Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium :
poems, mostly metrical, and rants and raves on poets, poetry, and the po-biz



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Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

So the gig Saturday was good and practice Sunday good but yesterday was wasted here and at work and today they shipped the wrong stove and the sink started leaking and I'm just exhausted but tomorrow after work band practice which will be good. Maybe this weekend I'll get some work done. Poems came back in the mail; have to look at markets. Hoopla!

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

I know many people, not themselves poets, who keep poems or parts of poems by others tucked in their wallets or purses or tacked to a wall or stored on their computers or, most powerfully, in their hearts, springing to mind when the world, for good or ill, does the right dance: Auden’s “September 1, 1939,” complete with the lines he’d suppressed, was suddenly everywhere after 9/11. I almost wrote “lurking in their hearts” but I couldn’t logically reconcile ‘lurking’ with ‘being kept,’ and yet I can’t not at least acknowledge the impulse, for poems have a kind of autonomy in the mind. Memory is no servant, and good poems make memory.

This past week I’ve been haunted by the phrase I used for the title of this post.

I finally mudded and taped the ceiling I fell through a year and a half ago; we bought and wall-mounted a flat-screen TV since the old entertainment center was collapsing; I built shelves to hold the DVDs and VHS tapes; the dishwasher got clogged late Tuesday night and because there was band practice the next night and the next (my birthday) playing out and Krys, having to get the girls from the babysitter, had to leave before I got to play (she sat in on a couple of earlier sets), there was no time to figure out how it was clogged and so we washed dishes by hand and I spent my Friday off draining old dishwater and going filter by filter though the thing with only half the proper tools, at one point having to lie down in soggy mouse dung to stop a leak caused by my own carelessness; after addressing the dishwasher I tried to disassemble the stove to find where the stench came from whenever we used the baking elements and found nothing, so off we went, first to the dump to drop off the old stove and then to the appliance store where there was nothing in stock so we’re eating toaster food while returning the babysitting favor — “the endless, oblivious business of the world.”

I’m getting older and when, this morning, I still couldn’t not say that line at least to myself every few minutes and still couldn’t remember what poem it came, Google Book Search found Kenneth Rexroth’s wonderful One Hundred Poems from the Chinese (I’ve neary worn out my fourth copy), opened to the ending of Rexroth’s version of Tu Fu’s “To Wie Pa, a Retired Scholar”. It is a version, not a translation, which even I, completely ignorant of Chinese, can tell by scrolling up a few pages to “Winter Dawn,” another of my favorites.

I’m not particularly fond of Rexroth’s other work, not even his other translations from Chinese. I’m told Vikram Seth’s version, in Three Chinese Poets, is more faithful, and I think Seth a far more skillful poet — The Golden Gate, in my opinion, is the great verse-novel of the late 20th century — but still, something …

Here is Robert Grave’s “A Plea to Boys and Girls”:

Your learned Lear's Nonsense Rhymes by heart, not rote;
   You learned Pope's Iliad by rote, not heart;
These terms should be distinguished if you quote
   My verses, children — keep them poles apart —
And call the man a liar who says I wrote
   All that I wrote in love, for love of art.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

55 today, going out to play some blues tonight, and tomorrow some substance here. Raise a glass for me!

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

I don’t really believe in the Muses or in any spooks of any kind, but I am working on a long terza rima comic epic, and, well, there’s a right way to do things. Go have a listen and let me know if you think I convinced her.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Kabbalistic mystery,
My runic guide to ecstasy,
My yielding mistress of delight,
My song, my breath, my day and night,
My Blarney made to seem like sense,
My always honest recompense,
My keepsake of the possible,
My engine of the magical,
My revels’ sign and countersign,
My one and only Valentine!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I greatly admire the ability to write topical poetry and make occasional stabs at it myself. Here is a very old one of mine, and the Sonnetarium has a page where I post, once a week or so, my current attempts.

