Reading & Writing
Gloria Frym, How Proust Ruined My Life & Other Essays (Blaze Vox, 2020)
Published at the beginning of the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, How Proust Ruined My Life missed out on the promotional opportunities that would have afforded the essays a wider appreciation. Although the great modernist cornerstones are the foundation of this collection of essays, Frym’s focus, in large part, is the American tree, a genealogy of misfits, mavericks, and outliers. Frym makes her living teaching literature and writing as a professor at the California College of the Arts, one of the premier liberal arts institutions on the West Coast. She is as well a respected poet and essayist of long standing. She has made it her distinction to champion the prose poem, and in her own work she demonstrates the precision of an admirable stylist. As Max Jacob wrote over a century ago, “I hardly know of any poet who has understood what it is all about and who has known how to sacrifice his ambitions as an author to the prose poem’s formal constitution.” In her terrific essays on prose poetry, transcription of lectures at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Frym reveals she has that understanding.
Gloria reminds the reader in her essays of the joys of reading, of being an avid reader and rising to the intellectual challenges of difficult books, of the exhilaration of completion and profound insight. In the transcriptions of her lectures and her essays, she shares those insights. She zeros in, as did Rexroth, on the uniqueness of the American canon, from Whitman to Niedecker in cataloging with an insightful eye Williams’ “pure products of America.”
Frym is a lecturer, not that that’s a bad thing, and may use the inclusive ‘we’ in addressing the reader, and granted many of the essays are transcriptions of talks she has given on various occasions. Her tone maintains the gravity of address, the formal decorum of the academy, and in her texts she is diligent, almost to a fault, in marking her references. She is a professional with the eye of an artist, the sensibility of a poet, and the erudition of a scholar. All of which makes reading the collected of essays of How Proust Ruined My Life an education.
Maureen Owen, Let the heart hold down the breakage Or the care giver’s log (Hanging Loose Press, 2022)
Maureen Owen needs no introduction. Author of numerous poetry collections, she was at one time co-director and program director at The Poetry Project in New York City. As publisher of the poetry magazine Telephone and Telephone Books in the early 70s, she was a pioneer in publishing women’s writing. Her own poetry is unique in its presentation and one of the most formally innovative of all her contemporaries under the rubric of the New York School.
Maureen’s vision is a special kind of seeing the world with language, precise, often whimsical, but never static. Her poems are engaged in the dialectic flow of consciousness as mosaic, the splicing of states of being and detail in sympathetic symphony of engaging completely in the sorrows of the world as a joyful participation under particularly trying circumstances. She has put together an incredible end of life document, a praise song (with some reservations) to her mother who lived into her nineties, in her own distinctive style, extending the quick cut juxtapositions to samplings of the routine and the remarkable, from empathetic to exasperated. The Caregiver’s Log progresses with the patient unhurried pace of a cinematic narrative emphasizing light and shadow, vignettes woven into the tapestry of mundane days, unflinching and honest. Dying is not as easy as some might believe. There are details. And therein lies Owen’s strength as a poet, she has an eye for detail. Yet Let The Heart Hold Down The Breakage is not an easy poetry sentiment picture book, but a close attention to the intricacies of the living and the dying.
Maureen Owen’s strength as a poet is a quiet, unassuming one. In that context, why doesn’t someone write a book like Ninth Street Women, Mary Gabriel’s incredible consideration of the women abstract expressionists of the late 40s and 50s, about the amazing women poets associated with the Poetry Project in the 70s? Certainly the lives, loves, and work of Maureen, Anne, Bernadette, Alice, and Eileen would prove to be an extraordinary engagement in a crucial time for American poetry and for women poets of that generation. Call it something terrific like ‘Second Avenue Lights.’ Why not?
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