Showing posts from January, 2009

Best Gay Poetry 2008

From the press release on Amazon:

Best Gay Poetryis a new annual series collecting the best gay poems of the year before. It offers both poetry aficionados and casual gay readers an easy way to keep abreast of the field and find poems that speak to their experience.

Editor Lawrence Schimel has brought together a diverse array of poems and voices, not merely in their poetic style and form, but also in how gay subjects and themes are addressed. Drawing on poems published in journals, anthologies, and single-author collections, Best Gay Poetry 2008 offers up the cream of the crop of what was published in 2007, gathered together in one handy volume. Featuring work from 50 gay poets, readers will find herein a mix of established poets and exciting new voices, including Carl Phillips, Rane Arroyo, David Bergman, Timothy Liu, Brad Gooch, Reginald Shepard, Jeff Mann, Steve Fellner, Jee Leong Koh, Steven Cordova, Jericho Brown, and many others.

Best Gay Poetry 2008 also includes an annotated bib…

Philosophers and Wolves

TLS January 2, 2009
from Ali Smith's review of Sylvia Townsend Warner's New Collected Poems, and Valentine Ackland's Selected poems:
But settling in with Ackland in Dorset in 1930 did bring Warner alive, out of "this death I have say so snugly in for so long", and the couple stayed together, with a couple of rocky periods, in their open relationship for four decades. As Bingham, Ackland's critical guardian angel, writes elsewhere, "the presence of Valentine in her work is one way in which Warner represented the possibility of an alternative society; the revolutionary ideal as she was actually living it". By comparison, though, Warner sublimated her poetry to Ackland in much the same way as she, a woman who loved musix, simply stopped going to concerts because concerts bored her lover. If her lover needed to be The Poet, then she wouldn't challenge her for the role. 
from Mark Vernon's review of Mark Rowlands's The Philosopher and the Wol…

Leon Edel's "Henry James: The Middle Years 1882-1895"

The middle years of a writer's life are, perhaps, less talked about than the exciting beginnings of his early years, and the achieved satisfactions of his late ones. If the writer begins well but falls off, we may look at his middle years for explanations. If a writer begins well and ends better, we may not even see any middle to an apparently uninterrupted rise. The middle seems irredeemably transitional. Given the linearity of a biography, Edel's account of James's middle years does lens the transitions in that writer's life and art, but transition, as Edel sees it, is an absorbing story in and for itself. 
Having established himself socially and literarily in London, James still had to write constantly for his upkeep. The magazines did not pay enough for his tales, essays and criticism to maintain his comfortable life. These were the years before international laws for intellectual property rights were legislated, and so his work was republished without him receiving…

At the end of the pier at Santa Cruz

This post by Mark Doty reminds me of my Christmas romantic mishap at Santa Cruz. Doty reflects on Robinson Jeffers' affinity with the Pacific Coast, in the latter's poem "Animals." To my mind, after three visits, San Francisco remains an improvised township. It's where ambition goes to put down his burden. 

Listing on Poets and Writers

I just listed myself on the directory of Poets & Writers. I doubt anything would come of it, but you never know. I am constantly surprised by how friendly cyberpals are, and how people reach out to each other, for one thing or another. Submit to my journal. Check out my new book. Do you know XYZ? I have uploaded a new video. Do I know you? Happy anniversary! Follow me on Twitter. Do you have CDs for my radio show? Cute pix! Keep in touch. Come by Friendly Street.
I think it's too easy to be cynical about such possibly ephemeral connections, and I certainly don't think they should replace voice-to-voice, let alone face-to-face. I am just grateful for these contacts, however brief, with people all over the world who I would otherwise have no inkling exist, who have offline lives as complex, rich and dramatic, if not more, as mine. In their multiple invisible webs, these contacts, I hope, would open up new ways of coming to terms with difference, of accepting and living with t…

Vijay Seshadri previews "Equal to the Earth"

Jee Leong Koh is a vigorous, physical poet very much captured by the expressive power of rhythm, rhetoric, and the lexicon. He is also, paradoxically, a poet in pursuit of the most elusive and delicate of human emotions. The contradiction is wonderful and compelling, and so are his poems.

