Thursday, November 26, 2009

american (sic) hybrid


A quote from Holderlin:

"There is only one real quarrel in the world: which is more important, the whole or the individual part."

Poetry, or the poem?

Process, or product?

In practice, poets do seem to make a choice between the two—I'm hardly the first to note this . . .

I'm sorry, but I don't think this "one real quarrel" can be ended or resolved by proclamation—

Of course you can always assert that your "American [sic] Hybrid" has transcended this argument,

and sell your illusory empty amalgam,

market your scam (or dream) . . . but?

As to which option is preferable, surely it depends on the personality of the poet?

"The whole" or "poetry" worked for O'Hara,

while "
the individual part" or "the poem" worked for Larkin.

You can't say either of them made the wrong choice.


Monday, November 23, 2009

nother reason I quit the Pobiz

Michael Robbins on my malfeasance:

(see my earlier post on this: . . . )

This is one of his many imprecations against me, as featured on his blog:

"Some of the Lulu books are prefaced by two pages of anti-blurbs (”[Bill Knott is] incompetent” & so on), many of them wrenched from the context of appreciative reviews, by the likes of Christopher Ricks . . ."

I can't find my xerox of the Christopher Ricks review (The Massachusetts Review, Spring 1970 issue), but have ordered another one which should arrive in about a week and which I will then scan in its entirety onto this blog as a jpeg file, where anyone can make their own judgement as to whether it is indeed an "appreciative review" . . .

To say that "many of" the quotes I print in my LULU books are "wrenched from the context of appreciative reviews" is untrue—one or two of them may be wrenched thus, though I would dispute even that, and would claim that even those one or two are not inaccurate in spirit—

and then there's this: in many of the LULU books I also include two pages of favorable blurbs and excerpts from reviews which actually are appreciative—

Does Michael Robbins consider these latter also fraudulent?

All the quotes I use are sourced, and all those sources can be checked out by anyone who wants the truth,

though I suspect that these sensationalist accusations of my malfeasance in this matter

are a paparazzian fanfaronade so coquettish in its hyberbole, so gossipy-glicksome,

that few if any will bother to seek out and verify the mere factual.



Sunday, November 22, 2009


I assume the decision of the National Book Award judges to give the poetry prize this year to a book published by the University of California Press

was meant to be a rebuke to those UCal students who are denouncing tuition increases and the elimination of their services at that school—

the judges are in effect chiding these protesters:

Ingrates! look at what your money goes to support: great works of verse like this! You should be proud and thankful that your money is used to publish 50 dollar volumes like this one.

Isn't that why the judges made their choice: isn't it intended to admonish those rebellious youths and their lack of appreciation for the value of the cultural capital produced by this university?

Surely the judges have voted yea to the established priorities of UCal, in particular the budget decisions made in the past, which granted such wise funding to its poetry series.

The judges have taken their stand in support of the status quo—

the judges have issued a censure against any student

who might object to wasteful expeditures by academic authorities responsible for fostering artistic extravagances like the one being honored on this occasion—

It seems obvious that the NBA poetry judges opted to pick a book published by a university press

(any UnivPress book, it didn't matter which)

as a show of support for the efforts of such presses,

some of whose poetry series are in danger of being curtailed or cut altogether in the current financial crisis,

and of course as a protest against the defunding of those presses and those poetry series.

(One guesses the next National Robogenetics Awards will be decided along similar lines.)


Saturday, November 21, 2009


support ERGO or die

From Derek Humphry
To: All ERGO supporters

November 2009

Oh dear! This is another begging letter! - But a nonprofit organization such as ERGO has to live.

In the past you have contributed generously, or purchased our literature, and we thank you sincerely.

Sales of our books and DVD pay for themselves, with a modest profit margin, but our overheads are still there -- technical support, equipment upgrades, internet and telephone fees, utilities, data processing, printing, postage and so on.

Starting in l993, ERGO is the premier distributor of news about right to die: 2 web sites, a blog, and a popular News List which you probably get. Also on Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, Scribd and DocStoc. Without a news stream our cause will not flourish.

