Postmodern Collage Poetry

A blog about writing collage poetry, post modern poetry, multi lingual poetry

Monday, July 24, 2006

Anatomy of an Anthology

Cracked Slab Books- the press that I run with William Allegrezza is in the final throes of completing a new Anthology of Chicago poetry. What is remarkable about this book is the sheer breadth of the writing and the variety of poets who are in dialogue with each other. Chicago tends to get short shrift in the world of poetry. New York and to a lesser degree San Francisco tend to consume most of the poetic oxygen but frankly they dont know what they are missing.

In this anthology we have poets that are varied in everyway-racially and Genderwise but also in social class origins. It is not fashionable to talk about social class in America and since most of the poets writing in the USA are middle class or better this aspect is ignored but it is important.

Chicago, unlike many other US cities is still a traditional place, a place where people are still in Unions and many still go to Mass and are Liberal without regret. We also do not have the mentality of New Yorkers of complete ambivilance or the scenesterness of San Francisco.

The result of this mix is a book that will be out in the fall with 36 poets most of whom have published books and who represent the best in American poetry from America's most alive city. To say I am proud to come from this community would be obvious but the fact that this community exists in a city with a few small presses and no top flight MFA is a testament to the power of poetry.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Opus Dei and Banned Books

As a poet who also happens to be a practicing Catholic I often find myself a minority in both the land of Catholics and the land of poets. Poets are normally not religious unless you include 'spiritualities' which are mostly creations of the artist sense of the world. Most poets apart from a few oddities find religion at best quaint. The same can be said of my Church. Since the 1980's or 90's the Catholic Church's leaders have chosen to expunge like Winston Smith in 1984 the Catholic intellectuals who once fed Catholics with their work; so poets, writers and novelists like Thomas Merton, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Jack Kerouac, Flannery O'Connor, Dorothy Day, Edward Schillebeecx, Hans Kung, Leonardo Boff and Ernesto Cardenal are either vilified or ignored by Catholic leaders and the the work of these writers is marginalized.All of them considered themselves Catholic writers and they once had wide Catholic readerships. So as a poet and a Catholic I am often at a loss; time is spent listening to attacks on the Church for legitimate evils like the sex scandal which has destroyed the credibility of the church and the progressive Catholic tradition, embodied by people like Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Taize, and others have been marginalized for both of the communities of which I am a member. So to say that I was surprised to find out that the Magisterium's favorite group, Opus Dei (of da Vinci code fame) has a revised Index of Books made for a cold wind on a hot day. The Index for those not aware is a list of books that Catholics are not to read on pain of excommunication and damnation. This Index was done away with in 1965 but Opus Dei has their own to go with the flagellation and secrecy. God forbid the SuperCatholics of Opus Dei and the Supreme Court (Scalia, Alito and Roberts are members) should read a forbidden book! I spent some time with this list and to say I was sickened would be an understatement. The usual books by Henry Miller or Anais Nin are on the list as you would expect but so is Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton one of the finest works of Catholic journal writing of the 20th Century. All the novels of Flannery O'Connor are on the list, Rafael Alberti's book of Angel Poems is on the list, the children stories of Monteiro Lobato from Brazil about a children's plantation with Amazonian animals is for some reason rated as a dangerous book? All the poetry of Neruda, Pound, and Olson is on the list. All the books of writers as diverse as John Jakes (You remember the formula novels of the 1970's about America) Paulo Coelho, The works of Freud, Benjamin, Adorno, Teihard de Chardin (Jesuit Priest) are on the list. As I read this woeful list hoping to find my name and my book I came to realize that this is the problem with Catholicism and also with America. We are becoming a society that only reads, views and listens to ourselves. No one grows.So I listen to NPR, read the Economist, write poetry and read the Catholic Worker while those on the right watch Fox News (or Al Jazzera), read the Weekly Standard, and other media that reinforces their already formed worldview. The Muslims in the Middle East are reading only what reinforces their views and this leads to a lack of empathy that makes 9/11 and pedophilia possible. I was not raised that way and I choose to read it all and to consume it all and to remain what I am an engaged Poet and a Catholic but if you want to know why we are are at war in Iraq or why children have been abused by priests (and Rabbis, teachers, and ministers) all you have to do is look at the fact that people are not critical and they are not reading opinions that oppose their's . Obedience is not what the society needs. Our society needs to ask questions and until satisfaction is attained we should continue and that means reading the Nation and National Review that means watching Fox and whatever is left on the Left on TV and that means making our own decisions Authority be damned. Empathy is what is save people from death. Imagine if the Israelis could empathize with the Palestinians? Would that make a difference in the Mideast? Imagine if people in Dallas could really empathize with people in New York? Like they did after 9/11? That kind of empathy comes from reading each other's books.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Printers Ball and Capitalism

"Please stress that there is no fee to show, but nothing may be sold"

"magazines please have 500 copies to give out for free"

parameters for the Printers Ball in Chicago

Why is it that unlike every other artform literary pursuits of merit feel that it is unseemly to charge for their products?

