Monday, July 30, 2007

The Master of Petersburg

In The Master of Petersburg, J. M. Coetzee's main character is Dostoevsky; in a dialogue with a policeman named Maximov, this fictional Dostoevsky comments on the story of a landowner being murdered with an axe:

"... reading is being the arm and being the axe and being the skull: reading is giving yourself up, not holding yourself at a distance and jeering."

I could leave that as a statement unto itself, as a truth to be kept in mind when reading. But of course, with Coetzee, nothing is that easy. This is not Coetzee speaking, after all, in his own essayistic voice. Nor is it his narrator, or his fictional character making a statement in an essayistic context. It is a particular character, with particular interests, making a statement in a specific context (dueling with a policeman about his late stepson's papers). If one wants to try to make a generally applicable statement out of this passage, one has to be ready to sort out the possible ironies of how the passage is framed.

JMC's Dostoevsky presents the point, in his argument with Maximov, as a general truth, but he does not use it as a general truth, as it were, but as a means to the end he is arguing for (having his stepson's papers returned). By extension, JMC is not using it as a general truth, but as a means to the end of developing the character of his Dostoevsky. If JMC himself perceives it as a general truth, he is not saying so here. He always seems interested less in the truth-value of the statements like this that appear in his fiction than in how people use such "truth-like" statements to attain their particular ends (even, or perhaps especially, when their ends are not at all clear, or at least not as clear as in this particular context).

So it's not a matter of whether reading is about giving oneself up or distancing oneself, it's a matter of what purpose the presentation of a particular idea as a general truth serves, not only within fiction but also in conversation and discourse in general. (Are these comments themselves subject to these ironies?)

Monday, July 23, 2007


I'm off to Massachusetts for two weeks. Perhaps I will post from there, perhaps not.

Miles and Luisa are traveling with me; Andrea has to go to Kassel to take care of her mother, and little Sara is going along with her.

Greg Brown on August 3, somewhere in New Hampshire! (My sister Sara knows where to go.)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

26 hours after starting the book, I just finished it. I did not read without stopping: I slept, made several meals, and took Sara for a walk. I played cards with Miles, read the newspaper, and changed at least one diaper that I can remember. Andrea even got to read a bit, too.

As Ron said in The Half-Blood Prince: "None of us could've guessed ..."

Here are my two favorite bits:

"There it was again: choose what to believe. He wanted the truth."

"'Of course it is happening inside your head [...], but why on earth should that mean it is not real?'"

I don't think those two lines give anything away. :-)

Friday, July 20, 2007


"'I am being asked to issue an apology about which I may not be sincere?'

"'The criterion is not whether you are sincere. That is a matter, as I say, for your own conscience. The criterion is whether you are prepared to acknowledge your fault in a public manner and take steps to remedy it.'

"'Now we are truly splitting hairs. You charged me, and I pleaded guilty to the charges. That is all you need from me.'

"'No. We want more. Not a great deal more, but more. I hope you can see your way clear to giving us that.'

"'Sorry, I can't.'"

The speakers here are not involved in a Stalin-era show trial; they are two characters in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace. The first speaker, David Lurie, is a professor who has had an affair with a student, who has now filed a harassment complaint against him. The second speaker is the head of the university committee that has had a hearing about the complaint.

At the hearing, as Lurie says, he pleaded guilty to all charges (beyond that, he even admitted that what he had done had been wrong). But "we want more," says the voice of the committee.

Sometime after I read Disgrace for the first time, I came across a description of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission that reminded me of this scene and made Coetzee's "committee of inquiry" suddenly read like an allegorical critique of the TRC:

"The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission differed from its Latin American predecessors in two crucial respects. First, it heard the testimony not only of victims but also of the officials responsible for killing and torture. They testified in exchange for amnesty, which was provided only to those who acknowledged and fully disclosed their crimes. Those who did not acknowledge and disclose wrongdoing left themselves open to prosecutions; several have been tried and convicted for killing ANC activists. Second, the TRC's hearings were public and were broadcast, greatly heightening the impact of testimony by both victims and perpetrators." (Aryeh Neier, "The Quest for Justice," New York Review of Books, Volume 48, Number 4, March 8, 2001)

I have always wondered whether South Africans might immediately read Coetzee's scene in such terms.

