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Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

The Other Night at Columbia: A Report from the Academy

The Untold Journey

“‘The last time I was in this theater,’ Dupee began quietly, ‘it was also to hear a poet read his works. That was T. S. Eliot.’ A slight alteration of inflection, from iron to mockery, from condescension to contempt, and it might well have been a signal for a near-riot, boos and catcalls and whistlings; the evening would have been lost to the ‘beats,’ Dupree and Columbia would have been defeated. Dupee transformed a circus into a classroom…. One could feel nothing but pity for Ginsberg and his friends that their front of disreputableness and rebellion should be this transparent, this vulnerable to the seductions of a clever host. With Dupee’s introduction, the whole of their defense had been penetrated at the very outset.” — Diana Trilling

This week, our featured book is The Untold Journey: The Life of Diana Trilling, by Natalie Robins. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from an article by Diana Trilling, originally published in the Partisan Review. You can read the article in full at the website of Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, in the Partisan Review, Vol. 26, No. 2, page 214. In “The Other Night at Columbia: A Report from the Academy,” Trilling describes her experience attending a poetry reading by Allen Ginsberg, Peter Olovsky, and Gregory Corso at Columbia University. For additional context, we have also excerpted a description from The Untold Journey of the way that “all hell broke loose” upon the publication of this article.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Untold Journey!

The Other Night at Columbia: A Report from the Academy
By Diana Trilling

The “beats” were to read their poetry at Columbia on Thursday evening and on the spur of the moment three wives from the English department had decided to go to hear them. But for me, one of the three, the spur of the moment was not where the story had begun. It had begun much farther back, some twelve or fourteen years ago, when Allen Ginsberg had been a student at Columbia and I had heard about him much more than I usually hear of students for the simple reason that he got into a great deal of trouble which involved his instructors, and had to be rescued and revived and restored; eventually he had even to be kept out of jail. Of course there was always the question, should this young man be rescued, should he be restored? There was even the question, shouldn’t he go to jail? We argued about it some at home but the discussion, I’m afraid, was academic, despite my old resistance to the idea that people like Ginsberg had the right to ask and receive preferential treatment just because they read Rimbaud and Gide and undertook to put words on paper themselves. Nor was my principle (if one may call it that) of equal responsibility for poets and shoe clerks so firm that I didn’t need to protect it by refusing to confront Ginsberg as an individual or potential acquaintance. IO don’t mean that I was aware, at the time, of this motive for disappearing on the two or three occasions when he came to the house to deliver a new batch of poems and report on his latest adventures in sensation-seeking. If I’d been asked to explain, then, my wish not to meet and talk with this troublesome young man who had managed to break through the barrier of student anonymity, I suppose I’d have rested with the proposition that I don’t like mess, and I’d have been ready to defend myself against the charge, made in the name of art, of a strictness of judgment which was intolerant of this much deviation from respectable standards of behavior. Ten, twelve, fourteen years ago, there was still something of a challenge in the “conventional” position; I still enjoyed defending the properties and proprieties of the middle class against friends who persisted in scorning them. Of course, once upon a time — but that was in the ’30′s — one had had to defend even having a comfortable chair to sit in, or a rug on the floor. But by the ’40′s things had changed; one’s most intransigent literary friends had capitulated by then, everybody had a well-upholstered sofa and I was reduced to such marginal causes as the Metropolitan Museum, after-dinner coffee cups, and the expectation that visitors would go home by 2 A.M. and put their ashes in the ashtrays. Then why should I not also defend the expectation that a student at Columbia, even a poet, would do his work, submit it to his teachers through the normal channels of classroom communication, stay out of jail, and then, if things went right, graduate, start publishing, be reviewed, and see what developed, whether he was a success or failure?

