Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Book of Ocean

Maryrose Larkin launched her new The Book of Ocean at a reading with Catherine Daly and Donna Stonecipher in Portland last Sunday.

Stonecipher opened, kicking off with her poem in the latest issue of New American Writing, an “Inlay” piece that inserts in its middle a quotation from Elaine Scarry (“Daydreaming originates in the volitional.”) The poem’s an extended riff on the interplay between the architect’s ideals and the cities that keep falling short of them, an image of the distance between the world as we find it and the structures we want it to fit: “Facts are finite, but ideas feed on facts to achieve infinity.”

She continued with a generous selection from Souvenir de Constantinople, a “love poem to travel and the exotic” that creates a sort of Cornell box-like travelogue out of a distinctly Continental nostalgia for the sensual East, all magic lamps & antimacassars & “thousands of intermediary perfumes.” The writing pushed off from the pasteboard Orientalism to a point where the veracity of the representation took a back seat to its metaphoric possibilities, so that Constantinople and the tourist, the everyday “home” self and the longing for self-estrangement (“I wanted to be translated but O, not translatable”), resolve into an algebra where desire equals exactly desire, or its ornate little markers, the souvenirs of having once been subjunctive.

Catherine Daly, who just sold her vintage 'Stang to buy 100 ISBNs for her new i.e. Press, read a number of poems from her number of books, many of which showed a powerful attraction to the pleasures of the list (especially of food items), the tongue-twister, and the politically allusive disruption of words from their usual orders of sense and sound. The work Daly read from suggested a poetics of abundance, where any formal economy of the poem is a by-product of the generative procedures used to assemble the words (a walk through the aisles of a grocery store in Joshua Tree, CA; tongue-twisters tweaked and looped through voice recognition software.) She performed one longer piece from a book with the poems designed to be read top to bottom or bottom to top, at your will, laid out in such a way that by the time Daly got near the end of her selection, we were suddenly moving back up among familiar phrases in their reverse order, a clever tweak to the usual sequential hegemony of the page and also a formal enactment of that perennial mythic puzzler, the ouroboros. Catherine Daly, who just sold her vintage ‘Stang to buy 100 ISBNs for her new i.e. Press, read a number of poems from her number of books.

Maryrose Larkin began from the beginning, taking us through the first of the six books folded inside The Book of Ocean. “Book of Natural History” opens with a poem, “brief gravity,” that served as a kind of origin tale for one of the collection’s governing interests: the problem of placing ourselves—the self—in a natural world that presents itself simultaneously as an object of science (Newton’s apple, “a force based on the world”) and the subject of myth (Eve’s, “only to have been here/invested with the character of a sign”). I noted a lot of play with the concept of “bodies”—the envelope of skin that seems most intimately ours, the masses that gravity forces into relation, the objects that light bounces back from, making color, and the cold balls of hydrogen or whatever that fill the heavens but also inspire thoughts of its emptiness. They’re short poems of laurasian-sized ideas that treat the page as an energized field of space and space as “the infinite assemble of distance.” Here’s one Blogger shouldn’t skew too bad:
[Is Muscle and Fragile]

Is muscle and fragile

Is difficult stung breathe and dialect is ochre in love

Is texture truant chronicles verge

If the body is the text an atlas of crimson invisible if

—Maryrose Larkin, The Book of Ocean

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Squelching Dissent

Word on the Northwest street is that poet, political scientist, and Portland professor Jules Boykoff will be on the radio tonight (OPB, 91.5) at 8 p.m., immediately following Fresh Air.

He’ll be talking about the history and ongoing suppression of political dissent in the U.S., hors d'oeuvre to his nearly-no-longer-‘forthcoming’ Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States from Oakland's venerable AK Press.

Go Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Name That Poem (Fin)

... T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets. Eliot’s in such bad odor that I thought anything good in the quotation from Helen Gardner below (that's Dame Helen Gardner to you and me), writing about Eliot in 1949’s The Art of T.S. Eliot, would get obscured if the poet’s name were in it.

True, there’s the assumption of a truth apart from the language used to express it, also in bad odor. And we’re right to smell it—Gardner’s a Christian with a capital ‘C’ (the only kind of reader who ever seems to tingle at the Four Quartets) and her take on the poem bleeds quickly into apologetics. (That lapse into “the way and the life” is vintage Gardner.)

But it’s a good quote that fits a range of poetries of the ‘other’ twentieth century. That the problem of truth isn’t so much what it might be, but how we would recognize it as such were it to exist, is neatly expressed here, along with the operating hypothesis that still underwrites our formal experiments: that the process the reader undergoes in deriving a meaning from ‘difficult’ verse—and that the poet undergoes in writing it—mirrors the way we arrive at meaning in “the life in which we find it.”

Time is cruel to literary critics. I.A. Richards peeled the names off poems so his Cambridge undergrads could encounter the actual words. That went all haywire later, and has its obvious limits. But I wonder how much sager criticism would sound if we subtracted the poet under discussion. Just for the sake of experiment.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Name That Poem

“The whole poem in its unity declares more eloquently than any single line or passage that truth is not the final answer to a calculation, nor the last stage of an argument, nor something told us once and for all, which we spend the rest of our life proving by examples. The subject [of the poem] is the truth which is inseparable from the way and the life in which we find it.”

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Where rhyme would never fly, assonance slips lazy verbal patterning under the radar.

Assonance: the MSG of modern American verse?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


KNOWS mahogany from maple.

KNOWS to measure twice, cut once.

DOESN'T KNOW acid reflux may be damaging his esophagus.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


The U.S. Navy drove a small fleet of warships up the Willamette last week for Portland's centennial Rose Festival, then threw them open to the public so the citizenry could see what they pay for.

The citizens got treated, on the Friday afternoon I went, to a 70-minute wait in line; a cumbersome registration process that required photo I.D. and selection of a specific ship to tour for no discernible reason; a single X-ray machine run by a single soldier doing ‘take off your belt and hand over those nail clippers’-level bag searches at a rate of about 8 persons an hour; a couple-three dozen soldiers in fatigues and mirrored sunglasses cradling machine guns at every point of interface with the public; and the cancellation of several tours when the wait stretched past the ship’s operational hours.

If the point was to generate some feelgood p.r. for the Navy, the Navy fell down bad. They did a good job though of teaching you how it feels to be a potential security threat in one of those fatigues and mirrored sunglasses sort of places the U.S. staffs so generously. Go Navy.

Monday, June 18, 2007



1. Autoharp.
2. Astoria.
3. Uzumaki (as performed by Nada Gordon).
4. Canyon Passage (as watched with Dark Brandon).
5. Dogsitting world's greatest pit bull outside the Park Slope Food Co-op.


1. Discovery in 90-degree heat of pressing civic need for frequent & reliable North-South subway line between Brooklyn and Queens.
2. Lack of sufficient time among Astoria's Greeks.
3. Difficulty in persuading poets to visit Portland.
4. Dawning realization of having become annoying in persuading poets to visit Portland.
5. Leaving.