May 29, 2008

Viper Thursday. Or Maybe Rum Thursday.

Thanks to Ravi, the folks at Drunken Boat, and everyone who came out to the KGB Bar on Friday. Thanks to Carly for being an awesome host (in the midst of tons going on in her life), and specifically bringing a mini bottle of Tabasco to her bar so she could make me a down n' dirty martini. Thanks to Belcourt for the braised octopus and fries with chipotle ketchup, and to Rosewater for the brunchtime "duck hash." Thanks to Ali and Jordan for joining us for cocktails. Thanks to everyone who bought a book (enough to pay for the aforementioned meals). As whirlwind NYC trips go, it felt like a particularly satisfying one. Well, except for the drunk who belched from his Amtrak seat behind me the whole ride home.

An aside: I never realized how small the KGB Bar would be. It looms so large in the mythos of Manhattan's poetry scene! But they won me over with their selection of Baltic dark beers.

Emerging from my still-ibook-less daze, I made it out last night to Kensington Books for Jean Nordhaus (author of Innocence) and John Surowiecki (author of The Hat City After Men Stopped Wearing Hats). I recommend both collections (full disclosure: I edited the latter one). John read from a book forthcoming with Word Tech and a still-developing manuscript with the unforgettable title of The Vomiting Bride. Those poems are taking risks; I like them. Kensington Books is a cute little store on an Antique Row, though the periodic passing trains make quite a racket (and everytime we close the door to shut out the noise, the little tin "OPEN" sign makes even more racket).

On Tuesday the City Paper posted this nice profile on the winners of the Egen Exchange Award. Also on the topic of hometown love: I walked into the Olsson's Bookstore by Dupont Circle to find a half-dozen copies of my book on the poetry shelf, cover-out. Hooray! So if you're local and would like to buy a copy, I encourage you to give them your business.

Has anyone else read Mary Karr's book Viper Rum, with the closing essay "Against Decoration"? It first appeared in Parnassus. Very hard-edged (and insightful, I think) critique of the trend of "decoration" and needlessly ornamental language in contemporary poetry. Karr doesn't hesitate to name names, calling out Amy Clampitt, James Merrill, and Rosanna Warren (she also praises a few folks, particularly Seamus Heaney for his "Clearances" sonnet series).

I'm not prepared to say that I buy the essay's argument whole cloth, but I did find some really valuable points being made--and being made with a fearlessness that was liberating. Just last night I was talking to a friend who mentioned his love of Wallace Stevens. Stevens was a consumate image-maker. But so often descriptive language is mistaken as being synonymous with imagery in contemporary poems, when really that's just a lazy substitute, an approximation of what-can-be-observed for what-must-be-forged. God save us from another static landscape poem! I feel like that's what Karr is getting at here, imploring us: In every poem, make something. Make it new.

1 comment:

newzoopoet said...

"God save us from another static landscape poem!"

Well said. This is what I like about some surreal contemporary poetry; it moves us away from this. If that were its only grace (which it thankfully isn't), I'd still shake hands with it.