Tuesday, April 1, 2014

10 items that are on this list

"Poetry readings were like early teevee in that everyone had their own little show. Though teevee got more sophisticated (worse) poetry never did. It remains stupid, run by fools." - Eileen Myles, from Inferno

Happy April Fools' Day/National Poetry Month! In honor of the occasion(s) I wrote a listicle for Open Letters Monthly's Title Menu feature: 10 Books that Might Be Poetry.

It's a list of some of my favorite weird books of prose poems or poemy prose, including Max Jacob, Aram Saroyan, Russel Edson, Lyn Hejinian, Anne Boyer, Khadijah Queen and more.

And if you're interested in all this genre bullshit, you'll enjoy this interview (from 2012) between Maggie Nelson and Ali Liebegott from the Believer Logger:

AL: I was surprised when I saw Bluets—that it doesn’t say poetry on it, it says Essay/Literature. Do you consider it poetry?
MN: No, I don’t really, but I just don’t care. There was a long review of Bluets that was all about Is this poetry or prose? A lot of the book came from poems, and I took out the line breaks. At first I wrote a lot of blue poems, but there was something about this collection of blue poems that was really irking me. It was too precious or too weird. When I wrote Jane, it was okay that each individual poem was in a different form, because the story was going to hold it all together. When I wrote Bluets, blue as a concept was not enough to hold all these individually shaped poems. I didn’t like the way it was looking, and it wasn’t interesting. Then when I realized that numbered passages could do the same work that poems could do—with juxtaposition and speed and moving in and out of different kinds of voices, I thought, Oh, wow! And when I took a lot of the line breaks out of a lot of the poems, I didn’t feel like they lost anything. A lot of reviews of the poems I’d written recently were like, Why is this even poetry? She just put line breaks and stuff into what should’ve been prose. I felt like, Fair enough, maybe that’s exactly so. That didn’t cut to my quick or anything.
It sounds kind of dippy, but Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, which is written in numbers, was the main book I saw my book in conversation with. I love the way he’s writing philosophy, but it also kind of sounds like a sad, confused person just talking to himself. “Why can’t my right hand give my left hand money?” and “Why can’t a dog feel pain?” “Can a dog simulate pain?” Just all these questions and people treat it—as they should—very seriously as philosophy. But it’s also a form of madness, and I felt very alone and in a form of madness.
I was probably very kinetically unhappy while I was writing Bluets—but I still felt pleased as a writer, because I’ve worked a lot as a scholar, and I like doing research, and I like facts, and I like philosophy. So I felt like I could put everything I knew about rhythm and movement and juxtaposition into this book, but I didn’t have to be precious, like if I was making a poem. I could say, “Here’s what Mallarm√© had to say about God,” and I could put in all my facts. I loved this. It’s a good form for me. It’s a kind of poetic prose, but I wouldn’t call it a long poem.


  1. Interesting idea, this list.

    I'd have to think a little to come up with ten books I might put in a similar list, though a couple that come to mind offhand are Memory for Forgetfulness by Mahmoud Darwish (a kind of lyrical prose account of a couple of days in Lebanon during heavy military fighting that broke out there in 1983 (I think the year was); also, Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons; also probably the prose parts of Novalis's Hymns to the Night. And Notes on Thought and Vision by H.D.

    I'd also likely include something by John Berger, though I'd need to think a bit to decide specifically what.

    One other that seems a kind of obvious choice, just offhand, is Rimbaud's A Season in Hell, with the disclosure that the name of my blog (A Burning Patience) is taken from a phrase in the book.

    These off the top of my head at the moment.

    1. I could have made it a longer list easily. Two I almost included were, on the older end, The Book of Disquiet and, on the newer, Bough Down by Karen Green.

    2. Thanks for posting that interview with Nelson! I just finished Bluets the other day. Looking forward to reading more...