"Perspective Comes in Six Lines," The Boston Globe on Charles Wright's new book Sestets.
"Perspective Comes in Six Lines," The Boston Globe on Charles Wright's new book Sestets.
This year for National Poetry Month, FSG Publisher Jonathan Galassi has agreed to say a few words about our upcoming poetry collections. You can expect his comments here every Tuesday and Thursday for the rest of the month.
August Kleinazhler’s new and selected poems SLEEPING IT OFF IN RAPID CITY, which won the National Book Critics Circle award in poetry this year, has just been issued in paperback. King Augie, as I like to think of him, is the undisputed master of a region of American poetry that is all his own. He grew up in New Jersey and he talks out of the side of his mouth in a tender, ironic idiom that melds classic movie dialogue and the lyricism of his old neighbor William Carlos Williams. One of his early, radically exciting books was titled STORM OVER HACKENSACK. (Other titles include RED SAUCE, WHISKEY AND SNOW and GREEN SEES THINGS IN WAVES, which suggests the peculiar admixture of gnarly vernacular expression and razor-sharp poetic intelligence that has made him the monarch of his own boundless place.
Augie long ago left New Jersey for that other epicenter of American poetry, San Francisco, spiritual home of Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, Kenneth Rexroth and Augie’s own bosom buddy Thom Gunn.
(I should mention that he is also the author of an unforgettable memoir, CUTTY, ONE ROCK.) His poetry is of these places—what he defines as "The dead solid center of the universe / At the heart of the heart of America.” What moves me most about his distinguished, arousing, alert-making work, is how right it always is in what it does and doesn’t say, how economical, how wise, how accurate in emotion. It’s devastating, and exhilarating.
New York Magazine just posted a Kleinzahler vs. Herrera smackdown on their Culture Vulture blog. Both poets won the NBCC Award for Poetry this year in an unprecedented tie---August for Sleeping It Off in Rapid City. We're a little biased around here, but invite you to share your thoughts on this blog or NY Mag's site. (*Note: We would also like to rebuke the claim that August is grumpy. He's one of the nicest writers we know. Hope we're not ruining your rep by saying this, August.)
To hear August read, check out our audio files.
photo (c) David Liittschwager
In a perfect world, we would have been able to post audio of August Kleinzahler's 'Goddess' as the final post for this National Poetry Month, with its fabulous final line, "Unvisited I do not live, I endure."
But you know, in thinking about it, I have to say I've decided it would have been a bit melodramatic and probably something that the poets themselves would have eschewed. So instead we end, rather pleasantly, with Kleinzahler reading his poem 'Noir.' (Which I like to think of as a little love letter to certain nights in San Francisco.)
Thanks so much for reading this month, and I hope to see all of you here again next year!
You can download 'Noir' here, or stream it in the player below.
I never thought that a single word could break my heart, but here we are: Kleinzahler has done it in this deceptively simple poem. This poem, Portrait of My Mother in January, is also from his new collection, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City.
You can download the audio here, or listen to it in the player below.
I thought it would be perfect to close out the month with the voice of August Kleinzahler, who has a new collection out from FSG this month, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City. Maureen McLane wrote a fabulous three-piece consideration of the book earlier this month, that is an excellent introduction to the sounds of Kleinzahler's poetry, but honestly, there's nothing as good as listening to him read it aloud.
This first poem, Almost Nothing, has a epigraph: "In memoriam: Gordon Ashworth, architect." I'm afraid I couldn't find any info for you via my good friend Google, but perhaps someone has more information to post in the comments? Regardless, I feel confident ending the month with such strong verse (and we'll have two more from August later today). You can download the poem here, or listen in the player below.
Mr. Kleinzahler is an American eccentric, a hard man to pin down. Born in New Jersey, he writes poems that have a pushy exuberance and an expert recall of that state’s tougher schoolyards — of bullies with names like Stinky Phil and of “fire trucks and galoshes,/the taste of pencils and Louis Bocca’s ear.” And he writes with elegiac insight about life’s losers, the people he calls “strange rangers,” the addicted, insane or destitute.
We'll have two recorded poems from him to close out the month.
And here, for your Monday morning, is the last section Maureen McLane's essay on August Kleinzahler's new selected poetry collection, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City. (You can find more information about Maureen McLane here--her poetry collection Same Life will be released by FSG in September.) Part 1 can be found here, and part 2 here.
I am going to want to sit with his stunning title poem for a long while. I don’t think I’ve read a more vertiginous, powerful take on US myth-history in a long while. “Sleeping It Off in Rapid City”: this is some world-historical hangover! AK plunks us down in “the exact dead center of America,” and diagnoses (or gives an autopsy of) the current condition of “the dead solid center of the universe/At the heart of the heart of America.” Even to put it this way abuses the poem, since AK doesn’t write poems announcing their “about-ness” (“here is my poem about the state of the nation; here is my poem about X, about Y): but with its layering of and cutting between geologic time, Oglala myth, General Custer’s writings, Mt Rushmore, Kevin Costner, historical monuments, stripmall culture, the “heritage” industry, and the question of what might be “sanctified ground/Here, yes, here,” this poem sounds out a ramifying homage to and critique of what he satirically, but not only satirically (as I hear it), calls “this great land.” “God bless America/We’re right on top of it, baby…on a great slab of Mesozoic rock.”
I could go on and on, but one art these poems embody is the art of knowing when to stop.
And now, part two of Maureen McLane's post about August Kleinzahler's new book of selected poems, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (part 1 can be found here and the final section will arrive later today):
Precisely naming. A “sense of where you are” is what Bill Bradley had on the basketball court, according to John McPhee, and that’s what these poems paradoxically offer—paradoxically, because many of these poems seem to distill themselves out of apparent dislocation, a condition which seems to be one true “home” for the Kleinzahlerian adventurer. He puts us in transit—on airplanes; in Vancouver, the Coney Island boardwalk, Cork (Ireland), and what seems to be Amsterdam; cinematically zooming down on couples in a plaza in one city, a hotel in another; elsewhere taking us through the postmodern “no-places” that seem to constitute the spaces and strange hours of certain western travelers.
Dear God, do I love the poetry of August Kleinzahler. So I was thrilled when Maureen McLane (author of the upcoming FSG collection Same Life) offered to write a post about his new book of selected poems, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City. I've separated it into three chunks for you, so be sure to come back for all of them. Here's the first:
Funky tunings! Lots of gongs! Thanks to iTunes and August Kleinzahler, I am sitting here listening to ethnomusicologist Colin McPhee’s transcriptions for two pianos of the Balinese Gamelan, played by McPhee and Benjamin Britten. Here are some of the first auditory-consumer fruits of reading August’s “Sleeping It Off in Rapid City,” one of whose poems. “A History of
WesternMusic: Chapter 49,” draws on excerpts from McPhee’s memoir, “A House in Bali.”
AK has “big ears” and there’s enormous sonic vroom but also delicacy here—“Chopin floats; Schubert, as well./What is it exactly?” The nervy, fascinatingly inventive music of the new poems in this new-and-selected volume take off from some previously established motifs: the “History of
WesternMusic” series, installments of which appeared in his last book, “The Strange Hours Travelers Keep,” are wonderfully, episodically continued here (and torqued to non-Western musics in the case of the gamelan). There’s a lot of talk out there, for those who like poetry-talk, about poetry and/or information, and what’s amazing to me is how this poet processes the most apparently diverse data-bits into propelled, simultaneously attitudinal and elegant poems. AK’s poems land somewhere between a blow and a caress. It’s been argued that when you read a poem you meet a person, and not in some dopey “confessional poetry” way; whatever is going into these poems, the peculiar, distinctive neurological dance we might call “voice” is always signaling here a governing, wily, sensitive intelligence. I don’t know how AK manages to get a “9-cyclohetadecenone-addled marionette/Mewing” in a poem “(Secondary Sexual Characteristics”), but he does. Nothing—and certainly no register of style or diction—is alien to him. Let’s pivot from “Kill me, fuck me, write me bad checks” to “Hold on, the jacaranda’s gone missing” to “Downstairs, Sol, of Sol’s Paradise Club,/mixes a fizz drink for a mummy blonde./--Thanks, Sol.” And on to “You’d figure the hawk for an isolate thing,/commanding the empyrean.” There’s a lot of rain in this book, as well as clouds, airplanes, music, drinks, love, wiseguys, motorcycles, birds, jets, and precisely named chemicals and geologic strata.
I have big plans this weekend, readers, big plans. Since I spent the last Friday and Saturday night completely incapacitated with a nasty allergy, I have a lot of catching up to do with friends (including a Sunday reading at the KGB Bar by friend of the blog Bud Parr), I still haven't been to the new bistro that opened up in my neighborhood, and I understand there's a new episode of 30 Rock just waiting for me on a friend's Tivo.
In case you are similarly inspired, this weekend or beyond, to be out and about in the world, here's a few of the more exciting poetry events coming your way in the next few weeks.
And as always, if you know of a cool event that you don't see listed below, please feel free to leave it in the comments below or email it to me.
1) Henri Cole schooled us on exactly how Elizabeth Bishop should be read.
He wasn't the only one to offer audio of a Bishop poem--be sure to also check out Thom Gunn's reading of Varick Street and Robert Pinsky reading At the Fishhouses.
2) Seamus Heaney read poetry by Ted Hughes.
Trying to put this into context for one of my friends, I was actually heard to say 'This is like getting to hear The Rolling Stones covering James Brown.' (I'll trust that everyone here knows what I meant.)
3) Associate publisher of FSG Linda Rosenberg weighed in on two of my favorite poets: Thom Gunn and August Kleinzahler. Her words on re-issuing The Man With The Night Sweats:
...it's our hope that our volumes—most with new introductions by poets of today—will make it easier for new readers and old to find their way into these extraordinary books. Due to the unique power of the form, most of these works seem to acquire an even greater resonance as time passes. It may just be that the impact of deeply felt, finely wrought language is even more intense in a less literate age.
4) Frederick Seidel in what looks like a most enjoyable night on the town.
The reading of 'The Owl You Heard' isn't too shabby, but the thought of running into Seidel in a photo booth is what makes me smile.
5) The first-ever FSG vs Knopf literary smackdown
Quickmuse.com came to town to pit Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Muldoon against Knopf's Brad Leithauser in a spur of the moment poem-composing competition. Debut poet Eliza Griswold opened the event.
After the jump, one more bonus moment!
The second of our three poets this month to buy Wright stock, as it were, is August Kleinzahler, who breaks the fourth wall slightly in his intro by mentioning that he's pleased to be reading Wright's 'Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio' in the fall. (Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!)
But hey--in New York City, at least, it's cold enough to be autumn. And I'm certain Kalamazoo, MI, where I'm headed for the weekend, is going to be at least as cold. So we'll call it square, and everyone can enjoy the poem in the perfect temperature, if not the perfect month.
You'll be able to find text for this one again over at Counterbalance, who is making me blush with all the nice things she has to say about the blog, and who is not such a slump in the poetry-enjoying department herself.
Those unfamiliar with Gunn might want to check out these two posts from earlier in the month. The recordings I have are of Gunn reading at FSG's 50th Anniversary celebration in 1996, a few years before he passed away, and my biggest disappointment (in ALL of poetry month) is that I couldn't include on this blog a fourth poem he read that night, which contained some rather delightful--to put it mildly--off-color language and adult situations.
Regardless, I can't think of a better way to get a sense what kind of a person Gunn was than to listen to (or download) this introduction by Kleinzahler. I think we all hope someone will say such nice things about us after our leaving. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that FSG has just re-released Gunn's collection The Man with the Night Sweats with a new introduction by Kleinzahler. (You can buy it online.)
Now, as you probably know, one of the main ideas behind this poetry month blog and all the audio I've been posting is that, as James McMichael said, "poetry is an aural medium," one that benefits from a good listen. But poetry is also something of a visual art--there's a beauty to the way it is laid on the page (more on this later today) and something soothing about reading a poem in your favoite book, even if you've read it a thousand times before.
And because of that, I'm teaming up today with Callie's poetry month initative over at her blog, Counterbalance. She's been posting favorite poems all month, some her own and some suggested by readers. I was happy to suggest this one, and for the text of this poem, I hope you'll visit her site here.
As Kleinzahler explains in his introduction to 'Green Sees Things in Waves,' the subject of this poem comes from his time spent working with homeless veterans, and I delight a bit in the idea of how stunned these guys must have been when, instead of getting a tightly laced poetry teacher in a suit and tie, they got a teacher who looked like he knew his way around the parts of San Francisco they'd been hanging out in and didn't even mind some swearing in their poetry.
"August Kleinzahler, in addition to being a poet, is the author of Cutty One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained, a series of autobiographical essays. A huge fan of these pieces, particularly 'The Bus,' a bitingly funny and self-deprecating narrative of a bus ride along a seedy stretch of San Diego highway, I was thrilled when I was assigned to work with August last year. Through our ensuing correspondence, we learned that he lives roughly three blocks from my parents' house in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. What's more, he moved there from New York in 1981, the year I was born. During a visit home last summer I arranged to meet August on a Saturday morning at the Reverie café in Cole Valley, haunt of local writers and bloggers.
I recognized August the moment he walked in the door, not just from his author photo, but from an air of scrappy, bemused outsiderhood unmistakable from his writing. In oversized Gucci sunglasses and a large dark trenchcoat, he looked like he could have walked straight off the set of a hardboiled 1940's detective film. We sat by the window with our coffees, and I broached the ostensible subject of our meeting: publicity for his book, his next project, and his busy reading and lecture schedule. He had just finished a teaching stint at the University of Texas's Michener Center, and seemed glad to escape the heat. With a lingering sense of awe at his good fortune, August recounted his first meeting with Jonathan Galassi, who had learned of his poetry from a friend by chance. He also described a trip he was planning to take to Rapid City and the 'Badlands' of South Dakota. He was writing the titular poem of his forthcoming collection, Sleeping It Off In Rapid City, but had never actually been there. I'm not sure which came first: the poem or the idea for the trip, but I think it was the poem. After a little less than an hour of this, August excused himself: he was driving to Sacramento (a three-hour car ride, factoring in East Bay traffic) to visit 'an old dame' whose birthday it was, and whom he visits every year on her birthday. As a parting gift, he recommended his favorite walk for my next visit to San Francisco: a meandering climb through the eucalyptus-covered hills of Twin Peaks. To this day, whenever I see a new note in my inbox from August, I think of him roaming up there, phrases aligning themselves in his brain.
I received my latest message from August on a recent cold March morning. After asking me to send his author photo to the director of a Polish book festival, he concluded in typical fashion: 'It's been almost sultry here in the Haight. Eat your heart out.'"
More from Associate Publisher Linda Rosenberg, this time with commentary about August Kleinzahler new introduction to Thom Gunn's The Man With The Night Sweats (and, as a reminder, we had two recordings by Thom Gunn posted on the blog earlier this month, and stay tuned, because August Kleinzahler will be coming on later this week to regale us with his tales of hanging out with Thom Gunn in San Francisco):
"August Kleinzahler's long friendship with Thom Gunn, perhaps made easier by each man’s adoption of San Francisco as his home city, surely enhanced his understanding and respect for the rigor and integrity of Gunn’s best work. In his introduction to The Man With Night Sweats, Kleinzahler considers both the poet and the man—as well as the 1980s, the terrible decade of which Gunn wrote. In Kleinzahler’s words:
“[A] central component of his mature poetry is its voice, which is highly unusual for a poet writing in the second half of the twentieth century. Gunn early on came under the influence of the Elizabethan poets Shakespeare, Donne, and Jonson, in which there’s no identifiable personality to the ‘I,’ the voice in the poetry. Even in the most intimate poems, the voice is detached, impersonal. On top of this, Gunn favors what is called the plain style, a taste he picked up from one of his mentors, Yvor Winters. One its chief exemplars is Ben Jonson, a poet Gunn valued very highly and, to an extent, modeled his own work on. The plain style is just that: clear in diction and movement, devoid of rhetoric and poetic figures, inclining toward the way people speak without sounding colloquial. Gunn’s fascination with the city as a backdrop for character and event, along with his anachronistically distanced, rather neutral voice, turned out to be the perfect mix for his poetic witnessing of the plague he was soon to find himself in the midst of.”
Like the FSG poetry blog itself, the aim of our reissue program is to provide an easy entryway into this special world inhabited by some of the most extraordinary poets of the last 60 years…. From John Berryman to James Schuyler, from Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and beyond, it's our hope that our volumes—most with new introductions by poets of today—will make it easier for new readers and old to find their way into these extraordinary books. Due to the unique power of the form, most of these works seem to acquire an even greater resonance as time passes. It may just be that the impact of deeply felt, finely wrought language is even more intense in a less literate age."
This is a bit embarrassing to mention, but the poet Thom Gunn (1929-2004) is a relatively new discovery of mine. When I embarked on this poetry recording project, back in October, I had read only a few of his poems. Luckily for me, August Kleinzahler volunteered to be one of the first poets to come into the studio, and in addition to his own poem, he chose to read a work by Gunn--a tense and evocative piece titled 'Moly.' I was smitten.
I've been devouring Gunn's work since then, and I feel very lucky to have found in the FSG vault (buried between Tom Wolfe's old white suits and an unpublished Jonathan Franzen novel) a recording of Gunn reading at our 50th Anniversary party, back in 1996. I'm going to split it into two posts for you. This first is Gunn reading his own poem 'Night Taxi,' where the title of this post can be found.