Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Gil Fagiani/Jim Carroll/Poetry Azul/The New Math of Poetry/

Here's the long-awaited collection of his early works from that great poetic voice of the barrio, my cousin, Gil Fagiani

"Out of the squishy swamp of dead personal lyrics that is contemporary American poetry, Gil Fagiani's hard-boned zombies rise out of his poetry collection, A Blanquito in El Barrio. His poems of a white junkie in East Harlem are crafty narratives that sing the music of sex, compassion, friendship justice, mercy, comedy, betrayal, dope and more dope. Fagiani is a poet of unusual power. These poems have strong heart and deep soul.
A Blanquito in El Barrio is that rare good thing name— a necessary good book."

— Angelo Verga, poet, author of
A Hurricane Is, 33 NYC Poems, and Praise For What Remains


by Gil Fagiani

I had the sizzle in my chisel for Nilsa,
dug her big eyes, moist, meaty lips,
color and curves like sculpted teakwood.
One night I took her to Papo's Cuchifritos.
She'd been playing hard to get all summer long
and I figured a belly full of spicy pig parts and fritters

might open her up to other bodily pleasures.

I'd eaten cuchifritos once before
after a night of blowing weed
and tossing down Bacardi with Manny and Count
the former president and warlord of a local street gang
--"We even had our own social worker "--Count boasted.
We'd finished harmonizing such doo wop classics
as "Deserie," "Wind" and "Gloria,"
under the archway of the Park Avenue El
when Count pulled out a wad of bills
--birthday money, he claimed--and said,
"let's grit at Papo's," a cuchifrito joint on 116th Street.

Beneath blazing light bulbs over front window metal bins,
Count pointed to orejas, rabitos, morcillas,
acapurias, pastelillos, rellenos de papa.
Juggling white cardboard boxes dripping cooking oil,
we sat on car fenders and ate pig's ears, pig tails,
blood sausages, fritters and meat-filled potato balls.

The swagger of that night stayed with me
as Nilsa and I walked into Papo's
and copped squats on steel shiny stools.
I pointed to half a dozen bins
and soon cuchifritos were piled high in front of us.
Before I could pick up my fork
Nilsa grabbed a fire-red bottle
and bathed a bacalaito--codfishfritter--
with Louisiana hot sauce devouring it in three bites.
Then she picked up the tip of an oreja
and began to chew on the rubbery cartilage,
her teeth making loud crunching sounds.

Next she chowed down on two blood sausages
thick and black as a policeman's club.
Then she picked up a fried pig's tail
and ate it like an ice cream cone,
strips of pork sticking out the side of her mouth,
lips a blaze of yellow grease.
I sat quietly nibbling on a potato ball.
"What's the matter, no tiene hambre —
you're not hungry?
I smiled as a drum roll by Tito Puente
blasted from the jukebox,
Nilsa keeping time by tapping
her knife against the side of her water glass.

Comment Here on any of the above or below and read the comments of others too. Log in under "Name" or "Anonymous" if you like, but please be sure to sign some facsimile of your name. Actual name is best, but use what you like. Or email me at if you have difficulty.

Never learn too well the works of a poet,

for, somehow, the works of the masters have

infiltrated the systems of those who are

dangerous and covert. They have turned lines of

beauty and love into codes of identification.

Security is maintained in the detection of

a flawed meter, and messages of coercion and betrayal are delivered in iambics.

- Jim Carroll - "Homage to Gerard Manley Hopkins"

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Inviting Readers to Comment on "The New Math of Poetry" by David Alpaugh

A good friend sent me this thought-provoking article from The Chronicle (of higher education) Review, February 21, 2010. Alpaugh's essay continues a theme that has been discussed here in No Money In Poetry, not only by myself but by such luminaries as Richard Silberg, Michael Rothenberg, and David Madgalene. Additonally, many readers have commented on the theme and its issues. I invite all readers to take a look and express your own comments on the basic question of whether or not there can ever be too much poetry published and also what might be done about the world not losing hidden gems. Here's a link to the full article followed by several excerpts.

"...Those in charge of undergraduate and MFA programs have cast themselves in the role of poetry-writing cheerleaders who are busy assuring tens of thousands of students that they are talented poets who should expect their work not only to be published but to win awards as well." (Ed: "There are worse problems.")

