Thursday, December 30, 2010

Poetry, Published In 2010

“Ooooo . . . what a lucky man I was!,” to borrow (and change a bit) the chorus of the catchy if portentous rock ballad from forty years ago – or to allude to the more rollicking movie title song from the same era. Yes I say yes: 2010 was an incredible shimmer-bonanza of poem-blessings, and I was lucky to read some of what was published.

Starting about a month ago, I began working up a list – similar to those I did the previous two years (click here for 2008 and here for 2009) – of the poetry (and poetry-related matter) that appeared this year and especially moved or interested me, or which for a particular reason deserved a special shout-out. All told, I came up with approximately seventy (70) such books (including chaps), poems, and other stuff, a total almost double the number I’d listed in last year’s annual round-up. To repeat, it has been an amazing poem-reading year.

I next put these books and poems into various categories, both of the type you might expect and others more personal: including Poetry Book(s) of the Year, Ten Perfect-Bound Poetry Books That Rocked, Ten Chapbooks That Rocked, Great Individual Poems and Poem-Sets Published On The Net, Great Poems In Print Magazines, Translation of the Year, Poetry Re-Issue of the Year, and Published-In-2009-But-Not-Actually-Available-Until-2010 Books of the Year.

And also: Best Collected Poems by Ex-Pats Who Lived (or Live) In Provence, Rae Armantrout New Poem of the Year, Heard-But-Not-Yet-Published Poem of the Year, Sound-Poem of the Year, NewWord Poems Book of the Year, Visual Poetry Book of the Year, Inter-Genre Book of the Year, Philip Lamantia Book of the Year, Poem-Set-to-Music Song of the Year, Stand-Alone Book of Poem-Proverbs of the Year, and Adapted-From-Shakespeare Poem-Book of the Year.

Plus: Recycled-Visual-Poetry-Publication of the Year, John Olson ProsePoem of the Year, Poetry-Appropriated-From-The-Law Book of the Year, PennSound Mp3 Upload of the Year, Silliman Blog Video-Post of the Year, Silliman Blog Link-List Lead-Link of the Year, New Poetry Blog of the Year, Bay Area Bookstore Poet of the Year, Joe Milford Radio Show of the Year, Death-Don’t-Have-No-Mercy-In-This-Land Poetry Book of the Year, Largest-Sized Book of Lineated Verse, Best Big Book of Prose Poems, Best Volume of Trans-Book Poems, Best Re-issue of Epistolary-Poetic-Prose-Novels of the Year, and etc.

I then decided to write substantively about each book or poem on the list, and do so in more detail than I’d done last year, when I tried to give each book in the annual round-up its just due. I don’t like bare-bones lists, and prefer to share the particulars of my enthusiasms.

Besides, writing about poetry in detail greatly clarifies and expands my responses to it, and thus increases my enjoyment of the work. Plus – and maybe this is a delusion – I believe detailed substantive responses to poetry may encourage others to read the poetry I’ve written about, and then maybe even write about it themselves. Finally, and this too may be a projection on my part, I feel detailed substantive responses may help the poet, and in some small way honor their work.

And so I set out to write something for the round-up on each of the seventy books/poems on my list. Each write up, as I envisioned it, would be similar to the posts you typically see here in the glade, except not as long. Each would include excerpts from the poetry, close readings, and carefully crafted appreciations. I even decided to write something for the books and poems I’d previously posted about this year in the glade, since when I re-read that poetry this month there were additional poems I wanted to discuss.

I had here at the end of December about two weeks off work to do this, a glorious stretch of stay-cation time, and so the reading of everything was done and the writing on individual books and poems began. It was but tremendously fun. I feel privileged to have had the time to read or re-read and think about all the 2010 poetry on my list, and to have written in detail about some of it.

However, and unfortunately, my annual round-up project this year ultimately has been, is, a – sigh – failure. Despite what I think was a diligent effort, I’ve finished the entries for only approximately one-quarter (!) of the seventy books and poems on my list, and completed portions of only about a quarter more. Given how the writing has gone, with individual entries taking considerable time and ending up several paragraphs to over 1,000 words in length, there is no way I can finish the 2010 round-up by year’s end.

In retrospect, this year’s round-up was doomed both by the number of books and poems I decided to include and my decision to go all-in on everything on it. That fact, plus about fifteen bucks, will buy me the next perfect-bound book of poems that strikes my fancy. In any event, there’s no big round-up this year here at the glade. Maybe I’ll be able to use some of what I’ve written – it amounts to more than twenty-five pages of single-spaced text – for future posts, which perhaps could focus on some of the individual books. Regardless, my apologies to all for not posting what I hoped I could.

