Travis Nichols (The Bat Segundo Show #510)

Travis Nichols is most recently the author of The More You Ignore Me.

Author: Travis Nichols

Subjects Discussed: Comparing smells in Washington DC and New York City, Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder and The More You Ignore Me as epistolary novels, digital narcissism, the difficulties of writing novels with a wide swath of perspective, the benefits of coming from a deeply singular place, lathering yourself into a George Hamilton-like frenzy, the medium vs. the solitary voice, finding a way into the head of an abhorrent character, @AvoidComments, the remarkable amount of text generated by commenters, contending with trolls while working as editor at The Poetry Foundation, the freedom (and lack thereof) that comes with specific forms of writing, ruminating on why some people type so much online, when extreme behavior is rewarded, averted vision and the Pleiades, Jack Spicer’s After Lorca, “oppressed” people swimming in white privilege, the self-declared outcast, teachers who guided Nichols into considering the wider world, privilege and exclusion, writing about something insane and not taking it with you into your regular life, family members who disown you by email, Stephen Elliott’s The Adderall Diaries, the adventurous nature of Coffee House Press, readings where you bomb, qualities shared with theater and literature, laughter within the head, why the worst poems go over very well in front of bar audiences, craven desperation for approval, intense listening, the importance of pursuing the idea, Anselm Berrigan blanking his mind out by writing zeroes and ones, how to quiet a mind, working at Bailey Coy Books, not leaving the house, listening to singers who don’t sing in English, Princess Nicotine, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, linguistic phrases and online formality, baroque language, Literature Subreddit, the sentiment held by certain online types that literature after World War I is worthless, War and Peace, Thomas Eakins, Clint Eastwood talking with a chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention, artsplaining diction, Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse,” seductive caesuras, balancing breaks and relentless formalism, willfully not giving the reader any space, online harassment of women, Anita Sarkeesian being harassed for speaking her mind, threats against Lindy West, early reaction to The More You Ignore Me, Alissa Nutting’s Tampa, women readers and literature, and whether it’s possible to tell the whole truth in fiction today.


Nichols: With The More You Ignore Me, there were some very particular people that I was dealing with on an everyday basis because of my job at the Poetry Foundation. But they were essentially harmless. They were basically having fun with reputation and inventing characters. But I found myself trying to interact with a person. Because there was a rule of thumb that everyone would say: “Well, you wouldn’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.” And I was like, “Oh, right. So you’re going to take that tack and you’re going to lose.” Because there’s all these other people who are saying everything they would never say. And, one, they’re having so much fun. Sort of. It was a really dark kind of fun. It seemed like it was painful. But there were hints of real inventiveness. There would be actual interesting thought. But then, of course, they couldn’t let it go. There’d be something like — I’m sure you’ve had this. The amount of text that’s being generated is remarkable. So that’s one thing. “God, that’s amazing. Some people can type that much.” But then also there are a number of ideas and some of them are almost there. And so, in probably a really shitty way, I thought, “Oh, well maybe I can look at that and try and make them into something that I can take as good.” Totally insulting to those people that they’re not doing it well and I would do it better, but I can own that. Because I think that they weren’t doing it very well. And then I thought, No one would ever actually want to read a 220 page book, which this novel is, unless it was doing something more than just being your standard comment. So I thought, There is a form. To get to what you’re asking, there’s a form there that allows for a lot more than many of the other forms that we have. Like I actually think that with a lot of poetry and with a lot of fiction, there’s not a lot of freedom to do this, that, or the other. That you get a lot more freedom.

I mean, if you look at slash fiction or you look at a lot of other kinds of online writing, they don’t give a fuck about what the form is. They have this amazing freedom. One, because the audience is there or not there. But also there’s some part of the frontal lobe that might be missing which just allows them to not check themselves. And I thought, “Oh, well, that could be really remarkable to try and go with.”

Correspondent: Or the Internet encourages them to speak in this unfiltered, raw, feral, atavistic at times mode.

Nichols: Right. And you’re rewarded by how extreme you can be. But then also the ultimate trolling is that you say something provocative to get a conversation going.

Correspondent: Some would call it a rise, as opposed to a dialogue.