Foe 4

"How like a savage to master a strange instrument — to the extent that he is able without a tongue — and then be content forever to play one tune upon it!"

Here, Susan Barton in Coetzee's Foe is again writing to Daniel Foe (Defoe), this time commenting upon Friday's music: he learns to play the recorder, but all he ever plays is the same tune that he had played on a little whistle-like instrument that he had had on the island.

The image reminds me of the black master carver in Elizabeth Costello who carves the same figure of Jesus over and over again, sometimes very small, sometimes very large (even a gigantic altar piece), but without the slightest variation. Elizabeth Costello complains to her sister (a nun in Africa) that he ought to try to do something else, so as to be fully expressive as an artist, and her sister defends the carver's choice of doing the same figure over and over.

I'm not sure how to paraphrase what these two images say about Coetzee's own perspective art that "westerners" (here, Susan Barton and Elizabeth Costello) deem "primitive," but the nun's defense of such art in EC flashes back into Foe as a defense of Friday's music (a defense that is not heard in Foe, and perhaps could not be, given Friday's lack of a tongue).

"... we cannot forever play the same tune and be content. Or so at least it is with civilized people."


"I recall an author reflecting that after death we may find ourselves not among choirs of angels but in some quite ordinary place, as for instant a bath-house on a hot afternoon, with spiders dozing in the corners; at the time it will seem like any Sunday in the country; only later will it come home to us that we are in eternity."

This is now Susan Barton speaking to Daniel Foe; again, the image returns in another form in Elizabeth Costello, in the final "lesson" where E. C. is waiting in a purgatory-like place that is actually a lot like a small town in the hot season in a dry, tropical country.

It's also reminiscent of the last chapter of Julian Barnes's A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, in which the afterlife is what you expected it to be.


"I am not a story, Mr. Foe. I may impress you as a story because I began my account of myself without preamble, slipping overboard into the water and striking out for the shore. But my life did not begin in the waves. There was a life before the water which stretched back to my desolate searchings in Brazil, thence to the years when my daughter was still with me, and so on back to the day I was born. All of which makes up a story I do not choose to tell. I choose not to tell it because to no one, not even to you, do I owe proof that I am a substantial being with a substantial history in the world. I choose rather to tell of the island, of myself and Cruso and Friday and what we three did there: for I am a free woman who asserts her freedom by telling her story according to her own desire."

I began my account of myself without preamble—and thus her account is like a story. By implication, the stories real people tell of themselves in real life always have preambles, in which the raconteur justifies the telling of this particular story at this particular time. In fiction, by contrast, stories are told without preamble and without occasion—for the sheer pleasure of storytelling?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

23 years ago

There was a wonderful weekend of Grateful Dead shows at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. On the Friday night, July 13, 1984, the only "Dark Star" I ever heard. Beside me at the show was a woman who danced using cheerleader moves. My father was with my sister; they did Hungarian dances to the Dead and got the Deadheads doing pseudo-Hungarian dancing with them.

On the Saturday, it was beautiful and sunny, until the band played "Looks Like Rain" at the end of the first set. The Greek Theater faces across the bay to the ocean, which is where weather comes from in the Bay Area. But the clouds came from behind the Berkeley Hills, from the east. During "Franklin's Tower," in the second set, it began to rain, and Garcia's playing seemed to call down the waters from the sky. That explains the unusually loud cheering as the crowd responds to the combination of Jerry's guitar and the rain.

And on Sunday, Phil Lesh sang "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" Or, as he varied it, on the drums.

Foe 3

"... the history you write ... must not only tell the truth about us but please its readers too. Will you not bear it in mind, however, that my life is drearily suspended till your writing is done?"

Here, Susan Barton in Coetzee's Foe is writing to Daniel Foe (Defoe), asking him how much longer it will take him to turn the story of Barton, Crusoe, and Friday as castaways into a book.

To me, in my recent re-reading of Foe, it read like an anachronistic reference to Coetzee's most recent novel, Slow Man, in which the main character, Paul Rayment, turns out to be a character in a novel by Coetzee's figure Elizabeth Costello. In Slow Man, Costello finds her own life "drearily suspended" while she waits for the "slow man" to decide what to do with his life. In Foe, it is the character who finds her life "suspended" while she waits for the novelist to finish writing her story.

