Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Advice to Poets from People Who Know Better

The art of advice is hard to master. I have failed completely at dispensing useful wisdom to others in every role of my life, in love, in friendship, in families, in poetry, in business, and (certainly, god help us all) as a youth soccer coach. In an undoubtedly related development, Other people's direct advice to me is impossible to follow. Forget whether or not the advice would be right for me, I can't even put it into practice to see. It's like a physical impediment.

Yet, sometimes, reading or listening to a smart someone on a particular matter—dog training, the mars rover, climate control—I find their words apt to my own private obsession. This is particularly true regarding my obsession with the completely magnetic and substance-less art, poems. Herewith, some bang-up, spot-on advice for poets (at least for this poet) from people talking about other things, all gleaned from the same July 11 issue of the New York Review of Books:
William Casey King's Ambition, A History cites a famous chapter title in Tocqueville's Democracy in America: "Why There are So Many Men of Ambition in the United Stats But So Few Lofty Ambitions."
Assignment: Define "Lofty." For that matter, define "Men of Ambition."
"We ought to be wary of the ambitious, [David Bromwich says that] Plutarch says, but we should court them when they are companionable. They are close to our deeper nature and their excess adds a welcome friction to the mediocrity of the human scene." 
Assignment: Define "Ambitious". Define "Mediocrity."

Then, some straight up advice that needs no further definition from a few guys who work the ground just adjacent to words:
"[Eric Fischl] writes that light, 'contains mystery and revelation simultaneously.'"
"Fischl remembers Chuck Close remarking that 'when you make something that looks like art, it's probably someone else's art.'"
"Alex Katz, in turn, told him that 'you have to learn to paint [write] as fast as you think. If you [write] faster than your ability to focus and concentrate, you will miss your mark—and if you paint slower than your inspiration, you'll get bored and distracted.'" 
Assignment: To Put into Practice.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

I loved happening upon Rachel Whiteread's cube downtown in the spot where it first emanated in our fair city — and brought with it "Gloss, Upwards" from The Pitch — but I'm happy to have it in mid-town, too. Thank you, MoMA.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Problems & Solutions

"Insanity and poetry are old kin" writes Daniel Pritchard in his piece on Everyone Has a Mouth in Critical Flame. Coincidentally I just finished Anthony Storr's Feet of Clay. In the book's introduction, Storr writes:
Both revelation and delusion are attempts at the solution of problems. Artists and scientists realize that no solution is ever final, but that each new creative step points the way to the next artistic or scientific problem. In contrast those who embrace religious revelations and delusional systems tend to see them as unshakeable and permanent.
It's not clear to me if Ernst Herbeck's condition extended from his verbal flights to an encompassing system. But even if the artful verbal patterning associated with schizonphrenia is simply the verbal "scratching" of a mental "itch", it remains a way to handle and temper what Storr calls "the chaos within."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Graham Foust's The Next Big Thing!

Who's the Next Big Thing? Graham Foust's the Next Big Thing! Watch for his Anacreon in Heaven & Other Poems coming this spring from the formidable Flood. And while you wait, check out three of his books and a translation that will stun you and wake you up both. Here's Graham's NBT:

What is the working title of your book (or story)?

To Anacreon in Heaven and Other Poems.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

From living in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s barn for a month, which is just to say that that’s where I started writing it.  I tend not to begin books with ideas, as the vast majority of my ideas are terrible.

What genre does your book fall under?

“The poem begins and ends in silence.  Why not call it nothing?”  (Allen Grossman)

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Any resemblance of my characters to actors—living or dead—is purely coincidental.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“There’s not even room enough to be anywhere.”  (from Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet”)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Flood Editions—bless them—will publish the book this spring.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I started writing it in July of 2009.  I can’t remember when I actually sent the draft to Flood.  Maybe fall of 2011? 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Saying it compares to nothing else would be arrogant, as would saying it compares to any of my favorite books.  I feel comfortable saying that I think a lot of the book’s spirit comes from William Gaddis’s Agapē Agape, which is neither in my genre nor anything like my book.  But I went to Gaddis’s book a lot while I was writing mine, and I think it helped me.  I’d also say that roughly 66% of the poetry I read while I was writing the book was written by Emily Dickinson.  But that may be just as true of my other books. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 

The book makes no use of enjambment and some of the poems are quite long.  I used to be a “short-line, short-poem guy,” so this is a chance for people who really like that sort of thing to accuse me of changing for the worse and a chance for people who really don’t like that sort of thing to give me another chance.  Also, the book’s cover is a piece by John Stezaker, and he’s a genius.

