Saturday, March 5, 2011

Arthur Vogelsang--Interview Plus Review

Arthur Vogelsang—Interview Plus Review

The publication of Expedition: New & Selected Poems (Ashland, 2011) provides us the occasion to celebrate its author, Arthur Vogelsang, one of YM’s favorites. Vogelsang has won Pushcart Prizes, a few NEAs, the Juniper, and others, but perhaps the best testament to his value is his wide-ranging appeal: his credits go from The New Yorker to Volt, surely an achievement in a fragmented world. Elaine Terranova and YM double-team him in the following interview. Elaine Terranova is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Not To: New and Selected Poems and a chapbook, Elegiac: Footnotes to Rilke's Duino Elegies. She has published poetry and reviewed books by Louise Gluck, Frederick Seidel, and Rachel Loden at


Elaine Terranova: Can you think of a formative experience in your life that turned you toward poetry?

Arthur Vogelsang: As a child, I read before attending school, reading before the age of four, living in a house in Baltimore with six adults, relatives, minus my father who was in the Army in the European war since I was an infant, and who I remember meeting when he came home. I met my father. The adults in my house took turns reading to me and as there were many of them I believe I picked it up readily.

There were several difficult incidents I remember, living with the six adults during the war, besides the later one of meeting my father. One was some sort of lure or promise in the basement which one or two of the adults were amused by, since I feared going into the basement alone but forgot about that until I got down there, nearly every time, with semi-hysterical results. Yes, then you could fool me more than three times. I don’t remember my mother’s position on or reaction to the lone basement visits. Rather than a lure down there, promised by the adults, I suspect I may have fantasized on my own and insisted about something down there which didn’t exist, and that therefore I was the source of my fright. Another difficulty was the blackouts, practice air raid drills, with black curtains pulled down and city-wide sirens. In another case, I was allowed to test-smoke a cigar on someone’s lap, in response to my persistent, bothersome requests, became ill, and so did not smoke, even as a dare, even one puff, even marijuana, until I was 22. Every cloud has a silver lining. I think I, as the only child in the house during the war, was pleased and attended to by the six adults quite a bit, but that happiness seemed usual. As a formative experience that turned me toward poetry, perhaps I should have said and that happiness seemed usual. However, we all seemed to be waiting for something, obviously, especially my mother.

In school, I wanted to be a cowboy, a baseball player, or a writer. I don’t know why. I was told that as an adult one was paid for stories. I wrote them, in prose of course, about cowboys and baseball players. Until I was 14 or 15 I had delusions, or perhaps only illusions since I was somewhat athletic, of earning a living as a baseball player. At about that time I began to play against people my age who would indeed go on briefly to the major leagues, and the difference in ability was astounding, while at about the same time I began to read adult books – Sandburg, Hemingway, Elinor Wylie, Untermeyer’s two anthologies, Modern American Poetry and Modern British Poetry -- and was not only discouraged by my athletic competition but also bored with the game. Practicing bunting was no longer interesting. I also noticed that there were few maybe no girls at the thrice-weekly games and thrice-weekly practices, but that there were many girls in the junior high school’s library, the local branch library, and the huge Enoch Pratt Library. I began to write about imaginary relationships with them and with girls at school. I still believe the sexual impulse is hand-in-hand with the writing itch. I don’t know what female poets do about this, and few will discuss my idea with me. There’s a clue to something. Meanwhile, among my contemporaries now, I read significantly more women poets than men. For one thing, with the women there is less of an unwarranted assumption of wisdom, and their work is, oh, juicier aesthetically. Back to formative stuff, though I suppose that last digression had to do with formative-now. In high school I was incredibly lonely except for two literary friends, and had to rely on my imagination not only for sexual encounters but also for companionship. I also began to read on my own in libraries in a wider circle of writers – all of Joyce except Finnegans Wake, for instance. Yeats, Don Quixote, Eliot. Many others. In high school I didn’t care for Whitman, Dickinson, or Faulkner. No idea of the contemporaries of, say, 1950 – 1960. I had a great English teacher in high school, Frances Meginnis, who called on me in class so as to expose my interests, knowledge, and worth, and gave me the opportunity to read some of my short stories to the rest of the class, a radical happening in high school at the time. I had a brilliant teacher in college, Rudd Fleming, who Liam Rector also encountered a little later than me and wrote about. Dr. Fleming was able to speak about literature in a conversational language that included the best that had been thought and said. He encouraged dialogues with his students but I was nowhere near his level – it was difficult to ask questions or cause encounters of the mind or spirit – so I listened. He buttonholed me in the hallway a couple of times and emphasized that I was… hard to remember… emphasized the difference or specialness in me as a literary operative. Gave me the idea that I had a literary enterprise.

