- Two latest reviews: Douglas Kearney’s Patter and James Longenbach’s The Virtues of Poetry.
- Two friends of mine have launched new websites and maybe you’d like to check them out? Lewis Mundt is a poet I admire (he’s also the gentleman who invited me to perform at the New Shit Show in May). Pint Problems is a beer blog run by Benjamin, one of my closest friends.
- I presented an album called “White1” by Sunn O))) as part of Skewed Visions’ Petri Dish series. Skewed Visions is great and you should support them. I’m obsessed with Sunn O))) and won’t shut up about them.
- M. and I adopted a dog and two rats. Flynn (dog) and sisters Fred and George (rats) are collectively the cutest. See: Instagram.
Back in May I read James Franco’s collection, Directing Herbert White (Graywolf Press, 2013). It was, to me, sloppy and self-indulgent. Poems touched on sex, violence, and death in an immature attempt to be “gritty” while not actually exploring anything surprising about their subjects; others explored a memory of Franco’s, which might have been a useful exercise for the writer, but fell flat for this reader. I cringed a lot while reading.
To be fair, I went into my experience with the book with low expectations, but a sincere hope that I would be surprised. As a reader I try to curb my expectations and take a book on its own terms, though that is, of course, difficult. Some expectations always color my perception of a book, but I always want a book to blow me away.
So why bother reading a book I dislike? Because it focuses my ideas about literature. Reading books I like gives me new tricks and ideas to steal for my own work, but I find that it’s just as important to know what I’m writing against. What things do the poems I dislike do? Avoid them. Naturally, I try to avoid writing things I dislike anyway, but reading them helps me make sure that I’m being deliberate.
That’s the point, for me: reading books I dislike means I make better choices in my own work. Ultimately, then, the act of reading outside of my taste is not wasted effort, it’s useful. I hope I’m a better writer because of it. That doesn’t mean I would recommend Franco’s book—Vijay Seshadri’s Pulitzer winning collection 3 Sections, also published by Graywolf Press in 2013—is much better, but if you’re a poet then perhaps it’s worth looking into. Maybe just get it from the library, though.