ERGO has no staff, no office, but of course it must outsource some of the work that cannot be handled from home. And every day people with problems and queries approach ERGO for help - and usually get it.

We live in difficult economic times, but if you feel able to make a tax-deductible contribution to ERGO it would be a vital addition to the progress of the right-to-die movement. (Tax ID # 93-1118314)

Thank you.
Derek Humphry, President, ERGO
(Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization)

Make checks out to:
ERGO, 24829 Norris Lane, Junction City, Oregon 97448

To give via the internet, use ERGO's Bookstore
and click on the very last box which says 'Contribute to ERGO'
Quick Link
Contact Information
24829 Norris Lane
Junction City, OR 97448



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

more of the same

Brilliant poet-critic Michael Robbins has posted a note about me on his blog,

in which he ridicules and mocks me for having to self-publish my books . . .

Robbins is a very gifted young poet whose first collection when it appears is sure to be hailed as the debut of a major talent, and whose prowess as a critic can be attested by the fact that his reviews/essays are featured regularly in major periodicals like the London Review of Books and Poetry et al—

Robbins finds it amusing that I have been blacklisted by editors (see my verse blog to view scans of just a few of the rejection notices I've received),

and that I have been reduced to the humiliating status of vanity-poet—

(If a legitimate publisher for my poetry books could be found, I wouldn't be publishing them myself, would I—no-one wants to suffer the ignominy of being a vanity author)—

Of course Robbins is just another of the many authorities who over the years have delighted in sneering at me, in jeering the pariah —

I've gotten used (after decades of it) to being ridiculed and scorned for my failures.

It's par for the course of my career.

To cite just one example among many,

imagine this scenario:

Poetry Magazine publishes a review of the latest book by Robert Pinsky,

in which the reviewer takes the opportunity to report a rumor he's heard, a rumor which states that Pinsky is terrified of giving poetry readings—

imagine the response such a review might evoke—

but when Poetry published a review of one of my books where the reviewer did exactly that:

where the reviewer (after summarily dismissing my verse) printed a rumor that I was "terrified" (the word he used) to give poetry readings—

When Poetry allowed its reviewer to include, in his ostensible review of my book, that false rumor about me,

what happened? Nothing. Did they receive letters of protest or outrage? Of course not.

Poetry Magazine knew they could print any untruth, any rumor about me, and no-one would care, no-one would object—

and no-one did.

Indeed the only consequence that followed Poetry Magazine's news-report that I was afraid to give poetry readings,

the only consequence was this: all my reading invitations dried up—nobody invited me to read anywhere anymore.

Like I said above: par for the course.

So I'm used to being condescended to—the contempt and disdain expressed by Robbins

is nothing new in my life. It's just more of the same.

I am tired of the endless derision directed at me from every quarter en masse—

though of course the worst thing about it, is that I know I deserve it:

the world is right to condemn and curse me, to ban my work and shun me away, ostracize me—

its verdict is not unjust.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

please note


Sam Hamill is experiencing some serious financial hardship at present—medical treatments not covered by insurance, an inability to teach, a very modest pension. The poets Marilyn Hacker and Alfred Corn have been raising funds to help. Donations of all sizes will be appreciated. They can be sent care of Alfred Corn to: P.O. Box 214, Hopkinton, RI 02833 U.S.A.

(note: reprinted from the BAP blog)


beautiful poem by Tom Clark

this is impressive:


the flow, the melodic momentum, the words in their intricate meaning(s),

it's all done with such subtle touches, in perfect control of his technique—

Clark seems to be posting poems as he writes them,

and this latest one is a brilliant example of the pleasures his blog presents—


magnificent poem by Amy King

here's a poem I read a year or so ago, and it's kept a presence in my mind since . . . :

it's by Amy King:


I’m in love with a man who doesn’t love me
with the pages of the book he sees from.
He makes love through his syllabic ink, a salted thunder,
leaves me to my own delirium tremors.
I gouge out his eyes, break the yolk across his shoulders,
disembowel the nectar from his liver.
His toxins become a cherry blossom wine.
He sounds in the brain’s eagled hollows
of a soft guitar from a Spanish café
among the mountain peaks in nightshade.
He cannot hide, no matter how many goats he scares
or biscuits he throws at the hunger.
The mother of everyone calls him.
His fright is an orb of Hold me, I’m yours,
crisp and curled with age’s yellow
and the godless sunburn you love across your nose.
I am that love you light yourself with
and my gender is powerless in this.
We are metered only by our own machines,
while the book is a clock that forgets her mechanics.
Her hands can count but would rather wipe warm dew,
the pall from your lips and kiss the lids
of your eyes from sleep. Here am I, is he,
with yoke and shadow removed, she is, her in me,
apart from you, man reading men by the lips of women.


—this is magnificent writing: the images are vivid and fresh, the rhythms/sounds are evocative and ear-catching . . .

if I had a quibble, it might be the poem's periodic structure. Like those three two-line sentences at the beginning—this is too static and monotonous perhaps. There are too many sentence stops. They halt the impetus of the emotion, I think.

I don't understand every metaphor, but that doesn't matter much in my appreciation.

The last phrase "man reading men by the lips of women" echoes of course the title,

and (here's another quib)

is such an interesting and potentially rich concept that I wish she had used it (or variations) as a refrain/echo/recurring trope within/throughout—

Petty qualms aside, this is a poem I've found engaging and well worth rereading.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

repost—this originally appeared here in May 09


The Shampoo (From The Nightingales) by David Wojahn

How long it must have been, the girl’s hair,
cascading down her shoulders almost to her waist,
light brown and heavy as brocade: the story I’m

remembering of N’s, remembering as my own
hair’s washed and cut, the salt-and-pepper
cuneiform to frill my barber’s smock.

Arts and Science is expanding. The wall
to the empty shop next door pulled down
and a dozen workmen slink improbably

on scaffolds butting the dusty ceiling,
cacophony and plastic tarps, the whirr
of drills that mingles with the dryers’

jittery hums, the scissors’ flash,
veronicas of clicks, the coloring, the curling,
the antique cash register,

melodious with its chime. And best,
the liquid gurgle of hands massaging scalps
the row of sinks, twelve hands and six

wet scalps in a line. I’m next, and leaning back
(let me wash it in this big tin basin,
battered and shiny like the moon)

to the hiss of warm water cataracts
and Andrea’s long fingers. But I’m remembering
the girl in N’s story, the girl

she was at six. This is Birmingham,
1962, Rapunzel-tressed girl
whose parents are more glimpsed than known,

the Family Romance, mid-century American-
style, the child fetching ice
for the father’s drink, the far-off lovely

scent of mother’s perfume. More glimpsed
than known, separate phantom lights
edging from beneath closed doors

those nights she couldn’t sleep. Not the Birmingham
of sit-ins, the firehoses trained on
placard-waving crowds. But the Birmingham

of Saturdays when Anne-Marie would arrive
as always on the city bus by six,
before the parents’ cars would pull away.

Then the cleaning until noon, the cooking smells.
And then the big tin basin filled
at the backyard faucet by Anne-Marie,

the long brown fingers in the child’s hair,
the water sluicing, warm from the garden hose,
the soap suds almost flaring, the fingers

ten spokes over scalp and basin, their paths
through the hair and down the child’s back,
the synesthetic grace notes of the hands,

the stitchery, the trill, the body electric,
the fingertip pressure exquisite as it sings,
the braille of here and here and here.

David Wojahn, “The Shampoo (from ‘The Nightingales’)” from The Falling Hour. 1997.

Narrative poems like this one exasperate confuse and (increasingly) infuriate me.

First of all, what's Wojahn doing in this hair salon getting his hair shampooed, why doesn't he just shampoo it at home in the shower like most people? He seems to be a regular customer here, since he knows the hairstylist by name (line 23) . . .

In other words, he's doing something most of us don't do, and in reality

most people can't afford to have their hair shampooed at a salon,

he's doing something unusual but he doesn't acknowlege that fact, nor does he offer any justification for this abnormal practice——he's not a moviestar for chrisakes, so why—whatfor?