--Vijay Seshadri, Author of The Long Meadow (Graywolf Press)

"Cien sonetos de amor": I

Pablo Neruda dedicated Cien sonetos de amor (One Hundred Love Sonnets) to his wife Matilde Urrutia, and in his dedication he wrote of how their life in the fishing village of Isla Negra (85 kilometers south of Valparaiso, Chile) inspired these sonnets:

When I set this task for myself, I knew very well that down the right sides of sonnets, with elegant discriminating taste, poets of all times have arranged rhymes that sound like silver, or crystal, or cannonfire. But—with great humility—I made these sonnets out of wood; I gave them the sound of that opaque pure substance, and that is how they should reach your ears. Walking in forests or on beaches, along hidden lakes, in latitudes sprinkled with ashes, you and I have picked up pieces of pure bark, pieces of wood subject to the comings and goings of water and the weather. Out of such softened relics, then, with hatchet, and machete and pocketknife, I built up these lumber piles of love, and with fourteen boards each I built little house…

From Raphael to Renoir

150 drawings from the collection of Swiss Jean Bonna are on display at the Met. Drawn from a variety of artistic schools in Italy, Northern Europe, France and Great Britain, they map a traditional art history chronology--Italian Renaissance, Dutch and Flemish Mannerism, French Rococo, classicism and Impressionism, British Decadence. 
Among the earlier pieces, the head portraits were most interesting to me. Head of a man wearing a turban. Head of a young girl. Though these were preparatory sketches for oil paintings, they are drawn with delicacy and feeling. In red, black and white chalk. In brown ink and wash. I wish they had put up a picture of the oil painting next to its preparatory sketch, for the sake of comparison, but I guess that would have reduced the space for the drawings themselves. Not all the drawings on exhibit were preparatory sketches; some were drawn for sale after a painting gained a following. Among the Italians, I was most taken by the drawings of Andrea del Sarto;…

"Taking Reality by Surprise"

This small book, by Christophe Domino, gives a generous selection of Francis Bacon's paintings, including  six foldouts of his triptychs. It also gives an interesting series of photographs of the artist at various ages in his London studio, the walls covered like a palette with daubs of paint, the floors littered with what looks like the debris of a bombed-out room. Bacon was a handsome youth, and he retained his good looks into old age, and so it was a surprise to read in the book that he hated his looks; his self-portraits, like those he drew of friends, artists and lovers, mutilated the head ferociously. 
The text organizes itself into four chapters. The first, "Turning towards Painting," sketches the outline of Bacon's life. The second, "Creating an Oeuvre," traces the development of his career. As the title has it, the third chapter, "A Maker of Images" explains the different aspects of Bacon's image-making, including its obsessive iconogr…

Christopher Hennessy previews "Equal to the Earth"

In his second book of poems Equal to the Earth Jee Leong Koh digs deep into the rich soils of ancestry and history, of sexuality and identity, of (exterior) place and (interior) voice.

Koh's capacious mind and rapacious imagination draw on sources and inspiration as varied as Chinese history, the plum blossom, Spinoza, a book on anal sex, E.M. Forster's notebooks, a poet's rejection slips, the epistolary relationship between Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva, a straight man's tale of a great blow job he enjoyed, Keat's abandonment of Hyperion, and more. His poems are like the sexy nerd you meet at a bar, the one you really want to get to know better-- with his glasses and tie on and nothing else.

In several poems on gay themes, Koh sets himself apart from other gay writers, grappling with how to construct his own sense of sexuality but also playfully celebrating what it means to be different, even among the queers! Koh also is keenly aware of his gay father figure…

Review of Miriam Stanley's "Get Over It"

Get Over It
Poetry by Miriam Stanley
84 pages. Rogue Scholars Press. 2009.
ISBN: 0-977-1550-6-4
ISBN13: 978-0-977-1550-6-4

The subjects in Miriam Stanley’s second book of poems are depressing—mental illness, divorce, man’s inhumanity to man—but their effect is not. These poems, burning with anger, hurt and despair, give a light that does not dazzle nor flicker, but stares steadily at the world that meets its eyes.