Nichols: Right. Definitely. And the tragedy of this narrator in The More You Ignore Me is that he is sort of trying to do that, but he doesn’t allow anyone else to speak. So there’s no discussion that happens. And one of the things that I found interacting with other people like this — and also not just online; offline; everyone has these people in their lives — is that you can get worried. Like I have felt that I’m coming across with this person, my relationship with this person, I’m not being a good person. Because I’m getting this reaction. And it took me a long time to realize that it has absolutely nothing to do with me. That it has everything to do with this other person. They, in some ways, don’t even see me. I’m being steamrolled and just assimilated into this person’s psychosis a lot of times. And so one of the things I was trying to do with this narration is just to show that it starts out very much really about someone else. Could there be something that’s more about someone else than a wedding? I mean, that seems like that’s supposed to be about these people truly. And then, as it goes, those people are totally obliterated and then they’re gone by the end. It has nothing to do with them. And so that’s what I found over and over again. And now I see it. And I think, Right. This. You think that if there’s a comment on a post that’s about Obama’s judicial nominations or whatever, you’re like, maybe I’ll learn about the nominations. And you’re like, Oh no. I’m going to learn about this person and his, almost always…

Correspondent: Or you’re going to learn about some really terrible part of the national fabric. As we learned recently with the whole Zimmerman verdict. I wanted to go into this a little further by looking at both books again. The central voices in both of your novels, they latch upon a random target. In the first book, Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder, it’s this woman named Luddie. She’s in this photograph, as you describe “black eyes, black hair, black dimples, black dress.” And in the second book, this most recent one, it’s a random wedding site and later the cooking website. They have little, if any, direct correlation to where these unnamed characters are in the present. And I’m wondering if this is your way of taking a look at the way we approach truth, either through letters or through a blog comment, that we’re likely to say the darkest and deepest things that are on our mind if we approach everything indirectly. Or was this just some sort of natural crazy salad? That any way you actually went into this, you would have this madness.

Nichols: Oh wow. That’s a great question. I definitely think that you or I get at a more accurate picture of the world indirectly. Maybe you know the answer to this. I remember reading this idea about the Pleiades. That you cannot look at them directly. You have to look at them sideways. Er, just glancing and that’s the only you’ll actually see them. Is that true?

Correspondent: Yeah. I believe so.

Nichols: Great! So that’s there. It’s like the Pleiades. Um, I’ve thought that often. And I was just about now to say that. And I thought, Maybe that’s not true. So great. At least between us, that’s the way it is. I mean, I think that there’s one thing that was really formative just in probably, I guess you could say, my adult writing life, when I got my shit together and really felt like I was finding a certain way in which the limited skills that I have are able to be used effectively in communicating what I want to audiences, is Jack Spicer’s, uh, poetry, but especially his book, After Lorca, in which he writes letters to Lorca, who’s dead, and talks about the idea of the programmatic letter of one poet writing to another in order to describe his poetics or her poetics, but also just as a way of — he calls it the wastage of the poem that’s the real thing. I think he probably knew that he was being funny because the letters; well, some are better than the poems. Sometimes.

Correspondent: He was also a wide outcast for a long while, which creates a connection with this particular narrator.

Nichols: Yeah. There’s a lot of Spicer in there. I mean, it’s almost like — it’s sort of camping up an idea of Spicer. Because he’s very sane. And I think there are moments of real clarity in The More You Ignore Me‘s narrator. But, you know, there’s a lot of stuff where you really start somewhere where you’re like, okay, I can really go along with that. And then by the end of even a sentence, you’re like, “No, that’s not where I would go with that.” And I think I was interested in the idea of this outcast, the writer as an outcast or the poet as an outcast. Or someone who wasn’t made for these times. And so then we seem to be a nation of outcasts in that way, where it seems that if you go on anything there is, there’s this sort of dominant narrative that shows up and then you have all these things under it, which is all these people disagreeing and fighting and saying, “This is just the mainstream media’s version of it.” There’s all these people who feel disaffected even and often most than these people who are often in power. There’s the backlash Republicans. People who are so swimming in white privilege that they’re not able to see that they are and they feel besieged by the fact that this isn’t the country that they feel like they grew up in or some idea that they have. That all these people that I’ve romanticized, being writers and poets and artists, who seem like they’re outside the mainstream, but then a lot of them when I look back on them, “Oh, well, they’re all straight white men. They’re all people who came from basically middle-class background.” A lot of them were really rich, it turns out. If you look at the history, especially of postwar American poetry, it’s arguably a history of Harvard undergrads. And so it becomes this very weird thing where people try to own their outsideness to an absurd degree. And so I wanted to sort of take that from A to Z with this narrator a little bit. Whereas I think in the first book, that narrator felt and was genuinely outside of things a little more. God, when I say that, it sounds ridiculous. That he would be more outside than this guy.

