Archive for the ‘Prose’ Category

Poets Off Poetry
March 30, 2008


 This Recording

Thanks to Jackie Clark for inviting me to participate in the ten part Poets Off Poetry series.

My contribution, “Fed You From The Blood of My Nose: A Medley Melodic,” appears under the heading, “In Which Nearly Every Human Knows This Desire.”

Lots of links to music you might enjoy, and I hope you do …


p.s. Ana B. had an interesting dream, and Seth A. has an interesting take …


  1. Jim K. Says:
    March 7th, 2008 at 11:45 am eSome great links,
    but a lot are broken
    (from that pub).
  2. Amy King Says:
    March 7th, 2008 at 10:00 pm eA few were fixed — I hope not too many broken remain.

    That’s a poem, no?

    Thanks for visiting the site, Jim!


  3. Jim K. Says:
    March 7th, 2008 at 11:20 pm eSometimes
    the load makes
    the site drop links.

    Not intentionally poetic.

    At philosophy forums,
    handyman sites,
    and radio reviews,
    I am accused of
    poetry due to my

    Now you.
    I give up ;-)

  4. Jim K. Says:
    March 7th, 2008 at 11:21 pm egood bonnie!
  5. Amy King Says:
    March 8th, 2008 at 6:39 pm eFunny how line breaks can make music!

Small Presses and Big Politics
March 29, 2008


1. Go on and support Small Press Distribution if you have money to spare. My most recent is available now.

2. One speculative equation regarding “How Clinton Won“:

“Hillary Clinton won last night by putting together the voting coalition that has held Democratic frontrunners in good stead for 75 years. Take a look at these numbers – all of which come from CNN’s cross-tabulated exit polls. What you’ll see is that Hillary Clinton won many elements of the traditional FDR coalition.”

Click on RealClearPolitics for the numbers.

“Obama, on the other hand, had a very different electorate – one that has a bit in common with the insurgent candidacies of Gary Hart and Bill Bradley.”

Click on RealClearPolitics for that equation too.

3. From Judith Warner’s OpEd at The New York Times:

Could she “relate” to Clinton? Was she likely to find a “friend” in a woman with a camera-ready helmet of hair? Could she learn from Hillary? Could they share beauty tips? Would her gesture toward female bonding be well-received and perhaps met with the kind of positive mirroring of which Best Friendships Forever are made? …

It’s all about how you make voters feel.

Feeling – not thinking – becomes all-important when you have a field of candidates who aren’t really all that different from one another politically…

–Judith Warner, “Emotion Without Thought in New Hampshire

4. Reminds me of my current bedside reading, THE POLITICAL BRAIN, by Drew Westen:

“In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins. Elections are decided in the marketplace of emotions, a marketplace filled with values, images, analogies, moral sentiments, and moving oratory, in which logic plays only a supporting role. Westen shows, through a whistle-stop journey through the evolution of the passionate brain and a bravura tour through fifty years of American presidential and national elections, why campaigns succeed and fail. The evidence is overwhelming that three things determine how people vote, in this order: their feelings toward the parties and their principles, their feelings toward the candidates, and, if they haven’t decided by then, their feelings toward the candidates’ policy positions.

Westen turns conventional political analyses on their head, suggesting that the question for Democratic politics isn’t so much about moving to the right or the left but about moving the electorate.”



2 Responses to “Small Presses and Big Politics”

  1. T Says:
    January 12th, 2008 at 12:03 am enice little rundown. still can’t get worked up over this election yet though
  2. Jim K. Says:
    January 13th, 2008 at 1:12 am eA factor doesn’t do much unless a lack
    of it was a special problem. Either happy
    or sad would have cracked it. Too logical
    and you are “inhuman”. Too emotional
    and you are “weak”. There is some magical
    ideal nobody knows until it’s stepped on.
    Pundits overdramatize. It’s their job to
    push buttons. The news that the choices
    weren’t disgusting is no news.

“Why Poetry?”
March 28, 2008


An excerpt from James Baldwin’s essay, “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” (1979):

People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances, or in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate. …

What joins all languages, and all men, is the necessity to confront life, in order, not inconceivably, to outwit death: The price for this is the acceptance, and achievement, of one’s temporal identity. So that, for example, thought it is not taught in the schools (and this has the potential of becoming a political issue) the south of France still clings to its ancient and musical Proven�al, which resists being described as a “dialect.” And much of the tension in the Basque countries, and in Wales, is due to the Basque and Welsh determination not to allow their languages to be destroyed. This determination also feeds the flames in Ireland for many indignities the Irish have been forced to undergo at English hands is the English contempt for their language.