When I went to the Johns Hopkins Seminars and then Iowa City, having formative experiences was not the name of the game, um, the opposite of it. I met my wife Judy at Johns Hopkins, she was a fiction student and then became a filmmaker, and she’s been one formative experience in becoming the poet I am in numerous literary ways, and the formative experience in personal ways, once we met. I lived in New York for two years between those workshops, with Judy who was a New Yorker, and something overall happened there that was as formative as the conflicted childhood visits to the basement, nothing I can put my finger on, and all to the good. Probably it’s a city every poet should live in for two years with a native, when he or she is 24 – 26 as I was.

ET: You were an editor for many years. Did this help you form a poetic practice of your own? In what ways?

AV: No. Deciding editorially, plus the beautiful cacophony of contributors with their individual voices, plus doing administration, plus the off-key grating cacophony of contributors with their voices, plus networking, were all mushed together and it was more like a region of tribes in which it was the custom for the offspring to continue to live in the one tepee with the grandparents and parents and try to kill one and procreate with the other, and then with the offspring’s offspring living there too and trying to depose or mate any of their progenitors in the tepee. Meanwhile simultaneously they’d have to teach each other to gather berries, hunt, and make acorn mush. Imagine our society if that was the social custom, the biological imperative, and the economic structure. My poetry under such conditions was necessarily a separate tent.

ET: What is the influence of travel or great changes of scene in your work? I know you traveled between coasts regularly and your poems reflect this. You seem to have spent a lot of time on airplanes.

AV: The scenes in my work are changed, in the same poem as you suggest, for aesthetic reasons gathered around Homer’s practice of not staying in the same place for long as a reciter or staying in the setting of the poem for long without changing the setting, and his corollary practice of not doing the same thing twice in a small space and, if possible, giving the impression of never doing the same thing twice. I think my scenes, while many are described naturalistically, are psychic scenes, as when Brueghel has the Alps as an immediate background to a harbor and sea.

I traveled two to three times a year on airplanes coast to coast for decades, and some additional personal trips that far because Los Angeles is so far away from everything, especially the East Coast and its literary opportunities, and relatives. The trips taught me how to live in a pure and bitter and irrational fear for five hours.

ET: Teaching seems to be the usual default career for poets today. Have you taught a lot?

AV: I’ve taught one-semester graduate poetry workshops and/or seminars at USC (twice), once at Redlands, UNLV, and the Iowa Writers Workshop. Also a traveling workshop to 5 remote Kansas communities for the Kansas Arts Commission. Not much teaching in my life. It is always a serious pleasure, sometimes more than that if the students are exceptional. Rather than teaching, I purposely chose the editor route with APR in the early seventies because it seemed to be in touch with what was being written successfully in the immediate present, and had the practical, satisfying value of spreading that writing to a more general public than one department in the university community. Unlike the early 70s, there are now enormous numbers of aspiring writers graduating every year from programs, with book-length manuscripts in hand – someone connected with a service organization, someone who should know, told me 2,000 such graduates each year, and someone else who should know told me 5,000. Even if we cut the figures in half, or use one-third, it’s an unusual situation in literary history. A large, self-perpetuating engine, producing more poetry teachers and more programs. I think the teacher/poets actually like the classroom and conference sessions a lot. As I said, for me it’s a serious pleasure, sometimes more than that.