Correspondent: No. I think — let me see if we can steer the train on track here.

Nichols: Please do.

Correspondent: You’re saying that this narrator emerged in some sense from ruminating upon self-declared outcasts or people who were labeled outcasts. People like Jack Spicer, who came from the exact same place that every single other great mind came from. I’m wondering at what point this was a kind of — I don’t want to say ideological thrust, but in what way did this idea help to ground your narrator? The notion of outsider/insider. The notion that, for all of his claims of being banned or of wanting to go ahead and change the world, he was given the exact same privilege that everybody else did.

Nichols: Yeah. I mean I think that he’s also coming from this very — a little bit of this Southern Baptist idea or a certain kind of Christianity that really loves conflict. Because they see it as “Well, Jesus was persecuted. You must be doing something right.” Or Winston Churchill’s “You can judge me by my enemies.” And there’s a lot of that in literary culture. And a lot of that especially in the arts, who are like, “If you get people upset, then you must be doing something right.” And I agree to a point. There’s also like, “No, well, actually there are people who are genuinely disagreeing with you that maybe you should pay attention to that viewpoint and reconcile your behavior.” But instead it gets people to hunker down into the sense of self and entitlement. Like every genius was misunderstood at one time. Most likely. That doesn’t mean that every misunderstood person is a genius. So you have all these people who are taking all of the outside trappings of being an artist and claiming that that makes them an artist without any of the inside. And so this guy is not an artist. I mean, he’s a frustrated artist. But he can’t figure out where he went wrong. And he won’t admit really that it was him that went wrong. Like it’s something that he had all right. But it turns out that everybody else was wrong. And that is definitely not an unfamiliar place for me. Especially coming out of the poetry world, where you really feel like that the things that you value are not valued by the wider culture. And you can be in the little scene that celebrates itself and feel like, “Oh right. We all do really good…” Like Jack Spicer now. Everybody knows about him. So it’s not interesting anymore. But then as soon as you step out into any other kind of world, I mean, no one gives a shit at all. And not only that, but it’s not that they don’t care. It’s that they actively dislike what you like.

Correspondent: I think what you’re talking about here, especially with blog comments, is the fine line between being a genuine iconoclast who can in fact change her mind or adjust views and be engaged in a dialogue and someone who is a full-bore troll, who is incapable of that. Who has to erect some mythical status to justify why they continue to express themselves. And in this case, I’m curious if at any point during the writing of this, you saw this guy more in the first category. Where he was getting pushback from people who didn’t want to hear his perspective when it was legitimate. I mean, did you see him in that mould at any point? But it seems to me he clearly moves more into the second, the more custom troll. But I’m wondering if you considered the first.

The Bat Segundo Show #510: Travis Nichols (Download MP3)

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The Dead Writer’s Almanac (April 27, 2010)

It’s the death day of Hart Crane, who passed away seventy-eight years ago on April 27, 1932. Hart Crane committed suicide. But it was a cheery suicide, as suicides go. Even if the consequences leading up to the suicide were bizarre and far from happy. You have to credit Crane for his courtesy in shouting “Goodbye, everybody!” to a crowd before throwing himself off a steamship into the Gulf of Mexico. I mean, how many of the hundreds of people who have thrown themselves off the Golden Gate Bridge have managed to even do that? The Dead Writer’s Almanac staff has conducted an informal poll, and it seems that people who shout “Goodbye, everybody!” just before leaping to their needless deaths are now considered exhibitionists who rely upon some crude cry for attention, the equivalent to that annoying guy at the party who complains about the lackluster canapes and the diminishing liquor supply. Suicide victims are now expected to leap to their deaths with a stoic resolve. No commentary. Just the self-immolation itself. But that seems needlessly limited when you’re a talented American poet.

In any event, this suicide arose after poor Crane was beaten just after attempting to proposition several officers. An even more bizarre element concerns his fiancee, Peggy Baird, who had just experienced a freak accident involving an exploding cigarette lighter. With his fiancee bandaged and sedated aboard the cruise ship. it was small wonder that the sexually confused Crane plied himself up with liquor and made bold barebacking suggestions to the ship’s crew.

Crane’s death, as strange as it is, tends to greatly overshadow his ambitions, which can be best enjoyed with his epic poem, The Bridge, which kicked things off with the following stanza (from the opening section “To Brooklyn Bridge”):

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty—

It’s probably worth mentioning that Crane had befriended the poet Samuel Greenberg in 1913. Greenberg died even younger than Crane did in 1917 — merely twenty-four, impoverished, overworked, contending with the premature deaths of his parents. Upon receiving a package of Greenberg’s manuscripts, Crane remarked that Greenberg was “a Rimbaud in embryo,” finding his poems “fugitive and incomplete.” But the interesting question of whether Crane saw Greenberg as a model for poetic martyrdom remains mostly a mystery. Certainly, Crane was content to call The Waste Land both great and “so damned dead.”