"He has turned his mind from us, I told myself, as easily as if we were two of his grenadiers in Flanders, forgetting that while his grenadiers falls into an enchanted sleep whenever he absents himself, Friday and I continue to eat and drink and fret."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Another Basel photo

This is a hairdresser's whose owners' names make an interesting combination.

Basel photograph

This is a tailor's shop that always has excellent window displays.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Foe 2

"There are times when benevolence deserts me and I use words only as the shortest way to subject him to my will."

Here, Coetzee's Susan Barton is writing to Daniel Foe (Defoe) about the mute Friday whom she has brought back from Cruso's island.

It is a less extreme version, perhaps, of the end of the long text Conrad's Kurtz writes about the problem of the natives (in Heart of Darkness): "Exterminate all the brutes!"

I was inspired to reread Heart of Darkness by C. Dale Young's comment that he re-reads it every year. But I have not gotten around to it yet. First a bunch of Coetzee.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


''But seen from too remote a vantage, life begins to lose its particularity. All shipwrecks become the same shipwreck, all castaways the same castaway, sunburnt, lonely, clad in the skins of the beasts he has slain. The truth that makes your story yours alone, that sets you apart from the old mariner by the fireside spinning yarns of sea-monsters and mermaids, resides in a thousand touches which today may seem of no importance, such as: when you made your needle (the needle you store in your belt), by what means did you pierce the eye? When you sewed your hat, what did you use for thread? Touches like these will one day persuade your countrymen that it is all true, every word, there was indeed once an island in the middle of the ocean where the wind blew and the gulls cried from the cliffs and a man named Cruso paced about in his apeskin clothes, scanning the horizon for sail."

I have just reread J. M. Coetzee's Foe for the first time since I wrote my final undergraduate paper on it back in 1987, right when the novel was published. I had always remembered it as a powerful book, and in the meantime I have become a enthusiastic reader of Coetzee, but still, I was taken aback by just how powerful a book it is. I should not have been surprised to discover that JMC writes great books, but just how great they are never ceases to amaze me.

Here, the castaway Susan Barton is speaking to Robinson Cruso; she arrived as a new castaway on "his" island many years after he first landed on it with Friday (who, in this book, is mute because he had his tongue cut out).

Or rather, Susan Barton, having returned to England with Friday (Cruso died on the return voyage), has written a sketch of her experiences for one Daniel Foe, whom she has asked to write a book about her (and not about Cruso and Friday alone). In that sketch, she includes this comment she made to Cruso, who was completely uninterested in producing any sort of "version" of his story (whether oral or written), and who did not want to return to England.

The "thousand touches" of everyday life are necessary to make a story (whether the adventure story of a castaway, in this case, or the story of a disillusioned professor who loses his job because of an affair with a student, as in Coetzee's Disgrace, or the story of a young wizard at a wizarding school) into an individual story, rather than an archetypal one.

It almost reads like advice in a good workshop for beginning or intermediate writers: stop treating writing as an attempt to produce archetypes, and focus instead on the details that both ground and undermine the archetypal elements of the stories you want to tell.

Or in the language of my post on Arthur Ransome's Great Northern?, you cannot get away with writing that is just in your "favorite style"; you have to ground that style in "the simple dreadful truth" — in the physicality of the experience that renders it individual, precise, and perceptible for others who have not shared that experience (be it real or imagined).

Good mail

A good day for my mailbox today: no bills or junk, Poetry, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books. All that kept it from being a perfect day was the absence of an acceptance (or, in the absence of an acceptance, at least a copy of Light Quarterly to guarantee my reading pleasure until Harry comes out next week).

In Poetry (the July/August issue), Brad Leithauser, Wendy Cope, and Richard Wilbur are among the many writers whose work I look forward to reading. In the New York Review (the July 19 issue), Freeman Dyson, Ian Buruma, Garry Wills, Tim Parks, and Thomas Powers all have essays, AND there is an excerpt from J. M. Coetzee's forthcoming novel, Diary of a Bad Year (which is listed as "to be published by Viking next January, but is being published by Harvill Secker in September). In the New Yorker (July 9 & 16), there's another Tim Parks essay, as well as an essay by Louis Menand.

