Twenty Prose Poems by Baudelaire and The Unknown Poe


A curious fact about American literary history is that Edgar Allen Poe‘s works became popular throughout Europe long before anyone in the states recognized Poe’s talent. This recognition was largely due to the efforts of Charles Baudelaire, whose own emergence as a world-class poet occurred during the 1850s, precisely the decade of his discovery of Poe. While Poe’s works became bestsellers in the bookstalls of Paris and London in the latter half of the nineteenth century, he continued to be half-recalled by US literati as an unfortunate magazine writer who ended up a skid-row drunk in the gutters of Baltimore.

The author of the “The Raven” and the “The Bells” had been dead for three years when Baudelaire published, in 1852, his essay “Edgar Allen Poe, sa vie et ses ouvrages […his life and works]” in the influential Revue de Paris. In hindsight, it is an unbelievably prescient appreciation of the universal greatness of a writer who was dismissed for generations by his fellow countrymen as a “jingle maker” (Emerson) and a “peurile” exponent of “slipshod writing” (Eliot). Baudelaire is particularly eloquent in his outrage over Poe’s obscurity in his native country:

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Poetry on a Monday Reviews: Beast Feast by Cody-Rose Clevidence

By Jackson Meazle

BeastFeastI first read Cody-Rose Clevidence‘s poems in the esoteric handmade magazine Bestoned. This little string-bound pamphlet proved the Arkansas Ozarks still nurtured a range of quality poets. Then I had in my hand a book published by Flowers & Cream press, Everything That Is Beautiful Is Edible. This little silver book compelled me to write about the poetry in the first place. And now we lucky readers have the first full-length book, Beast Feast. The poems in this book almond and proceed where the silver book is and leads. Beast Feast (Ahsahta Press, 2014) contains a multitude of off-the-wall moments of form: biological and anthropological gesturing unlike anything I’ve read since picking up Ronald Johnson’s ARK or my reexamining of Michael McClure’s poetry. In the same vein, Clevidence’s work is an ecstatic observation of the strife found in wildlife and human relations. And from the first untitled poem on, we “traipse” through the light and dark sludge of live tissue and the carcass impasse of romance:


[elegiac wtf glibness you lion you
full in the blueness caused by a chance encounter—
drunkard— pebble— dream on or dream me a reaper full
of wine or whatever— blood— vital full frontal
bullet-proof forest— I’m densing there— amassing there
Ozark & hammer— leapt from rhyme— I call
out— beam— through to the silent— there is an eagle
all alone.

the pure the fetid swamps dear the cool earth guilty lay down
in break or broken day, dream— blue shock dismal— triumph— river.

[from “[elegiac wtf glibness you lion you”]


For all of this lyrical animism, the literal forest is both inviting and repulsive. A “series” of poems under the title, “THIS THE FOREST,” is done in long slender forms of four or five vertical rows resembling the medium-height pines of programming-error displays or the rotted and knotted magnolias of “beast language.” Sometimes the poems have recognizable words, sometimes not. There is no space separating words or punctuation within these “adjust your eyes” word-based poems, making it difficult to realize where a word or syntax begins or ends. Even to quote one of these poems, you may lose the train of thought of the lines before it:

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Clarence Lusane’s The Black History of the White House

Black HistoryIn 2010 the Arizona legislature enacted HB 2281, which bans the teaching of courses in public schools that, among other things, treat people as “a group, rather than as individuals.” The intended effect of the law was clear immediately to journalists, educators, and students: ethnic studies courses, or history curricula that focus on the cultural history, evolution, and migration of different ethnic groups, were now illegal in Arizona outside of a small number of elite private schools. Since then, the law has been used to ban courses on hip-hop and Mexican-American history (Mexican-Americans are the fastest growing demographic in Arizona). The law is under review by a federal appeals court, which is expected to make a decision on its constitutionality any day now – though Oklahoma has recently tried to do Arizona one better by banning Advanced Placement American History courses because they “emphasize negative aspects of our nation’s history.”

None of this is likely a surprise to Clarence Lusane, who writes in The Black History of the White House (City Lights, 2011) that “For many Americans, it is an act of unacceptable subversion to criticize the nation’s founders, the founding documents, the presidency, the president’s house, and other institutions that have come to symbolize the official history of the United States.” Lusane’s account of the black presence at the White House revises our view of one of our most potent national symbols, unearthing a buried racial past of the American president’s household from the time of George Washington’s two terms in the 1790s, when the presidential mansion was located in Philadelphia and housed a number of Washington’s slaves, all the way up to the present White House, which marks the first time a black family has resided there officially yet (ironically) served as heads of an administration poised to leave office with an ambiguous legacy of progress on racial justice issues.

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Flashback: Bayard Rustin Awarded Medal of Freedom

i must resistThe Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the United States, in which the White House honors those who have made a major contribution to the security and interest of the U.S. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded 16 U.S. citizens this award including Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Sally Ride, C.T. Vivian, and Loretta Lynn.

Included in this list was Bayard Rustin, awarded posthumously, and who is profiled in the City Lights book, I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters.

Rustin was, according to the White House, “an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.”

Below is a video of Obama recognizing Rustin’s achievements – a leading activist of the early 1947–1955 civil-rights movement, helping to initiate a 1947 Freedom Ride to challenge with civil disobedience racial segregation on interstate busing among many others:

Obama: “[E]arly in the morning the day of the March on Washington, the National Mall was far from full and some in the press were beginning to wonder if the event would be a failure. But the march’s chief organizer, Bayard Rustin, didn’t panic. As the story goes, he looked down at a piece of paper, looked back up, and reassured reporters that everything was right on schedule. The only thing those reporters didn’t know was that the paper he was holding was blank. (Laughter.) He didn’t know how it was going to work out, but Bayard had an unshakable optimism, nerves of steel, and, most importantly, a faith that if the cause is just and people are organized, nothing can stand in our way.

