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Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Back to School with Anne Campbell — Mike Chasar

Anne Campbell

The following post is by Mike Chasar, author of Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America. The essay was also published in Arcade:

A little less than a year back, I wrote about Edgar Guest, the longtime poet of the Detroit Free Press who published a poem in that paper seven days a week for thirty years. The national syndication of his verse made Guest a household name, got him dubbed the “people’s poet,” turned him into a popular speaker, and made him a very rich man even if it didn’t secure him a place in scholarly histories of American poetry. Indeed, after mentioning Guest as part of a Modernist Studies Association panel a few years back, I happened to run into a prominent poet-critic in the airport and, in making small talk about the panel while we waited for our flights, he confessed that until my talk he’d never even heard of Guest. By contrast, my mother-in-law owned several of Guest’s books before she moved out of the family house and into a retirement home; when I was helping her move and opened them, other poems by Guest that she’d clipped from newspapers and magazines and stored between the pages came fluttering out.

If the poet-critic I just mentioned had never heard of Guest, it’s probably safe to say that he’s never heard of Anne Campbell either—the poet whom the Detroit News hired in 1922 to better compete with the Free Press. Called “Eddie Guest’s Rival” by Time and “The Poet of the Home” by her publicity agents, Campbell would go on to write a poem a day six days a week for twenty-five years, producing over 7,500 poems whose international syndication reportedly earned her up to $10,000 per year (that’s about $140,000 adjusted for inflation, folks), becoming a popular speaker in her own right, and proving that neither the Free Press nor Guest could corner the market on popular poetry. Indeed, a 1947 event marking her silver anniversary at the News drew fifteen hundred fans including Detroit’s mayor and the president of Wayne State University.


Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner, the Poetry Edition: The Poems of Tomaž Šalamun

Tomaz Salamun

“But just being what you are, to be free within your writing, this is also the center of the real responsibility of the world. Therefore, your freedom is a political act.”—Tomaž Šalamun

We normally reserve Thursday’s to feature a work of fiction but today will focus on poetry and specifically the work of Tomaž Šalamun, whose collection Soy Realidad: Poems is now, finally, available in English from Dalkey Archive Press.

Soy Realidad ranges far from Šalamun’s Slovenia, combining his native language with Latin, French, English, and Spanish, as well as evoking such places as Belize, the Sierra Nevada, and Mexico City. From sex to God, from landscape to literature, Šalamun’s poetry is as ever a restless and witty inquisitor, peeling back the layers of the world.

Below are some excerpts from a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion he had with fellow Slovenian poet, Charles Simic that was originally published in BOMB. In the conversation, Šalamun and Simic, talk about political poetry, the state of poetry in contemporary world culture, and translation:

Charles Simic: Didn’t you also get in trouble over some political poem when you started writing poetry?

Tomaž Šalamun: Yes, this was in ’64. There was a very important cultural literary magazine called Perspektive in Ljubljana, which was battling with the official communist line. Heidegger was translated, Merleau-Ponty, Roland Barthes, Tel Quel’s authors. When they came to the border of being abolished, I was named editor in chief because they wanted to save the journal by putting an innocent young man in the position. And then I published a poem, which I thought was a kind poem, nothing special, but the government ideologues thought the poem itself and the gesture of me being put in charge as editor in chief was so transgressive that I found myself in jail. But the reaction from Le Monde, from the New York Times, from Corriere della Sera was so strong that they just pushed me out of jail after five days. I came out as a culture hero, and it was a very cheap glory. I realized, I have to become a really good poet to earn my fame. (laughter)

CS Was there anything in the poem?

TS It was a line: “Socialism à la Louis XIV.” And in one line: “dead cat.” But I had no idea that the interior minister was named Macheck (Maček), or “cat.” So he took it personally. The really bad years were the mid-’70s, which I think were also the darkest political years in Europe; when Aldo Moro was killed, when Schleyer was kidnapped, when the Brezhnev doctrine was so strong. Coming back from America, from Iowa in 1973, I was annihilated. I couldn’t make any money. The repression from Slovenia on me only stopped because of American PEN. So America really saved me several times.

CS You started out not wanting to be a political poet, right?