Where to start?? I ended up starting with the New York Review, and the opening essay by Dyson. A great read over soup for lunch.


Karin Gottshall has posted a lovely mini-review of my chapbook Cabinet d'Amateur. Thanks, Karin!

Her review reveals that my book is also a good air-conditioner, something I had never before realized.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Simple Dreadful Truth

"Life and death," whispered Titty.

"It really is," said Dorothea. "Even now the foul murderers are stealing towards their helpless victims. And that beast'll take the eggs and Dick will wish all his life he'd never found them." Dorothea began with a sentence in her favourite style but ended with the simple dreadful truth.

(Arthur Ransome, Great Northern?)

This passage from the climax of Ransome's Great Northern? perfectly captures (in the last pages of the final book of the series) what makes Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books such wonderful reading. The children who are the books' main characters imagine adventure stories (here, Dorothea's "favourite style") around their experiences, and yet those experiences themselves are adventures, "the simple dreadful truth," in no need of the embellishment of style. In fact, the two most exciting books in the series (at least as far as Miles and I are concerned) are We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea and Great Northern?, the books in which the experiences are so exciting that the children do not need to embellish them with fantasy at all.

But the contrast between a "favourite style" and "the simple dreadful truth" is more than just a self-reflexive comment on Ransome's part; it also symbolizes two different approaches to literature, one in which the purpose of literature is style (not only adventure stories, but adventure stories told in a particular way), the other in which the purpose of literature is to get at "simple dreadful truths" (even when the author is making things up).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


The inimitable George Saunders had an exceptional short story, "Puppy," in the New Yorker a few issues ago (May 28, 2007).

I don't know of any other writer who so vividly captures the shame and other painful emotions of the insecurities of social class, especially of those who have to work low-level jobs just to scrape by. Check out "Civil War Land in Bad Decline" or "Pastoralia."


The same issue has a memorable article by Adam Gopnik on Abraham Lincoln's last words, "Angels and Ages."

"Civilization is an agreement to keep people from shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre, but the moments we call historical occur when there is a fire in a crowded theatre; and then we all try to remember afterward when we heard it, and if we ever really smelled smoke, and who went first, and what they said."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Steve Earle on Greenwich Village

Steve Earle on Greenwich Village, from the June 11/18 issue of The New Yorker:

"I need to be able to walk out of my door and see a same-sex biracial couple walking down the street holding hands. That makes me feel safe."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

DPP final round results


First of all, a big thank you to everyone who voted in the final round of the Daily Poem Project (as well as to everyone who voted in earlier rounds.)

I received 46 votes! 50 would have been nice, but it was already great when the total went past twenty. It was also enough votes that every poem ended up getting at least one vote, so no poet needs to feel shut out.

Here are the top five vote-getters:

1. Hadara Bar-Nadav, "Inside the Maze (II, III, and IV)", 10 votes
2. Adrian Blevins, "Hey You", 6 votes
3. Jessica Fisher, "The Promise of Nostos", 5 votes
3. Maurice Manning, "Where Sadness Comes From", 5 votes
4. Maurice Manning, "Bucolics III", 4 votes

In the class vote, with a somewhat different set of finalists (without Bar-Nadav's poem, for example, but with the other four of the top five above), the winner was Laure-Anne Bosselaar's "Friends", which won a run-off vote against Kevin McFadden's "The Ides of Amer-I-Can".

After much deliberation, my decision came down to a choice between Manning's "Where Sadness Comes From," C. Dale Young's "33rd & Kirkham", and Christian Wiman's "The River". If I had made decision based on the one of those three that left the most
vivid impressions in my mind, I would have voted for Wiman's poem. If I had made my decision based on the one that moved me most, and which was the most pleasurable to read, i would have voted for Young's. But I finally decided to go for the one that had made me think the most, "Where Sadness Comes From." Sadness, Manning's poem claims, is something one can hear in the inflection of words. It is something that is not from "way back when"—or not only. It is something present in the words we speak, there because of history and our experiences, but not something in the past alone: "we speak, / and wait for history to catch up // with us." A provocative poem by a poet I have been delighted to discover through this round of the project.

