an attempt at an online "works cited" for michael lista's bloom

A book club I'm in recently read Michael Lista's Bloom. We had a wide-ranging discussion about the book, much of which focused on Lista's decision to write "approximations" of other poets' poems. I haven't seen much discussion online about this, though in his Globe and Mail review, Nigel Beale describes Bloom as a book that "“misreads,” translates, covers, eclipses, parodies or fucks with a choir of contemporary poetic voices." Lista himself states in an interview with The Torontoist: "I wrote Bloom the way I did because it needed to be written like that." In the same interview he also notes that "creative plagiarism is one of the finest untapped sources of aesthetic possibility available to us today, and it has obvious extra-poetic relevance". In other words, Lista's choice to "approximate" or "translate" or "fuck with" looms large over the text as you read it.

This makes it all the more peculiar that the book includes no citations. The authors being "approximated" are referred to at the end of each poem with an "after So-and-So" tag, but that's it - no listing at the back of the original poems' titles, or the collections in which they appeared. This seems an odd choice for a few reasons: it could appear to be discourteous to the original authors, or suggest that Lista is trying to "get away with something", or alienate those who already feel they are "outside" the world of poetry. Mainly, though, I puzzle over it because of how greatly a reading of Bloom can be enriched by "connecting the dots".

I did a little pre-book club research, and circulated to the group the links to some "originals". Regardless of where group members fell in their final verdict on the book (I, for one, liked it), everyone agreed that reading the originals added significantly to their experience.

Below is my best attempt, using poems already available online, to connect Lista's "approximations" with the original poems. I'm still missing about half of the poems (as the gaps between page numbers indicate), in some cases because the source poems aren't online and in others because I'm not familiar enough with the authors to track the poems down (no titles are given, so you have to remember an idea or line that sticks out, or adeptly choose your Google search words).

If you happen to know of online sources for connections that I've missed, do let me know in the comment field, or by email (roblucastaylor(at)gmail.com), and I'll happily add them. Also, a couple of my guesses may very well be wrong. So lit-nerds, I encourage you to double check!

If you don't have a copy of Bloom on hand, but want to play along, I've linked the titles of all of the Lista poems to audio recordings of him reading them - thanks go to Seen Reading for making those recordings, all of which can be found in one place here.

Hopefully this will help new readers of the book engage more deeply with the text, and perhaps provoke a return to the book for those who've already read it through:

Metempsychosis [1] (p. 6) = John Crowe Ransom's "Janet Walking"

Louis Slotin in Hades (p. 16) = Anne Sexton's "To A Friend Whose Work Has Come To Triumph"

Louis Slotin as The Wanderer (p. 21) = W.H. Auden's "The Wanderer" (With a cameo from W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming")

Louis Slotin's Sex Appeal (p. 23) = Irving Layton's "Sex Appeal" (Scroll to the bottom of page 5 of the PDF)

Louis Slotin in Hiroshima (p. 24) = Fitzpatrick Madrigali's "?". (My guess was that Fitzpatrick Madrigali was Lista's own pen name, in order to keep up the appearance that all the poems are "approximated" - and to not diminish the significance of "The Eclipse" being "after Nobody". It turns out I was close, as a student who had Lista visit his class reports that FM is a character in an unpublished novel of Lista's)

Laestrygonians (p. 28) = D.H. Lawrence's "There Are Too Many People"

Louis Slotin and The White Lie (p. 32) = Don Paterson's "The White Lie" (I had previously thought it was connected to Paterson's "The Lie", but Aidan Gowland pointed me in the right direction. Thanks Aidan! And Don, what's up with all the "Lie" poems?)

Sirens (p. 35) = Victor Hugo's "Tomorrow, At Dawn"

Louis Slotin's Flaw (p. 40) = Robert Lowell's "The Flaw"

The Return of Odysseus (p. 45) = Edwin Muir's "The Return"

Do. But Do. (p.47) = Robyn Sarah's "The World Is Its Own Museum"

Louis Slotin and The Green Knight (p.55) = "The Pearl Poet"'s "Sir Gawain and The Green Knight" (Scroll to the bottom of page 9 for the juicy decapitation scene - or read the summary on the Wikipedia page)

Louis Slotin Exits The Office (p. 59) = Fitzpatrick Madrigali's "?" (See "Louis Slotin in Hiroshima (p.24)")

Head of a Dandelion (p. 63) = Alice Oswald's "Head of a Dandelion" (Very quiet audio here)

Louis Slotin's Got The Main Blues (p. 66) = George Johnston's "Home Free"

