Lawrence Giffin has done and said some of the funniest things I’ve ever seen or heard in poetry. His readings always feel to me like they walk along a fine line between uproarious and deeply critical. I can’t say exactly what they are critical of, because I can never quite tell. Is he making fun of poetry? himself for writing it? And this hilarious criticality comes in the package of always impressive, sometimes tour-de-force writing. There is clearly love for the art in his work — he works hard and that is a kind of love — but there also always seems to me a chasm of critical distance between Giffin and whatever he’s saying. And that chasm is often where the uproarious happens.
My final post takes a very local turn. Like Prigov’s Little Coffins, New Zealand artist Campbell Walker’s 2012 work The Crime LINKS in the Smoke is an undead work that plays on the print book as both fetishized object and repeatable copy. The Crime comprises cut-up pages from detective novels that were burnt in the fire that destroyed Raven Books, a secondhand bookshop on Princes St in Dunedin, New Zealand. Walker’s book is a memorial both to a particular shop and to the town where it was located. Dunedin, the small city near the southern end of New Zealand where I live, is known for its penguins and sea lions but also for its crumbling Victorian grandeur. Now mainly a university town, Dunedin was once New Zealand’s largest and most prosperous city, and the energetic local cultural scene today springs partly from the spaces opened up by the slow urban decay of a city that never grew. Walker’s work links the fate of Raven Books and Dunedin to the fate of the print codex at a time when bookstores everywhere are closing their doors and e-book sales are increasing exponentially.
The two-sided collage shown here was in the possession of myself and Diane Rothenberg for something like a half-century before we sold it earlier this year with the intention of divesting ourselves of some of our accumulated art works and in this instance turning the proceeds toward the funding of a granddaughter’s college education. We had first met Jess and Robert Duncan in 1959 on what was also our first visit to fabled San Francisco. Before that Robert and I had begun a correspondence around the miniature magazine, PoemsfromtheFloatingWorld, that I was then editing, and when Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights published my first book, NewYoungGermanPoets, a trip to the Bay Area became inevitable. That was in early summer, following a crosscountry car ride with friends and a bus trip up the coast from Los Angeles. We stayed in a small hotel on Geary Street and I rented a still smaller room nearby to use as a writing studio. On our third or fourth day there we went over to City Lights to meet with Ferlinghetti and ran into a photo shoot by Harry Redl that included Philip Lamantia along with Robert and Lawrence.
The 2013 Conference on Ecopoetics began at a satellite event hosted by the Davis Humanities Center. Jonathan Skinner, editor of the journal ecopoetics, and author of among other books, Warblers, published by Brian Teare's micro-press Albion Books, sat at a table with his publisher and fellow-poet, whose most recent collection, Companion Grasses, will appear in print April 1. A selection of this same volume, “Transcendental Grammar Crown,” can also be found in the newly released Arcadia Project, edited by Joshua Corey and G.C. Waldrep.
One of the first pleasures of exploring the poet’s novel is conversation with other writers on the subject. I’ve been collecting thoughts. With gratefulness to all who responded, I patch together in this commentary many borrowed insights. One thing I’ve noted is when asking if the poet’s novel exists, I am often answered with another question as to what I mean by the “poet’s novel.” Kevin Varonne wrote “do you mean a novel that poets like or feels poetic, or do you mean a novel-in-verse kind of thing?” My answer is yes, I am interested in exploring a full spectrum of what one could mean by the term.
Andrea Baker writes, “Cadence is on display. The narrative has an open endless.” I am fascinated with the brevity and compression of this response. Cadence is less rarely on display in prose. “Display” suggests a visual element, and cadence a musical concentration.