Friday, April 14, 2006

Poetry online - the question

Is it achieving critical mass, in terms of respectability? Are we yet at the point where you would rather publish in an admired zine than one of the gazillion print journals that increasingly no one but contributors read?

In my case, the local poetry community is lively, determinedly neo-Beat and impenetrable. Too many poets trying to get too many readings too few poets attend, unless Robert Hass or Jane Hirschfield might be there, etc., etc. It's a distinctly clubby atmosphere -- odd for supposed Bohemians, and I don't mean the kind that hang out at the Bohemian Club (or do I?). I've been invited to do few readings and the audiences have been sparse, unless I brought my own.

Contrast that with the democratic, lively, determinedly non-poetically partisan atmosphere that prevails on the Web. Zines abound and are mostly hungry for good work, especially hungry to convert print poets to online poets. With email, it's easy to strike up acquaintances that can even deepen into virtual literary friendships based on dialogues about poems.

Sound like the poetry world dream machine? Except for the lack of pay, I think it is. And since when did pay matter in the poetry world? (Except for professorships, I get that. But for the rest of us.)

I'd like to hear what others have to say. Are we finally at the turning point? Or does online poetry still have far to go in terms of garnering critical respectability?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

George Herbert

Where have you been all my life? Thanks to a "slightly modernized" version edited by Henry L. Carrigan, I can now read this quintessential English mystical poet with pleasure and very few linguistic bumps in the road. Think Shakespeare with spirituality. I love the poems in "The Church" especially, lovely mystical odes that use language and devotion playfully, with an intimate, endearing tone so different than the preachiness I was expecting.

Carrigan has given a similar treatment to the beautiful poetry of Ramon Lull. I look forward to Carrigan unlocking more of these treasures for us.

And now, back to Whitman . . . and bailing out the water, which continues to rise around here. Something like 36 straight hours of rain, with the most rainy days in March ever recorded in the SF Bay Area. I'm thinking ark, animals . . .

Monday, April 10, 2006

Whitman, where have you been

All my life? In searching out poems for an upcoming reading event, I decided to read all -- yes, ALL -- of Whitman. It's the only way to read him. Excerpts will not do. I went down to my local used book store and got a big fat hardcover collection, printed in 1931. Back when they favored big type, the kind my eyes like even when I have my lenses in. Emblematic of his expansiveness, the large letters sprawl across a page never wide enough for the long breath of his lines. If ever there was an argument for Olson's breath-of-the-line, this poetry is it. But you need big bellows to sing along with such long-listing encomiums.

It's like surfing the big ones, a ride on the North Shore -- like over-flying America without a plane -- like liking everything regardless of personal utility. Whitman renews your faith in similes. He also seemed to be able to see and hear at a distance, which made me suspect supernatural powers. Certainly, his language powers are supernatural. Here's an excerpt from my current favorite:

THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day,
or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads -- all became part of him.

The horizon’s edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud; These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.