National Book Award Poetry Finalists


LAST WEEK the National Book Foundation in New York, at the center of establishment arts culture, announced their nominees for this year’s Poetry award. Each one of the five finalists has been highly awarded by the current literary system– by foundations, universities and/or governments. One would expect this to be the best of the best.

We did a quick perusal of bios, then examined one poem from each poet. Our grades follow.


Daniel Borzutzky. P.C. factor: Of Chilean heritage. The poem: “Sentence”

We found Borzutzky to be a cross between an Allen Ginsberg wannabe and a flarf poet who jams random words and sentence fragments together. The result is pretentious nonsense. We give him a point or two for being tongue-in-cheek, and to be fair, he’s called what he does “Non-Writing.” We won’t disagree. (And, he’s making quite a living from minimal artistic investment, so kudos for that.)

Grade: D.


Rita Dove. P.C. factor: African-American woman. The poem: “Heart to Heart”

A short, simple poem which expresses clarity and emotion.

Grade: B.


Peter Gizzi. P.C. factor: Token white guy. The poem: “In Defense of Nothing”

Before Gizzi became part of the official literary game, he was a Do-It-Yourselfer. We’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt– but in this case his poem is aptly titled.

Grade: D+.


Jay Hopler. P.C. factor: Born in Puerto Rico. The poem: “So Many Birds to Kill and So Few Stones”

We like Hopler’s use of alliteration. Here’s a poet who’s given at least some thought to craft. Still, the title and content are a tad too sober-serious for our taste– as is Hopler’s bio photo. Hopler’s clearly going for the “Poetry is serious business!” crowd.

Grade: C.


Solmaz Sharif. P.C. factor: Turkish-born woman. The poem: “Vulnerability Study”

A very simple poem– but we like the juxtapositions. Easy seriousness.

Grade: C.


Conclusion: The poems are a tad better then we expected– we’ve seen far worse come out of the academy. But we’re still left saying, “Is that all there is?” Is this all we’re competing against, in our fledgling campaign to remake and renew the art form? At their best, the poems are unexceptional. Not one is going to be remembered and quoted by readers– in the way people quote Poe, or Dylan Thomas, or Shakespeare. Not one will cause a person to sit up in shock or surprise– or outrage– or roar with laughter.

We want better poems!


Interview with a Poet


Pop poetry is news. Today we interview poet Bruce Dale Wise, who isn’t specifically a pop poet– though he tells us he’s been writing pop poems, as well as other forms, for years. Bruce is kind of a one-man poem factory. Not surprisingly, he includes poems in his answers.

NEW POP LIT:  You’ve said the 1950’s was not the peak period of American poetry. In your opinion, what period was?

BRUCE DALE WISE:  I’m absolutely sure American poetry has not reached its peak yet. I think American poetry will go beyond all that it has achieved.
Though there are good poems and poets from every period, and each era has good qualities that the others lack, I lean to our time, the New Millennial period; the Internet has opened up the possibilities of American poetry, and I think it is exciting to be writing right now.

NPL:  In what ways is your poetry classical? In what ways is it postmodern?

BDW:  It’s classical in that I download ancients, like antanaclasis, am ironic, have epithets will unravel, use synecdoche, symbol and simile, employ metonymy, metaphor, and metre, weigh syllables, and like rhyme.

It’s Postmodern in that I intertext, like retro, am playful, have multiple identities, am hyperreal, and like the royal nonesuch.

NPL:  Please give capsule comments of any or all of the following:

-Edgar Allan Poe

psycho-dark, trochaic crow

-Emily Dickinson

balladeer in headlights

-Walt Whitman

diehard yawper, selfie-unleashed

-T.S. Eliot

new-rotic thief

-Ezra Pound

orphick maniac

-Robert Frost

circumspect rustic

-Kenneth Rexroth


-Robert Lowell

On the Mediocre Manifestations of Robert Lowell
for G. M. H. Thomson

The poetry of Robert Lowell would better serve as planks
in whalers or for firewood for stern New England Yanks.
That grand inquisitor of narcissism left his curse
of wooden, Puritannical, rhetoric’lly-stiff verse.
Lord Weary’s Castle is so ti-rrr-ing it wears one down;
its Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket bores one to the ground.
If Frost had been a piece of cardboard soaked in turpentine
for seventy long years, he’d have become a Lowell twine.
L. Bogan nailed his style—high-pitched, Baroque intensity—
a cross between Donne’s Metafizz and Melville’s density.

