Monday, October 25, 2010

Food For Thought

So I've been thinking about this blog for a while. Thinking, not doing. Which is a constant theme of mine. One of my favorite things to do when I'm not writing/reading poetry is cooking and baking delectable items. I figured I might as well install a feature I will call "Food For Thought" as part of my plan to keep up with my fledgling blog, and perhaps to spark a duel interest in poetry and comestibles, a tried and true tradition. So without further adieu, I will present to my dear readers FOOD FOR THOUGHT, and what better way to begin such a venture than with an American favorite, apple pie.


This all started with a trip up to New Paltz for some serious apple picking. We picked so many apples that our bag broke. There is an unequivocal Edenic experience to be had from picking apples from a tree and eating them then and there. This intertextual act is more apt upon offering up your shiny pectin prize to your partner, especially if you are a woman and your partner is a man. And oh, the sin is good. The sin is especially good if you then take man's first disobedience from Eden into the kitchen and bake that shit into a steaming pie.

I absolutely hate recipes that permit you to buy pie dough. What kind of world is this where that's okay? Crust is the best part about pie, in my most humble and correct opinion, so you'd better make sure you don't do something dumb like buy dough. Don't give me crap about how you don't have a rolling pin; I used a cup and that seemed to work just fine:

Pie Dough:
2 cups flour
1 Tblsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
6 Tblsp. butter (cut your butter into six pads)
6 Tblsp. vegetable shortening
6-8 Tbsp. ice water

Mix your dry ingredients using a dough mixer. Add the butter and shortening and mix. Should look crumbly. Add the ice water, stirring in one tablespoon at a time. Your dough should be moldable in your fingers. You can test its volume by rolling it into a ball. If it doesn't crumble, you're good to go. It should be just past the point of crumbly. Roll your dough into a ball, wrap it up in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge for half an hour.

Apple Filling:
5 tart apples
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
2-3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger powder
dash of nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. lemon juice

Peel and slice apples; place in bowl of cold water and lemon juice. In another bowl, mix all other ingredients. Add the apples. Done.

Mold your dough:
Slice your refridgerated dough in half. Sprinkle flour on your mat, on your dough, and on your rolling spin/cup/improvised cylinder. Basically, sprinkle flour like it's snow on Christmas Eve all over any area that so much as makes contact with the dough. Roll each half until flat, but make sure your perfectly well-meaning land of dough doesn't stick to the mat. Lining your mat with parchment paper may just do you wonders. Line a 9' pie pan with first layer of dough. I like laying the bottom layer a little thicker than the top layer so it soaks up all that juicy filling. Fill your pan with your apple filling. Repeat rolling process on second half, and lay over the apple goodness. I placed my top layer over the pie in segments in order to have a really flakey crust, but you can do whatever you'd like, so long as there's a little breathing slit.

Bake your pie at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Let cool for twenty minutes. I sprinkled mine with cinnamon. Now, dear readers. Devour.

Friday, October 1, 2010

And speaking of neglecting this blog...

—NEWS! I have actual news—

Remember all of five minutes ago when I posted that amazing poem by Timothy Donnelly?

Tim's agreed to do an interview with me!

—More News!—

Remember all of forever ago when I wrote that post about book titles that I found especially fine?

Sasha Fletcher has also agreed to do an interview with me!

More to come. Soon.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Rumored Existence of Other Poetry Collections

Recently, I ordered five poetry collections, which, upon delivery, I tore through with wild abandon. It has become increasingly difficult to write a poem, to even imagine writing a poem. The sheer idea of constructing a poem to exist in some quantum space is, in itself, an exercise in pathos—no, actually, you know those wonderful daguerreotypes that depict a person in the midst of spewing a face-filled cloud of ectoplasm from their maws in a fit of spiritual possession? It's an exercise in that. That's kind of what I imagine is happening to poets around me as I dumbly sit with pen in hand, waiting for the paranormal to take plasmic form in my mouth. Anyway. Since the inception of the blog, the goal has been to provide the nectar of writerly wisdom. (Nectar may or may not include ghastly plasma.)


