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My Business Is Circumference: Poets on Influence and Mastery

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Twenty-eight distinguished contemporary American poets provide a multifaceted view of the creative process. Each poet has contributed a poem and chosen several poems by other poets that have influenced it. In an essay, each poet then describes how those influences have led to a sense of poetic mastery.

The Contributors:

  • A.R. Ammons
  • L.S. Asekoff
  • Stephanie Brown
  • Hayden Carruth
  • Gillian Conoley
  • Amy Gerstler
  • Judith Hall
  • Hunt Hawkins
  • Jane Hirshfield
  • Claudia Keelan
  • Yusef Komunyakaa
  • Lisa Lewis
  • Dana Levin
  • Laurence Lieberman
  • Thomas Lux
  • Jane Mead
  • Jack Myers
  • Donald Revell
  • Len Roberts
  • Michael Ryan
  • Ira Sadoff
  • Hugh Seidman
  • Jennifer Snyder Gerald Stern
  • Lucien Stryk
  • Karen Volkman
  • Ted Weiss
  • Joe Wenderoth

 "Anyone interested in how language calls to language, and heart to heart, will find these pages irresistible." —The Philadelphia Inquirer

"In this quirky, resonant, and necessary book, generously edited by Stephen Berg, a wide range of American poets at all stages of their writing lives offer their poems and choose their precursors, meditating with great humility and insight on the dual mysteries of influence and mastery, on the reading that fosters writing, on the shimmering nobility of poetry itself." —Edward Hirsch, Author of How to Read a Poem

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Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer
"Anyone interested in how language calls to language, and heart to heart, will find these pages irresistible."
Publishers Weekly
From arriv?s Amy Gerstler, Jane Hirshfield and Yusef Komunyakaa to arrivistes Dana Levin and Jennifer Snyder, My Business Is Circumference: Poets on Influence and Mastery, edited by founding co-editor of the American Poetry Review Stephen Berg (Shaving), features poets discussing their favorite writers. Gillian Conoley elects Mallarm?, Jack Spicer, Dickinson and Foucault as her most prominent influences. Hayden Carruth asserts that, though "the Big-Ass poets" won't admit it, poetry by "a third-grader from Abilene can enlarge one's sensibilities and set them ticking." The range of aesthetic and intellectual projects in this collection will behoove many poets. (July) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Berg, coeditor of the landmark 1960s anthology Naked Poetry and founder of the American Poetry Review, asked an assortment of poets to present a poem of their own along with several poems that had influenced their work. Also required was an essay about mastery and influence with reference to the chosen poems. In the end, 28 poets undertook this mission, an odd mix of mostly white, mostly older male poets Hayden Carruth, Gerald Stern, Ira Sadoff, Hugh Seidman, Theodore Weiss, Yusef Komunkayaa, and others with white female writers all under the age of 50, including Stephanie Brown, Dana Levin, Jane Hirshfield, and Jane Mead, some of whom will be new to readers. That most of the chosen influences predate the 20th century is explained by Amy Gerstler's comment that contributors were asked to use work in the public domain whenever possible. This known, some of the choices will still delight: no one but the late A.R. Ammons could have come up with Ralph Waldo Emerson's "The Rhodora." The younger poets male and female steal the show here; while many skirt the topic of mastery with respect to their own work, they are passionate about their influences, which range from Sei Shonagon to Walt Whitman to Sharon Olds. Although weakly conceived, this work is stocked with interesting tidbits, including biographies and photos. For larger collections. Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine LLP Law Lib., New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780966491395
  • Publisher: Dry, Paul Books, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/1/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 294
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Berg, founding editor of American Poetry Review, is the author of two dozen books of poetry and translations. He is a professor of English at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
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Table of Contents

