Tuesday, January 12, 2021



Galway Kinnell is as free as verse might get, and it's a wonder that his poems contain so many memorable lines when considering that one might at first mistake him for prating rather than poeticizing. Kinnell does have a habit of elaborating longer than a detail requires, a habit he shares with novelist Russell Banks; word choice ceases to be a criteria for slicing beyond the phenomenological divide and capturing a sense of an experience, replaced with the conceit with a prolix eloquence, of a sort, makes a culminating narrative more real. I see it as a stalling action, personally, and I often think that the overwriting is some hedge against death or, at least, a buffer against the fear that one has reached the end of their word rope. One might add, though, the same might be supposed of those writers who specialize in composing dozens of short lyrics at a time, continuously ,over the years. The dread that equates long silence with being finished, as well as the idea that if one isn't writing, one isn't a poet after all. It goes on, and one wishes we had editors who were more discerning , let us say demanding, when it came to putting together major collections of a poet's work. Still, in all that mass one finds fine works, and Kinnell , again, surprises you with poems that exactly right in length, tone, confession, and insight that doesn't conclude but properly defers a closing on the author's emotional conflation.

The difference is that his poems have a mood and a destination he seeks in his inclusion of every day things and events and his self-conscious interactions with them. All the choice ironies he writes in this poem, poem are fluid and presented with a rhythm that combines of someone recalling a recent set of experiences and sensing the arrangement of the details. It's not unlike watching someone unpack boxes in a room of empty shelves, arranging the books and bric a brac in positions that highlight priority of detail. -- 

A tractor-trailer carrying two dozen crushed automobiles overtakes a tractor-trailer carrying a dozen new.
Oil is a form of waiting.
The internal combustion engine converts the stasis of millennia into motion.
Cars howl on rain-wetted roads.
Airplanes rise through the downpour and throw us through the blue sky.
The idea of the airplane subverts earthly life.
Computers can deliver nuclear explosions to precisely anywhere on earth.
A lightning bolt is made entirely of error.
Erratic Mercurys and errant Cavaliers roam the highways.
A girl puts her head on a boy's shoulder; they are driving west.
The windshield wipers wipe, homesickness one way, wanderlust the other, back and forth.
This happened to your father and to you, Galway -- sick to stay, longing to come up against the ends of the earth, and climb over.

All speak of the contradictions of travel and the false hopes that lie in the speed and distance one can personally attain. As with his father, Kinnell finds he can not travel out of his own skin or his awareness of who he is and suggests that his attempts to out pace his demons merely fed their flame. 


Normally I dislike poems that use poetry or the fact that the writer is a poet as their subject matter because it smacks of a chronic elitism that kills the urge to read poetry at all, but Larry Levis in the poem below attends to the task with humor and a willingness to let the air of out of the practitioner;s inflated sense of importance. He is of the mind that poems have to "hit the bricks", get road tested where people live and work. What makes his writing remarkable is his ability to be straight forward without being literal minded. 

The Poem You Asked For
by Larry Levis
My poem would eat nothing.
I tried giving it water
but it said no,

worrying me.
Day after day,
I held it up to the llight,

turning it over,
but it only pressed its lips
more tightly together.

It grew sullen, like a toad
through with being teased.
I offered it money,

my clothes, my car with a full tank.
But the poem stared at the floor.
Finally I cupped it in

my hands, and carried it gently
out into the soft air, into the
evening traffic, wondering how

to end things between us.
For now it had begun breathing,
putting on more and

more hard rings of flesh.
And the poem demanded the food,
it drank up all the water,

beat me and took my money,
tore the faded clothes
off my back,

said Shit,
and walked slowly away,
slicking its hair down.

Said it was going
over to your place.