-Allen Ginsberg

howling be-attitude

-Sylvia Plath

bi-polar bearer

-Robert Creeley

pop-psych Cyclops

-Maya Angelou

uncaged macaw

-language poetry

languishing, anguishing, hang out the washing, wishing machine

-flarf poetry

Another Literary (Bowel) Movement

“No poet…has his complete meaning alone.”
—T. S. Eliot, Tradition and Individual Talent

If flarf is only so much avante-garde rehashed,
a cutting up of texts, bizarre trajectories,
then it is nothing more than bloviating, mashed-
montage junkspeech, a splash of crushing nectarines.
If flarf is only so much fluff without dream’s stuff,
its reject glories but reshuffled errancies,
a googol Google-goggles gone up in a guff,
then it’s damn yadda dada data dayadhvam.
If flarf is only one technique, a stylized puff,
a sweep of e. e. cummings going o’er the dam
of jetsam/flotsam/get-some/got-some crashflash smashed,
without tradition, it is individu’l spam.


scop shop (pronounced shope shop)

-open mics

Poetic Slams

Poetic slams are all the rage. The people rise
up, yes, to let it all out—Pentacostally.
Perhaps they grab a mike with fire in their eyes,
and then proceed t’ orate, o, so passionately.
Like lovers giving lovers kisses, they begin
to let fly words. A hundred at a time, words flee
from out round mouths, o, hundreds at a time they spin.
And then it all starts to add up to thousands, yow,
so that one cannot count them all in such a din.
They go at it, like wolves out in the night—and howl—
intoxicated, soaring on linguistic cries
and verbal acrobatics, slamming, whamming, zow.

-poetry in the academy

itty-bitty uni-verse

NPL:  Who is the best current American poet, in your opinion?

BDW:  I sure as hell am trying to do my best, but as for best…

America is chock-a-block with poets; there are millions; and you can learn something from nearly all of ’em, even if it’s learning what not to do.

NPL:  How do you view the future of American poetry?

BDW:  Jetsonic, like the Jetsons, out there—boldly going where no one has gone before—at warp speed.

(For more Bruce Dale Wise poetry see our Four Poems feature on Bruce.)

Tarzana Joe at New Pop Lit!


Tarzana Joe is one of America’s few true poet celebrities, via his regular appearances on the nationally syndicated Hugh Hewitt Show. It’s therefore a mini-coup to obtain one of his poems for our Fun Pop Poetry feature. See the poem.

Tarzana Joe could be called the uncrowned champion of contemporary pop poetry. At the moment he is the master of the form.

American pop poetry has a long pedigree. Edgar Allan Poe was a pop poet through widely-known works like “The Bells,” “The Raven,” and “El Dorado.” Robert W. Service is another classic example of an American pop poet, whose “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” was wildly popular in the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Our goal with our Fun Pop Poetry feature is to restore the profile of the pop poetry genre in America.



While Tarzana Joe is pop poetry’s leading personality, we’re discovering no shortage of other claimants to that designation. Among them:



Blixa BelGrande, whose poetry ranges from the furious to the facetious to the outrageous.


Cerebral poet Bruce Dale Wise  practices all poetic styles, pop included. In an interview, soon to be featured at New Pop Lit, Bruce doesn’t exclude himself from title of best current American poet. (Gotta love the confidence.)


Craig Kurtz has been writing pop poetry since the 1990’s, usually with a historical motif.



(Artwork by Dan Nielsen.)

Dan Nielsen pens witty Dorothy Parkerisms, in addition to crisp avant-garde stylings. (More coming from Dan next week.)



Emerson Dameron runs the Weird Deer website, and has performed at open mics around the country. So far we’ve obtained only one pop poem from Emerson, but it was a good one.


Other pop poets we’ve featured or will feature include spoken word veteran Wred Fright; ace short story writer Scott Cannon; and Tarzana Joe-wannabe Ellsworth B. Smith.


