Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Poet's Bookshelf

Paul Muldoon, from The New York Times
Paul Muldoon tapped to replace Alice Quinn as The New Yorker poetry editor
My colleague Bill Ramsey recommended this article by Douglas Goetsch from The American Scholar on "The Poetry Stand"--a booth operated by poetry students who write poems on demand for passersby
In that same issue of The American Scholar are four superb poems by Louise Gluck from a forthcoming collection. The little cluster of poems is introduced by Langdon Hammer, who writes, "Gluck is creating an Italy of the mind, a Mediterranean world of no definite moment or place...." He notes that the poems are "a departure" for Gluck, taking her away from first-person lyricism. Although I've not been a big Gluck fan (though she won a Pulitzer for The Wild Iris and got a National Book Award nomination for Averno), I found these four poems immediately engaging, making me eager to see her next collection. They bear some similarity to "A Village Life" published in the April 13, 2007 New Yorker.
I just got Poet's Bookshelf: Contemporary Poets on Books That Shaped Their Art, by Peter Davis, published by Barnwood. Davis asked a bunch of poets to list 5-10 books that have been most "essential" to their art and to comment on the list. He includes the responses of about 80 poets--a very diverse group including Rae Armantrout, Wanda Coleman, B.H. Fairchild, Maxine Kumin, Adrienne Rich, Ron Silliman, Richard Wilbur, Dean Young, and so on, though most are well known. There were only a few I didn't recognize: Annie Finch, Peter Johnson, Charles Potts, Juliana Spahr, and Paul Violi. As a whole the lists strike me as conservative, white male dominated, even among some of the edgier contributors. The comments range from Charles Wright's 6-line gloss on his 11-item list to Clayton Eshleman's 12-page dissertation on his culturally varied but all-male list of 9, including Bud Powell's piano version of "Tea for Two," Wilhelm Reich's The Function of the Orgasm, and Mikhail Bakhtin's Rabelais and His World. As an appendix, Davis includes a list of authors mentioned three or more times. The winners: William Carlos Williams (17), Emily Dickinson (16), Walt Whitman (16), Frank O'Hara (12), William Butler Yeats (11), William Shakespeare (11), Wallace Stevens (10), John Ashbery (9), Rainer Maria Rilke (9), Elizabeth Bishop (8), Sylvia Plath (8), Garcia Lorca (8), Hart Crane (7), Allen Ginsberg (7). Specific works mentioned frequently were The Bible, Donald Allen's New American Poetry, and The Random House Book of Twentieth Century French Poetry, ed. Paul Auster.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Akane's Web Site

Akane Igarashi's photo/video web site
(See video link for a film about Janne and her work as a nurse midwife.)
ditch--alternative Canadian poetry

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Going Undercover

Yesterday in my Literary Nonfiction class we discussed truth-telling in nonfiction and how it relates to authors going undercover in order to get a story. For class, we read a series of journal entries by Lawrence Otis Graham (Graham's blog) he called "Invisible Man," originally published in New York (excerpt) , in which he describes temporarily giving up his life as a wealthy New York lawyer in order to sign on as a busboy at an exclusive country club in Connecticut, one that at the time banned blacks and Jews. Graham, who is black, tells a series of predictably appalling stories about overheard conversations and his own treatment at the hands of country club members.
Ehrenreich and Conover

This led us to a talk about Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed, in which she takes on a succession of blue collar and pink collar jobs and reports on her struggle to make ends meet in the process. Going back to the sixties, there is also John Howard Griffin's controversial Black Like Me in which he, a white man, colors his skin and passes as black in order to ride a bus through the south and then write about the experience. One of my favorite undercover stories is that of Ted Conover, for whom going undercover is his usual modus operandi, and who for one book, Newjack, became a guard at Sing Sing Prison.

A widely publicized case that takes the matter of "going undercover" to an unethical extreme is the story of the British pianist Joyce Hatto, whose husband passed off a hundred or more exquisite recordings by other pianists as her own. Well after her death by cancer, he went on concocting for her an elaborate fictitious life of concerts and recordings, which he sold on his own label. Mark Singer tells the tale in the current New Yorker in his article, "Fantasia for Piano."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Planned 9/11 Memorial at World Trade Center Site

Planned Construction at World Trade Center Site

During a brief visit to New York with our daughter Nell around 1994, Janne and I asked Nell what she'd like to do with the several hours we had before meeting our friend Deirdre on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then driving north to the Adirondacks. Nell wanted to visit the World Trade Center. So after driving through the Holland Tunnel (or was it the Lincoln Tunnel?) we parked in an expensive lot near the twin towers, rode the South Tower escalator up to the elevator, and then zoomed to the top for the exhilerating view. We saw clouds gathering to the southwest over New Jersey, and just as we came down from the open deck, we watched a storm blow in across the Hudson. It was beautiful. Before long, rain was pelting the huge building. By the time we reached the ground, the rain had gone, and we heard music in the plaza between the two towers. It turned out to be what was left of The Mamas and the Papas, singing "California Dreamin'" and other old favorites. Mama Cass was long gone by that time, having died in 1974. Michelle Phillips had long since split with John and started an acting career. So on that day at the base of the towers it was apparently just John Phillips and Denny Doherty with two other female singers. John died in March 2001, only months before the towers came down. Doherty hung on until January this year. I'm glad we made that visit to the WTC.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Popular Names

Maxwell Autrey Driggers - born August 7 - photo by Trey Driggers

"Maxwell" ranked 149th in popularity among names of males in the U.S. in 2006. When I was named "Kenneth Maxwell Autrey" back in 1945, it was 856th in popularity. Here's the Social Security Administration web site where you can see the most popular names used in social security number applications by year. You can go back to check any year. You can also determine the popularity of aparticular name over time. I found that "Kenneth" was in the top 20 the yearI was born but has steadily dropped in popularity since then (Hmmm. Should I take this personally?). "Katrina" plummeted in popularity in 2006.

Another view of Kerouac's On the Road--as "a manifesto for psychobabble"
William James in the Adirondacks