Little Emerson

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....”