Sunday, March 23, 2008

Kansan Lana Myers is working on a book of May Williams Ward's poetry. Here is a springtime description she found written by Ward. This is a charm to bring springtime closer:

"A wide, tall sky the more impressive for the flatness of the plain, great free winds sometimes rising to tornado crescendo, a subtle color scheme of green and tauny gold with sage-grey, and a people salty, racy, and individual . . . the Kansas prairie provides these varied stimuli for her poets. Then if any Kansan writes verse that is limited in outlook it is not the fault of our sky; if pettiness shows, it is not the fault of our winds. Blatant color could not truly reflect the aspect of the plain, nor conventional characterization indicate the flavor of her people."

—May Williams Ward
From the foreword to Kansas Poets, edited by Henry Harrison (New York: House of Henry Harrison, 1935)

Monday, March 17, 2008


Patricia Traxler (1944 - )

Writing is Patricia Traxler’s life. Besides being a fine, fine poet herself, she has developed writing programs for the hearing-impaired, for seniors, for victims of domestic violence, and for mental health and stroke patients. And she founded the Salina poetry reading series. To all of these tasks, she brings the skills of a well-schooled, sophisticated versifier. She studied with Nobel winner Seamus Heaney, and she has national book publications. However, in an interview, Traxler avers that her “most important and rewarding work” is with disenfranchised populations. She grew up in San Diego, and since the late 1970s, she has lived in her grandparents’ house in Salina.

Reading Traxler’s work is like having intimate conversations with a narrator much like herself. She draws on her own Irish Catholic–and also Native—background, as well as her perspective as a woman. Her poems are spare stories that sometimes include romantic details. Often, she animates poems with the drama of relationships.

In “Why She Waits,” the sky and the earth are husband and wife. Their tension arises from anticipation. Despite the “plain and faithful” landscape of late winter, even the drab and common starlings understand that renewal is about to occur. The “nightly” return of sky to earth is not a vivid kindling of male and female, but rather a routine of their relationship. Amidst this humdrum scene, however, a larger drama will unfold as snow melts into soil, and a new season is about to begin. The entire poem answers the title question about the “wife’s” patience.


Another night: late winter falling
on the prairie like a nightly husband
no longer impassioned but knowing his rights
and duties

The snow no longer quite conceals
what for months has gone
unnoticed: the land, plain
and faithful beneath it
holding out

for something no one can describe, something
the starlings whisper about, evenings
in the melting snow, something
they look for
in the cold winter grass.

Education: Patricia Traxler attended schools in California. She completed studies for the BA from San Diego State University. She studied at Radcliffe College as a Bunting post-doctoral fellow.
Career: Traxler’s books include: Blood Calendar (Morrow 1975); The Glass Woman (Hanging Loose 1983); Forbidden Words (University of Missouri 1994); and the novel Blood (St. Martin’s Press, 2001/02). She has been poet-in-residence at the Thurber House (Ohio), Hugo poet at the University of Montana, and a Kansas Arts Commission fellow.
© 2008 Denise Low, AAPP13. © 1983. Patricia Traxler, “Why She Waits ,” Hanging Loose Press. @ 2008 Patricia Traxler, photograph.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More from Lyn Hejinian: Correspondence with Billy Joe Harris about Pastiche, Poetic Forms, & More

My thanks to both William J. Harris and Lyn Hejinian for their permission to post their recent correspondence:

From: Harris, William J. 3/9/2008 12:28 PM To: lyn hejinian
Dear Lyn,It was really great having you here and in so many different situations. You had a real impact on the community--people really enjoyed your visit. And it was lovely for me to get to know you some--I hope there will be other times to deepen our relationship.I have a few questions. Which Beethoven fugue did you play from? It was quite beautiful. It seems to me that the Beethoven and Ascension were unresolved works but the cartoon piece (which I really enjoyed) seems to be more pastiche than unresolved. I am going to play part of Ascension to my advanced poetry class and ask them to talk about the shape of it. This is a question for me. After years I have returned to writing poetry and I am very interested in the issue of form--not right or wrong but why. When I asked Paul Muldoon (he was here a week before you) why he altered the form of his villanelles and sestinas, he had a hard time with the question. He finally said because he wanted to shake things up. So my question to you is why do you feel the need to create forms--forms to substitute for the traditional ones? Why don't you throw the wholeformal thing out the window? When some one called your forms arbitrary that didn't seem correct. To use 45 (?) sentences in a work because you are 45 (?) doesn't sound arbitrary but personal. In fact, it is no more arbitrary than writing a sonnet. How does the new sentence differ from the old line because some of your sentences just look like lines to me. Thanks for coming. It really was a great time. Best, Billy Joe
From: lyn hejinian Sent: 3/10/2008 10:20 PM To: Harris, William J
Dear Billy Joe,It was great for me too--the visit, the getting to know various people there--especially you. I hope I will be able to stay in touch with everyone. As for your questions: You are right that the Carl Stalling cartoon score hasn't all that much affinity with either the Beethoven (which is his Grosse Fuge Op. 133 [aka Great Fugue]-the recording I have is by the Guarneri Quartet on a CD titled "Beethoven: The Late String Quartets Opp. 127, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135") or Coltrane's "Ascension." Those two works are, so to speak, bursting at the seams-there's not enough room in them for all that the composers are trying to get in. "To Itch His Own," on the other hand, is a work that has room for all kinds of different things. The contrast that I was trying to set up, then, was between in internal otherness (an otherness erupting from within and bursting out) and an exterior otherness (existing on the outside and invited in). My other (perhaps less commendable) excuse for playing the Stalling score was its sheer surprise and pleasure value. And I do think the score utilizes but doesn't domesticate its materials; they remain surprising and intact-at least to my ear. Your message got me to thinking more about pastiche in this regard. It seems to me that the ironic subversion characteristic of pastiche doesn't (or doesn't always) domesticate the pastiched elements. Nor does it necessarily nullify them-though there is no denying the nullifying potential of irony.
But irony, in addition to having the capacity to be deprecatory and/or sarcastic, can also be joyous (raucous, hilarious-expressive of an affirmation) or sentimental. I mean sentimental here in a positive sense-as a positive term. I am interested in the 18th century notion of sentiment or sensibility-as an affirmation of a capacity for full emotional experience of the world. But the idea of sentimentality as a key element in modern writing hit me when I was reading Langston Hughes's The Big Sea. I was struck by two features of that work: the montaged structure of the work and the richness of the gaps between the vignettes (chapters)-gaps redolent of everything Hughes hasn't (or perhaps can't) say. Irony always establishes a gap-between what's said and what's not said but felt or meant. Sentimentality as, say, Laurence Sterne used it-or, to my mind, as Hughes used it-works by virtue of an almost identical kind of gap.
Pastiche is a particular kind of montage-but it isn't so far from the montage that structures The Big Sea (or Montage of a Dream Deferred). I don't know why, by the way, I saw this first in Hughes-I see it everywhere in the paratactic structures of Language writing now. Anyway-those are my thoughts for the moment on pastiche-for what they are worth. Your real question was about form-the invention of forms: why do it, and how. I've never been interested in "the craft of poetry" or in technical perfection, so the problems (or fascinations) presented by given forms have never played much of a role in my work. (An exception might be "the sentence"-but sentences aren't literary forms properly speaking.) And yet form-the shape or structure or set of enablingconstraints-is the first thing I work on when planning a new project. The initial challenge is to find a form that is pertinent to the project (rather than arbitrarily imposed on it) and that will be a dynamic facet of it. The work's form is, in this sense, closer to the "working method" than to form in the conventional sense-certainly it is intended to be reflective of an approach to the project (whatever it might be). I spend a lot of time thinking about various possible forms for the project I have in mind-which is to say, ways to approach it. The forms, then, are project-specific.
I don't want to bore you-but I will briefly describe the form of my most recently finished work, and my rationale for it. The work is called "Lola"; it's coming out next fall in a book I'm calling Saga/Circus. The work is meant to be a circus (a cruel entertainment involving clowns, also a battlefield, and also a small American town with its various citizens). As a circus, I decided it needed three rings-so there are three chapters. But, just as a circus spectator's attention goes from ring to ring, so the chapters come forward-in other words we come to "Chapter Two" (or "One" or"Three") repeatedly. The work moves through them quickly (the chapters are short). here is also a parade. The effect is Steinian and entertaining and the atmosphere is dark. The form is pretty loose-it was mostly a matter of determining to use the 3 chapter/3 ring motif. Does any of this help? Does it even answer your question? Warmly, Lyn
From: Harris, William J 3/11/2008 6:42 AM To: lyn hejinian
Dear Lyn,Boy, does it help! What a wonderful, rich letter. The phrase "enabling constraints" ties in--helps clarify my thoughts about poetic constraints. I come out of Williams, Baraka and Olson (organic form) and didn't really start thinking about poetic constraints for experimental writers until read Ron Pagett's HANDBOOK OF POETIC FORMS in 2001 which changed my way of thinking about poetry. I want to keep talking--I do really want to keep in touch. Best, Billy Joe
From: Harris, William J. 3/11/2008 11:50 AM To: lyn hejinian
I am in this wonderful world right now where lots of people are talking to me about poetry. I love it. Thanks for the prompts. I never used them before I came here. I have been thinking about them a lot--their magic. After a poetry reading on Sunday one of my former students said to me my prompts gave him permission to be creative. I am now reading Williams' book," Spring and All," for the first time--I had read the poems before but without the prose--and it seems the work is incomplete without the prose. I have decided when I play the Coltrane in my class I will also play Mozart for contrast. Best, Billy Joe
From: lyn hejinian 3/11/2008 2:31 PM To: Harris, William J.
Dear Billy Joe,I want to stay in touch too. I was thinking about the question of form again this morning, largely because I was reading my daily dose of Adorno's Aesthetic Theory and the dose in question was titled, yes, "Form." I was having difficulty concentrating on it, as my own thoughts kept digressing onto pathways of their own--perhaps stimulated by his, but saying so suggests that I understand his, and I am not confident that I do. That book of Ron Padgett's has been a godsend, especially for teaching. I often (although by no means always) am asked to teach a workshop of sorts. For grad students, I don't give assignments--but for undergrads, I do. Often I have them embark on a "serial poem" whose parts, as they provide accruing contexts for each other and influence the trajectory of the poem, must emerge in response to assignments--which set up some sort of constraint. I'll attach my list of such assignments, just for the fun of it. Very best, Lyn
From: lyn hejinian 3/11/2008 5:35 PM To: Harris, William J.
Isn't it awful that the prose got disappeared from "Spring and All" for almost 50 years? It amazes me that people don't realize how important context is. Best, Lyn

