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Notes on a Past Life: David Trinidad in Conversation with Kristina Marie Darling on Best American Poetry blog

Notes on a Past Life: David Trinidad in Conversation with Kristina Marie Darling [by Kristina Marie Darling]

David Trinidad CoverDavid Trinidad’s newest book is Notes on a Past Life(BlazeVOX [books], 2016). He lives in Chicago, where he is a Professor of Creative Writing/Poetry at Columbia College.

KMD: I truly enjoyed your latest collection, Notes on a Past Life, which was just published by BlazeVOX Books. As I read the work, I was reminded of Marianne Moore’s philosophy with regards to poetry. She actually coined the term “conversity” to describe the dialogic nature of the arts, to evoke the idea of the poem as a conversation with other creative practitioners. Similarly, your collection contains references to such writers as John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, and Mark Doty, as well as incisive commentary on the business of poetry. With that in mind, I’d love hear more about your beliefs about contemporary poetry as a dialogue among its practitioners. Which elements of the conversation are you most interested in preserving, and which of these are you most interested in refining, reconstituting, and even discarding? To what extent is your poetry, your participation in this literary conversation, an interventionist gesture, an effort to effect change through narrative, as well as form and technique?

DT: I think Moore’s term is apt. I’m always in conversation with other poets. In Notes on a Past Life, I set out to tell the truth about my own experiences in the New York poetry scene. That was all. But as I was writing the book, I realized it was a fairly stringent critique of the poetry business and ambition in general. Prior to starting the book—and while I was writing it, too—I read a number of poets who helped show me the way. I was looking for direction, and for permission, without really knowing it. It wasn’t a completely conscious process; I don’t know that writing, for me, ever is. Or can be. How do you write about unpleasant experiences with real writers, living and dead? How do you reach back, touch those old hurts, reignite them, and transform them into art?

Two poems I found helpful were Sylvia Plath’s “The Tour” and Ted Hughes’s “The Literary Life.” Both are about Marianne Moore, actually. Thom Gunn’s “Famous Friends” is a poem I’ve argued with for a long time. Ultimately, I think it’s valuable. Certain poems should trouble you. John Berryman’s Love & Fame showed me many things; I’ve been reading that book on and off for years. There were others. Lorca’s Poet in New York was helpful in terms of structure and pitch. Stylistically, Hilda Morley and A.R. Ammons helped me. James Schuyler and Anne Sexton always help me. The poets I’ve mentioned are all dead, of course.

To be honest, I don’t feel that contemporary poetry has very much to tell me.

I don’t think very much is actually being said, or said in an interesting way. There’s a sameness, and a safeness, a mundaneness, an eye to getting ahead that deadens the poetry. There are a few voices that seem distinct, concrete. Maybe there always are just a few. They stand out, but how many hear them? I think of what Elizabeth Bishop said about one of Marianne Moore’s books. She praised “the wonderful ALONE quality of it all—like the piano alone in the middle of the concerto.” I guess that’s what I’m always listening for, that solitary—and brave—individual in the midst of the rabble.

I’m curious to know what you find valuable in contemporary poetry. Does it nurture or inspire you? Who are the living poets you’re in conversation with? Who are the dead poets you talk to?

KMD: I certainly agree with your discussion of the “safeness” of much of contemporary poetry. I think part of this problem of homogenization comes from the increasingly corporate nature of the universities in which creative writing programs are housed. So many contemporary poets write towards what they perceive as the markers of legitimacy, rather than writing from a place of urgency, honesty, or risk. Yet there are so many contemporary writers whose work I return to again and again. For me, the most exciting work in contemporary literature is taking place at the very periphery of what we consider to be poetry, happening at the interstices of poetry and other genres and mediums: lyric essay, short fiction, literary criticism, even photography and the visual arts.

