Sunday, November 29, 2009

Think outside the haggis . . .


. . . . . Austrian Pfeffernuss . . . . . . . . . . . . . . honey-cakes . . . . .


. . . German Lebkuchen . . . . . . . . . . Oblaten . . . from Salzburg. . . . . . . . French pain d’épice . . .

Finger-Lickin’ Good,

. . . . truffle of Perigord. . . . . . . . . . Auvergnian roast ham . . . . . . . . . thick cabbage soup of Thiers . .


poulards of Bresse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Algerian couscous . . . . . . . . . . . . Spanish puchero . . . . . . . . . . .


. . . . . Polish barszcz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and kromeski . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Italian gnocchi . . . . . . .

International Smorgasbord

Calves’ tongues from Greece . . . . . . . . . . . . . Goulash . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and sherbet au . . . . .


Tokay from Hungary . . . Bamboo sprouts from the Far East . . . . Watarzoie de Poulet from Belgium . . .

Hugh MacDiarmid’s

. . . Scotch grouse . . . . . . . . . . . . Scandinavian hors d’oeuvre . . . .


. . . . . American lemon pie . . . . . . . . . . and Viennese Linzertorte


The staggering plenitude of the just-passed Thanksgiving holiday meal – and I hope you had an opportunity to enjoy such a feast, with those you love – brings to mind another grand spread: the great Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid’s imagining, in verse, of the impressive array of foods served by his poetic muse.

MacDiarmid’s gastronomically inspired vision takes up nineteen lines in “The Kind of Poetry I Want.” This poem, as its title indicates, is a highly opinionated ars poetica. It runs for 56 pages, or would if its various published sections are considered together (some segments appeared within MacDiarmid’s 1942 prose autobiography, Lucky Poet, and additional sections were published as a stand-alone book in 1961). All parts of the poem, albeit split up as just described, can be found in the two volume editions of MacDiarmid’s Complete Poems.

“The Kind of Poetry I Want” rollicks with expansive passion and deep intelligence. The poem has direct statements (for example, MacDiarmid calls for “A poetry the quality of which / Is a stand made against intellectual apathy” and “A poetry full of erudition, expertise, and ecstasy” ) as well as principles couched in metaphor and allusions drawn from just about everywhere, including fishing, film, billiards, poker, wild goats, Zouave acrobats and the great Indian dancer Ram Gopal, to name just a few of the dozens of matters MacDiarmid references. There are lengthy stanzas (one is four pages long), and others that are but a couplet or, in one memorable instance, just two words (“Pinwheeling poetry”).

One thing that MacDiarmid definitely wants is, “A poetry with the power of assimilating foreign influences.” To this end, there are a multitude of references to matters outside of Scotland. Among these – and now I circle back to the point of this post – are the foods on the table of his muse. For, as you surely gathered from the photo-spread at the top of this post, and as you’ll specifically see (via the full excerpt) just below, MacDiarmid’s muse ain’t no bannock, scotch-broth, crowdie, and haggis eatin’ woman. What she puts down, and serves, is a multi-national feast, a cosmopolitan smorgasbord that neatly encapsulates MacDiarmid’s demand for a more universal poetry.

MacDiarmid begins by describing what’s on his muse’s “tea table” and then switches, in the eighth line, to what it is to “dine” with her. Here are the nineteen lines; pour yourself an apéritif or two, take a deep breath, and have at it:
On my muse’s tea table appear
Such delicacies as Austrian Pfeffernuss, iced honey-cakes,
Round or oblong in shape, or those other honey-cakes
From Dijon, wrapped in green and gold, very gay,
And many varieties of the German Lebkuchen,
And Oblaten, thin biscuits from Salzburg,
And delicious French pain d’épice,
While to dine with her is to know
The truffle of Perigord, the brocarra of Tulle,
Auvergnian roast ham with chestnut sauce,
The thick cabbage soup of Thiers, the poulards of Bresse,
Algerian couscous, Spanish puchero,
Polish barszcz and kromeski, Italian gnocchi,
Calves’ tongues cooked with almonds from Greece,
Goulash and sherbet au Tokay from Hungary,
Bamboo sprouts from the Far East,
Watarzoie de Poulet from Belgium,
Scotch grouse, Scandinavian hors d’oeuvre,
American lemon pie, and Viennese Linzertorte.
This is a marvelous bit of poetic list-making. It’s deeply poignant too. The lines were written in the late 1930s and early 1940s while MacDiarmid was dirt (more accurately, peat) poor, living on Whalsay, one of the Shetland Islands, famed for stark beauty and ferocious winters. While writing this incredible menu of food from ‘round the world, MacDiarmid and family actually ate potatoes and sometimes fish gifted them by neighbors.

The personification of inspiration or creative power in the figure of a muse is an ancient (“Sing, O Goddess” begins The Iliad) poetic device, and “the muse” trope still resonates today. Less helpful, I think, is any conception of the muse as exclusively female. Such an exclusive gendering seems to suggest that women are only catalytic generators to be invoked and revered, as opposed to real-world producers to be worked with. Regardless of the biological truths that presumably in part give rise to assigning a feminine persona to the symbol of creative power, a broader conception is surely more appropriate and accurate, including the idea, to quote Rachel Blau DuPlessis, of the muse as “labile & bisexed, bigendered.”

MacDiarmid’s muse, alas, is purely female, and perhaps even worse he envisions her entirely in a domestic realm, more or less in the kitchen, serving and preparing a sumptuous feast. Even if his muse was a woman, couldn’t she do more than prepare and serve food? Perhaps instead of a multi-national menu, the muse could have been imagined – and the same cosmopolitan point made – as making and sharing architectural models indicative of various cultures (e.g., the central-dome mosques of Islam, Mesoamerican monuments (or the present day plazas) in Mexico, New York City’s skyscrapers, and Navajo hogans).

While acknowledging the sexism in MacDiarmid’s conception of his muse as a woman who serves or prepares food, I do celebrate it here. The listing of foodstuffs just works so well, poetically. Geographically, we travel far, and rapidly, in MacDiarmid’s lines, covering much of Europe with further stops in Algeria, the far east, and America. This again is exactly MacDiarmid’s point: to show the range of international influences he would like poetry, particularly his own, to sample and digest. Food, of course, is a near perfect stand-in for the process of assimilation (in this regard, my suggestion to substitute architectural models fails miserably).

