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12 August 2009 @ 04:46 pm
Crush, Richard Siken

I've decided books of poetry count.

I came to this decision mainly because this, uh, volume read more like an epic saga than poetry. There's a halfway house between modern poetry and modern literachure, and I feel Siken perhaps should have sought it out. (You know, the Thomas Pynchon V. Arundhati Roy Sanctuary of Flashbacking and Non-Linear Storytelling.) I ... don't feel any of these poems work too well as stand-alones, and they're all very much focused on the driving force of their existence - namely, Siken's relationship with the dude what died. I'm no expert on poetry - I'm no expert on anything, but the poetry I consider true, undiluted poetry is about the colours words can paint in your mind. One of my favourite ee cummings poems has this stanza:

how behind the doomed
exact smile of life's
placid obscure palpable
carnival where to a normal
melody of probable violins dance
the square virtues and the oblong sins

Like, what the fuck is that?! I don't know! And I don't care. Poetry is not quite music, it's not lyrics; poetry can make music all on its own. And while it can tell a story, it doesn't have to; I think that's where a lot of people go wrong. Poetry doesn't have to make sense, it just has to make.

My favourite poems were Primer for the Small Weird Loves and Saying Your Names. They made me choke up a little, because he really managed to convey a frantic sort of life-grief in both. I also had favourite lines in the other poems:

Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we'll never get used to it.

(He likes wacky formatting, which is annoying because it conveys nothing extra. The only time I've seen it done well is in Ralph Fletcher's The Faithful Elephants. I didn't bother trying to reproduce it.)

We pull our boots on with both hands
but we can't punch ourselves awake and all I can do
is stand on the curb and say
about the blood in your mouth. I wish it was mine.

A man takes his sadness and throws it away
but then he's still left with his hands.

But angels are pouring out of the farmland, angels are swarming
over the grassland.
Angels rising from their little dens, arms swinging, wings aflutter,
dropping their white-hot bombs of love.

That was definitely a heart-hurty moment for me, there.

You're in a car with a beautiful boy,
and you're trying not to tell him that you love him, and you're trying to
choke down the feeling, and you're trembling, but he reaches over and
he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your
heart taking root in your body, like you've discovered something you
don't even have a name for.

Dude is fixated on hands - there is hand metaphors all over the shop - and there's a few too many of the Meaningful Non-Sequiturs (example: That means it's noon. That means we're inconsolable.) That said, I liked it. I'm used to reading poetry in anthologies, with the best of one poet's work scraped up and presented all nicely. I will follow Siken's career with interest.

Helen and Mik, if you read this - and anyone else too - tell me what 'words burned' for you? I thought it was so interesting that Helen and I could look at the same poem and get something completely different, or nothing at all, out of it.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2009:
He Knew He Was Right, Anthony Trollope |The Bostonians, Henry James | For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway | For Esme - with Love and Squalor, JD Salinger | The Outsider, Albert Camus | The Princess Diaries: Ten out of Ten, Meg Cabot | The Vicar of Bullhampton, Anthony Trollope | Molesworth, Geoffrey Willans | Villette, Charlotte Bronte | The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James | The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler | Cecilia, Fanny Burney | The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger | The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark | Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut | Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann | Siddhartha, Herman Hesse | The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga | The Duke and I, Julia Quinn | Brave New World, Aldous Huxley | North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell | Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee | Catch-22, Joseph Heller | Bright Shiny Morning, James Frey | Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck | The Demon's Lexicon, Sarah Rees Brennan | The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton | jPod, Douglas Coupland | 'Are these my basoomas I see before me?', Louise Rennison | Faro's Daughter, Georgette Heyer | Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman | The Accidental Sorcerer, K.E. Mills | Ethan of Athos, Lois McMaster Bujold | V., Thomas Pynchon | The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway | The Dragon Keeper, Robin Hobb | Orlando, Virginia Woolf | The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath | Snuff, Chuck Palahniuk
real men love discotakkatakkatakka on August 12th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
The "I just don't want to die anymore" final line of Saying Your Names tore me up a little. Siken is my favourite poet - I confess I was ridiculously happy when you didn't tear him to pieces. I need to get that book, the only poems of his I've read have been on the internet. Although I agree, his formatting is gratuitously messy.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: disco ballscoradh on August 12th, 2009 04:19 pm (UTC)
Me and Helen picked up a copy each in Foyle's of London - you're English, non? At the very least you could call them to order a copy. (I'd send you mine but I actually want to keep it, lol.)