ET: The line seems to stretch out in your more recent work. Do you start out with a line length in mind?

AV: The long lines in my first four books, and my desire to avoid turnovers, were a problem for the designer, as they were in this fifth one, Expedition. I don’t have the impression of doing longer lines in recent work, but if you think so…. I don’t know, maybe we could measure them and count the long ones. To me a line is an abstract feeling and thought that becomes an actual thing once language occurs and then, to me, it contains something complete – one attitude, one idea, a certain definitive part of a scene, one feeling. Sometimes for the effect of disassociation, or disintegration, or the center not holding, or anything breaking in pieces, etcetera, I’ll purposely and I hope obviously for effect break a line disruptively and then begin a line disruptively. Putting the disruption on the next line, usually complete for another function, makes that next line longer. Several situations like that make for lots of long lines in my poetry. It isn’t a whim and it isn’t prose.

ET: Where did you grow up? Was childhood a thrilling experience?

AV: Baltimore. See the first answer about formative experience. Besides that portion of my life in the city in answer one, I should mention summers spent in rented houses on the Chesapeake Bay or near the ocean, which were idyllic and adventurous. I was allowed alone and unsupervised to use a rowboat, in a small harbor, when I was seven. We were evacuated three times from Fenwick Island in hurricanes. On various bays, there was a lot of crabbing with hand lines from shore and trot lines from a boat. If you are not already a devotee of catching and eating the Atlantic blue crab, explaining that acute and satisfying activity is usually boring, so I won’t.

ET: What did it mean to you to study and teach at the Iowa Writers Workshop, the first and probably most renowned graduate creative writing program in the U.S. of the 20th century? Any especially influential teachers or classmates?

AV: Teaching at Iowa was more like talking to other poets and writers than like talking to students, and was very relaxing. I taught one semester. I had been an MFA student there 18-20 years before. My wife Judy had been a student in the Film and TV Department then, and we considered staying for Phds mostly because we loved the town and the friends we had there in the Workshops and the Film Department, but didn’t stay to pursue the doctorate because we didn’t want to pursue academia. When I taught, it was quite moving to see the town and countryside after the long absence. That semester the permanent poetry faculty was away except for Marvin Bell, so filling the slots besides me were Ann Lauterbach and Ira Sadoff – getting to know all three poets well in close quarters was terrific.

ET: Do you have a favorite of your books? Which gave you the most satisfaction to write?

AV: Do you have a favorite of your children? Which gave you the most satisfaction to raise? I’m not being snarky here, forgive me, I’m making a point. Of course you are right in your two questions’ assumption, which is that they have answers, yes they do, and wouldn’t it be interesting (yes) to know the answers, or moreso to hear the poet’s reasoning, aesthetics, history, re the books. I just don’t feel like talking about it, it’s too personal. Also, this might be valuable for readers to know, answering these two questions in any detail would crystallize something significant to do with the next book I’m writing, so it, the something, wouldn’t be available as flexible, raw material to me. Even as to form.

ET: You’ve lived on both coasts, and these environments share a socio-political climate if not a real one. Is there a politics to your work or one you are trying to get down on paper for your readers? In at least one recent poem, “Komodo,” I get a strong sense of your sympathy with environmental concerns and a questioning of what we are doing technologically and humanly with such innovations as Google Earth.

AV: The socio-political climate, the earth’s deteriorating climate, technology coming to the front and the rear of the stage, are as much concerns of the poet now, me anyway, as the concerns of the individual human heart and spirit, or death, or romantic love have been in the past and continue to be – all of it side by side now. Man is still a wolf to man, love still means willingness to sacrifice for the other, death is puzzling or undeserved, people are cowards and are brave, same person sometimes, all this continuing beside new things like the possibility of a hideous worldwide plague from the earth being exhausted greedily and the probability of life being difficult soon from the earth being exhausted greedily. There may also be a devastating change in human nature from its obsession with technology and the immense everyday hours we put in cahoots with it (if you go to jail, you learn to be a criminal, or if you are already, you learn to be a better criminal).