I spent some time at Yaddo in 2011, and remember having a conversation with the poet Sam Taylor, who said that the great frontier in contemporary poetry is not finding new ways to innovate or experiment. Rather, it is integrating tradition and innovation, placing the literary tradition we’ve inherited in new and provocative contexts. The most exciting contemporary texts often arise from the dialogue between the poetry, its tradition, and its artistic resources, and other modes of representation. Recently, I was moved by a collaboration between Sandy Florian and a visual artist, Alexis Anne Mackenzie, who works with collage. The juxtaposition of text with images gave the collection a generative quality, allowing each poem to open out into more imaginative work, more possibilities for readerly interpretation. Similarly, Keith Waldrop’s Several Gravities contains magnificent collages that act as kind of field guide, instructing the reader as to how to understand and appreciate the architecture of the poems. The work of Allison Titus, Julie Marie Wade, Emma Bolden, and Jenny Boully, particularly their experiments in lyric essay, has also been of paramount importance to my thinking about what is possible within contemporary poetry.

And so you’ve probably guessed that the dead poets I talk to include mostly female modernists—H.D., Mina Loy, and Marianne Moore in particular. They really began this undertaking of exploring the possibilities for dialogue between poetry and other disciplines. I’m particularly interested in the ways they placed the literary arts in dialogue with the work of philosophers of the time period—Charles Saunders Peirce, William James, and especially Sigmund Freud. They really showed me that the smallest stylistic choices can convey powerful assertions about philosophy, literary theory, and psychology. And even these seemingly small stylistic choices are often politically charged. They remind me that poetry contains a unique repertoire of artistic resources, which can illuminate and complicate work from other fields of enquiry.

I’d love to hear more about what poetry made possible for you in telling the truth about your experiences in the New York scene. This collection could have arguably taken a much different form—anything from a roman à clef to a memoir. Why did you turn to poetry as a vehicle for representing these experiences? What did the vast range of poetic forms in the book make possible within the narrative, within your own thinking about the past, and within your conceptualization of time?

DT: That’s quite a trilogy of influences—H.D., Loy, and Moore. All troubling figures, in their own way. Eccentrics. I love that Loy described poetry as “prose bewitched.” Not long ago I reread H.D.’s Sea Garden, which I first read when I was in college in the ‘70s. I remembered liking the shorter pieces focused on a single subject, like a flower or tree. But this time I responded to the longer poems, such as “Pursuit” or “Prisoners,” where she gives just a snippet of a larger plot, like a scene from a movie, yet an entire narrative seems to rise up and blossom around it. Something similar happens when I read your poems. They’re full of details—ornate, romantic, and (dare I say) “feminine” objects. Lockets, silver charms, a velvet curtain with “silk tassels and lavish golden trim,” bone china “rimmed with tiny black crocuses.” There are chalets and opera houses and nightingales and chandeliers. Things gleam and glitter. The word “luminous” shows up again and again. It feels as if we’re situated in another time, as if a Victorian novel, or a whole universe of Victorian novels, haunts every page. At the heart is a sense of mourning, desire, the mystery of human experience. I can see your affinity with Jenny Boully, especially in your “footnote” pieces. Though the story itself is intentionally withheld, it’s interesting how much pours in around the “ornaments” and “embellishments,” around a mere gesture or single moment. As with H.D., there’s the suggestion of a narrative, or the trace of one, that gives the writing a ghostly or disquieting quality.

It was only natural that I would write about my New York years in poems, since poems are what I write. Poetry has always been, for me, a place where one can be absolutely truthful. More than in a novel, say, as fiction isn’t real. I guess in my mind that makes it less truthful. Less raw. And in a memoir I would have felt bound by narrative and facts. I’d have to spell everything out, make it all make sense. Notes on a Past Life is, more than anything, an experiment in memory. Often a poem would start with a color or object; images and feelings would begin to swirl around it and the memory would come forth and take shape, as language. A looser and more honest language than I was used to, which I found surprising and exhilarating. I was amazed how much I was able to remember, how much came back.

I outlined the book fairly early on, knew in advance which people and experiences I wanted to write about. Still, it felt, in the two years it took to write the book, like I was retrieving, putting the puzzle pieces of my history back together. To make sense of it. To understand what it was that I actually went through. So in some ways it was a fragmentary process. This allowed me to pull in passages from old notebooks, quotes from writers who were important to me in the past, even old discarded poems. I’m talking about decades-old poems. There was a kind of redemption in being able to include poems I had once considered failures. Or being able to rework some of them into the fabric of the new poems. So they were salvaged, finally of use. No effort is wasted or irrelevant. Or completely abandoned.

By the way, I thought of two more poems that were important signposts for me. Both by May Swenson. One, “March 4, 1965,” is about being a judge for the National Book Award in Poetry and feeling guilty that she played it safe by giving the award to dead Theodore Roethke instead of Galway Kinnell, whose book she preferred. The other, “At the Poetry Reading,” is about being bored at a reading by “stodgy” James Merrill: “The hour seems an age.” These poems were published in a journal after Swenson’s death, but not included in her collected poems. Why? Too honest?

Read the whole review here

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Sentenced to Gender: The Women of Blazevox Books at Best American Poetry

 

Sentenced to Gender: The Women of Blazevox Books [by Kristina Marie Darling]

Ruth DanonAll too often, writers possess great technical ability, but they lack ambition with respect to the larger ideas that seemingly small choices within a text—a line break, alliteration, and even the visual appearance of the work on the printed page—can communicate. For many practitioners of the literary arts, style remains mere ornamentation, rather than functioning in a more substantive way. And so we are left shivering in a beautifully painted corridor after the performance, with the doors latched all around us.

At the same time, three recent texts by women remind us that form, and the behavior of the language itself, can function as an extension of content, opening up possibilities for readerly interpretation that transcend the semantic meaning of the words as they appear on the page. C. Kubasta’s All Beautiful & Useless, Ruth Danon’s Limitless Tiny Boat, and Anne Tardos’ Nine each present us with subtle technical choices that call our attention to the politics inherent in language, grammar, and the literary forms we have inherited. We are asked to consider language not as a given, but rather, as a set of implicit hierarchies, judgments, and assertions of power. Even more importantly, the reader is reminded that language structures conscious experience, and even the most subtle implications of grammar are internalized by the subject. In these deftly crafted works of poetry and hybrid prose, we watch as each author simultaneously inhabits and revises received structures for thinking and writing, ultimately subverting them from within that familiar and deeply entrenched order. Although somewhat different in style and approach, these innovative texts certainly share an investment in approaching poetic technique as politically charged, the smallest nuances of formal innovation offering opportunities for social justice within the literary landscape, and well beyond its boundaries.

What does possibility look like, then? How will we recognize her, and what glittering ammunition does she carry?

*        *        *

I did not say this exactly. I said
I am alone. I am ashamed. 
I said I am so thirsty I

want something to drink. And 
I said there are small shells
crushed beneath my feet. And I 
also said one simple thing…


Ruth Danon’s Limitless Tiny Boat provocatively juxtaposes inherited myths with invented forms, which often use the space of the page as a visual field. By presenting her artistic inheritance alongside the wild machinery of her own imagination, Danon ultimately calls our attention to the arbitrary nature of the forms, narratives, and linguistic conventions that circumscribe what is possible within thought itself. Indeed, the cultural imagination from which we all borrow is revealed as the result of chance, and what’s more, it is only one of many possibilities.

At the same time, Danon’s graceful retellings of classic myths remind us that these shared narratives, these symbols and motifs that circulate within culture, are necessary for dialogue, artistic exchange, and even community. Danon fully acknowledges the necessity of a repertoire of forms and narratives, and the larger collective consciousness to which they give rise. She herself is implicated in sustaining this chance assemblage of cultural knowledge. Yet she skillfully works within these received structures for thinking and writing to expand what is possible within them. 

What will we find when we open the door?

*        *        *

Any sequence of three lines 

suggests a narrative… 

As Danon’s book unfolds, familiar myths, and the literary conventions that structure them, are rendered suddenly and wonderfully strange. Indeed, we are made to see that the story of Narcissus and Echo offers myriad possibilities for identification on the part of the reader, among them a silenced female beloved, who discovers the possibility of speech by traversing the darkened corridors of her own psyche. Narcissus, who normally occupies a prominent role in the story, becomes a tertiary figure, mere ornamentation.

As Danon works to excavate Echo’s agency from this familiar mythical dreamscape, narrative convention is revealed as a source or order within a text, but also, a diversion, a limitation, a silencing. When we are asked to attend to Narcissus, we miss the possibilities at the margins of the text, the subversive and provocative gestures that exist only on the periphery of a larger cultural imagination.

Indeed, narrative convention is revealed as an attempt to impose order on an inherently unruly human psyche. What we discover through Danon’s work is the multiplicity that is housed within any experience, perception, or event. As we struggle to sort through these glittering possibilities, our attempts to find order inevitably replicate the power structures within the culture we inhabit. Danon’s work offers us a profound interventionist gesture, which inevitably expands what is possible within this familiar narrative, and the larger power structures that narrative replicates.  

When Danon forces us to unsee Narcissus, we see Echo for the first time.

What else is waiting for us when we meet her?

*        *        *

Mix of funk and freejazz Miles Davis musical response.
Lucretius saw the universe as something having a nature.
Bernstein: “Estrangement is our home ground”-Yukon bullfrog flu.

Barely arrived, it seems, and almost time to leave…


In her most recent collection, Nine, Anne Tardos acknowledges the necessity of shared conventions, myths, and narratives for creating community, and in turn, works of art. Yet her interrogation of these constraints is as relentless as it is fiercely intelligent. She ultimately eschews the rules of grammar, syntax, and narrative, choosing instead to define her own.

Written in nine end-stopped lines of nine words each, the poems in this provocative collection make us suddenly aware of the many constraints that are imposed upon conscious experience. Much like Danon, Tardos reminds us of the chance nature of the rules, and the larger cultural imagination, that we have inherited. This burdensome inheritance, accidental as it may be, ultimately circumscribes what is possible within thought itself. And for Tardos, the vast terrain of the cultural imagination we all inhabit is wholly subject to revision.

As Tardos redefines the rules that lend structure and meaning to experience, she allows this radical grammar, these new syntactical structures, to open up unforeseen possibilities for her own thinking, and for our imaginative work as readers. The poetic line becomes both a self-contained unit and a gesture toward infinitude, the possibility of indefinite extension. Similarly, the wild and provocative juxtapositions within each line strike sparks within one’s imagination. Each moment of rupture within these fragmentary narratives becomes an aperture, a doorway through which the reader is beckoned. Indeed, the poet no longer gives meaning to an audience who passively receives it. The text instead becomes a machine for generating meaning, and practitioner’s job is merely to guide the reader in his or her own imaginative work.

Read the whole review at Best American Poetry here 

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Congrats to David Trinidad, his new BlazeVOX book, has been reviewed in Bay Area Reporter!!

Congrats to David Trinidad, his new BlazeVOX book, has been reviewed in Bay Area Reporter!! 

http://www.ebar.com/arts/art_article.php…

Notes on a Past Life (BlazeVOX) by David Trinidad, as dishy and revealing as the best literary memoirs, picks at old scabs, slashes new wounds, spills the beans on contemporary poetry-world wars, ignites new feud fuses and drops names like F-bombs. This book is so hot, it should come with its own flame-retardant gloves and fire extinguisher.

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Women and Ghosts by Kristina Marie Darling is reviewed in The Lit Pub

 

The Erasure and Self-erasure of Women's Voices

02/10/16

The multiple modes of the erasure and self-erasure of women’s voices sit heavy with me this morning. I’ve read a beautiful and daring text entitled Women and Ghosts, by Kristina Marie Darling, which is part essay and part prose-poem, all experimental, where line-throughs, footnotes, multiple narrative lines, and alternating gradients of text are used to tell stories of female negations with silences and near silences—those that speak to the horror one can feel to realize that the acceptance of internalized conditioning to be less, to take up less space, is actually the most dangerous act a woman can commit or condone on a path to empowerment—and these have a long history. Kristina Marie Darling’s Women and Ghosts is a terrifying read, one well worth the time. For me, it felt like a beautiful funeral shroud, a gossamer wrap of a book I was reminded to cut myself free from in order to survive.

In this book, death, denial, self-sacrifice, and romance are inexorably linked. Gender and gender privilege are examined. The author is subversive in her inclusions and omissions, and the lines are meant to be catalysts toward appropriate rage. “In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia drowns under the weight of her own dress,” Women and Ghosts begins. “I had never imagined before that plain white silk could kill.”

