Category Archives: Poetry

A Poem by GM Quinte

International Call

You can see in the early light of dawn
Facing the noise of the so-called Twilight
Bright stars through the perilous fight, and a wide range of his lines and
Flow because we are bold, fluttering looking at the wall?
The rockets red light, and bombs, and the explosion in the air,
Evidence throughout the night that we learned he was still;
O Star Spangled Banner still wave
Fluttering bravest of the land of the free world?

(“The Star Spangled Banner” first stanza, Google translated from English to Chinese to Russian to Korean to Arabic to English.)

Blammo! New Tab!

I’ve added a tab over there on the right (“NEIGHBORS’) to spruce things up around here.

Now Starring…

  • The temporary home of poet G.M. Quinte, currently residing in his cousin’s guesthouse and on my server. Stunningly opaque free verse.
  • The Slow Paparazzo. His motto: “Right Place + Wrong Time = 100% Fame.”
  • Jean-Jacques Arsenault’s inspirational self-published coffee table book, Shopping Carts of Panorama City
  • poets versus fiction writers

    My second year at Iowa, I lived with three poets in a farmhouse out on Taft Ave SE.

    Here’s a fake painting of it, complete with cut-and-paste signature. (It had been moved to that location some years before and so had no trees around it. Kind of creepy, huh?)

    The Farmhouse in Question

    It’s gone now, or moved. Apparently, the owner’s son liked it so much he moved it around the corner and fixed it up for himself.

    One of the understood duties of the farmhouse tenants was that we would have to throw a couple good parties every year, including at Halloween.

    Being involved somewhat in the set-up of said bash, I didn’t have too much time to work on a costume. I found a cardboard box downstairs in the cellar and made it up to look like a TV set. Then I put on a blazer and tie, and I did my best to look like a news anchor, a talking head, complete with shorts.

    We had a rubber rat lying around, so I added him to the costume, too, tying him to my blazer with a short “leash” of string.

    Here’s the costume:

    The Costume in Question

    You can see the rat perched on top of the TV, and the string leading down to my jacket button.

    Fun costume, right? People seemed to think so. But in a way I never expected and could not have predicted, the rat, that little black rubber rat, became a litmus test like no other I’ve seen before or since.

    Every single poet I spoke to that that night had something positive to say about the rat. From “Nice rat,” to “I love the rat,” to “The rat makes the costume.”

    And every single fiction writer wanted to cut the rat, edit him out, or at least get some satisfactory explanation as to why he was there.

    bits and bytes

    Yesterday I heard a window-washer say to his co-worker: “I don’t usually talk to my psychic about everyday stuff.”

    Facebook is starting to reach terminal velocity…when you’ve got more friends than you care to have, when just about everyone has jumped on board. Recall the shipwrecks of Friendster and MySpace. Get a life, or a lifeboat?

    Literary venom! The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered, by Clive James. [at Condalmo]

    the houlihan treatment

    Over at Critical Mass, John Freeman was kind enough to post John Updike’s Rules for Book Reviewing, all of which fall well within the boundaries of common sense. As I mentioned in ur so hacky you don’t even know ur hacky, I’m relatively naive vis-a-vis the conventions of book reviewing. I sort of feel my way along. And so it’s nice to discover that Updike’s rules are in line with what I’ve been trying to to, especially:

    1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

    Which brings me to Joan Houlihan’s review, in The Contemporary Poetry Review, of Matthea Harvey’s poetry collection Modern Life.

    Now, first I should say that I am a reader of contemporary poetry. I get a kick out of James Merrill. I just had a nice chat with a guy in the water at Bay Street about James Tate, whose Distance from Loved Ones is a favorite of mine. I read Ashbery’s Flow Chart, and it blew my mind. Charles Simic. Heather McHugh. Not to mention all the kids coming up. The list goes on.

