The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

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Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

New Poetry Wanted

Poetry Magazine calls for new poetry:

A new poetry becomes necessary not because we want one, but because the way poets have learned to write no longer captures the way things are, how things have changed. Reality outgrows the art form: the art form is no longer equal to the reality around it. The Georgian poets wrote, coming after a century of such writing, with the depleted sensibility of Romanticism. Their poetry was in love with an antebellum England: "yet / Stands the Church clock at ten to three? / And is there honey still for tea?" The Georgians did not sense the approach of WWI, and their poetry was unequal to the horrors of trench warfare. (To see how a Georgian sensibility did respond, read Rupert Brooke: "If I should die, think only this of me: / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England." This is a beautiful poem, but one far afield from mustard gas.) It took Yeats to give British poetry its first great dose of twentieth-century realism. It took The Waste Land to enable a poetry of chaos.

The need for something new is evident. Contemporary poetry’s striking absence from the public dialogues of our day, from the high school classroom, from bookstores, and from mainstream media, is evidence of a people in whose mind poetry is missing and unmissed. You can count on the fingers of one hand the bookstores in this country that are known for their poetry collections. A century ago our newspapers commonly ran poems in their pages; fifty years ago the larger papers regularly reviewed new books of poetry. Today one almost never sees a poem in a newspaper; and the new poetry collections reviewed in the New York Times Book Review are down to a few a year. A general, interested public is poetry’s foremost need. . . .

In 1933 Ernest Hemingway went on his first safari, hunting big game in East Africa. Then he came home and wrote short stories ("The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"), the non-fiction Green Hills of Africa, and an unfinished novel, True at First Light. It is a commonplace among creative writers that we should write what we know, but Hemingway took that a step further by seeking out fresh experience in the service of his writing: ambulance driving in the Spanish civil war, marlin fishing off Cuba, running with the bulls in Pamplona. He sought to live more in order to write better. That’s not to say that one has to be chased around Pamplona by bulls to gain experience. It could be something as slight as the difference between the poem one might get from a poet strolling past a construction site versus the poem one might get from the poet who is pouring concrete. Either could produce the better poem, of course, but the latter’s will be more deeply informed by experience. "To change your language," as Derek Walcott says, "you must change your life."

But when did you last meet a contemporary poet who takes this approach, seeking out fresh experience or new knowledge specifically for the benefit of his or her poetry? I personally don’t know many who would think to cross the street, let alone do what Hemingway did, in the hopes of getting a poem out of it. Rather it is the unconscious habit of poets to wait for the poem to come to them. (In the words of a poet friend, "You don’t choose the poem, the poem chooses you.") Most contemporary poets align their role as writer with that of witness. (Mary Oliver: "I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. / I do know how to pay attention." Or William Matthews: "I plan to notice everything.") They think of the artist as one more acted upon than acting. This is not to say, of course, that great poetry cannot come out of the most meager repository of lived experience. (Think of Emily Dickinson: all those years of writing in a still house, in the grip of a constant intensity.) The point rather is that poets today don’t seem even to be aware that what they write will be influenced by how they live.

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4 comments to New Poetry Wanted

  • Poetry magazine has been something else lately. Did you see Dan Chiasson’s review of eight notable modern poets in the issue? He liked exactly two of them, and said so remarkably bluntly and eloquently. Don’t see that kind of toughness in the newspapers.
    Regarding the above, Barr has a point. Poetry is for idealists, but today poetry is manned mostly by academics, who measure with exquisite precision, but rarely risk all. (There are some exceptions…I think of Kenneth Koch.) I’m glad Barr’s throwing down the challenge…

  • Dawn

    I write poetry if you would liek to read some let me know. TY

  • E-mail Contact: poetryman@walla.com or promomanusa@gmail.com
    The Lost American: From Exile to Freedom, rising star in Illinois poetry, Michael Lee Johnson, poet and freelance writer, is about one man’s journey into exile to Canada over the Vietnam War many years ago, his struggle, his survival, his road to recovery and strength manifesting itself through his prose, poems, and personal convictions. He lives in Chicago. He is heavily influenced by Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Irving Layton, and Leonard Cohen. The Lost American: From Exile to Freedom is now available for purchase at iUniverse Publishers: http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=0-595-46091-7 The ISBN # is: 0-595-46091-7.
    EBook also available at iUniverse at: http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=0-595-90391-6 The ISBN # IS: 0-595-90391-6
    His 1st chapbook of poems and his first paperback of poems are both available for purchase or download at Lulu.com. Visit his storefront at: http://stores.lulu.com/poetryboy  The Lost American: A Tender Touch & a Shade of Blue (Chapbook); The Lost American II: From Exile to Freedom (Paperback).
    His website can be found at: http://poetryman.mysite.com/.
    Mr. Michael Lee Johnson lives in Chicago, IL after spending 10 years in Edmonton, Alberta Canada during the Viet Nam era. He is a freelance writer and poet. He is heavy influenced by Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Irving Layton, and Leonard Cohen. 350 plus poems published. He is a member of Poets & Writers, Inc; Directory of American Poets & Fictions Writers: pw.org/directory. Recent publications: The Orange Room Review, Bolts of Silk, Chantarelle’s Notebook, The Foliate Oak Online Literary Magazine, Poetry Cemetery, Official Site of Laura Hird, The Centrifugal Eye, Adagio Verse Quarterly, Scorched Earth Publishing, Café Del Soul (The Cynic Online Magazine) and many others. Published in USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Nigeria, Fiji, Africa, India, United Kingdom. Mr. Johnson has a poetry paperback book published by iUniverse Publishers: http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=0-595-46091-7

  • Calif_Dreamer

    I just wanted to say that what you say here is so true. Now days, things are so different, and one can find a poem in the smallest things. Watching the wave upon a beach, the sky as clouds roll by….I know as I have wrote a lot of poems of such things, but most of the time it is about love and romance, and hurt also.
    I hope to be getting more info from you soon.

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