Adrienne Rich: Yes, I do, and I usually say to them—which I also believe to be true—“You were changing your life and you read my book or you read that poem at a point where you could use it, and I’m really glad, but you were changing your life.” Somehow when we are in the process of making…
This passage is terrific.
I can’t pretend to be familiar with Adrienne Rich’s work, and yet I can feel the magnitude of her passing. It’s a terrible loss for poetry, because she was, very clearly, a figure of great stature. The silver lining: she leaves behind a legacy in poetry, yes, but also in feminism. Rich has long been on my ever-growing list of poets to read. Perhaps her death is the push I needed to get her work into my hands.
Come join us as we celebrate the launch of The Hart House Review’s 20th Anniversary edition, and second year of national distribution!
There will be readings by Rob Benvie, Andrew McEwan, Jenn Gardner, Stevie Howell, Aaron Kreuter, Marlena Millikin, Tracy Kyncl, and Rebecca Melnyk.
Link to the Facebook event here.
I’m excited for this! My poem will be in print, and in good company at that.
Here’s a video. Don’t watch the video, it merely distracts. Scroll down instead, or close your eyes. And ignore the beginning and end notes uttered by the PBS NewsHour anchor. But please, stop and listen to Tony Hoagland read “Romantic Moment” (from Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty), a poem I love and am sharing to spread that love—my belated Valentine’s gift to you.
Also related, and also brilliant, and also from Unincorporated Persons is “Love,” a poem Tony read at SLS Montreal ‘11 and yet another master class in writing the funny/sad binary. He prefaced his recitation with a sly remark: “I really hate the title of this poem.” As if he wasn’t already my man-poet crush. I couldn’t locate a video of this or any other recitation, unfortunately, so I’ve transcribed the poem here:
The middle-aged man
who cannot make love to his wife
with the erectile authority of yesteryear
must lower his head and suck her breasts
with the tenderness and acumen of Walt Whitman.
And if the woman has lost her breasts
to the surgeon and his silver knife,
she must hump the man’s leg in the dark bedroom
like a rodeo bronco rider.
Let them be hard and wet again, respectively.
Let them convince, and be convinced.
It is the kind of heroic performance
that no one will ever mention.
It is the part of the journey where the staircase gets narrow
and you must turn sideways to pass.
Over the earth the clouds mutate and roll.
The trees catch their breath for another try.
Wind rips through the dried-out grass
with a threshing sound.
The man is going under the covers.
The woman letting him.
Both of them refusing
to be stopped by shame.
All that talk about love, and This
is what that word was pointing at.
That ending couplet. That fourth stanza. Can we just discuss Tony for a quick minute? Oh, you mean that’s what we’re doing currently? What a guy. I’m curious to hear what people think about the fifth stanza and its place within the greater whole. And re: “Romantic Moment,” you might be interested to know that the final lines Tony recites in the video (“Then she suggests that it is time for us to go / to get some ice cream cones, and eat them”) differ from those in Unincorporated Persons (“Then she suggests that it is time for us to go / do something personal, hidden, and human”). How do these different endings compare to you? I find that they express roughly the same sentiments, but slightly prefer the video version for its subtlety and innocence. Send your thoughts to bzuzarte (at) gmail (dot) com. Feel free to send me Sweet Ruin and What Narcissism Means to Me as well, please and thank you, since I’ve been meaning to pick them up.
I’m honoured that my poem, “And Hartley Played His Violin,” was published in The Hart House Review's online component. The poem will also be published in their print annual. Many thanks to the editors.
Hannah Stephenson, of The Storialist, has written a curious little poem in the voice of e-mail spam—you know, that universally despised crap collection: “you’ve won fake cruise tickets from this contest you never entered!” and penile/breast enhancement drugs and plain ol’ porn. E-mail spam proves an unexpectedly apt mode within which to write poems of aggression or infatuation. The persistence translates well, as does the feeling that something’s amiss.
The poet knows well to tread carefully in this experimental territory, lest her poem veer into gimmick. She weaves threads of spam isms (the “special offer”; an immediate, sustained sense of urgency; the wiring of funds; the denial of spam; the imperatives to “click here” and “act now”; and so on) alternately with intimate admissions (“I know that awful feeling when your body / remains indifferent to women”; “it may be difficult to stay / with a whole skin, to maintain wholeness”), and writes in the resulting tapestry a character who is by turns creepy and sympathetic. We are repulsed by the speaker’s obsessive flattery, yet can’t help noting that, just maybe, its underlying source is loneliness. Against our better judgment, we lend our ear.
You’ve realized, I’m sure, that Stephenson’s spam poetic must yield essential questions of literary readership. Be honest—what is writing if not spam? Text is sent to, and received by, the reader. Writing persists. The best poets are, in a sense, spam writers: duping the reader with words that conceal truth or are otherwise empty signifiers. So is there ever a worry that writing is invasive? A pertinent question to ask when, arguably, we are witness to an oversaturation of MFA programs.
Then there is the question of requitement. Spam is most often unrequited because either there is no option to requite (e.g., “no-reply” e-mails), or the recipient knows better not to. Is writing the same way? What is the requitement of the reader? Certainly, there exist options—criticism and correspondence—but these options are currently practiced by a relative few. Most readers receive but do not send.
