Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rae Armantrout, Versed

I don't get it.

I mean... I don't pretend to understand most / a lot / much of contemporary verse, American or otherwise, but... I try. And while understanding might often keep me at arm's length I can usually find considerable appreciation and pleasure -- even if only in moments.

Rae Armantrout's Pulitzer Prize (2010) winning collection, Versed, left me more perplexed than anything else. I tracked down the Pulitzer citation to try to get a handle on the whys and wherefores of the award and am left with (it's brief):
"...a book striking for its wit and linguistic inventiveness, offering poems that are often little thought-bombs detonating in the mind long after the first reading."
Yeah. No. At least, not for me. There is poetry that acts this way for me, that explodes and pulls me up short. That's remembered. This isn't such a collection; this isn't that poetry. Rather, the whole -- poem to poem or string them all together as a single verse (it really doesn't seem to matter since there is little coherence or unity within any particular poem) -- reads more like dis-jointed, drifting, floating not-quite haiku; almost-aphorisms piled one on top of another with a title on top.

Or, to borrow from a now forgotten other context, just so many "captions without photographs" and all referencing quite different photographs. The Pulitzer Committee obviously felt differently but Armantrout, in this collection at least, can't quite pull it off.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hitting the reset button...

Well, it all seems to have gotten to be a little much for me -- this whole reading and then writing thing. Even the little slips of nothing that I would, though in later days only sporadically (at best!!), scratch out.

So I'm hitting the reset button.

The stacks and stacks of read volumes that were waiting to be "reviewed" here? All shuffled off to the basement. Prospects for future reviews? Bright. Bright indeed!! I just couldn't stare at those piles of books with post-it noted thoughts papering them, waiting, just waiting.

And it seems, thus, that I'm reading again. And that's the best thing of all.

So there will be reviews to come -- many, I trust -- though there won't be reviews of many of the marvelous, wondrous, horrible, and in many ways important books read of late:
((All highly recommended, by the way!!))

Which is not to say that there isn't a backlog I will be working through, though those will mostly be in service of my love (and appreciation: celebratory & critical) of African poetry.

But more than anything I'm looking forward. A self-imagined blue screen of death has led me to ctrl-alt-delete my way to a new day and a fresh re-engagement with the stacks and stacks of as yet unread books. Good days ahead.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Charles Bukowski, Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems 1955-1973

I'm sure I've written before that I get these "moments" when what I want to read is a little Bukowski. To be honest, it's not just any Bukowski, but that full-throated, whoring, drinking, loud-mouthed, unapologetic sonofabitch classical music aficionado that Bukowski fans... love? Much like the women he writes about love him. Right?


I suppose.

Such was the case recently. And so I indulged (but using coupons and gift cards). What's so interesting about Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame is that the bastard voice I was reading for doesn't really make an appearance until very late in the second section (though he stays around for most of the third).

It's interesting (though not particularly enjoyable to me) because that first section is made up of selections from -- if I'm doing the math right -- when he first started writing poetry (in his 30s). And it shows. They are poems of the very much "poetically"-aware (and... "fumbling" isn't quite the right word, but in all craft we struggle as we develop, and it often shows in what we offer as our work).

They aren't bad, they're just... young (even though Bukowski wasn't particularly at the time).

But with this realization in hand, it becomes something of an education for the reader to see and hear the poetry morph. Of course, as Bukowski notes in his own introduction to the collection, there's a rather yawning and noteworthy gap in collection (1969-1972), though it is noteworthy perhaps more in retrospect: these years seem to be the ones where Bukowski found that oh so distinctive voice of his. But that's okay, because here we've got the luck that found him (and made him one of the "good" poets) and some "warm asses".