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I'm alive--I guess--

I will as I always do, with the guilt-ridden acuity that comes with being a slacker in pursuit of some kind of excellence, apologize for my near month-long silence. It turns out that I have been doing nothing at all to possibly excuse myself of this inactivity; I am merely practicing nothing, still being matter myself, still able to clean moldy bathtubs and everything! Since we last spoke however, I've read Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and am now up to page 350 of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, the latter of which feels abso-fucking-lutely interminable. Despite the monstrosity in book-heft alone; despite the rather exhausting diatribes people would find themselves standing before me spewing on what DFW was really trying to do with this "piece"; despite the dense, long-winded chapters siphoned through nearly incomprehensible street verbiage matched only by dense, long winded chapters siphoned through mad, conspiracy-theoried scientific language that has so plagued my reading experience; despite these, I'll call them humps, there is some of the finest, most beautiful prose I have ever read.

But this isn't really a post about David Foster Wallace. This is more of an assurance post, to say that I am in the process of lining up more interviews, and that I'm not going to post my Joanna Klink review in full here because I've decided to submit it to a few magazines instead. I'm sorry that I can't stay true to you and only you, blog.

I'm also going to be teaching a class on the contemporary line, so I may post my ideas here every once in a while for you, dear readers, and my theoretical students. So just be on the look-out for that.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ben Marcus, the inglorious, unheroic, nobody

I finished Notable American Women by Ben Marcus yesterday. Here's a challenge: read this book and as you're reading it, try to explain to people what it's about. They will look at you like you are describing a very new, very complicated, very unappealing sex position, and maybe Snoop Dogg's there watching from a throne. Regardless, you will be met with, let's just call it, skepticism. As a precautionary measure, it's usually best to show these skeptics the paperback in question. And as prospective readers are wont to do, they will flip over the book to read the usual false, showy superlatives attached to any book of merit: Incredible!, A fantastic journey!, ____'s best yet! Usually as unreliable as a shroom-head's description of a tree. Just a guess. Even someone as dubious as I am about such things (in case that wasn't clear), I was immediately smitten with Marcus. Here's the back of the book:

"Ben Marcus is a genius, one of the most daring, funny, morally engaged and brilliant writers, someone whose work truly makes a difference in the world."—George Saunders

"How can one word from Ben Marcus's rotten, filthy heart be trusted?"—Michael Marcus, Ben's father

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Current books in my bag

In case you were wondering, these are all great.

Interview with Anna Journey

A year and a half ago, I worked as an editorial assistant at The New Criterion. One of my jobs was to send the famously irascible poetry critic, William Logan, books for possible review. New books would come in from publishers all over the place. In this case, it was an act akin to leaving your baby out in the Savannah, with lions and cheetahs and hyenas running around searching for pink soft chewy things to eat. I liked going through the new books, for obvious reasons. Usually though, I'd peruse the book and feel uninspired, place it back down, and that would be that. I had been trying to work on a series of poems called "Quarry is a Place for Nesting" (it didn't work out) when what book should arrive but a book called If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting by Anna Journey. There was a feeling of almost sisterhood, with our similarly felt utliziation of a word like 'nesting'; so much of a wry conflation of maternity and a post-modern age's sensibility. I did my usual dance of opening the book in order to scan it for possibly exciting language. I read the first poem, "Adorable Siren, Do You Love the Damned?" I read the first poem. I read the first poem. I read the first poem. Almost immediately, my poem, which had instantly seemed so kith on the surface, became wildly inferior to the beauty, control, and wile of Journey's work. I remember being most drawn to the closure's sex-and-violence grace, which made me feel like something in me was slipping off into a crag:

...I'm drunk

though I won't wear heels, honey, or I'd fall

for anyone. I'd fall devil

over heels over edge over oleander
over open mouth

over birthmark over forked

tongue over forked tongue
that turns on mine.