Perhaps, unknowingly, I’ve written this post as a call to act now. More long-form commentary is needed in an age where micro-writing is the norm. Let us let criticism flow. Let us write meditative letters and e-mails. Two of the most capable women I know have started a blog that records their correspondence. In their words:
This blog, whose name [“the uncounted”] emerges from the concept of “open secrets,” wants to contend with structures of knowing and not knowing, speaking and not speaking. Among other things, we’re interested in discussing literature, film, identity, sympathy, feminism, theory, politics, and the affects that underlie our interaction with these concepts.
Follow their example. Heed the call.
The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart by Jack Gilbert
I think this poem killed me. The last thing I remember, I was enjoying the unique imagery, and now I find myself sitting in silence, heart stopped. Maybe not murder. Maybe an orgasm.
What I admire most in Jack Gilbert’s “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart” is its beautiful specificity. The poem is an exercise in phonaesthetics of name (“Michiko,” his now-deceased wife) and demonym (“French,” “Etruscan,” “Sumerian,” “Ethiopian,” “Egyptian,” and “Minoan”). The symbols, too, carry specific complements: not “O Lord, thou art salt and copper” but “O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper, / as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.” Subjects progress from single unadorned symbols to detailed complements, and overarchingly, the poem progresses from abstraction to specificity: the italicized nouns (“Love" > "God" > "Rome" > "Michiko”) in the second and third lines, for example. The specificity grows.
Specificity in poetry is a drug. Specifically, mine. Montreal in June witnessed an impossible transformation: fortunate me, in the months prior a lowly intern at Summer Literary Seminars, suddenly the teaching assistant of Tony Hoagland. Incomparable Tony Hoagland. Let’s just digress for a moment, shall we? I was on high-fiving terms with Tony. I called him Tony. The great American poet Tony Hoagland? Nope, just Tony to this moi. I got a voicemail from Tony. Tony bought me a drink at an open bar. In what world…? Digression over. Back to specificity—zing!
In workshop, Tony regularly stressed the importance of particularity in poetry. Our exercises largely comprised experiments with interesting, phonaesthetic diction. His lesson recalled the “sensory particulars” of Ezra Pound’s Imagism, but unlike Pound, Tony didn’t present it within a framework of concision—especially helpful to me given my desire to depart from a concise poetic. I got hooked on particularity, on specificity, and ever since I’ve seen it grow within me. In my writing for Poets and the News, for instance, I began to notice a sharp increase in faunal imagery. I had never before entered the animal world with such poetic abandon. Happily, I discovered that it housed a rich vocabulary and a fullness of sound. The derivatives found in scientific terms are often phonetically alluring: “ducula goliath,” “megapode,” “superprecociality,” “markhor,” “capra falconeri,” “imagines,” “holometabolic,” “exuvia,” etc. Then there’s the surprise, too, of nominal compounding, which offers an attractive vibrancy: “spoonbill,” “caddisflies,” “antlions,” “lacewings,” and so on. Likewise, I recently wrote a poem about a room whose interior design featured prominently, and so too did design terminology feature prominently. I came across a palette of intriguing colours and materials: “canary,” “teal,” “cornsilk,” “acrylic,” “gouache,” “eggshell,” “tangerine,” “linen,” and more. All of these words are specific in sound and meaning because their uses are so specific, and bizarrely, consequently, I’ve learned to embrace scientific jargon as a poetic mine.
I’ve also learned to appreciate my education in Linguistics as a great writing asset. I reckon it’s to thank for my improved diction, what with the phonetic training and all. And who says the study of Linguistics is irrelevant with no practical career applications? I mean, of course, who besides my bank account?
"Forgotten Dialect" is a poem not only of sound sound, but of fierce intellect also. It grabs at my naughty linguist parts, a tease with implications. Where do we turn when our words lose their meaning? When semantics fails us, betrays us, leaves us just with our phonemes, morphemes, and syntagms huddled together, what do we do? This futile grasp on language, on slippery meaning, is a writer’s nightmare. Maybe a poet’s dream. Perhaps Gilbert’s message is hopeful. Following "But what if they / are poems or psalms?" is a series of copular sentences, in which Gilbert links a given subject to unusual complements drawn throughout the poem as pictographs. The result is a section of renewed symbolism: pictographs in translation may drop their original meaning yet pick up others. The signifier divorces its signified and remarries. What is emptied can be filled again.
“experimental typography: digital iterations” by ivan alonso
If you’re interested by visual poems, I urge you to follow Anatol Knotek on Tumblr and on Twitter. He shares but the best of his work and that of others. Often, Knotek’s posts interface poetry with typography, as with “Repetition” (above), from Ivan Alonso’s aptly named Experimental Typography: Digital Iterations series. I love me some typography, and I love me some poetry, and I love me some this—very much in the vein of Derek Beaulieu, whose work I adore.
The picture links to Ivan Alonso’s website. Check it out.
Binoy Zuzarte is a graduate of McGill University who now lives in the Toronto area. He is the Social Media Coordinator of Summer Literary Seminars, and a member of Poets and the News, a collective that experiments with a more journalistic poetic process. He writes a blog that examines the interface between linguistics, social media, and literature. He is, also, largely undecided.
I finally wrote a poem on the fridge! During its composition, I had a few considerations:
- that the poem comment on the .gif medium (which I first transcribed, mistakenly yet deliciously, as “.fig medium”);
- that the poem ruminate on reception; and
- that the poem play all the while with polysemy.
Needless to say, it took me a while to suss out these three details, and the precise mechanics of their interface (see what I did there!) within a single entity.
Thanks be to Katie Sehl for putting this poem together. I dedicate it to her, and to you, the reader.