TS Yes. But because the system was very sophisticated then, when I came out of jail people from the Secret Service—the Udba—said, “Oh, you lost your steam, you don’t write any protest poems anymore.” My second book, still published by myself, was about butterflies, about nothing. It was more subversive than if I would write protest poems, since the government needed to show its pluralism and democracy. One has to be very precise not to be corrupt or used.

CS Your poems since then, too, have had moments when they would be interpreted politically. Do you think of politics?

TS Well, I was fighting to be free within my writing. And just this was subversive, and therefore political. But, for example, during the Balkan wars, when Brodsky and Milosz were able to write something, I was completely silent. I didn’t write a line of anything from ’89 to ’94. I just stopped writing.

CS It was too depressing. I get upset on almost a daily basis about things going on in the world. But to say, “I’m going to write a poem about the injustice in whatever place in the world” isn’t how it works with me.

TS And I think if you did intend to show that anger or depression, you wouldn’t be able to write good poetry. But just being what you are, to be free within your writing, this is also the center of the real responsibility of the world. Therefore, your freedom is a political act….


Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Mike Chasar on Remembrance Day and the Case of the $400,000,000 Poem

Mike Chasar, Everyday ReadingThe following post written for Veteran’s Day or Remembrance Day is by Mike Chasar, author of Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America. The post was originally published on Arcade.

I like to think of John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” as the $400,000,000 poem, and not just because its first stanza has appeared on the back of the Canadian $10 bank note—a fact that, all by itself, makes McCrae’s World War I-era verse one of the most widely circulated poems in history. I also think of it as the $400,000,000 poem because, shortly after it appeared in the December 8, 1915, issue of Punch magazine, the Canadian government made “In Flanders Fields” a central piece of its public relations campaign advertising the sale of the first Victory Loan Bonds, printing it, or excerpts from it, on billboards and posters like the one pictured here. According to Canadian Veterans Affairs and other sources, the campaign was designed to raise $150,000,000 but ended up netting—wait for it—more than $400,000,000.

Whoever said that “poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of its making where executives / Would never want to tamper” clearly wasn’t thinking of McCrae’s rondeau, which is the centerpiece of Remembrance or Veterans Day (November 11) activities worldwide and turned the red or “Buddy” poppy into the day’s icon, manufacture and sale of which has been a regular source of funding for disabled and needy VFW veterans as well as for war orphans and surviving spouses of veterans in the U.S. since 1923. It is memorized by school kids, recited at Remembrance Day events, has elicited all sorts of reply poems and been put to music, and resulted in the restoration of McCrae’s birthplace in Guelph, Ontario, as a museum. In Ypres, Belgium, there’s even a World War I museum that takes its name from the poem.

By most accounts, McCrae composed “In Flanders Fields” in 1915, the day after witnessing the death of his 22 year-old friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, and legend has it that McCrae ripped the poem out of his notebook and cast it aside amongst the blood-red poppies on the battlefield where it was rescued by an onlooker and sent to Punch, which printed it anonymously:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Kenneth Goldsmith on The Colbert Report

Kenneth Goldsmith, author of Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, has read at the White House, been the poet laureate at the Museum of Modern Art, is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and can now add to his list of accomplishments being a guest on The Colbert Report (video below).

In the interest of full disclosure, he was asked to be on the show to talk about his new book Seven American Deaths and Disasters, published by the great Brooklyn press powerHouse Books. However, the book’s transcription of radio and television accounts of such events as the Kennedy assassination, the shooting of John Lennon, and the attacks of 9/11 exemplify the kind of creative, or “uncreative” techniques, he explores in Uncreative Writing.

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

James Franco Calls Uncreative Writing “Good”

We were delighted and pleasantly surprised to see that James Franco, the actor, writer, and doctoral candidate (among other things), recently featured a photo of Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age by Kenneth Goldsmith on his website. Below the photo he simply wrote “Good,” which we’ll take as an endorsement!

This of course is the second celebrity sighting related to Uncreative Writing:

Cindy Crawford Reads Uncreative Writing

*We make no claims about the veracity or circumstances of this photograph!