MacDiarmid’s conception also works poetically because, on the page and in the air, it is linguistically rich. The many non-English words used, when pronounced, fill the mouth with novel pleasures (ah, all the double consonant sounds of “Pfeffernuss” and the run of consonants that ends “barszcz”), and some of the terms are familiar only to the most experienced gourmets (I still can’t figure out “the brocarra of Tulle”). The muse’s menu, as presented by MacDiarmid, is also wonderfully vivid and idiosyncratic, a poetic quality perhaps best illustrated by the description of the honey-cakes’ wrappings (“green and gold, very gay”) and his choice of “American lemon pie,” far more striking than the more typical apple.

Finally, MacDiarmid’s muse’s menu is so damn good because, well, because it’s so damn good, by which I mean those listed foods sound delicious. Although vegans and even vegetarians are out of luck, those with omnivorous eating habits no doubt would enjoy many great meals with this particular muse. Like I said above, it’s mouth-watering, finger-lickin’ good, imagination-igniting, and just plain mind-blowing. I think of it whenever I’m lucky enough to come across or sit down to a magnificent spread.

Of course, the muse whose menu symbolizes a particular quality of poetry need not be a female figure. A chef or food server can easily be imagined as male, and, for that matter, lesbian, gay, bi and/or trans too. Given that the idea of muse as maker or server of food can be all-inclusive, I dream that perhaps MacDiarmid’s trope might be taken up by other poets, who might then write up what their particular muse would serve at tea and/or dinner, reflecting the particular kind of poetry they want.

No doubt, these imaginary smorgasbords would be delightfully varied. Would Kenneth Goldsmith’s muse, for example, serve fried optical scanner and a side dish of very fine black toner powder? How about the muse for a flarf-list poet? Tutti-frutti popsicles at a formal sit-down dinner, along with pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers randomly selected from a box of Lucky Charms? And the muse for a poet such as John Olson, who sometimes seems to combine the word-views of Gertrude Stein and Andre Breton’s conception of the marvelous: would s/he cook up a plate of tender buttons of found Arcimboldean vegetables? And how about Garrett Caples, whose poetry takes in the work of recent and current greats (e.g., Philip Lamantia, Barbara Guest, Creeley, and Michael Palmer) as well as the energy and approach of hip-hop? Does his muse serve po-mo style smoked broccoli?

See how fun this could be? I could do this for all sorts of poets, from Rachel Loden to Joseph Massey, and everyone else I’ve had the privilege to read deeply and repeatedly. But my dream, once again, is that poets write their own muse-menus, to themselves poetically describe their poetic ideals. In the meantime, I’ll always have MacDiarmid’s imagined muse’s menu, at the least. Thanks for allowing me to share it with you today. I wish you only the very best in eating, both imagined and real, as the 2009 holiday season continues. Bon appétit!


Hugh MacDiarmid
(1892 - 1978)


Sunday, November 22, 2009

This post concerns Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon, a book of poems by Mel Nichols. I explain below why I bought the book (the reason’s unusual), “talk” a bit about the book’s title, and then explain some about why I enjoy reading it. The post includes, and I discuss, two poems that particularly caught my fancy. As a kind of coda, I end with an embedded video of Nichols reading a few poems from the book, and then a link to an audio recording of a reading in which she reads a number of poems from the book.

I thank you in advance for your interest in Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon. I strongly believe Nichol’s poetry deserves attention, and will richly reward any time and effort that you may give it.


I bought Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon, I swear to Calliope, Erato, and Polyhymnia, because of its cover. Yes, its cover. I know that doing that seems (maybe is) shallow. It’s not my usual way, which typically involves reading a bit (a lot) of a poem-book before deciding to buy it. However, sometimes – and this book is a great example – the cover’s so special, and so indicative of what’s inside, that nothing more is needed. At least not if you’re willing, as I was, to put your money where your poetic faith leads you.

I mean, look at that cover up there, at the top of this post. Nichols’ book has an exceedingly rare characteristic: it has no text at all on the front cover. Or on its back cover, for that matter. On the front and back covers, there’s no author’s name or title (that information, along with the publisher’s name, is printed on the book’s spine), nor blurbs or other hype (that stuff can be found on the publisher’s website).

That’s bold. How many other books have a text-less cover? Not many. (As I sit here, I think of Philip Lamantia’s Destroyed Works (1962), two 1975 titles by Bernadette Mayer, Memory and Studying Hunger, and more recently, Tony Trehy, 50 Heads (2007).)

As startling as Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon’s lack of cover text is the image that serves to announce and introduce the book: a beautiful, eye-catching skyscape with clouds, a utility pole, and wires.

Eye-catching yes, and not just because of the lushness of the grey-white-blue sky and black-brown utility pole and wires. There’s also the fact that the image doesn’t seem quite right. I think this is a big deal. Take another look:

The angle of presentation is odd, isn’t it? The top of the utility pole, and its cross-arms, are at the bottom of the image. The perspective here has been altered. More specifically, I believe the photograph as presented on the cover has been, in relation to how the image was originally shot, rotated either 90 degrees counter-clockwise or a full 180 degrees. Please take a look:

Front Cover
Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon
– rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise –


Front Cover
Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon
– rotated 180 degrees –

In both of these rotated images, the orientation of the pole vis-a-vis the camera lens and viewer’s eyes makes sense. The pole extends up to the top of the image, as it would be seen when encountered on the street.

Rotating the photo, as a practical matter, allowed Nichols to wrap the image around the spine and onto the back cover. If the image had been used in its as-shot orientation, it simply wouldn’t have worked with the design of this, or any, book.

But if there was a practical reason to rotate the photo, doing so also had another, and marvelous, consequence. Shifting the photo’s orientation also made for one hell of a dreamy cover image. Please indulge me, and take another look at it:

It’s wild. You somehow look down at the top of the pole. Somehow, you visually dive down but while doing so you also travel up towards the sky. Or, to put it another way, you soar up while moving down towards the top of the pole. The image in this way is other-worldly. Or maybe extra-worldly. It’s definitely through-the-looking-glass, and thus arrestingly fresh. This truly is why I love how this cover looks. It is superb, and it hypnotizes me.

I hereby declare the cover itself a kind of poem. Via the rotation of the image (or the skewed angle at which the photo was taken), “reality” is creatively altered. The world, or that part of it that is depicted, is intensified. The familiar is given a new slant. My eyes stop on this image, stay steady on it and look, look hard. I see it, take it in, and reverie begins. Hmmm. That all sounds – how about that – almost . . . entirely . . . exactly . . . poetic.