Poets often enough try to use idiomatic language with the intention of using the vernacular to suggest dimensions of significance only a select priesthood of poets can decipher, if only barely; too often all the reader gets is a lugubrious meandering in the mother tongue of something that cannot decide what it wants to be. I suspect many take themselves to be latter day Ashberys or keepers of the Language Poetry practical/critical attack, but this would a defensive reflex, I think, a wall around an ego that cannot concede that it's owner has written a body of poems that mistake being dense with density. Dense merely means impenetrable, which means nothing , ideas in this case, get or get out. Density is somewhat more of a compliment, implying, as I sense it, that there lies therein a series of perception and interestingly worded ideas that cling to solid images in a lean, subtle, nearly invisible way--intellection and detail find a perfect fit--that one can draw series of readings from the work, if not a final verdict. Leavis shows that it's possible to elude having to explain yourself and be suggetively vague to intent without sacrificing the illuminated surface of the poem.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

 Musaic - Simon and Bard (Flying Fish)

Fred Simon and Michael Bard, a pianist and multiple reedman respectively who' ve been around jazz circles in seeming anonymity  the past few years, here emerge from relative obscurity with their first record Musaic It's a release that  plays-it-safe: the melodies are pleasant and draw on a number of recognizable sources, the rhythm section does its chores competently, and the solos display the requisite knowledge of technique. But, the music never takes chances. Technical competence aside, the moves are second guessed and have a familiarity to them not unlike a song you've heard too often for too long and desire nothing less than to be rid of the  tune for your remaining lifetime. It does not move this listener, who may be accused both of jazz snobbery and, no doubt, of having listened to too much solos that have more to do with practice than performance. To restate, the skill is is high among the particulars, but this is more paycheck than pay off.  Simon and Bard s insistence on maintaining a· status quo - their sources sound like an overly-familiar crossbreeding of Paul Winter, Oregon and Brubeck: with a dash of Ellington thrown in for good measure - makes the stuff on Musaic merely run of the mill. Even Larry Coryell's appearance on the funk jam "Fancy Frog"  fails to rise this effort above the level of shallow breathing. Coryell is his generation's essential jazz guitar innovator  who  has recorded an impressive array of off-the-grid improvisations in an increasingly  restrictive jazz-pop-rock genre. Simon and Bard's preference for the most somnambulant  variation on that once galvanic arena seems to lull the guitarist into an uncharacteristic stupor. The music is not atrocious. It's nice and would make the ideal backdrop for when your mother was over for dinner. This is the music you put on when you're loading the dishwasher.

Thursday, January 7, 2021


 A cigar is just a cigar, meaning, I believe, and, noise remains noise.  Clangings by Steven Cramer is one such noise.I  am leery of poems that explain what the title refers to , as it more often than not indicates a writer who is trying to let himself off the hook when confronted with a suggestion that the work , once inspected, not only fails to make sense in the literal , but fails at even providing a sense of anything beyond its own grammatical complication ."...dissociated ideas conveyed through similar word sounds..." is what we're told this all means, and I say very good, you bet, but there is no poetry here, just symptoms.    I have been a supporter of  and have argued vigorously for the work of difficult poets who offer a language, elongated or terse, from Eliot, S Dickins  and David Lehman, who have a variety of ways of challenging the reader with efforts, experiments and projects that stretch and extend the power of metaphorical language .

The difference between they and Steve Cramer's poetry is that this week's poet prefers spontaneous gush of short circuiting word salad while the others , speaking in the parlance of jazz snobbery, made better note choices. Uncivilized as it may sound in some quarrelsome corners of the small room that constitutes the poetry world, I can't shake the idea that the writing of poetry is  in the best sense heroic, where the mundane, nettlesome and lethal aspects of one's aspects serve not merely as the stuff to be treated solely as figurative snapshots of one's passing through their years as an imperfect , but rather of transcending those  matters and offering something that can be shared other than a grousing regret. 

Cramer is inclined to consider  speech , in itself, a poetry, as the results can, at times, resemble either habit of mind.  There needs to be something more. Cramer didn't bring it home. Every thing is there , suggested, run through associative puns and the like, but this is private without being alluring. It reads, I believe, as if it were the transcript of an intake interview for psychiatric ward. What might make for a good start for a therapist makes for a turgid grind for the reader to make sense of, with little reward for real music, sweet or artfully dissonant. Cramer, I'm sure, is an honest writer, but there just isn't that extra dimension here to make this read like more than transcribed gibberish; poetry is an art and art, although it may be derived from mundane materials and the fetters of human existence, needs to be compelling beyond an explanation of how it came to be. What in the poem is a starting point for a discussion about how the language transforms a set of assumptions, does the rare thing and encapsulates a state of being that is problematic?  

My guess is that we would be in a mood to discuss the sociology of the poem, the tropes and issues that go into making this standardized bit of alienation rather than have an operation that tried to appreciate the lyric qualities.