Excerpt from eligibility interview with Indiana Family and Social Services Administration:
Caseworker: Sorry for calling so late, I had another appointment.
J: No problem.
Caseworker: So let’s get started.
Caseworker: The program won’t load. I’ll call you back.
No call back yet. This is a good thing. As long as my application is pending I don’t have to pay a very large medical bill. I hope to stay in limbo forever.
The system works.
INCOHERENT POETRY LIST
I’ve been busy rearranging my life, so I’m recycling a list I posted on Facebook when people were posting lists something along the lines of the “20 Poets that Made You Fall In Love w/Poetry” . My relationship with poetry got a little more sordid once I entered an MFA program, so this list is in, roughly, chronological order–leading up to then, MFA-dom.
So, you know, highschool and college crushes (and not girlfriends or life partners).
1) Neil Young – Yeah. You listen to a song over and over, memorize the lyrics, hum them to yourself, write them down guessing where the line breaks are…
2) William Blake – Only poet I read in high school. The way opposites bled into each other always clicked with me, so did the epic wackyness of his prophetic books. That was what I was really into.
3) Phil Levine – I was programed to identify with working class values by my dad, so Levine opened a lot of doors for me in college. When he signed my copy of What Work Is, I told him I had been working at an industrial printing press and he said something witty and that was my Woodstock.
4) Li-Young Lee, Book of My Nights – It’s real easy to be done with Li-Young Lee and feel silly for ever having liked him. And like a lot of the people I like, he writes some terrible, lazy poems, but I still think Book of My Nights is a solid book.
5) John Berryman, Dream Songs – It’s bigness, the way he’s both parodic and absolutely straightforward in writing about himself. And his music — this has got to be where I started thinking about sound.
6) William Carlos Williams, Pictures from Brueghel – Reading “Asphodel…” –one of the first poems I didn’t want to leave. Wanted to set up camp in its universe and just float there.
7) Bob Kaufman – This is a weird one given what has come before, but after I graduated from college I was getting done with the confessionals and was looking for something different. Found him in the Outlaw Bible of Poets and straight away ordered his New Directions book. Surrealism, the Beats, necessary stuff. He’s a tremendously under-read poet.
8) Paul Blackburn The Journals – Found a water/fluid-stained copy of this at a used book store in Wheaton, MD. A lot of people hate on Paul Blackburn if they even know who he is. But his book was so present, irreverent, learned–and he’s a textbook for what you can (unsubtly) do with the line.
9) Russel Edson,The Reason The Closet Man Is Never Sad – Epic in his own way–every poem he writes and has written in the around 30 years is the same. And funny. I kept this in a desk drawer when I worked in a patent payment office and read it on the crapper. Which was the highlight of my day.
10) Ron Silliman, What – A great friend and mentor of mine, Jeff Coleman, gave this to me saying something along the lines of “I don’t get this, but you might like it.” Also read this in that shit year between undergraduate and MFA. Of all his books, this was the right one for me in that moment. Lots of strange and beautiful things going on with sound and syntax. And because it was full of everyday images I stayed on board at the point where I probably would have jumped ship on some of his other works.
11) Octavio Paz – Another shit year poet. Something about the elemental images and line making. One of the poets on the list that I have trouble coming back to, but I was very excited about him at the time and have him to thank for leading me to our next entry…
12) Cesar Vallejo – Excessive, surreal, deranged, unrelenting.
And by this time I had put in my MFA applications. At which point my reading became more contemporary and diverse and my relationship to poetry become more complicated and somewhat angsty. I proceeded mostly arbitrarily and at the mercy of the one book store I could walk to, pretty much buying anything they had poetry related. This meant a lot of 70s gems–an Alan Dugan LP, not one but two Irving Feldman books, Daniel Berrigan, Diane Wackoski, Robert Kelly, oh my.
MIKE, KEVIN, & NICHOLE RISK THEIR SANITY IN A LABYRINTH OF ART.