It goes without saying, then, that language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identify: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity. There have been, and are, times, and places, when to speak a certain language could be dangerous, even fatal. Or, one may speak the same language, but in such a way that one’s antecedents are revealed, or (one hopes) hidden.

–from James Baldwin’s “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” (1979).



An excerpt from Paule Marshall’s essay, “The Making of a Writer: From the Poets in the Kitchen” (1983):

‘’If you say what’s on your mind in the language that comes to you from your parents and your street and friends you’ll probably say something beautiful.’’ Grace Paley tells this, she says, to her students at the beginning of every writing course. …

I grew up among poets. Now they didn’t look like poets – whatever that breed is supposed to look like. Nothing about them suggested that poetry was their calling. They were just a group of ordinary housewives and mothers, my mother included, who dressed in a way (shapeless housedresses, dowdy felt hats and long, dark, solemn coats) that made it impossible for me to imagine they had ever been young. …

Later, armed with the few dollars they had earned, which in their vocabulary became ‘’a few raw-mouth pennies,’’ they made their way back to our neighborhood, where they would sometimes stop off to have a cup of tea or cocoa together before going home to cook dinner for their husbands and children. …

The basement kitchen of the brownstone house where my family lived was the usual gathering place. Once inside the warm safety of its walls the women threw off the drab coats and hats, seated themselves at the large center table, drank their cups of tea or cocoa, and talked. While my sister and I sat at a smaller table over in a corner doing our homework, they talked – endlessly, passionately, poetically, and with impressive range. No subject was beyond them.

True, they would indulge in the usual gossip: whose husband was running with whom, whose daughter looked slightly ‘’in the way’’ (pregnant) under her bridal gown as she walked down the aisle. That sort of thing. But they also tackled the great issues of the time. They were always, for example, discussing the state of the economy. It was the mid and late 30’s then, and the aftershock of the Depression, with its soup lines and suicides on Wall Street, was still being felt.

Some people, they declared, didn’t know how to deal with adversity. They didn’t know that you had to ‘’tie up your belly’’ (hold in the pain, that is) when things got rough and go on with life. They took their image from the bellyband that is tied around the stomach of a newborn baby to keep the navel pressed in.

They talked politics. Roosevelt was their hero. He had come along and rescued the country with relief and jobs, and in gratitude they christened their sons Franklin and Delano and hoped they would live up to the names. …

THERE was no way for me to understand it at the time, but the talk that filled the kitchen those afternoons was highly functional. It served as therapy, the cheapest kind available to my mother and her friends. Not only did it help them recover from the long wait on the corner that morning and the bargaining over their labor, it restored them to a sense of themselves and reaffirmed their self-worth. Through language they were able to overcome the humiliations of the work-day. …

But more than therapy, that freewheeling, wide-ranging, exuberant talk functioned as an outlet for the tremendous creative energy they possessed. They were women in whom the need for self-expression was strong, and since language was the only vehicle readily available to them they made of it an art form that – in keeping with the African tradition in which art and life are one – was an integral part of their lives.

And their talk was a refuge. They never really ceased being baffled and overwhelmed by America – its vastness, complexity and power. Its strange customs and laws. At a level beyond words they remained fearful and in awe. Their uneasiness and fear were even reflected in their attitude toward the children they had given birth to in this country. They referred to those like myself, the little Brooklynborn Bajans (Barbadians), as ‘’these New York children’’ and complained that they couldn’t discipline us properly because of the laws here. ‘’You can’t beat these children as you would like, you know, because the authorities in this place will dash you in jail for them. After all, these is New York children.’’ Not only were we different, American, we had, as they saw it, escaped their ultimate authority.

Confronted therefore by a world they could not encompass, which even limited their rights as parents, and at the same time finding themselves permanently separated from the world they had known, they took refuge in language. ‘’Language is the only homeland,’’ Czeslaw Milosz, the emigre Polish writer and Nobel Laureate, has said. This is what it became for the women at the kitchen table.

It served another purpose also, I suspect. My mother and her friends were after all the female counterpart of Ralph Ellison’s invisible man. Indeed, you might say they suffered a triple invisibility, being black, female and foreigners. They really didn’t count in American society except as a source of cheap labor. But given the kind of women they were, they couldn’t tolerate the fact of their invisibility, their powerlessness. And they fought back, using the only weapon at their command: the spoken word.