That all said, the post-heading image here of Pegasus (an emblem for me of the wonders of poetry) demands that something be recognized, that an end-of-the-year honor be given to at least one publication. And so I will. It is a shame that anything in this glorious year for poetry should stand alone, but perhaps that is appropriate here, since even if I had managed to complete a full round-up the particular publication recognized below would have been the only one in the first, top-of-the-post, category. And so here we go:

Poetry Book(s) of the Year

Larry Eigner
The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner

– edited by Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier –
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010)

The Collected Eigner, four 8.75" x 11.25" volumes comprising more than 1,500 pages that contain over 3,000 poems plus substantial editorial matter, clearly deserves to be singled out as the poetry publication of 2010. These books dominated my poetry reading and writing this year. As you probably remember, after first getting the books in late February/early March I blew my stack about the decision to crowd the poems’ left-side margin so close to the page edges (see my posts here, and here); it’s a look that still bothers me, even after having become accustomed to it.

More importantly Eigner’s poems in the books, both the full expanse of them and in their individual marvelous details, also blew my mind. I devoured the books after first getting them, reading for long stretches every day and deep into the night on weekends, bookmarking pages and compiling poem-lists. Although that intensity has waned, I continue to read deeply and regularly in the books.

Consistent with, and as a result of my reading of The Collected Eigner, I wrote posts throughout 2010 concerning (click on each clause that follows) the poems arising from the news (i.e., current events of the time), the poems with but one word per line, a poem that presents a scintillating variation on Rimbaud’s “Après le Déluge” (“After the Deluge”), and a poem with the first line “ah, so, yes” that’s wonderfully weird.

In addition, I presented (again, please click on each clause to go) a gathering of Eigner’s own words on his poetry, and another post collecting comments on his work written over the years by other poet-readers. I even wrote about (click here) the generous decision of the Eigner estate to offer, at essentially no cost, a complete replacement volume to correct an error which had deleted two poems (and my post also discussed one of the restored works).


Even with the regular reading of and writing on The Collected Eigner, I’m still discovering, or getting more deeply into, its many remarkable poems. In some ways it feels as if the fun here has only just begun. And so today I try to keep it going, with brief comments on a few other Eigner poems that seem to me to embody or illustrate important principles or characteristics of his poetry, or otherwise are appropriate to point to as part of this “Poetry Book(s) of the Year” post.

Recently, I’ve been appreciating again a core Eigner principle: that the world is full of incredible and often quite involved permutations and connections. Many of his poems bring in, reference, disparate matters that seem to demonstrate this principle. And so permit me to simply present one poem (# 1699, dated October 9, 1991 and found in Volume IV at page 1643), in which Eigner with characteristic good humor sets forth his views on the subject, and seems to say about it all that’s really necessary:

C o m p l e x i t i e s

    everything’s more or less
       rube goldberg

“everything’s more or less / rube goldberg”


My year-end re-reading in The Collected Eigner has also reinforced how much I love Eigner’s focus on the moment, and his ability to represent moments of perception, including shifting moments of thought in his mind, in his poems. In many of these, Eigner presents perceptions, basic actions, and/or events without adornment, to make a poem of a scene and/or a sequence of moments in time. Poem # 1326, written May 14-15, 1982 and found in Vol. IV at page 1457, is a great example of the type:






        the stars


Eigner here appears to be somewhere outdoors, and with just eight words provides enough detail such that we can only see, hear, and maybe even smell a bit of, what he perceived, with the placement of the words (one or two to a line, with spaces in between) marvelously heightening the effect of cinematic movement, as if we were watching a film projection with a blank frame inserted between each image. The shifts of vision -- the eyes first looking down, then up, and finally down again -- are marvelous

A sub-set of these poems that focus on a particular scene or sequence of moments are those to which Eigner adds within or as part of the sequence of perception some philosophical or speculative twist and/or assertion about the world. There are many such poems, but let me single out one – #1610 (April 25, 1987, found in Vol. IV at page 1590) – that seems particularly great. Here are its eleven (untitled) lines, presented (as were the poems above) in a Courier font with spacing that approximates what Eigner typed:

the autumn of my life, spring
        fever of my life
           life of the world
            with no end

               a train whistle
                   through the dark


                    only the armadillo
                               besides man
                                     has leprosy

                                   what goes on

Eigner in this poem begins by musing about both his aging self (he was about to turn 60), and – via a neat switch of the seasonal metaphor he began with – his continuing vitality (and note too that it was written just after the vernal equinox), which he then immediately expands to include the ever-continuing world. It’s a natural enough procession of ideas, with “life” obviously the center from which the three distinct thoughts arise.