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Poetry: The News that Stays News — Stephen Burt

“So where did this idea come about that poems are the opposite of journalism, that poets do what reporters cannot, and vice versa?”—Stephen Burt

The following post by Stephen Burt was originally published on Nieman Reports. In the post Stephen Burt, author of The Forms of Youth: Twentieth-Century Poetry and Adolescence, explores how familiar stories are made fresh again by the way we put them into words:

The most famous statements about poetry and journalism hide an equation inside an opposition: “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack// of what is found there” (William Carlos Williams). Or else they hide an opposition inside an equation: “Poetry is news that stays news” (Ezra Pound).

Reported stories, poets might have it, confine themselves to what’s going on right now, and then go away, replaced by other reportage. Journalism considers external, verifiable facts, which stay the same no matter who speaks about them, while poets consider the inward, the private, the potentially eternal, the claims which are different in each poet’s heart, mind or words. Jahan Ramazani, a critic at the University of Virginia, has written about how poets imitate, and use, and transform, the news: “By contrast with the seemingly passive mediation of current events by the reporter,” Ramazani explains, “the poet’s use of language and form must actively re-create … an imaginative event that recurs perpetually in the sustained present of poetry’s inventiveness.”

There is something to that opposition; otherwise, it would not persist as it does. And yet you can find poems that report news, or poems that react to news, from any period you care to name. Some of them even count as what we call “lyric,” the supposedly timeless or private kind of poetry that is sometimes opposed to the news: They embody strong feeling and they resemble song. Rudyard Kipling’s “Recessional,” whatever you think of its politics, is both a compressed songlike work, whose word choices embody complex feeling, and a comment on current events (Queen Victoria’s Jubilee). So are Williams’s own poems about Sacco and Vanzetti and about the death of FDR. So—often at a lower level of craft—are many short, songlike poems from the late 1960s about the war in Vietnam.

You can have—you can attempt to embody in verse, to compress, to make eloquent—feelings or complicated inward responses, responses that reveal your character, to almost anything: to a twig or a fallen leaf or a sexual overture but also to what we now call headline news. The form of the sonnet, so often associated with erotic love, has become so prominent in English in part because poets use it to react to the news: Milton in the English Civil War, Wordsworth on the fall of the Venetian Republic and the capture of Toussaint L’Overture, several now-forgotten Victorian poets on dispatches from the Crimean War, Gwendolyn Brooks on poverty, race, Chicago, and World War II. Many of the supposed oppositions between poems and news just dissolve on scrutiny: Poetry often reacts to public events; poetry can be pellucid (as in Louise Glück or Christina Rossetti) as well as opaque; and journalists can take on complicated ideas with specialized vocabulary (collateralized mortgage obligations, for example, or mitochondrial DNA).

So where did this idea come about that poems are the opposite of journalism, that poets do what reporters cannot, and vice versa?


Thursday, April 18th, 2013

The Epic of King Gesar

Sources of Tibetan Tradition

This week our featured books are Sources of Tibetan Tradition, edited by Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Matthew T. Kapstein, and Gray Tuttle, and The Tibetan History Reader, Edited by Gray Tuttle and Kurtis R. Schaeffer.

Today, we have a few excerpts from the Epic of King Gesar, “often described as the Tibetan national epic and as the longest poem in the world,” taken from Sources of Tibetan Tradition.

The Epic of King Gesar, excerpted from Sources of Tibetan Tradition

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

William Logan Poetry Criticism Quiz Answers

Our Savage Art

Columbia University Press has had the privilege of publishing two volumes of critical essays by the poet and critic William Logan, Our Savage Age: Poetry and the Civil Tongue and The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin. As a critic, Logan is perhaps best known for his sharp wit and his willingness to express dissatisfaction with a poet or a volume of poetry.

Last Friday, we posted a twelve-question quiz. We collected twelve quotes by Logan about twelve different poets, removed the poets’ names, and asked readers to guess which poet Logan was talking about in each. Here are the correct answers:

1. Maxine Kumin

2. Sylvia Plath

3. Anne Carson

4. Billy Collins

5. Robert Frost

6. Hart Crane

7. Ted Kooser

8. Robert Hass

9. Geoffrey Hill

10. Sharon Olds

11. Robert Pinsky

12. Elizabeth Spires

Thanks to all those who participated! We had an impressive number of people get all twelve answers! We’ll be randomly selecting our winner from that group and notifying that person via email.

