John Poch Buys Some Poetry Books

July 25, 2008

Now that John has had a taste of blogging, he just can’t stop! DA


Just to be sure that I’m not a hypocrite and that I’m fully out of poetry cheapskate mode, I ordered two books yesterday. Gabriel Gudding’s Rhode Island Notebook and Cecily Parks’ Field Folly Snow. The latter has been recommended to me by Carrie Jerrell, and one should take any recommendation from Carrie Jerrell seriously. I met Cecily at Sewanee a few years back, so I’m eager to read her book and see what all the fuss is about. I haven’t seen or spoken with Gabe in years, but I still think of him as a friend. We were both winners of the Nation/ “Discovery” Prize in 1998 (ten years ago), and we first met at the 92nd Street Y where we read on that very famous stage. I can hardly remember a thing about that evening. I do remember Gabe reading a poem in the voice of a telephone pole, and from that moment, I knew he was the real deal. We met again several times when I visited him in Ithaca. I was privileged to read his first book, A Defense of Poetry, in manuscript form (that title poem is a great poem to introduce to undergrads who have only read poems by Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Charles Algernon Swynburne). I remember Gabe asking for my opinion on the manuscript. Of course, I thought it was going to be a hit, though my one reservation was that I felt the scatological stuff (peacock’s rectum’s, etc.) got a little old. I said, “I think there’s a little too much “butt” in this book. I’ll never forget his reply: “John, you can never have enough butt.” Well, actually.

I saw that the poem that opens up his new book is “Notebook Made While Driving.Stopping to Gas Only and to Urinate My Pee”. There you have it. I think the charm of Mr. Gudding’s work often lies in his boyish playfulness. But the poems are often much smarter and more touching, more human, than other poets who often seem merely silly to me: Matthea Harvey, Dean Young, Jason Bredle. These poets have their virtues, I’m sure, but I don’t feel their comic effects add up to much in the end. I don’t doubt that I seem merely silly to them. I haven’t read Ms. Harvey’s latest, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

I also wonder what exactly happened to the Nation/ “Discovery” Prize. That prize had so many amazing poets over the years, but The Nation apparently let the prize go (why?), and now it’s run by Boston Review. That’s just not the same thing, it seems to me. If anybody knows what the dirt is on how all that went down, I’d love to hear. All I know is this: Grace Schulman was poetry editor of The Nation for years and headed up the big Prize. Well, I noticed a few years back that The Nation wasn’t printing poems any more. Maybe one every six months or so. But they were printing in every issue this terrible (it doesn’t get any worse) doggerel by Calvin Trillin that was a complete waste of space. But they weren’t printing any real poems. This went on for several years. Apparently, they have a new poetry editor now and are printing poems again, but I haven’t had a chance to see what’s going on there. I do know that Jorie Graham was one of the judges of the new Boston Review/ “Discovery” Prize, so you know that she picked some of her students or her friend’s students to be winners. You know, the Foetry biz. Alas.

Anyway, I had the books sent to my home address since I’m working on some other stuff here in Taos, but I’ll be glad to get to them come mid-August. What books (by living poets) have you bought in the past month? What poetry magazine have you subscribed to? (hint hint)

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