Keep up with the pop poetry movement at Fun Pop Poetry.



24 Big Lit Names

There are 24 big lit names featured in our first “Lit Question of the Month” forum discussing the contemporary short story.

They’re from all parts of the new literary universe.

They gave 24 striking answers, here.

(Why the Edsel photo? The car is a classic example of a giant manufacturer trying to force-feed the public a product it didn’t want. Is the same thing happening with the giant publishing conglomerates?)

Outmaneuvering New York

ONE of our missions at Detroit-based NEW POP LIT is to outmaneuver the mandarins of the Manhattan-Brooklyn literary world.

We’ve just done it!– obtaining the first U.S. publication of one of Belarus’s most exciting writers, Andrei Dichenko. This exactly one day after Belarus author Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for literature. Read Dichenko’s work now, ably translated by Andrea Gregovich.

This scoop is proof that we’re hungrier, tougher and faster than the pseudo-intellectuals. (Also more fun.)


Our Dally in The Alley Report!


The speed at which the “Dally” street festival is growing is astounding. In the 1990’s I lived in the same north Cass Corridor neighborhood that hosts this amazing urban street fair. I can remember when the event was confined to the long alley behind buildings. I remember when it expanded to neighboring streets. Now the event has overflowed onto a large chunk of Midtown Detroit.

The fair is twice the size of what I remember from 1998 or thereabouts. It’s as much as 50% bigger than the last time I attended it, when I was in town in 2008. In some respects for vendors it’s become too big. While the Allied Media Conference in June didn’t have enough traffic to suit our purposes, the Dally at times had too much; the vendors jammed helplessly in their spots watching the unending flow of people who were not there to purchase but instead, frankly, to get drunk. This was late evening, once the sun vanished.

How did we do from a sales standpoint?

I’ll use the mantra, “Not as well as we hoped but better than we feared.” For about a three-hour window we did very well, catching interest with Kathleen Crane’s eye-catching “ALOHA FROM DETROIT” t-shirts (soon to be on sale at the main site), as well as with our prototype lit journal with its equally eye-catching Alyssa Klash cover. There were scores of other vendors selling Detroit t-shirts. Everyone who commented to us on the matter–at least a hundred people– said we had the best.

The weather was quite cool, and threatened rain for much of the day– moments of dark clouds overhead punctuated by occasional drops. We took a risk in that we were one of a handful of vendors who didn’t have a tent. (A big change from Dallys I remember from the past.) I’d decided not to spend $75 on renting a tent! Low overhead is how NEW POP LIT has decided to operate. It will remain the case as we move further into print book publishing. This is how we plan to takedown the bloated book giants– with a fast, streamlined operation.

Toward the end of the evening, when vendors had more time to chat, one of them complimented us on how we operated. He said the way to do it is to focus on a few products– your best movers– instead of having a ton of stock, which he had. Many vendors had large tents and many racks, holding as much merchandise as a store in a shopping mall. Their operations took hours to set up and take apart. He pointed out to us a rack of clothing he was selling at a large discount– items created or acquired long ago for another festival. Yet behind this rack were many, many other arrays of clothing and other products– a large investment which would have to be moved at event after event after event.

We had as much merchandise as we thought we would sell. We sold a large percentage of our main features. Some of the authors’ books we had with us were more problematic.

This was for a number of reasons. First, in face-to-face selling you can focus only on one or two items (much of what we sold was with sharp verbal effort). You’re focused first on what people ask about. Display– the look of a product– is crucial. Second, with our own products we were free to use creative discounting. I sold the NEW POP LIT prototype at two dollars off the cover price, because it’s not a finished product. (The real printing will take care of minor glitches and typos.) For the t-shirts we varied the price depending on crowd interest, which started slow in the morning, peaked in the afternoon, then dropped off a table when the beer drinker partyers arrived by the tens of thousands. (The Dally is one of the best pure parties anywhere– and I’ve been to a few, including the Indy 500.) Our attitude was that of vendors at a European or Arab or African open air bazaar– we were ready to bargain, and did so. In hindsight, we should’ve gotten permission from the authors who’d sent us books months ago to do likewise for them. But then, many books can’t be discounted and avoid a loss.

