Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I have received my first quarterly statement of royalties from authorHouse: $6.03 in royalties for a total of nine books sold in the category of "Bookstore Paperback Sales," which I'm assuming is Amazon sales. (In fact, the royalties due me are $8.37, but $2.34 is being withheld for the time being for federal taxes.) My thanks go out to the hardy nine, including Joe B. who sits across from me at work, and Heather F. who announced she was ordering a copy on Facebook. I am grateful to have readers...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Easy Green Proof Part 5

I concluded the last section or stanza of the poem by removing yet another line from the originally published version, which means I expurgated a line from every section of the poem in the re-write; which is a lot of flaky old dandruff of former self to be getting rid of in the process. Once again, in this section, the removed line had overtones of my trying to be a New York poet, someone like Ted Berrigan, able to cavalierly use stereotyped "black" diction because this language really does exist and somehow has to be put in its proper relation to the all the other things we can possibly say with our mouths... I see/saw this as a utopian poetic idea of embracing rather than trying to educate our way out of the undergrowth. But now, at this point in time, I know that I personally can't shift the burden, as it were, in the way someone like Ted Berrigan could so easily. In my poetry it just looks awkward (but see previous posts for wanting to look awkward) or worse. So

I write words just like these ones
Because I'm afraid of myself
But these ones are different
They afraid of they own selves
Like huge potato bugs

becomes finally

I write words just like these ones
Because I'm afraid of myself
But these ones are different
Like huge potato bugs

The fact is, the expurgated line didn't work, poetically speaking let alone politically. But it is obviously in the final version the unspoken repartee to the line "Because I'm afraid of myself": afraid of my own tendencies, as it were, my subconscious bigotries, my uses as a historical repository for, really, the diction of African-American comedians in the seventies, the politically incorrect period that followed the politically correct period so closely that those of us who were suburban white kids during the Civil Rights movement couldn't quite catch the waves right, thought we could get away with saying the same kinds of stuff, not even knowing what it all meant or resonated as, and like bad surfers rolled on under...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Easy Green Proof Part 4

In the fourth section of the poem, the line "Familiar as far as exhaustion" was deleted from

A single day
Familiar as far as exhaustion
In the life of a test pilot

to make

A single day
In the life of a test pilot

I was making use of deliberately awkward locutions all over the place when I wrote "Easy Green Proof," trying to imitate the deliberately awkward but perfect locutions of Ron Padgett, I think. It's strange how silly insincerity ages in almost exactly the same way as the sincerest expressions of inner life: some things pass time's test, some don't, and sometimes not passing is just a matter of one's current frame of mind, not of the words themselves...

Maybe as I was editing, and from the vantage of three years of parenthood, I just didn't think I had had the right, as a slacker in his twenties, to make any statements, ironic or otherwise, about the familiarity of exhaustion.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fourth pantoum based on two expurgated lines

If these racists ever had any notion

Of Napoleon, the original Muhammed Ali,

It would have seemed instinct or strong emotion

Was the casus belli, the mustard seed of the grand folly

Of Napoleon, the original Muhammed Ali,

Who boxed alone when at all, whose shadow boxing

Was the casus belli, the mustard seed of the grand folly

That followed to St. Helena when he, de-toxing

Who boxed alone when at all, whose shadow boxing

Might have been his mother's or father's fist

That followed to St. Helena when he, de-toxing,

Perused the book of God, and Satan's list

Might have been his mother's or father's fist

Dragged weeping while the world

Perused the book of God and Satan's list

And demon fingers graciously uncurled

Dragged weeping while the world

Insisted that its program had been botched

And demon fingers graciously uncurled

By the winged and bearded one who watched,

Insisted that its program had been botched.

It would have seemed instinct or strong emotion

By the winged and bearded one who watched,

If these racists ever had any notion.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Third pantoum based on an expurgated line

If these racists ever had any notion
(speaking of their total entertainment value)
they'd be jumping into a nearby ocean
to make a statement. One-shout gal, you

speaking of their total entertainment value
would be absolutely clear as window glass
to make a statement one shout: "Gal, you
once said to be truly high class

would be absolutely clear as window glass
among the boxy towns of our village
(once said to be truly high class
apres le deluge before the pillage)."

