Little Emerson

06 September 2005



What is travel and what is it for? Any sunset is the sunset; there is no point in seeing it in Constantinople.

Fernando Pessoa

But the sun also rises.

This is the first time in a long time that I’ve been out of my country without carrying poetry along. I usually take a couple of books with me. I’ve travelled with Shakespeare, Pessoa, Baudelaire, but never with the moderns. I like to fly with those that never flew, that never had that sensation. They could only imagine it so that our imagination might be best for us.

This time I am away without them. Without you, whoever you may be. The shop here at Little Emerson is unattended, almost dusty, I presume. I am not with it or near it. I cannot attend it from far away. There is e-mail to be answered, submissions to consider, things to be done, but there is little I can do at this time.

In some book I read sometime about someone in a sailboat named “Islander” calling at this very island where I must remain for some time, perhaps another month. Here I will be in a dry-dock with men running about—seamen looking for whores—working and wanting to go home. Is that all I can say about them? What is it about a place that is home? How my perspective differs from that of that intrepid sailor who was here in 1925, I think, in the very same dry-dock where our vessel stands high and dry, or tied to the same mooring. How did he find this speck of land? It feels so strange to walk about on the same docks he stepped upon.

But all must be left unattended. Home will be the place to be, to carry on, sailing.


for Fernando

The mate lay dead a porno
tape stuck-frozen-on-the-screen.
The crew joked maidens in distress
laughed about his drinking;
the image remained of a man
“naked half-way”. (Awkward centaur
writing in the log.)

“Can someone confirm he’s dead?”

The night before the order was telling in a way.
Dinner in the galley. Complaints—
pots pans swaying spilling
diesel stove stew ice cream cake.

Haul in.

After the catch we went on deck.
Indian Ocean fire. “A night for lovers,” he said.
Thinking of places. Off the coast of Chile further south still Ushuaia
sky burning just like this tonight.

“I lack the words…that talk…sun melting over mountains.…”

His foot on the rail naked
toes curling on steel. A few hours of rest
coming “till that same sun rises again and again”.

The mate was dead.
How true the master’s ear on his chest.

Rudder full to starboard—I cannot tell—
Venus shining.
Counted sailor days. (I’ll not say—God forbid—shimmering sun-rise!)

Almost there, steady. Land.

19 August 2005

Poetry at the Boonies

Philip Gardner - Alone with my dreams

Blogs aren’t for me a consolation “for not living in a major metropolitan center”. Been there, thanks. But thanks also for the inspiration. Given the chance grow that beard—yes, ladies included, and run for them hills, as Bryan might say. When I killed Sea-Camel—and you can’t imagine the size of stone it took to sink that motherfucker—I did it because I became totally-totally discontent with the blog medium’s ass-kissing temperament. I had been corresponding with my friend Bino for some time on the subject and we agreed that “popularity” in the blog world as A.D. might define it, meant you did not rock the cradle too hard. Babies tantrum up. That was evident in my own posts, according to Bino, when nice talk that didn’t step on toes made for pleasant dancing. I, in fact, tangoed for some time. Mocking poets didn’t, however, make for pretty dancing, even if I meant it in that love-hate way. Bino eventually also killed his blog for similar reasons.

Infanticide may be sickeningly poetic, but it ain't nice. Perhaps that is why both of us rose from the ashes with separate excuses (I speak for myself) to return and create something. His was a blog about things no one could comment on again, something I missed dearly and something that hurts a blogger’s un-stroked ego. Mine was a blog about publishing something that could never be published. Interesting. I came back—though I never stopped reading my favourite blogs—for selfish reasons, primarily because I needed to know what was happening in American poetry today or Asian-American Poetry tomorrow or Puerto Rican Poetry yesterday. (So many things I disagree with and love at the same time.) I love poetry and I need to know about it. I cannot think of a better way for me to learn it. Living in the Spanish boonies I have no access to your sprawling bookstores and libraries. I know them. I also cannot get your magazines, your books. (I want to read your books though I may not like them.) And since I do not seek publication—not in that tell-me-I’m-a-great-poet way—what is it that keeps me here? I guess that I can’t help enjoying-disagreeing-hating-loving a Ron Silliman piece on the New York School, a Josh Corey piece on avant-new-pastoral, a C. Dale tip on publishing that I disagree with despite its logic and heartfelt advise, Karga on things no one else dare blog about or that Gabrial Gudding “MiPoesias” strange-issue I really liked but never mentioned. How else to correspond with people I have never met and whom I cannot even mention due to Little Emerson reasons?