“So, for decades, this great leader, often at Dr. King’s side, was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay. No medal can change that, but today, we honor Bayard Rustin’s memory by taking our place in his march towards true equality, no matter who we are or who we love.”

For more Bayard Rustin, check out I Must Resist published by City Lights books which includes a foreword by Julian Bond and is edited by Michael G. Long.

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Planet News

“love is not a state, a feeling, a disposition, but an exchange, uneven, fraught with history, with ghosts, with longings that are more or less legible to those who try to see one another with their own faulty vision”
Judith Butler as quoted by Lynne Segal in this lecture from ‘Radical Thinkers: the art, sex and politics of feminism’ at the Tate Modern, 9th February 2015 (Via Verso)

“Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.”
Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer (Via The New York Times)

“…even though
most of us were too prepared you
preferred to joke before we went on
before the poetry light hit us on the face
it did not matter to you — you just carved
chiseled punctured rotated danced
and whirred past a distant gate”
excerpt from Hey Phil by Juan Felipe Herrera, for Phil Levine, RIP (via LARB)

“This week, authors, activists, and PEN Members ranging from Lili Taylor to Andrew Solomon to Ayana Mathis and poet Eileen Myles took the stage in front of a packed house at Theatre 80 for a unique reading to give voice and a feeling of physical presence to Mohamedou Slahi, author of the recently released Guantánamo Diary—a book Mark Danner called the “most profound account yet written of what it is like to be the collateral damage of the United State’s War on Terror.”
Via Pen

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When I Was a Poet: Life and Work of David Meltzer

MeltzerIf San Francisco poetry has its own Zelig, a figure who seems to pop up and blend in with all the scene’s different incarnations, then it must be David Meltzer, who turned 78 this past Tuesday. Meltzer moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles in the 1950s and wound up in a circle of writers and artists that had formed around Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, two key figures in what’s known as the “San Francisco Renaissance.” This in turn led to his inclusion in Grove Press’s groundbreaking 1960 anthology, The New American Poetry 1945-1960, edited by Donald Allen, which also included work by Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Denise Levertov, Charles Olson, and many others–all obscure figures at the time.

Meltzer also hung around with poets like Kenneth Rexroth and City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, sharing bills with them at venues like the Cellar where they read their poems to live jazz accompaniment. This latter group facilitated the evolution of the “Renaissance” into the Beats, which later leaked or was assimilated into the water supply of popular culture as the hippie movement of the 1960s.

Even so, Meltzer didn’t fail to find a foothold in the Summer of Love with his psychedelic rock band, The Serpent Power, whose self-titled 1967 album is now considered by eminent rock critic Robert Christgau to be one of the essential records of that period.

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Van Morrison Lit Up Inside Contest Winner

LitUpCover2Last month, we held a contest asking for your best Van Morrison stories. These could be chance meetings with Morrison himself or personal stories having to do with any of the great songs in his 50-year career. Van handpicked what he considers his creative contribution in the recently released  Lit Up Inside: Selected Lyrics from City Lights.

We received a lot of interesting stuff, ranging from personal (and perhaps fictitious) relationships with specific albums and deep cuts to recollections of memorable moments with Van onstage and fortunate run-ins on the streets after a show.

Van fan Nicky Crewe from Bakewell, Derbyshire in the UK sent us this story that links  one’s personal journey with Van Morrison’s entire career trajectory and all its contradictions:

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Poetry on a Monday Reviews: The Little Edges by Fred Moten

by Jackson Meazle

little edgesThe first thing one notices about Fred Moten’s new book, The Little Edges (Wesleyan, 75 pages), is its shape, a hardback book not that much taller than it is wide. And upon opening the book, there are many long-lined poems snuggling close to the margins. Does it matter if this is prose or poetry? The poems seem to form a template for an ever-expanding open field. The initial feeling is reminiscent of the typographical expanses in Charles Olson’s The Distances, how it pushes the text straight across the page, barely adhering to the physical constraints of its borders. In The Little Edges, these often longish medium-sized poems and even longer multiple-sectioned poems represent a huge breadth of a wildly imaginative poet. The project can be boiled down to a practical handbook of makeshift improvisation, ideal performance notes, and choral song pushed “over the edge of what you’re listening to like somebody listening to you.”

Past the initial stage of holding the book, there is an immediate awareness that this text is an act of protest, by way of projecting internalized elements. A key word in this book is “inside,” which is a common word that Moten has variously used in his other books as well. This work is a quasi-biographical menagerie of “occasional pieces” written to accompany–as the reader is not so much invited as made witness to the shape of things in scanning sketches–professional, social, musical, poetic, and even geographical activity:

that’s what rodney asked about,
can you make what we already (do
you remember/how did the people)

have? let it get around and get on in

in scar city,
ar. complexcity

in complicita, la.     here go a box with a lid on it. if you open it you can come into our world.

up in here you look

like cutty do. house
look like he up. if so,

don’t you wanna go?

[from “fortrd.fortrn”]

The book’s opening places Moten’s work in impulse and in nerve, using by using what is at hand or in “possession.” Often it is that which is already there that becomes the collage of discourse. This is utilized to great effect with Moten’s wordplay. Sometimes this is done in a tight little run of lines, obviously addressed to a lover as lyrics in a song:

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