ET: One good thing about a new and selected collection is that in a way it organizes itself. How important is it to have a strategy for arranging a book and has this varied for you from book to book? Are there purposeful shifts in form and tone from book to book?

AV: Urges, of course combined with what I’ve absorbed from all reading, urges when they yearn for form, for sequences of words, but urges nevertheless, make the shifts from book to book. You don’t plan it until it’s about to be manifest. Frost said the first line was a place where emotion and thought meet, or he almost said that and I have it wrong a little bit, and going from a book to the next book is a simple expansion and copying of that event of the first line and the condition of the poet just before the event.

When I’ve finished a book and am writing new poems, the new poems begin to cohere to each other, or stick like metal filings to a magnet, and I recognize that while it’s happening. The arrangement of a new book begins to happen then. I hold the possibilities in mind as I continue to write individual poems, but the individual poem rarely tries to have a date with the arrangement, since the arrangement is a kind of ghost under the stage. Finally there is a kind of satisfaction, or good exhaustion, at about the 40 – 60 poem point, and I try a few more poems – sometimes they work out and sometimes not – but in either case that’s the book. I don’t think it’s a matter of choice that so many poetry books by so many poets are the same size. I think there’s a strong element of biology to it. Then, sure, you start thinking about the order of the poems and perhaps make a kind of dramatic arc with your shuffling, but I don’t think it gets as involved as the denouments and first turn of the plot and so forth in plays and novels.

When I mention urges, good exhaustion, and biology, above, I’m speaking from the position that art is a necessary human activity for all humans, even if only an urge, and that the artist is the main figure in the landscape.

ET: Your poems sometimes have the feeling of dramatic monologues, say like Robert Browning’s. Have you invented a persona to narrate and is he always the same?

AV: Usually the narrator has several models sit for his portrait and then the portrait speaks. Same with most of the characters in my poems. Sometimes the narrator is only me. Jung says we’re each character in our dreams. OK, that too.

ET: Do movies, novels, theater, music affect your aesthetic? In what ways?

AV: Oddly, thinking about it thoroughly now almost for the first time, no. As a very general background, novels, yes, but the background is so deep and unattached to my poems, like the painted back screen on a stage becoming the whole world outside, as it often did in films, while we (I) must sit there in the audience and would be disillusioned if we went up on stage and tried to connect with what was happening by walking through the painted back screen. Just wouldn’t work. We’d be backstage, not in the whole world outside.

ET: Are you somebody who sets aside certain hours of the day for writing? Do you write on a computer or a big yellow tablet?

AV: I’ve written at different hours different times in my life. Now in the morning and mid-afternoon. Always with a pen (any kind) on paper (lined preferred, blank typing sheets ok). Never on a keyboard. Tried that occasionally and it read like a telegram. I need the pen and paper to handwrite to be able to think and feel at the same time. I like the convenience and speed of being able to change a word or line on the paper. Then I keyboard the first draft, which will have numerous handwritten edits, keyboard on the computer, print that out, and revise on that piece of paper. Then keyboard those changes, and so forth. I touch type at a brisk speed, like 50 – 55 words per minute, with few errors.

ET: A lot of poets don’t like to give readings while others find it a way to connect with readers and to get their books known. What are your feelings about the reading circuit?

AV: Wish there weren’t so many mediocre-to-bad poets getting monstrous sums while there are many more brilliant poets who get very little. Wish there weren’t so many boring poets giving a lot of readings. It is OK with me if a good poet promotes herself or himself by doing a lot of readings, more power to them.

