Archive for January, 2008

The Ashbery Enigma

ashbery by elaine de kooning

If anyone has ever strugggled trying to relate to the work of John Ashbery (or to have sensible discussions with those who idolize him), S Shirazi has illuminated the darkness for us. It’s alright to throw up your hands and admit, “I don’t understand what he’s talking about!” You mustn’t be embarassed. Nobody–not even the Blooms and Vendlers of this world–probably has any more than an inkling of an idea what Ashbery so impenetrably–at times valiantly–versifies.  Except, of course, for the venerable poet himself.

In their comic disjunctions, abrupt swerves and mundane deflations, his poems function something like grown-up Mad-Libs, but with the names of Renaissance painters instead of fart or booger.” Read all of Shirazi’s essay here.

by Sandro Penna

The insomnia of swallows. The quiet
Friend come to greet me
                                              at the station
L’insonnia delle rondini. L’amico
Quieto a salutarmi alla stazione.

Sandro Penna, translated by Alexander Booth

Who’s the Greatest Living Poet?

The Greatest Living Poet

Always reluctant to snark another poet (see recent post), this time it couldn’t be helped! This guy (not Lemmy), who bills himself as the Greatest Living Poet, boasts the following revelation on his website: “At the year 2001 (sic) I made the observation that powerful poetry no longer exists in the West.” And a very powerful observation it was. Inspired by Ziggy Stardust–David Bowie’s early seventies alter ego–he decided to take up the mantle, as it were, as the Greatest Living Poet. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this guy snarks himself so well that all commentary is superfluous. Read on: “I took the mask of a visitor from another planet. This poet did not write poetry like any other human then on the planet . Yet this persona wrote his poetry with the confidence and skill of a great poet. It was an outrageous experiment that had a perfect result.” Again, no quip could do justice to this brand of self-worship. And here’s what he has to say about Walt Whitman: “I am certain that when Whitman self- published Leaves of Grass he had in mind a project similar to mine – he too was a greatest living poet (small caps). ” Small caps!! For a while I thought to myself, What a perfect joke!  I should add, however, that this guy takes out an ad in every issue of the New York Review of Books. So, in a way, we must take him (ahum!) seriously, and look to the poetry for an answer. After all, perhaps he really is the greatest living poet, which would be seriously bad news for the rest of us. Judge for yourselves. I present the evidence.

from Daniel, Isaiah, Habbakuk

No longer keep me incantation,
flesh my seamless electron
antenna to all human screens.

Earth behind on math elevators,

light in my space ray, a steam on glass;
daily love soon forgot at the mechanic level;
paper money held till I squeezed the ink,


poem courtesy of the Greatest Living Poet (whatever be his name).

Travels With Lady Day

(From the diaries of Thane Dimatims…)

I’ve never smoked opium, but I’ve traveled
To the Far East in my dreams, aboard ships
Manned with prostitutes and hustlers dressed in white
Each running with his head cut off, in the grip

Of fevers various. The evening wind
Touseled the hair of Lady Day, who lay
In a daze on a blanket by my bed.
The huge Pacific blue lay overhead

Like an ocean upturned into the sieve
of sky (a magnolia in her hair
as always), drenching us in azure light.
These dreams always left me like a siezure

Spent, abandoned to fantastic musings,
Able to pass days at a time in a trance
Of cloak-and-dagger. Like Tom Sawyer, I
Balanced footsteps of my friend’s vitus-dance

Searching out treasure in the sierra
Of my obliterated consciousness.
Nights vanished in the drunkenness of time,
Mothwings evaporated into dust.

Into this doomed cradle my mother bore
Her only child who, by the age of ten
Dictator and diplomat interfamilias
Extraordinaire. Such sorrows from a pen!

The world, the world…who can speak of such things
as “the world”? Who knows the world? Who has lived
enough to have the right to write such words
as “the world”? No, I’ve never seen the world,

only the bright lights beyond the harbor
twisting along the shoreline of my dreams.
These I’ve called “the world”. And Lady Day?
She’s thrown herself overboard…what more can I say?

Marc Alan Di Martino

Who’s the Snark?

hunting the snarkEvery now and then I go and check out what’s new at Poetry Snark. The first time I stumbled into this blog I felt my blood begin to rise. All they seem to do is make fun of poets–serious, sincere, hard-working poets. They hold no punches. They are acerbic, clever, offensive, jerky, smirky, fresh and–at times–funny as hell. Which is not to say that I like them or would want my poetry snarked by them (then again…). But I have had a modest revelation thanks to their irreverence. I used to be a poetry snark, too. Deep down I still am, I suppose, because snarkiness never quite leaves you. Of course, I’ve realized that there are ways I prefer to use my energy other than snarking. The snark is always on the lookout for a bigger, more ruthless snark. A snark’s snark is far worse than his bite, because rule number one is that a snark is a frustrated critic. A critic is a frustrated artist, an artist is a frustrated human being and so on… When the snark begins to publish creative work he (or she) will often quit snarking, as snarking is usually a means to an end. So have no fear of the snark. There’s one lurking inside all of us somewhere. American Poets Abroad would like to offer a meek consolation to the snarked poet Samuel Menashe. We happen to think he’s a fine poet. And here’s hoping your poetry is good enough to get snarked!

The Shrine Whose Shape I Am

The shrine whose shape I am
Has a fringe of fire
Flames skirt my skin
There is no Jerusalem but this
Breathed in flesh by shameless love
Built high upon the tides of blood
I believe the Prophets and Blake
And like David I bless myself
With all my might
I know many hills were holy once
But now in the level lands to live
Zion ground down must become marrow
Thus in my bones I am the King’s son
And through death’s domain I go
Making my own procession

Samuel Menashe

Contrasting Views

"Literalism is a feature of boorish translators." Cicero "The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase." Nabokov

The Faerie Queene

"John Ashbery said reading the Faerie Queene was like reading an endless beautiful comic strip." Kenneth Koch

Sigmund Freud

"Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me."


January 2008
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