This week, for the first time, I’m posting someone else’s work there. It so happens that I have the great pleasure of receiving by email occasional occasional verse from Marcus Bales (here is a small collection of his double dactyls). His response to the recent vandalism of Robert Frost’s cottage is so good that I had to ask for permission to share it. Marcus agreed; here it is.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Actually I got back yesterday but had my usual post-reading mental paralysis and did nothing meaningful all day. It took band practice this afternoon to get my brain rebooted—well, perhaps that remains to be seen.

The reading went well for me, or at least my two sets were well received and it was a decent venue, with more listeners than poets. The food was good. I had two glasses of decent wine. We got to bed at a nearly decent hour. And yet I was, as always, depressed. It doesn’t work that way for me with music, though there the hours are later and the crowds less attentive, there’s a lot more physical work, and the money’s (usually) no better: nada is nothing every which a way.

There was, with the exception of the no-show spoken word folks, the usual assortment of open mic poets, but of better than usual quality: competent rhyming homilies with only very occasional metrical lapses; confidently presented poetry-as-self-realization; more than one person who wrote free verse I’d like to read in order to see if it lives on the page as well as it did spoken; a rhyming geek-like-me whose verse seemed very interesting when I could get past the each-word-dropped-into-silence presentation (He no doubt thinks I talk too fast. Krys does.); a woman I’ve heard before who seems bemused to discover that assigned imitations of other poets have actually given her new things to say and ways to say them. And the MC was very good.

They were nearly all pretty good, but only the last two seemed to be thinking about making poems for their own sake—another reason I'd like to see the texts of some of the free verse poems is that I have a harder time recognizing the poet’s thought about free verse rather than the thought in free verse. If that makes no sense, maybe my brain isn't rebooted yet, but Now Culture has a recent interview with Billy Collins which may elucidate what I mean. I don’t see the deliberate strategies in his poetry, but when he speaks of them, I find myself nodding my head. I even like the poems better than I already did.

And maybe that’s why open mic readings nearly always leave me depressed and open mic music seldom does: most of the time, in music, I’m working on the same set of problems as the other players I’m working with. Hell, we don’t get on stage with each other (more than once) if we haven’t found a common set of techniques and approaches. For that matter, as I and others have noted before, musicians almost by necessity have a shared skill-set. Not poets.

I opened my first set with my sonnet “Open Mic.” You can here hear it here.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

I'll be at the BB Bistro (Annapolis MD) tomorrow night as the featured reader in their monthly open poetry reading. Starts at 6:30 and over in 2 hours, so you won't die (if the creek don't rise). I'll finish by playing mandolin and singing backup for Krys Baker’s setting of my poem “Actaeon Still, on 2nd Street.”

I’ll have copies available (cheap!) of my two homemade chaps, 44 Sonnets and NaPoWriMo 2006.

I’m told the food there is really good. Hope to see you if you’re in the area.

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Yesterday the New York Times posted a (very) short interview with our new poet laureate, Charles Simic, conducted by Deborah Solomon. I used to read Simic, and I’m not at all sure why (or when!) I stopped buying his books. It may have to do with the attitude expressed in his response to this remark:

No, you prefer writing about the bloodstained past. “The butchery of the innocent never stops,” as one poem begins, although your work also offers consoling images of domesticity — your mom in “her red bathrobe,” your grandmother ironing, a lover who “stirs the shrimp on the stove.”

It’s a kind of feast-in-time-of-plague poetry. I always feel like if I am sitting here having a terrific meal with friends, yes, there is someplace else, not too far away, where something awful is happening.

After the age of about 23 I just stopped feeling the necessity of guilt about my occasional good fortune—and the “bloody” 20th century was, in the end, the safest century in the history of humanity.

Then again, when asked to certify the recent vandalization of Robert Frost’s home as an example of how awful things are now, Simic answers by citing (not by name) Frost’s own “The Witch Of Coos,” in which a woman and her son keep in their attic the bones of her old lover, killed by her husband. And the final Q&A is wonderful:

What advice would you give to people who are looking to be happy?