The book is organized according to three broad topics. The first group of poems describes Stanley’s work with mentally ill patients. The second deals with familial relationships, including a grandmother’s Alzheimer’s, and a marital break-up. In the final group of poems, the poet extends her vision to take in historical and current political conflicts, in particular, the Israeli-Palestinian situation in the Middle East. What unites these disparate strands of experience is the perspective of a Jewish woman, a troubled feminist; what lenses these different scenes into a cohesive film…

Network and Floating Population

TLS January 16 2009
from Joe Phelan's review of Robert Crawford's The Bard: Robert Burns, a biography:
Through his membership of the Freemasons, his participation in the Tarbolton "Bachelors Club", and his friendship with like-minded people of his own class and background, he found ready support and assistance for his earliest poetic efforts, and encouragement for his desire to have his songs and poems published. It was not a wealthy patron, but his Irvine friend Richard Brown who first suggested that he send his verses to a magazine for publication. Such networks enabled Burns to develop and sustain a sense of the value of his literary output independent of that placed on it by wealthy supporters who drifted into and out of his life. Unlike John Clare, he was no reduced to debilitating social and intellectual isolation by the withdrawal of patronage.
Both [Robert] Fergusson and Allan Ramsay provided him with validating examples of a vernacular poetry which drew on rat…

Care for a bowl of cha?

The editors of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal emailed yesterday to say they have accepted my poem "Razminovenie, or Nonmeeting" for their February issue. Cha means tea in Chinese.

From the journal's website:

Cha is the first and currently only Hong Kong-based online literary quarterly journal dedicated to publishing quality poetry, short stories, creative non-fiction, drama, and reviews written in English, as well as photography and art. It has a strong focus on Asian-themed creative work or work done by Asian writers and artists. It also publishes established and emerging writers/artists from around the world.

Arendt and Specificity

The New Yorker, January 12, 2009

from Adam Kirsch's article on Hannah Arendt, "Beware of Pity":

When she came to write about Rahel's [Rahel Varnhagen's] life, then, Arendt brought to it a passion and a personal commitment born of her own experience. No one could have believed more seriously than Rahel in the cultivation of the spirit. Yet to Arendt she appears as merely the victim of a terrible illusion--"the hapless human being, the shlemihl, who has anticipated nothing." The lesson that Arendt drew was that a beautiful soul is not enough, for "it was precisely the soul for which life showed no consideration." To live fully and securely, every human being needs what Arendt calls "specificity," the social and political status that comes with full membership in a community.


As she wrote in 1941, "One truth that is unfamiliar to the Jewish people, though they are beginning to learn it, is that you can only defend yourself as the per…

The Imperial Vision of a Plant

TLS January 9 2009

from Sandra Knapp's review of John Hemming's Tree of Rivers: The story of the Amazon:

Undeterred [Alfred Russel] Wallace wrote a book about his travels, then immediately set off for South East Asia, from where he sent a famous latter to Darwin enclosing an essay entitled "On the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type"--which goaded Darwin into completing his masterpiece On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection.


Seeds of Hevea brasiliensis had earlier been planted with great success in Malaysia, and establishing a source of quinine was deemed equally important. Some might characterize this as stealing or, more hysterically, as "biopiracy", but plants of importance have always been taken by people wherever they go. Coffee, for example, now the mainstay of many Amazonian economies, was taken from Ethiopia--I suspect if you asked many people where coffee was native, they might say Brazil.


from Gillia…

Gustavo Dudamel conducts Mahler's Fifth

The young Argentinian conductor (he's turning 28 in two weeks) drew a committed performance from the orchestral players last night. The performance was impassioned yet cogent. The opening funeral-march movement was massive and moving. The slow movement, the famous Adagietto, shimmered with tenderness. A massive, multi-layered work, the symphony has five movements organized in three parts: 
Part 1: Funeral March: With measured step. Strict. Like a Cortege xxxxxxStormily. With greatest vehemence
Part 2: Scherzo. Vigorously, not too fast.
Part 3: Adagietto. Very slow xxxxxxRondo-Finale. Allegro giocoso. Lively

Though fiendishly complex, it seemed last night all of a piece from beginning to end, its unity that of a scale of emotions. 
Before the Mahler, Pinchas Zukerman played Violin Concerto, Op. 30, written by Oliver Knussen (b. 1952) for him. 