The great artist-writer “I’m not Picasso” Dan Nielsen had given us permission to do what we wished with his entertaining chapbooks, which added to our flexibility, because on a couple occasions when potential buyers were hesitating I said, “I’ll throw in the Dan Nielsen art-lit book,” and made the sale. Kudos to Dan. All marketing experts say it’s better to add value than to drop the price much. There were price points beneath which we wouldn’t go for anything. Well, except at the very end of the night when we were ready to pack up! Most of what we sold was close to the original price we’d set, but not at it.

There was much to take note of. One is how few real punks there were at the event– though punk bands dominated the stage inside the alley itself. (We were positioned closer to the techno/house music stage.) The Dally in the Alley was traditionally, for decades, a mainly punk affair– but except for the fashion-punk variety, the real punk person seems to be a thing of the past. With exceptions. A wild punky couple were struck by the photo of Jessie Lynn McMains we had at the front of our table and bought anything by her they could get their hands on– including the NEW POP LIT journal, which contains an amazing story by Jessie– one of the best stories you’ll ever read anywhere.

The punk couple, and other readers, will be sure to equally enjoy Kathy Crane’s tough “Aloha from Detroit” story in the journal. Inspiration for the t-shirts.


The vendors on either side of us were FANTASTIC. Unbelievably friendly and helpful, seeing that for this event we were virtual neophytes. I sold at many zinefests in the past, but the Dally in The Alley is an entirely different creature. Especially what it’s morphed into. But it retains the same DIY cooperative vibe it’s always had.

It’s hard to describe here the full experience. I parked our vehicle almost a mile away– yet when the festival reached its peak, the crowd had expanded that far. On sidestreets outside the designated grounds, vendors had set up unofficially to hawk their wares. Bars on all sides had their own music events taking place. Is the Dally now comparable to Mardi Gras? To the big Austin music festival? It’s getting there.

Kudos to the neighborhood folks who put the Dally on, keeping the legacy going. They did an amazing job.


Franzen latest

Discounting Franzen’s Purity


Seldom has a book received as much advance hype as Jonathan Franzen’s 563-page novel, Purity, due out September 1 from the Farrar, Straus & Giroux company. Advance reviews, articles, and interviews are multiplying across the internet. Seemingly every Manhattan Monopoly literary person has been unleashed to gush over the thing.

No one is announcing the size of the advance Franzen and his agent, Susan Golomb, received. A million dollars? Easy. Two million? Three? We can only speculate.


The question is why the publisher is ALREADY heavily discounting the book, before it’s even been released. This moment Amazon is selling it, under pre-order status, for $15.40– which is not quite half off the novel’s $28 cover price. Is FSG afraid that they otherwise won’t move copies?

The contradictions of Manhattan publishing may be catching up to the industry. The advance given to Franzen, as we said, no doubt was sizable. His agent, Ms. Golomb, doesn’t come cheap, and took her cut of the payment. Farrar also has a large suite of offices– on expensive New York real estate– to pay for, as well as phalanxes of editors and publicists and other staff people. Farrar, Straus & Giroux has also budgeted a huge sum for advertising and other avenues of publicity.

Purity is not just FSG’s, but the entire New York City-based industry’s, big book of the season. From the novel they need to obtain sales and prestige. By all accounts (biased, certainly, from a host of literary media flunkies) the novel is perceived to be a great artistic triumph. Jonathan Franzen is the industry’s leading novelist. His previous two successes sold millions of copies. He has a built-in, long-sustained and proven reputation. His image has been on the cover of Time magazine– and may be again this time. The book has all the earmarks of a “sure thing.”

Why, then, the discounting?

Is Farrar, Straus & Giroux panicking already?

(Could they possibly fear that Jonathan Franzen is not in fact a very exciting writer?)


What’s the truth of the matter?

The truth is that Jonathan Franzen produces what can be called coffee table books. They look impressive. Their author carries a ton of prestige. They’re the kind of thing which rich people in New York or in plush suburbs across the country will purchase to show off as indications of their taste and breeding. The novels look fine placed on coffee tables. “Oh! Jonathan Franzen,” house guests will say. “His latest!”

Owning the plodding novels is like possessing the latest model Rolls or Mercedes. But few people actually read them.