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Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium

Friday, July 29, 2005

Having driven 100 miles without air conditioning in 100 degree weather to get there, I was more prepared (already stinky?) for the atmosphere at Red Emma's than Reb Livingston. She still recovered before I did and yesterday posted pics from the Baltimore Lucipo reading (more here). Despite the oppressive heat, it was a fine evening. I met my cellmates (see below) Reb Livingston and Matt Shindell (who also recovered before me — I must be getting old), renewed my acquaintance with Justin Sirois of Narrow House Recordings, experienced powerful, funny, and extremely varied poetry, and, before I had to leave for work the next day, got to hang out for a while with a bunch of extremely bright and entertaining folks.

After an introduction from Michael Ball (the Baltimore organizer), Lucipo performed in three cells. Ken Rumble, David Need, and Randall Williams took the stage first, reading both individual poems and a longer collaborative piece, a hilarious letter from Ken to George Bush, punctuated by mysterious utterings from the other two. Ken and Randall are both sharply funny satirists; David provided a dark ground for their flights.

The second cell — Todd Sandvik (new poet laureate of Carrboro, North Carolina), Laura Sandvik, Marcus Slease, and Brian Howe — seemed to have choreographed their performance a bit more, with Todd and Laura's counterpoint framing pieces from the other two. Very entertaining, very cleanly and professionally done — they'd been rehearsing.

After a short and (because of the heat) much-need break, it was our turn. Matt, Reb, and I had never met, but over the last couple of weeks we'd written for the occasion a closet drama, Pardon my dragon. I'd been timing it, and it seemed to me to come out about 9 minutes, so we thought we'd have time for two poems each before we started the play. We recruited Carly Sachs for the role of "Dead Roses" (she did a fabulous job, especially with my pentameter intro) and started off.

It was certainly fun to do, but we were done with 12 minutes of time left. I'd forgotten how much faster everything goes the first time in front of an audience. Fortunately (except it meant more time to sweat), that audience was pleased, and kept us up for another pair of poems each. I was surprised how each seemed to lead into the next, given both the vastly different technical nature of our work and the fact that we did no consultation on the individual poems or their order, before or after the play. Serendipityville. Or magic.


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Monday, July 25, 2005

Dancing last Friday night at a club with my wife — and I can't remember the last time — was absolutely bloody wonderful, despite the drunk who wanted to show how much he liked me by "playfully" punching me in the side and on the arm, even after repeated and increasingly vehement suggestions that he not do so, even after I held him up by his shirt and threatened bodily harm (can't remember ever doing that), which only interrupted him for a while, long enough for me to calm down and get the bouncer. Even that could not spoil the evening.

Even the fact that Friday's secret went only OK — no "no," but not yet a "yes" — could not dampen the evening. I love to dance, and I really love to dance with Deana. I'm really, really tired of living away from her and our girls. Even our newly acquired teenaged boy.

On a perhaps less mysterious note, I need to learn how to play volleyball like an old fart.

The play Reb Livingston, Matt Shindell, and I are writing and will be performing (first reading, dress rehearsal, and opening night) on the Lucipo tour this Wednesday at Red Emma's is about done. Y'all come.


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Monday, July 18, 2005

I've been to West Chester three times, and every time I come home high as a kite for a couple of weeks and then just flatline. It's partly catching up with my home and work life (the latter's especially crazy this time, as we're near the end of a very large development project), but a big part of it, I think, is tasting community and then losing it. I said a week ago I was close to being against scenes, and I still am, and I still intend to say something serious about that, but there is nourishment in them for those who can still be ruthless self-critics.

Besides being down, I've been busy with non-blog writing projects: a solicited translation, a collaborative verse play (me, Matthew Shindell, and Reb Livingston) to be performed next week in Baltimore with the Lucipo folks, and the anniversary poem (eleven years last Saturday!) which my wife has made clear she expects and which gives me great joy to write.


Psst — Wish me luck this Friday. It's a secret.


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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Last Friday's Stammer was pretty spectacular, with two teams of breakdancers (Mighty Arms of Atlas & First in Flight), Detroit slammer Future and his coach IO, and Stammer regulars Langston Fuze and Sister Rhonda Reese — all hosted, of course, by Mz Julee. I'd promised I'd get the kids to Rocky, so I had to leave before Lactose Quervo and the open mic, but that band is hot and John Swails and Billy (last name?) were in the crowd, so I know I missed good work. Pics are here, and I've also put up an index page to all my Stammer pics. The link's also on the left under ME & MINE.

Stammer, the upcoming Lucipo tour, this post from Kasey Mohammad, and even Rocky, started me thinking about scenes, their good and not-so-good aspects, and I'll post those thoughts when they're past half-baked. Right now, I'm agin 'em. Scenes, not thoughts. And not just because Ron Silliman is for 'em.


