iTunes Shuffle

My random shuffle in order of their appearance:

“Now Get Busy,” Beastie Boys
“Slave to Love,” Elan Atias
“Left of Center,” Suzanne Vega
“Bright Lights,” Matchbox 20
“Gloria,” U2
“Apollo 9,” Adam Ant
“Baby I Love You,” Jennifer Lopez
“Vicious World,” Rufus Wainwright
“Time After Time,” Cyndi Lauper
“Predictable,” Good Charlotte

Risk and the Rebellion of Poetry (American-style)

Lately when people ask me if like X poet or Y poet I find myself often responding, “Well, X (or Y) is okay, but s/he doesn’t take any risks with their poetry.” The sense of risk-taking has become crucial to me in my appreciation of writing.

But in nailing down what I like about poetry, I keep coming back to the question of, “What is risk?”

To me, risk encapsulates a form of experimentation. I don’t like the term “experimental” poetry because I think it degrades that process & experience, relegating it to an unfair margin of success. To experiment, I think, is to go forward blindly, to make what are potentially calculated risks, safe risks, or to be completely unaware of the risk taken.

That’s not what this is about.

I’ll try some examples.

One of the riskiest books I read in the past year was Patrick Donnelly’s The Charge. I’ll be honest: parts of that book are awful. I don’t know why some of the poems don’t succeed necessarily, although I suspect it has something to do with oversentimentalizing the subject matter. That said, parts of the book are fucking brilliant. Donnelly is an honest risk taker, and each poem toes the line between sentimental drivel and transcendance. He’s learning to walk that line, to live on it. He’s a risk taker because sometimes it works and sometimes it fails. If he’d never taken these risks, we’d never reach those transcendant moments with him–and those moments are worth any and all missteps in the book.

Another risky book that comes to mind is Maureen Seaton’s Little Ice Age. From a form perspective, the book is all over the map. Several of the poems are linked via title/subject matter into smaller groupings/smaller narrative threads. And the mishmash of paraphernalia in the book is awesome–high-order math, meteorology, classical music, lesbianism, urbanism, Iowa, marriage and divorce, theft, ressurrection, systems of belief…she’s everywhere. It is almost unclear why this is a collection: but ultimately, everything connects. Seaton really toes the line of making faulty relationshps between disparate things. Her language, at times, risks comprehension and image. It risks the personal. Seaton is obviously invested in her poems in a way that does not require the poems to be about her, even when they are. And this personal investment is ultimately the riskiest element of the book. She is there when she is not there.

My last risky example is D. A. Powell’s Tea. Tea changed my life in a way no other book ever did or has since. Everything in the book seems to be a risk. The investment level is palpably high, the language itself is a risk, and the collection, as a whole, both skirts and embraces the sentimental without degrading into melodrama (except where melodrama functions as a tool of camp or irony). Each element in the collection comes together so neatly that the entirety of the poems exist in a suspended state of risk–like a precarious game of Jenga, the movement or removal of a single element would cause collapses.

Risk is an energizer. Risk puts a value on poetry because it requires something of value to be put at stake or in a state of danger.

Poetry that exists outside of risk is nearly a form of vanity–

But the equalizing factor of risk is that anyone can take it. Risk isn’t reserved for the culture of power, although they do rarely employ it (because, really, what is at stake for those in power except losing it?).

I would like to see more poets of risk in the world, and furthermore, I would like to be one, although I’m certainly unsure if I’m there or not. I think I have moments of risk, and I can generally feel when these moments occur because my first instinct is to back off whatever I’m doing.

If anxiety be the music of poetry, risk on.

State of the States

Borrowed from Laura:

bold the states you’ve been to, underline the states you’ve lived in and italicize the state you’re in now…

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C.

For Valentine’s Day

[dogs and boys can treat you like trash. and dogs do love trash]

dogs and boys can treat you like trash.   and dogs do love trash
to nuzzle their muzzles.    they slather with tongues that smell like their nuts

but the boys are fickle when they lick you.  they stick you with twigs
and roll you over like roaches.    then off with another:  those sluts

with their asses so tight you couldn't get them to budge for a turd
so unlike the dogs:  who will turn in a circle showing & showing their butts

a dog on a leash:  a friend in the world.  he'll crawl into bed on all fours
and curl up at your toes.    he'll give you his nose.    he'll slobber on cuts

a dog is not fragile; he's fixed.    but a boy:  cannot give you his love
he closes his eyes to your kisses.    he hisses.    a boy is a putz

with a sponge for a brain.   and a mop for a heart:  he'll soak up your love
if you let him and leave you as dry as a cork.     he'll punch out your guts

when a boy goes away:  to another boy's arms.    what else can you do
but lie down with the dogs.   with the hounds with the curs.    with the mutts

—D. A. Powell

Google-google Doo

I’ve been searched a lot lately. Here is a list of the best terms leading to this blog:

dream studies & freud
inside August
Naomi Wolfe gives birth to a baby
queer poets
you fit into me
meaning, surprises
lesbian dream poem
feminine fauxhawk
*gay for pay cocksucker
gwen stefani fauxhawk
against sameness

* indicates winner of this round of search terms

We’ll all notice with varying degrees of relief the sudden absence of the word “vagina” from this list, and I’m awfully thrilled that “gay for pay cocksucker” is a yellow brick road ending at Therapist with a Dream Inside.