As I ran two separate projects this term, I have to count both Bar-Nadav's poem and Bosselaar's poem as winners. They join the two previous winners of Daily Poem Projects: Two summers ago, the winning poem in the end was "The Shout," by Simon Armitage. Last summer, the winning poem was "Fragment," by A. E. Stallings.

If fifteen people tell me that they would vote regularly in another round starting in mid-August, then I will do another!

The comments on the call for votes for the final round are extensive. Here are a few of the longer ones:

Donald Brown said...

This is easy. Since few of my picks won the blog vote, there's not much competition in my view (some of these choices... well, no matter). My vote goes to Manning for "Where Sadness Comes From." Runner-up is Grossman, "A Gust of Wind."

Thanks for making me read poems and causing me to exercise my critical faculties in a somewhat public way. As to the poetry in general, it's already been said: "I too dislike it."

Pamela said...

There are many other worthy opponents, but for my vote, it's Reginald Shepherd, with a bullet. That poem is gorgeous.

Brian Campbell said...

Hi Andrew,

All of these poems had interesting things to say & ways to say 'em, but none gets my total vote. All, or practically all, lapse into (or emerge out of) discursiveness. That is, they don't express or
evoke so much as talk about... or maybe, to put it more precisely, the evocation these poets manage to do is hampered by the *talking about* they fall too easily into. Discursiveness is the bane especially of academics, people who do too much essay-writing and -reading, as most of these writers are. Be that as it may... The poems that got onto my "short list" were:

Christian Wiman -- The River. Some great writing here, but I felt let down with the word "crocodiles." He was evoking the animals so well up to that point, he practically (& I'd say, poetically) didn't need to actually name them. I think the poem would have been better if he had continued evoking their qualities through vivid description, but telling us what they are somehow turns this into a high-falutin' version of National Geographic. OK, maybe better than that. And what's that father doin' there? OK, I'll accept that.

Tom Sleigh, Blueprint -- This one, I thought, was going to be (as Li Young Lee puts it in a quote a couple of posts back in my blog) all out of the mental centre to the exclusion of all else, and who needs that in this overly mentalized society? -- but as a critique of that "abstracting" process, an evocation of the reality he would like to express, this does become quite forceful & ineffable at the end. (Which means I can't say any effin' thing beyond that, without turning this into an effin' essay).

Laure Ann Bosselaar , Friends -- She doesn't like her heart much, does she? But somehow I feel her description more than a tad put on, adjective-heavy. Her friends she likes better-- so that makes her quite likable despite herself, doesn't it? I was struck by "the sun heaves daylight" -- that line leaps out as more profound & elemental than the rest of the poem put together. I like nevertheless "I thrum the lit syllables of your names on my sill... etc. An interesting way to evoke friendship. A funky ugly/striking artifact of a self-loathing (?) people-person.

Reginald Sheppard, "Eve's Awakening" -- I like a number of things about this poem. Stanzas five-seven are particularly beautiful . But would Adam know what a flag is? (I don't think Adam knows what a fig is at this point.) Somehow I think RS named God too early. Could it have been better

He called me by a name I'd never heard,/ tried to enclose my hand in his: that garden/suddenly seemed small, enclosed on every side, something that said God,/
said call me that.

Something like that. Oh, and where the heck is Eve? She's hardly there. No, powerful as it is as a title, I don't think I'd call this poem that.

Hadara Bar Nadav, Inside the Maze:

A hell of an interesting poem, the only one I've read from the point of view of the Minotaur. Culturally it is de grande portée. The unique lay-out of words, once one figures out how to read it, makes one feel one is entering the brain of another species, a slow-thinking one at that. (At first I thought the words could be read up and down as well as right to left -- would have been a miracle if the poet had managed that.) This poem quite grabbed me and took me along on its journey, but when the Minotaur refers to his "fragrant catalog", suddenly he becomes an Assistant English Professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Again, "talking about" -- too bad, but this highly avoidable mis-step unfortunately second-rates the poem.