The poem is from a 1997 book, so presumably this hairparlor scene occurs in the mid '90s, in retrospect a kind of golden age of prosperity for some if not most in the US, post-Cold War surplus and surfeit, the Clinton years of flush expenditures—

the salon's business is booming, its chairs are filled (lines 18/19),

profits are rife and Professor Wojahn can you blame him wants to look as prosperous and spif as your average tv-anchor,

coiffed to the max—


How long it must have been, the girl’s hair, [WHAT GIRL? WHERE?]
cascading down her shoulders almost to her waist, [CASCADING? CASCADING? YOU'RE REALLY GOING TO USE THAT WORD?]
light brown and heavy as brocade:[CASCADE/BROCADE: I GET IT] the story I’m

remembering of N’s, [N? WHO THE FUCK IS N? N? WHY AREN'T YOU TELLING ME WHO N IS?] remembering as my own
hair’s washed and cut, the salt-and-pepper



—on the poem goes, throwing in these absurd words, absurd because wrenched out of any authentic context and used to hype up/poeticize the content:

"veronicas of clicks" etcet . . .

Veronica: a word used in bullfighting, the term for a particular cape-move by the matador, transformed here by Wojahn to describe the thrusts of the scissors as they cut (lines 13, 14):

which makes Wojahn the bull, and Andrea his stylist the toreador about to impale him:

cuneiform / bull . . . it's positively Minoan. Ancient sacrificial rites in Cretan caves . . . (is that where the "nightingales" comes in, from Greek mythology?)

And where's the "story" these first few inept "set-up" lines have promised? when does the poem get to that story,

and what the hell happens in that story? Hunh? "N"


told a story about what?——

"the Family Romance, mid-century American- / style, the child fetching ice / for the father’s drink, the far-off lovely // scent of mother’s perfume."

How many cliche phrases can you pack into one sentence, how much flat prose can you stick into one poem, but is THAT the "story"?

No, no, that's not it, the poem is more than half over,

and the "story" it's promised in the beginning has still not appeared, so what is the "story"?——


—why would any reader put up with such indirection and procrastination?—

I give up. Is THIS the goddamn story:

on Saturday nights Anne Marie would wash my hair

——is THAT the "story" told by "N"?

—the "story" told to Wojahn by the mysterious "N" on what occasion I wonder, I'm trying to imagine the scene where Wojahn and "N" are swapping shampoo memories . . .

And why the hell is the poem so duplicitous in its narrative: why does it make the reader think for half of its length that "the girl" and "N" are two separate characters (and to confuse things even more, we have "Andrea" in line 19)——

what's the point of misleading us like that?

—Why are "Andrea" and "Anne Marie" spelled out as whole names, and "N" is only an initial: what's the point? What does that mean? What is the goddamn significance of that? What does Wojahn want the reader to understand about this difference in nomenclature—? It must be important, it's too blatant to be an oversight . . .

I give up.

The 3rd and 4th stanzas, are they nonsequitir: that "Art and Science" building, presumably an outreach project of Wojahn's own university, what's it doing here? What's the point? Its construction noises, the "whir of drills" forcing, bulling their way into the act—? What's the message here: 'Observe my power: the architectual thrust of the institutional majesty I represent': another reinforcement, a reiteration of his professorial status, virile blaring expressions of his clout. Look on my works ye mighty and despair—

I hate this poem. Everything in it is specious pretentious and disgusting to me.

. . . the unattributed quote from Elizabeth Bishop in the 7th stanza: arrogant, smarmy, nudge nudge wink wink to the reader, Yes you and I, we know those lines don't we, we the literate—


—I just don't get poems like this. Trivial idle anecdotes, their prosaic plodding lines larded with out of the vestpoetrypocket words like cuneiform and veronicas, stuck in like the raisins in raisinbread,——

fuh! phu! fugh!