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Do look for these amazing books and support independent writers, publishers, and booksellers! My thanks to all these authors for keeping fires burning.

~~Mickey Cesar, “Midwinter Answers & Other Poems.” Sweat, Cigarettes, & Liquor (2008).For further information see .

~~Cyrus Console. Brief Under Water. Providence: Burning Deck Press, 2008. A sample poem:

A long shot of Central Park in the small hours, the runner laboring over the green in pain. The lights lining the footpath approximate counterpoint with the low and largely subterranean granites breaking the lawn, between two of which he falls to his knees and rolls onto his great sopping back, clutching his chest.

~~John Mark Eberhart, Broken Time. Warrensburg, Mo.: Mid-America Press, 2008. For information see . Also see Eberhart’s poetry blog at

~~Diane Glancy, Asylum in the Grasslands. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2007. Glancy is based in Kansas City now. She has published widely and won numerous awards for drama, fiction, prose, and poetry. See .

~~Art Goodtimes, As If the World Really Mattered: Poems. Albuquerque: La Alameda Press, 2006. See

~~Steven Hind, Lonely by Nature: Stories from a Country Life. Hutchinson, 2007. Published by the author. Not to be missed. His Loose Change of Wonder is a 2007 Kansas Notable Book, Woodley Press. Contact the author at

~~John Jenkinson, Rebekah Orders Lasagna: Poems, preface by Bruce Bond. Topeka: Woodley Memoria Press, 2006. For further information see .