Those late afternoon conversations on a wide range of topics were a way for them to feel they exercised some measure of control over their lives and the events that shaped them. ‘’Soully-gal, talk yuh talk!’’ they were always exhorting each other. ‘’In this man world you got to take yuh mouth and make a gun!’’ They were in control, if only verbally and if only for the two hours or so that they remained in our house.

–from Paule Marshall’s essay, “The Making of a Writer: From the Poets in the Kitchen” (1983).


3 Responses to ““Why Poetry?””

  1. Jim K. Says:
    August 27th, 2007 at 1:15 am eA couple brilliant essays.
  2. Sara Says:
    September 3rd, 2007 at 1:11 am eHey Amy,

    ‘One of the best posts around, with something actually important to say — how refreshing when so many poets’ blogs, including mine, have really been diluted down to a kind-of just-to-stay-networked “game-ery,” ‘you know? You chose some brilliant essays that together are even greater than the sum of their parts. So per usual, Bravo!

    ‘Hope all is well,


  3. Amy King Says:
    September 4th, 2007 at 3:32 pm eThank you both, Jim and Sara — I’m very glad you appreciated these. I love these essays and wish I had time to post from more …


The Transformation
March 27, 2008

An Absolute Must Have

I resist reviewing books as I think my view might narrow the reading/rendering for others. In fact, Juliana Spahr’s new book, THE TRANSFORMATION, relates to that notion of languages’ limitations, the ways languages have been limited & eliminated systematically, while she somehow simultaneously attempts to de-limit her own language throughout the book. Simply, this book takes very difficult, nearly monolithic themes/ideas/understandings we are aware of in the daily living but don’t imagine handling, putting them on paper, discussing and exploring them, getting a historic and projective handle on, as it were.

Poetry allows us to deftly touch these themes sometimes, fiction lets us narrate the specifics in storyboard format, and memoir gives us a way to try to name the ubiquities we inhabit separately together, in a smaller “true-to-my life” kind of way: but Spahr’s work here melds all three genres, opening her narrative/poetic options with a kind of weaving of three lives in nearly-nameless fashion, though the specifics could apply/be entered into/empathized with by most any breathing human. I’m only just reading THE TRANSFORMATION, but some overarching issues dealt with are relationships beyond the standard insular monogamous scope, the multiplicity of community, the nature of imperialism, geographical ‘belonging’, economic connections / constraints / concessions, etc. Nathan Austin has already done a preliminary analysis superior to my tiny enthusiasms here.

Anyway, the text is one of seeming ease in that Gertrude Stein way, but don’t be fooled into a quick read: the ideas are profound & complex; you’ll need time to process — I do after just a few pages each sitting. I read somewhere that writing this book took a good seven years or so, and the investment is apparent just a few pages in. I’m telling you, with a run of 1200 copies, you’ll do well to get one right away to spend some of your remaining summer months with. It’s an important book. But really, all of this rambling o’ mine is just a build up to an excerpt to whet your appetite for more of THE TRANSFORMATION (& keeping this short is going to be difficult because the connections, the rolling sentences are simply gorgeous):

They knew that the problem with the expansionist language was not just that it could be a cultural bomb. It was not just the expansionist language that was the problem. After all, culture happened even in the expansionist language. They themselves were fine with how the language they had learned from birth was the expansionist language even though they had no genealogical ties to the people who had felt that this language was their own. They had not wished that their lullabies were in another, truer language when they were a child. They had never felt that they could not love their mothers or each other enough because the various names by which they called their mothers and each other were in the expansionist language. And if they looked at the histories of any location they saw poems and songs thriving and surviving any change of language. The culture might change, the poems and songs might rhyme differently or form different patterns to better meet the sounds of language, but no matter what, any language was fully capable of expressing the special emotions that tended to come with having to negotiate an oppressive and foreign government on one’s own land, an intense anger towards those from afar combined with a love of those near, plus a love of the land and a love of the things on the land, a love say of how the kukui clustered in veinlike streams down the crevice of a ravine, a love heart-shaped velvety leaves that undulated from graceful stalks in a soft breeze, a love of the varieties of squeaks, whistles, rasping notes, and clicking sounds of teh ‘i’iwi. But they understood still how this did not mean that they wanted someone to come from afar and make them train their children in a language from afar so that their children would whisper in their lovers’ ears in a language that was the language of those from afar. They understood that no one wanted this. They knew that people felt cultural loss in different ways and for different reasons. And that their not feeling loss might have a lot to do with their feeling that most of their grandparents had chosen to move to this place where the expansionist language was spoken and then had chose to speak the language not because anyone made them with laws or with guns but because they wanted to, because they recognized the financial rewards of doing so, rewards that they themselves now reaped two generations later. And they also were concerned that with the loss of all the different sorts of languages, with the loss of the pidgins and the creoles, with the loss of the resistant languages, with the loss of the local languages that refused to travel or were not interested in travel came the loss of specific and unique and stunningly beautiful and meaningful local information. Not only were certain specific cultural traditions lost, but particular, deep, and specific information such as the many names of the winds or the characteristics of the over three hundred different varieties of kalo were lost. The expansionist language did not have the vocabulary that let it carry this information. There was no way that the expansionist language could carry all the local knowledge because the expansionist language was only able to be expansionist because it claimed to be universal, neutral, objective, because it did not name the winds so specifically.

–from THE TRANSFORMATION by Juliana Spahr (also available on Amazon)


I’d love to go on as so much of Sphar’s book resonates with my own current thinking, even as I walk through a Brooklyn neighborhood that is being transformed by a gentrification I am part of: expensive condo buildings going up across from projects, local Puerto Rican and Dominican restaurants being replaced by costly ‘fine dining’ experiences, grocery stores implementing pricier organic foods, the conflict of personal friendliness versus what each colored skin, my own included, represents, etc. I’ll spare you the various sentiments and interactions on the street, but suffice it to say, none is cut and dry, no matter what ’side’ you’re on or sympathize with; we’re in it together, however apart and divided we are. Apropos, one more from Spahr, “Yet despite this, they realized that when they wrote their poems, their essays, their software programs, even their grocery lists in the expansionist language, they immediately became not only a part of the expansionism by the accident of birth but they became willful agents of expansionism. When they wrote, the wrote as war machine … They wrote as colonial educational system. They wrote as the bulldozing of the land and the building of unnecessary roads. They wrote as the filling in of wetlands with imported sand to build beaches…” Just brilliant stuff to take in here. At 223 pages, $13.50 is not only a bargain, it’s a necessity.


2 Responses to “The Transformation”

  1. Bev Jackson Says:
    June 22nd, 2007 at 8:04 pm eWow, thanks for this! Goodreads has done me a nice favor introducing us!
    Your books are now on my to-read list, see? But look, there’s more!
    I’m very interested in this book–seems right up the alley of my self-inflicted education. Or at least, the next layer/level/step of it.

    I think I’ll link to your blog if that’s okay with you.


  2. Ron Starr Says:
    July 3rd, 2007 at 9:54 pm eWell, you sold me on it, too. Just ordered it.

How To Tell A Masterpiece
March 26, 2008


Not long ago while viewing the Société Anonyme: Modernism for America show at The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., Ron Padgett stood before a painting and said something favorable, which in turn prompted me to ask, “What makes this a good painting?” Now mind you, I was asking a man who has viewed thousands of paintings and whose hunger for the visual only seems to grow. Ron replied (or so I approximately recall), “I could point out all sorts of reasons, technical or aesthetic, that make this is a good painting, but to do so would just limit your experience. You just know a good painting when you see it, and no single aspect makes it so.” And I did just know, without trying to pinpoint exactly which combination of elements made it stand out from rest on that wall.

This conversation reminded me of one with another friend, noted a few posts ago, who, in an ongoing basis, tried to explain singularity to me. To poorly paraphrase one particular discussion (sorry again, Isa), Isabella ‘defined’ what makes a masterpiece: its singularity. Basically, the singularity of a literary work is something people recognize but can’t define (though critics may try) — and it’s what makes it last; people continue to recognize and return to it over time.

Anyway, these little stories are leading to an excerpt from Bruns’ book, but I was sidetracked checking out Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry today at a local bookstore. In an essay called, “The Question of Originality,” she asks, “A question, then, is how does a poet enfold into language the singularity that marks each living creature and object of the world and also those works of art we most admire?” Yes, how, dear public?

Later, Hirshfield quotes Picasso, from which I excerpt for the frivolity of it, “Nobody drew up a program of action, and though our friends the poets followed our efforts attentively, they never dictated to us. … The painter passes through states of fullness and emptying. That is the whole secret of art.”

But even better, her full Walt Whitman quote, “The greatest poet has less a marked style and is more the free channel of himself. He swears to his art, I will not be meddlesome, I will not have in my writing any elegance or effect or originality to hang in the way between me and the rest like curtains. I will have nothing hang in the way, not the richest curtains. What I tell I tell for precisely what it is.” Ha!