Given its poetic beauty and energy, it came as no surprise to learn, from the publisher’s web-site, that the cover is by Nichols herself. Bravo!


The title of Nichol’s book – Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon – is a phrase attributed to Carl Jung. He used the phrase when talking with Sigmund Freud (!), to describe what he believed was the ability of the mind, or more precisely a thought in the mind, to cause something to actually happen in the physical world.

Well, I dunno. If I think that your monitor will – right now as you read this – blink momentarily (assuming I really sensed that it would), I’m not sure that it would come to pass.

And yet maybe “catalytic exteriorization phenomenon” works as a description, an exalted one, of what happens, or can, when a poem is read. A poem, in this way, can be considered a collection of thoughts. And just as Jung believed that certain thoughts in his mind could cause something to happen in the “real” world, so too a poem (when activated by being read) can put in motion something in the world. The consequences of poem = a catalytic exteriorization phenomenon. That’s certainly an expansive view of the power of poetry, although it is a view that I sometimes endorse.

In any event, the long string of syllables (4-7-4, for a total of 15) that is Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon is a trippy and fun phrase. Nichol’s title is a Groovitastic Lexicalization Spectacular. Well, not quite that perhaps, but you get my point, I hope.


Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon has seventy-four poems in its ninety-four pages. The longest poem is three pages, and the shortest has but eight words. Most are about a page or less in length. As you’ll see in the two poems typed out below, there’s much blank space on the pages of Nichols’ poems, and sometimes even within lines.

Most of the poems in the book are part of one of three series. Approximately fifty poems have the same main title – “Day Poem.” These poems are further distinguished, in the Table of Contents at least, by a parenthetical statement of the poem’s first line – for example, “Day Poem (rosemary resembled).” Nine additional poems are titled “Stop at” followed by a specific time (e.g., “Stop at 1:48”). Four others have the title “Bicycle Day.” The remaining half-dozen or so of the book’s poems have unique titles, apart from the aforementioned series.

What I like, really like about the poems in Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon is on some level difficult to articulate. It’s a gut level thing, and typing this, I find it not easy to put that into words. But here’s a try: I like the mix, in the poems, of the observational and more philosophic. I like the mix of concrete details and the more abstract, of finely focused clusters of thought and the obscure. The mix of the serious and funny, the quotidian and dreamy.

I like too that the poems mostly proceed in fragments, some of which are syntactically spun and occasionally alliterated, and that the lines are often interestingly enjambed. I like the use of space in the poems, with a double-space, usually, between each line, with lines sometimes placed about the page, away from the left margin, and with individual words sometimes spaced apart within the those lines. I like the repetition and echoes of words and phrases between the poems. I like the quality and character of Nichols’ thoughts, and of the poems themselves.

This description, I’m afraid, doesn’t really do the poetry right. I’ve tried to be specific, but it seems vague. To best introduce Nichols’ work, and to show a bit about why I’ve been reading Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon so much, I think I need to share a couple poems, and write a bit about them.


Here’s “Day Poem (rosemary resembling ),” found at page 27 of the book:


rosemary resembling

an octopus

on the porch                                    snow

still             now               a comma

a ticket                             a timetable

a bus           stops           outside my house

a door slides open fallout

of banjo elegy on glassware

some clearing collapse of the

ghastly gravitational rummy winter sojourn

nonce violin                 besieged                 confused like autumn

diluted diffused different difficult differential

torrential                                     leaves                           whirling                     confused

like humans                                like                                 gander in meddle

squander weedy this fluke or                 gobbledygook or

bibliophile or brain or                               wheat-colored

indeed                               ecstatic buckets of daytime

in the ellipsoidal notorious some

My favorite thing in this poem, and I think it’s extremely special, is the phrase that ends the next to last line. It’s a phrase that’s stayed in my head since I first read it, and which often comes to mind when I walk out the door each morning. It serves to remind me of the wonders I hope to encounter in the world, or even act as a kind of talismanic chant that might evoke such things. It’s Nichols’ fragment / image:
ecstatic buckets of daytime
and that phrase is something else. It’s rapture, the rapture of day-energy, caught in words! That phrase gives me giddy joy. Thank you, Mel Nichols, for this line! The fragment / image seems all the more glorious given that it’s sandwiched between an emphasizing interjection (“indeed”) and the poem’s final line, an almost completely obscure or indeterminate fragment, “in the ellipsoidal notorious some.”

You can yourself, I’m fairly certain, identify many other things in Nichols’ poem that give it a great richness and make it great fun to read. There’s the observational or descriptive, sometimes creatively rendered (“rosemary resembling / an octopus”), the Larry Eigner-like jumps between seemingly moment-to-moment (and in-the-moment) observations, sometimes linked to each other (“a ticket” and “a timetable”) and sometimes seemingly not (the phrase “wheat-colored” near the poem’s end)), the surreal (“banjo elegy on glassware” and the aforementioned “ecstatic buckets of daytime”), the many examples of alliteration (including the line of “di” and “diff” words), repetition (“confused” is used twice), the diversity of vocabulary (the practically archaic “nonce” and the modern (1940s) slangy “gobbledygook”), and the simile, the only one in the poem, that stunningly likens leaves – “torrential,” “whirling,” and “confused “ – with humans.

What’s it all add up to? Well, it’s not a mathematical equation with a provable sum, at least not to me. And that’s not a criticism at all. It’s a poem, with no single “correct answer.” But it’s also, as I read it, a poem about a day, a particular day. We don’t know the specific day, true, but we do know, from the text, the general time of year. We also can surely sense some of the things that were significant to Nichols that day, and some of the things that she became aware of or thought. We also – and this is what for me gives the poem its power – can clearly hear, and strongly feel, some of the emotions she experienced that day, and some of the energy too.