Friday, April 12th, 2013

William Logan Poetry Criticism Quiz

Our Savage Art

Today is the final day of our week-long focus on poetry (today is also the final day of our National Poetry Month book giveaway; be sure to enter by 1 PM today for a chance to win six excellent volumes of poetry!), and we thought we would finish our poetry week with a fun quiz! Columbia University Press has had the privilege of publishing two volumes of critical essays by the poet and critic William Logan, Our Savage Age: Poetry and the Civil Tongue and The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin. As a critic, Logan is perhaps best known for his sharp wit and his willingness to express dissatisfaction with a poet or a volume of poetry.

We’ve collected twelve of Logan’s best one-liners (or, more accurately, several-liners) and removed the names of the poets, poems, and volumes of poetry mentioned there-in. How many names of the poets Logan discusses can you guess? Email your answers to lf2413@columbia.edu by 1 PM, Tuesday, April 16. We’ll grade the responses, and the entry with the most correct answers will win a copy of William Logan’s Our Savage Art and The Undiscovered Country! The contest is now closed.

Update: Check here for the answers to the quiz!

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Siobhan Phillips — A Case for Collected Poems

The Poetics of the Everyday, Siobhan PhillipsThe following post is by Siobhan Phillips, author of The Poetics of the Everyday: Creative Repetition in Modern American Verse:

We come on poetry in any number of ways. We dip into anthologies, page through journals, take in our favorite’s latest book; catch poems in a link, sidebar, scrapbook clipping, subway poster, or app spin; hear them in the ghost of someone’s half-memorized quotation, in music and commercials and movies, in or our own not-quite-accurate regurgitations. The range of prompts and magnets for poetic experience in our lives is one good reason that poetry remains a year-round activity.*

This April, I’d like to make the case for a particular type of poetry-experiencing: the Collected Poems. Fat volumes in sober fonts gathering all of one writer’s work. Uniform format, chronological logic. Practically, they can be unwieldy and theoretically, they can seem naive. Why take on these bricks if the author serves merely as a convenient category of organization and chronology implies a false ideal of progress? Once I begin to read, though, objections dissolve. I’m seduced by the sense of comprehensiveness, a deepening into the fullness of a single sensibility. Collecteds show how poetry is a style of thought—a way of living and doing as well as a product of living or something done. They dramatize poetry’s oscillation between the single poem, a defined work, and the general medium, an indefinite capacity.

I’ve been thinking about this, maybe, because there have been a more-than-usual number of worthy Collecteds published since Poetry Month 2012. We now have the no-longer-neglectable achievement of Joseph Ceravolo, for example—part collage, part missal. The full record of Lucille Clifton’s oracular, conversational testimony. The eclectic geography of Ed Dorn, moving from gunslingers of the nineteenth-century west to crusaders in thirteenth-century Europe. Jack Gilbert’s mobius strip of spare and self-indulgent. The meta-mythical case studies of Louise Gluck. In a review of Marianne Moore, David Bromwich speaks of an “atmosphere-of-Mooreishness,” and that’s what I relish in Collected reading: the atmosphere of whoever-ishness. Such flavor—an outsider’s intimacy—comes before judgment and (I think) has a value apart from it. One won’t like all of any book on this list; at least, I don’t.
But reading through them clarifies what I do—and how I do, as well.

I want to resist, then, an idea of the Collected as comprehensive and impossible—books that are meant to sit on the shelf for occasional reference. Think of them as immersive and malleable—books that one can enter and navigate according to one’s own predilections. Mixing the sounding of dark fathoms with the cruise control through flat patches, skipping back and ahead. Pausing, checking how far I’ve come. Reading a Collected, single poems I already know swim up into different and clearer position (”Mock Orange,” “Searching for Pittsburgh”) even as single poems I didn’t already know take on the status of landmarks (“Lighthouse”). Tuned to a poet’s key, I can better appreciate both its sometime modulations and its consistent overtones. How much of Clifton is about her mother, how much of Gluck is witty; how romantically prophetic is early Dorn (and how that prophecy curls into satiric disgust by the last writing). In The Poetics of the Everyday, I argued for verse-making as analogue and practice for daily existence, with its steady pattern of consistency and steady potential for change. Making my way through Collecteds reminds me that the reading poetry as much as writing it can mark and constitute what I might risk calling the life of the mind. Or even just life?

