October 1


Poetry, said Emily Dickinson, is to see the summer sky. On the other hand, someone else said it’s an attempt to understand the world in human terms, which may mean the same thing, come to think of it, and so isn’t on the other hand at all. It’s  the same hand. Anyway, I’m not sure who said it. A book I read once (“green it was”) said that poetry of the post-modern variety is a collage of current idioms that are intriguing but self-contained, referring to nothing beyond themselves. For sure, poetry is a lot of things to a lot of people. A stonemason I know thinks it’s the chiselled marble of language. A weatherman (or woman) probably thinks it’s grasping at the wind. Another book I had (funnily enough, this one was green too; what is it with green books?) said that poetry is an expression of a vision rendered in a form intelligible and pleasurable to others and so likely to arouse kindred emotions. I never did finish that book. I saw somewhere on the internet how poetry is the most compressed form of literature, but whoever wrote that evidently hasn’t seen the user’s manual for my Nokia 2610. Poetry is something written by a bard; I think that’s technically true. It’s funny,  but I wish it wasn’t true. Poetry is important, like sausages. Poetry is what we would cry out upon coming to ourselves in a dark wood in the middle of the journey of our life. Lawrence Ferlinghetti said that. Poetry is a part of everyone, according to someone who obviously has no idea about anything. Poetry is a short yawn piece of sniff imaginative writhing laid out yawn in lions. Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. That was Plato, who also DJ-ed in his spare time. Poetry is an autonomous object that may or may not represent the real world but is created in language made distinctive by its complex web of references. Whoever said that should get a life. Speaking of life, which I almost am, William Hazlitt said that  poetry is all that is worth remembering in life, and Hazlitt was okay, by and large, although he could be a bit of a jerk at times, which reminds me that Philip Larkin, a librarian who doesn’t get mentioned much in this neighbourhood, said poetry is nobody's business except the poet's, and everybody else can fuck off. He was such a card! Meanwhile, while we're thinking about what poetry is and isn’t, and the thousand and one questions that can be asked about where it comes from and who's to blame, Mairead Byrne is one of my favourite poets... here she is:



October 5


Because I don't have a bushel I'm unable to hide my light under one, so it's easy for me to point you to some new poems online at The Argotist Online.

Also at The Argotist are a couple of interviews you might find interesting -- one with Peter Finch, which in truth is not especially revelatory but it's kind of okay, and another with Kirk Wood Bromley, who is an American playwright I've never heard of but who now I'm going to track down and see if anything's around on the infoweb. One thing he says is "I am a charismatic leader passing on a truth that only I can see, and with all the conviction of a church master, I plan on involving my audience in a dialogue about their deepest nature and sending them from the building changed and ready to behave in accordance with my word and begin bettering the world according to my plan." So there.

While I'm doing this referal thing, take note too that Ron Silliman has a good piece on Gael Turnbull over on his blog.

HorseMeanwhile, I've just got hold of Sparklehorse's new record
("Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain")
so I am a happy man.
That's all I ever wanted to be.

ps. I've now had the chance to look up Kirk Wood Bromley on the infoweb. I thought maybe that quote I quoted was him being ironic. Now I'm not so sure. He may just be a..... oh, what's the word I'm looking for? Begins with W.... 