Good Italian Vegetarian

A colleague recommended Quartino, and it was a delicious experience. Nestled at the beginning of Bleecker Street, between Bowery and Lafayette, the cosy bar and restaurant was patronized by a young collegiate and professional crowd. Very laid-back in atmosphere but careful in the presentation of the food. I had a dish of fettucine, with avocado and tomato mashed to form a thick, creamy sauce. My date tried the whole wheat ravioli with kale. The ravioli was soft and moist, and the kale nicely done, not overly bitter. The flourless chocolate cake was a little too fudge-like for my taste, but it came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which makes everything taste good. 

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Fruit


Ripe gulps of fat,
we bloat purple
in the broad face.

We boat sperm,
and blow blood.

We are the fruit
and the bearer
of fruit. To the end

we bear sunlight,
we bear nightshade.

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Bulb


When we unbutton
our skin, our whole
body slips through,

and leaves behind
more fleshy skin
for unbuttoning,

and skinnier body
for slipping through
the shrinking hole.

The rounded life.
An onion. A mouth.

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Root


We sat for Cotan
like old grandees,
orange from skin

to core. Carrots
are no fruits. We
fired through earth

the green baize flare
flowering into
Queen Anne’s lace,

and recoiled
into the soil.

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Tuber


We sample Adam
and so his sons
name us yams.

We stem from hunger,
tough-skinned, brown-fleshed
God. We dream

of endless eating,
large and portable
power for good

but raise a chief,
and then an empire.

Closely Related Varieties

TLS January 25 3008
from Frederic Raphael's review of Graham Greene: A Life in Letters:
In two long 1948 "letters", of a formality that betokens the status which The Heart of the Matter had clinched the matter for him, Greene spells out . . . his notion of the writer's shifty role in society: "Isn't disloyalty as much the writer's virtue as loyalty is the soldier's?". 
TLS June 13 2008
from Eileen Magnello's review of Andrew Robinson's The Story of Measurement:
The Romans, with the expansion of their empire, brought their own system of measurement, which became the most widely adopted in the Western world. It used different parts of the human body to provide various standards of length, such as the digit (the breadth of the middle part of the first joint of the forefinger), the palm (which measures four digits across the palm) and the foot (sixteen digits or four palms). The Roman mile equalled a thousand paces, and their yard was the leng…

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Stem


We spar, we spear
softly, secretly,
your gut. We spare

most of you
our acrid smell.
A few get us.

Asparagus, Proust
says, perfumes
my chamber pot.

As do doctors.
As do saints.

Twelve Poets on the Left

TLS May 30 2008
from H. R. Woudhuysen's "Bound to please":
For Larkin, two sorts of books needed to be readily accessible: "Within reach of my working chair I have reference books on the right, and twelve poets on the left". No doubt some of his poets (who included Barnes, Praed, Whitman and Frost) could be found at the Fair in early or interesting editions.
I first read "reference books" as Work, and "poets" as Pleasure, but realized they were Work and Work, since Larkin reaches for them from his working chair, and refers to them as if they were his hands. So, my twelve hardworking poets--in other words, huge quarries for my work--are:
1. Shakespeare 2. Milton 3. Pope 4. Keats 5. Whitman 6. Stevens 7. Yeats 8. Eliot 9. Moore 10. Auden 11. Larkin 12. Heaney
from Zinovy Zinik's Commentary piece "Dinner party test":
A major poet can be both a politician and a hermit, but major poetry is unthinkable without a major readership. A poet who renoun…

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Leaf


To make a living
we traded home
for sun, endured

the cold, adopted
Chinese customs,
Italian cooking.

Our passports read,
Spanish vegetable,
country of birth

unclear, Nepal
or imperial Persia.

Poem: What We Call Vegetables: Bud

What We Call Vegetables


Not rose, lotus,
nor aster, but

curtly called
we are cut

from flowering
and curdle into
a bunch of fever,

fractured crystals,
edible fractals.