Among the boxy towers of our village
every form of extreme view flourished:
apres le deluge before the pillage
of the many hateful huts well-nourished,

every form of extreme view flourished.
They'd be jumping into a nearby ocean
of the many hateful huts, well-nourished,
if these racists ever had any notion.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Easy Green Proof Part 3

Further editorial changes were made in the third part of the poem. I corrected the misspelled (or spelled with an obscure variant) "harnassed" to "harnessed" and changed

Were first spoken in the presence
Of Napoleon, the original Muhammed Ali,


Were first spoken in the presence
Of the emperor,

because although I liked the anachronism of calling Napoleon the original Muhammed Ali (referring when I wrote to the boxer) I realized I hadn't been conscious when I wrote of the additional anachronism of the original Muhammed Ali maybe having some relevance to Egypt's history around the time the Rosetta Stone got lifted -- and not wanting to mix it up with that, and wanting to distance the quotation of Laplace a little more, I simplified.

Next, I replaced

For him who first read and therefore


For him who first perused and thereby

-- I think both of the word changes are improvements, have more energy and work better with the idea of unintentionally inventing the logarithmic novel, whatever that might be (some logarathmically compressed form of narrative, I guess).

And finally, whether deliberately or not (I don't remember at the moment) the last lines of the section were changed from

You know, it comes
From not travelling around the world


You know, it comes,
From not travelling around the world

The original lines were very much my thinking at the time I wrote about my regrets at having dropped out of Johnston College the semester before I'd dreamed of going on the big group trip to Europe that a lot of my other college friends went on. So maybe excising the autobiographical material, making it less pointed, and inserting the comma at the end of the penultimate line so that the muddled syntax mixes more with the preceding lines, was an appropriate, even if unintentional, purification of the poem.

Second pantoum based on an expurgated line

The mission took root after the women themselves
raised concerns that aggressive animal rights
groups, spreading to hobbits and elves,
might think in Uighur; Bermudan blights

raised concerns that aggressive animal rights
pleas put them back in the closet:
might think in Uighur, Bermudan blights
that drowned the town before they tossed it?

Please put them back in the closet,
and sketch a return to your natural food roots
that drowned the town before they tossed it
into a salad of squalid swamp shoots;

and sketch a return to your natural food roots,
because there is no other way to expand
into a salad of squalid swamp shoots
that cover like netting the new female land;

because there is no other way to expand,
the mission took root after the women themselves,
that cover like netting the new female land
groups, spreading to hobbits and elves.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

First pantoum based on an expurgated line

Please put them back in the closet,
these small items whose deft toes are soiled,
not knowing anymore which comet's tail caused it,
which dying star indefinitely toiled.

These small items whose deft toes are soiled
know which previous age their work resumes,
which dying star indefinitely toiled --
though you, feeding ones, engorge your pantoums:

Know which previous age their work resumes,
and you will know the quality of your sins,
though you, feeding ones, engorge your pantoums
on air that fragrant, bluely thins.

And you will know the quality of your sins
only within, underground, in an enclosed space
on air that fragrant, bluely thins
where your small blue thumbs begin to trace.

Only within, underground, in an enclosed space,
not knowing anymore which comet's tail caused it,
where your small blue thumbs begin to trace:
please put them back in the closet.

Easy Green Proof Part 2

Again in part 2, I pulled a "bad line" from the stanza. The version published in Telephone had its first seven lines reading as follows:

The hominid group
Appears to have got all cramped up
Unable to move its toes
To swim away in the nearby ocean
Or even get outside
If these racists ever had any notion
Of what outside really means

I pulled out the line "If these racists ever had any notion" mostly because, believe it or not, at the moment of the editing I was uncomfortable with the idea that, even though I obviously wasn't really accusing anyone of being a racist here, may even have been using found language (though I don't know that with any assurance this long after the original composition), I would feel myself qualified to accuse anyone, even in theory, even hypothetically, of being a racist. Now, I do feel that discomfort, and the accompanying resentment which I try a little harder to repress -- but is that any reason to get rid of the stanza's central rhyme, as well as to weaken one of the central ideas I was playing with -- that humanity, though it may come from a population of sea mammals (something I didn't really believe at the time, certainly don't know, but remain fascinated with) was also racist in its biological foundation? I'm still pretty sure that central idea deserves to be weakened, but I guess there is no certainty in the writing of poetry.

Anyway, the whole meaning of the line "Of what outside really means" is completely changed now because it has been re-connected (as if in some genetic experiment working with chromosome strands) with the line "Or even get outside". I like the metaphysical dimension that replaces the bio-politics because of the change.

