As the years have gone by, they've often been written for Herb, the editor there, who had faith in me across years of writer's block. The one about poets in novels was written to advance the romance project, in gratitude to the RWA for their support; my latest, about Taha Muhammad Ali and Mahmoud Darwish (and Samih al-Qasim) grew out of my meeting Taha years ago in Chicago, and has turned into a chance to spread the word to colleagues (at DePaul and in the Jewish community) about some books that matter, deeply, to me.

As I look ahead, the projects that draw me most keenly are the ones that I connect to groups of friends and colleagues, and nowadays that mostly means friends and colleagues in Romancelandia, where they abound. What I need to find, alongside these, are some poetry projects that I connect with specific readers (you know who you are) or poets for whom I feel the same personal affection I did for Ron. As I type this, I realize: this is one reason I've never tried to gather my stray essays into a collection, or hammer them into a monograph. The question that pops into my mind ("Who'd read it?") isn't a rhetorical one or a critique of the academic publishing industry. It's a practical one: whom among my friends, my colleagues, my family, would that book be for?

As I say, it may be that the pressure of the promotion will change these dynamics. Maybe I'll start churning out copy like a text machine (get on up!), simply to put those notches in my CV. Knowing this about myself, though, I suspect that I'm better off using this insight to sort out priorities. The pieces that aren't "for myself and strangers" are the ones I'll be most motivated to write, to finish, to publish, and with limited time, I might as well start there.