October 9


My friend Pablo --  no, scrub that: my colleague Pablo -- no scrub that too: this bloke I know, Pablo, who is an ESL teacher, ESL being English as a Second Language, anyway, Pablo is an ESL teacher, which is kind of curious, because English is Pablo’s third or maybe even fourth language, and even he isn’t quite sure what his first language is -- anyway, Pablo says he’s just come across this news story about how Ted Hughes’s lover (Ted Hughes being, as Pablo describes him, the infamous English poet), but be that as it may, and maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, whatever, this news story about how Ted Hughes’s lover says that when they were in bed together doing the business, as Pablo so quaintly expressed it, Ted was very energetic and (this is the bit that got Pablo) he smelled like a butcher, and Pablo wanted to know what this meant, Butcher_1 because the only butchers he knew much about were guys who carried meat cleavers and machine guns around the streets of whichever South American city he comes from, I forget, and anyway they’re all the same if you believe the movies, which I do, and Pablo says all those guys smell of is death and eau de toilette, and I told Pablo that my only experience of butchers was how when I was a teenager I worked in a greengrocer’s shop, at which point Pablo asked me what that was (don’t they have greengrocers where he comes from?) and I explained it to him in words of one syllable and some pictures, and I said how this greengrocer was next-door to a butcher’s shop and Mr Wedlock, for that was the butcher’s name, Mr Wedlock never smelled of anything much, not that I ever got very close to him, but when you went into the shop it smelled like a butcher’s shop in the same way the greengrocer’s shop smelled like a greengrocer’s shop, but that was the shop, not the shopkeeper, and so as far as I was concerned we were no further forward, and I have no idea what a butcher smells like, my education in English Literature never got that far, and maybe all Ted Hughes’s lover meant was that the poet smelled bad, which I could believe, because I’ve known several poets, or so-called poets, and many of them smelled, if not bad, at least not good, and Pablo looked at me with that kind of inane smile he can come up with sometimes, and which he usually saves for when he is attempting some stupid undanceable South American dance, and he said he understood, which coming from Pablo means he thinks he won’t ever understand and wants to end the conversation as soon as possible, which is always okay by me.



October 14


2 poems by Sharon Mesmer


Totalitarian Boyfriend

Okay, my totalitarian boyfriend started me off stripping at cinemas.

I was rapt towards the uncomprehended irony of the tyranny of Obeying
like one who sweats before a despot's farts.

Now my scary totalitarian monster boyfriend keeps following me
throughout the universe.
I love him because he is such an unnatural promethean farting despot.

Here is my loving boyfriend arriving in Saddam's rape room,
leading the same bitter, passionate revolt against Catholicism with which Apollinaire
brought Surrealism into the world.

But Bobby is so totally likable, he lifts Surrealism from its sudsy roots
and elevates it to something worthy of memory.
The gang is so totally in love with him now,
winning the energies of intoxication for revolution!
He's doing well in Japan, and not only that,
he's totally English and rides a moped and is creative.
He smiles at himself in the mirror and is metaphorical
with profane illuminations.
He should totally run for president of Hottie-land
especially as his praxis oscillates between fitness exercises and totalitarianism
in advance.

But soon that mean little despot will be hovering around my desk,
and between me and your ostensibly flawed surface,
my paramour will burble like President Roosevelt who put the door in
so people would not know he was farting in his wheelchair.
Why does love got to be so sad?

If you were a totalitarian government, wouldn't it be in your best interest to stick with an abusive
boyfriend because your self-esteem is so low?
My first totalitarian boyfriend, who I referred to in secret as "Ricky"
because he looked just like Ricky Schroeder,
had freckles and liked to barge in on therapy sessions.
What sort of character believes we're already in a dark, totalitarian future?
My current totalitarian ex-boyfriend is Adoloh Hilter,
who suffers from depressions and is only 17.
He can't help it if he has gas when we have sex.
He is busy aping a cloud in trousers.
And placing fanatical stress on the mysterious side of the mysterious. 
My dog has a gas problem, too, but I wouldn't choose my dog
over my boyfriend, who said he had found a job,
but it turned out to be a blow job.

The whole idea that a cult has to have only one totalitarian leader is just wrong.
What famous-talented-gay-graphic-novelist and his totalitarian boyfriend Dickie
escaped into the arms of Katie's brand of Scientology?
Wow, I really got under Scientology's protective layer of Body Thetans.
I wonder what I could have done to receive my very own personalized
Toronto Scientology sock-puppet?

