CoPo of the Mo’ 3

September 10, 2010

Bruce Smith does not have the name of someone who aspires to be famous. The last sentence (out of three) of his Wikipedia biography reads, “That’s all, that’s it.” He writes poems; he has been published; he has taught at two universities. But this man understands something about sound and lyricism. His is the kind of poetry that begs, on both knees, to be read aloud. Smith likes to think of poetry as akin to songwriting:

“When the language works to seduce and . . . move us, when it works its blues on us, bounces us and trembles us, makes us swerve from our upright and rational propositions . . . we are thinking and listening at the same time or really listening and not thinking, like a good song does.”

The Poetry Foundation was much more forthcoming about Smith’s biography than Wikipedia. Most importantly, the foundation lists his influences: Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. I would be really interested to see what some of the Whitmaniacs, or people familiar with Whitman and Dickinson’s work, think about Smith’s poetry! See, I italicized it so you can’t ignore it!

The poem below, “Obbligato,” is my favorite of the ones listed on the website; I also enjoyed “February Sky,” and, if you don’t mind Googling to find it, you should look up “Goodbye Tuscaloosa.”


Late August was a pressure drop,
rain, a sob in the body,

a handful of air
with a dream in it,

summer was desperate
to paradise itself with blackberry

drupelets and swarms, everything
polychromed, glazed, sprinkler caps

gushing, the stars like sweat
on a boxer’s skin. A voice

from the day says
Tax cuts

for the rich or scratch
what itches or it’s a sax

from Bitches Brew,
and I’m a fool

for these horns
and hues, this maudlin

light. It’s a currency of feeling
in unremembered March.

There’s a war on and snow in the
where we’ve made our desire stop

and start. In the dying school of Bruce
I’m the student who still believes

in the bad taste of the beautiful
and the sadness of songs
made in the ratio
of bruise for bruise.

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Neal Cassady and Jack Keraouc Audio

September 10, 2010

In preparation for our jump into the Beats, here is an awesome song to get us all in the mood.  Download Tom Waits-Jack Kerouac/Neal Cassady

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The poet or the poem?

September 10, 2010

I’m looking forward to the report on The Beats next week, because I’m having difficulty finding a way to approach Ginsberg.  I’ve read him before, and he always sends me to war with myself over a key issue:  How much should our opinion of the poet affect the way we receive his poetry? 

On the one hand, I’m enthralled by Ginsberg’s language and imagery; reading “Howl” is like being whirled around a hellish ballroom in the arms of a mad man.  On the other hand, I can’t shake off the knowledge that much of this imagery was drug-induced; in fact, he brought much of his hell upon himself.  Of course, “Howl” describes not only his experiences, but other people’s experiences as well, and encompasses more of life than getting high and then crashing.  (For instance, the businessmen in stanzas five through seven of page 16—“alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade,” “burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue…”)  However, for me the poet’s drug use dilutes the integrity of the entire poem even while it fuels its language.    

I’m aware that many poets and other artists, from Coleridge to the Beatles, used drugs in various ways, to self-medicate, to “release their inhibitions,” or to “reach a higher spiritual plane.” 

The overblown introduction to “Howl” by William Carlos Williams does not resolve the dilemma, but instead highlights it.  Williams writes that Ginsberg experienced a Golgotha, and a “charnel house” comparable to the Holocaust.  This comparison is appallingly inappropriate.  It’s unconscionable to compare the slaughter of innocent people to one man’s self-induced misery.  Williams does “Howl” a tremendous disservice here.

So I’m left with this problem:  Would I appreciate “Howl” (or any other poem, book, movie or song) more, or less, if I took the artist’s personal choices out of the equation?  Over the years that I’ve asked myself this, I’ve usually argued for the independent life of the artwork itself.  Once the poem has been written and released (like a fire balloon!), it must rise or fall on its own merits.  But in Ginsberg’s case I am unable to escape a schizophrenic reading, and am left in the arms of a mad man whose babbling I alternately ignore and strain to understand.

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

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Bishop Letter

September 10, 2010

Hi guys-

So, for another class I’ve been reading this book, “Letters of a Nation” that includes letters from all sorts of people: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, William Faulkner, and Elizabeth Bishop! Her letter is to a couple of friends the day after her lover, Lota has passed, and goes into vague detail about the death. However, I thought it would be interesting for the class to compare/contrast how she says she feels in prose versus the villanelle we read in class yesterday, “One Art” which Scanlon said is usually read to be about Lota’s death.

