June 24, 2006

We Live for Danger

A few months ago, when Sarabande first published the anthology Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, edited by Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin, there was some gnashing of teeth about the value of the book. Eh. Now that the dust has settled, the book remains a reliable bedisde companion: I pick it up, I read, I put it down, I find myself wanting to write more poems and better poems. That is my definition of a useful poetry anthology.

For those more concerned with the politics of using it to teach--well, any teacher worth her salt knowns to take the identity of the editors into account, and never teach anything as an absolute survey of what is "best." (Or even what is "legitimate," though I think that's a willful misreading of the title, ignoring its origin in the Frost epigraph.) For those overwrought with such concerns, go join the Garrison Keillor debate on Wom-po. Back to Legitimate Dangers.

I thought Mark Doty's introduction was a clever knitting-together of the aesthetics of the book, and I liked this line: "[the poets] are concerned with the creation of a voice, a presence on the page meant to be an experience in itself, not necessarily to refer to one that's already taken place." This seems like a good principle to work with, even for those who are working in a confessional or narrative spirit, because it forces attention to the language and moment of the page. It amazes me to this day how many poets draft and edit as if they were working in prose, with line breaks, and care little for the economy and variety in their word choice.

A few yays and nays:
Poets whose selections drove me to buy their books: Matthew Zapruder, Dan Chiasson, Josh Bell.
Poets whose work benefitted from being pulled out of book-length context: Juliana Spahr, poems from Nick Flynn's Blind Huber.
Poets whose work becomes slightly *less* interesting in the anthologized setting: Richard Siken, Spencer Reese.

Perhaps the oddest feature of the book is the "additional reading" list at the end, which essentially serves as a "runner-up" list of poets who were eligible according to the criteria, yet must not have quite made the cut. There I find poets who had seemed obvious and odd excludions while reading the book--Sarah Manguso, Deborah Landau--and a few well-deserving friends--Erika Meitner, Ted Genoways. Ted in particular is a missed opportunity, because his work is truly loyal to form, versus many of the "formalist" poets that ARE included, but who are only using form to ironic effect.

And yet there's STILL no mention of Patrick Phillips, author of Chattahoochee, or Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart. But maybe my centrist tendencies are beginning to show, because Phillips might write just a bit too much about his family, and Calvocoressi may be just a bit too rooted in American history. But damn it, they are good.

To be fair, I should acknowledge my own brush with having been anthologized, in the 2005 Best New Poets book published by the staff of Meridian, at the University of Virginia. It was a wonderful experience, but left me with an odd dilemma this year: another magazine editor asked to nominate me for the 2006 BNP volume. I declined, since I had already been in it the year before, but found myself wondering: Am I no longer eligible as a "new" poet? Does that make me an OLD poet? I don't even have a book out! I wasn't even old enough (or bold enough) to be included in Legitimate Dangers!

Anthologies: beautiful but cruel.

June 17, 2006

A-Millaying We Will Go

So it looks like, due to a generous disbursement of time from my employers, I might just get to to take Millay up on their offer for a residency in September. I am thrilled and just a little scared. I've done residencies before but...a month? A seven hour drive to remote, upstate New York? A total of only six artists? Could be incredible (EJ Levy and Geno Gloria both offered rave reviews)...or, it could be summercamp from hell (they weren't the only one to offer reviews).

But this is a necessary kick to get me writing. Now that the first book has clicked into place (not a printer's plate, mind you, but a far more ephemeral "place"), my perfectionism has been striking prememptive death-blows to subsequent non-manuscript drafts. It makes me think of Sylvia Plath's poem, "Stillborn": "These poems do not live: it's a sad diagnosis. / They grew their toes and fingers well enough, / Their little foreheads bulged with concentration. / If they missed out on walking about like people / It wasn't for any lack of mother-love. // O I cannot explain what happened to them! / They are proper in shape and number and every part. / They sit so nicely in the pickling fluid! / They smile and smile and smile at me..."

Sylvia Plath. Brilliant poet. Lousy Millay roommate, I'm betting.

June 12, 2006

In Which We Actually Report Poetry Matters

The new 32 Poems is out, and I am thrilled to pieces to find myself the featured poet on the magazine's webpage, to be found here. I haven't had time to digest the issue yet, but Curtis Bauer and Steve Mueske are always welcome names to see, and closing poems by Terese Svoboda and Megan Snyder-Camp have already caught my eye (that's right, I'm one of those types who immediately flips to the back of the book). If you haven't seen an issue yet, take a chance and order one--they are of simple, classy design and pocket-friendly size. Still trying to convince Deb Ager to come out with the scratch-and-sniff edition...but I am a patient woman, and wily in my ways of persuasion.

In other grand news, Big Game Books guru (and fellow UVA grad) Maureen Thorson has just
won a 2006 PSA Chapbook Fellowship, selected by Heather McHugh. She's being suspiciously quiet about it--perhaps, for someone of the DIY school, there's a perverse shame at such mainstream recognition. But I have no such compunctions or ethics, and will freely trumpet her success. The image here is from the cover of her most recently produced book, The Spectacle of Meat. Each handmade book is not only numbered, but thumbprinted and gilded. They do things right down on Capitol Hill.

June 05, 2006

Rivalry, Schmivalry

So, today my much younger sister received a letter from Allison Joseph herself, congratulatng Christina on winning the Younkin-Rivera Prize for Young Writers. Which means $250 and full tuition to attend the Young Writers Workshop this summer at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Once upon a time in the midwest, our great-grandfather was the mayor of a small Illinois town. Barely a week into his term, his youngest daughter fell down a poorly-capped dry well on the property of the new mansion they'd built for the new mayor. This, apparently, is how my mother got her name, in the child's honor. But that's another strange story, for another strange time.
Back to my sister. The Poet. The Award-winning Poet.

Things in life are stressful as all get-out right now, but I'm going to take the next 2 minutes and 29 second to grin like a fool. Begin....now!

Okay...Back to work.