Metempsychosis [2] (p. 67) = Karen Solie's "Determinism"

Johanna Finds a Reason (p. 69) = The Velvet Underground's "I Found A Reason"

The Coming of Wisdom with Time (p. 70) = W.B. Yeats' "The Coming of Wisdom with Time"

Louis Slotin Circles Kilimanjaro (p. 72) = Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (Scroll down to p. 57 of the text, though the "approximated" part doesn't come until the end of the short story)

Penelope (p.73) = Herman Kahn's "On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios" (Thanks to Ariana Ellis for finding this one. I'd originally guessed it was Kahn's "On Thermonuclear War")

If you don't feel like reading a whole Herman Kahn book (or two), this works pretty well as a summary:


voxpopulism said...

Well done, Rob. This gets at the niggling concern Bloom raised in me as a reader, too. But, like you, I got over it and still really loved the book. I think you nailed it when you brought up the idea of insider/outsiderness. The action in the poems is inherently outsider, or at least reactive (re-arranging something, beginning with the editing stage, without the original oomph of draft). But, a full appreciation of the text really does come out of a familiarity with the source material, and if you don't have that familiarity, then you run the risk of the "getting away with something" problem looming over an ignorant readership, especially with the lack of citations.

It's troubling, I guess, that the best-equipped reader for Bloom would be an auspiciously well-read one. But why should that be troubling? Is there any book out there that wouldn't benefit from a readership well-versed in the traditions and forms employed? Is the investment-reward function for a book like Bloom shaped any differently than the comparable function for any other engagment? Reading Harry Potter is improved by having earlier read Lord of the Rings (and, for that matter, A History of the English Speaking Peoples, HG Wells, and the dictionary...)

The thrust of Bloom is that nothing's new. Which is obvious to most, but rarely put so elegantly. I think some citations would serve to hammer that home, whether the book is improved or not by opting for subtlety instead, is up for debate.

Zachariah Wells said...

Having spent the better part of the past six weeks ferreting out source texts for Elizabeth Bishop's "The Bight" in the oeuvres of Bishop, M. Moore, Wallace Stevens, Baudelaire, George Herbert, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Emerson and Hopkins, (to say nothing of the OED) I have to say I'm on the side of keeping the cards close to the chest. I'd also say the enrichment you desire's been found, in part, in the quest. Instant access is for those who don't care enough.

daniela elza said...

Thanks for doing this Rob,

I would still like to talk to some of the authors whose poems were so closely "appropriated", "approximated" and see what they think about creative plagiarism as one of the finest untapped sources of aesthetic possibility available to us today, and it's obvious extra-poetic relevance.

Did they know? Was it done with permission? Did they have a say? Are they pleased with the outcomes? Does it matter?

Zachariah Wells said...

Does it matter? Not really, no. Michael has merely done systematically what most poets do--and have been doing for centuries--as a matter of course, albeit usually less explicitly. The poems he has written by this method are not the same as the poems from which they're derived--each of which can probably be shown to have derivations from other sources. Writing is creative plagiarism.

voxpopulism said...

Yeah. Like Zach, I don't really care either way about the permissions angle. And a large part of what I like about the book is the codified, structured, translation of the somewhat nebulous "influence" into a specific action taken on the influencing texts. Surely, as a 20-something man who writes lyric poetry, Mike adding "after Ted Hughes: is, itself, a kind of redundancy, isn't it? Isn't it all after Ted Hughes, whether you've read him or not?

That Lista didn't move into murkier waters of influence v. craft is maybe limiting to the book, but I'm not sure exactly where that would fit in. There's a lot being balanced in Bloom already. At some point, the re-author needs to give up the thesis and just let the book be a book, let it remain a readable thing. Nobody wants a second Kenneth Goldsmith, do they?

Zachariah Wells said...

A second?

voxpopulism said...

I totally new you were going to write that exact question.

I don't mind Goldsmith, the describer-of-his-work. But he loses me somewhere around 'my books aren't supposed to be read'. That's a paraphrase.

daniela elza said...

Before I can get into this conversation comfortably, I would like to clear the air a bit. I am aware it is hard to address the complexities of the phenomenon of poetry. We do need to grow an adequate vocabulary for that. Yet I do not think poetry is served well by such slap/stick rhetoric as "ignorant readership", "me as a reader" (as opposed to what, me as the not-reader?), or that "nothing's new", "which is obvious to most."

Or sweeping generalizations such as "writing is creative plagiarism" or "instant access is for those who do not care enough". Perhaps there is some pleasure to be had from such rhetoric, but it inevitably puts up walls not only between oneself and the world but also within oneself. I think poetry suffers from such crude assessments, which really do not belong to poetry, but perhaps to "me-the-not-reader".