In the meantime, I've determined to use both the line "Please put them back in the closet" and "If these racists ever had any notion" in new poems, and if they get written I'll include them on this blog so you'll see how sausage really gets made, regurgitated, and re-made in my brane.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Easy Green Proof Part 1

The notable changes I made between the magazine and book versions of this section were to change the ellipsis at the end of the line

Of dinner that lasts...

into a full stop

Of dinner that lasts.

I have to note that at the moment, as I write, I can't swear the change was intentional. In both cases, the punctuation is unique in the poem. I think the ellipsis fit better with my original idea of writing a "New York" poem with a certain amount of comic book diction allowed or required, but with every line having a pristine quality of its own emphasized by capitalizing the first letter of the line the way poets did centuries ago...

On the other hand, the bare couplet

Remember the inconceivable heat
Of dinner that lasts.

seems more effective to me now with the full stop. It forces a mock-monumental (would that be mockumental?) seriousness upon the nonsequitur, as it were.

The other thing I did in the first stanza/part of the poem was to remove the line

Please put them back in the closet

after the line

Into a lather, without meaning to

and before the line

If you want professional help you realize

This change was certainly intentional. I got rid of the line as I got rid of others (to be mentioned as we proceed). But why? It's not a particularly "bad" line in terms of the diction, or the non-flow, of the stanza, nor can I state with moral certitude that it's more unnecessary than other nonsequiturs piling on each other here. I believe I purged the line because I was trying to prevent the reader from going immediately to obvious social or political readings I hadn't consciously intended, or maybe no longer consciously intended.

And to get to the heart of that dilemma of mine, I need to think about the Ted Berrigan poetry I've been reading. As someone with a prejudice against most forms of political statement in poetry, I'm always amazed in reading Ted Berrigan at how he collages in political, sometimes incendiary phrases and feelings in a way that is fundamentally non-judgmental and aesthetic.

I have to think more about that...

I have to think more about that.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Easy Green Proof in Telephone

Telephone was definitely the biggest deal poetry magazine I ever got any work in based on cold submission, and to this day I look at "Easy Green Proof" in issue 16 and feel a quiet pride and self-importance granted to me by no other accomplishment. This is not at all to dismiss the pleasure of being published with equal care and effort by people who were friends, or friends of friends, but that element of being personally connected necessarily calls into question the purity of someone I didn't know, in particular Maureen Owen, a great poet in her own right, deciding my work should go into the mix of poems by people I considered real, if rarefied, presences, like Hannah Weiner writing to spirits or Andrei Codrescu.

It took me years to realize that I'd misspelled "harnessed" as "harnassed" and the editors of Telephone had taken my spelling as intrinsic to the poem. And for years after that, that was the only thing I wanted to change about the published version of the poem -- I felt that way about no other work of mine at the time.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Part One: Easy Green Proof

When I wrote "Easy Green Proof" I was finishing up my undergraduate thing by majoring in maths at U.C. Santa Barbara, 1979-80, and thought I was entitled to the figure. Actually most of what I remember about proofs during that period was sheer memorization. My favorite example of that was my final exam in the differential geometry segment of my topology sequence, a course that was basically out of my range, then and now, because I've never mastered advanced calculus (line integrals and the like) and basic calculus is often more misleading than not in the field. Anyway, our professor (a visitor from Britain who was never less than courteous, no matter the ignorance of myself and a few other laggards) gave us the option of going for a bare pass in the class if we could just memorize and regurgitate on paper the proof of the so-called Hairy Ball Theorem, which as I recall it now was a claim that any sphere with hair required at least one fixed point from which all cowlicks could proceed... I memorized, regurgitated, passed, and have no memory of the proof itself.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The dedication, continued: Christina Mengert

And finally, leading to the final poems in the book, I took another UCLA Extension on-line poetry class with Christina Mengert, who is able not only to support whatever her students are doing and offer critiques to make the poems better, but also is cognizant of everything going on in the world of poetry today. I highly recommend her book 12x12, for all the insufferableness of most of the poets interviewing each other, for an apercu into how the sausage is made these days, an anthropology (verging on anthropophagy) of the area just below the top of the poetry world's food chain in the twenty-first century, a preview of the history of our literature.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The dedication, continued: Carol Potter

Carol Potter was the first of two poetry teachers I've had in online courses through UCLA Extension. I took her "Intermediate Poetry Writing" class two years ago, when seemingly unprovoked I decided to try writing again after a hiatus of something like ten years (excepting the love poems I'd written for Jenny). What her course and the one I took with Christina Mengert both did extremely well was to provide a relentless pace of assignments and deadlines, and supportive and detailed critiques of what I wrote. Many of the later poems have a form in the book unrecognizeable in their initial drafts because of Carol's (and classmates', but to a lesser extent) suggestions.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The dedication, continued: Tom Clark

I've been reading Tom Clark's poetry since I was in high school in Simi Valley, thirty-five years ago, and found a copy of Another World, still my all-time favorite poetry anthology, at the Simi Valley Public Library. Tom is that volume's opener. Finding his books Stones and Air at the U.C. Riverside library when I was going to Johnston College in Redlands was a further influence on my writing at the time.

