Friday, December 23, 2011

Goodbye 2011!

That's it for the year, folks!

Be good.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ron Silliman on Anthologies and year-end lists

Ron Silliman has a great post about the futility of trying to make top [insert number] lists, and anthologies speak for the diversity and complexity of poetry written in English today.

It is interesting to ask what community is represented by the poet who proposes him- or herself as the representative of some transcendent value (the way Jack Gilbert cast himself as the doomed spokesperson of beauty & inner nobility), but mostly it is very sad. The isolato in American literature is little more than a tribune for the most imperial and corporate of impulses, even when – as in Melville, as in Olson, as in Gilbert – he is conflicted & brilliant. If you are responsible to no one, you are in the exact same position that capital and profit play in the world economy. 

What might be noble in such attempts at outsider independence – a resistance to being used by others for purposes that one might find repellant – nonetheless reminds me of the flaw at the heart of Timothy Leary’s old slogan: Tune in, turn on, drop out. There simply is no “out.” It’s as identifiable a location in the game of life as any other. We are all of us on this planet together. You can choose which side you are on, but there is no “nobody’s side” to pick. That one already belongs to Mr. Murdoch, the Koch brothers & their buds. 

But even “represents a community” does not mean that we sing with the same voice, or to the same tune even. The problem with the Dove anthology is that of any “best of” collection. It is not that I’m in the book while Rae Armantrout is not, strange as that may seem, or Paula Gunn Allen instead of Judy Grahn or Sherman Alexie instead of Simon Ortiz, and it is certainly not that Dove actually included 175 poets. It is that she did not include at least 175 others for whom one can make at least as strong a case for representation. The Penguin anthology fails to represent America because the reality is far more complex than one book can articulate. 
It's interesting to think about this at this moment, not because I'm making lists as the year is about to end. It's interesting for me, because I plan to send out a manuscript some time soon, and I'm asking myself all kinds of questions about reputation and visibility and distribution.(Like I only have to make my choice for people to fall all over themselves to want to publish me. Ha!) I have no doubt that when (if) someone at a publishing house reads my manuscript, they'll be asking themselves questions that somewhat echo mine.

And that's when I realise how much I lucked out the last time round and how much the process is not going to be about poetry at all.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Spaniard Tilts at Bureaucratic Windmills

Actually, don't Get. Me. Started.

It's worse than sitting in a hospital waiting to see a doctor. At least there you can arrive at 8.45 for a 10.30 appointment and expect to get a decent breakfast and a place to sit indoors.

At the passport office, a whole day in the Inquiries queue earns you an appointment to see the RPO (other variations include DPO and PRO; one of the letters stands for Passport and the other for Officer. The third is irrlelevant) on a given date, with the (misleading and false) assurance that you don't need to wait in line; you just need to turn up at the given time and see the man in charge.


Anyone with a bit of sense interprets this as 'Be there as soon as you wake up'.

I have turned up at the passport office five mornings since November, at approximately 7.15 am. I stand in the Apoointments Only line, and if I'm lucky I'm number 6 or 7. More often, I'm 11 or 15. We stand in the sun, sit on bits of paper or move in and out of this line until 9 am, when a bunch of cops come out and organise the line in the usual way - with a red lathi. Fights break out in the other, longer line, where people have been waiting since last night. Agents work the line, picked out the susceptible and sometimes get caught. Money changes hands, often not even discreetly.

Remember: all this is only to make inquiries and show up for appointments; this passport office no longer takes applications, so these queues are not even in order to submit forms. They are for people who want to know why their passports haven't turned up after three, six, twelve months or longer.

Ten am sees us inside, with little chits of paper that decides in what order we see the RPO/PRO/DPO. These are meaningless, because there's another line of people that the cops call VIPs: they have letters from IPS/IAS/MLA type people.

If your serial number is 11, say, you can reasonably expect to wait until 2 pm to see the man, and you can almost certainly expect to be told that your file cannot be found. This is what has been happening to me for the last three appointments. I wait in line from 7.15 am only to be told, some six or seven hours later that I need to come back another day when they will have my file.

This, dear readers, is how Spaniard gets homicidal. Spaniard is A Knight with Very Little Patience. Oh, wait. I'm mixing books up, aren't I?

This is also why I have no energy and want to curl up in bed with a trashy book and oranges and chocolate. Escapism has a function if this is what short-term reality looks like.

(Anyone wanting to send me trashy books, oranges, chocolate, sympathy and valid passports, please get in touch).

So how's your end-of-the-year treating you?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

RIP Russell Hoban

So many people have died recently and their deaths have passed unremarked here, but this one I can't ignore.

Russell Hoban, RIP.

I *loved* The Mouse and His Child (and everything else of his that I've read which, I admit, is not very much) but I have been wanting to read his other, later books because they sound weird and wonderful. (I mean, just look at this. I want that book.)

Comfort in knowing there's still plenty to read, though.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Poet is In & Bhagat's toys are Taken Away

Mainly because I refuse to use the word 'random' to describe my posts, even though that is precisely what this is:

1. Approaching the question of poems and ownership from a completely different place, this post. Holly S. Morrison sits at a Farmer's Market (with a sign that says The Poet is In, as if she were in a Peanuts comic) and writes custom poems that people buy from her. And yet:

I browsed the honey and beeswax candles at a neighboring table while Holly began clacking away on her manual typewriter. And I found myself reflecting on her smiling response to the final question I had asked her: she doesn’t keep copies of the poems for herself. I found myself feeling an unexpected pang of jealousy at this detachment, this acceptance of letting poems go, as if I had encountered a monk making a sand mandala, or the street sax player in Joni Mitchell’s classic song, “For Free.”

Though I write for free and Holly writes for money, I only give away the writing of the poem; she relinquishes the right to keep the poem. Many contemporary poets might feel that selling poems devalues our art. But it seems to me that Holly’s approach to poetry also participates in the sublime economy Lewis Hyde describes in The Gift, the classic book that helped so many artists better understand their art and taught me, in my twenties, how to survive as a poet.

According to Hyde, the function of art is to participate in a sacred gift economy that links giver, receiver, and the spiritual world. Art’s gift offers contemporary humans an essential alternative to the deadening commercial system. But in practice, it’s not so simple for a poet to give away the gift of poetry nowadays. Those who receive our gifts tend to be limited to critics, students, or other poets; the gifts of a “professional” poet get tangled up in names, reputations, career obligations, and previous bodies of work.

By selling one-of-a-kind poems and not even keeping a copy, Holly moves poetry out of the literary economy in which so many contemporary poems are enmeshed. Instead, she moves it along into the lush marketplace of daily life where all of us can meet on a human footing, helping each other satisfy our needs for life’s irreplaceable gifts of food and beauty and meaning.

2. So there was the ToI Lit Carnival held recently in Bombay. Wish I'd been at the Mohammed Hanif, Mohsin Hamid, Chetan Bhagat session (I'd have been happy to have taken everyone else but Hanif out of the picture but hey - I'm sure I'm not the only one). It seems to have been pretty hilarious:

You know what? I can't quote anything specific from it. It is full of deliciousness, so go read.

Hint: Bhagat's toys are taken away.

Friday, December 02, 2011

'write six lines, drop five'


This is what I have been doing, among other things. I think I love year ends. They begin to accumulate just in time to dissipate.

Lucky girl, to lose so much, to regain so much.