I believe you are speaking for a small group within the writing community. And that is fine as long as you are aware of it. I am reminded of a quote by poet and philosopher Robert Bringhurst, which I think nicely makes the point:

"If you divide the world into them and us, and history into ours and theirs, or if you think of history as something only you and your affiliates can possess, then no matter what you know, no matter how noble your intentions, you have taken one step toward the destruction of the world." (from "The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind, and Ecology")

Rob Taylor said...

Thanks for the comments, all. I hope they keep coming.

A few comments of my own:

1. Zach, I agree with you that part of the fun is in the search, but only a small part that shouldn’t be overemphasised. My real interest comes from the comparisons – observing the different ways Lista has found to “approximate” (compare, for instance, how closely he mirrors the first stanza of the George Johnston poem, with the much looser, more collaged “approximation” of the Auden poem), and considering what those different approaches say about the poems themselves, and their place in the wider context of the book.

2. Following a bit on Daniela’s last comment, I understand the idea behind a truism like “Instant access is for those who don't care enough”, but c’mon Zach, isn’t it a little much to apply that here? To say someone who is interested enough in Bloom to search the internet for its source poems, but not interested enough to read through volumes of work by certain poets in order to track down a particular poem (which is what you would need to do, in some cases – unless you are, or are close friends with, someone very well versed in 20th C. North American poetry, like...say... Zach Wells) “doesn’t care enough” is, in my mind, overly demanding and potentially alienating to new poetry readers (the group I mainly intend this post for – after all, you don’t need the help, do you? ;).

3. Re: creative plagiarism. I think the comparison you’re making here, Zach (and that Jake is supporting with the “Isn’t it all after Ted Hughes” line) is misleading. Like most writers, I pride myself in the fact that a given poem of mine has lines, images, themes, etc. that could be attributed to many different writers. But that’s not the same thing as taking one source poem and creating from it an “adjusted” version that functions inside the Bloom narrative. There are great similarities between the two practices, but also great differences – and I think to conflate the two does injustice to the intellectual ideas that underpin Bloom.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

Thanks again, you three, for chipping in,


Zachariah Wells said...

Michael's method is pretty much the same as that practised by Pound, Lowell, Bly, Van Toorn, to say nothing of Shakespeare, Chaucer and many others. His "after X" notation is at least as generous as these others. Oh, one I forgot to add to the list: Robert Bringhurst, who, incidentally, I've heard and read making many "us and them" statements. For instance, he divides the world into those who make "us and them" statements and those who don't. I'm not interested in a meta-discussion of rhetorical technique in online discussion threads, sorry.

As for the matter of "new readers," all I can say is that we were all new readers at one point. Either we care enough to follow up on things we read or we don't, new or not. I wrote in a recent blog post at the Best Canadian Poetry site about a young reader and aspiring poet who started at the Exeter book and worked forward, which I daresay is the same approach Mike Lista has taken. To have anything resembling an informed understanding of poetry, this is the kind of approach that has to be taken. So good for Mike for sending people searching for sources (or not). Reading Hughes, for example, is a great way into the English tradition.

Zachariah Wells said...

A timely appendix to this.

Rob Taylor said...

So Zach, let me get this straight: your example of someone who "cares enough" is a person who is enrolled in a graduate-level poetry workshop? In that case, it's a good thing MFA programs are expanding at a rapid rate, otherwise we'd have no qualified readers at all!

And, to be clear, even with references Lista still would have sent people searching for sources, but the process would have been made more feasible for the lazy, "uncaring" masses not currently enrolled in grad school.

Joking aside, I think you and I just have disparate views on what we hope the audience for contemporary poetry to be, and how that audience can (or can't) be fostered. I doubt we can make much progress on that issue here (though, as always, you're welcome to try :).

daniela elza said...

You are right Zack, no room here for such discussions. Yet they are crucial to how we do our scholarship and ferreting. I am not for or against Michael Lista's project. It is what it is. But it did flare up a key interest of mine, and took me back to contemplate, yet again:
What is poetry?
Where does it come from? and
Why do we write it?

Zachariah Wells said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zachariah Wells said...

Actually, my point about the student in question was that she was an outlier; her reading was extra-curricular. Graduate writing programs aren't anywhere near rigorous enough to suggest, much less require, such diligent background work.