Yet so advanced is the totalitarian impulse in Canada
that advocates of the paramour of Syrian fascist despot Hafez Al-Assad
will admit Mark Hall to the prom with his oy-friend.
He always acted like a little dick anyway, the omnipotent and omnipresent despot
of the Pigeon Family.
At the prom knives were brandished, bottles got broken over heads,
and one unlucky paramour was brought to the ground
by a blast of steam from an iron.
Rape was hinted at, and emotional cruelty was rife.
There was full frontal nudity and guys frenched each other.
And there were problems with my totalitarian boyfriend's medieval motets.
And then a kamikaze (KAH-mih-KAH-zee) bobsled run left him crippled.

I believe the modern women's movement is more totalitarian in its methods
than my totalitarian boyfriend.
There is only one kind of of feminism and that's feminine feminism.
Gee, I guess the media reform honeymoon must be over.

Fascist Girlfriend

When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag,
And you will soon discover that your fascist girlfriend
Is some fascist's ex-girlfriend.
She will deploy evil sexual sponges,
Annoying sing-a-longs while driving,
And her whole "dance-of-light-with-several-scarves-thing" will suddenly seem
All strung-out, sort of.
All those lovely mornings-after
Will be bourgeois attacks on nationalism
With five fascist planes always circling overhead.
Boy, you shouldn't have to pay for that, if you're a union man.
Besides, you're fighting against fascism for The Girlfriend
Who Wants To Get Herself Pregnant By Hitler.
She's a fascist meme transmitter,
A garden-variety corrupt Republican a-hole.
And there's some consensus among the young
That certain fully-brained girlfriends exhibit the ten distinct fascist features of
Former Trotskyite right-wing chicken-butt Klingons.
Musharaff isn't exactly a populist, but isn't he more nationalist
Than your fascist girlfriend?
I mean, she thinks "Starship Troopers" was a good movie --
The sign of a true fascist.
Look - this is Saddam, this is Mussolini,
And this is your girlfriend's crack.
Or maybe her dad's.

© Sharon Mesmer, 2006



October 18


Do you ever get the feeling sometimes you're on the wrong side of the world? These two YouTube clips are of the recent(ish) launch for The Best American Poetry 2006, and feature the series editor David Lehman, and the editor of the 2006 anthology, Billy Collins (whose early poetry I really liked, but lately I'm not so sure… but that's somewhat beside the point). In these clips, once you get past the formalities, and the truly dreadful hand-held shakiness of the person taking the video, both have interesting things to say, I think. Apparently there were and are controversies surrounding this issue, and though I don’t know the details of what they were and are, it's not too difficult to guess. Who’s in, who’s out, are these good poems, that kind of thing; plus, given that it’s Billy Collins choosing the poems, who is very popular and therefore also very unpopular, by all accounts ….. well anyway, if any Americans out there would like to fill us in on the details of any gossip and backbiting, even if it’s all hearsay, I’d love to hear from you. Decent critical comment wouldn't come amiss, either --- post a comment, or email me. It would be good to hear from you.

A taste of the kind thing going on may be had from these sites: some of it's not very friendly, I think. There's definitely some axe-grinding going on here and here. Oh, and there's more over here. A somewhat pedestrian view of things from someone who apparently was at the launch can be found here: (at least it has a few poems attached, along with some useful links)…



October 22


Where X Marks the Spot by Bill Zavatsky
(Hanging Loose Press, New York  108pp $15.00)

Back around 1980 or 1981, when I was editing joe soap’s canoe, I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance, first by mail and then later in person, of a number of poets in New York. Paul Violi was the first, when I got hold of some of his poems, and he introduced me to Tony Towle, Charles North and Bob Hershon among others....  the others included Bill Zavatsky: I have a copy of his “Theories of Rain and Other Poems”. Even though I’ve been to New York a few times since then, and hung out with Violi, Towle, North and Hershon on a number of occasions, I didn’t get to meet Zavatsky until my last visit a couple of years ago....  And so this is a review of a book by someone I know and like. But I have a history (of sorts) of sometimes managing to be critical of books by friends, and then they strike me off their Christmas card list forever, so take nothing for granted.

