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the litmag whirl

By Stephen Burt

It is a lucky thing, but also a bit of a melancholy thing, to write about contemporary poetry as I do, as often as I do: having written about living poets– sometimes at length, and sometimes for the sort of periodicals that have dozens of  footnotes, and sometimes for the sort of periodicals that actually pay you– since 1994, I now get a lot of poetry books in the mail, from a lot of presses– from perhaps half the US presses (air mail is another matter!) whose books I would try to read anyway. In good weeks I’m simply grateful for the in-flow: surely I could not have bought all those books myself, and one in any given stack is going to have something memorable, exceptional, perhaps by a first-book writer whose name I’ve never heard, or a second-book writer whose volume I would never have seen (this year for some reason they’re most often prose-poem writers: Brian Johnson, Carol Guess, Alison Benis White, among others). But in bad weeks I’m almost overwhelmed: how can I give every one of these books a fair chance? How can I take each one of these books quite as seriously as I would had it been given me by a friend, had I sought it and bought it in an independent store? Of course I can’t— but I can try; and yet the effort, on alternate afternoons, can bring me something close to new-book burnout.

Which is a reason to be grateful for other art forms that use words well (the last Atmosphere CD, for instance), and even more grateful for the little magazines, the ones I used to think would get driven to extinction by their no-capital-expenses, no-dead-tree counterparts on the Internet. Today I think instead– with no disrespect to this blog’s sister magazine– that the best “little magazines” are where I go when I want to read contemporary poetry and, at the same time, escape poetry fatigue, escape the problem of having to judge a new book or an author almost as soon as I crack the cover: magazines give poems, not poets, and they let me enjoy new poems one or two at a time.

Here, then, are three very good new little magazines, two out of three, I ought to admit, published by people I know: The Hat, from New York, is all poetry or prose-poetry, with an eclectic verve in which we might detect New York School origins. It leads off with Nico Alvarado-Greenwood’s joke pseudo-cento (“When I have fears that I may run out of bacon,/ I sing of brooks, of bloosoms, birds and bacon.// Bacon, friends, is delicious. We must say so”), in which the pleasure involves spotting the sources (I got all but one), but it then opens into more complex delights: Becca Klaver, whose name I recognized as an organizer of poetry events at the U of Chicago, contributes the haunting-flirtatious “Fabulists in Love” (“All talk was pillow talk, on our backs imagining glow-in-the-dark stars”). Ange Mlinko, whose poems make more and more sense the more you reread them (without abandoning their bizarries) has a troika, including “Colostrum in Lent.” John Olson, also a novelist, offers highly colored, even jeweled, prose poems. And Andrew Sage, whose name I had never seen before, makes a beautiful, slightly old-fashioned poem (John Koethe came faintly to mind) with riffs on the children’s classic The Snowy Day.

The Laurel Review has been going for a while (its scope is American, its address Missourian) but I only found out about it when its editor, the poet John Gallaher, sent me the current all-poetry issue. It’s all over the place, in terms of styles and sources (though I suppose it excludes avant- and “new formal” extremes) and that’s the pleasure in reading it: it’s got Laura Kasischke, whom I almost always like, and Arielle Greenberg, whom I always read and whose discursive epithalamium here I found startling and moving, having once been asked to write an epithalamium myself. I did it, but hers is funnier, more profound, and better: “You know now this is what marriage is strung from, all these fragrant, rippable leaves at the start,/ and how easily it can be moved to a bad neighborhood with no taxis,/ so then you just stop going out except to the one place to eat you really do love.” Among writers I didn’t know, or didn’t previously follow, I liked Dana Roeser’s halting semi-narrative excursus; Cynthia Cruz’s terse, raw, rhymeless sonnets (“I have this fever,// I can’t tell anyone. But I promise I will/ Love anyone// Who will talk to me”) and Arthur Vogelsang’s “Arthur Rimbaud.”

And, and, and, and finally: The Poker, edited intermittently and smartly by the poet Dan Bouchard, this tightly made and graphically unpretentious journal has on its board Jennifer Moxley and Douglas Rothschild and Kevin Davies, and if you recognize those names you know what kind of avant-garde has graced and still graces its pages; you may not know what other sorts of delights are in the current issue, number nine– prev. unpublished letters from James Schuyler and George Oppen; a wonderfully snarky experiment in writing for an inappropriate audience by Juliana Spahr, whose recent poetry has certainly been her most interesting; a four-page poem by Laura Jaramillo that includes the spot-on sentence “The problem with Marxist-Leninsts is they ask you/ constantly/ to make films for the revolution”; Charles North, from New York, whose poems don’t turn up every day; George Stanley, from Vancouver; and, um, a couple of poems by me. But that’s not why it matters. You can read more about older issues of The Poker, and click on a link to email the editor, at this website for Duration Press, though I’m not sure the PO Box listed still works: I strongly advise you to email the editor instead, and he’ll tell you where to send your (I think it’s still) $10.