But we can proud report that Jasper Johns, who was greatly inspired by Crane for a great number of his works, is not yet dead. (Hi, Jasper! Keep painting that canvas!) It is also quite possible to celebrate Crane without being compelled to mimic his exuberant demise. It’s always a good day for poetry. Just be sure that your loved one doesn’t screw around with a lighter on the fritz.

Stay writing, don’t die too early, and keep in touch!

2008 National Book Awards Podcast #4: Mark Doty

(This podcast is part of our 2008 National Book Awards coverage. Keep checking this category for details.)

Who is the Correspondent Talking With? Mark Doty

What’s Going On? So here’s the deal. Mr. Doty here has arranged a considerable amount of poetry together. But have you ever stopped to consider just how it was put together. Furthermore, there is a good deal of talk here about Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, and the degree to which poets should revere Mr. Whitman. Mr. Doty was a good sport during this interview, and we hope to revisit his work at some less rushed point in the future.

National Book Awards Podcast #4: Mark Doty (Download MP3)

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Gosh Golly, Godot

I am very honored to have been included in this quite important poetry collection. It appears, however, that Bat Segundo, responding in the For Godot comments, was none too happy about the controversial prosodic pilfering. What is perhaps funnier than the experiment itself is how so many egos have taken offense at this Situationist tomfoolery (more sustained horrific reactions can be found at The National Poetry Foundation blog). Danny Pitt Stoller writes:

If someone published an article containing false information about me, I would want it removed from the Web; it is no different for you to claim I wrote a certain poem when I did not. It is my basic right to protect my name and reputation, and I find it really tasteless that some people would laugh this off as some kind of avant-garde experiment.

It is worth observing that Danny Pitt Stoller’s name has been frequently used as a mark. Despite being married, Mr. Stoller has slept with a mere 2.2 people in the past eleven years, and hopes that he will yield 2.2 children in the next eleven years. He once ran for treasurer, losing to Esmerelda Muttmuffins by a 72-28 margin. Ms. Muttmuffins still holds the coveted position. There was a six month period in 1997 in which Mr. Stoller’s telephone bills were about $300 monthly, the result of too many 1-900 telephone calls. Mr. Stoller is a legally ordained minister and has officiated over many weddings. That woman who married a dolphin some years ago? It was Mr. Stoller who presided over the ceremony. Mr. Stoller has written 210 letters to the editor, but none of them have been published in Newsday. He wears pink socks in his bedroom, but never in public. He genuinely believes that Michael Bay is one of the most important film directors of our time, and has watched every episode of The Beverly Hillbillies twice.

And, yes, Mr. Stoller is dour and humorless. (Well, not quite dour and humorless. Contact with him in 2010 has revealed a sense of humor and elicited a slight modification to this entry.)

Invisible Rag

To live, embrace the neck melts into noose
To die, slow sauce traverses present goose
Bill folds thin fi’e flecking dire embers
Soap queen gags this taste, Marilyn Ch’mbers
Syntax slumming thrumming, meets combustion
Gas lay rising, fumes of dyin’ fustian

Holdout absent letters, turn redux
Wait and drink Lethe’s mug will wear a tux
Lobes probe further heights
But at unknown escarpment

Is There Any Purpose?

The Guardian‘s James Buchan has asked the question, in all seriousness, “Is there any purpose in translating poetry?” Which is akin to asking the following questions:

  • Is there any purpose in listening to someone outside my socioeconomic strata?
  • Is there any purpose in venturing outside Manhattan? After all, New York is the center of the universe.
  • Is there any purpose in sampling different food when I am comfortable with the bland meals I eat at home?
  • Is there any purpose in trying out another sexual position besides missionary?

(In case it wasn’t clear, the answer to all these questions is a resounding YES!)

(via Bookninja)

Thursday Poetry Reading

A gentleman by the name of Levi Asher has recruited me to read a poem on Thursday. Said reading involves a bongo drum and assorted experimental hijinks. I’m not sure how I got involved in this exactly. I think I said yes and Mr. Asher, knowing that I was a man of my word, ran with the ball faster than Herschel Walker ever did. Let this be a lesson to all, or perhaps this is merely a warning to me.