For starters, learn how to cook.

Maybe I should look again.

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

… and I still have never watched a Super Bowl, though I’ve wandered through rooms at many parties where it was on. I’m too old now, but I liked to play the game—I played in YMCA leagues and have 3 high-school varsity letters in football—I just never much liked watching sports on TV or even live. Howard Nemerov , one of my favorite American poets of the last century, wrote a fabulous piece which comes close to my own feelings. Here are the last two sections of ”Watching Football On TV“:


Passing and catching overcome the world,
The hard condition of the world, they do
Human intention honor in the world.
A football wants to wobble, that’s its shape
And nature, and to make it spiral true
’s a triumph in itself, to make it hit
The patterning receiver on the hands
The instant he looks back, well, that’s to be
For the time being in a state of grace,
And move the viewers in their living rooms
To lost nostalgic visions of themselves
As in an earlier, other world where grim
Fate in the form of gravity may be
Not merely overcome, but overcome
Casually and with style, and that is grace.


Each year brings rookies and makes veterans,
The have their dead by now, their wounded as well,
They have Immortals in a Hall of Fame,
They have the stories of the tribe, the plays
And instant replays many times replayed.
But even fame will tire of its fame,
And immortality itself will fall asleep.
It’s taken many years, but yet in time,
To old men crouched before the ikon’s changes,
Changes become reminders, all the games
Are blended in one vast remembered game
Of similar images simultaneous
And superposed; nothing surprises us
Nor can delight, though we see the tight end
Stagger into the end zone again again.

I have to say that among American poets only Richard Wilbur delights me more often than Nemerov. Here are a few poems short enough to quote in full as sources of that delight:

“Creation Myth on a Moebius Band”

This world’s just mad enough to have been made
By the Being his beings into Being prayed.

“Route Two”

Along Route Two I saw a sign
Standing out in a swamp. One line
It spoke that might epitomize
The ambition of Free Enterprise:
Save While You Spend. As if one saw
A way to beat the Second Law
By pouring money down the drain
As long as it was one’s own drain.

“New Weapons in the Old War”

Is it for Satan’s, God’s, or Nature’s uses
That men and women have proximity fuses?
Like teleological rockets when they meet,
Each one ignited by the other’s heat.

“The Common Wisdom”

Their marriage is a good one. In our eyes
What makes a marriage good? Well, that the tether
Fray but not break, and that they stay together.
One should be watching while the other dies.

Buy his Collected Poems. You won’t regret it.

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

I’ve been adding and annotating links here, trying to begin to get caught up on the poet’s blogs listed over on the left, and keeping to my new writing schedule. It’s going … pretty well, for the most part.

I’ve been thinking that the villanelle, with its tolling repetends, would make a good way to write about the last speaker of the Eyak language, Chief Marie Smith Jones, who died a few weeks ago at the age of 89. I hadn’t made much headway until two things helped me find a way in.

The first is that Chief Jones had worked with linguists for 40 years to preserve what she could of the language, and since her death there’s been a fair amount of press since about recovering lost languages. Among them, Slate published this piece which claimed Cornish had been revived, citing the Economist, and that seemed odd enough to Google—where I found Language Log unloading from a great height, and also providing this moving analysis:

Ask around the village and find the age of the youngest people using a language every day for all their normal conversational interaction. If the answer is a number larger than 5, the language is probably dying. If the answer is a number larger than 10, it is very probably doomed. If the answer is a number larger than 20, you can kiss it goodbye right now: no amount of nostalgic appreciation of it will make it last even one more generation as a going concern.

The second is that Tad Richards invented a form he calls the “ABC Villanelle” (since the two repetends don’t rhyme with each other, making the first stanza abc) and used it for a fine, sexy poem about Anny Ballardini.

The form’s just a bit more free and moves just a little more than the traditional villanelle, and that, together with the additional emotional freight I found at Language Log, enabled me to write the poem this morning. You can read it here and hear it here.

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Last update: 6/26/08; 9:39:36 PM.

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