~~Maryrose Larkin, The Book of Ocean. Los Angeles: i.e. Press, 2007. More information is at

~~Matthew Porubsky, Voyeur Poems. Lawrence: Coal City Review Press, 2006. Winner of 2006 Kansas Authors Club Nelson Poetry Award. From the introduction: “a voyear poem is a situationof observation where the viewer is absent from the perceived ation, and through that, hs the realization that he or she is the most important contagion in the event . . . the variable of fate.” Contact the author at

~~Kevin Rabas, Bird’s Horn and Other Poems, with an introduction by Dan Jaffe. Lawrence: Coal City Review Press, 2007. For information contact editor Brian Daldorph, A sample poem:
Artt Frank’s Speed Bag

I used to hit the speed bag and play triplets.
That’s how I got my quick style.
Boxing and drumming, some days,
became the same thing. I tell the younger guys
when they come up to play, “Don’t say it all
in one round. Remember you have 10 rounds.
And don’t solo until the end. Make a big finish.”
Too many guys play 4’s and 8’s, even in the first song.
Wasted energy. Save it for the end. Make a big flourish.
End big.

~~Elizabeth Schultz, Her Voice: Poems. Topeka: Woodley Memorial Press, 2008. For further information see .

~~Jason Wesco, Rough Traces. Damascus, Neb.: Shake Dust Press, 2007. Contact the poet at

Friday, March 7, 2008

Lyn Hejinian Reads at KU March 6

A packed art gallery of folks, at the Spencer Museum of Art, listened to Lyn Hejinian read from her works My Life, The Beginner, and others. She developed an easy dialogue with the audience, despite its size. Unspoken in her presence was a strong Buddhist sense: she admitted she posits ideas about the world but has no authoritative answer. Yet her not-knowing is a way to know everything. Her lack of pretension opened her to learning as well as expressing.

She also took delight in being in Kansas, and regretted, to me, the "disdain" folks from the coasts have about the Midwest. Billy Joe Harris, Joe Herrington, and Ken Irby of the English department hosted her. Irby, a longtime friend, did an evocative introduction that included some readings from her work and also a memory of her 21st birthday party.

Her readings from My Life, composed of long lines that were complete non-sequiturs--each suggesting a narrative, but truncated--resonated, for me, with:
1. interrupted relationships with people who have died--my sister, Richard Schoeck, Tim
Griffin, whom I did not know well but saw frequently on the streets of Lawrence.
2. ore samples of Robert Smithson, "Six Stops on a Station," 1968: with moments mined within language and time, apparently unrelated yet formed within the same Indo-European bedrock.

She writes about the dangers of (apparent) closure and completeness in her essay "Continuing Against Closure":
"If closure is problematic ethically it is untenable semantically, since nothing can restrain meaning, nothing can contain all the implications, ramifications, nuances, and connotations that cascade and proliferate from any and every point in any and every instance of what is or is thought to be. And nothing can arrest the ever-changing terrain of ubiquitous contexts perpetually affecting these."

Hejinian also presented a lecture in the evening of March 6, "Outside Poetry," about "literary works that combine or undercut traditional genres." She included excerpts from poetics (noting that poetry making and discourse about poetics are a whole, both derived from poein, making) and music, including Coltrane's "Ascension" and Carl Stalling's music composed for cartoons. These especially blur genre boundaries. She celebrated the Otherness of poetry by virtue of its fluid, adaptive forms.

Of her work, Claudia Rankine writes:

"As one of the founding members of the language writing movement, Lyn Hejinian has always been concerned with the referential possibilities inherent in language. In "The Rejection of Closure" she writes, "Language itself is never in a state of rest. And the experience of using it, which includes the experience of understanding it, either as speech or as writing, is inevitably active. I mean both intellectually and emotionally active."