In the mid-1980's I met Tom in person when I signed up for a U.C. Berkeley Extension poetry class he was teaching, and from that point on he has served as a model of writing and taking poetry seriously. That first workshop class was also where I first met the three poets whose friendship I valued most in the ensuing decade: Owen Hill, Richard Retecki, and the now-deceased William Talcott.

During the 1990's I audited a number of the poetry classes Tom taught at his home through New College... I've lost touch with him in the last ten years, partly because when I'd pretty much done all the classes he taught, my own work didn't serve as a sufficiently strong reason for communication -- all the more so when I stopped writing altogether for several years. Nevertheless, my affection and respect for him have never diminished.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The dedication, continued: Barney Childs

I've studied poetry-writing formally under four teachers, not counting junior high and high school creative writing. The first of the four, the composer Barney Childs, taught poetry-writing and poetics at Johnston College when I went there between 1975 and 1977. I was commended to Barney's poetry seminar even before I started at Johnston, when I visited as a college senior and told people I talked to that I wrote poetry/wanted to be a poet. Barney's classes were described to me as "rigorous" and in terms that made them sound like poetics boot camp. I guess Barney's gruff persona readily amplified into the drill sergeant required by the latter metaphor.

The poetry I wrote in Barney's classes wasn't much better than what I wrote outside of class, but I did pay more attention to forms like the sestina and sonnet because of his assignments, and perhaps I did take on a sense of standards, of the need for work to be good enough to "stand" on its own. I remember that Barney was an admirer of the poet Paul Blackburn, the purity of his practice and the combination of openness and formalism evidenced in his work.

I've been writing irregularly about my two years at Johnston, under the heading "Garden of Earthly Delights," on my main blog. More may be found there about those rarefied environs and times long gone...

Monday, June 15, 2009

The dedication

Book dedications are curious holdovers from the era of aristocratic patronage, when books were dedicated to the individuals who actually paid for their creation and production. My brother Steve did the right thing, of course, in dedicating his first published novel to his parents, and I would have done well to have followed his lead. On the other hand, there might be other books I could possibly write someday that would be better given to them (or to their shades). I decided to follow the equally long tradition of dedicating my poetry to my poetic progenitors. But to whom, if to anyone, did I "owe" for the writing I've done in the past three decades? Randy Greif has probably done more than anyone else to get me writing and supporting (by making use of) what I have written, but I consider him primarily a friend rather than an instructor...

I went through two iterations of the dedication before arriving at its current form. The first was "To Barney Childs and Tom Clark, my masters in the craft." Growing increasingly uncertain that any readers would be able to discern any way in which either of these gentlemen could be considered my masters (as if I was claiming to have served apprenticeships with them), I changed the wording to "To Barney Childs and Tom Clark, masters of the craft." That wording, however, called attention in my mind to the fact that I didn't actually know much about Barney Childs' poetry (although he taught me a great deal in the classes I took with him), not enough to be able to affirm in my own mind that he actually was a master of the craft, however strong my expectations might be that he would have been such. Beyond that, I questioned whether I had a strong enough personal connection to Barney to be so presumptuous as to dedicate my work to him and thereby implicate him, especially when not being among the living he would be unable to defend against the charge.

The final form of the dedication rests in a statement of fact: "To my poetry teachers: Barney Childs, Tom Clark, Carol Potter and Christina Mengert." These four turn out to be the only teachers with whom I've done formal instruction in poetry or poetics. Moreover, the form of the dedication doesn't actually charge them with anything substantive. It seems fair, and enough to pay the debt owed.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The process of self-publication

My brother, Stephen John Svoboda, self-published his novel For Reasons of Youth one year ago, and it was after ordering a copy and seeing it come in the mail looking all real that I determined to self-publish myself through Authorhouse, the same company he had used. I forced myself to work on the collection in earnest at the end of 2008, when I took advantage of one of the company's frequent promotions to "lock in savings" -- at the time I hadn't really looked into alternatives, some of which in retrospect look as though they might have ended up with an equally real-looking book at a fraction of the cost.