And if you’ve read this far, you might want to know that I am blogging intermittently at my own new site, connected to my new book of criticism; if you have read this far and you’re in NYC, you might want to see me read tomorrow, June 3. And if not, enjoy whatever litmags you get.

Comments (10)

  • On June 2, 2009 at 5:36 pm Don Share wrote:

    No disrepect taken, and in fact, the “sister” magazine has recently also published Ange Mlinko, Laura Kasischke, & Arthur Vogelsang, among those mentioned by Steve above!

  • On June 2, 2009 at 10:03 pm michael robbins wrote:

    It is good to see you blogging here again, Stephen. And congrats on the new tome.

  • On June 2, 2009 at 10:08 pm michael robbins wrote:

    I am going to go out on a limb here (a limb I do not mean to adorn with advertisements for myself) & suggest that Ange & I are the only poets to have been published in both The Hat & The New Yorker. I hope there will be more such poets. In fact, I hope Jordan will begin to publish Louise Glück, Jack Gilbert, Frederick Seidel, W. S. Merwin, Richard Howard, & Edward Hirsch. (Oh, how I am kidding. Except about Seidel.)

  • On June 2, 2009 at 10:13 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Aw, Jeez, Steve…a fucking infomercial?

    Aw, Jeez, Michael…the New Yorker again?

    Get over yourselves, boys.

  • On June 2, 2009 at 11:02 pm michael robbins wrote:

    This is mean! I am innocent! You’re drunk again! <3

  • On June 2, 2009 at 11:56 pm michael robbins wrote:

    Anyway, I find the question legitimately interesting; forget that I’m a part of it. What does it betoken that crossover twixt Hat & Yorker is now possible? And I think as well of said Yorker’s recent Armantrout, Wright, &c. axis. Is’t simply attributable to new editor’s idiosyncrasies, broadmindedness, &c., or, as I tend to think, one more indication of the collapse of already tenuous categories, viz. avant-garde / mainstream? The space of poetry is now so small that the Hat & Harriet’s sister & Muldoon’s demesne occupy same square on cultural graph paper.

  • On June 3, 2009 at 7:53 am Henry Gould wrote:

    I believe I am the only partially-living poet to have been published in both DENTURES FOR TOMORROW and LIVING SQUIRRELS MAGAZINE – two very fine periodicals, which emanate, coincidentally, from the same locale : Hibiscus, Florida (somewhere near Pensacola – which I believe is also in Florida). & I really encourage other poets out there to submit wholeheartedly & regularly to these ultra-fine journals. As we say in Hibiscus – when I’m visiting, anyway – “Weehowawowa!” (An exclamation, common in those parts of Florida, meant to express vibrant, brimming enthusiasm!)

  • On June 3, 2009 at 8:56 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    I’m sorry, Michael. Many here know me from other sites so they may have heard this before, but you must always picture me posting, drunk or sober, with a big smile on my face or, at least, a mischievous grin. I never post mean-spirited things. I come to blogs for fun. If I’m in a nasty mood, I don’t even bother going out to the pub.

    Sometimes my little quips come off sounding mean, though. My wife says it’s good that I’m funny and all but that my sense of humor may be just a little TOO big for everybody. She says there are things I should take more seriously because sometimes I inadvertently offend people. I said, hey! You want serious, read my poems! :-)

    I apologize to you and Mr. Burt if I offended you. Besides, I’m just jealous.

    GBF

  • On June 3, 2009 at 11:15 am michael robbins wrote:

    Henry, you know very well that J. D. McClatchy has also been published in both Dentures for Tomorrow & Living Squirrels.

  • On June 3, 2009 at 11:32 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Ye-e-e-es… but he’s a (fully) LIVING poet, Michael. & he published in both places under a pseudonym (Theophilus Acorn).

    I hope the specialists in poetry periodicals are keeping track of all these details, for the record. Warm & sunny today in Hibiscus.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 by Stephen Burt.