Jen Hofer said once at an event before her reading that people should go and buy the poet's work to support the art and the poet's livelihood, someone said to me how pushy!

But I say pushy is what we need to do. No more give aways and no more free lunches because we are afraid that no one will buy the work.

Can you imagine a painter being forced to give away his or her work for free?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Life as Frustrating Prose

Many of the poets whom I admire are part of the poetical academic complex it takes extra time to establish your bona fides as a poet when you are not living in an academic world and its dialogues are sometimes closed off to those of us who do not have the luxury of being paid for our life of the mind.

Having said that I would not trade my life experience and my salary for the life in academia while I am envious of the amount of free time that academics possess. I just wish there was more critique of our society and the noise machine from those quarters.

What is interesting poetically is the complete divorce in the poetry world of concern for audience (or Market as we say in the Business Publishing world). I have often felt that the Poet needs to have the same role as the priest or prophet- to be a voice in the wilderness- or a deep interior voice- that is perhaps not listened to but is heard later or in the quiet. I have also thought that poets needed to claim the role that they play in other cultures that of Frustrating the Prose conversation and introducing poetry as a value into a culture that is dominated by banal prose.

When the concern for audience is divorced from the poetic conversation many times poetry retreats from the essential political vocation it possesses. We then are left with what Bob Archembeau calls "Language Poetry Fundamentalism". LPF has arisen I think because of the fact that, that generation of poets who did so much for us are now ensconced in the established verse culture and they are trying to remain avant garde when what is needed is not avant garde but an engaged and radical poetics that can tear open the Prose Conversation that is now mostly a noise machine.

Just listen to any NPR show when they invite a Right winger on and you begin the get the kind of New Speak that would make Winston Smith proud but amid all this noise and New Speak 'poetry' chooses to retreat not to attack. What passes for Politically engaged work ends up sounding like some of Charles Bernstein's recent poems you know "Got Cancer, have a nice cool bath" irony is not what is needed. I see it all around me; poets who spend their time concentrating on obscurity and minutiae as opposed to the noise machine and trying to make sense of the world we have entered.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The 4th of July

the Fourth of July.

Usually a chance for Americans to gorge themselves and look at fireworks.

I have had the privilege in my life to have spent 10 of my 39 4ths outside the USA and this has made me appreciate and also reflect on a holiday that has its ironies.

When I was a child my family was often in Italy for the summer. Before I hear the "elitist" names my Mom and my whole family are from a little town in the Alps called Vestone and we would go there to see family in much the same way people go 'home' here to see family.

My grandfather Rinaldo Vanzo, was a Moleta, a grinder and he immigrated from the Val Rendena when he was 16 and worked in New York as a Grinder sharpening knives like many others of his Trentino brethern. He started in Brooklyn and when he died in 1980 he had built a business along with other Molete and made America a reality for my family he is buried today in a grave overlooking his beloved Manhattan.

The story of the Val Rendena grinders is a great American one and in each city in the USA there is a family or two from these little towns who built fortunes from sharpening knives. Many of these grinders (molete) returned to Pinzolo and Madonna di Campiglio and opened hotels and developed the tourism industry they built a monument to their forebearers.

So on the 4th of July these grinders would get together in Pinzolo and have the 4th of July together and it is one of my earliest memories of the 4th none of the fireworks or stupid bbq but polenta and grinders and people who went to America to make a fortune and who did so with their backs. These grinders all from this little valley and all speaking with different American accents, New York, Chicago, Boston, Florida and Atlanta all Americans and all Trentini and all real human beings 100% alive.
For me that is America that Rinaldo Vanzo, my name sake (As i am really Rinaldo Bianchi) could make that life for himself inspite of real bigotry and real hardship.

Later in life I was in South America and again I was able to experience our Independence Day from another angle. In Bolivia and Brazil the day is a winter day like any other except when I would see another American- then with a knowing look we would smile and think of baseball games and stupid barbecues and how naive we all are to believe in words that are so florid and so unrealized in many places.

When I worked in the jail in Cochabamba I once substituted "We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, life liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for the daily Bible readings- the residents looked perplexed and then one said "impossible" this is not true- when I told them who wrote them a group member said

" of course only an American could have written this because their flag flies on the moon"