The experience of reading this book made me want to trade in my diction for arcane tools and demented flowers. I remember wanting very badly to know this person, or at least make myself known to them. After I got into the contact with her, her name started popping up everywhere, whether in the literary journal Parnassus, or on random websites lauding the book as part of a best summer reading list. She's a poet of decadence, flare, trickery, and come-hither, someone with whom music and character are on equally intense lyric plains. I knew that speaking with her would be fun as hell, and all of its sexy devils. And with all of the sharp, irresistible language in her poems, this interview revealed to me the very level balance between her attention to language and her intellectual prowess in Contemporary Poetry, which are also earnest and smart as hell to say the least.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Touching the Void, and Our Extreme Orders

Yesterday, I watched, with treachery, the wild survivor's tale that is Touching the Void, directed by Kevin MacDonald. The structure of the documentary is part raw story-telling and part dramatic reenactment. More specifically, one part is devised of portraits of the three climbers', with each divulging their perspective of what happened; this provides the streaming narrative for the documentary. There is a calm backdrop for these moments that undoubtedly connotes that they’re safe from harm now. The other part has about it the style of amateur recording, taken in the unlikely midst of Siula Grande, a mountain in the Peruvian Andes; it is a shaky, frantic attempt at recapturing the memory of a climber, Joe Simpson, who, after falling 100 feet into the crevice of a glacier and breaking his leg, must drag himself, somehow, back to a camp that may not even be there anymore.

Aside from being simply rapt by the battle to descend the glacier (quite an apt metaphor for story-telling), I was also drawn more and more to all the juxtapositions that, intentionally or not, helped strengthen the narrative. Juxtapositions through dueling landscapes, temperaments, climates, and composition, to name a few. There's a moment near the end where Joe is experiencing what I can only surmise as actually dying (don't worry, I'm not giving anything away; clearly, Joe's beautiful and healthy face is a current, constant presence), and this is when I really started to notice a doubling taking effect: sky and mountain, snow and rock, wind and rain, man and landscape, life and death. On a more macro level, narrator and event, me and them, peril and safety, past and present.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Paris Review Purging

This site provides a great account of the injustices that have recently been strung around the new editors of The Paris Review after they "de-accepted" much of the forthcoming poetry section. Now, I've never attempted to submit to The Paris Review due to its level of pomp and regard, and my exact lack of such things. However, it seems inevitable that any poet who dares enter into the "accomplished poet" bracket from the lesser "up and coming poet" bracket will submit to The Paris Review. Hell, were I to dare the fates and enter into the "up and coming poet" bracket from my current "fresh out of the MFA-world/young grasshopper poet" bracket, The Paris Review would be first on my list, and I'd only have my fingers crossed for the more amicable boilerplate rejection note. If then my fate-tempting submission were returned with the stamp of acceptance, I would probably be beaming out of gratitude for years. Seriously, years. To call The Paris Review the creme de la creme of literary journals does not suggest enough what honor would be felt to be accepted into that league of writers of whom even non-readers of poetry and fiction can at least recognize names.

A few months ago, I would have told you that being accepted to such a storied journal is probably one of the most unique feelings one can have to a literary journal. Now I'm pretty sure the most unique feeling one can have towards such a reputable journal is being accepted and then de-accepted a year later. The level of mistrust and even betrayal I would harbor in my sinking heart would be unreal. In fact, the lack of respect these editors have for—I'm going to go on a sturdy limb here—talented writers boils my blood almost enough to not want to submit work there under this editorship. This, though, doesn't mean anything to anybody that isn't me.

Which brings me to my point: this is not going to hurt The Paris Review, despicable as the act of rescinding may be. They will continue to ride on their top-tiered reputation and this unsavory exposure will most likely fade. Unless The Paris Review, under Lorin Stein's editorial eye, begins to considerably fall down some notches in prestige and innovation. Even then though, the elite name will keep the journal afloat for some time before the readership is seriously injured as a result. It may even create an even larger readership with the recent controversy. Chances are, the writers who have been victim to the superseding will be more than just fine.

Friday, July 16, 2010

News! Wow!

The Generative will be interviewing poet and essayist Anna Journey!!!

Anna Journey, whom I made note of rather meritoriously in my last post about ballin' titles, is stellar and I'm very excited to pick her brain.