That’s why I blog. Why would C. Dale or Ron, being so-called established and learned in their particular craft and style do so is beyond me, but I can understand how human they are. They are. (Curtis, much to my dismay, still doesn’t have a blog.) Guess we’re all selfish and obsessive in our little ways. It keeps us here, on the surface, cause way down deep may not be the best place for Sea-Camels to go to despite how much they hate poets and love poetry at the same time.

17 August 2005

Sincerly Insencere


Palmeira, Spain, 16 August 2005

Dear Editors,

It’s been awhile since I have troubled you with submissions and I do hate to use the word “troubled”, but it is part of the facts. It seems that some editors, a minority of them, let that be clear, have had trouble in keeping up with responses to submissions. I have had trouble myself, so I try to understand. Nevertheless, part of the experiment is also about you, the editors, about your response time to people’s work. I am not sure whether that means an editor cares about submissions or not but failure to respond certainly indicates an inability to keep an implied understanding that when people submit their work it shall be taken seriously enough that it is read and replied to. At least it must be so here. When people ask—so politely that it is pathetic and telling—about how their submissions to us are doing after almost two months’ waiting I must step in and consider, at a minimum, whether all the editors are taking this matter seriously enough.

I have been way too sycophantic until now, begging and peddling these goods because I take poetry seriously and, even more importantly, the people who write it. Now, it is total bullshit for editors not to respond to poems after a reasonable amount of time. What’s reasonable? One month? Two months? I don’t know, you tell me. If your work is outstanding what do you consider a fair time for a reply? Yes, your own poems, sent to this game or to The Paris Review. This is telling indeed. Don’t tell me that at our rate of reading—we have only been through about 65 submissions—is overwhelming. Do you think that one or two months is reasonable? It is not. It is sad. It says a lot for what “really goes on in the real world”. And we dare complain. That’s also part of this experiment. Poetry is not about sincerity and feeling, but about people who control what gets read and published. If something as simple and inane as this cannot be taken seriously then it is important for people to know. It shares a little truth with them.

If you do not want to read for Little Emerson anymore then just say so. You owe yourselves that much honesty. I certainly owe it to myself. If you do not respond to the outstanding poems within 7 days, a week, then I shall assume that you do not care for this project/experiment or whatever you want to call it. Fair enough. If you have misplaced poems tell me. I will send each of you a table of results which will identify which poems you have not responded to. I am thankful for your efforts thus far. But this is not about pleasing me. It is about responding to people’s work honestly. Respond and do so sincerely or this is the same bullshit we are complaining about endlessly. And if this is the end of the experiment then it is. Why kid ourselves and the good people who played along. Let’s keep our bargain or close the shop.

This letter will be published in Little Emerson. It will neither harm nor further your “career”. That doesn’t happen here, as we agreed. Any personal queries should be sent to me for clarification.


11 August 2005

Curtis and the Art of Silent Blogging

chagall - I and The Village
I and the Village

Curtis Faville ought to have his own blog. Of course, it’s easier for him to play off of the prolific Silliman. Someone unjustly said Curtis might be compared to the Ed McMahan of Johnny Carson fame, but I frankly don’t see Ron smiling in Johnny’s way, tapping away with a pencil. Certainly, it would seem Curtis does not laugh to the beat of one-liners. Curtis’ latest drop of wisdom—and he is to my mind one of the few people who can intellectually stand-up to Ron in both fact and fiction—concerns Ron’s obsession with community formation as some sort of golden key to success in poetry. (Success meaning, I guess, being read and known and admired by others.)

