Mark Doty reading

The great poet Mark Doty reads his poem, “A Display of Mackerel.” Click here for the video. I strongly recommend you get Doty’s ‘new and selected poems’ volume Fire to Fire. Here is the poem read in the video just linked.

Mark Doty: A Display of Mackerel

They lie in parallel rows,
on ice, head to tail,
each a foot of luminosity

barred with black bands,
which divide the scales’
radiant sections

like seams of lead
in a Tiffany window.
Iridescent, watery

prismatics: think abalone,
the wildly rainbowed
mirror of a soapbubble sphere,

think sun on gasoline.
Splendor, and splendor,
and not a one in any way

distinguished from the other
—nothing about them
of individuality. Instead

they’re all exact expressions
of the one soul,
each a perfect fulfilment

of heaven’s template,
mackerel essence. As if,
after a lifetime arriving

at this enameling, the jeweler’s
made uncountable examples,
each as intricate

in its oily fabulation
as the one before
Suppose we could iridesce,

like these, and lose ourselves
entirely in the universe
of shimmer—would you want

to be yourself only,
unduplicatable, doomed
to be lost? They’d prefer,

plainly, to be flashing participants,
multitudinous. Even now
they seem to be bolting

forward, heedless of stasis.
They don’t care they’re dead
and nearly frozen,

just as, presumably,
they didn’t care that they were living:
all, all for all,

the rainbowed school
and its acres of brilliant classrooms,
in which no verb is singular,

or every one is. How happy they seem,
even on ice, to be together, selfless,
which is the price of gleaming.

Poems, Cards and Art

Jeff Encke, a poet and critic, currently living in the Richard Hugo house in Seattle, has produced a remarkable pack of poetry. Yes, you heard me right: pack of poetry. From a collection of poems, he’s excerpted a few texts and printed them on beautiful cards. You can preview the deck here. This is what he himself says

During the spring and summer of 2004, I wrote, designed, and printed a book of poetry on a deck of stylized, casino-quality playing cards. Design-wise, I took my inspiration from the multitudes of art card decks I found on the Internet from artists throughout the world. The wealth of deck variety and obvious intelligence and creativity that went into the design of the cards I found astounded me. Hoping simply to approach the level of quality I had seen, working collaboratively with a friend in Boston on the design, I took four months to research and create all 55 card faces.

That quote is from Jessica Smith’s blog, where you find further information, including details about how and where you can purchase them. Click here. You might know that I am writing on a longer sequence of poems about Russia and planning my phd thesis on Berryman. Both have demonstrated to me the importance of walking down new paths. I have not seen anything like this. Have you?

One, Two Step

Poet Linh Dinh, in an excellent brief essay at the NYTimes, relates to us, among many other things, this nugget:

Once, I washed windows after appearing at a community college as a guest poet. It would have been a hoot had one of the admiring students saw me vigorously wiping water before it could freeze on the window pane. “Yo, isn’t that the poet who came to our class yesterday?!”

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

This in last week’s New York Times:

Ruth Padel, the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, made history at Oxford when she became the first woman to be elected to the position of Professor of Poetry since the job was created in 1708.

(…)

But Padel’s election was marred by Nobel literature laureate Derek Walcott’s decision to withdraw as a candidate from the election after anonymous letters attacking him were sent to Oxford academics.

British newspapers reported that the letters made reference to an allegation of sexual harassment made against the St. Lucia-born poet by a former student in the 1980s.

The papers said the letters included references from the book ”The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment on Campus,” by Billie Wright Dziech and Linda Weiner, which carries allegations against Walcott made by a Harvard freshman in 1981. At the time of his resignation, Walcott said he had never commented on the claims and would not do so now. But he called the anonymous letter campaign an attempt at character assassination.

Padel came under increasing pressure after The Sunday Times quoted e-mails it said she had sent to two unidentified journalists drawing their attention to the book. In a statement announcing her resignation, Padel acknowledged sending the e-mails. But she said she did not engage in a smear campaign, explaining that she had only passed on information already in the public domain.

”I acted in complete good faith, and would have been happy to lose to Derek, but I can see that people might interpret my actions otherwise,” she said in the statement.

Oh, they might?

Critics and Djs

Sancho’s Panza is mad

“The way things are … the critic tends to act exactly like a disc jockey. The DJ’s success, just like the new critics’, depends on his capacity for tuning in to the dance floor’s occupants, whose appetites, tastes, and level of excitement or euphoria he must divine, stimulate and encourage.”

It’s more necessary than ever for there to be critics who illuminate ideas and change opinions, rather than pander to the dance floor. A DJ is a DJ, a critic has the obligation to go against the grain, if that’s the way the gut goes.

Which is not totally off the mark, but in the comments is a nice emendation

that’s a bit of an insult to what the best DJs can do. […] In the best situations, the catharsis of the dance floor is that it’s a two-way relationship between DJ and dance floor.

And I can think of several DJs in college radio (when that meant something) who changed my tastes and my life. DJs can be cultural critics as much as anyone else.

That said, there is something about the description that sounds right. I think of it closer to the DJ in Clearchannel-era radio or the wedding DJ.

Confusing Canucks

Interesting account of a weird exchange. Apparently the estate of Ms. Bishop doesn’t grant requests very easily. This is their major objection:

Please note that this request has been denied by our editorial board as Ms. Bishop is considered an American poet and including her work in an all-Canadian anthology may cause some confusion.

New American Poet Laureate

Simic’s successor is Kay Ryan. Here are some poems of hers and the following quote is from a NY Times article

“I so didn’t want to be a poet,” Ms. Ryan, 62, said in a phone interview from her home in Fairfax, Calif. […] But in the end “I couldn’t resist,” she said. “It was in a strange way taking over my mind. My mind was on its own finding things and rhyming things. I was getting diseased.”