Here's a sample of her work, from the collection If Birds Gather Your Hair For Nesting:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

I have been seriously slacking with you, blog. I've been treating you like that dear friend I so badly want to get together with, but then cannot pierce the membrane of fatigue and blase enough to heed to my social urges. I've also been working on my poetry collection, and as it sits on my escritoire nameless (and yes, I have an escritoire), I've been thinking about the titles of successful collections that have come out in the past twenty years. It seems I can't escape the urge to be precious, even when I make a conscious effort to avoid it. I at first thought to name my collection something bold, something wild, something wholly subject and definitive; naturally then, a title with a definite article would allude to that occult panache, that surrounding talisman, that American gothic that so defines a book about haunting artifacts and desiccated kingdoms. However, upon turning it into my thesis class, I felt immediately self conscious and knew that my title (which will not be disclosed here or anywhere ever unless I make it in this world and it then becomes a thing I and all of my cohort can chortle at with retrospective ceremony and understanding for the next generation of writers) would carry little more than the lifespan of an inside joke.

Titles that successfully descry the mysteries of their books with "The ______" are rare gems in this world. Let's play around with those successful poets who in kind have successful titles that earn this construction.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

World Wide Whitman, or That Cat Had Some Wit, Man.

In a NYTimes article by inimitable critic Helen Vendler called "Singing the Poet Electric," Vendler is part ingratiating and part on a mission to correct poet C. K. Williams in his quest to eulogize Walt Whitman in a second book of the series Writers on Writers, put out by Princeton University Press. The book, while simply called On Whitman , doesn't take such a simple stance, according to Vendler. Nay, Williams, who is writing a rather touched kind of prose, ascribes Whitman to something of a, as Vendler calls it, "patron" to the 60s revolution and subsequently, the Beat generation.

One is left to wonder whether this quintessentially 19th-century American poet would be tickled to be the fearless bearded leader of our century's sordid revolutions. Vendler has her doubts, and so do I.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Nerding Out Fridays

Yesterday I decided I would commit to reading all of T. S. Eliot's essays; it however occurred to me that my reference point for all of the Spanish tragedies and even Elizabethan tragedies is, how do you say, lacking. It could be that I am not yet of a status where esoteric knowledge comes as a easily as a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Nay, instead, I merely salivate at the D-I-Y magic kits made tantalizing by clever infomercials—or to snuff out this measly metaphor, there is something of a pomp sans circumstance to being limited as a reader. I try and follow, can't, but then find myself furiously underlining an idea regardless, an idea that stands glimmering in its abstract gooeyness. After a diatribe about Elizabethan and Jacobean poetry in the essay "Rhetoric" and Poetic Drama , Eliot says, "At the present time there is a manifest preference for the 'conversational' in poetry—the style of 'direct speech,' opposed to the 'oratorical' and the rhetorical; but if rhetoric is any convention of writing inappropriately applied, this conversational style can and does become a rhetoric—" These moments are head-wrappable, in the sense that this remains applicable to an audience interested in the evolutionary tract of literature, even if that interest comes with a certain lack of resources. One can see that designations of device and even tautologies are malleable, appropriated based on the current temperament of the scene.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

W.S. Mer-WIN!

W. S. Merwin to be named 17th Poet Laureate of the United States! Breaking from his edenic reclusion of Maui to be our new legislature of the world sounds about as fun as, well, returning to an office job after basking indefinitely in Maui. In a NY Times article, he seemed a mix of reluctant and deprecating when he said, "I can’t keep popping back and forth between here and Washington." And yet, he does relish "being part of something much more public and talking too much." O ye poets, how I love thee wry jabs.

Read more from this article here!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ode on a Grecian Burn, or The Art of Zing! Editorializing

While I was in Virginia a few weeks ago, my parents and I stopped by this used bookstore/antique store in Dayton, VA. The beauty to these shops is that, generally speaking, the man behind the counter has no idea the worth of some of the books he's selling. I left with an armload of extremely old and rare books amounting to a total of $4.50, the charming trail of wood pulp following me out the door.