And I think there's plenty of room for all kinds of audiences for poetry. Some of them will care more about they're reading. Others will care less. Neither requires exhaustive notation of sources. The former will seek them out independently and the latter won't seek them out even if they're told exactly where to find them.

Daniela, one thing poetry is not is poetry criticism. Poets should really leave the critics and scholars something to do and some room for investigation and speculation.

Rob Taylor said...

I hear you, Zach. I think, though, that you are overstating the difference between saying "after so-and-so" and "after so-and-so's poem ______ in their collection ______" - the impetus is still left to the reader either way. And you're right, some will look them up and some won't, just as it should be. Likewise, some will Google "Michael Lista Bloom Works Cited" and some won't. Some will be satisfied with what they find here, and some won't and will push on to read and research more. There's plenty of room for all, as you say.

Did we just make progress after all?

Zachariah Wells said...

But part of the point of Bloom is that poems don't exist in isolation; whatever the source poem for any one of Michael's, that source poem exists within the context of its author's oeuvre which in turn exists within the context of Poetry. Michael's done the courteous thing of acknowledging his poems' other parents. Any further genealogical data would be pedantic. And pedantry's best left to pedants, yeah?

Rob Taylor said...

My concerns addressed in the initial post came out of the fact that Lista was "courteous to the authors" - that he included any sort of reference at all. Granted, if he hadn't done that it would have opened up a whole new set of debates (and caused his publisher a great deal of grief), but he would have been better able to stick to the theme you suggest (of poems not existing in isolation) - a theme that I agree rests at the core of the book.

By referring to the parent poems only casually, he's connecting the two, but in a way that is easily reached only by those already well-versed in a wide swath of 20th C. North American poetry. Hence my attempt to help those at a different point in their poetry-reading lives. What people make of that (if they read this post or not, feel satisfied or keep reading) is up to them.

And for the record, I think pedantry is best left to people who use words like "pedantry" ;)

Ok, now I'm off to enjoy another rainy Saturday in Vancouver - everyone play nice while I'm gone.

Zachariah Wells said...

Meh. I think what the attributions do is leave the reader either curious about the source or indifferent. Some of the curious will be frustrated, but all Lista's suggesting the reader do is find the poems by the same route he did. Or not, because his poems cohere as individual poems and together as a narrative without knowing the source poems. Understanding of his book is _richer_ if you know the source poems--and for the record, I don't know all of them--but not knowing them shuts no one out. As opacities in contemporary writing go, his are pretty translucent. He's been more than fair, I think.

And keep in mind that this is a book published by a 26 year old. And therefore came from a manuscript finished by a 25 year old. Which means that some of the poems were probably written when he was, like, 21 or 22. So it's a bit much to say that it's asking too much of readers to catch up to him, I think. It's not like this is some sexagenarian poeta doctus here. Now how's that for pedantry?

NigelBeale said...

It might be worthwhile pointing out here that Lista, in doing what he does with Joyce and other makers of the richest plutonium in the 20th century canon, is, just like Slotin did, 'tickling the dragon's tail.' Nothing more dangerous for a writer than to be successfully accused of plagarism.

And Zach: Keats would have been, what, 21, 22, 25? when he wrote his great poetry, and readers are still trying to catch up to him.

Zachariah Wells said...

Keats had his moments. He also lived in a less infantalising time. Adjusting for inflation, his 20 is 30 in our time.

Pearl said...

"Michael's done the courteous thing of acknowledging his poems' other parents." I like that phrasing Zach.

I did wish he put more exact lineage in notes.

It would be enough work to read and compare if you're curious without also duplicating a search that's already done. Why not add one step more since he had the info? Space constraints?

It seems an ideal work for a linked digital file so there's easy access to dialoguing directly what Lista dialogued. Then it could get to the matter of ideas and choices of expression, more than hurdles before that.

Rob Taylor said...

"Understanding of his book is _richer_ if you know the source poems--and for the record, I don't know all of them--but not knowing them shuts no one out."

Agreed! This post was about enriching the reading experience of Bloom - and opening that enriched experience to more readers.

Thanks for joining in, Nigel and Pearl!

Anonymous said...

Just thought I drop a note regarding Lista's use of "On Thermonuclear War." I found that instead, most of his references connect very closely to rungs in Kahn's "On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios" Hope this helps!

Rob Taylor said...

Thanks, I've updated the post!

Aidan said...

"Louis Slotin and the White Lie" is actually mirroring "The White Lie" by Don Paterson. http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=6176

Rob Taylor said...

Thanks, Aidan!

sarah lund said...

Anyone aware of the origins of Scylla and Charybdis? I know the odyssey association but the ted hughes poem original?