*See Mike Chasar’s Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America for details.

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Kenneth Goldsmith on The Wild World of Lulu

Andy Sterling, Supergroup

In the following post, Kenneth Goldsmith, author of Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, explores the new publishing options open to poets and whether poetry still needs publishers:

Poetry is cunning. Eternally broke and without resources, it manages against all odds to keep producing daring and innovative works. At a time when few publishers would dare do a book of poetry for fear of losing their shirt, the most adventurous poets have left the building, migrating instead to print-on-demand systems. Poets can now produce works which would otherwise be impossible to publish by more conventional means and by posting them on Lulu, they get the added bonus of harnessing the site as a powerful distribution tool.

Here’s how it works. A young poet like Andy Sterling datamines a site like Discogs and harvests 400 pages’ worth of small-bit session players from long-forgotten 1970s LPs. He throws the whole thing into an InDesign document, slaps a snazzy cover on it, pumps it out as PDF, calls it Supergroup, and uploads it to Lulu, where you can have a physical book made of it for $13.38. But really, few are going to pay for it. Instead, they use the Lulu servers to snag the PDF, costing nobody anything. Lulu’s become poetry’s biggest advocates.

The two main sites for this sort of work being done by younger conceptual poets are Gauss PDF and the Troll Thread Collective. Created by poets for poets, they exploit free software, publishing and distribution systems to make their work. The work itself tends to push these limits as best exemplified by Chris Alexander’s McNugget, which is 528 pages’ worth of tweets that mention the word “McNugget”:

12 Feb Alaina VanDyke @LainsaMains Reply Retweet Favorite • Open I asked my dad for a 10 piece Chicken McNugget. He brings me that, plus a small fry and a fruit n yogurt parfait. That’s love ya’ll.

While this might be far from traditional notions of poetry, it’s right in line with much of the conceptual writing that’s been happening over the past decade in which writers, exploiting the cut and paste function of the computer, have been harvesting the internet for material, making books that are more about the act of collecting the information than the reading of them.

The ultimate Lulu work is called The Black Book by Jean Keller, which is a 740-page book consisting of nothing more than margin-to-margin black. As Keller eloquently puts it on the Lulu page:

Ink used for digital printing is one of the most precious substances in the world. A single gallon of ink costs over four thousand dollars and this is one reason why digitally printed books are so expensive

However, the price of a book is not calculated according to the amount of ink used in its production. For example, a Lulu book of blank pages costs an artist as much to produce as a book filled with text or large photographs. Furthermore, as the number of pages increases, the price of each page decreases. A book containing the maximum number of pages printed entirely in black ink therefore results in the lowest cost and maximum value for the artist.

Combining these two features, buyers of The Black Book can do so with the guarantee that they are getting the best possible value for their money.

He sells the book for $29.21. When I held a copy, the book was still wet and weighed a ton.

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Skin and Ink — Mike Chasar Gets a Robert Creeley Tattoo

Mike Chasar, Robert Creeley

“My adaptation of ‘I Know a Man’ … also links me to the popular reading practices I study and value—practices that respect and honor important texts not by preserving those texts in the unchanging museum space of an anthology, but by adapting them….”—Mike Chasar, on his tattoo of lines from Robert Creeley’s “I Know a Man”

In the following post, Mike Chasar, author of Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America, talks about his tattoo of a line from a Robert Creeley poem:

In the Fall of 2012, I had two phrases from one of my favorite poems—Robert Creeley’s “I Know a Man”—tattooed on my arms: “drive, he sd” inked on my right arm, and “look out where yr going” on my left. For the design, I chose to enlarge the text of the poem as it appeared in the first edition of Creeley’s 1962 collection For Love, its first (so far as I can tell) of many reprintings in books and anthologies. Unlike many people, who choose highly stylized handwritten designs for their text-based tattoos, I wanted it to look as much as possible like the poem had been printed directly onto my skin.

