Friday, May 19, 2006

I saw Micheal Schmidt reading at Poets & Players the other day - and was really pleasantly surprised by how good his new poems are. He only read seven, but most of them were quite long and narrative-ish, including one about Jesus healing a woman which was quite startling. It's good to see he's writing again - and doing it so well.

I've been a little slack on reading recently, but I finally managed to finish John Ashbery's Where Shall I Wander; for some reason, I hadn't quite got round to the last few poems. There are some great poems in the book, like Wolf Ridge which seems to reference the New York School period when everybody was friendly with one another. He's very funny in places, and nostalgic, thinking of death and suchlike (he's about eighty now I think) but remains faithful to his lack of subject matter technique. Or rather, it's not that he doesn't have a subject; he has lots of them at the same time. You can't say about an Ashbery poem, this is about "Jesus healing a woman" or "a visit to the gay bar," though in any one poem he may make reference to them both at some point. I have a little article by Meghan O'Rouke which says that his poems are basically about feelings not subjects; though of course, feelings are subjects, and you really can't say of any of his poems, this one's about feeling nostalgic, or this one's about feeling grouchy, though again, both those feelings might be in the same poem.

Anyway, one thing that bugged me recently was a remark someone made on the Ron Silliman blog comments book. Why would anyone want to write a sonnet anymore? someone asked. Well, the simple answer is because they think they can do something with it. I've written nine sonnets over the last two years, and it looks like I'll be writing a few more over the next few months. Not much rhyme, lots of cut and paste and chance technique, so it's more Ted Berrigan than George Szirtes, but hey, that's me. I like the limitation of space, and the feeling that a sonnet can be a kind of controlled explosion of thought and feeling. I like to think that some of them have the virtues of a traditional sonnet, like a volta or a closing couplet that opens the poem out, but I guess some of them are just not going to keep many of the rules at all.

Freedom and constraint is, I guess, what it's about. What can you do in a small space? How free can you be in a box? Poets have always had barriers to push against; it's what makes poetry interesting. Total freedom is boring.

1 comment:

michaelf said...

steven - a couple of points of contact here - i just read where shall i wander to(o) - it was a pleasure which reminds me as ever of alice b toklas on ford madox ford: 'i could eat him with a spoon'. it sent me off on a writing jag - tho ive been stimulated by ashbery before the new ones were the closest pastiche yet - as far as i can tell - & thats a pleasure too. & sonnets i admit i was irritated by that comment too - but i think i shouldnt be - ive written them on & off for years - certainly since i read berrigan - its part of using critiquing history. for me its also has interesting reading implications - like can u read a volta into whats been written however abstract? ive posted on sonnets a couple of times on my blog, as 'duty' (by geraldine mckenzie) the current subject of the blog contains a series of sonnets, noticed in particular by reviewers. roughly speaking (ie in american terms) mckenzie is much closer to post avant than soq (this is an australian context im speaking from). saying any form is dead is an admission of imaginative failure (he said sententiously). i looked that up in cod & it said 'fond of pompous moralizing' - i like that, am suddenly fond. also noticed that volta/e doesnt have an entry as a literary term only as fencing & riding ..