Well, for Ginsberg, things didn’t go right for quite a while. The time came when he was graduated from Columbia and published his poems, but first he got into considerable difficulty, beginning with his suspension from college and the requirement that he submit to psychiatric treatment, and terminating — but this was quite a few years later — in an encounter with the police from which he was extricated by some of his old teachers who thought he needed a hospital more than a prison. The suspension had been for a year, when Ginsberg had been a Senior; the situation was not without its grim humor. It seems that Ginsberg had traced an obscenity in the dusty windows of Hartley Hall; the words were too shocking for the Dean of Students to speak, he had written them on a piece of paper which he pushed across the desk: “F— the Jews.” Even the part of Lionel that wanted to laugh couldn’t, it was too hard for the Dean to have to transmit this message to a Jewish professor — this was still in the ’40′s when being a Jew in the university was not yet what it is today. “But he’s a Jew himself,” said the Dean. “Can you understand his writing a thing like that?” Yes, Lionel could understand; but he couldn’t explain it to the Dean. And anyway, he knew that the legend in the dust of Hartley Hall required more than an understanding of Jewish self-hatred and also that it was not the sole cause for administrative uneasiness about Ginsberg and his cronies. It was ordinary good sense for the college to take therapeutic measures with Ginsberg.

For me, it was of some note that the auditorium smelled fresh. The place was already full when we arrived; I took one look at the crowd and was certain that it would smell bad. But I was mistaken. These people may think they’re dirty inside and dress up to it. Nevertheless, they smell all right. The audience was clean and Ginsberg was clean and Corso was clean and Orlovsky was clean. Maybe Ginsberg says he doesn’t bathe or shave; Corso, I know, declares that he has never combed his hair; Orlovsky has a line in one of the two poems he read — he’s not yet written his third, the chairman explained — “If I should shave, I know the bugs would go away.” But for this occasion, at any rate, Ginsberg, Corso and Orlovsky were all clean and shaven; Kerouac, in crisis, didn’t appear, but if he had come he would have been clean and shaven too — he was at Hunter, I’ve inquired about that. And anyway, there’s nothing dirty about a checked shirt or a lumberjacket and blue jeans, they’re standard uniform in the best nursery schools. Ginsberg has his pride, as do his friends.

And how do I look to the “beats,” I ask myself after that experience with the seats, and not only I but the other wives I was with. We had pulled aside the tattered old velvet rope which marked off the section held for faculty, actually it was trailing on the floor, and moved into the seats Dupee’s wife Andy had saved for us by strewing coats on them; there was a big grey overcoat she couldn’t identify: she stood holding it up in the air murmuring wistfully, “Whose is this?” — until the young people in the row in back of us took account of us and answered sternly, “Those seats are reserved for faculty.” If I have trouble unraveling undergraduates from “beats,” neither do the wives of the Columbia English department wear their distinction with any certainty.

But Dupee’s distinction, that’s something else again: what could I have been worrying about, when had Dupee ever failed to meet the occasion, or missed a right style? I don’t suppose one could witness a better performance than his on Thursday evening; its rightness was apparent the moment he walked onto the stage, his troupe in tow and himself just close enough and just enough removed to indicate the balance in which he held the situation. Had there been a hint of betrayal in his deportment, of either himself or his guests — naturally, he had made them his guests — the whole evening might have been different: for instance, a few minutes later when the overflow attendance outside the door began to bang and shout for admission, might not the audience have caught the contagion and become unruly too? Or would Ginsberg have stayed with his picture of himself as poet serious and triumphant instead of succumbing to what must have been the greatest temptation to spoil his opportunity? “The last time I was in this theater,” Dupee began quietly, “it was also to hear a poet read his works. That was T. S. Eliot.” A slight alteration of inflection, from iron to mockery, from condescension to contempt, and it might well have been a signal for a near-riot, boos and catcalls and whistlings; the evening would have been lost to the “beats,” Dupree and Columbia would have been defeated. Dupee transformed a circus into a classroom…. One could feel nothing but pity for Ginsberg and his friends that their front of disreputableness and rebellion should be this transparent, this vulnerable to the seductions of a clever host. With Dupee’s introduction, the whole of their defense had been penetrated at the very outset.