Adrian Blevins -- Hey You. This is one poem that, though highly mental, does not *talk about*, but *is* in its own highly eccentric terms -- and leaves you to figure out what those terms are. Kind of reminds me of EE Cummings in the use of an adjective as noun. I enjoyed "I threw my beautiful down at the waterway against the screwball rocks." & I love the final line. I almost gave this one my vote, but for semi-penetrable obscurities in lines 6-10 that don't satisfy me. So does the poem really say "Hey You" to me? Well... not very loud.



Hadara Bar-Nadav, Inside the Maze!!!

Thanks, Andrew, for engaging me in this highly enjoyable exercise.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to vote for #7, Manning's "Where Sadness Comes From." Gorgeous poem. And this is a very neat project you've got going!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me to vote, Andrew. This was a hard one. I knew as soon as i saw your list that I would be inclined toward Bucolic, which i read on the Poetry Daily site and loved. It's an amazing conceit and well done, with great ease of language and inventiveness. Perhaps if you had included all three of the Bucolic pieces, I would have voted for them. But finally I felt as if I would be voting for one extended (albeit very well done) metaphor with Bucolic III.

Insteaad, I am going to vote for The River, which seemed a little more multi-dimensional to me. I love the process of seeing as it unfolds in the poem, (reminds me of Bishop) the gradual opening up of details, including the father in the boat. I like the lack of sentimentality and moralizing, (too many attempts to find greater meaning in too many of these poems, IMO--blahblah blah. Too many hearts and nights and sleep). the tightness and the strength of the description. Technically it seems very accomplished to me. Compelling and vivid.

So that's my two cents. I am curious what others will pick!


david dodd lee said...

To me three stand out from the others:
3. Jessica Fisher, "The Promise of Nostos"
7. Maurice Manning, "Where Sadness Comes From"
11. Adrian Blevins, "Hey You"

But really I'm torn between 3 and 7.

I guess I'll go with Fischer, #3.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the opportunity to vote, Andrew. This is a great project.

There are good choices here. I especially like the poems by Jessica Fisher, C. Dale Young, and Allen Grossman.

That being said, I'm voting for the poem by Adrian Blevins. "Hey You" is a marvelous piece, a powerful study in character, that makes me wish I had written it.

SarahJane said...

Hello Andrew-
I vote for "Hey, You" again, if a bit reluctantly, as "Inside the Maze" was surprisingly good. At first glance, I thought I'd merely struggle through, but it is really a delightful and engaging poem. (But by line 2 of "Hey, You" I was bowled over.)
I also enjoyed the two Manning poems, so thanks for that since I haven't read him before.
"A Gust of Wind" was also a pleasure, and if you told me I'd like a poem about a baby hippo being eaten by crocodiles, i wouldn't have believed you, but I did like that.
8:38 AM
Anonymous said...

My head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest choice is #5, Laure-Anne Bosselaar's "Friends" ...

My second choice is #12, Maurice Manning's "Bucolics III" ...

If I were basing my vote on all three of Manning's "Bucolics" as shown in the
Poetry Daily entry, that would have
made my choice a LOT tougher.

FYI, I intend to recommend BOTH of these
poets to my local library, for purchase of
their respective recent volumes.

Just for the record, I'd also like to bestow
"honorable mentions" on these others:

#7, Manning's "Where Sadness Comes From"

#9, Young's "33rd & Kirkham"

#2, Tom Sleigh's "Blueprint" (in tandem
with its companion piece in the PD entry).

-- dhsh

And here are two comments I received by email:

Markus Marti:

being a bit of a brute what sentiments etc. are concerned, I first thought that my vote should go to Hadara Bar-Nadav, "Inside the Maze II, III and IV". But I am not too pleased with this choice, I like the form of these poems but find them rather bad contentwise. Less would have been more, obviously there must also be a "I", and, I fear, there might also be a "V" and "VI". As role poems they follow the story too closely, the narrative element is too prominent and too simple, too close to the myth we all know, leaving no room for mystery or interpretation. They cannot be read as a story about somebody who sees himself (or herself) as a stranger among others, about a human being who feels lonely, about a man who thinks or fears that he is some kind of a monster because he is insatiable what young girls, women, masturbation, chocolate, football or his stamp collection are concerned; "Inside the Maze" is not even a story about a real monster, a rapist, a pederast or cannibal; it is just a role poem (or "role epic") in which the "real" minotaur of a children's version of the myth tells us his story from his point of view with a lot of implausible auctorial knowledge (particularly bad in that respect is the passage with Dedalus and Ikarus at the end of "III", where Bar-Nadav tries to keep the perspective by making us believe the minotaur can recognize the scent of the architect of his labyrinth; but even worse is the creature's knowledge about his parents).
Maurice Manning's "Where Sadness Used To Happen" was my second candidate. But this is not a good poem either; it makes us aware of the sound of simple words ("did", "feel"), but it is too long and gets too disparate.
I like the first 8 lines (but what is the "middle" of the word "did"? Does the vowel sound make a curtsey? Not at all - its sound stands as straight as shown in its symbol, the letter "I"). "I come from a place where hanging used to happen ... in the trees, by God, it happens even now in air, the air the mouth lets loose": Just because I say "did" or "feel" does not make me a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Linguistics are not a good topic for poetry, it seems. Ekiss' "Vanitas Mundi" has the same deficiencies as Manning's "Sadness", and it is even worse as a poem because it is so bathetic: "The consolation of physics is (f)art"! The [probably unintentional] rhyme in "linguistic insurgency / driven by a sense of urgency" is so ugly that it destroys the serious tone of the poem; other, intentional rhymes, are no better: "error" and "terror"; "hell" and "hello" (which rhymes with Adam's and Rayman/Ingres' "cello") ...
Manning's "Bucolics" are extremely beautiful and romantic in sound and rhythm (expecially XL reminds me somehow of William Blake's diction). But what I don't like in them is the "Boss"-figure (I'd prefer, like Caliban, a "Setebos" - or no boss or god at all).
This leaves only C. Dale Young's "33rd & Kirkham" as an option for me. (The other poems, I find, are below average anyway). After looking at Young's biography I have to assume that this is a kind of occasional poem, a homosexual "Morgenlied" - but who cares.
It is a very nice love poem about the resurrection or/and creation of the world and the I from nothingness as a process that starts every morning between two lovers, whatever their sexes or sexual preferences are.

Mr. Jumbo:

I'll go with Bucolics III.

The voting slowed at the end this time, because we started with more,
and a lot of the chaff had been dropped, making the sort more

I came down to five finalists:

33rd and Kirkham
The Promise of Nostos
Inside the Maze
The River

Most weeks there were only a couple I had to really pick between;
everything else dropped out fast. That made voting easy most weeks.

This time I had to take several strong contenders and decide which
ones were strongest.

Not exactly a process of finding fault or flaws. Flaws are wherever
you want to find them. I dropped a few poems in the early running
because I didn't like them, and I dropped a few I liked because they
felt a little too thin, but each of these remaining poems was one I
could live with.

For me it's more a matter of finding strength and greater strength.
We call them all poems, but it's a little like choosing among peanut
butter, chocolate, bananas, sandpaper, and a sunset. They go in
different directions. Each is good on its own terms. Which is best on
those terms? Which on its terms outscores the others on their terms?
Which terms do I care about? Do I care if a sunset is rough, or do I
just care that each contestant includes a memorable texture?

Not that I don't bring terms, but most of these more than satisfy my
terms already. Which do I like best?

I'll go with Bucolics III.

Entertaining exercise!

Lutz Seiler's Bachmann Prize

Congratulations to Lutz Seiler, who won the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize today. It's kind of a real "Literature Idol" thing for German-language writers.

I have two Seiler translations on-line, here and here.


Reb wrote a long, articulate piece about submissions of poetry to magazines and prizes. Here's my comment:

I submitted a manuscript to contests regularly for five or six years. Got close a few times, but spent a lot of money and got no book out of it. (And postage for me is higher, from Switzerland.)

In 2006, I decided to stop submitting my manuscript for a year. I still haven't started again. Individual poems to journals, yes. Manuscript, no.

Because it was frustrating? No. Because it was expensive? No. Because it was boring. I simply got bored with the whole process. No feedback, no nothing. With individual poems, one does actually get some feedback -- acceptance, of course, but also (more often than guidelines imply) rejections with comments about which poems the editors were leaning towards.

With the manuscript-submission "system" that has evolved in the U.S. these days, it is almost impossible to get any feedback on a poetry manuscript. And after a while, that's just boring.