Curtis writes in response to a comment to Ron’s post of 9 August on the effects and/or significance of poetry contests (including winning and loosing):

I'm the last person with any "cred" but for my money you don't need a "scene" or a "book" to substantiate your work. Anyone who tells you differently...well, they have their agendas. My favorite poets of the 20th Century were mostly loners, if not in fact, then aesthetically, tinkering away in the wilderness. Think of Wallace Stevens. Carlos Williams. Zukofsky. Ronald Johnson. Poetry is NOT a social act, nor an "administrative" one (as Ron puts it).

Be an interesting person, and an interesting writer. Leave the schmoozing and the social-climbing to the carpetbaggers and stock-jockeys. They deserve each other.

Earn your living in the real marketplace of employment, or inherit. It'll make you a better writer in the end.

I’ve always felt naïve about making claims such as Curtis’, though I cannot help but be suspect of movements and schools and social cliques of any sort. There is a certain lack of purity in the movement / school concept where what seems to matter most is the poetry of the group and not poetry itself. Most manifestos, written and unwritten, tend to prove this as they set forth agendas or sets of rules (even rules of thought) that create exclusivity. But they are, of course, great promotional tools for some ways of thinking in poetry. Even general groupings such as LangPo or SoQ promote a sort of collusion between individuals to further specific interests that are often outside of poetry as art. Even simple sentences from people I admire such as “I cannot handle another dog poem or Wordsworth walk poem or rain poem, flower poem, a poem about a painting...” indicate fine prejudices that develop into exclusivity memes adopted by groups. Surprising what a statement from a leader can do for a follower. God forbid angel poems in spite of Rilke.

Though I cannot define in words that poetry of surprise, strangeness and originality that we seek, I wish to think that we can sense it. To paraphrase from Ron’s own The Chinese Notebook you ought not be content from just having others think of you as a poet. Whatever that means, or rather: “What if there were no other writers? What would I write like?”

09 August 2005

Best American Pestilence?

Anton Refregier - For I say at the core of democracy
...for I say at the core of Democracy...

Despite our clean track record—not one poem accepted for publication here, to which, what should I say?, that we’re proud of it?!—Emily Lloyd has commissioned the editorial staff of Little Emerson to edit BAP 2006. (Hear that Mr. Lehman?!) Well, almost. Emily’s suggestion is in response to Seth Abramson’s concerns about the “false advertising” nature of BAP. Seth thinks poets ought to protect the general reading public (????) from such schemes. Has anyone told Seth that all’s fair in war and love? I’m afraid it is.

And so I wonder: what makes BAP04 anything more than a pestilent form of ‘propaganda’ for the American poetry community, and even (dare I say) for America's reading public as a whole?

BAP sells, Seth. Though I’m not good with numbers[1] (else why would I choose to be the laughing stock by attempting Little Emerson) I gather—someone please give me figures—that BAP is by far the largest selling book of poetry in America year in and year out. It must be worth something, no? David Lehman, for one, thinks so.

Damaging to poetry? To “America’s reading public as a whole”? Ebola, who I imagine to be one of President Bush’s speech writers, is damaging to the general public, but BAP, c’mon, that’s what I call mere influenza. And you know what? It might be worth catching this sort of virus or two by some of those folks that comprise our esteemed reading public.

And I’ll conclude with this: if BAP is so bad, so false, so pestilent, why is it that our most renowned and admired poets—regardless of school or movement—rush, trip and fall to edit it? You see? BAP can’t be all that bad for you. Surely not bad for some.

[1] Lisa Gluskin, ex-math club v.p., has encouragingly noted about Little Emerson: “So what we're looking at, if each of the 9 editors picks 50% of submissions, is a likelihood of approximately one over 2 to the ninth, which is one in 512. Or, with a much more probable chance of each editor picking 10% of submissions (one over 10 to the ninth) - an approximate likelihood of one in a billion. Of course, this doesn't dismiss some very interesting questions about the possible qualities (positive or negative) of a poem that 10 different people might like enough to publish. Whether we'll even see that poem, however....”

29 July 2005

Sincerely Eclectic Translation


Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.
Big Emerson.