    The point is that despite not being a poet, I do read poetry. (Joan Houlihan would say that I do not exist: “With only other poets left to read poets…”)

    Here is some of Houlihan’s take on Modern Life:

    If “to read” means to follow with your eyes, one word after another, until a text becomes comprehensible, then I cannot say I’ve read Modern Life. If, on the other hand, “to read” means to scan, in the sense of reading labels, like a grocery store’s optical reader, or if it means to observe various-sized and colored containers without being able to see what’s inside, or if it means to skim, admiring the typeface design and visual placement on the page, or if it means to obtain data from a storage medium (the page), and transfer said data to another storage medium (the brain) via the movement of eyes, then I can say I have read this book. But what does such a reading mean? I can’t say I enjoyed it, nor can I say I didn’t enjoy it, since each word, then each poem, overwrites the previous one. Was I changed by the experience? I don’t know. I don’t think I had an experience.

    Sounds like someone isn’t interested in Updike’s rule #1.

    I myself stopped about halfway through Modern Life. I stopped because I came to a poem that moved me so much I was unable to read on. It felt like it was breaking my heart. I am still wrapping my head around that experience. Then I went back and read some more. It is difficult for me to understand how someone could read this book and not have an experience.

    If one believes, as I do, that writing well includes, may even be predicated on, the higher-level ability of employing tonal shift, syntactical variation and pacing in the service of building suspense and interest for the reader, then the only conclusion I can draw is that Modern Life is not well written.

    It becomes clear pretty quickly that Houlihan has an axe to grind with a certain kind of contemporary poetry, and that she’s merely using Modern Life as a whetstone. I hadn’t heard of Houlihan before, but a quick google turned up evidence that she’s been at this for a while now, complaining about the course of contemporary American poetry.

    She basically embodies the opposite of Updike’s spirit-of-the-thing rule #6:

    Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind.

    And she’s not shy about dragging out the straw men:

    If, on the other hand, one believes that writing such as Harvey’s constitutes a “project” whereby the text is in service to some political or aesthetic idea (cf Kenneth Goldsmith’s “boring, boring” and “unboring, boring” project), is happy with the driving idea and has no need that the actual writing be of any interest, they may read her work as exemplary without expectation of either pleasure or understanding. Not this reader.

    I have no clue what would lead one to believe what she says one might believe. What she is describing does not seem in any way to describe this book.

    Which is fine, which is typical po-world polemics.

    Harvey’s book got a good (and more reasonable) review in the paper of record–which, last I checked, gets a few more readers than CPR.

    Typically, this sort of thing wouldn’t warrant a post here on the venerable WOT-WHAT. But in her review, Houlihan does something so egregious, so offensive, Updike didn’t even think to put it on his list: she offers up a rewrite of Harvey’s poetry.

    Yes, you read that right. She cuts, edits, and rewrites Harvey’s lines, then comments approvingly on her new version:

    Removing the generalissimo’s glands, the horse’s gums, the uber-goon and other portions of the poem that seem pointless or silly and unnecessary, and beginning with a statement that piques curiosity (what is the “hard news”?) and ending with an intriguing quote, in an interesting syntactical position, enables a certain cohesion or structure and reveals a serious and frightening poem inside, one that may or may not benefit from another good line or two: “The sight of a schoolbag / could send us scrambling” (without the “Suddenly” of course) or “Never mind that we could only grow / gray things.” There is at least one good poem here, one that bears re-reading and takes its reader seriously enough not to strew red herrings around for the hell of it.

    Now before I type what I’m going to type, please understand that I am a believer in editing. I am a believer in craft. I am a believer that things can get better with the assistance of a second or third party. However, I am also a believer in artistic freedom. I am a believer in artistic intention. I am a believer in trying to understand what an artist has made. I am a believer that when someone publishes a book, he or she is not putting that book up to be workshopped, edited, or rewritten, especially by someone with an aesthetic axe to grind.

    And so I say, having barely resisted recourse to expletives:

    Joan Houlihan, you have done a disservice to poetry.

    Alanis’ Humps

    I have to say, I saw this all over the intarweb the other day and gave it the big ol’ meh.

    And then I clicked, finally.

    I did not regret it.

    For those of you who subsist on so-called real poetry, GM Quinte is participating in NaPoWriMo, squeezing out one gem after another all month.

    In response to Laurel’s post…

    Laurel, over at jewishyirishy, posted an ancient photograph of a Halloween trip to the Iowa City Hy-Vee, circa 1998. We were probably enroute to a party at the farmhouse.

    In response, another from the series. Yours truly plays the unsuspecting Space Villain. Brian’s breasts are amazing, Tanya’s hair is off the hook, Laurel’s boots can’t be beat.