And now for la piece de resistance, one that resists the recipes, we encounter a kind of pointing at of singularity, including one revealing footnote, to wrap the above notes together, however loosely, direct from Gerald L. Bruns’ book, On the Anarchy of Poetry and Philosophy – A Guide for the Unruly:

“In Intimations of Postmodernity, the social theorist Zygmunt Bauman says that what postmodernists know is that we are all of us inhabitants of complex systems. A complex system, unlike logical, mechanical, or cybernetic systems, is temporal, not so much in time as made of it. This means that it is turbulent and unpredictable in its workings and effects (structured, as they say, like the weather). A complex system is not governed by factors of any statistical significance, which is why a single imperceptible event can produce massive changes in the system. It follows that a complex system cannot be described by laws, rules, paradigms, causal chains, deep structures, or even a five-foot shelf of canonical narratives. It is beneath the reach of universal norms and so it forces us to apply what Hans Blumenberg calls the principium rationiis insufficientis: the principle of insufficient reason–which is, however, not the absence of reason but rather, given the lack of self-evidence in a finite situation, a reliance on practical experience, discussion, improvisation, and the capacity for midstream corrections. In certain philosophical circles this is called ‘pragmatism’; in others, ‘ anarchism’ (meaning–the way I mean it in this book — not an embrace of chaos, but a search for alternatives to principles and rules [an-arche], on the belief that what matters is absolutely singular and irreducible to concepts, categories, and assigned models of behavior).” 8 [emphasis mine]

Footnote #8 — On singularity, see Gilles Deleuze, Logique du sens (Paris: Editions du Minuit, 1969), p. 67 (The Logique of Sense, trans. Constantin V. Boundas [New York: Columbia University Press, 1990], p. 52): “The singularity belongs to another dimension than that of denotation, manifestation, or signification. It is essentially pre-individual, non-personal, and a-conceptual. It is quite indifferent to the individual and the collective, the personal and the impersonal, the particular and the general–and to their oppositions. Singularity is neutral.” For a slightly different view, where the singular is not an isolate and is also a person, see Jean-Luc Nancy, Etre singulier pluriel (Paris: Editions Galilee, 1996), pp. 1 – 131 (Being Singular Plural [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000], pp. 1 – 100). The notion of the singular can be traced to Emmanuel Levinas’s conception of ethical alterity, where the other is irreducible to the same, that is, refractory to categories. …


4 Responses to “How To Tell A Masterpiece”

  1. derek Says:
    April 5th, 2007 at 10:39 am eseems a lot of poems (maybe paintings too) are organic, & isolating a certain aspect that illuminates the quality may irrevocably diminish one’s appreciation of the work. or something. i think so anyway.
  2. Jim K. Says:
    April 5th, 2007 at 7:19 pm eMany things [early] post-modern tend to demonstrate the inability of
    static modernist analysis to really model or predict what’s going on.
    But there is a late post-modernism, built on the intense
    (if difficult to completely grasp) theory of Deleuze. Manuel Delanda
    bases most of his stuff on Deleuze, and is my best bet for a way forward
    to a constructive post-modernism. The patterns in the semi-chaos,
    the meshworks instead of old stratification, intensive processes causing
    the articulation of instances, here and now. I’ve enjoyed working with
    that a lot in art. Now…how that might might play out in poetry..
    ..that I haven’t figured out yet.
    But one common theme in constructively moving from modern to post-modern:
    static needs to be replaced by dynamic imagination, and simplified surroundings
    need to be replaced by thinking of everything moving together with everything
    else….an ‘environmental’ view, in the much broader sense of environmental.
    Relationships as environmental, etc.. Things as verb-based, not noun-based:
    properties that are not static. Semi-random writing might be an analog of one
    intensive method: jumping from perspective to perspective, even while those
    perspectives are reacting to each other and changing. Not sure..
  3. Sam Rasnake Says:
    April 5th, 2007 at 8:52 pm eNine Gates is one of the most impacting studies that I’ve read. Very helpful. I like this Hirshfield quote from “Poetry and the Mind of Indirection”: “Art, by its very existence, undoes the idea that there can be only one description of the real, some single and simple truth on whose surface we may thoughtlessly walk. The intelligence that simmers in stories, paintings, and poems warns us: if the mind of art cannot entirely be trusted, nor can the ground.”

    Thanks for the post Amy.

  4. Robert Says:
    April 9th, 2007 at 5:24 am e“irreducible to concepts, categories, and assigned models of behavior” – one of the better distinctions between prose and poetry I’ve heard in awhile.