As far as the reading itself, my readings, I’m mildly anxious before, but once up there I like it a lot. I attempt to experience the thought and emotion and syntax of each phrase while I’m reading, and to read in a conversational voice, heightened in the manner of a passionate, significant talk in a person’s life. Several people have had the nerve to tell me my poems are better at readings than on the page, and a few others that they are not difficult when heard at a reading, unlike on the page. I’ve heard recordings of Pound, Dylan Thomas, Eliot, and Sandburg, and think they are dreadful readers, emoting melodramatically, frantically or grandiosely pumping up speech, or deadpanning.

Yaakov Murchadha: How did you come to be where you are in your writing?

AV: Answered mostly in the first question about formative experiences, and in a few other places. Of course the movement between the four books is not covered in my first answer, or in much of the rest of the interview, except I’d like to apply or repeat something I said, which is that for me to talk now about the movements from book to book would crystallize something significant to do with the next book I’m writing at this moment, so it, the something, wouldn’t be available as flexible, raw material to me.

YM: What are your thoughts on the structure of the poetry world, where there seem to be many small hierarchies and many stars leading their modest followings? Do you agree with this description?

AV: Since I believe all poetry has value, I might put it differently than your question, but not enough to disagree with your general drift. I don’t know what to do about it. What would you do? There are some living poets who transcend your description. At the end of question-answer four, I mention the huge waves of degree-bearing, book-bearing people who enter “the poetry world” each year. These waves produce the vast population of “many small hierarchies and many stars leading their modest followings” that you speak of.

YM: Could you provide a list of favorites – poets, movies, prose writers . . .

AV: No. These lists come out periodically in print and online sporadically from individuals, and in response but privately I sometimes viciously and hilariously make my own lists which are bizarre, absurd, hurtful, and never shared with others. The list of lists would be a large number of topics with no items, for instance your 1,000 worst and 1,000 best topics, never listing the items. For instance, Movies a best topic among 999 others, but “Citizen Kane” nor any other movies mentioned. Kinds of Poop a worst topic. Or wait, maybe a best topic. Never would the various forms of poop be mentioned.

YM: Politics in your work seems located in gender scenarios, and it’s hard to imagine your wonderful voice conveying something like a political message. Comments?

AV: Thanks, this is a compliment. But I think in some to many of my poems gender scenarios and a political message are thrown in the same ring, with a narrator-referee, or put in a car together for a 40-minute trip, or however you want to put it. I think I have poems in which communities of two people, broader communities of families, widening out to communities of regions, countries, planets (yes), and even communities of what’s beyond us, are variously mixed or have encounters in my poems to try to make what isn’t a mixed metaphor. On the other hand, in some of my poems, politics seems located in gender scenarios, yes. You seem to portray my particular “wonderful voice” as being incompatible with a political message. Probably it would be if I tried to say the message directly, as other voices have so marvelously done – Bob Dylan or Auden, for example. I wouldn’t try that, no.

YM: Clayton Eshleman wrote in an essay about getting his thoughts on Bush and Rumsfeld into the “poetic record.” Does such a thing exist?

AV: It exists for Clayton. Possibly his archive is pre-sold to Buffalo. I like him and would begin to read the essay though I might not finish it.

AV (Question): I want to ask myself a question and then answer it, OK? Here it is: Let’s look at a previous question and answer again, here, and expand on it. The question was: “Your poems sometimes have the feeling of dramatic monologues, say like Robert Browning’s. Have you invented a persona to narrate and is he always the same?” And the answer was: “Usually the narrator has several models sit for his portrait and then the portrait speaks. Same with most of the characters in my poems. Sometimes the narrator is only me. Jung says we’re each character in our dreams. OK, that too.” Here’s my question to myself: Many of your poems seem bifurcated or with dual concerns that are frequently unresolved, or there is no conclusion, despite interaction between the polar concerns or between the two people or despite the conflicting activities of the drama heading toward an encounter in which something would be decided. Comments?