There was a meeting going on at home of the pleasant professional sort which, like the comfortable living-room in which it usually takes place, at a certain point in a successful modern literary career confirms the writer in a sense of disciplined achievement and well-earned reward. I had found myself hurrying as if I were needed, but there was really no reason for my haste; my entrance was an interruption, even a disturbance of the attractive scene. Auden, alone of the eight men in the room not dressed in a proper suit but wearing his battered old brown leather jacket, was first to inquire about my experience. I told him I had been moved; he answered that he was ashamed of me. I said, “It’s different when it’s a sociological phenomenon and when it’s human beings,” and he of course knew and accepted what I said. Yet as I prepared to get out of the room so that the men could sit down again with their drinks, I felt there was something more I had to add — it was not enough to leave the “beats” only as human beings — and so I said, “Allen Ginsberg read a love-poem to you, Lionel. I liked it very much.” It was a strange thing to say in the circumstances, perhaps even a little foolish. But I’m sure that Ginsberg’s old teacher knew what I was saying, and why I was impelled to say it.

Read the article in full at the website of Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, in the Partisan Review, Vol. 26, No. 2, page 214.

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Thursday Poetry Corner: C. D. Wright

Words and the World

In (slightly belated) celebration of National Poetry Month, we are happy to present a guest post by intern Lizzie Tribone on the inimitable C. D. Wright, who passed away early this year.

International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong is a biennial gala celebrating poetry that unites poets from all over the world under a single theme. Each festival yields a box set of chapbooks written in connection with the festival theme and an anthology, which collects selections of the participating poets. The theme for the 2011 festival was: Words and the World. Poets in this year’s festival included Ling Yu, Paul Muldoon, María Baranda, Tomaž Šalamun, and the late C. D. Wright.

Wright was raised in Arkansas and after earning her MFA from the University of Arkansas, she went on to garner many accolades, notably the MacArthur Fellowship in 2004. She is praised as a true American poet who experimented with language and incorporated images and stories from her Southern upbringing. For the 2011 International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong Wright penned the chapbook, Flame, which is a part of the Words and the World twenty-volume set and the Words and the World anthology. Both feature a bilingual format, placing the English and Chinese translations side by side, as if in conversation. (more…)

Friday, April 29th, 2016

What Can Poetry Do?

Poetry and Conflict

What Can Poetry Do?

Our celebration of world literature would not be complete without a post to celebrate world poetry, especially during National Poetry Month.

The International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong is a biennial gala celebrating poetry that brings together poets from all over the world and unites them under a single theme. Each festival yields a box set of chapbooks written in connection with the festival’s theme and an anthology, which collects selections of the participating poets work, both are published by The Chinese University Press. The theme for the 2015 festival was: Poetry and Conflict.

In his foreword to the Poetry and Conflict anthology co-editor Bei Dao writes:

Since antiquity, poetry has been sourced in humanity’s suffering, a driving force for the overcoming of darkness toward the light. Now, amid proposed conflicts between civilizations, histories, religions, and languages, what can poetry do? In the bedlam of the morbid fantasies of our world, what can poetry do? In this moment of mystery when land and air are collapsing, what can poetry do? In retracing the source and course of our spiritual knocking at language’s door, what can poetry do?

