Sunday, May 31, 2009

Commentary Is Superfluous

Reb Livingston, in an interview:

"Of course, I never would have voluntarily signed up for a poetry course, it was required for all Creative Writing majors."

Read This On A Dare-- It, Uh, Was Enervating, (Or) How I Stopped Theorizing And Learned To Love Poetry

"The point is that the purely theoretical, no longer muddied up by the effort to try and actually do theory, is not theory. The effort to become theoretical, or the effort needed to theorize, which itself comes from outside theory proper and from the domain of reading (in de Man's understanding of that word)--this effort that is an effect of some resistance to pure theory, is indeed theory." --from this link >>

The destructionist has the word (and maybe a stage with a trap-door).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Vancouver Poetry

There're a couple of recent anthologies of Vancouver based poetry out, neither of which I've yet had a chance to read. But since I'm soon to write a review of three recent collections of poems that are set in the Lower Mainland, each by a single author, I thought it interesting to go back to an earlier anthology -- Vancouver Poetry -- edited by Allan Safarik in 1986.

Roughly chronological in outlay, Vancouver Poetry at times scuttles this approach to interface poems with the same locale, theme, and/or image(s). Red Lane's "Death Of A Poet" and Milton Acorn's "Words Said Sitting On A Rock" have each author commemorating their effort to the other. Speaking of Acorn, there's a hilarious five page passage by Joe Rosenblatt, more correctly described as a short story: "Milton & The Swan", the highlight being, " 'Did you know that the first case of bestiality occurred with Leda and the swan and that ...'/'Forget it, Milt,' I said. 'I FEEL DEPRESSED.'

I like Safarik's catholic approach of allowing "furreners" into the mix, since the anthology focusses on Vancouver as nebulous backdrop or initial motivation, not in-house birth certificate-stamped clubbiness and intercity xenophobia. From this, we get (of all people) Blaise Cendrars' "Documentaries: VIII. Vancouver". The poem is pedestrian (or perhaps simply poorly translated by Monique Chefdor), but the ending -- with narrator on ship --is lovely: "on the/starboard quarter Samoyed dogs are climbing up/Flaxen in the grey-white-yellow/As if fog was being taken in freight." Unfortunately, in the same vein (or is that "vain"), we have an entry by Jack Spicer entitled "Seven Poems For The Vancouver Festival" where his faux-vatic somnolence- inducing poetics masquerading as poems litter the whiteness: "Nothing but the last sun falling in the last oily water by the docks/They fed the lambs sugar all winter/Nothing but that. The last sun falling in the last oily water by the docks."

An eclectic stew of nuggets (or, rather, chestnuts), curios, and needles in haystacks (more on that at post's end), this collection is what every honest anthology piecing should be: an adventure, a risk-taking. Yes, there is Pauline Johnson's "The Lost Lagoon", with its fascinating mix of deft phrasing, colour, and straining sentiment ("I dream tonight that my paddle blurs/The purple shade where the seaweed stirs,"), rightly included. But there is also the (at the time) unpublished poet Tim Lander's mini-"Howl", the eight-page "Gods". Concise, yet honestly spilling along in terse-lined emotional enjambments; metaphorically simple yet apt, and unfolding in sinister detail and entrapment; prophetic and historically wise at the same time: "Gods" is a found gem by an editor who cares enough to dig up neglected or unseen keepers, and who then has the courage to print it, knowing that the solidified weight of collective belief always prefers what others have already enshrined. Bravo, Safarik.

Vancouver poetry has been infested with Olson-Duncan poetics, as brought to town by the aforementioned Spicer in the early 60s. Unfortunately, that line was dominant from that time through to the 80s (the "ousiders" of poetry? Not in these parts). And the documents are recorded herein: the unmusical turgid musings of Robin Blaser's "Image-Nation 15"; the simpleton politics of bill bissett's "Killer Whale"; the pretentious, joyless, boring, poorly integrated metaphors of Brian Fawcett's "Summer Solstice".

Yet who cares if the quality is sporadic. It's that way in any locale, and at any time, even in selected retrospectives, (unless one's compiling an international canon). For every dull, self-important and bloated Kerrisdale Elegies (eight pages of Bowering's "best" is included in this book), there're Peter Trower's "Annie Of The Corridors", Clement Stone's (who?) "Noon On Water Street", where "freight/Creaks in the winch; smoothly a sea gull slips/Down waves of air,", and the following "I Have Walked Down Into This City" (reproduced here in full) by another poet I'd previously been unfamiliar with: Tom Osborne. (The poem's slightly reminiscent, in sad yet defiant manifesto, of Milton Acorn's "I've Tasted My Blood", and though not approaching that classic, is still a lasting contribution.)


I have, says Sonny
walked down into this city
without a dime in my pocket
and come out with the night
drunk and fed
thirty dollars left ...

I have figured it was no more go ...
curtains, lead-filled overshoes
blood in the eyes
a kid on the way ...

I have been refused death
and service
beer and money
and sometimes love ...
a place to stay ...

I have been given warm full days
round woolen nights
the soft curl of a lover's arm
and the eight ball straight in ...

I have never lived with the matadors
or the Arab tribes
the anaconda
of the tigers of Bengal ...

never accepted the bad with dignity
or the good with content.
I have done nothing about famine
or slaughter --Expo '86 --
these leavings of the slipper
wicked sisters
pumpkins at midnight.

I have, it seems sometimes
not done much more
than walk down into this city
without a dime in my pocket
come out with the night
drunk and fed
thirty dollars left.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Henry James' "Daisy Miller"

"Innonence ruined." That seems to be the common blurb on this popular Henry James novella. Daisy Miller, though, was never innocent -- but delightfully manipulative -- and her ruination in death (as clankingly melodramatic as Miles' death in The Turn Of The Screw) is a needless moral lube job slathered over the cogs of the plot.

What of her death? Well, James, as elsewhere, wants to eat his cake while having it permanently enshrined in a culinary museum. "Innocence" must be brought down, but instead of acting with anger (rather than bemusement) towards his voyeuristic, sycophantic, death- (not eros-) "stiff" (as Daisy Miller perfectly pegs him) creation of Winterbourne, James shirks the courage of his emotional conclusion by having the young lady's suitor Giovanelli cause her fatal contraction of malaria by the "foolish" meeting at the Colosseum. The new, moneyed aristocracy must be chastised, but it remains for the lower-rung social hangers-on to be the fall guys.

A moral is only effective if it's at the service of a tragic, or at least sympathetic, dilemma. Daisy Miller is well-written, and has a great deal to say about the clashing of the barbarians -- the old aristocracy with their moneyed counterparts -- but James flinches when both, or either, have to be fatally excoriated. The amoral Italian commoner has the plot-dagger placed in his set-up hand.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby goes in about twelve hours, and it's the first year in 38 that I haven't followed the run-up. Several reasons: I've been busy with other races/tracks the month of April (and the Derby, though "the most exciting two minutes in sports", is analogous, in this way, with cooking a seven-course meal for a day, then immediately scarfing it down); I've followed it enough to know that the trainer (Mullins) of the pre-race fave is a secretive scoundrel, and that (like last year) it's a less than stellar field; and the Churchill Downs Inc. group are becoming more and more faceless and soulless, escpecially so after the demise of their only serious ownership competitor -- Magna.

I'm sticking to the second-tier tracks, even on Saturday, (though I'll cheer for Edgar Prado's charge in the run for the roses).