Zavatsky “Where X Marks the Spot” is Zavatsky’s first book in 31 years if you discount, as he more or less does, a limited run book published in 1985, and of which most of the poems are (apparently) included here. Zavatsky ran SUN press between 1975 and 1985, and admits to being somewhat overtaken as a poet by his being an editor. Which I guess accounts for 30 odd years, not of silence, because he has published regularly, but of book-silence, anyways.

Like the other poets mentioned, Zavatsky entered poetry world in the New York dominated by Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch (under whom he studied for a while) and James Schuyler, and all that was happening at the Poetry Project at St.Mark’s in the early 1970s, I guess it must have been....  But “Where X Marks the Spot” is far from your usual New York School book of poems (if there is such a thing, which I think there isn’t, but one can have certain expectations) mainly because, as Zavatsky points out in a typically open and frank account of his poetry life here, the things that happened in his life led him to turn away somewhat from the New York School aesthetic, such as it was and is, and look for ways he could (as he puts it) “confront what I felt – what I really felt – about my parents, my friends, the women in my life, my education, the Catholic church, and an armada of dreams that didn’t exactly leave me whistling when I woke up from them.” He says he found a way to do these things in poetry after discovering the storytelling in the poems of Charles Reznikoff. Stories, says Zavatsky, are “what most of our experience resolves itself into – the stories we tell to ourselves and others, the stories we, in fact, become”. In short, Zavatsky wanted his readers to enjoy and understand and feel his poems, and not “turn away from them puzzled or feeling stupid.”

All of which could be something of a challenge for me, because while I love the poetry of James Schuyler (as Zavatsky says, the most "confessional" of the New York School poets) there is enough poetry confession and poetry as therapy going around, thank you very much, and most of the time I can’t be doing with it. Give me puzzlement, sometimes. Thank you. Give me language that astounds me and makes my eyes and brain open wide. Thank you again. Make me wish I’d written that line! Gee whizz!

But you can’t take anything for granted, can you? I think “Where X Marks the Spot” is pretty remarkable, and if Zavatsky was trying to make a reader feel, he succeeded with this one, for sure. Not all the time, I think: I’m a bit of a tough nut to crack, maybe, and on certain days I just don’t give a damn about myself, nevermind anyone else. So if the poet is feeling like a failed poet or, more likely, a failure as a husband, then maybe I won’t care. But Zavatsky gets past my defences most of the time. A bit of me thinks he shouldn’t:

This is the first New Year’s
I’ve spent alone in twenty, twenty-two years.
Out there in the dark: my marriage, the woman
I loved badly, as she did me, or none too well…

(from “New Year’s Eve 1989”)

but he does:

Twenty years married, I made a lousy husband,
half asleep, selfish, more like a big baby
than a grown man, the poet laureate
of the self-induced coma when it came to
doing anything for anybody but me.
“Now and then he took his thumb
out of his mouth to write an ode to
or a haiku about the thumb he sucked all day.”

That’s what I imagined my ex-wife said…

(from “You Don’t Know What Love Is”)

Zavatsky’s honesty is so far removed from any connection with the look at me I’m a poet laying my soul bare school of poetics that it’s not unique exactly, but it's sure as hell distinguished.

What do I know except these confused ideas
I spout in the purity of my hopelessness…

(from “Reading Roque Dalton, Smoking A Nicaraguan Cigar”)

And here, as promised, there are stories – of Zavatsky playing jazz piano in clubs and wishing and hoping, in his youthful naivety, that he will get to take home the stripper. He doesn’t. About Steve Royal, a jazz musician who Zavatsky played with and who eschewed the music business and went back to work in the factory “and playing high school dances”. Zavatsky can tell a story, and he can make the reader feel: I love cats, and have seen many pet cats come and go, which perhaps made me overly susceptible to the story of the death of the family cat, but anyway....