Nevertheless, I will have more details soon, but it goes down this Thursday. At 8:00 PM. Somewhere. More specifics to come.

Throw Michiko Into the Waste Land

New York Times: “In his new book, ‘T. S. Eliot,’ the British poet Craig Raine gives us a new, more accessible Eliot, an Eliot he describes as a virtuosic fox in terms of style, and a single-minded hedgehog when it came to themes.”

Let me count the ways in which this sentence is stupid. For one thing, why the fuck should “The Waste Land” be “accessible?” It’s not as if Eliot’s masterpiece is a building that needs a fucking handicapped ramp. It’s an epic poem that requires you to take the damn thing apart and find out why it hits you in the gut. “After the torchlit red on sweaty faces?” Come on. It’s pretty fucking clear we’re not reading a Carl Hiassen thriller. It’s pretty fucking clear that we’re not talking about some bullshit dichotomy (Complex style! Simplistic themes! You see! No gray areas! Here’s a helpful bulleted list for you to bring to your book club after you bifurcate the fresh fruit!).

Single-minded hedgehog? Try looking at yourself in the mirror, Michiko.

“The Waste Land” is a poem that requires you to read other poems, that requires you to understand why so many other writers feel compelled to reference it. And poetry itself is a form that requires rereading and note taking and many other things that an active reader engages in (SURE AS FUCKING NOT MICHIKO, who has earned the Pulitzer Prize for the flaccid, worthless and, above, all abso-fucking-lutely bitter “reviews” she regularly files for that bulimic broadsheet).

Second, is Michiko such a reclusive and illiterate dunderhead that her review here is a matter of telling us what the fuck Craig Raine (who Michiko helpfully reminds us is “a poet himself”) is telling us? Are there absolutely no fucking brain cells she can access within her head? Nothing in all her years of reading that she can ruminate upon to give us some concept of what SHE MIGHT FUCKING THINK of T.S. Eliot? Can she not even offer one fucking sentence limning (to momentarily use that dreaded book review verb) Eliot’s prosody? Or is she hopelessly locked in this self-imposed literary menopause and just too damn absinthian to feel anything anymore?

If this is the case (and I suspect it is), then what we have here is a critic who approximates the living embodiment of Cliff’s Notes: dictatorial, synthesizing a process that has never been about a verbal heartbeat, and emitting generalizations in a way that discourages the next generation from literature. Because in this review, it’s not about the poetry, dammit. It’s about Eliot’s “buttoned-up banker’s mien.” It’s about personality. It’s about what Eliot had for breakfast or who he fucked or whether he ate a tuna fish sandwich before penning a canto. But it sure as fuck isn’t about “torchlit red on sweaty faces.” Because Michiko has no desire to sweat. She has no desire to feel. She has no desire to see what’s so fantastic about these five words. She has no desire to throw herself into anything approximating emotion. For Michiko, it’s all about how she can tear someone who’s struggled for years to produce something beautiful a new one in a matter of 1,000 words.

I’m sorry, but I’ve had enough. Why does the New York Fucking Times, the alleged vanguard newspaper that has the temerity to declare itself the cultural fucking gatekeeper, employ so many fucking people who could not give two solid shits about fiction? Who feel the need to stifle this fantastic art form with idiotic banter? Who feel the need to constantly shit upon it without expressing a glimmer of literary interest? And who treat the people who read these reviews like dark and dusty troglodytes who hole up under bridges with books rather than active thinkers who are part of our population?

Why The Spoken Word Grammies Are Useless

I could truly care less about Mary J. Blige’s nomination sweep of the Grammies. What does interest me is the Spoken Word aspect. Alas, this year’s Spoken Word set of nominees are about as far as one can get from genuine poets. Bob Newhart? Bill Maher? Sure, these folks are somewhat effective comedians in their own right, but they are hardly poets. Al Franken? Well, if whiny mainstream “comedians” who take no chances and tell liberals what they already want to hear are indicative of “storytelling,” then let the Two Buck Chuck flow.

This leaves us with Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee reading their autobiography and Jimmy Carter, who actually has written some poetry, although his nomination is for Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis, about as “poetic” in nature as Franken’s schtick.

Granted, the Grammies, like most awards ceremonies, are pretty pointless. And there’s no reason to expect them to honor the rich and eclectic millieu of audio books. But if the category in question “includes Poetry, Audio Books & Storytelling,” why doesn’t a single nomination feature poetry? If the celebrities are getting greater recognition, why not create a new category dedicated exclusively to literature?

Well, we can’t have that. Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, and Donald Hall aren’t nearly as sexy as Blige strutting her stuff. Gonna breakthrough? Not on your life.

Can I Be Laureate Now?

The blog 3x3x3 sets the following criteria:

Pick 3 stories from Google News. Using only words that occur in the first few paragraphs of each story, make a poem with 3 stanzas, 3 lines each, no more than 60 characters per line. The 3-word title should use a word from each story. Be sure to include links to your 3 stories after the poem.

Okay, I’m game.

Prohibiting Crocodile Sex

Freshening up, young man snacking on a crocodile penis, protracted
Spiders and locusts, belching
Bite on his ear

Influence the first brasserie, artery-clogging
Unanimously approved the ban
An additional 12 months because it may take more time

Any sex between is a felony
Consensual? The first time with two, prosecuted under the law
Preferential treatment? Indicted


Guardian: Where to next after a light snack of crocodile penis?
USA Today: New York becomes first city to ban trans fats.
Boston Herald: Correction officers indicted on charges they had sex with inmates.

In Praise of David Orr

While the Tanenhaus Brownie Watch may be discontinued, Levi Asher has picked up the slack with his “Reviewing the Review” blog posts. This week, Mr. Asher made the claim that “The Book Review continues to prove that it has no capability at all to review poetry.” While I can certainly agree that its poetry coverage leaves little to be desired, in large part because of the self-described “vulgarian” whims of its editor, I felt the need to leave a comment noting that there has been one critic during Tanenhaus’s run that has done a competent job at reviewing poetry: David Orr.

While I’ve had my quibbles with Mr. Orr in the past, Mr. Asher challenged me to limn just what it was about Orr that made him “very good.” It’s a fair enough question, seeing as how Asher has called Orr “hopelessly square.”

First off, if the NYTBR‘s purpose is to profile smart and well-informed reviews that straddle the fence somewhere between layperson and elitist New York Review of Books subscriber, then any decent poetry critic must divagate within this territory. And I feel that Orr has done this quite well, daring to challenge icons, introducing poetry to a readership without making it dull, and shifting the focus away from a poet’s public perception to the words that the poet has written with a deft and playful touch. Take, for example, this recent review of an Elizabeth Bishop collection. It introduces Bishop to the uninformed and subtly guides the reader into contact with her poetry instead of Bishop’s reputation, establishing and comparing such qualifiers as “difficulty” and “subtlety,” and using these terms to segue into the text of “Vague Poem.” He playfully suggests that more people know the lyrics to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” than Bishop’s poetry, which suggests someone attuned to pop culture (certainly a lot more than a closet fetishist like Leon Wieseltier or Dave Itzkoff, who has only recently discovered that chicks write speculative fiction too).

Then there is this review from November 2004, which challenges the qualifiers behind The Best American Poetry series, clearly outlining the history of these compilations, while suggesting that the bar may be set too low and imputing that “poetry isn’t really an open system; it’s a combination of odd institutions, personal networks, hoary traditions, talent and blind luck” to the NYTBR‘s democratic reading base.

Hopelessly square? Even Mr. Asher had to applaud Mr. Orr when he took Jorie Graham to task. What we have is a poetry critic with a mischevious streak that is far from Pat Boone. I’m under no obligation to acknowledge the positive, but Orr’s poetic review of Billy Collins’ The Trouble with Poetry was one of the few interesting reviews under Sammy Boy’s tenure. One does not expect such exuberance from a lawyer, much less from a publication whose editor cannot appreciate a brownie or an intelligent woman. But, alas, there it is.

I have no idea what’s made Orr’s work sparse in the NYTBR these days. Perhaps it’s Sammy T’s tone-deaf editorialship. But Orr was a welcome presence within a hopelessly corrupt publication. And I contend that if there was one thing Sammy Baby did do right, it was hiring David Orr.

I’m a Novelist, Not A _______

While we’re on the subject of what authors are up, I should note that Mark Haddon has a small chapbook of poetry coming out in April (already out in the UK). Proving to the world that Haddon will likely specialize in extremely long titles until the critical interest grows inflexible, this one’s called The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea. But the consensus indicates that it’s not so hot. Ranjit Bolt says, “[N]othing could prepare us for the tendentiousness, the unjustified formlessness, the ghastliness, of Haddon’s verse.” Neel Mukherjee of the Times is more encouraging: “If only his muse didn’t fall into the jerky stop-start motion of a nightmarish traffic jam on the M23, and he loosened his lines to let them breathe more.”