The second poem I’d like to share is from the “Bicycle Day” series. I’m not sure what that series title precisely means. My guess, perhaps simple-minded, is that the poem’s so titled simply because it was made on, or arose from, a day when Nichols happened to ride a bike. In other words, as with the “Day Poems,” I hypothesize that Nichols in the “Bicycle Day” series, including the poem that follows, makes a kind of poem-record of a particular day. I’m not going too far out on the proverbial limb on this, at least with respect to the poem that follows, given its opening words:


                                                      woke up today thinking everything rhymes the

                                   smell of coffee and madness in the clouds

                absence becomes presence        epiphany

look under the leaves and you will find me

              a boy sees a wolf step from the woods rhymes

                                      with vast light shining on night screens or

                                                          water falls sunning geese on weather

                                                                                also got lost in the supermarket

                                                                                                      and such rivers of great blue heron you’ve forgotten

                                                                                forgot to look in the field guide for that

                                                      radially symmetrical pink wildflower

                                   got lost watching birds at the feeder all day

                for what is love but falling

                                                                          and a telemarketer calls back again

I love the – here I go again – giddy joy that arises from the idea, stated in this poem’s first line, that “everything rhymes.” How’s that for a particularly lovely and concisely stated poetic world-view? “Rhyme” here is not used narrowly, as in similar sounds, but in the broadest possible way. Nichols (the voice of the poem) believes that parallels, concordances, and connections can be sensed (heard, felt, seen) or intuited everywhere.

The thought that everything rhymes is a wonderfully optimistic and life-affirming belief, bringing to mind people such as Lucretius (On The Nature of Things), Jakob Boehme (The Signature of All Things), and the scientists at the CERN Large Hadron Collider seeking evidence of the Higgs boson, hypothesized as a fundamental and pervasive component of the material world. Here in Nichols’ poem, the thought that “everything rhymes” no doubt fuels the transformative “absence becomes presence” and the otherwise undescribed “epiphany” in the third line.

I also love how Nichols backs up her thought that “everything rhymes” with a series of examples. The first “rhyme[],”as I read it, comes in the poem’s second line: “the smell of coffee and madness in the clouds.” The chord or harmony between those two things remains obscure, but that’s okay – it feels right to me, and the distance between the two makes the asserted connection stronger and more poetic.

Nichols presents other, and equally unusual, examples of things that rhyme a few lines later. Here, she sets forth things that rhyme with the first italicized phrase in the poem, “a boy sees a wolf step from the woods.” Some of these things that rhyme with that – for example, “such rivers of great blue heron you’ve forgotten” – are almost little poems in themselves. For each of them, the mind works and flys to make connections. These are very liberating lines to read.

Let me circle back here to the poem’s stand-alone fourth line, “look under the leaves and you will find me.” I read “under the leaves” as fallen leaves, the pronoun “you” as the reader of the poem, and “me” as Nichols. I like the idea of finding the poet here in the rich, fecund soil biota beneath a pile or layer of decaying leaves. Of course, Nichols’ line about where to look to find her echoes the well known lines by ol’ Walt Whitman (“Song of Myself,” section 52): “I bequeath myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love; / If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.”

The last five lines of this “Bicycle Poem” are especially marvelous. Although only the scantiest details are provided (“radially symmetrical pink”) the wildflower seems almost an archetype of wondrous beauty. But mostly the penultimate set of four lines, all of which slant towards the left margin, concern being disengaged from purpose-driven experience – Nichols “forgot to look” in the field guide and “got lost watching birds” – and the linking of that free-flowing state to the experience of falling in love.

Of course, there’s then the amazing on-the-page drop, a sudden, steep, vertiginous swoon, following the fragment
for what is love but falling
The drop on the page after this line works amazingly well, and it does so because the architecture of the poem as a whole, and in particular the location and starts and stops of the poem’s previous lines, set us up for it. We read Nichols’ line about falling and we expect to find other words, either on that same line or perhaps a double or triple space down the page. But instead the space between the lines here is increased, such that no words appear for the equivalent of five or six lines, making the drop after “falling” seem almost dizzying. Remember falling in love? The keen roller coaster heart-in-yr-throat rush of a love supreme at any time? There it is, I submit, right there, in Nichols’ poem, on that page.

And then there’s how Nichols ends the reader’s free-fall. It’s the poem’s final line, a fragment and an image that in its quotidian anti-glory becomes a reverie and mood-buster for the ages: an oh-so-true goddamn “telemarketer” call. How great (grating) is that? Exactly perfectly great (grating), to me.


There are more than seventy poems in Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon besides the two discussed above. Many take a similar approach (a record of or arising from a particular if not specifically identified day). But saying that shouldn’t mask the diversity of the poems. For example, “Day Poem (I was a magician’s assistant)” is in the main, it seems to me, a kind of dream or reverie about a memorable and somewhat horrifying “small accident” involving getting sliced in two. There’s also the ten-line “Day Poem (two)”that collages language from commercial advertisements to create a fast food weaponry product that seems, sadly, perfectly and uniquely American. Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon is the kind of book in which, as in all great poem-books, I keep finding words, lines, and poems, that spark or ignite, or – to shift the verb-metaphors – blossom forth or bear fruit.


Another way to appreciate Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon is to hear Nichols read some of the poems. I’ve embedded below, and will end this post with, a video of her reading the book’s first five “Day Poems.”

In Nichols’ oral presentation, the poems’ lay-out on the page, including line-breaks and word spacings, are mostly lost. However, hearing her read the poems enhances certain other aspects of the work, including the intensity of the words and pacing of the lines, within which one hears in real-time the marvelous twists and turns they contain. In about the middle of her reading, listen how the poem quick-steps from the mundane (“reading glasses found / under a bag of potato chips”) to deeper desires (“tell me tell me tell / me tell me something / I can hold onto for a week / or two”) to humorous (“we are going to get serious / about project management”). Note too how the first line of the first poem, and the last line of the final poem, are identical, and how words such as sky, roof, fuchsia, and pink get repeated within and/or between some of the poems, thus giving this particular set of poems a kaleidoscopic feel. These are, in the hearing, a riveting set of poems, very well-made, nutritious and delicious.

In the video embedded here, Nichols begins to read at the 1:30 mark. You can let it play until then (the first reader is Rod Smith), or, if you please, start the video and fast-forward to 1:30 for Nichols. Enjoy!

Mel Nichols
(five Day Poems)


An audio recording of Nichols reading, including about a dozen poems from Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon, is available via PennSound (click here to listen). The poems from Catalytic are read during the last approximately one-third of the reading, and most are slightly different (though perhaps that makes them completely different, yes?) from the poems as published in the book. The reading is well worth a listen, as it again shows the poetic intensity Nichols’ work.