Nah, the thing with poetry is I don't read much of it - just a long accumulation of years of finding it in schoolbooks etc. So I can tell when it's really good and when it's really bad, but no gradations in between. Like I said, at the end of Siken's career I reckon he will have a shining volume of his best work, a bit like a band's Greatest Hits. Not all of these poems were greatest hits, but - the words burned. That's what counts!

real men love discotakkatakkatakka on August 12th, 2009 04:25 pm (UTC)
Yes, I am inexcusably English. I'll have to find a way to get my hands on it. I read poetry more than I read stories, at least recently. But it's mostly because I lack commitment to novels. Have you ever read any Derrick Brown? He's a good in-between for prose and poetry, and he misses the mark pretty often, but when he gets words right, he's brilliant.

every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: realityscoradh on August 12th, 2009 04:55 pm (UTC)
lol 'inexcusably English'. No, I haven't, but I'll be sure to check him out! And any other poets you have to recommend. Poetry sections are equal parts frustrating and intimidating - frustrating because I don't want any more John Bejetman/Emily Dickinson/Carol Ann Duffy, and intimidating because I don't know who else to look for. Plus, ten euro for a fifty page book always seems a leeeeetle bit of a ripoff. ANYWAY, REC RECS?

I am greatly entertained! Mainly because I use the phrase 'you go, Glen Coco' A LOT.
real men love discotakkatakkatakka on August 12th, 2009 05:09 pm (UTC)
oh wow, recs. off the top of my head -

Well, I adore Bukowski, although I can imagine you absolutely hating him. The best anthology of his I've read is What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire. A lot of it is rambly crap, but every so often there's a line that really, really works. But he is/was a chauvanistic asshole. Just to warn you.

And, yes, Derrick Brown, I liked Born in The Year of The Butterfly Knife and Scandalabra. And he has a bunch of readings on youtube, too;

Neruda's good, but I don't know, maybe too classical for what you're looking for? And Yeats. Yeats is the only ~old poet I've ever found interesting.

Francesca Lia Block is very very pretty, particularly Psyche in a Dress, which is half poetry half prose. Her prose is basically poetry though. Echo is also lovely by her, although has essentially the exact same storyline as Psyche, from what I remember.

Melissa Culbertson - I haven't read a lot of her stuff, but I like what I have seen. http://community.livejournal.com/we_are_cities/224915.html

Oh god, and Bob Hicok. This was the first poem I ever read that made me think, wow, I need to get into poetry. http://www.pa56.org/ross/hicok.htm

http://words-of-wisdom.livejournal.com/ is a good place for finding poetry, always. I follow it religiously.

/obnoxiously long rec list.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: halowrites: grey flowersscoradh on August 12th, 2009 09:43 pm (UTC)
YOUR RECS ARE AWESOME AND YOU SHOULD FEEL AWESOME. :DDD I am so taking all these down for future reference. Never shall I fear the poetry section again!

Is Bukowski a friend of ... DUM DUM DUM ... Jack Kerouac? I will try him for the sake of the words, but...

Here I have
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back
to rest my cheek against


Is it wrong to say, 'Oh, yummy' in response to that? Probably not, I'm guessing, but that was my gut instinct.

Thank you so much! ♥
real men love discotakkatakkatakka on August 12th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
As far as I know, Bukowski hated pretty much all other writers around. I think I especially remember him writing a not very nice poem about Truman Capote, and in general his stuff is littered with nasty things about other writers / his fans / his girlfriends / the world. Most memorably;

The world is full of
constipated writers.
and eager readers who need plenty of new
It's depressing.

From a poem (oh so accurately) called, "The Proffesionals."

So I don't know, I guess he could, but the chances of him liking Kerouac are fairly slim. Don't quote me on that, though.

No, it isn't wrong to say yummy! That entire poem just leaves me breathless. I just love the double meaning as the two lines roll together;

perhaps in the nook

of a cousin universe I've never defiled or betrayed
anyone. Here I have

and the Bronx where people talk
like violets smell.

it was a pleasure to rec them. more people need to read poetry. :)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Eddie Izzard: herbsscoradh on August 12th, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)
That's okay then! I am automatically on the side of someone who would hate Kerouac. :D I can also understand hating everyone in the world, kind of.

Also that stanza can so apply to fandom. So very, very easily. :D:

So much reminds me of Pratchett! It's actually pathological ... what does yellow taste like?