I hadn't yet looked through any of the books until last night. Actually, old books used to utterly creep me out, and one could chalk my, I'll call it, apprehension, up to the obvious reason: that everyone who had anything to do with the book, whether its writing or its production, was super dead. But for me, the whole aura of the book had about it an energy so alive and so potent that it made me feel like the dead one, being so voiceless and out of range of this brand of thinking, this seemingly encyclopedic skill of what I'll call "schoolboyship." But last night, I took out one of my trophy finds, a collection of poems by John Keats called ODE ON A GRECIAN URN, THE EVE OF ST. AGNES AND OTHER POEMS, put out by Riverside Literature Series. Here's what it looks like:

The reason I bought this book in the first place had to do with, not only the fact that John Keats is my number one pilot, but also because my mom mentioned Ode on a Grecian Urn that morning to me as a poem she very much enjoyed, and it was the first time I could remember her talking about poetry with such an informed lightness to her voice. It warmed the cockles of my heart is what it did.

The reason I thought to take it out last night was because I was thinking about Joanna Klink's beautiful collection Raptus, as I had mentioned in my previous post. I was thinking about sentimentality, and Joanna Klink's wild partaking of this ilk; how she is able to write into this tradition of sentimentality without sounding self-parodic or glib; how she is (and this is Keats talking here) "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." I wanted to search for the Keats in Klink, which is undoubtably there, in order to buttress her collection to its deserving height. But before I could get there, before I could do the proper garnering, I read some very funny editorializing which I thought I would share with you, my questionably present readers. (Klink review IS coming, but is nowhere near done.)

The first poem of this book is On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer, one of my favorite poems of all time. I might as well post it, though for shame! if you haven't read it. No no, I forgive you.


Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Now this is all well and good. But this is a very peculiar editor, one whom upheld his anonymity so as to be the infallible voice of the press to which this fine book was bound. After this first poem, there was a note referring to line 11:

"11. That it was Balboa and not Cortez who first saw the Pacific an American schoolboy could have told Keats, but it is not such slips as these that unmake poetry."

For whatever reason, this issued a mighty guffaw from my person, followed by a hearty OH SNAP. Find me that schoolboy of Today's world. I will give him a cookie and a Pulitzer.



Gosh, the first sentence is always the hardest. I suppose by way of introduction, my name's Natalie, and I write, read, and critically review poetry, the latter of which is the hope for this here blog. Now, when I say I "critically review poetry," this means neither that I read poems in some remote area of Upstate New York and brim with utter hatred at the thought—no, gall—of this or that idea, nor does it mean that I believe my opinions are the be-all-end-all of contemporary poetry. Whether flouting or fawning, the purpose of this blog is to investigate the stakes in poetry collections fresh to scene via review and interview.

Since it's Summer '10 and I'm not yet employed thanks to our fledgling economy and my seemingly meaningless MFA-degree, I've been buying a lot of books at St. Mark's Bookstore, the Barnes & Noble at Union Square, and Spoonbill, close enough to my stomping grounds in Brooklyn. (That's right, you read a whole paragraph without knowing that I'm actually Brooklyn scum.) These are some books that I've picked up (and guys, listen, I need to emotionally prepare you—not all these books are poetry collections, okay?), which for now, I'll merely describe in three words, this way it's less likely of sounding like reckless blurbing:

Raptus by Joanna Klink— Kindhearted Crisis Lyric
Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson— Vicious Journey Nowhere
Orion You Came And You Took All My Marbles by Kira Henehan— Hardboiled Metaphysical Irony
Mean Free Path by Ben Lerner— Discursive Psychological Redemption

All of these books are brand-spanking new except for Jesus' Son, which admittedly took a while to enter my radar, and an even longer while to actually purchase, and an extremely short while to read. The other three books you should expect to see review posts for in the near future, as I'm sure my minx-y exclamations have made you just short of piss yourself in minx-activated glee over.

Is it weird that I'm totally cool with Google's templates? My limited savviness it seems has exchanged canny sensibilities for complacent approval. One day,, you will be beautiful.