I am uncertain about new sincerity. I’ve always been stuck with the old kind. I’m confused about sincerity in general. Tony says that it isn’t new after all, so that kind of explains things, no? I suppose that sincerity—the new kind—may be something akin to truthfulness; that is, new sincerity may be truthful, while old sincerity may be just plain truth. Whatever. How does one strive to compose as a newly sincere poet? I wish to imagine that it just might happen, pretty much on its own. Is Lorca sincere hearing trees speak! I mean, green, he wants you green. !Josh might object! But if one doesn’t know how to go about it, what are the patterns to follow? I want to be sincere, I really do. I just love the way it gets me into trouble.


Joshua has trouble with translations of poetry. He’s a lucky guy. I have trouble with poetry. Period. I’m translating it all the time. Aren’t we all doing that whenever we encounter poetry alien to us be it in language, style, sound, visual construction. Shouldn’t we strive to understand its why? Else, why bother at all. Do we have to understand a poet’s background, a poem’s context to fully walk away with a slice of what it offers? I tend to think not. Feeling does not exist within a context. Poetry has been so devoid of it under sentimentality crimes and charges that one senses that poetry cannot exist outside of schools and contexts and historical facts and present pretensions. How can you read—read—Neruda’s Sonnet 20 if you have never been in love and out of it? Or one or both. Perhaps that’s what Ron meant when he praised the “innocence” of the young Mayhew. How can you read—read—a poem about a pencil’s feelings during sharpening if you have forgotten the child’s—your own—imagination and innocence. Yes. All poetry requires translation: translation to that language of the heart’s mind.


Music is not a fair choice in describing or tackling the perils of eclecticism. Even elevator music has its place: in elevators. Imagine life without music. Imagine all those...still more boring elevators? What poetry would you want recited in an elevator to improve on things? Never mind. You guys are poets and would soon be asking how high would the building be, how long the elevator flight. Music crosses barriers poetry cannot, which doesn’t make it better, of course. Not all in life is about better or worse in spite of poetry or the olympics. People in Moscow don’t go around translating Pink Floyd or Camel or Bizet, not the way we require poetry to be translated into our contextual world. What poetry might the people of Irak prefer now? Pastoral?
Eclecticism is best described in terms of food. Yes, I am that base. Peace and food. Hamburger is compatible with duck l’orange, though Kasey may be right that you shouldn’t have both as part of the same meal. White wine with fish? C’mon. How about White House, white wine and fish. No. He doesn't drink. Such are the perils of sobriety. Octopus can always handle a little Rioja. Trust me on that one. It just takes time to appreciate it.

14 July 2005


"Desert walks can be invigorating."

“The prairies were once so lonesome and dreary and treeless that men called them the Great American Desert.” William Logan.

We get the point. Oh, let’s face it, everyone likes a little blood. It is as though innocence requires that someone brave enough, dumb enough, crazy enough throw that stone crashing through the golden temple’s stained-glass window. If William Logan were a pitcher we’d say he had a hell of an arm. His recent attack on part of the established American poetry scene—and you can tell me whether that’s SoQ enough or not or something graver, deeper and wider—lights up like a Christmas tree in August; he is that exaggerated. The question is whether he needs to be in our age of poetry idol makers.

Logan has been compared to Jarrell as the hard critic of our days. The comparison isn’t fair though if Logan started his own poetry review magazine it would no doubt be called “Little Jarrell”. (He even hits on poor old Walter de la Mare, the one that wrote poems on a typewriter, like a typewriter.) I’m not so sure whether the poetry world needs viper-tongue criticism, but it is almost morbidly refreshing to see some negative asides on writers otherwise untouchably immortal. Imagine this plug in Ashbery’s latest book cover: “The quality of whimsy is not strained. It falleth from Ashbery like the gentle rain—and it falleth on a lot of young poets now, students in the School of Goofball Poetics, boys who cut their teeth on Ashbery and Charles Simic and James Tate and now show little interest in any poems written before Dada came to town.” Wow! That hurts. Bringing down idols may be a by-product of jealousy, such statement being jealous enough, (though Logan cannot out-versify any of the poets he blasts here), but it’s almost criminally fun to see John Ashbery slapping his pants after falling in the dust. The fall is, of course, not a fall in desert sand, but a slip on icy pavement from which he might smile slightly embarrassed.