Agreed. My brother said it was boring and he didn't get it and I was actually shocked. While I get befuzzled in the search for it, I can't imagine a life without it.
real men love discotakkatakkatakka on August 12th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
I actually quite liked some of the non-sexist parts of On The Road.

I agree with the fandom thing, hahaha. Oh, lj.

I read Snow and Dirty Rain by (Richard Siken - I'm not sure if it's in Crush. it's his best poem. I think. http://unicornology.tumblr.com/post/52358737/snow-and-dirty-rain-by-richard-siken) to my friend and she just looked at me and said, "Yeah, so?"

I don't understand how someone could not get that.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Fooish hugging conversescoradh on August 13th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)

Yes, that is in his anthology. I recognise the sugar cube lines. :D CLEARLY YOU MUST BUY IT.

I mean, that's not my favourite poem in the book, but -

We were in the gold room where everyone
finally gets what they want, so I said What do you
want, sweetheart? and you said Kiss me.

real men love discotakkatakkatakka on August 12th, 2009 09:59 pm (UTC)
oh, and I've never read any Allen Ginsberg, but have been told based on other poets I like that I'd really like him. So you could check him out, too.

Ditto for Sylvia Plath, but I'm pretty sure I saw you mention her poems sometime before, so. I've only ever read The Bell Jar.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Cupcakes: heart in the middlescoradh on August 12th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
Now that dude was DEFFO mates with Kerouac. I saw some volumes of his in Foyle's, Howl I think it was. I reckon if I hadn't read so much On the Road-style crap I would have been able to appreciate it - again, very saga-esque, angry 60s teen angst. I probably should ... read the whole poem first, though. :D?

I studied her in school. She didn't do much for me. The only poet I enjoyed studying in school was Derek Mahon. (VERY underrated Irish poet.) Yeats of course is awesome. He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven is an amazing piece of work. I also like An Irish Airman Forsees His Death, mainly for these lines:

I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
real men love discotakkatakkatakka on August 12th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)
Okay so now I feel inferior because my main problem with On The Road was that a) it was less a piece of writing and more a typed out anecdote and b) Sal never did anything, and Dean, who was supposed to be the 'interesting' one, was just an arrogant asshole. I have no eloquent criticism.

Oh, Yeats. I'll probably get all these quotes slightly wrong, but; the white breast of the dim sea
and all dishevelled wandering stars.

and to an isle in the water, with her I would go.

and o my share of the world! o yellow hair! no one has ever loved but you and I!

every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Fashion: angry girl leaningscoradh on August 13th, 2009 10:47 pm (UTC)

\o/ maudlin Irishmen!
oopsoddishly on August 12th, 2009 06:00 pm (UTC)
Ooh, idk what the word is but I think it's serendipity, I started reading my copy today :) Not very far through -- I agree with you that the poems need to be read together as an epic, rather than as standalones -- but this:

Tell me we'll never get used to it.

-- makes my breath catch. Ditto what takkatakkatakka said about I just don't want to die anymore, and I think this --

You're in a car with a beautiful boy,
and you're trying not to tell him that you love him, and you're trying to
choke down the feeling, and you're trembling, but he reaches over and
he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your
heart taking root in your body, like you've discovered something you
don't even have a name for.

-- is actually the way Mik introduced me to his poems at all, so :)

Anyway, am not very far through, as I said, but oh my god, The Torn-Up Road. I want to quote it all.

I want to tell you this story without having to confess anything ... I want to tell you this story without having to be in it.

-- it's so absolutely right that it hurts to read. You know, the things you want people to know, or to know about you, when there's no way to say them in the spirit that you mean it? Just. *__*

And this --

Can you see them pressed into the gravel, pressed into the dirt, pressing against each other in an effort to make the minutes stop --


ARGH GOTTA GO. Will email you later about this, or something -- jab me if I forget :)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Fashion: bead braceletsscoradh on August 12th, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
Is it ... synchronicity? No, that sounds like something inside a watch. I know what you mean though!