AV (Answer): On page 98 of my new book Expedition, there’s the poem “Raymond Chandler,” which is intended partially as an Aristotelian dialogue and I think is that, if not a complete Aristotelian encounter. In the sense of our usual definition of tragedy being identified with Oedipus Rex and Aristotle, the poem pursues that sense and may try to disintegrate it, or attempts a new modeling that is still the offspring of “our usual definition of tragedy.” The poem bounces back and forth from the Raymond Chandler world to the Aristotelian world like a ball in a handball court, so in those terms it was easy to write – when you hit one wall you just head toward the other and then come back without having to keep throwing. The ball will go into each wall several times from one throw. Each wall may then exist facing the other without destruction or diminution, in fact they have to, and the ball too is its essential self, in fact has to be. There are three central characters in the Raymond Chandler poem – Raymond Chandler, his generic hero, and me, the author. At least two of these characters are usually doing or saying what’s being said or done, and sometimes all three, at once. Sometimes only one of them is doing or saying what’s being said or done. Besides what’s said and done, there’s also the narration, and the same applies to that – any one of them, or two of them, or all of them, are narrating. So, when I, me, the poet, speaks to us directly at the end, and defines himself differently than the Chandler hero or the Chandler narrator, he is also able to speak about concerns broader than tragedy even, which are energy, disequilibrium, and equilibrium.

This poem, and all this I’ve just said about it, is a good approach to many of my poems. I hope there are other approaches.


As much as can be claimed for any group of poems, Arthur Vogelsang’s Expedition: New & Selected Poems (Ashland Poetry Press, 2011) may be good medicine for melancholy humans, and it may also be an energy source.

Superficially, from an agoraphobic’s point of view, it’s hard to think of a read potentially more disturbing than Vogelsang’s. Agoraphobics, who as a reading group presumably limit themselves to parlor-bound material, are confronted here with a startling variety of the non-routine and the far-away. Poems are almost always out of doors or in transit. Strange places and peoples are vividly evoked by name and description. An early example from “Poem,” from A Planet (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983):

"Here on Mars, it’s simple.
It’s clear. Books, horses and straight screwing
Go from left to right as in real life
And the weather is a sponge storm every time. . ."

It’s tricky to get a sense of voice from a few lines, but there’s a kindly helpfulness-in-the-telling, a medicinal infectiousness in the above selection. Take my hand and come along, the voice seems to be saying. Notice the subtlety: the comparison isn’t between Mars and Earth, but between Mars and “real life,” which suggests that Mars isn’t a planet at all but a state of mind. Because of the broad self-deprecating humor, you tend to trust the speaker in places transcending literal fact.

Or take “Kugluktuk,” a poem in the new set, in which Vogelsang’s lines often run on and on, as if to evade mental confinement:

"I thought I’d go to Alberta and it would hurt less
And all I could think of was Calgary and Edmonton,
But a Canadian who happened to be in Los Angeles County
Said to me if it hurts why don’t you go to High Level because
Calgary or Edmonton, well it’ll hurt there like it does
In Pasadena but there’s no connect in High Level or wait
Go to Meander River where ho boy there’s no nothing,
It’s way up. If it hurts in Burbank which is not
Like the movies but like New Jersey, it won’t hurt
In Meander River for sure and probably not
In High Level either unless the hurt has
To do with something in which connect is not an
Issue if you know what I mean. Of course
I knew what he meant. … "

Per Wikipedia, Kugluktuk, meaning “place of moving water,” is a hamlet on the Coppermine River near the Northwest Territories in Canada. Of all the names in the poem (there are more of them than appear in the selection above), Kugluktuk is not among them. So let the title be fun in itself and share with the poem proper only a compass point. It’s noteworthy that the nature of the “hurt” goes unspecified, although it’s a pretty good bet that it’s emotional in some way, since “connect” may be an issue. And it’s a neat twist that the poem shares a rhetorical frame with those TV cell-phone network commercials boasting of coverage—connection—anywhere on earth you might happen to be. Enjoy the juxtaposition and overlay of themes. In sum: what an unsentimental and exhilarating way to write a poem about connection or lack of same, and how someone deals with the issue by finding a place to run away to, but not before finding someone to go along.
Vogelsang talks about the writing voice in “Brutal Lesson,” from Left Wing of A Bird (Sarabande Books, Inc., 2003):