However, after a double-space pause, a train whistle in the night arrives. It’s another distinct moment in time, one that interrupts the thoughts that came before. Yet the sound heard, via the implied movement of the train, also carries forward, or underscore, the previously presented notions of the never-ending world and the continuing vitality of the poet who lives in it. The whistle, in other words, comes in the poem as (probably) an actual spontaneous or unexpected event, but it’s also there for a reason, because it works as symbol or echo of the ideas Eigner’s writing about.

After another double-space the whistle via just a word (“again”) is heard once more. I love how that’s done with just the space and the single word. The pause-on-the-page seems to mimic the gap-in-time between the two soundings of the whistle. Further, the short-long syllabic structure of the adverb (“again”) may mimic the actual sound (e..g, “ong-oooong”) of the train whistle through the air. Even if that’s an overstatement, there’ss no doubt that Eigner here adds an auditory element, one that also has a strong melancholic tone given the cultural associations of the train whistle. Of course, this second whistle-in-the-dark is yet another distinct moment in time in the poem. I really sense here, with these back-to-back whistles, how Eigner must have been that night, moment-to-moment with his thoughts and the world around him.

After another moment passes – represented by another a double-space break – Eigner’s mind comes to another thought, and this one really surprises. Given what’s come before – the opening lines’ ideas about life and then train whistles – Eigner startles the reader with his three lines about armadillos, humans, and leprosy. The thought’s so unexpected and odd that I let out a guffaw when I first read it, and still think its pretty funny. I mean, who’d have thunk that would come next?

What’s Eigner up to? I think a couple things. First it’s an example, a deliciously one, of how the mind can sometimes work. Thought doesn’t always proceed as closely related ideas, as the first lines of the poem showed it could. Sometimes just about anything can pop up in the head, and juxtapositions that seem illogical are common. So yes, here now is something completely different: a thought about armadillos. That’s the way it rolls, or at least did that night, for Eigner.

At the same time, the armadillo / leprosy lines seem both particularly Eigner-ian and even appropriate here. Eigner’s thinking could be wonderfully different (I recall here Michael McClure’s characterization of him as a kind of astronaut who had the advantage of seeing the world from a perspective that the rest of us don’t get to see), and this particular matter probably was something he’d recently read and which he decided was of some significance. Plus, this odd-but-true fact is an example I think of what can and does happen in the – to quote the poem’s third and fourth lines – “life of the world / with no end” and thus isn’t all that out of place here. Of course, that the example Eigner uses is so idiosyncratic makes it all the more memorable and thus makes it – hey, what do you know – great poetry.

The line that ends the poem – “what goes on” – is an observation or assertion that is yet another distinct thought or event, I think the seventh in the poem. The phrase obviously echoes or re-frames the ideas, posited in the poem’s opening lines, of the forever-proceeding world and Eigner’s continuing energy. And of course, the absence of a terminal period reinforces the ongoing-ness of it all. Indeed, the poem as a whole, with its series of instants or moments of thought and time, and its left-to-right as movement on the page (or screen here) is itself an example, a marvelous one, of “what goes on”.

“[...] // a train whistle / through the dark // again // [...]”

“ [...] // only the armadillo / besides man / has leprosy // [...] ”


Another Eigner poem – # 220 (written July 4, 1968, found in Volume III at page 854) – can in its entirety be re-purposed to serve as a near perfect capsule review of The Collected Eigner:

beautiful books

   again and again it’s

       the complicated world

Yes, in honor of the Eigner’s poetry in the Stanford volumes, I’ll say that his words in this poem above are just about exactly right as a capsule review of these books, and with that I hereby bring this post, and this here glade in 2010, to an end.


The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner



David Wolach said...

i like this. the categories, as fantastic as they are, in my estimation, pretty inspired. i really can't imagine 70 close readings in the span of two weeks. or 7. //d

Steven Fama said...

Thanks David. I in fact did imagine writing up all those close readings, which probably shows just exactly how off-kilter (you may substitute delusional if you wish) my imagination can get!