I can’t remember when I first encountered Creeley’s poem—it was probably in an assigned high school or undergraduate poetry anthology—but it became newly meaningful for me during the completion of Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America. While rewriting Chapter Four, which focuses on the poetic language play of automobile culture and how that play affected the poetry of William Carlos Williams, I remembered “I Know a Man.” In addition to the poem’s content (“why not, buy a goddamn big car, // drive, he sd”), it displays some of the contracted language and breezy diction characteristic of automobile speed reading and follows, I think, in a tradition of poets writing about automobile culture that Williams helped to inaugurate. Insofar as it helped, last-minute, to establish a historical narrative for Chapter Four, “I Know a Man” served as sort of capstone for the chapter and book, bringing the manuscript to completion.

The last lines of “I Know a Man” use the contracted language and diction imported from automobile culture partially to help confuse or blur the sources of the poem’s conversation between the narrator and his friend (famously not named John):

… shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.


Monday, April 8th, 2013

Book Giveaway: Win a Poetry Six-Pack!

Bright Wings

This week we will be featuring some of our poetry and poetry criticism titles in conjunction with National Poetry Month

Throughout the week, we will be featuring the books and their authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed, and on our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE “six-pack” of poetry reflecting the varied aspects of our list. The books include:

Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds
Edited by Billy Collins; Drawings by David Allen Sibley

The Classic Hundred Poems: All-Time Favorites
Edited by William Harmon

I Speak of the City: Poems of New York
Edited by Stephen Wolf

Words and the World: International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong
Edited by Gilbert Fong, Shelby Chan, Lucas Klein, and Bei Dao

Clouds Thick, Whereabouts Unknown: Poems by Zen Monks of China
Translated by Charles Egan

City at the End of Time: Poems by Leung Ping-Kwan
Ping-Kwan Leung; Edited and Introduced by Esther M.K. Cheung

Tamil Love Poetry: The Five Hundred Short Poems of the Ainkurunuru
Translated and edited by Martha Ann Selby

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, April 12 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Kenneth Goldsmith — Poet Laureate of the Museum of Modern Art

Congratulations to Kenneth Goldsmith, author of Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, on being named the Museum of Modern Art’s first poet laureate.

In connection with this, Goldsmith will be delivering a special lecture on March 13th. Goldsmith has also organized a series of guerilla readings in the MoMA galleries, readers include Rick Moody, David Shields, Heidi Julavits, Charles Bernstein, and Christian Bok.

In the following video, Kenneth Goldsmith talks about his participation with MoMA and his work:

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Mike Chasar — Jingle All the Way: Saint Nick and the Poetry of Santa’s Ring Toss

Mike Chasar, Everyday Reading, Christmas

In the following post, Mike Chasar, author of Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America, explores the ways in which a poem related to a Coca-Cola holiday promotion exposes how the commercial and non-commercial aspects of the holidays are intertwined. (This post was cross-posted on Mike Chasar’s blog Poetry and Popular Culture (P&PC))

Nothing dogs the Christmas season at P&PC so much as the clash between the holiday’s commercial and non- commercial aspects—between shopping and spirit, getting and giving, worldliness and wonderment, materialism and, well, something more. This clash dogs the season’s poetry, too, as the oftentimes utopian (or at least not uniformly materialist) sentiments voiced by the season’s popular verse forms get standardized, mass produced, boxed, wrapped, shipped, and sold in and on any number of greeting cards, ornaments, advent calendars, and novelty items like the funky oversized matchbook from Hallmark (see above). For every excuse that the season offers to poetically express feelings one might view as suspect or inappropriate the rest of the year—you know, faith in ideals like love, peace, family, compassion, giving, forgiveness, and the pursuit of something other than the cynical status quo—there’s some Grinch waiting to package, market, and profit from it all.

But because we all know that the commercial and non-commercial aspects of the holidays aren’t inevitably partnered with each other—that’s not the way is has to be, right?—the marketplace has to continually entangle and re-entangle them, making the contradictions between them seem natural (even at times, like, totally fun), or else so interweaving them that it becomes nigh impossible.