Oh, and just so you know, when you open the document ignore the first letter, which takes up the first half of page one. The italics at the bottom of page one is background information, and the actual letter is on page two.

Enjoy!Bishop Letter

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National Portrait Gallery This Sunday

September 9, 2010

Just thought I’d let everyone know that a few of us are going to the gallery this Sunday to see the Ginsberg exhibit. It will be cramped, but we do have room for another person in the car if anyone would like a ride! we’re gonna try to get there around 11:30, which is when it opens, if anyone’s interested in meeting up.

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The Sestina Challenge

September 9, 2010

A basic definition of the sestina can be found here and a more indepth discussion from another class here.   Comprised of  seven stanzas (six sestets and a triplet), the sestina takes its most essential form from the repetition of six key words at the ends of lines, but they must follow a specified order.  The links here show the order by number or letter, and you can see it by looking at Bishop’s poem or the examples the sites provide.  The triplet, sometimes called the envoi, also must use all six of the words in a specified order (internally and at the end of the line) but many practitioners fudge the order as long as they get all six in to that final stanza.

Your turn:  Write a decent sestina alone or in collaboration with other classmates.  Earn undying admiration for doing it in iambic pentameter.  Do not be sentimental lest Matt insult you.  Post.

Two hints:

1) Choose at least one word that is flexible–e.g., may be used as a noun or a verb, has several definitions  (break), or has homophones (to, two, too).  Avoid choosing all words that have the same grammatical function (all verbs, e.g.) unless there is some compelling reason to do so.

2) When you are ready to start, put all the words on a page at the ends of lines where they must appear so you can visualize the order more concretely.

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Oh if only Bishop could have seen this!!!

September 8, 2010

It was impossible for me to read “The Armadillo” in class today and not think of one of the most unforgetable experiences of my life and i cannot hope but think it was something slightly similar to what Bishop saw, minus the crashing and burning and sorrowful destruction.  This took place at All Good Music Festival, in Morganstown, West Virginia, in a field with tens of thousands of people, and it is one of, if not the most, unforgettable thing i have yet to witness.  Laying flat on the field, looking up at the sky, the lanterns looked as if the stars were slowly drifting and blowing away in the breeze.  It was a living version of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and a beautiful visual conception of “The Armadillo.” Once again, enjoy and be amazed.[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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Jim Morrison Beat Poet???

September 8, 2010

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]The cool thing about the Beats was their relationship with the artists and cultural leaders at the time. As so, their influences bled over and in between these two groups fluidly. Many of the popular musicains of the ’60s and ’70s were also poets, although they rarely ever get lumped into the category of “Beat” because, afterall, they were professional musicans and not professional writers.  Nevertheless, their poetry is often a beautiful insight into the minds behind some of the most inconic and revolutionary music of all time, plus most musicians are poets anyways.  
     While reading a book written by Wallace Fowlie called Rimbaud and Morrison: The Rebel as Poet I became interested in Morrison’s poetry and found it to be quite good and even mesmorizing at some points.  His album “An American Prayer,” is him reading his poetry and short stories with The Doors playing in the background.  While reading Bishop’s “Arrival at Santos,” I began to realize the deeper meaning behind seeing something we thought we knew before (a country, flag, or coin, for instance) in a completely new way and how that interpretation can be a comment on our ability to reason and comprehend change and how we are living our lives.  It also reminded me of my favorite track of Morrison’s from “An American Prayer,” “The Movie,” so watch and see how Morrison goes to a movie just to have it question him. When Bishop writes “Finish your breakfast,” she is talking to herself, but she’s also talking to the reader and watch how Morrison questions the listener as well.  Or, perhaps, i’ve contirved the connection, either way enjoy!

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CoPo of the Mo’ Two

September 7, 2010

Perhaps not as contemporary as Piercy, but still within the confines of what this class considers “contemporary,” I became acquainted with and fell in love with Galway Kinnell‘s poetry last semester when I stumbled across it at a friend’s house. Flipping through the table of contents of A New Selected Poems, I saw that he had a number of poems that involved other poets of the time entitled “For [insert poet here].” I read his “For William Carlos Williams” first and thought it was all right, but when I turned to a much long poem, “For Robert Frost”, I was deeply moved and impressed at his skill as a poet. I went on to read through the rest of the book finding more favorites than not. I highly recommend him. Here is the poem that so moved me, in its entirety:

“For Robert Frost”


Why do you talk so much
Robert Frost? One day
I drove up to Ripton to ask,

I stayed the whole day
And never got the chance
To put the question.