I admit there were times reading this book I revisited my concerns about poems being just chopped up prose. I’ve been bothering myself with this a lot lately; in a review at Stride I took a poet to task (mainly for her prosey poems and fakey line breaks but also for her general fakey poetry-ness) and then I find myself reading

“It’s time,” the MC blurted, “for Danielle! Direct from Paris and Montreal, the loveliest of exotic dancers, here in an exclusive Fairfield County engagement…” and his voice drifted toward the glitter swirling on the ceiling of the Club Michelle where I hunched over a piano facing the wall as the audience summoned Danielle onto the floor. Next to me, on Fender base, stood Danny…

and here I’ve left out the line breaks and I’m wondering if the line breaks make any difference and what exactly is a poem? and do I care today? A few hours ago I was reading Ron Silliman writing about short lines and long lines and breaths and Robert Creeley and then Bill Zavatsky has got me all in a tizz again about this stuff when probably -- no, not probably, certainly what’s important is that these honest and passionate and human poems are exactly that. No pretence, no bullshit, no mask, no fake.



October 26



Bloodaxe's Neil Astley has been at it again, stating the case (if it can be called a case) for publishing the poetry that readers want rather than what the elitist avant-garde want. Or something like that. You can read it all in The New Stateman.

Astley begins badly and goes on from there:

Poetry in Britain is both thriving and struggling: it is flourishing at grass-roots level while poetry publishing is floundering. Bookshops have drastically reduced their ranges of poetry. Publishers have scrapped or shortened their poetry lists and are taking on very few new authors. Small presses have folded. Yet, paradoxically, public interest in poetry has never been higher.

One look on the internet will show you that poetry publishing is not floundering. If anything, it’s healthier than it’s been for a long time, thanks to the web and the way it allows people to find out about things and order online from even the tiniest bed-sit based smallpress. So have smallpresses folded? Of course they have, lots of the paper-based ones. They always do. Now they are being replaced by web-based things. He’s right about bookshops of course, but more of that later…

When poetry publishers and reviewers ignore their readership…

What does this mean? I really don’t understand it. Poetry is not meat. A poetry publisher is not like a butcher who insists on selling week-old road-kill. (I just thought of something really funny, but it would be a digression; I’ll save it for a review sometime.) What exactly constituted the general readership of poetry when Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote the Lyrical Ballads? For sure, there was neither a Waterstones or a Bloodaxe around....

Publishers publish books and want to sell them. Anything else doesn't make sense unless you run a few hundred things off on the photocopier at work and give them away. Shearsman wants to sell books; they believe in their poets. Salt wants to sell books. They believe in their poets too, and like Shearsman and countless other publishers large and small also believe in their readers, in their intelligence and discrimination and ability to choose. Neil Astley also believes in his poets, I guess. I hope so. But sadly, when he says things about publishers, like "continuing to package their books to appeal only to an intellectual elite has severely disadvantaged them. If readers find a book visually unappealing, they won't pick it up. And if the back-cover blurb is a piece of turgid literary criticism, new readers will be scared off" he is talking palpable nonsense, and it's nonsense because it's based on a disregarding of the facts (I see lots of those books, and they look pretty attractive a lot of the time) and it also posits a readership with neither the intelligence nor the savvy to see past a book's cover.

Poetry publishers usually have a mission. It's to publish and sell the poetry they believe in. They do it on behalf of their poets, who can't or won't do it for themselves. They believe a public exists for the work, and it does -- somewhere, if the two things, work and public, can find each other.

I'm on record more than once (for example here and here --you have to scroll down to November 21st for this 2nd one) of being critical of the Bloodaxe anthologies. They are bland, and patronising toward whatever readership they are aimed at, and they also manage to include dull poems by even the good poets. And they have a school teacher-ish air about their commentaries which may be ok for some but is unworthy of what is possibly the country's leading (or at least biggest) poetry publisher.