Sunday, November 15, 2009



a poem by

Rae Armantrout

from the National Book Award Finalist:

UPDATE 3/17/10:
2009 National Book Critics Circle Award
UPDATE 4/12/10:

(Wesleyan University Press, 2009)

(This year’s National Book Award for Poetry
will be announced Wednesday night, November 18th)

UPDATE 3/17/10:
the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award

UPDATE 4/12/10:
has been awarded
the 2010 PULITZER PRIZE for Poetry!]


“New” happens to be the poem in Versed that these days I happen to like the most. Armantrout read the poem as part of a reading she gave this past Friday night at the de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. What a pleasure, an invigorating pleasure, to hear Rae A. live!

Of all the poems I heard that night – and they were all great, with a number striking deep – “New” was the one that when I got back home, I just HAD to re-read right then. Which I did. Then did again. And then thought about it, and thought about it more, and then sat down to write about, which is to say, I thought about it even more, yet again.

Yes, “New,” as recited from the podium by Armantrout Friday night in her distinctive, strong, music-modulated voice, entered my head and STAYED there. And remains there still. Here is the poem:

If yellow
is the new black,

the new you
is a cartoon

who blows his lines

around bumptious 3-D

apologizes often,
and remains cheerful.


The new pop song
is about getting real:

“You had a bad day.
The camera don’t lie.”

But they’re lying
to you
about the camera.


Since Fallujah
is the new Antigua,

sunlight nibbles
on pre-

in the electric fireplace.

This essay about “New” is a kind of close reading of the poem, but I admit up front that I can’t precisely parse it, even though it only has two dozen very short lines, divided into three sections. Much in it seems elusive or not explainable, at least by me. It’s a poem after all, an Armantrout poem at that, so explicative certainty probably isn’t a goal to seek. To quote her, from an interview included in her Collected Prose (Singing Horse Press, 2007):
. . . it’s all right to be unsure. There’s something powerful . . . in not being quite certain of what you’re seeing. Is there something in that shadow? This is often how we experience the world, why shouldn’t it be how we experience a poem?

“New” hooks me right from the start. Its opening couplet, “If yellow / is the new black,” grabs hold, and hard. That’s largely because it’s in its essence a very familiar catch-phrase, arising from fashion marketing. Indeed, the phrase “the new black” has become so widespread that it has its own Wikipedia entry.

But Armantrout, while using the popular phrase and hooking me with it, gives it a twist: the conditional “[i]f” with which the poem begins. The “new black” here isn’t a declarative certainty as in the catch phrase, but the front end hypothesis of an asserted logical construct, linked to the assertion / conclusion of the lines that follow. “If X, then Y” is the classic formulation of this logical construct, and while Armantrout forgoes an explicit “then” the poem nonetheless reads here as if she did use that logic-link of a word. In short, the assertion of the first two lines set up the consequences discussed in the remainder of the section.

The lines that follow the speculative “[i]f yellow / is the new black” concern “the new you.” It’s not clear here who “you” is – it me (the person reading the poem), some unidentified entity being addressed in or by the poem, Armantrout herself or some part of her, or the collective world at large? Or all of the above?

Although the pronoun’s referent is indeterminate, the poem’s description of what “the new you” becomes isn’t mysterious at all, or, more precisely, provides plenty of clues: “a cartoon // [stanza-break pause] spokesman” who “blows his lines // around bumptious 3-D / Hondas // apologizes often, / and remains cheerful.”

This description of “the new you” may seem vaguely or even specifically familiar. You may have actually seen this character described in the poem, right in your home in fact, if you’ve happened in recent years to have watched TV during the periodic Honda dealer clearance sales. The TV advertisements for those close-out sales often feature “Mr. Opportunity,” an affable, company-created, yes, indeed, “cartoon spokesman.” Maybe you’ll recognize him:

Even if you don’t know this character, Armantrout’s description puts certain of his essential qualities right there on the page. That “the new you” would become this cartoon is odd, to say the least. The spokesman and his “bumptious” (love that word, with its denotation of pushy) 3-D cars have some of the fantasy of a dream and the kinetic charge of the surreal. But the overall feel, at least to me, is disquieting and almost grotesque. The spokeman’s profoundly unreal. Dude’s a cartoon, know what I mean? An over-simplified and exaggerated simulacrum of the real. As such, he’s very weird, in a concerning kind of way. I mean, take a look at Mr. Opportunity there. You don’t have to be coulrophobic for him to scare you a bit. So it’s also disturbing that this has become, in the logical construct of the poem’s first section, “the new you.”


The poem’s second section begins with a statement about “the new pop song” that’s “about getting real.” “[G]etting real” seems a key here, obviously suggesting a concern with what’s actual, and what’s not, a matter which I suggested above is also implicit in the image of the cartoon spokesman.

The song “about getting real” is then invoked directly, in a couplet (set in quotation marks) taken right from the lyrics of an international mega-hit by Daniel Powter:
“You had a bad day.
The camera don’t lie.”
At its multi-year (circa 2005 - 2007) peak, “Bad Day,” the song from which these lyrics are taken, dominated pop radio and other pop culture venues (cf. American Idol, season five). The song is still heard in supermarkets, at sporting events, and the like. It’s one of those tunes where even if you don’t think you know it, you probably actually do. The cultural osmotic uptake processes are quite efficient and insidious that way.

But just in case you need a reminder, here’s the song and its lyrics, in a very basic presentation. The two lines used by Armantrout show up at about the 1:15 mark, the second time the phrase, “You had a bad day” is sung. Give it a listen, if you please:

“Bad Day”

When Armantrout recites “New” out loud, she gives the two lyric-lines from the song in her poem a touch of Powter’s melody (click here, if you please, to hear her May 2007 recitation of the poem, as archived at PennSound). That hint of melody when the poem is read out loud is a nice touch, a very nice touch. It, along with the song’s actual words, effectively reminds the listener of the tune, and re-sets the song’s hook, a very, very effective hook, in the brain.

But after Armantrout sets that hook (and sorry dear readers, I’m metaphorically about to turn you into a fish), she gives the line(s) a mighty yank, a strong and surprising one, in the form of a direct challenge, spread over three short lines, to the lyric’s assertion that “The camera don’t lie.” Armantrout writes:
But they’re lying
to you
about the camera.
A direct statement, yes, but not perhaps not entirely pin-downable. As with the word “you” earlier in the poem (and here too), there’s another somewhat indeterminate pronoun in these lines: who are “they” that are doing the lying? More fundamentally, what exactly about the lyric’s “the camera don’t lie” are they lying about?

