David Biespiel’s Poetry Wire: First Monday in October


Bob Hicok Says Believe Me: Over at The Believer, Bob Hicok fields a few questions (excerpts only at this point per interviewer Matthew Sherling) about his writing process. Hicok’s takes on on his own process reveal a darling and darting mind, same as you find in his poems.

Some notable points: ” Influence is tough for me to discuss. I’ve written or said this many times, but there weren’t poets at the start for me, I was reading novels and listening to music. Don DeLillo, Joy Williams, Saul Bellow. Rickie Lee Jones and Tom Waits. Now, I tend to read poets as correctives, to pull me away from a direction or tendency in my own writing I’m tired of. I had been writing some bleak stuff and so started reading Neruda every morning, I think for the feeling of optimism in his work, the big spark to it.”

And this: MATTHEW SHERLING: What do you see as the limitations and possibilities of language [when used in the way of poetry]? BOB HICOK: Limitations of language: it can’t realign my tires. Brush my teeth. Can’t go to Paris unless I carry it or a book or an email or a pigeon does. So language needs a vessel, a body, a mouth.

Yes, a mouth. Grazie, Wystan Auden. Isn’t the difference between “makes” and “surviving/In the valley of its making” is like the difference between an ostrich and a rooster? Here’s the famous stanza from Auden’s elegy for Yeats:

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Richard Jackson Names Three Neglected American Women Poets You Have to Read: Body magazine features Richard Jackson’s lengthy reappraisal of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sarah Teasdale, and Elinor Wylie. Clocking in at 8,100+ words, Jackson gives the full explicative treatment to three at-one-time influential poets.

“Indeed, the external world is something that must be reentered in order to validate the psychology of the inner self which is also under constant definition; for Teasdale, like Keats, poetry is a vale of soul making. Millay’s sense of these dialectic relationships is between a small mortal self and a larger cosmos, and like Dickinson, she wants her poems not to reflect the world, as with Teasdale, or to be safe within it like Wylie, but to expand to the point of containing it. The favorite modern poet of James Wright, and a considerable influence upon him (he was perhaps our major poet from the second half of the twentieth century) she is technically the most sophisticated of these poets and possesses the greatest range. Her most famous poem, “What Lips My Lips have Kissed,” might serve as a fitting conclusion, for while it deals with her relationship to a long sequence of lovers, some simultaneous with others, it laments not the loss of their love, but the loss of their memory, which is related finally to the loss of her own song. It is a great loss indeed, to have these poets relegated to a minor position in the tradition.”

Poetry Wire facts of life: Wylie’s polished and shining images make her the most contemporary of the others, the only one of the three whose work feels like it has a place in the 21st century (much the way John Donne’s poems feel like they have a place in the 21st century still, I mean). But that sheen has a date-mark on it, too, something that feels merely gilded but not gold.


Allen Ginsberg’s Party Poems: It’s not like “Vomit Express” is in the least the most essential Ginsberg poem in his body of work. But: If ever want to hear the Bard of Patterson, New Jersey read “Vomit Express” anytime you want or, better still, the delightful “Supermarket in America,” (” I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.”), you can do so over at Open Culture.

I got to say, for my money, the rockstar poet of the 20th century has his best work illustrated in the accompanying video of the Moloch section from “Howl” as depicted in the Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman sort-of biopic, Howl, and narrated by James Franco. The film’s a hipster-esque pre-Disney, post-9-11 rendition of Ginsberg’s masterpiece. Not just rendition. It’s a reincarnation.

And yet: Poetry Wire is still stunned, saddened really, to report to you that I showed this film to a hundred or so Poetry 101 students last year at a major state university to accompany a lecture on the poem, “Howl,” and a handful of students in the class up and walked out because they were offended by the poem’s language, sexuality, and anti-corporatism. What? “Howl” and the other major poems of Allen Ginsberg are people, too, my friends.


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David Biespiel is a poet, literary critic, memoirist, and contributing writer at American Poetry Review, New Republic, New York Times, Poetry, Politico, The Rumpus, and Slate, among other publications. He is the author of numerous books, most recently The Education of a Young Poet, which was selected a Best Books for Writers by Poets & Writers, A Long High Whistle, which received the 2016 Oregon Book Award for General Nonfiction, and The Book of Men and Women, which was chosen for Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the 2011 Oregon Book Award for Poetry. More from this author →