Readers don't have access to the diverse range of work being produced, not just in Britain, but from around the world, because much of the poetry establishment is narrowly based, male- dominated, white Anglocentric and skewed by factions and vested interests.

This is such nonsense it's almost embarrassing, because pretty much everyone has access to everything, thanks to the internet. People are not barred from buying a poetry book because of who it’s by or where it comes from. And this, of course, presupposes you accept Astley’s description of “the poetry establishment” … whatever the poetry establishment is. A lot of people would see Bloodaxe as part of that establishment, with huge displays in huge bookstores while other poetry publishers, to use Astley’s word, “flounder”. (Come to think of it, if he is such a champion of "diversity" maybe Bloodaxe should take on board some of the avant-garde university-based ..... oh no, he can't do that because nobody wants to read them. Silly me. I forgot.

But Astley is entitled to publish what the hell he likes. Why he seems to want to keep taking these potshots at what he sees as other poetry factions is beyond me, unless it's merely a way of getting into print and advertising Bloodaxe again. And stuff like

"Contemporary poetry has never been more varied, but what the public gets to hear about are the new post-Larkin "mainstream" and the "postmodern avant-gardists" (with their academic strongholds in Oxford and Cambridge respectively). More broad-based poetry expressing spiritual wisdom, emotional truth or social and political engagement is of little interest to either camp. Exciting new work by major American, European and Caribbean writers, from Martin Carter, Galway Kinnell and Yusef Komunyakaa to Jane Hirshfield, Mary Oliver and Adam Zagajewski, has been almost totally ignored by national-press poetry reviewers."

surely can only impress people who know nothing about poetry. This must be the case, because Astley knows his audience, that's for sure.

But it's not really about Neil Astley. It's about books in shops and where to buy books and find out about what is available and where. In Nottingham, where I used to live, a huge Waterstones is round the corner from where the little and independent Mushroom Books used to be.... you could buy poetry there, poetry that Waterstones not only does not touch but almost certainly doesn't even know about. So much for your local bookshop. Thank the Lord for the internet, I guess.

Complaining about Neil Astley is kind of fun but it's missing the point. He isn't the enemy. He may be an annoying bit of the symptom but he isn't the illness. Surely things go deeper than that. Isn't 3 blockbusters for the price of 2 in Waterstones, or the crappy selection of CDs in your local gigantic Tesco that also sells Corn Flakes more like the problem? And records sell by the cartload on the web, and poetry won't sell by the ton but it will sell, somehow.

If you believe in your poetry, write and publish and hang in there.



October 31



A Motion Sends A Postcard Home

Poets are irrational people without many friends
though some are treasured for their writing.

Their poems cause the eyes to melt
and the body to shriek with pain.

I have always tried to avoid meeting them
but sometimes they shake your hand.

Alchohol is when the poet is too tired to write
and rests his knuckles on the ground:

his world is dim and bookish,
like being buried under tissue paper.

Brain is when the hangover subsides.
It has the property of making mornings painful.

Fame is when the poet is on television,
making programmes seem even longer.

Hype is a room with no talent inside -
quick, lock the door and throw away the key.

In books, a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you disturb it.

If the critic complains,
poets pretend not to have heard.

If the publisher calls they demand a drink,
if the photographer calls they remember

to bathe. An interview suggests they
might be important or famous.

Only the boring are allowed to publish openly.
Poets are encouraged to go to workshops

with freelance tutors and not bother to read.
The door is locked and they get the chance

to express themselves. No one is exempt
and everyone's lyrical pain becomes a poem.

At night, when the language dies,
they send their verses to small mags

and read about themselves in pamphlets,
with their ears and eyes tight shut.

© Rupert M Loydell, 2006