Leon Edel's "Henry James: The Conquest of London 1870-1881"

There is a certain exhilaration in seeing Henry James move, seemingly inexorably, to the success of Daisy Miller, and the even greater achievement of A Portrait of a Lady. James turned out to be a shrewd entrepreneur of his genius, earning a living on his literary labors, writing less journalism as his fiction commanded higher prices, and so becoming independent of his family at Quincy Street, Massachusetts, as he tried New York City, then Paris, and finally London. 
In Paris, James did not think very much of the circle around Flaubert, which included writers like Maupaussant and Zola, and they did not embrace the American either. His deepest literary friendship was with another expatriate, Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, whose realism James admired enormously. The Russian was about twenty years older than James, and so was a kind of brother-and-father substitute for the lonely bachelor living on his own. 
James was a very professional writer. Mornings dedicated to writing, afternoons and ev…

Reading at Bengal Curry

Bengal Curry is an Indian restaurant, in Murray Hill neighborhood of NYC, just one and a half blocks below Chambers Street. Mike Graves and George Spencer have a really cosy reading going on there every Sunday starting at 5.30 pm. After two or three featured readers, the open-mikers stand up from wherever they are eating their goat curry or lamb briyani to toss off their poems. The audience is convivial and attentive, even if an occasional customer walks in to pick up an order. 
Last Sunday I read there, with Obsidian as the second feature. I read two poems from Payday Loans, one from Equal to the Earth, and then the seven "Translations of an Unknown Mexican Poet." Tara, my roommate, came to hear me, as did Laurie, with her friend, who is Laurie too. Big encouragement, that. I also sold two more copies of Payday Loans. 

from Leon Edel's "The Conquest of London"

Before the conquest of London, Henry James tried surviving in New York City, and then laying Paris to siege. The passage, a graceful conclusion to this part of the biography, describes his farewell to Paris.
He had written a long article on Balzac before taking up residence in the French capital. And now, on the eve of leaving, he wrote another. This time he reviewed Balzac's letters, lately published. They fired his imagination. For the first time the story of Balzac's fierce dedication, his methods of work, his stubborn professionalism, his grandiose sense of metier was told in detail. Certain phrases from the letters were to be echoed again and again by Henry in his correspondence with his family during the coming years. He seems to have been fascinated by Balzac's Napoleonic promises to those nearest him: glory justified everything, glory would pay for everything. Henry saw in this a "magnificent egotism" and an "incomparable power." As Henry prepare…

George Tooker at the National Academy.

Founded in 1825, the National Academy is an honorary association of arts, a school of fine arts, and a museum. The last, located in a block north of the Guggenheim, is housed in one of those impressive mansions looking into Central Park. I paid my first visit today, to see the retrospective of the twentieth century American painter, George Tooker.
Painting with egg tempera, he kept alive the tradition of figurative painting when his contemporaries were turning to Abstract Expressionism. His paintings on show can be very broadly divided into two categories: works of social criticism, and figures in landscape or in some other framing device. The former made him famous when his claustrophobic painting "Subway"(1950) was exhibited at the Whitney and bought by that same museum. In that painting, commuters, looking lost and furtive, wandered round the corridors and stairs of a subway station. 
In "Government Bureaucracy" (1956), official eyes surveyed citizens through hol…

Thoughts on the Old and New Years

I'm reading this afternoon at the Bowery Poetry Club for the 15th Annual Alternative New Year's Day Spoken Word/Performance Extravaganza, called EX TENEBRIS RISING. Alternative to what, I hear you ask. No one has told me, but my guess is alternative to the new year's reading at St. Mark's Poetry Project. Both Bowery and St. Mark's are great New York institutions, if the former has a reputation for grungier experimentation. I have read in both places, St. Mark's more recently, and I am looking forward to reading on the huge stage at the Bowery again. Given three minutes, like all readers, I will probably read three sonnets from Payday Loans, to see if I could sell a few more copies of the book.
The last days of 2008 were spent proofreading the galley for my new book, Equal to the Earth (Poets Wear Prada Press, March 2009). Roxanne, my publisher, has been marvelously patient as we went back and forth via emails over the smallest detail. That collaboration would ha…