Essays on Poetry
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Series: Poets on Poetry
These essays, reviews, talks were written during a ten-year period and, though often commissioned, to one of three purposes: to discuss a poet whose work hadn’t been discussed much; to take up topics which seemed neglected or badly discussed; to explain what I was up to, since no one else seemed to be writing about me (a circumstance that is probably changing). I wanted to be...
Part 1. Poets
1. O'Hara in the Nineties
In 1984, a year after my husband Ted Berrigan had died, as I was preparing to teach a poetry workshop, I discovered a curious thing: that Frank O’Hara’s poetry had frozen into art for me. It, like my own past, wasn’t my life, a vivid motion-filled thing; it had died into artifact. The hatefulness of becoming art is, granted, one of O’Hara’s themes...
2. Joanne Kyger's Poetry
I first heard Joanne Kyger read her poetry in December of 1969 at somebody’s house in Bolinas; it was the first contact I’d had with her poetry (I’d heard she was very “fast”), so I’ve never known her words apart from her voice. But I can’t imagine any reader not hearing it: that her poetry is vocally sculpted is its most overwhelming characteristic. I mean that not all poetries are....
3. Ron Padgett's Visual Imagination
The words “image” and “imagery” are often used oddly or inaccurately in connection with contemporary American poetry. I think it is rarer than supposed for a reader to “see” something named in a poem: there is too much of sound and word going on. And how many times have people said to me, after a poetry...
4. Hollo's Corvus
Anselm Hollo’s new book of poems, Corvus, is as “black” and sleek as the raven it’s named for. Hollo, in life, always dresses in basic black, because that is simplifying, an intense, economical— minimalist—expression of taste. Hollo has said often in conversation, “I am a minimalist”: he means no waste, no wake...
5. Elmslie's Routine Disruptions
Contemplating writing this review of Routine Disruptions: Selected Poems & Lyrics by Kenward Elmslie—an excellent collection— I’ve been unable to dislodge a picture from my mind. It is of Elmslie during a reading several years ago, with a large “hat” on, made by an artist, that used as its primary image a large...
6. Eileen Myles in Performance
“I don’t make up much,” Eileen Myles says in her essay “How I Wrote Certain Of My Poems.” “I don’t think most poets do.” Now this isn’t true, is my reaction. The fact is that many poets do “make things up,” practice the art of imagination inventing figures and stories for example, as well as the form of the poem,...
7. A Certain Slant of Sunlight
Ted Berrigan’s book A Certain Slant of Sunlight, written during 1982 and completed six months before his death in July of 1983, is a sequence of poems originally composed on blank postcards, each four and a half by seven inches. As I’ve written in the book’s introductory note, Ken and Anne Mikolowski of the Alternative Press had an ongoing project of sending a set of five hundred...
8. Iovis Omnia Plena
With the publication of Book II of Iovis last spring, Anne Waldman’s poem is now 648 pages long. Book I contains twenty-three and Book II contains twenty-five individual poems or sections of varying lengths, as short as three or four pages, as long as twenty. Each section is preceded by an italicized head, a...
9. Lorenzo Thomas: A Private Public Space
In a lecture, “The Blues and the King’s English,” delivered at the Naropa Institute in 1989 and printed in the anthology Disembodied Poetics (1994), Lorenzo Thomas discusses the difference between “court” poetry and “public” poetry. He explains that the former tradition evolved from European courts, was transplanted to the United States by poets such as Anne Bradstreet,...
10. Douglas Oliver's New York Poem
Penniless Politics, a long poem by the British poet Douglas Oliver, could be called a quintessentially New York poem, if by “New York poem” were understood the result of necessary changes in that genre in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Under the pressures of deregulated capitalism and multinationalism, multiculturalism...
The downstairs buzzer rings, Tom at the intercom. Then big feet, more than two, tromp upstairs, rush through door—excitement, Tom tall and blond and an even taller blonder bigger man who physically but not emotionally (I can tell) resembles a mountainous iceberg. Is attractive. I’m sorting a mass of laundry,...
Part 2. Topics
12. American Poetic Music at the Moment
I’m under the impression there was a rather urgent confrontation of the issue of measure in American poetry earlier in the century, which climaxed in the documents of the forties and fifties (e.g., the essays of Olson and Williams) and subsided in the sixties. It seems to me further that discussion of poetic music in...
Poetry is vocal. So far. Forms of poetry that aren’t vocal—concrete poetry or textual poetry that’s difficult to read aloud— seem slightly other than it; a voice carries poetry. I can almost imagine a poetry of telepathy: a transference of thought in which the density and simultaneity of thought are also transferred, obviating linearity and therefore voice. But time implies...
14. Thinking and Poetry
I want to discuss how to think honestly in connection with how to write honestly. I want to oppose these two “how’s” to thinking and writing in accordance with received ideas: those that come to you from others, the outside; or your own old ideas, what you think you think and don’t question anymore. For it’s very difficult...
15. Women and Poetry
What a poem is, how it is good—what it looks and sounds like overall, the kinds of subjects it’s concerned with—all of this since when? since shortly after known history began, has, worldwide, been addressed by men with some input from women. A poem, looked at this way, is “male,” most ways of composing and setting down lines of poetry, of grouping them into poems on...
16. The "Feminine" Epic
This talk will mostly concern my book-length poem The Descent of Alette and will be both personal and literary, unapologetically. Would Dante come to talk to you about The Divine Comedy and not refer to his banishment from Florence? Of course I don’t mean that I’m like Dante; I mean that my poem comes out of...