". . . He advised, when you get into the big scenes
You don’t select objective correlatives, you just get your head right
And put in everything in that voice that blesses everything. . . "

Stopping the creative flow to come up with an appropriate figure is certainly a fine way to develop a blockage, mental and/or physical. And while “blesses everything” may be something of an ironic overstatement, the direction is nevertheless a going outward toward the world.

But even the sofa-bound are included, as in “Help,” from the ‘People’ section of the New Poems, and a recent Poetry Daily feature.

"Lay down beside me I signaled to my wolf
Three pats of the sofa in the early morn
Then two pats of the heart to say why.
It’s fun to see a wolf in the role of therapist, but this fun is vitally necessary, since,
A person might not want to absorb by touch another’s pain
. . . A wolf loves to . . ."

The world has been and continues to be obsessed with energy, its cost and scarcity, the kind that combusts to power pistons, the kind wrung from the wind by the big utilities. And the concept of energy is often associated with that of freedom: lack of energy would devastate our free economy/society/world. The point is that there is in the world of aesthetics an energy/freedom dipole analogous to the one in political economy, except that it may operate in reverse, freedom produces imaginative energy. The associated feeling may be exhilaration, not hysteria or mania, not undocked from restraint and reason.

For example, exploding a cliché, like any other explosion, requires energy. (The abovementioned wolf is not in sheep’s clothing or at the door.) Nothing impairs imaginative freedom like a cliché, and in Vogelsang I have a hard time finding any of them. Creating a poem’s logic, without resorting to logic off the shelf, also requires energy. And self-reliance and courage.

In the aptly named “Freedom,” also from the People section of the New Poems, the speaker is trying to unravel a question of “connection”—who is his best friend: his best friend or his best friend’s girlfriend? The poem veers into irrelevancies—such as the climatology of the city they all happen to be in and the city’s “pushy” architecture—which is exactly what many minds do when confronted with the complexities of human relationships. The principals do a lot of talking, want to escape, even make plans, but can’t. Then the realization:

"It was not something you could talk through,
You just had to get in your truck and go.
You had to be like the planes or the birds
Quick in the canyon-like avenues,
Examples right in front of our noses each day."

Returning to most poems after spending time with ones by Vogelsang is unfortunately like having half the oxygen sucked out of your brain. Your imagination gears down to slow its descent through atmospheres thick with sentimentality or cleverness, you have a sick feeling of imminent confinement, you are entering a speed trap.

Let’s wrap up with what we should have perhaps begun. Expedition collects work from two volumes in addition to the two mentioned previously: Twentieth Century Women, 1988, published in the Contemporary Poetry Series by the University of Georgia Press, and Cities and Towns, 1996, the Juniper Prize winner published by the University of Massachusetts Press. It might or might not be possible to trace stylistic and/or thematic arcs over the four separate volumes, but it seems safe to say that each blends poems with personal focus and others with a more general scope, and maybe even to hazard that the middle books’ poems seem in general to develop along straighter lines, both in terms of language and idea. Compare, for instance, “The Palace at the Hearst Ranch” (from A Planet ) and “Lee” (from Twentieth Century Women), the former being a meditation conflating the themes of artistic celebrity, politics and mortality in a series of remarkable images, including this:

"Hearst dove long and shallow like a fat arrow
And Chaplin walked around toward his agent in a normal gait,
The walk of a mailman, which some were shocked to see.
While the latter consists of a magical childhood reminiscence about an afternoon on the bay with mother and her best friend, much of the magic emanating from “a lone house set in the sea:”
Glass flashed in the water gliding under my hand, panes
Attached to some of it. . ."

Note the renovation of the water as glass image. Another cliché exploded.

No comments: