Valentine for Vasko Popa

August 4, 2014


Dear Readers,

We’re writing to let you know about an exciting new project related to, but separate from, Wave Books. The Bagley Wright Lecture Series, founded by Wave Publisher Charlie Wright, and directed by Wave Editor-at-Large Matthew Zapruder.

The BWLS seeks to provide leading, mid-career poets with the opportunity to explore in depth their own thinking on the subject of poetry and poetics, and to deliver lectures at esteemed institutions across the country.

A number of the lecturers chosen thus far are Wave authors—the inaugural BWLS lecturer was Dorothea Lasky; upcoming lecturers include Joshua Beckman, Timothy Donnelly, Terrance Hayes, Srikanth Reddy, and Rachel Zucker.

We’d like to invite you to join the mailing list for the BWLS, so Charlie and Matthew can periodically let you know about upcoming lectures, as well as posted audio and video, and eventual release of the lectures in book form. Please click here to join – they’d love to keep you updated on all the exciting things that are happening with the BWLS.

To learn more about the Bagley Wright Lecture Series, and to see the calendar of events, please visit the BWLS website.

your friends at Wave Books


December 17, 2013

I’m looking forward to lots of good things in 2014. The release of SUN BEAR from Copper Canyon on April 1st, and a few weeks later with House of Anansi in Canada. This exciting collaboration with the brilliant Missy Mazzoli (in which Missy did almost all of the work!), to be performed at Carnegie Hall on February 22nd.

Also this little selection of poems from my first three books just came out. Thank you Jason Dodge! His series 500 Places is quite amazing. Each book features a “Dead Scissor” by Paul Elliman on its cover. See below!

New poems from Sun Bear in NY Times and Academy of American Poets, and forthcoming in Poetry Magazine and The Walrus.

Hope to see you in the new year! I’ll be doing readings at AWP in Seattle, at KGB in NYC, at UPenn in Philadelphia, City Lights in SF, and elsewhere, I’ll put them all up when I know exactly.


Sun Bear

May 7, 2013

New book of poems Sun Bear is coming spring 2014 from Copper Canyon. Here is the title poem.

Sun Bear


Lake Merritt

May 7, 2013

Lake Merritt

three recent poems

June 16, 2012

here are three pretty recent poems, I Drink Bronze Light at the PEN Poetry Series, Poem for Japan at the Academy of American Poets and Aubergine at the Los Angeles Review of Books. I wrote “Aubergine” trying to respond to the set of questions the LARB sent along for us to answer instead of a traditional bio, but I only answered the first one, “How do you wake up in the morning?” I guess maybe in some ways all poems are an answer to that question.

So recently I have been involved in two separate conversations (one at a Q and A, another in correspondence) about John Ashbery, in which I strongly have contended that he is our greatest living poet. I feel his greatness is, to some extent, cumulative (see the letter below in which I make this point in somewhat confused yet ardent detail), but I also believe that he has written a sizeable number of what I would consider “great” fine isolated poems. So in order to demonstrate this point, I have selected 30 poems, with links below.

A few notes (from the air). First, the bias is heavily towards poems from the first 3 decades of his career. It seems to me there are more truly great single lyric poems from that time period, than from the next several decades (a body of work in my mind at least equal to the first half of his career, but maybe even in a more cumulative way). This is just my impression currently, and therefore my bias towards the earlier work. Second, I only included poems for which I could find links (with a few exceptions, “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror” and “The Wrong Kind of Insurance,” as well as “Qualm”), so that people could just read the poems right here without hunting around. I left out a lot of great poems, to try to keep it to around 30, and of course people could easily disagree with these selections. But in my mind these 30 poems make the point that he is a master poet.

“The One Thing That Can Save America” is the poem that changed my entire view of Ashbery. After trying to read him several times, this poem (in Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror) suddenly clicked for me. Since then I have been able always to read his poems. He writes a lot, and of course I prefer some poems to others (thus this list), but he always brings me where poetry is.

Finally, I got most of these links from Poetry Foundation, Academy of American Poetry, Penn Sound, Paris Review, etc. places which presumably have the copyright to reproduce them: a few are from personal blogs or tumblrs, which is a grey area, but since they are already up on the web and can easily be found by searching I figured I would link to them. You can also hear several of these poems as well as other great ones I did not list here read on Penn Sound, at this link

The Instruction Manual

The Picture of J.A. in a Prospect of Flowers

Some Trees

The Painter

“How Much Longer Will I Be Able to Inhabit the Divine Sepulcher …”

Into the Dusk-Charged Air

Spring Day

Soonest Mended

Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape

As One Put Drunk Into the Packet Boat

As You Came from the Holy Land

The One Thing That Can Save America

Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Street Musicians

Crazy Weather

Saying It to Keep It from Happening

And Ut Pictura Poesis is Her Name

Sleepers Awake

What is Poetry

The Wrong Kind of Insurance: I can’t find a link to this on line, but it is one of my favorite Ashbery poems. It appeared in the June 27, 1977 issue of the New Yorker (subscribers can read it on line), and in his Selected Poems. It begins:

I teach in a high school
And see the nurses in some of the hospitals
And if all teachers are like that
Maybe I can give you a buzz some day
Maybe we can get together for lunch or coffee or something

and somehow eventually arrives at the ending lines

Each night/ is trifoliate, strange to the touch.”

The Ice-Cream Wars

My Erotic Double

Train Rising Out of the Sea

Late Echo


Paradoxes and Oxymorons (probably my single favorite Ashbery poem)

How to Continue

My Philosophy of Life

Meaningful Love

and finally, here is a poem I could not find a link to, but is one I like very much, so here is the full text, from the book Shadow Train.


Warren G. Harding invented the word “normalcy,”
And the lesser-known “bloviate,” meaning, one imagines,
To spout, to spew aimless verbiage. He never wanted to be president.
The “Ohio Gang” made him. He died in the Palace

Hotel in San Francisco, coming back from Alaska,
As his wife was reading to him, about him,
From The Saturday Evening Post. Poor Warren. He wasn’t a bad egg.
Just weak. He loved women and Ohio.

This protected summer of high, white clouds, a new golf star
Flashes like confetti across the intoxicating early part
Of summer, almost to the end of August. The crowd is hysterical:
Fickle as always, they follow him to the edge

Of the inferno. But the fall is, deliciously, only his.
They shall communicate this and that and compute
Fixed names like “doorstep in the wind.” The agony is permanent
Rather than eternal. He’d have noticed it. Poor Warren.


And here is part of what I wrote to my friend:

“Reading A. for me has always been more like taking a drug than anything else. That is, if I read his poems for half an hour or so I feel completely altered and frankly stoned. It’s not that I think every poem is brilliant or even “good,” and it’s really hard to explain to people what it is about his work that can feel so powerful and true, because the poems for the most part don’t operate the way single lyric utterances most often do. I realize writing this, that this is exactly the sort of nonsense people always say about bad “experimental” poetry, so I am horrified even to be saying it but I really do think it is the case for A’s poems. Maybe just read “Soonest Mended” or “Paradoxes and Oxymorons,” I mean I know a couple of great poems is what it is but still. Also, I think of him in the same category as those poets who process their experience or basically live through poetry. The question arises whether it is necessary for anyone to actually read 90% of that “processing,” but you could also say, well, let other people sort out what is and is not valuable about the mass of poems that emerges from this particular strange language conduit known as John Ashbery.

I don’t think by the way it is one bit A’s fault that people write the way they do, i.e. bad imitations of him. First of all, what is he supposed to do about that? Maybe publish less or more selectively, but see above for unformed thoughts on that. I think the bad ways that people write in a period style have to do more with basic feelings of shame or fear, a lack of courage that manifests in whatever way is most acceptable depending on the current literary vogue. Beat poetry, confessionalism, stones and bones, surrealism, arch ironic poet theorizing, sounding like Algernon Swinburne … there’s always going to be that temptation, to write was is “acceptable” (literally, if you are talking about something like literary magazines or prizes or whatever), in the guise of art. I guess it’s our job as poets to try not to succumb.”


November 22, 2011

thanks to the New York Times!

That Other Fall

October 11, 2011

Upcoming things:

Thursday, October 13th, Flight of Poets, click here for more info

Litcrawl, Saturday, October 15th, reading for The Believer and McSweeney’s at Latin American Club, click here

Vancouver 125 Poetry Festival, October 19th-22nd, click here

Wave Books Translation Festival, Seattle, WA, November 4th-6th, click here

Seattle Arts and Lectures Panel on Translation, November 6th (with Peter Cole, Red Pine, Nikolai Popov), click here

And some other stuff:

an interview at the SF Chronicle website with my man Dean Rader, here

new poem in Tin House, now on-line

and an on-line chapbook of new poems, here

full video of reading with me and Matthew Dickman at SF Zen Center’s Nothing is Hidden Reading Series

interview of my brother about his amazing Pink Thunder project, you can listen to more tracks here

Go Giants!!

July 12, 2011

here is a poem for the San Francisco Giants (and for our busted political system in which Obama seems to be the only adult)

(and get well soon Buster Posey!!)

(fear the beard!!)