But plain white silk didn’t kill, the reader may argue, jarred already by muted color of the words and the obvious falsehood they champion. Since when was a dress capable of killing? Enter now Darling’s world of realigning the reader’s reality by engaging in disruptive discourse. As the author expects the reader to remember, Ophelia, after losing her lover to palace intrigues, drowns herself in Hamlet. Surely her dress is not to blame, and neither is the water in which Ophelia, off-stage, drowns. At a deeper level, all readers familiar with Shakespeare’s play are aware that the lead character Hamlet’s rejection causes Ophelia’s complete self-immolation. And yet, in line one, Darling adjusts the narrative to hide the crime, makes excuses for it, blames a party blameless as a starry night or a sparkling lake, as written history often does, blurring the lines of blame in order to appropriately question them, where the dress in a virginal hue, ode to female innocence or purity, a highly gendered garment, takes betrayal’s place as villain.

Welcome to the nightmare gender labyrinth of refutation and disavowal. Not to read too much into this single line, but I already felt a chill travel my spine to see the exchange of correctly placed blame for self-defeating symbology and experienced a simultaneous awareness that this chill was intentionally created by the skillful author to highlight the contrast text the reader proceeds with as a paralleled modern “I” woman examines Ophelia’s plight and concurrently exists in a terrifying room where lovers spar and the ambient temperature grows colder and colder, as a modern man serves her joint bouts of gaslighting and liquor, tantamount to emotional abuse. Between doses of his cruelty and lack of returned care, in a sort of willful thought departure, the narrator muses on the aspects of Hamlet’s Ophelia plot most difficult and “unsayable,” at one point asking, “But what does it mean to give one’s consent? We are led and misled by those we love…” where a similar facility of displacement puts the reader right into the ghosted narrative of being two places at once, both interred in a historical play with a dead female victim of self-slaughter and standing in the midst of a new tragic history played out, where the “I” protagonist, already muted by pale ink, lives through a similar sort of identity reduction.

It is telling enough that this modern narrator says, “When he smiled, I felt my whole body grow colder,” where it seems as if a man’s cold judgment, masked by the false mirth of a smile, is on deliberate parallel with a lake in which to drown. Darling’s use of white space here, of incomplete interactions, of dissonance in the said/unsaid, is masterful.

Enter Shakespeare’s own words, often, as foil. Boldly on the pages that follow this opening line, interlacing at strategic intervals, the font periodically darkens, and the reader finds lined-through quotes from the bard, carefully excerpted to highlight the age old dilemma of inadequate self-valuation, of lost agency, of roles, one of such line-through excerpts reading, for example, “And I, of ladies most deject and wretched…

Here we see the duality of the work’s intent. On the one hand, this text receiving line-through, seems an empowering strategy where Ophelia’s self-negation is defeated by being struck from the record by a female author. However, it is also a female author’s inclusion of a man’s depiction of a woman’s defeat in darker text than the narrative of the modern fictive woman beside it. As in a painting, a color is best read in context, beside another color—so, surrounded by the pale gray text of the I narrator, the stronger hue of a man’s words, lined out or not, seem to extend the struck sentiment well beyond the century in which it was crafted.

Read The Whole Review Here 

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K: A 21st Century Canzoniere by I Goldfarb is reviewed in Rain Taxi

 

K: A 21ST CENTURY CANZONIERE

KcanzoniereI Goldfarb 
BlazeVox Books ($22)

by Michael Boughn

I Goldfarb’s K: A 21st Century Canzoniereis a marvel, with all the deep roots of that word (“to wonder at, be astonished”) still living there, squirming around. For one thing, there hasn’t been a book like this in quite a while—it contains 590 love poems, many of them classic Petrarchan sonnets dedicated to a student a good fifty years younger than the poet. Modeled on Petrarch’s Canzoniere, which was written almost 700 years ago, Goldfarb’s 21st Century update is an epic spiritual love poem in the age of online dating and televised courting, an age in which the cynicism about love grows exponentially in relation to its commodification and use. It is “a chocolate paradise of two” that leaves us marveling at its extraordinary accomplishment.

Petrarch’s book was unique. Often identified as the “father of Humanism,” Petrarch approached his relation to Laura, the object of his poetry, as a man in love caught between carnal desire and awe at her purity. No divine vision, a la his predecessor Dante, flowed from that. Instead Petrarch gave us the anxiety of mortal love and desire, the human drive/capacity that was first seen as ennobling and defining and has gone on to become a major, if not the major, commodity in late capitalism, the stuff of every pop song ever written as well as the most powerful marketing tool ever invented.

Read the whole review here

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