I drove off at dusk
Worn out and aching
In both ears. Robert Frost,

Were you shy as a boy?
Do you go on making up
For some long period of solitude?

Is it that talk
Doesn’t have to be metered and rhymed?
Or is talk distracting from something worse?


I saw you once on the TV,
Unsteady at the lectern,
The flimsy white leaf
Of hair standing straight up
In the wind, among top hats,
Old farmer and son
Of worse winters than this,
Stopped in that first dazzle

Of the District of Columbia,
Suddenly having to pay
For the cheap onionskin,
The worn-out ribbon, the eyes
Wrecked from writing poems
For us — stopped,
Lonely before millions,
The paper jumping in your grip,

And as the Presidents
Also on the platform
Began flashing nervously
Their Presidential smiles
For the harmless old guy,
And poets watching on the TV
Stated thinking, Well that’s
The end of that tradition,

And the managers of the event
Said, Boys this is it,
This sonofabitch poet
Is gonna croak,
Putting the paper aside
You drew forth
From your great faithful heart
The poem.


Once, walking in winter in Vermont,
In the snow, I followed a set of footprints
That aimed for the woods. At the verge
I could make out, “far in the pillared dark,”
An old creature in a huge, clumsy overcoat,
Lifting his great boots through the drifts,
Going as if to die among “those dark trees”
Of his own country. I watched him go,

Past a house, quiet, warm and light,
A farm, a countryside, a woodpile in its slow
Smokeless burning, alder swamps ghastly white,
Tumultuous snows, blanker whiteness,
Into the pathless wood, one eye weeping,
The dark trees, for which no saying is dark enough,
Which mask the gloom and lead on into it,
The bare, the withered, the deserted.

There were no more cottages.
Soft bombs of dust falling from the boughs,
The sun shining no warmer than the moon,
He had outwalked the farthest city light,
And there, clinging to the perfect trees,
A last leaf. What was it?
What was that whiteness? — white, uncertain —
The night too dark to know.


He turned. Love,
Love of things, duty, he said,
And made his way back to the shelter
No longer sheltering him, the house
Where everything turned into words,

Where he would think on the white wave,
Folded back, that rides in place on the obscure
Pouring of this life to the sea —
And seal the broken lips
Of darkness with the mot juste.


Poet of the country of white houses,
Of clearings going out to the dark wall of woods
Frayed along the skyline, you who nearly foreknew
The next lines of poems you suddenly left off writing,
Who dwelt in access to that which other men
Have burned all their lives to get near, who heard
The high wind, in gusts, seething
From far off, coming through the trees exactly
To this place where it must happen, who spent
Your life on the point of giving yourself away
To the dark trees, the dissolving woods,
Into which you go at last, heart in hand, deep in:

When we think of a man who was cursed
Neither with the all-lovingness of Walt Whitman
Nor with Melville’s anguish to know and to suffer,
And yet cursed . . . A man, what shall I say,
Vain, not fully convinced he was dying, whose calling
Was to set up in the wilderness of his country,
At whatever cost, a man who would be his own man,
We think of you. And from the same doorway
At which you lived, between the house and the woods,
We see your old footprints going away across
The great Republic, Frost, up memorized slopes,
Down hills floating by heart on the bulldozed land.

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Thoughts on Sunday, 4 A.M.

September 7, 2010

I am totally baffled by the imagery Bishop provides in Sunday, 4 A.M.   I get the feeling that it is either dreams or awakening, disoriented, still partially in a dream-like state, but it reminds me of the ramblings of my ten-year-old, Justin, who is autistic.

The first thing he does when he comes home from school, is drop his book bag and commence to spinning, clapping and spouting incomprehensible ramblings in a loud announcer voice. These are the three things which I have absolutely forbidden him to do at school, because it creates a major disconnect, for him, from reality.  But he gets a twenty minute free pass when he gets home from school. 

His ramblings provide very clear visual images that are, however, difficult to piece together.  Sometimes they actually make sense and I find an underlying theme, but more often that not I have to ask him what it all means.  His answer comes in the form of a loud belly laugh and more images, which either solve or deepen the puzzle.

Does anyone out there have any thoughts on Sunday, 4 A.M. that might help me to visualize the connections that Bishop is making?

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