In the work contained in this collection the poets answer. Over and over again they show us what poetry can do. Here are a few highlights:

From Najwan Darwish, a Palestinian poet, who is one of the foremost Arabic language poets of his generation:

Even in War

I considered looking at my lower half
where I could feel the pain
but held back for the moment, fearing
not to find some part of me
I kept on down the stairs, my missing part
still with me, and here I am
climbing into bed with my wanting body
(still not looking), and it no longer matters
where the damage is, and it will do no good
to remember how I was wounded

Even in war, I was just a passer-by

(Translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid) (more…)

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Weekly Feature and Book Giveaway: World Literature Week

World Literature Week

This week, in conjunction with the PEN World Voices Festival, we will be highlighting our wide range of books of and about world literature here on the Columbia University Press blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Here’s a quick summary of books we’ll have posts for this week (we’ll add the posts, as well, as they arrive!):


  • An interview with M. A. Orthofer, highlighting his thorough and fascinating new guide to contemporary fiction around the world, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction
  • Tuesday

  • An interview with translator Julia Lovell and “The Apprentice,” an excerpted short story from The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, a collection of short stories about everyday life in China in the late 1980s by Zhu Wen (following up his previous collection, I Love Dollars)
  • An excerpt on writing a book composed from notes in the margins of history, from Hideo Furukawa’s novel/history/memoir of the 3/11 disaster at Fukushima, Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, translated by Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka. Hideo Furukawa will be in New York for the PEN World Voices festival! For more details, click here.
  • Wednesday

  • “The Disappearance of M,” the first story in Ng Kim Chew’s collection of short fiction, Slow Boat to China and Other Stories, translated and edited by Carlos Rojas
  • Watch novelist Li Ang discuss The Lost Garden, her eloquent and beautiful exploration of contemporary Taiwan, with translators Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt, and Columbia University Press Director Jennifer Crewe, and then read “When the Incident Occurred,” an excerpt from Part 1
  • Thursday

  • A quick critical look at the dominance of English and its effect on world literature from Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature, by Rebecca L. Walkowitz, and The Fall of Language in the Age of English, by Minae Mizumura, translated by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter
  • Editor Christine Dunbar introduces our new Russian Library series, with a particular focus on its first three books: Between Dog and Wolf, by Sasha Sokolov, translated by Alexander Boguslawski; Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays, by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler, translated by Robert Chandler, Jesse Irwin, and Susan Larsen; and Strolls with Pushkin, by Andrei Sinyavsky, translated by Catherine Theimer Nepomnyashchy and Slava I. Yastremski
  • Friday

  • Take a closer look at Chinese University Press’s extensive collection of drama from Nobel Prize for Literature winner Gao Xingjian, including, among others, The Other Shore, Snow in August, and, most recently, City of the Dead and Ballade Nocturne
  • A wonderful selection of poetry from Chinese University Press’s series of International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong anthologies, particularly the most recent installment, Poetry and Conflict, Edited by Bei Dao, Shelby K. Y. Chan, Gilbert C. F. Fong, Lucas Klein, Christopher Mattison, and Chris Song
  • Book Giveaway

    We are also offering a FREE selection of titles discussed in the feature: The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction, by M. A. Orthofer; Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, by Hideo Furukawa; The Lost Garden, by Li Ang; and The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, by Zhu Wen. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, April 29th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

    Thursday, January 21st, 2016

    Shirley Hazzard’s Introduction to Iris Origo’s LEOPARDI: A STUDY IN SOLITUDE

    We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think

    “Great sensibilities are born into exile. As he came to an understanding of his powers, and of the cruel seclusion of his existence at Recanati, Leopardi was not the first to feel homesickness for a setting he had never known—for the stimulus and sympathy of kindred spirits to whom art and thought, and the heart’s affections, were supreme: a country that he had inhabited in books.” — Shirley Hazard

    This week, our featured book is We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays, by Shirley Hazzard, edited with an introduction by Brigitta Olubas. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from Hazzard’s introduction to Iris Origo’s study of Italian lyric poet Giacomo Leopardi.

    Friday, July 24th, 2015

    On Grief: Poems by Alexandra Butler, author of “Walking the Night Road”

    Walking the Night Road

    This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. While Butler has written a wonderful and moving memoir in Walking the Night Road, she is also a published poet, who has written many poems addressing the same stories and themes as Walking the Night Road. In today’s post, the final in our week’s feature of her book, we are happy to present a list of Butler’s poems curated by their author, with short introductions to each poem to help put them into the context of her memoir.

    Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

    The author’s memories of her childhood become distorted by grief. Author expresses rage about the promises her beloved mother made to her as a child and could not keep. The promises of Mortals.

    Fair Game
    o happy childhood
    for I did not know
    that all my life approached
    that old sit down that had been had
    so many times
    so many beasts in that same brine

    how could she ever think
    that this cup would not be mine

    what we had
    what did we have
    as transparent now as air
    as easy and as casual and as
    natural as a yawn
    as every day as anything
    I found her there but gone
    my hand felt for my heart
    as if to turn the thing back on

    that which she had wiped away
    with a mother’s furtive hand
    had written its name back
    on every surface everywhere
    leaning forward through the walls
    its halos of fiery hair
    its red breath melting the paint
    that went rolling down like peels
    royal purple at its heels

    how easy it had been for it to hide
    heartless so no worry
    of a beating from inside
    while I slept it had swept in
    calmly to prepare its feast
    sitting down at what had always been its place
    at the head of our family table
    in the centre of our safe and sacred house

    I awoke to find my mother there
    smoking at the window
    a bright green apple
    shoved deep inside her mouth

    just like that
    she’d been made gone

    in what
    as a child I had reduced
    to a simple ray of light
    did I not see the storm within
    of countless particles in flight
    ditto did I not see in her
    the simple beast
    she always was despite
    elaborate fantasies

    an animal—a jungle—and a reign
    a wild one who had managed
    to convince me she was tame
    and that she and I were chosen
    two of life’s beloved pets
    instead of just two more
    among the countless hunted game (more…)

    Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

    Thursday Fiction Corner: Sierra Nevada, by Tomaž Šalamun

    The Fall of Language in the Age of English

    Welcome to the Thursday Fiction Corner, where we highlight some of the excellent poetry, drama, and fiction from our list and the lists of our distributed presses. Two weeks ago, the 2015 Best Translated Book Award Poetry Longlist was announced, and Tomaž Šalamun’s wonderful Soy Realidad, translated by Michael Thomas Taren and Šalamun himself, and published by Dalkey Archive Press, was included! Given that April is also National Poetry Month, we thought that it would be doubly appropriate to use this week’s Fiction Corner post to feature “Sierra Nevada,” a poem from Soy Realidad, in honor of the (two) occasions.

    Thursday, April 9th, 2015

    Thursday Fiction Corner: Our 2015 Best Translated Book Award Nominees!

    A huge congratulations to Dalkey Archive Press and East Slope Publishing, our distributed client presses, for making the 2015 Best Translated Book Award Fiction Longlist and Poetry Longlist!

    According to Three Percent:

    these twenty-five titles will be narrowed down to a select group of finalists on Tuesday, May 5th, and the winner will be announced at a panel during BEA on Wednesday, May 27th. As always, thanks to Amazon.com’s grant, the winning author and translator will each receive a $5,000 cash prize.

    Fiction Longlist

    The Author and Me by Éric Chevillard, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Dalkey Archive Press)

    Works by Edouard Levé, translated from the French by Jan Steyn (France, Dalkey Archive Press)

    Snow and Shadow by Dorothy Tse, translated from the Chinese by Nicky Harman (Hong Kong, East Slope Publishing)

    Poetry Longlist

    Soy Realidad by Tomaž Šalamun, translated from the Slovenian by Michael Thomas Taren (Slovenia, Dalkey Archive)


    Check out some of our previous blogposts about the value of literature in translation below!

    Words Without Borders interview with Susan Bernofsky, co-editor of IN TRANSLATION: Translators on Their Work and What It Means

    World Literature Today interview with IN TRANSLATION editors Susan Bernofsky and Esther Allen

    The Value of Publishing Translation

    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.