So ok, Ashberry is human, as is Dean Young (“full to the gills with geegaws and thingmabobs and dojiggers”), Jorie Graham (“loves big ideas the way small boys like big trucks”), Ted Kooser (“a prairie sentimentalist who writes poems in an American vernacular so corn-fed you could raise hogs on it”), and even Richard Wilbur (“it’s curious that John Ashbery, who is only a few years younger, still seems our contemporary, while Wilbur sounds like an old fussbudget sorry he threw out his last pair of spats”). C’mon, it’s that little devil in us that says “stutter, Placido Domingo” on that big night at the Met. That’s right, even gods have those awful mortal days.

Viper-tongue criticism is a part of us. We think it, but rarely state it. Our ego has been trained too well. We now stroke it to make it grow. “Don’t burn them bridges now, boy.” So, yes, to me, here, alone a small dose of Logan feels like a cool breeze. I am otherwise terribly concerned with rising sugar-blood levels. Everyone ‘s so nice. It’s no gospel, Logan’s word, God forbid, but rather like a cool glass of ice tea veranda side. It always seems like a heat-wave summer in poetry anyways.

13 July 2005

Frida Kahlo's The Broken Column

Over fifty (50) submissions considered so far and not one poem has gotten more than four (4) “yes” votes out of nine (9). It’s a little sample, it is little emerson, but I must say that it crosses various borders of style, aesthetics and things. I’m so desperate at this point that I only want one poem that can muster a majority decision, Supreme Court-style to rule the poetic world. But no. It isn’t happening. Has Ashbery submitted as per A.D.’s suggestion? Has he been rejected? Where is Jorie Graham when you need her? She hasn’t submitted, not even anonymously. Vendler give us a hand!

These my editors are not licking ink on paper to get right down to the real taste. My poet friend, now deceased, who licked poems in front of me, literally, to make a point is laughing in the grave. It seems that consensus is out of the question. Is poetry like the stock market? Can we get a bunch of monkeys to throw darts and get the same results as learned humans? (Dear editors: read irony here.) I don’t have any friends who own monkeys. I don’t even have any poet friends who own monkeys. Anybody have a connection with the nearest zoo? It seems that majority consensus is out of the question. Is poetry doing this bad? This boring? Are my editors doing this bad? This boring? (Editors: read irony here or desperation to post something). Something.

This may be poetry after all, my friends.

04 July 2005


John Koch - The Cocktail Party
Cocktails anyone?

K. Silem Mohammad makes some interesting commentary in a recent interview at Tom Beckett’s e-x-c-h-a-n-g-e-v-a-l-u-e-s. I’d like to center on Kasey’s views on the concept of “audience” in poetry and the role the poet may play in that regard. Maybe Kasey’s advise would be helpful in light of our inability here—at Little Lonely Emerson—to publish anything or to find any poem that excites more than four out of nine judges at a time. What role does audience play in this regard?

Kasey notes:

I’m increasingly interested in the whole notion of “audience,” and the different kinds of creative-writing dogma that spring up around the notion. Like, you should or shouldn’t write with a particular audience in mind. My take is that you’re always writing for an audience, even if that audience is just yourself. But who wants to go through life writing “for themself” (sic)? Invite some friends along from time to time. Get out more often!

Sometimes I think shyness is a cover-up for hostility. Our initial instinct is often to excuse people who don’t participate in group discussions, etc., on the basis that they’re sensitive souls who shouldn’t be prodded to step into the spotlight against their will. But that kind of sensitivity is like a wound that will get infected and potentially spread to others. Poets who cling to a “dark-horse” romantic investment in their own maladjusted anti-sociality (here I’m thinking of Jim Behrle’s very funny comic strip “Dark Horses” on his JimSide blog) and complain bitterly about nepotist publishing practices, cliquishness, etc. often seem to be longing for a poetic universe in which each poet is one omnipotent god complete unto him-/herself, and somehow the whole cosmos of solipsists is supposed to integrate magically into a heaven of objective purity, uncontaminated by things like friendship, desire, ambition, flattery, and other human diseases. So I’m interested in that other poetic cosmos, where we’re all minor cherubs who promote ourselves and each other shamelessly. Because all that stuff definitely keeps me going.