The latter question is perhaps easier to guess-answer. Armantrout’s statement, “they’re lying,” seems to directly imply that the camera in fact does lie, or maybe more accurately, can lie. That’s a concept with which anyone who’s taken a photo can understand, I think. How you frame the the shot determines what is seen, for starters. And what’s seen in the image is not just a function of where the lens is pointed, or when. Magnification, filters, and film speed can also vastly impact what’s seen. In other words, the camera is not an objective, never false machine, but something that produces images almost entirely based on the point of view of the person or group in control of it, who set the parameters concerning what will be focused on, and how that will be shown. The assertion that “the camera don’t lie” is entirely wrong, in the sense that the images it produces are not objective records, but the result of many subjective factors. The camera gives the picture the camera operator chooses to have seen.

Do you agree? Meanwhile, I can’t get “Bad Day” out of my head. ¡Que Lastima!


The third and final section of “New,” as in the two that precede it, uses the title-word in the opening couplet. It also uses the “[something] is the new [something else]” construct with which the poem began. But this time, that construct is not conditional, but a statement of certainty (I’ve removed the comma from the end of the couplet’s second line):
Since Fallujah
is the new Antigua
These lines startle. There’s first the jolt of juxtaposition, both with what has come before and then the contrast between the place names in the lines themselves. With regard to what has come before, it is true that the lines about the cartoon spokesman and the pop song aren’t, as explained above, entirely innocuous. Still, it’s a shock when Armantrout (via the second word of the poem’s final section) takes us, and takes us quick, to the city whose very name reminds us – at least I hope it does – of some of the more singularly ugly (how inadequate a word) events of the Iraq war.

Fallujah. The death of almost twenty civilians after US troops fired into a crowd. “Blackwater Bridge.” Operation Phantom Fury with its incendiary white phosphorous. Various other reputed and/or reported massacres. Fallujah.

And then there is transformation of Fallujah into Antigua, a startling substantive assertion. How does Fallujah become Antigua? What is Armantrout saying?

The dynamics of the how the war-torn city became the idyllic Caribbean vacation destination are neither stated nor immediately apparent. It seems almost impossible to equate the two, and yet Armantrout, and I love her poetry for this, credits the reader with the ability to think and struggle with her words.

There is, I think, an unstated imaginative logic, a connotative hop-scotch, at play that connects Fallujah and Antigua in this poem. Specifically, I think Armantrout suggests here that the violence, death, and destruction of the Iraq war has become a kind of distant, easy, care-free vacationland. Or more precisely, that the war-horror may just as well have become that, for all the impact it has on us. This at least is how I read those lines.

How war has become a fanciful easy holiday is not said, but suggestions as to the process perhaps can perhaps be gleaned, or implied from, what Armantrout wrote in the previous sections of the poem. Maybe the phoniness of the commercial pitch, the falseness within pop culture, the way the camera lies, has something to do with it. Maybe all that has something to do with war-horror becoming a kind of picture postcard, untroubling kind of place, remote and unreal.

Armantrout concludes “New” with the corollary to the statement that Fallujah = Antigua, and it’s a most curious image, presented over five lines (not counting the double-space between the third and fourth lines of text):
sunlight nibbles
on pre-

in the electric fireplace.

Within the image presented in these lines I “see” – in the words “charred // terrain” – land bombed or burnt in and around Fallujah; the destruction of war.

But the lines’ main image is the electric fireplace. That’s a device that I typically consider an abomination, a phony thing, maybe even an archetype of simulacra. The power, beauty, and naturalness of fire, in these fakes, are unconvincingly simulated, complete with a “pre- / charred” foreground. It can hardly get more unreal.

Against this faux-ness, at least here in Armantrout’s poem, even the marvel of sunlight, an archetype of the actual and true, can only “nibble.” That stops me. The sunlight doesn’t devour, or nuture, with its magnificent light and energy, but merely nibbles. The fake dominates the real.

This is a powerful, bleak image, and I think sharply reflects a part of what the three sections of the poem concern or remark upon: that which is manufactured, the real that is un-real. The “new” that is false, hyped, imposed, sloganeered, cartooned, sold, framed, distorted but presented as the real, and/or distanced from the actual, and fake or wrong to the core.


So that’s some of what in “New” makes me read (or listen to it) over and over. Its concision, of course, is a part of the attraction here as well, the fact that it does so much in so few words. So too is the care with which it is written. I have the sense, given how its words, phrases, and sections fit together and echo or work off each other both substantively and linguistically, that much work went into the poem before it was considered finished. It’s a poem that rewards the kind of close attention I’ve tried to give it here.

It’s always something of an imposition, and perhaps almost a cliche, to ask readers to respond to what I’ve written. And yet me fascination with Armantrout’s “New” overcomes all hesitancy I’d otherwise have to make such a request. Please consider writing a comment here about the poem; I’d appreciate reading what you think about it, or any part of it. Thanks much for considering doing that, and in any event thanks much for giving this, and “New,” a read.


Rae Armantrout


Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Polished Apple (for David Melnick)

To present a polished apple is the symbolic equivalent
of the old tradition in which families of pupils
would express their appreciation
for a teacher’s work
by providing a meal.

What kind of fool am I? A lucky one, in many ways. Among the fortunes of fate with which I have been blessed is having had at least a dozen great teachers of poetry, both in “school” (high school and college) and ever since, up to and including today.

This post is about one of those great teachers, David Melnick, the instructor in the very first college English class I ever took. This post, in short, is a thank you, thirty-five years (!) after-the-fact. In addition to that personal thank you, this post I hope might also remind those teaching poetry today (if any there be who read this blog) that their work can last a lifetime.

In September, 1974, three months after graduating high school, I started at UC Berkeley. During my first quarter, I took a basic English class, called “English 1-B.” English 1-A and 1-B were a pair of beginning reading and composition classes that were required for many students, including all intending (as I was) to major in English. I had been exempted from “1-A” because at high school I’d taken an advanced English class taught by someone from a local college.

There were many – my memory says approximately 20 – different English 1-B classes offered. These classes were taught not by full or associate professors, but non-tenure track assistants or lecturers. Short descriptions of each 1-B class offered, including required book lists, were posted in a hallway of the building (Wheeler Hall) housing the English Department offices. These descriptions gave students a chance to choose a class that perhaps matched their particular interests. Some 1-B courses focused on fiction, others on poetry, and most reflected the particular interests of the teacher.

