The American Academy of Poets sends out a poem every day. You can sign up for the service here. It is a nice service. The poems are quite varied in style and subject, and range over a long time period. One day is Keats and the next Anne Stevenson and the next Marilyn Krysl. They come early in the day, so for many people it is a way to start the email review, with a breath and a moment of thought.
George Hitchcock died August 27. (An obituary is here.) Hitchcock was on the faculty at then College V at UCSC when I was there. I took a couple of classes from him. An interesting teacher, and quite dedicated to poetry as an art. I learned a good deal from him; perhaps the most important thing I took from his classes was that, however skilled I became, I just did not have the talent for a career in that art. It was a good thing to learn early. Nevertheless, I found his classes rewarding. Hitchcock was honest, and I think the sort of direct reader many need in college. Although Hitchcock himself wrote in a sort of surrealist, deep image vein, he had very good analytic skills. He was very demanding concerning the the integrity of images, and alert to the import of images in language. I remember him being particularly sensitive to use of what might be called 'orientalizing' images -- language about people in which the nationality or race was used in ways that made the person into a novelty or object. E.g., using Black or African-American (this was the late 70's so the latter was not the term used by many people) as a sign of mystery or exotic.
Marge Percy gave a reading at College V, which resulted in a rumpus. Percy was introduced by Lynne Sukenick (Ron and Lynne Sukenick were both at UCSC then, I believe, although based at one of the east side colleges -- Stevenson is my guess) who I think was associated with English. Percy gets up and recites some work. Percy's style of recitation used the "Poetry voice" with rather sing-song kind of performance. At the end, there was an invitation for questions. Hitchcock stood up and complained about the recitation -- basically that the the style of reading was ridiculous, demeaned the language, an insult to listeners. He may have said something about the poems as well. Percy did not like the remarks, and after some general shouting back and forth (Percy and Sukenick on one side, Hitchcock on the other), the event broke up.
Hitchcock took his teaching duties seriously, which is something given how little he was paid. He showed up for every class and every class was worthwhile and on topic. Plenty in his role did not -- Hitchcock did much better by his students that Ray Carver, for example. Or so it was for those couple of years.
How to Live on Bread and Music is a quite good collection of poetry. Perhaps 5 weak pieces, or pieces not as good as the rest. The book as a whole is interesting. The language, as expected, is interesting. More importantly, the poems give one something to think about. Not just a collection of images or psuedo-profundities. I would not describe them as modest, but also not a bravura showing of erudition or he muck of fake philosophy. Insightful and lovely. I would like to be able to say I knew what I was getting, but that is not right. The book won an award and showed up in the mail -- Laughlin award I think. It is not the revelations the Anne Stevenson collection was, but this is a good book and the poet one to follow.
Thank you Ms. Sweeney. And Perugia Press -- the book is well made and lovely to the touch.
Her are the first sentences of an introduction to this year's winnner of Wallace Stevens Award:
Jean Valentine is, in my view, the great lyric poet of American poetry today. From her first published poems, which were stark, devoutly original, and slant, to her latest and her latest-latest, there appears to be an inevitable trajectory that has taken her, and us, to a place at once deeply simple, as the world is simple, yet deeply mysterious, as the world -- as life -- is.
This sort of praise fails. What is a "slant" poem? Written on an angle? What could that mean about a poem? Are we to dig into etymological and dig up something like 'outside the church'? But the poems are "devoutly original" so maybe the (ridiculous) etymological intent is at work. Well, how is that helpful? Setting aside that almost no one would get that link, and that it would embody an fairly silly view about use fo language, just what is 'devout' supposed to mean here? How is one devout with respect to originality (of writing)? Is there some doctrine or church that is at work, some theory or ideology? Next up is the poems which are simple as the world is simple. It appears this is meant in the simple sense, that is, as saying the poems are simple and the world is simple and the two share the simplicity. A view that is inane. Perhaps Stern is being ironic or clever or something and intends instead that the poems are simple in just the way the world is simple, and, as the world is anything but simple the poems too are not simple. I rather doubt that was the thought, as he also says a couple lines later that Valentine is not an ironic poet, and the rest of the essay seems quite sincere. This is an awful introduction to any poet, on two levels. It is an awful introduction because it says nothing at all about the poetry or the poet. And it is an awful introduction because it is awful writing.