I find Kasey’s opinions interesting though I do not agree with some of them. I believe the concept of “audience” can be dangerous to poetry. And it can become increasingly dangerous when it plays an active role in the creative process. Indeed, as a marketing tool it is fine if the object is to “sell” poetry and selling becomes a necessary evil. This may very well be the case. When audience gathering and audience response becomes an integral part of the creative process, however, artistic integrity may be at stake. It may very well result in mimicry and mediocrity, a sort of “sequel” concept: “If this works and they like it, I’ll give them more of this until I exhaust the process.” It is very Hollywood in a sense and it works as far as audience gathering goes. But how does it affect the individual work of art and the artist? Was this, say, what Eliot thought of when he wrote “The Waste Land”? Can original works of art be created to please audiences without sacrificing art?

Kasey maybe right. It is said that Shakespeare wrote for his audience, though I would tend to doubt that truism. It may also be true that Shakespeare could have written for a herd of cattle with the same artistic result, but then again cows would’ve had a hard time applauding. Will may not have appreciated the silence. Best we learn from Joyce and write directly for moocows, like moocows. That did him well. In the end, however, do we appreciate Shakespeare for his popularity or for the inherent quality of his works? Or both?

While writing with an audience in mind and writing for oneself may not be mutually exclusive concepts, I would still err on the side of narcissistic creation where the audience plays no part at all in the creative process other than as final guest at the wedding, as Jarrell might say. Though Kasey is right short term I think the ages have proven otherwise in terms of artistic permanency: true poetic works of art are rare and no amount of audience gathering or popularity can change that, primarily when no audience exists for the original poem when it is written. Being widely read by an audience assures success today; but tomorrow it may have the same effect as not being published or read at all.

But I know I ought to climb down from my high horse. Most poetry is not and has never been an everlasting artistic accomplishment. Wasting our time in such ethereal notions does nothing for poetry today and little for the living poet. In all fairness to Kasey I think that he is being more pragmatic and practical than I’m able to be or admit to being. That doesn’t make either position wrong. It maybe true that we ought to get “shy” poets out more often and cure them of their disease. It may also be true that poets may accomplish more in one cocktail party than in a thousand fabled nights of anguished work by the lantern. Given a choice, though, my suspicion and bias sticks to the loner. Anybody out there hear me?

30 June 2005

The Lord of the Rings


I hate Ron Silliman. Should we have met in a boxing ring, he would’ve of knocked me out nine out of ten times. He’s got that way of beating me to the punch. He’s so stubborn that he’ll just jab at anything, so that eventually he finds your jaw, though not with a jab but with that twinkling right cross.

Ron is so stubborn that he now apparently takes innocence as the exclusivity clause of some camp. You got to be sharp to do that, jump rope for months, run for years. That a nine-year-old could write what a mature School of Quietude poet could write any day is just further proof of his theorem. And it’s convincing; seemingly, were it not possible to write what Silliman writes from a grammar school perspective. I’ll not step into the ring with him.

I had something else in mind. Innocence—indeed innocent ignorance—of schools of thought, styles, forms, ethnic backgrounds, politics, growing up, would surely result in something different. Ron’s example is poor and fails because it results in a School of Quietude example of poetics. My, even a ten year old writes like them, and she can do it better. Unfairness—even by Ron's admission—results in cheap tricks. Artists often do that, but dissapearence acts are, well, tricks.

Innocence isn’t that, nor is it purity in poetics. Innocence is awareness of what surrounds, what hurts, what pains, what disappoints: What is. That may or may not be poetry, but surely it isn’t form. It isn’t your predilection for & or that. Poetry eventually drowns on that shit. A child of ten doesn’t know that. Tnakfully (sic). & we must thank Ron for that reminder.