There's something about that line, Tell me we'll never get used to it ... I will say this wrong, undoubtedly (as he points out!) but it's the way heroes of some books - like Althea in Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders, or Om in Pratchett's Small Gods - point out that to be alive is an amazing thing. And when I read lines like that, I remember; but I forget again until the next time. I would like if life weren't something that was so easy to get used to. D:

It's grittily romantic poetry, just the way I like it. I think he will only get better. &him;
the claw-foot Lady: [stock] goodnight room! goodnightsoftlyforgotten on August 13th, 2009 12:23 am (UTC)
Oh, man, okay. The thing is, I have no emotional distance from Crush whatsoever -- it's the book that I carry around in my bag with me because I honestly DO NOT LIKE going anywhere without it; I threw away a lot of marks in my final year of English doing a comparison study of it with Wuthering Heights, because examiners really don't like you doing non-traditional texts but I wanted to; I think I know most of it off by heart now.

Umn, okay, so really, all of the 'words burned' and continue to burn for me, and I know a lot of that is about circumstance and where I was when I first read it, and who it was with, and the fact that there's a couple of lines in it that my best friend texts me every time I have a bad day, but I also think it's genuinely brilliant, genuinely powerful poetry. It's not hit and miss for me like so many 'great' poets are -- Margaret Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy, even Ted Hughes -- and there's not a line in it that I skip over.

It's interesting what you say about the formatting, because generally I hate that kind of thing too, but I think it worked in this for me, especially with the progression of the narrative (Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us -----> Dear Forgiveness, I saved a plate for you./Quit milling around the yard and come inside ----> A man takes his sadness and throws it away/but then he's still left with his hands ----> I can't go through with it./I just don't want to die anymore). I don't think it's the strongest feature of the text by any means, but I can feel what Siken was reaching for and I think a lot of the time it does make sense, the line breaks are there for a reason, and where they pick up is for a reason, too. (Although possibly, again, I have just read it too many times now to be able to like the idea of it being anywhere else.)

Umnnnn, I'm going to shut up now, I think. But also: You Are Jeff, oh man oh man.

(OH NO WAIT! I see discussions about Bukowski going on down there! Let me just throw in a thought: >:| )
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Bollywoodscoradh on August 13th, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
NOW I REALLY WANT TO SEE HOW YOU COMPARED IT WITH WUTHERING HEIGHTS. The book that annoyed me in that it was told entirely through pointless flashback, as I recall...

I also think it's genuinely brilliant, genuinely powerful poetry.

I'll definitely give you powerful. I'll even give you brilliant, for some of it. But...

... when I was eight or so, I borrowed a book from a teacher and forgot to give it back and then, like, moved countries. (Oops!) It was Sylvia Brown's autobiography; she is a 'psychic'. At the time being able to predict the future seemed a totally valid talent to me. In the book, she explains how people have a life blueprint and veering off it causes misery (in which case I'm not even on the page it was drawn on) and also how there are forty-five main life 'themes'. I still have the Xs I marked on them as a kid, deciding I was 'aesthetic pursuits' with perhaps a secondary 'lawfulness' (I wanted to be Ally McBeal). Now I know that if I have a life theme, it's 'Irritant' - yes, actually an option! All I do is find fault. Apparently others are supposed to learn patience and tolerance from being around us Irritants, so - go to?

... which is to say, I deeply envy you and Helen and everyone's talent to just love things. I hate loving anything, because all it ever leads to is hurt and disappointment. So you have no distance from this book that means so much to you. I'd swap places in an instant.

No love for Bukowski? But I'll still try to read him, because my talent is, after all, for endless criticism. :D
the claw-foot Lady: [rs] grace under pressure;softlyforgotten on August 14th, 2009 07:33 am (UTC)
Man, I won't send you the essay, because it's terribly, terribly written, but it's all about how after their loved one died, Heathcliff turned to a general sort of destruction (viz. RUINED EVERYBODY ELSE'S LIFE) and Siken turns to self-destruction. Um, I was kind of maudlin, that year. I kind of have a love/hate affair with Wuthering Heights, in that I kind of love the writing of it to pieces -- despite annoying flashbacks, I agree -- but hate every single person in it. Except Hareton. Oh, Hareton.

Aw man, that makes me kind of sad for you (not in a condescending way, I promise!). Maybe one day you'll be able to find something you love? It'll take you by surprise, and all you'll be able to do is post HOSHIT in huge caps in yr LJ. It'll be brilliant. <3

Ughhhhh, Bukowski. I have this kind of... I like a couple of poems, but mostly there's this song by Modest Mouse which sums up my opinion of him PERFECTLY. The lines especially relevant go: "yeah, I know, he's a pretty good writer/but God who'd wanna be/God who'd wanna be/such an asshole?" It's awesome. :D