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Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Kasey Mohammad has posted a pretty convincing explanation of his comment, confusing to both me and Jonathan Mayhew on Paul Goodman's "On the Resignation of Justice Black." I don't quite buy it.

Part of my problem with the explanation is that the two senses of "elegance" Kasey tries to defend remind me of the beer can shim in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (search for "This old engine" in Part 1 to find the beginning of the story). In that context, seeing the formal properties of the beer can is truly elegant, while seeing a beer can is just wrong. I spend a lot of time with engineers, and I've spent a fair amount of time with scientists: for most of them, "elegance" is not separable from "beauty" and that beer can was in fact a beautiful solution. The "careless elegance" Kasey attributes to Goodman and O'Hara just doesn't exist—or, if it does, it exists only in the work of true technical masters like Auden. The former two poets wrote more than their share of very bad poetry because of their carelessness. And, by the way, by my lights Goodman is at least as valuable a poet as O'Hara. Adrienne Rich may be an unlikely supporter of that opinion.

On the side, I also object to Kasey's temporal exceptionalism ("a feeling that his [Wilbur's] gracefulness does not stand in the same position of relevance to his own era as Pope's did"), or at least to the direction he apparently takes it. The real distinguishing features of the last 100 years are not coarseness and brutality, but that despite two world wars and the godawful catastrophe of Marxism, a smaller percentage of people died by violence than in any previous time, people on the average lived longer than ever before (even in sub-Saharan Africa), world literacy rates rose higher than ever before, and women achieved unprecedented political freedom and power.


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Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Eighty-one poets, from nearly every school and political persuasion, responded to Peter Davis's request for material for a book the primary audience for which "might be younger poets":

  1. Please list 5-10 books that have been most "essential" to you, as a poet.
  2. Please write some comments about your list. You may want to single out specific poems or passages from the books, discuss how you made your decisions, or provide thoughts about the importance of these books in your life. Feel free to write as much as you like.

The eighty-one being poets, and very different poets, at that, the responses were … various. And they make Poet's Bookshelf a delightful book for browsing, whether you're just beginning to find your way in contemporary poetry and want a copious guide, or you're interested in what your favorite poets recommend, or you want to know who else has read your own neglected favorites. Henri Coulette's "War of the Secret Agents," for instance, gets nods from W. D. Snodgrass and another poet I can no longer find—which brings up my only complaint: this book cries out for an index of poets and titles.

But what what fun it is! I was glad to see Maxine Kumin here, though her list was as unsurprising as Wilbur's was amazing (mostly intellectual comfort for lonely formalists). X. J. Kennedy had the courage to name Mother Goose first. Peter Meinke is completely unknown to me, but anyone whose list starts with Dostoevsky and ends with Yeats, Nemeorv, and Wilbur is someone I have to read. It's gratifying, given the amount of Stafford-bashing that goes on in blogland, to see his work mentioned often. It's astonishing to me that W. C. Williams is mentioned many more times than Shakespeare or Yeats, and beats out Dickinson 17-16 (and Frost only twice!). I'm going to have to finally sit down and read Charlotte Mew (if I can find her).

I do have a quibble which seems almost ungenerous to mention. This is the Sonnetarium, though, and I can't help noticing that of the 25 poets in the Rebel Angels anthology, only Andrew Hudgins and Molly Peacock appear here. I have no idea whether the rest chose not to respond or whether they simply are as unfamiliar to Mr. Davis as many of the poets in the book are to me. Given the balkanization of the poetry world, the latter is likely, and metrical and narrative poets are certainly not neglected.

One other quibble: I'm going to have to redo my budget because of the poets and books I've discovered in Peter Davis's Poet's Bookshelf.


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Monday, July 4, 2005

229 years ago our Declaration of Independence was signed by men whose leaders were largely not Christian, by men who had learned through bitter experience—the English Civil War and the reprisals after the Restoration which had driven many of their recent ancestors to the New World, where sectarianism continued and in some ways and places worsened as formerly persecuted religious minorities found themselves in power—that religion and government in collusion always result in tyranny. On this anniversary of that day I am deeply grateful to the men and women who have fought for and defended, with words and with guns, the principles of that Declaration; and I am deeply saddened that religious sectarians are in a position to nominate and approve one of their own to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Although I sometimes disagreed with her, I honor her as a fierce defender of religious liberty against encroachments from the state and of political liberty from the encroachments of religion. I am not good at occasional poetry, but Paul Goodman was:

On the Resignation of Justice Black


Sad news, age and its ills have made him quit,
curator of our curious document
the bastard of the French Enlightenment
and English history. We cannot trust it
to the others, for they do not have the spirit
(good Lord, I hate to think of his replacement!)
conservative precisely of the ferment
that surprisingly is seething in it yet
—sometimes.

When some bureaucrat

bugs me to affirm the Constitution,
I am indignant at his asinine
inquisition, but I sometimes sign
"providing it is the interpretation
of the Constitution by Hugo Black."


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