SantaIt’s easy, perhaps, to see this logic at work in the big picture (“Welcome to the Spirit of Christmas Online Store!”), but it’s remarkable how much it sometimes governs—to quote Robert Frost, who for nearly thirty years partnered with printer Joseph Blumenthal to make Christmas cards for friends and associates—in a thing so small as the little artifact pictured here: a Santa “ring toss” game issued as a holiday giveaway by Coca-Cola in the 1950s that contains the following poem on its handle:

I am a Jolly old
So, if you want a Kick,
Be the first to make
A “Hit – Smash”
By swinging the Ring
That’s on the String
on Santa’s Mustache


Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Mike Chasar and Jed Rasula on the Poetry Glut

“For me, the glut isn’t a glut so much as a fundamental condition of poetry in the long twentieth century … Realizing that means reassessing our histories of American poetry, the maps and guidebooks we produce about it, and the way it gets measured and recorded.”—Mike Chasar

Mike Chasar, Everyday ReadingWith so much talk over the past few years or even decades about the death of poetry, it is perhaps odd that we now find ourselves discussing a glut in poetry.

In her article, Poetry on the Brink: Reinventing the Lyric, noted critic Marjorie Perloff argued that “the sheer number of poets now plying their craft inevitably ensures moderation and safety”. Stephen Burt also worried about there just being too much poetry and poetry criticism being published in print and online making it impossible to keep up.

In what the Poetry Foundation’s blog Harriet called a “(wonderfully) long conversation,” Jed Rasula and Mike Chasar, author of Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America , discuss the poetry glut and question to what extent it really poses a problem for poetry for The Boston Review. (On his own blog, Poetry and Popular Culture, Mike Chasar summarizes some of the questions considered in his conversation with Rasula.)

While Chasar does recognize the proliferation of poetry in recent years citing such statistics as 100,000 poems being published last year and 20,000 poets graduating from MFA programs, he also sees poetry as being part of the culture, in varied ways, throughout the past century. Chasar writes:

So I agree there’s an astonishing amount of poetry in circulation, and it’s partly astonishing because the high numbers don’t square with the various “death of poetry” arguments that get rehearsed every other decade or so. That said, I think there’s been a poetry glut for a long time and that at certain times—probably during periods when people are gaining more access to new media or communication technologies … just as they are now—it comes into view more strikingly than at others. My gut reaction (you could maybe call it my glut reaction) is to say that questions like “Is it a glut?” or “Is it a problem?” aren’t nearly as interesting as questions like “Who is it a problem for?” and “Why do those people think it’s a problem?” …

For me, the glut isn’t a glut so much as a fundamental condition of poetry in the long twentieth century, a period when—thanks in part to the emergence and maturation of the culture industries, the development of mass media as well as personal communication technologies, and the expansion of consumer capitalism and the consumer marketplace—more poetry was written, distributed, circulated, and consumed than at any other time in history. Realizing that means reassessing our histories of American poetry, the maps and guidebooks we produce about it, and the way it gets measured and recorded.

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Mike Chasar on Burma-Shave Ads and Modernist Poetry



One of the examples of the relationship between poetry and popular culture explored in Mike Chasar’s Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America, is the very popular Burma-Shave ads (see above), which dotted American roadways in the middle part of the twentieth century.

During its run, the Burma-Shave campaign inspired such modernist poets as William Carlos Williams and Gertrude Stein as well as countless ordinary Americans, who submitted their own poems/jingles to the company for possible use. In the following excerpt Chasar describes the importance of the Burma-Shave ads as a way of understanding the role of poetry in the United States and how it resisted the high/low dichotomies which have shaped poetry criticism. (For more on the book, you can also read the book’s introduction Poetry and Popular Culture):

The Burma-Shave poems not only cultivated a poetics that foregrounded the materiality of poetic language and in doing so deferred reading but, also, like many of the new poetries of twentieth-century America, experimented with the effects of new technologies on reading practices while self-consciously engaging discourses of modernity. That is, the popularity and market effectiveness of Burma-Shave’s sales pitch depended in large part on, and succeeded in popular culture because of, the innovative thickness or ambiguity of its language rather than the transparency that we might otherwise be tempted to attribute to commercial discourses. This is the innovative spirit of advertising that attracted writers like Josephson, Stein, and no doubt others (like William Carlos Williams) whose poems are full of billboards, signs, and other aspects of early American road culture….


Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Award Winner! Uncreative Writing Wins the A.S.A.P. Book Prize!

Uncreative Writing, Kenneth Goldsmith

Congratulations to Kenneth Goldsmith, whose book Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age was recently awarded Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (A.S.A.P) Book Award.

Here is the announcement from A.S.A.P.

Uncreative Writing was praised by prize committee members for its clear and engaging prose, its theoretical savvy, and its unique and riveting perspective on teaching creating writing by turning to the internet and digital environments that allow students to practice and analyze the implications of techniques such as cutting and pasting, databasing, identity ciphering, and programming. Goldsmith uses sources as diverse as courtroom testimony, robo-poetics, and Twitter to teach students fundamentals of poetic form. As noted in book commentary, Goldsmith substitutes for authenticity a method of appropriation, which he says deals “a knockout blow to notions of traditional authorship.” It does not, however, deal a knockout blow to art: the results are in fact astounding, and book prize committee members noted the sophistication of the formal lessons the author was able to draw from his radical artistic practice that connects writing education to theory and praxis by Walter Benjamin, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Andy Warhol, and others. ASAP offers congratulations to Kenneth Goldsmith, winner of our 2011 Book Prize!

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Stephen Burt on the Impossibility of Poetry Criticism via The Critical Pulse

The Critical Pulse, Jeffrey Williams and Heather Steffen

“But poetry criticism should also be impossible: if a poem is any good it should exceed and complicate any statement that you want to make about it—the trick is to say things that are true nevertheless.”—Stephen Burt, “Without Evidence”

One of the contributors to The Critical Pulse: Thirty-Six Credos by Contemporary Critics is Stephen Burt, who in addition to being a professor at Harvard, the author of several highly praised scholarly works, and a critically acclaimed poet, is also a frequent contributor to a variety of non-academic venues, including The London Review of Books, The Boston Review, and the Poetry Foundation web site.

Here is an excerpt from his credo, “Without Evidence”:

Asked to contribute a “critical credo” (a well-established minigenre, I discover, dating back to the old Kenyon Review) I realize that I don’t know what I believe. Or rather I know what I believe about particular works (poems, books of poetry), and only by generalizing, with some trepidation, from those beliefs can I make any guess about what I believe, or do, or know with respect to poetry, or to literature, in general.

Which is to say that either I walk around in an untheorized muddle, or else (as I prefer to say) literary reading and, hence, literary criticism are a habitual, accretive, impressionistic matter, that my habits of expectation and response (like those of earlier generations of readers, from whom mine differ in many particulars) have been built up over many small encounters, many cues and many chances to see how other people (teachers, friends, students, family members) read: these habits make up, for me (as they seem to have made up for earlier generations of readers) a more flexible and more interesting set of ways to respond, consciously and unconsciously, to a new text than do any ways that follow from explicit rules about how to read.

If this account seems “conservative,” or Burkean—being a defense of intricate, partly unconscious, partly unselfconscious, pretheoretical traditions and habits—it also permits an account of how those habits change; and it should sound “conservative” only in the sense that environmentalists and ecologists are also “conservative,” wanting to understand complicated and beautiful systems and also to keep them around….


Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Poetry of the Taliban — “Waiting for Freedom”

Poetry of the Taliban

We conclude our week-long feature on Poetry of the Taliban with one of the final poems in the collection, “Waiting for Freedom” (2007), by Lutfullah. (For more on Poetry of the Taliban: watch a interview with the book’s editors; browse the book in Google Preview, links to reviews and features, read quatrains by Nasrat, read the poem How long?, or win a FREE copy of the book).

Waiting for Freedom

I was burned in the caravan of darkness,
I was burned in the pain and grief of the country.
I wait for the freedom of my homeland.
For that I was burned in the flames of migration.
Nobody has expressed their condolences to me,
I was burned out of anxiety alone.
There is happiness all around the world;
I was always burned in the dark nights of grief