American Poetry Review

2 posts

September Streams of Consciousness…


September? Already? School in session? Already? What a mockery that last day of summer (Sept. 22nd) will make of you (when it gets here). You, who’ve presided over summer’s funeral prematurely. Do the words “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated” not mean anything to you?

And what are you doing on book review sites, anyway? You are already overwhelmed with books you own and want to read, so why would you read about books you don’t own and want to read? It scrambles the yolky mind! Settle down, before someone passes the pepper! Just read what you have!

It’s what you get for hanging out in the Books section of The New York Times, anyway, where of course you agreed with everything these two books are about.

So, why can’t you read them, you ask plaintively like the tantrum-tossing child in Aisle 6 (cookies and crackers) at the grocery store?

I’ll tell you why (stating the obvious): because it would involve BUYING one (possibly two) and/or waiting in interlibrary loan lines for God knows how long to read one: Day, day, day, week, week, week, month, month, month, year, decade, life….

So, no.

Deep breath.

Mantra word and mouse click.

Switch sites quickly, no matter how intriguing that conclusion in Thomas Chatterton Williams’ review. You know. Yada-yadas that go like this:

“Where [William] Egginton sees a threat to democracy in a polity insufficiently and unequally educated in the liberal tradition, [Greg] Lukianoff and [Jonathan] Haidt notice something unprecedented and a lot more frightening: a generation, including its most privileged and educated members — especially these members — that has been politically and socially “stunted” by a false and deepening belief in its own fragility. This is a generation engaged in a meritocratic “arms race” of epic proportions, that has racked up the most hours of homework (and screen time) in history but also the fewest ever of something so simple as unsupervised outdoor play. If that sounds trivial, it shouldn’t. “When adult-supervised activities crowd out free play, children are less likely to develop the art of association,” Lukianoff and Haidt write, along with other social skills central to the making of good citizens capable of healthy compromise. Worse, the consequences of a generation unable or disinclined to engage with ideas and interlocutors that make them uncomfortable are dire for society, and open the door — accessible from both the left and the right — to various forms of authoritarianism.”

Got it, Monkey Mind That Is You?

And don’t give me that “what about” bit. The way the review of these two books opens with the anecdote of Anders Carlson-Wee’s poem in The Nation, which already dismayed you here.

No. Put it down and everyone remains safe, chief among them your wallet and your semi-precious time.

You still have your American Poetry Review to read, after all. And your September Poetry no matter how silly.

And what about that lovely new translation you bought at Bridgton Books (Bridgton comma Maine) during the final blazing days of (your) summer: The Complete Cold Mountain: Poems of the Legendary Hermit Hanshan ?

You’ve been wanting to take it slow through the Mountain for seemingly ever, and now that you have it on your desk—now that it stares at you patiently and wisely—you spend time jumping around book sites? Browsing for other suitors? Where’s your sense of wu wei? Where’s your “non-action” (Internet variety) when you need it?

Thank you. Another crisis passed. For now. Never mix books and reading ambition while getting behind the wheel of life. Remember that.

Until next time,
Your Better Self (On the Right Shoulder, Per Usual)

Constructing Some Deconstruction, Derrida-Like

Yesterday I sent my message in two bottles to mentors-in-waiting Marie and Naomi (there’s a poem right there!). And, via the comments section, my good virtual friend, Carter, alerted me that I had stumbled upon a winner when I picked up Carrie Fountain’s book, Burn Lake.

For reasons I cannot fathom, the proof is always in the pudding (which we never eat in this household). Carter, a champion of the journal American Poetry Review, let me know that the latest issue offered up three coins, all of them Fountain’s.

A little research, and I discovered one of the three was posted live on the Net. It’s called “The Student”, and requires more than a passing familiarity with Jacques Derrida, some French philosopher or other famous for deconstruction. And although I am no philosopher, I do know a thing or two about deconstruction, having had more than one of my  seaside sand castles destroyed by my older brother—this after hours and hours of construction on my part.

You see? Philosophy is easy. But it might not help you understand “The Student.” My suggestion is that you read it, then read it again. In time, your “ah’s” will begin to construct “hah’s!” and thus are Joycean epiphanies made.

Meanwhile, what started the whole discussion: I started the 2009 National Poetry Series winner Burn Lake last night. Apparently there are a series of Burn Lake poems within it. Here’s the first, which appeared in Poetry:

“Burn Lake” by Carrie Fountain
For Burn Construction Company


When you were building the I-10 bypass,
one of   your dozers, moving earth
at the center of a great pit,
slipped its thick blade beneath
the water table, slicing into the earth’s
wet palm, and the silt moistened
beneath the huge thing’s tires, and the crew
was sent home for the day.
Next morning, water filled the pit.
Nothing anyone could do to stop it coming.
It was a revelation: kidney-shaped, deep
green, there between the interstate
and the sewage treatment plant.
When nothing else worked, you called it
a lake and opened it to the public.
And we were the public.


And here’s “Burn Lake 2,” the sequel, cooler still (if lakes be cool, and they do, at least up north):


“Burn Lake 2” by Carrie Fountain

All afternoon I’ve been swimming out
to the deepest part of the lake
and sinking down as far as I can
because for a long time now
I’ve wanted to feel dead and alive
at the same time
and for whatever reason I believe
this is the way to do it. So far,
it’s impossible to feel dead.
Instead, when I reach the cold sheets
of water toward the bottom of the lake
all the lights go on inside my body
and my legs pump, and before long
I see the determined lines the sun makes
on the surface of the water, and I reach
the living world again, the thin limbs
of the salt cedar wagging at the shoreline,
the wuzz of traffic on the interstate,
and my mother, far off, reading a paperback
on a little shelf of sand, smoking
one of those long , brown cigarettes
she slips in one sublime gesture
from out of a clicking leather case.
There is something that keeps
occurring to me in the moment I break
the water, though by the time I take a breath
I’ve forgotten what it was.


Strong finish, that. Subtle finish, too. A nice mix. A “how did she do that?” mix. Maybe Marie, Naomi, or Carrie herself can comment. Maybe they even will.

Meanwhile, back to swimming my own poetic lakes….