Authorhouse provides some nice services that really do give you the sense of "being" published as opposed to just publishing yourself in the sense of going to Kinko's, printing your stuff up, and trying to get other people to read it. They schedule a conference call with the people who lay out your cover and galley, and they sound knowledgeable on the call. If anything, they set your expectations a little over high in that process, perhaps especially in the case of poetry...

When I got my first galley proof back, I discovered that rather than simply porting my lineation over from Word, the layout person had transformed over a hundred of my poems in ways that made no sense at all: for instance, about fifty of the poems in the middle of the poem (which, granted, have no punctuation or internal indications of lineation) had their titles and all text concatenated into slugs of text bearing no resemblance to the originals.

I spent several weeks stewing over the mess that had been made of my book, then hunkered down with a copy of the galley and my original, inserted line breaks and correction marks, sent back a two pound package of corrections, and found that whoever they have doing corrections to galleys is seemingly more attentive than whoever does the first cut. My second galley proof was "perfect," in the sense that it made every correction I had asked for, correctly. Any remaining errors or typoes are my own...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

About the cover

The cover image is from a slide of "God Speaks to the Child," a monotype I did in 2002 at Trillium Press, now Trillium Graphics. (As a side note, I have found the process of realizing images that David Salgado and his colleagues enable at Trillium the most satisfying and productive I've ever experienced. All of the printing is done by the masters with a degree of delicacy and attention to the artist's intention impossible on a conventional etching press in the time frame of a day. I would highly recommend them to any artist with the money to spare.) I used the image for my open studio postcard in 2004, exactly five years ago as I write. (I still have probably a hundred of the postcards in stacks variously around the house.)

I've done a number of drawings with the title "Collapse of the Grid," but I didn't think any of them would translate well as the cover of a book. I think it's just barely possible to put the interpretation on this image as well: there's just the hint of a grid embedded in the head-like form (my "child" when I came up with a title for the image), and the downward movement of the the main vertical-diagonal form could be read as a "collapse," depending on what you think it might be collapsing from...

Once I had chosen the image, and the background color, Authorhouse did the rest...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Proof copy!

Received my first physical copy of Collapse of the Grid today... it looks good enough that the frisson of self-publication comes quite close to the real thing. Contact me if you're interested in a signed copy, or go to Amazon for quick, easy, and super saver shipping...

Friday, June 5, 2009

About the title

The title is also that of one of the most recent poems in the collection.  "Collapse of the grid" is a phrase I'd heard used in electric system operations and media coverage of same, to refer to large-scale failures of the transmission grid that cause extended blackouts.  I liked the phrase originally both because of its inherent poetic drama and because it tied in well to visual work I was looking at, especially by artists like Eva Hesse who both used grid systems in their drawings but also allowed such systems to "break down," if you will.  Under the influence of drawings like Hesse's I did some large scale pen and ink drawings on pink vellum which I gave that title.  One of them was the only drawing I've been able to get into a juried art show to date, at the Berkeley Art Center about four years ago I think.

Last year I wrote a poem with the same title, to be found in the last section of the collection.  I chose it to be the book's "title poem," as they say, because of this nexus between my writing and day job, and in the "back story" my drawing and visual work, which it seems to point toward even as it also, obviously and ironically, points toward the mortality (possible, probable, and eventually certain failure) of all efforts...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The cover

Not having seen a copy yet myself

I've seen and approved the galley and cover proofs that together should result in a book that looks exactly like what I imagine it to be.  However, I've yet to see an actual physical copy of the book.  In that sense, the book is still virtual as far as I'm concerned.  Already, though, I'm finding the "product description" which I made up cavalierly for Authorhouse slightly embarrassing.  It's what's used on Amazon, and reads

Collapse of the Grid collects poems written over thirty years, including pieces used in avant-garde musical works during the 1980s and 1990s by Randy Greif and Art Simon. The most recent poems incorporate the new experience of being a parent into the inscrutable stream of wordplay that seems to define my earlier work.

Aside from the question of whether this places too much emphasis on the connection with "avant-garde musical works" (I think it probably does), the phrase "inscrutable stream of wordplay" is an ugly mix of cuteness and self-deprecating negative energy, no help to the poems, myself, or of much use to you the reader except to keep expectations low.  I'll have to think a little about how I'd like to revise the product description, but for now, lose the second sentence...