My tagged writers:

Thomas Pynchon
Claire Becker


Saturday, January 26, 2013

The next Next Big Thing . . .

Thanks to Rebecca Kinzie Bastian, author of the forthcoming Charms for Finding, for inviting me to participate in The Next Big Thing—a blog chain that has been circulating in which participating writers answer ten questions about their books, then tag another who tags another who tags another . . . Check out Rebecca's Next Big Thing, Miranda Field's Next Big Thing, the Next Big Thing from Dennis Prieto (White Malinche, 2014) and one forthcoming from Graham Foust.
What is your working title of your book (or story)?
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Lingering over Anthony McCann’s Moongarden, I came across the reference to a poem by Jaime Saenz called “Homenaje a la epilepsia.” I’d heard of Saenz because of the translations by Forest Gander and Kent Johnson collected in a book called Immanent Visitor, but I hadn’t actually read it. My son has epilepsy so I am always hunting down ways to better understand what it means to understand the condition from inside the experience. Google gave me the poems in Spanish, but for some reason (bad googling) I couldn’t find easy access to a translation into English. I decided to translate them myself with my poor-to-non-existent Spanish and my sense of the lived experience of epilepsy. The resulting poems took on a life of their own and continued to evolve as I worked on them. Eventually I did read the Gander and Johnson translations and discovered that their book includes selections translated from “Homenaje a la epilepsia,” but by then it was too late. My own “translations” had veered off in their own direction and were propagating like mad. 
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Since every voice and figure, every “you” and “I” in this book is both me and not-me, clinician and patient, it’s better to let the reader allow each voice and figure, each “you” and “I” be their own self and not-. In other words, Stellan Skarsgård.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
“There’s a boy who stands where the door should be.” –from “The Door that Leads In and In but Never Out,” a poem in the manuscript
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Agents are not relevant for books of poems. I am definitely a fan of self-publishing for any author who has the spirit and energy to promote their book full time. Dickinson, Whitman and Blake are heralds of the future as much for how they controlled their poems’ entrance into the world as for the poems themselves. For myself, I treasure the collaboration that comes with publishing through an existing publisher and feel that my first two books, Live Feed and The Pitch, were vastly improved by publishing with Alice James Books. So I’m aiming to go the pre-existing publisher route again with a player to be named later.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Six weeks . . . from late July to early September. They came fast.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
As different as my book is from Jaime Saenz’s (and as much as I think my own poems suffer in comparison), any excuse to read his poems is a great one. I was reading a lot of Czeslaw Milosz while I was writing these poems as well. His hand-to-hand moral struggles with the material world and spiritual longing continue to surprise me. He's never top of mind if someone asks me for a favorite poet, but I can’t think of a poet I’ve read so frequently and with such continuing profit over the twenty years I’ve been reading him. While writing these poems, I was also reading a lot of Rimbaud’s Illuminations and from his selected letters, which is an altogether different animal than Milosz. In a way, Anthony McCann is most responsible for the manuscript because he led me to the trigger. But more than that, the perspective of a McCann poem—longing-and-lostness-at-a-slight-remove, passion infused with distance—inspires these poems as well. The poems take a Rimbauldian call to “be drunk with life” and let the experience progress into something akin to an actual drunken state—a little out of control, a wee bit numb, wanting closeness and not sure how to get it, straddling the uncertain horses of body and mind.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 
The final section ends up in a humid, fecund garden in my adopted hometown of Coxsackie, New York—a kind of oxygen machine that afforded me the time, space and lung capacity to write these poems. How can you not be interested in a book that lands you in a town named Coxsackie?