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    100 book challenge: part two: poetry

    Still toying with the idea of trying to figure out which books I would keep, if I were to limit myself to 100. Last week I figured out 25 works of fiction I'd want to keep; here are some selections from the Poetry shelf.

    • Veil: New and Selected Poems by Rae Armantrout
      [Armantrout's poems are enigmatic, delicate, and careful—she may be my favorite living poet.]

    • My Life, by Lyn Hejinian
      [This is perhaps the most interesting and important poetic project of the last, say, 25 years.]

    • Deer Head Nation, by K. Silem Mohammad
      [Back in 2007, I wrote that this book, part of the "Flarf" / "Google-sculpting" genre, was "one of the best new books of poetry to emerge in the last ten years." I stand by that.]

    • This Connection of Everyone with Lungs, by Juliana Spahr
      [Another important book, this pair of poems has a better grip on the key questions of the contemporary moment than almost any other book in my entire collection. Longer write-up here.]

    • The Tunnel: Selected Poems, by Russel Edson
      [Edson's demented little stories, like psycho-sexually rewired fairy tales, are a longtime favorite of mine. This is another book where just opening to any page and beginning to read is pretty certain to be rewarding. Random opening line, to test this theory: "A piece of a man had broken off in the road."]

    • How to Write, by Gertrude Stein
      [Not sure what to say about this book, except that it's not really about how to write. The classic Stein text is probably Tender Buttons, which I wrote up here and here, but don't actually own. Anyway, this one, also great, will do in a pinch.]

    • Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania, edited by Jerome Rothenberg
      [Classic 1968 ethnopoetic anthology. Reads like a weird alternative Bible.]

    • Postmodern American Poetry, edited by Paul Hoover
      [A good Who's Who of interesting poets working today.]

    • The Return of Painting, The Pearl, and Orion: A Trilogy, by Leslie Scalapino
      [I've always loved Scalapino (I in fact made her Wikipedia page), and this book is a good example of why. Hard to describe, but I'd say it's like what you'd get if you ran a kind of important modern novel about globalism through some kind of syntax re-ambiguator?]

    • A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel, by Tom Phillips
      [If you're not familiar with this bizarre text, run a Google Image Search on "humument" right now. Use this link, if you want.]

    • Human Wishes, by Robert Hass
      [This list is heavy on the experimental stuff, so here's what is, to me, a five-star book of more traditional lyrical poems about everyday life.

    • A Book of Luminous Things, by Czeslaw Milosz
      [Another one for the traditionalists. Love poems, haiku, lyrical meditation—standard stuff, but well-selected here, and I think one needs some more emotional and less academic stuff to round out the picks.]

    • Darkness Moves, by Henri Michaux
      [This French poet isn't that well-known, but his poems are blend of Surrealism, drug writing, and cerebral fantasy that I find absolutely hits me in my pleasure center every time. Sample line: "Infinite are the passages from fog to flesh in Meidosem country."]

    • Howl, by Allen Ginsburg
      [One of the greatest books of poems of the 20th century. Nothing more to add.]

    • The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens
      [I also would like to bring along really good volumes collecting William Carlos Williams, Frank O'Hara, Ezra Pound, or John Ashbery, but aside from the Stevens I don't own any of these books, so I don't need to worry about which get the nod and which don't.]

    That's fifteen—added to the twenty-five fiction titles brings us to forty. Sixty more to go.

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    Monday, June 30, 2008
    2:13 PM


    Awesome, A Humument. I've never really considered it poetry so much as visual art, but whatever it is it's really amazing. Phillips' website features the complete original version of the book, which is interesting even if, like me, you already have the latest edition. Phillips has been continually revising and redoing this over time, constantly creating new versions of the pages. I think in the newest version he's replaced around two-thirds of the pages, so looking at the original edition online can provide some very illuminating comparisons. The older one tends to be more minimalist and less visually sumptuous, more based around geometric ink designs rather than the drawing-and-painting focus of the newer pages.

    Phillips is an interesting artist in general, I'd highly recommend checking out Works and Texts if you haven't already. It's a great overview of his art with fascinating essays by Phillips accompanying the images from each of his many multimedia projects. I see there's also a new (and expensive!) book coming out later this year, but I'm not sure what that is going to be.
    Oh, I'd also recommend Henri Michaux's Stroke By Stroke, which has minimal text but some amazing calligraphic ink drawings. The drawings are ambiguous ideograms that suggest writing, dancing, animals, forces of nature -- they're suggestive Rorschach blots that play off of the text's musings on language and expression. Great stuff.
    I haven't seen anything by Phillips other than Humument; I'll check out that link.

    Also: I haven't seen Stroke by Stroke, but Darkness Moves contains a goodly amount of Michaux's drawings as well. They are pretty wonderful (I'm especially fond of the super-scratchy mescaline-influenced ones.)
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