I remember looking over the many course descriptions and being excited by precisely, and only, one. This particular description included, among much else, a mention of a Beat Generation writer or two, including Allen Ginsberg. It was the only description that included such poets. During high school, I’d come upon, on my own, Kerouac and then Ginsberg and Howl and Other Poems. I’d greatly enjoyed the latter book, and brought it with me to Cal. And so, I signed up for that particular class.

David Melnick was the teacher’s name. Mr. Melnick, we called him. Sitting here today, I recall a bearded man, with lots of hair on top of his head too. More substantively, he was a poet himself, very cerebral, and (as would logically follow) knew a lot about poetry.

Melnick was also – and this is something I wouldn’t fully appreciate until many years later – a door-opener extraordinaire into the realms of poetry.

Although Melnick assigned and spent class time on some fiction – The Brothers Karamazov, in particular – poetry made up the vast majority of the reading. Almost all of the poetry reading came from four – yes four – assigned anthologies. They were the first college books I ever bought, and I still have them, each with my name and freshman year dorm room phone number (642-8250) written on their half-title or title pages. Here they are, or here are their front covers, today, still crazy after all these years:

The Norton Anthology of Poetry
[Shorter Edition]

Donald Allen, editor
The New American Poetry
(New York: Grove Press, 1960)

Paris Leary and Robert Kelly, editors
A Controversy of Poets
[“An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry”]
(Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1965)

Milton Klonsky, editor
Shake the Kaleidoscope
[“A New Anthology of Modern Poetry”]
[“Today’s Poet’s Writing About Today”]
(New York: Pocket Books, 1973)

Melnick assigned poems from each of these books. Typically, at the end of one class he would tell us which poets and particular poems, and from which book(s), we were to read for the next class or two. Sometimes he’d also offer a thumbnail introduction, to provide some bearings in advance. Of course, he’d also substantively discuss the poets and poems in class, after we’d done the homework.

Back then, I was in the habit – long ago abandoned – of writing in books. For Melnick’s class, I put check marks next to the assigned poems (sometimes in the table of contents) in the anthologies, and at some of the poems transcribed a few of Melnick’s comments about the work. So I have a contemporaneous record of much of the poetry Melnick assigned, and even a bit of what he taught. Looking back on it, it’s a trip, not necessarily long and strange, but certainly full and varied.

From The Norton Anthology we read Spenser, Sidney, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert, Milton, Marvell, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Whitman, Arnold, Dickinson, Hopkins (including poems that Melnick’s teaching assistant specially wrote out and mimeo-ed), Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and Thomas. This comprised a fairly standard introductory survey to English language poetry.

But after these, the class went in a whole other direction, straight into and around much of fairly, for that day, contemporary English-language, and particularly American, poetry.

From The New American Poetry, the marks in the book indicate we were assigned to read, at the least, Duncan (including “A Poem Beginning With A Line By Pindar”), Creeley, Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, O’Hara, Ashbery, McClure, and Loewinsohn.

From Leary’s and Kelly’s A Controversy of Poets, we were assigned among others John Ashbery’s “Europe.” This makes me laugh thinking back on it now, a rich, appreciative laugh of wonder and amazement. How many other introductory freshman English classes back then taught Ashbery’s experiment in appropriated and automatic writing, spread over 111 fragments? Hell, how many such classes have done that since, or even now?

I wrote Melnick’s advice about “Europe” in red ink across from the poem’s title, right on the page, or at least his advice as I, a discombobulated first-quarter freshman, heard it: “A collage – don’t try to understand – just enjoy.” That’s an approach to reading poetry that I learned, or had validated, there, and it has often since served me well.

Of course, I could make neither head nor tails of Ashbery’s poem, which probably of course was exactly right. But I remember particularly enjoying the following set of lines, from the last section of “Europe”:
They suddenly saw a beam of intense, white light,
A miniature searchlight of great brilliance,
– pierce the darkness, skyward.
Why I’d glom on to these? Well, it reminded me of a moment on “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” the Disneyland ride. Near the end of that mechanized adventure, the car you are in seems to turn onto railroad tracks, and then the headlight of a locomotive seems to come right at you.

Sallying forth from Ashbery’s poem to Walt Disney’s Fantasyland amusement-ride is not exactly the height of intellectual insight. But hey, Melnick said to have fun, and I did. And I still think of Mr. Toad today when I read “Europe.”

There’s also a checkmark next to the Louis Zukofsky poems in the table of contents of my A Controversy of Poets, and a mark indicating that “A–11” had been assigned. I dimly remember that Melnick really liked Zukofsky, but sadly that’s all I recall about that.

In Klonsky’s Shake the Kaleidoscope the poem that serves as the book’s epigraph – “Table Talk” by Wallace Stevens – has lots of notes. There are also notes in the poems of William Carlos Williams, particularly “To Elsie” (“The pure products of America / go crazy–”), e.e. cummings, and Gertrude Stein (“Susie Asado”).

According to Melnick – and I quote here again from my notes scrawled next to the poem in the book – Stein wrote in way such that “sounds [and] rhythms dictate . . . away from natural speech,” engaged in “games with language,” and “like Cubist paintings, breaks up things into separate parts.” Very basic stuff, true, but heady and helpful to an eighteen year old ignoramous (that’d be me).

Shake the Kaleidoscope is also noteworthy for having almost twenty pages of concrete or visual poems. That’s a fairly substantial selection, and I remember spending much time looking at those. In class there was a discussion of those by Eugene Gomringer, and also, at least briefly, the work by Aram Saroyan (the anthology includes the latter’s “wwww” poem, in which those letters morph down the page into the words “wake” and “walk”). On the page with the Saroyan poem, there’s a note – again, based on what Melnick said, or what dunderhead newbie me heard him say – that one of Saroyan’s one-word poems (“lighght” – not included in the book) had won a large cash prize. Another note on the same page states that Saroyan had published a “bound volume of blank pages.” Those factoids today remain as wondrous as the day I wrote ‘em in the book.

Another required text in Melnick’s class was Eclogs (Ithica House, 1972), a slim (only 39 pages) volume of poems by . . . Melnick himself:

Teachers assigning their own books was, as I recall, not uncommon when I went to college, and I believe it remains so today (though some professors rebate to students any royalties earned, an option probably not available to most poet-professors given the economics of poetry).

