Archive for August, 2010

Burlington Book Festival 2010

August 29th, 2010

On September 25, 1513, Vasco Nunez de Balboa became the first European to see the Pacific Ocean.   Now, only 497 years later, I will be appearing at the Burlington Book Festival, together with novelists Marc Estrin and Deborah Noyes, on a panel called “On the Shoulders of the Classics.”   Marc’s Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa carries the hero of Kafka’s Metamorphosis through the New Deal, World War II and the dawn of the atomic era, and includes a detailed description of Charles Ives’ greatest (albeit unwritten) work.   Deborah Noyes’ Angel and Apostle follows Hester Prynne and her daughter, Pearl beyond the imaginings of Nathaniel Hawthorne.   If you don’t know what my To Join the Lost is about, go directly to the “Buy To Join the Lost” button on my home page and, well, buy To Join the Lost.   We’ll be at the Pickering Room in Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25, talking with each other and you about what it’s like to give the kiss of life to cultural icons.

A new remedy for soul deficiency!

August 27th, 2010

I have found a perfect remedy for the soul-deficient phantasmagoria of Avatar – which I’ll admit I enjoyed, being as shallow and escapist as the next guy – in a movie of brilliant colors and exotic, dramatic settings, about a culture so alien that ordinary American vocabulary barely can describe its workings and relationships, mixing technologies both ancient and new, focused on reincarnation and the survival of ancient teachings, and (here’s the kicker) a deadpan factual narrative, taking place just a few years ago on our planet earth.  Called Unmistaken Child, it follows a young Buddhist monk, Tenzin Zopa, as he seeks and finds the reincarnation of his deceased spiritual master, Geshe Lama Konchog.

OK, “replacement” not “reincarnation” for you skeptics out there.  The movie plunks us squarely down in Tenzin Zopa’s frame of reference, in which it’s not an issue.  For those inclined to debate on such subjects, there’s little here to change anyone’s mind, although the astrologer consulted by the monks (via video from Taiwan) as to the Lama Konchog’s post mortem whereabouts scores two fairly impressive hits when he says that the child’s father’s name begins with “A” and the location has the letters “TS” in its name.  When the infant candidate, a year or two old, demonstrates his creds by selecting objects that belonged to the deceased Lama from among similar objects with

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Ego, thy name is Doug

August 27th, 2010

Does Doug Racine honestly think that the differences between him and Peter Shumlin are so great as to justify giving Brian Dubie a week or two to campaign essentially unopposed while the recount goes forward?  If so, those differences were far from obvious to the voters.  Of all places where rampant Ego works its harm, politics holds the lead!

A Modest Jeremiad – America, Vermont and Purgatory

August 22nd, 2010

Having re-visited Dante’s Inferno in To Join the Lost, I am now engaged in re-visiting his Purgatorio.  Purgatory was the mountain Dante climbed after leaving hell, on which the souls of those whose sins had not disqualified them for salvation were purged and cured and made ready for heaven.  In my vision, the mountain has been flattened and replaced with a Rust Belt-ish city full of ambiguities, dreariness, and occasional flashes of ruinous beauty.  Unlike those in Dante’s vision, the souls in my City of Purgatory have no idea why they are there and grope uncertainly for whatever degree of tikkun may be available to them.

Once a month I attend an “open mike” poetry reading group at the Flynndog in Burlington, and usually I read something from the work in progress, discovering how it sounds in front of an audience.  It’s a great way of focusing on what needs revision, and how much.  This month, I got some warm applause for the following exerpt.

The action takes place in late August, 2005.  The character known as me has just come away from an encounter with a group of pro-life protesters outside an abortion clinic.  I have He has been walking along the road, lost in thoughts about the protesters:

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Service interrupted on account of joy

August 14th, 2010

Those of you who rely on the clockwork regularity of a new post appearing on this blog every Sunday – and you know who you are – please don’t be alarmed if there is a day or two delay, as Sunday I will be down in The City visiting my daughter.  Meanwhile, take your vitamins, keep your feet off the dashboard, and think green thoughts.

So why write poetry, anyhow?

August 8th, 2010

The author in China, drinking tea with ground up turtle shell jelly.

Not for the money, that’s for sure.  Booklist and Library Journal ignored To Join the Lost, which is what I guess they do to titles not offered by the already bankable (I don’t think either of them regularly reviews poetry anyway), and without the imprimatur of those two gatekeepers one’s chance is greatly diminished of entering the literary Valhalla represented by a review in the New York Times or other national publication, and since it is reviews that spur sales one is stuck with whatever business one’s hometown paper can inspire (if one is lucky enough to obtain their notice, which I have been) and of course friends and relatives.  That stack of cartons in the living room, author’s copies, isn’t likely to get much smaller any time soon.

But it’s an itch I cannot help but scratch.  A college professor once told me, “Seth, words come too easily to you.”  True of prose, not of poetry.  Poetry is hard.  I can bash out five hundred, a thousand words of prose without any effort at all.  Ten lines of verse is a good day.  Is it the challenge?

Partly.  There are several kinds of challenge here.  There is the gamesmanship of working in form.  If you’re not thinking about form when you write, as you write, with every word that you write, then you’re not paying attention to the thing

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Five Reasons Why People Don’t Read Poetry

August 1st, 2010

  • T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and their descendants, who are legion, have convinced everyone that, if you don’t “get” what the poem is “about,” it is your fault for not being as smart and sensitive as the poet.  You might be up to song lyrics.  Some song lyrics.
  • High school teachers, college professors, and those impressed by such people have  spread the idea that a poem is “about” something that it is your duty to “get” or you are not as smart and sensitive as you should be and you will be graded accordingly.
  • Poets, content to live in the little ghetto of the personal lyric, intimidated by the popularity of that modern fad the novel, have given up on the idea that poems can and should tell stories and discuss ideas and convey information and talk about things that people are interested in hearing about and, generally, do everything that prose does, only differently.  So we are stuck with poets showing us how smart and sensitive and verbally dexterous they are.
  • Academics to whom poetry is a means of pursuing professional advancement and obtaining intellectual and social status, from which the common run of mankind is excluded, have convinced people that poetry is a specialized taste for the intellectually and socially superior, best left to professionals.
  • Critics have purveyed all of the above, and also the falsehood that poetry is medicinal, that it somehow makes you a better person or spiritually enriches your life or is an indispensable accoutrement of the educated soul.  Yuck.  They also spread the falsehoods that poetry “should be” this or that way  (e.g., “good poems rhyme” or “rhyme is dead”), or poetry has this or that special subject matter differentiating it from all other arts (e.g., “the subject of all great poetry is death”), in short that poetry is anything other than a particular means of verbal communication suitable to talking about anything in the world.  Since the critics are clueless, there’s nobody to point you to the good stuff.