Friday, November 6, 2009

Hilda Morley unjustly forgotten poet

Complaining that dead poet X has been unjustly forgotten and neglected is just pointless blather—

if you think Hilda Morley (or whoever) deserves rescuing from oblivion,

then do it: contact the executor of Morley's estate, the copyright holder, and work with them—

If you can't find a publisher willing to assume the costs of publishing and promoting a big Selected (or even a Collected),

nor a publisher to publish a book of essays about Morley,

then start a Morley appreciation website with a Paypal donation option and solicit money to help fund the cost of publishing that Selected (or Collected),

and also solicit essays etcet from poets and profs (and poet-profs) who admire Morley and are willing to donate their time and effort in writing such appreciations—

And when you collect enough donations to help fund the book's publication, work with a publisher to do that—

Not just a big Selected or Collected Poems, but also an accompanying volume of essays devoted to Morley—

If you really wanted to revive interest in an obscure poet, wouldn't you take such steps?

Whining on your blog that Morley (or anybody else) has been "unjustly forgotten" is easy,

too easy, and too self-congratulatory:

Look at me, I care about this unfairly neglected poet! Aren't I admirable for drawing attention to this injustice! (Emile Zola got nothin' on me)—

Put your money where your mouth is, put your time and effort into practical schemes to bring Morley back from the abebooks abyss,

and I'll respect you—

I won't agree with you that she's worth rescuing, but I'll respect you—

As I respect the editors of the Larry Eigner Collected soon to be issued:

price of the Eigner? — 150 dollars!

I wouldn't pay 1.50 for an Eigner book,
but so what—

As I wrote in a post below, I don't believe there are any unjustly forgotten 20th Century USAPO—

the myth of the unjustly forgotten dead poet

is simply porno for poor versifiers who know how soon they'll be forgotten after their own deaths—


Thursday, November 5, 2009


I never try to do what those in the other arts do, composers, painters, and them,

I only try to do what other poets do,

except when other poets try to do what those in the other arts do,

in which case I don't.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

unjustly forgotten USA poets of the 20th Century

I can’t think of any unjustly for­got­ten USA poets of the 20th Century because there are none—

attempts to res­ur­rect poets unread in their life­times are futile, no matter how much money uni­ver­sity presses waste in the effort, or how many pages the Norton adds onto each edition—

and no matter how many of us vainly delude ourselves it’s possible—

poets' self­ish rea­sons for per­pet­u­at­ing this myth are obvious—

the only poets posthu­mously recov­er­able are those whose work wasn’t avail­able before their death (Dick­in­son, Rimbaud, Plath et al)—

Hope springs eternal and all that, but one can't fatuously indulge in fantasy

all the time, one has to sober up sometimes—

To take as an example, my own particular case:

No one reads me now, ergo no one is going to read me a decade from now when I'm dead—

I can't console myself with the illusion that "posterity" will see merits in my poetry that contemporary readers and critics didn't—

it doesn't happen that way.

It never happens that way.

And to pretend/profess otherwise is simply another of the endless lies failed poets pathetically plaster our wounds with.

Afterthought: you may point to the recent two-volume Norton Mod/Con to refute my contention that obscure poets aren't recoverable,

and yes, there are some additions to that canonical anthol

which might qualify—

but while the Norton may be infinitely expandable (especially when it's tranferred into a web-based entity),

semesters and student brains aren't—

and when the next batch of po-profs careerwardly restore the reps of other po-oblivo's,

and this latter slate of rescuees has to be wedged-in to the mix,

what then? Just as James Stephens and others were excised to provide room for Loy/Niedecker et al in the current edition of the Mod/Con,

won't some (and eventually most) of the recent insertees have to be similarly sacrificed in the future?—

In the long run, as each succeeding edition is forced to include other regilded relics,

eventually all or nearly all of your dug-up oldies will be axed and will fade once more to their former forgotteny.

Niedecker (or Jack Spicer et al) is less a poet than a pornstar,

an autoerotic fantasy dreamed up to satisfy the jugjug desires of justly neglected poets whose only hope to ever be read is this absurd fetish fantasy of posthumous reparation—