Tuesday, January 2, 2007

BEST OF THE BLOGS (What are you? Nuts?)

It was the end of the year when I began this project/search to look for the “best of the blogs” so that I could ably assume the troubled role of tastemaker. Now it is the beginning of the next one, and I am no closer to settling the issue. Certainly the pronouncement about some past effort has no importance insofar as it does not make its mark upon the future. So while I straddle this year and the last, I will tell you what I mean by the “best.”

It is such a laughable feat that I undertake that I can almost hear that reader sobbing for the obviously poor condition my soul is in and my transgressions. I shall repent at tax time. Meanwhile I will persevere to deliver what I find online among the bloggers whose main emphasis seems to be the love of poetry. This means I am looking at blogs that put poems online (either as out-and-out published poems or as part of a review of a book or close reading of a single poem). I tended to veer away from those blogs engaged in literary theory or academic disputes about one thing or the other. Also, I discounted those blogs dedicated to the daily ephemera of the author. Many of these turn out to be the blogger’s private little soundpost to project onto the world or to air one’s grievances.

What I was really interested in was bloggers whose main interest was in delivering poetry in a satisfying manner to those who might stroll through the site.

My ranking really reflects my own desire to revisit the site in the future. It is a metric of my own curiosity if it measures anything.

1) Eileen Tabios’s Galatea Resurrects (1), (2), (3), (4) are all billed as “poetry engagements,” and this is primarily what makes them so delightful. Though the site is really an online publication dedicated to reviewing primarily small press poetry books, the dedication to the work is readily apparent. For anyone who endeavors to find that next gem from a little known press, this is the first place to stop. There is no historical context like in other high profile blogs. Just a lot of love.

2. Simon DeDeo’s Rhubarb is Susan is a compendium of “flash reviews” of poems written by a self-described “man from Chicago.” Though he does not always adhere to flash reviews, he does do the visitor to his site the service of quoting the entire poem he is looking at and commenting on. Much of the focus is towards small presses that feature experimental work (especially if the subject matter relates to science . . . as the man behind the Simon DeDeo persona appears to be a scientist . . . oh-my-god there’s a scientist running loose in the house of poetry!)

3. Kathy Kieth’s Medusa’s Kitchen is always an interesting mix of local Northern California poets’ work and the work of established poets from across the country or throughout the world (recent posts have featured Norwegian poet Rolf Jacobsen and Goethe. There is no era or geography she doesn’t like, but this is probably not the place to find work that is pretending to leap into some new poetic space. This is a space for good, solid, crafted work that often takes a thoughtful pose on the natural world. This site is often a good spot to check for a grounded poetry fix.

4. Paul Hoover’s blog is a great antidote to Silliman’s blog only because the posts there are more periodic and do not require a slavish acquiescence to daily opinion-making on poetry. While some might find this as not living up to the blue collar poetry ethic, I am always relieved that I do not have to wade through a month’s worth of posts to find something that is inspiring. The paucity of posts makes it easy savor them. Kudos especially to the focus on Nathaniel Mackey and Vietnamese poet Nguyen Trai as well as Hoover’s own Edge and Fold, whose cover and contents I’ve found to be very satisfying given my limited exposure.

5. James Lee Jobe’s blog does it all. Often the focus is on local Northern California poetry, but just as often it is not. A two-week sampling of poetry posts finds poems by Norman Dubie, Bob Kaufman, Forest Hamer, Lawrence Ferlighetti, Bob Hicok, Robert Bly, Federico García Lorca, Robert Desnos, Jane Kenyon, John Ashbery, Jean Follain and others. What is it with the inland empire of Northern California blogs to use the blogspace as an anthology/literary journal? The contemporary and the past poets live together in harmony. Where’s all the theory and the poetics? Where’s all the positioning of poets within a historical context? Nope. Just poems for people who love poems.

6. Sina Queyras’s Lemon Hound (now temporarily and perhaps perpetually defunct) is a Canadian offering that is talky at times, but Queyras has sworn off her blog for the time being because she wants to connect back to the physical world. That’s a reason to check in to see how that project goes into the future. One wishes her a lot of brick and mortar happiness and even a glimpse at the moon from time to time. That seems healthy enough without becoming overbearing. Her tag phrase is “pissing people off since 1969.” I find that admirable. Queyras’s photos are punctuated by snippets of Jena Osman, Laura Sims and a link to Kenneth Patchen. Any blog that offers a little self-reflexiveness is worth taking note of, and there is enough of others’ work to make one hold on to its past even as it has renounced its future.

7. Another from Canada is Jon Paul Fiorentino’s blog Asthmatronic which provides a brief glipmpse at what is new and fresh in Canadian poetry. Fiorentino, like Queyras above, is part of the Coach House Press stable, and his work is satisfyingly edgy in way that many American poets who aspire to the edge are not. The blog is mostly a collection of outtakes from Fiorentino’s reading tour late in the year, but there is enough of the contemporary poetry scene in Montreal and the rest of Canada to make the blog worthy of a stop. There isn’t always poetry in great doses here, but there often is a lot of other cultural droppings: a link to a pop bad devoted to hockey star Dale Hawerchuk and a spooky You Tube video of a Japanese-made English instructional video. And just enough venom and vigor for the previous generation of Canadian writers.

8. Heidi Lynn Staples’s Mildred’s Umbrella is a bit heavy on the links to Staples’s own poems, which is kind of like a look-what-I-got-for-Christmas kind of thing she has going on there, but I’m partial to the Herb Scott piece she has posted as well as a short piece by Medbh McGuckian she has posted. Also, I like the fact that she addresses her readers as “bloggerisimo” as though one who passes through the site must be the biggest blogger of them all.

Well, I couldn’t quite come up with 10 poetry blogs that would fit the criteria I was looking for in particularly satisfying ways, so I resorted to what many others do, I resorted to picking some favorite music titles.

1. By far this year’s most inspiring and beautiful record of the year is Eric Whitacre’s Cloudburst and other choral works. I can’t stop listening to it. Eric Whitacre is the 35-year-old choral composer phenom whose works have redefined notions of polyphony for choral music. This is unearthly stuff, but the best thing about Whitacre is that he is the only classical composer with a My Space site (for Eric Whitacre). Not only that but he has 18640 friends. Geez. That’s more than went to my high school! Swing on over to the site and listen to “Sleep.” If that’s not what you expect music to do for you, then I’m sorry for all of that. On top of all this, his librettos are taken from Rumi, Lorca, Cummings, Dickinson, and Paz.

2. OK. So maybe I’m a sucker for anything this guy does and maybe his “Romance of the Violin” made more of an impact, but there isn’t a violinist whose tone “sings” as much as Joshua Bell’s. Therefore, it is an obvious move for Bell to record “The Voice of the Violin,” where he adapts many operatic arias and other choral works for the violin. Just the inclusion of many of these pieces into the repertoire would be enough to be included in the “must-listen” category, but how Bell captures the intensity of his (and my) boyhood idol Jascha Heifetz yet makes the violin stay sweet and not sound stark is beyond me. Of course, there are many reasons why I should be drawn to Viktoria Mullova or up-and-comer Cecilia Ziliacus, but for some reason Bell remains on the top of the heap for me. Perhaps he is the undisputed heavyweight champ.

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