The Poetry Does Not Matter
Hymn 3
Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Rhodora: On being asked, whence is the flower? 4
Walt Whitman: Aboard at a Ship's Helm 5
William Carlos Williams: Poem 5
Hymns 6
iii.29.86 7
The Mysteries of Mastery 8
No Longer a Girl 17
Nathanael West: Excerpt from The Day of the Locust 18
James M. Cain: Excerpt from The Postman Always Rings Twice 20
My Southern California: West, Cain 21
William Shakespeare: Excerpt from Cymbeline 31
Ben Jonson: Epitaph on Elizabeth, L. H. 32
Alexander Pope: Excerpt from Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot 33
Emily Dickinson: 422 33
Robert Frost: Brown's Descent, or The Willy-Nilly Slide 34
Influences 36
What To Do 39
Training Films of the Real 40
Stephane Mallarme: Saint 43
Emily Dickinson: 1090 44
Emily Dickinson: 280 44
Jack Spicer: Phonemics 45
My Masters 47
Nearby 51
Sir Thomas Wyatt: They Flee from Me 52
William Shakespeare: Prologue to Romeo and Juliet 53
Walt Whitman: You felons on trial in courts 53
Sei Shonagon: Excerpt from The Pillow Book 54
A Servant of My Work 55
Complaint of the Poet to Her Empty Purse 58
Geoffrey Chaucer: The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse 59
William Shakespeare: Sonnet 29 60
Ezra Pound: The Lake Isle 61
Anonymous: Hard Times Cotton Mill Girls 61
Anonymous: Berber Song 62
Notes in Medias Res 63
At the Public Pool 65
Sharon Olds: Poem to Our Son After a High Fever 66
Frank O'Hara: The Day Lady Died 67
Robert Frost: The Wood-Pile 68
Influence and Mastery 69
Skipping Stones 75
Catullus: Odi et Amo 76
Horace: Odes, I, 11 77
Bertolt Brecht: The Lovely Fork 78
C. P. Cavafy: Hidden Things 79
Minotaur 81
Speed and Perfection 81
Moment 82
Tool 83
Emily Dickinson: 288 84
Emily Dickinson: 881 84
Walt Whitman: Excerpts from Song of Myself 85
Without Sovereignty 87
The Millpond 93
Robert Hayden: The Diver 96
Elizabeth Bishop: The Fish 97
The Lure 99
Bridge of Light 103
William Blake: Excerpts from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 105
William Blake: The Garden of Love 106
William Blake: Excerpt from The Book of Thel 107
William Blake: Infant Sorrow 107
Strong Water 108
Media 112
John Milton: Excerpt from Samson Agonistes 114
John Ashbery: Excerpt from A Wave 115
Elizabeth Bishop: Excerpt from Crusoe in England 116
Media 117
Voice to Voice 126
The Pull of the Sentence 127
Marianne Moore: The Buffalo 130
D. H. Lawrence: Butterfly 134
Theodore Roethke: The Geranium 137
Hart Crane: The Air Plant 140
Grain Burning Far Away 144
On Influence 145
Hart Crane: Voyages, II 147
Bill Knott: Poem 149
Bill Knott: Ignorance 1967 149
Bill Knott: Windows's Winter 149
James Wright: The Jewel 151
Three Candles/And A Bowerbird 152
Louise Gluck: The Wild Iris 153
William Carlos Williams: Danse Russe 154
Wallace Stevens: The Snow Man 155
James Wright: The Life 155
Influence, Process, Mastery: The making of a poem 156
The Wisdom of Not Knowing 164
W. S. Merwin: The Child 166
Jack Gilbert: To See If Something Comes Next 168
Jelaluddin Rumi: Say Yes Quickly 169
The Optimist, The Pessimist, and The Other 170
The Flicker 171
Arcady Siskiyou 172
John Skelton: Uppon a Deedmans Hed 173
John Skelton: Excerpt from Phyllyp Sparowe 175
Robert Creeley: Flowers 176
Proper Rites 177
At the Table 180
John Keats: Ode on a Grecian Urn 182
Randall Jarrell: 90 North 184
Walt Whitman: Excerpt from Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking 185
Robert Lowell: Home After Three Months Away 185
Drinking at the Well: John Keats, Randall Jarrell, Walt Whitman, and Robert Lowell 186
Reminder 198
Emily Dickinson: 756 198
Emily Dickinson: 599 199
Emily Dickinson: 1304 199
Influence and Mastery 200
Did You Ever Get a Phone Call 208
Walt Whitman: Excerpts from The Sleepers 209
C. K. Williams: Neglect 211
Emily Dickinson: 508 213
Multiplicity of Voices 213
200 in Hell 217
Czeslaw Milosz: The Garden of Earthly Delights: Hell 220
Zbigniew Herbert: What Mr. Cogito Thinks About Hell 220
Charlotte Mew: Fame 221
Cesar Vallejo: Sermon on Death 221
The Metric is 1 223
Nurses 226
Pablo Neruda: Too Many Names 227
Roberto Juarroz: Vertical Poetry, First, 4 229
Philip Levine: They Feed They Lion 229
Second Looking and a Theory of Flamingos 230
Larry Levis Visits Easton, PA During a November Freeze 234
John Berryman: Dream Songs, 149 and 157 236
Paul Goodman: Pagan Rites 237
E. E. Cummings: i sing of Olaf glad and big 239
Sorrow by Absence 240
Remembrance Day 244
Shinkichi Takahashi: Burning Oneself to Death 245
Shinkichi Takahashi: The Pipe 246
Shinkichi Takahashi: Thistles 246
Shinkichi Takahashi: The Peach 246
Shinkichi Takahashi: What Is Moving 247
What's It All About, Then? 248
Untitled 250
Thomas Traherne: Excerpt from The First Century 251
George Herbert: The Collar 252
Emily Dickinson: 690 253
Rainer Maria Rilke: Excerpt from Sonnets to Orpheus 253
Paul Celan: Your hand full of hours 254
Receptivity and Resistance 254
Mysterious Matters 259
Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Windhover 262
Gerard Manley Hopkins: I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day 263
Wallace Stevens: Extraordinary References 265
William Carlos Williams: To a Lovely Old Bitch 266
David Schubert: Kind Valentine 268
The Present 270
Sappho: Seizure 273
Withstanding Seizure 274
Ex-Lover Somewhere 279
Notes 281
Acknowledgments 287
Index of Poets 291
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