Buying Melnick’s own book struck me as more than fine back then. I was intrigued and excited that my teacher was an actual poet, with an actual book. Melnick in fact was the first poet I ever encountered, in any meaningful way, in the flesh. That in itself was important, in addition to the poets and poems he taught and made available.

As I recall, we spent very little class time on Eclogs, though I believe Melnick read some aloud during one class. As one of the first books I ever bought at college, Eclogs too has stayed with me all these years. Eclogs was tough – very difficult – poetry back then, and still is for me today. That is to its credit. Here’s a snap of the first page of the book’s first poem (click on image to enlarge):

I diligently read all poems assigned by Melnick in English 1-B. But I can’t say I was an adventurous student. For the longest of the required papers – I still have the graded original – I wrote on Hopkins’ “The Windhover.” That’s a great poem, certainly, but I didn’t exactly take the contemporary poetry bait that Melnick put out, did I?

However, what Melnick taught, and made available via the four anthologies, eventually did provide much sustenance to me, to say the least. I kept those assigned books through college and then – and this is the key here – everywhere else since, and I regularly or periodically returned to them as sources for poetry. They have taken me to lots of places, poetically.

It’s remarkable, really. Melnick’s assignments from the anthologies – I won’t repeat those already mentioned above – were a great start, in terms of an introduction to various ways poetry of the very recent past (Ashbery’s “Europe” for example had been first published just 12 years before). And in the months and years after Melnick’s class, those anthologies gave me my first hits of many other poets, including (last names only here) Olson, Lamantia, Snyder, Spicer, Adam, Welch, Eigner (and all the other “New Americans”), plus Rexroth, Brautigan, MacDiarmid, Jones, Reznikoff, Oppen, Enslin, Ceravolo, Schulyer, Koch, Bunting, Kelly, Mac Low, Loy, and Tolson.

Sure, it’s all almost entirely American and British Isle poetry, so it’s not a comprehensive world-view. And there also are gaps even in the contemporary American poetry. No doubt there were limits on the number of books that could be required, and the poets/poems that reasonably could be taught. Ideally, we’d also have been assigned Paul Carroll’s The Young American Poets (1968), which would have brought in Ted Berrigan and Clark Coolidge, among others, and Clayton Eshleman’s A Caterpillar Anthology (1971), for a deeper and wider sweep (including Cid Corman, for example) and to show what a smartly edited little mag could bring together.

Still, the particular anthologies chosen by Melnick provided a terrific sampling, and served as an at-hand library as the years went by. For example, in 1976, Philip Lamantia published an essay identifying Mina Loy as one of the few historical American poets worthy of being called “marvelous.” When I read that remark, I was able to find Loy’s five page, thirteen section “Love Songs” (the 1923 version) in the Melnick-assigned Shake the Kaleidoscope, and thus get my first taste of, “Pig Cupid” with “his rosy snout / Rooting erotic garbage / ‘Once upon a time’. . . .”

Being a newbie, insecure, and shy freshman, I rarely if ever talked privately with Melnick about poetry or class matters (I did talk about such stuff with the teaching assistant, whose first name – I believe – was Laura, and who graded the papers). As such, I have no doubt that Melnick has no recollection of me. I’ve also not seen him in the decades since the class, despite – as I just recently learned – having lived for the past 25 years just a single neighborhood away from him in San Francisco.

But despite the lack of an interpersonal connection, what Melnick gave to me, as a teacher, was major and ever-lasting. From a basic introductory English class, one that met for only a few hours each week for a bit less than three months (the length of an academic quarter at Berkeley), I was given a tremendous boost to a poetry reading trip that’s now thirty-five years in the making.

So thank you, David Melnick, thank you very much. Thank you for thinking through that reading list and for the anthologies you assigned. You opened almost a half/hundred huge beautiful poetry doors, and I appreciate having had the chance to step through most of them, take a good look around, and, in some, set up a more or less permanent presence.

What a lucky poetry-lovin’ fool I was!

Having had Melnick as a teacher, in subsequent years I picked up the two books he published after Eclogs. The first of these was PCOET (San Francisco: G.A.W.K., 1975):

PCOET is a mind-expanding collection of constructed new-words, a few poems, such as “glarenas” and “adfelf, consist of only single new-words, while most contain a number of such words (letter-combinations) in various alignments, including the following, which is poem # 46 in its entirety:
eo rovs peoy ci meou wahr t boiru
The other poem-book Melnick has published, and the last one he has so far published, is Men in Aida: Book One (Tuumba Press, 1983):

This book too is a mind-expander, a homophonic translation of a part of The Iliad, although one that presents a narrative different than that found in Homer. I’ve no doubt it sounds like the Greek and, at the same time, it reads to me with some of the same wondrous goofiness of Finnegans Wake. Here are a few lines from near the top of page 4, go ahead and recite them aloud; if you super-articulate the syllable-sounds, it will indeed all sound Greek to me (and you!):
Men in Apollo, a nosy cat, table at our (‘Enact!”) toes.
Tiger agone areo. So decent they o.k. my emotion.
Hey men, my prof Ron, a pacin’ guy, cares in a rake’s seine.
Egg are oh yummy. Andrews call o’ semen hose Meg a pant on.
Argue on, critic. All high pay, then tie Achaioi.

All of Melnick’s books are long out-of-print and now scarce. Fortunately, the great Utah Eclipse site has scans of Eclogs, PCOET, and Men in Aida: Book One (click on each title to go, if you please). That site also has the text of Men in Aida: Book II (again, click the title to go), which never has been otherwise published. Further, Melnick’s not otherwise published In Pin’s Fee is also available on-line (click title to go). That same site also has PCOET and an extremely useful introduction to Melnick by Ron Silliman (a pdf).

Silliman as it turns out has been a close friend of Melnick since the late 1960s, and a great admirer of his writing. As Ron explained back on September 22, 2005 (click to go), his first blurb ever was for Melnick’s Eclogs (the day after that post, Ron provided on his blog the text of Melnick’s “Hasty Fields,” a poem from Eclogs (click to go)).

I believe the only other on-line consideration of Melnick is a comment made a few years back by the ever-astute Mark Scroggins, who focused on PCOET (click here to read).

Finally, Ron Silliman, in a blog footnote just last month, mentioned that he is actively involved in editing Melnick’s collected works. That’s a project that excites me. I look forward to having all Melnick’s writings at hand.