"...More than 100,000 poems will be published in 2010." (Ed: "OK")

"...Scribner's Best American Poetry...The notion that a guest editor or team of screeners would read 100,000 poems is absurd. A look at the journals BAP routinely draws from gives a good clue as to methodology.In BAP 2008 , for example, just 10 of 2,000-plus journals and magazines available for consideration accounted for 37 of the 75 poems selected --49 percent....The probability that such a sliver of journals would continue to yield the lion's share of the "best" American poetry year after year were objectivity in play is unlikely.

"Given that guest editors are faced with the impossibility of reading even a fraction of the poetry being published, it should not shock us if they favor the work of students, friends, and colleagues. (Ed: Now Alpaugh is on to something and continues the theme.)

"...Of course, many literary journals and presses don't bother to nominate -- especially if they've noticed this zinger at the end of Pushcart's dexcription of its modus operandi: 'We also accept nominations from our staff of distinguished Contributing Editors.' There are a whopping 232 of them listed for 2009, most employed by college writing programs.

"No surprise that 28 of the 30 poets in the 2009 edition chosen by the creative-writing professors Phillis Levin and Thomas Lux are college teachers or retirees, in most cases from writing departments...One 'winner' boasts a nomination by his wife (she uses her maiden name).

"Keep in mind that, when it comes to the new math of poetry, we can see only the tip of the iceberg. Unfathomable are the countless self-published chapbooks and collections printed each year, to say nothing of the millions of personal Web sites, blogs, and Facebook pages where self-published poetry appears. (Ed: Don't worry, Alpaugh is not going for snobbery here. I like what follows.) I remind readers who believe that such poetry can be dismissed unread that William Blake self-published his Songs of Innocence and Experience, Walt Whitman his Leaves of Grass, A.E. Houseman his A Shropshire Lad, and that many of the poets who appear in prestigious journals today routinely self-publish their chapbooks." (Ed: And why not? Lot of exciting stuff in those pages!)

"The most common rebuttal to this critique can best be summed up as 'The more the merrier.' Instead of complaining about an embarrassment of trinkets, we should shout, 'hallelujah!' Doesn't the test of time always separate the silver and gold from the dross so that great poetry can emerge, if not for current readers, then for future ones?"

"My answer is that time has never been asked to test the astounding number of poems being published today, let alone what promises to be published in the future." (Ed: Well the article is about "math" after all.)

"...Perhaps the most sinister fact about the new math of poetry is that it allows the academic oligarchy that controls poetry to impose a non aesthetic, self-serving scoring system without attracting notice or raising indignation. (Ed: I am becoming indignant!) Since no one can possibly read the vast number of poems being published, professionals can ignore independent poets and reserve the goodies -- premiere readings, publications, honors, financial support -- for those fortunate enough to be housed inside the professional poetry bubble." (Ed: As I was transcribing this, I had to look back, did Alpaugh write "bubble" or "brothel"?)

"Marginalizing independent poets and the diversity of life experience they bring to poetry may help bolster MFA - teaching careers; but how healthy is it for the art? Almost all of the world's great poetry has been written by independents, and most of the poets writing today (myself included) remain unaffiliated with any institution. Still, when it comes to the major awards and premier publication essential for wide readership, there seems to be little room at the top for independents. Apparently 'Where does this poet teach?' is an easier question for committees to answer that 'How good is his or her poetry?' (Kay Ryan, poet laureate of the United States, is the exception who proves the rule.) (Ed: Absolutely! And, when Kay was appointed, I wondered how they had found her who we knew so very well here in the North Bay and how justice actually had been done.)

(Ed: Here comes the best part!)

"If Robert Frost's 'The Road Not Taken' were published next week by The New Formalist, Alan Ginsberg's 'Howl' by Gnome: the online journal of underground writing, and Sylvia Plath's 'Daddy' by Women Writers: A Zine, but none of those three poets held teaching posts in creative-writing departments, I'd wager that their poems would not appear in The Best American Poetry 2010 or The Pushcart Prize XXXIV or make it into a Norton anthology. Three of America's most widely read, genuinely loved poems would be published -- but the event would be more like a funeral than a birth.

"...Every now and then someone asks me, 'Who are the best poets writing today?' My answer? 'I have no idea.' Nor do I believe that anyone else does. I do have an uneasy feeling that a Blake and a Dickinson may be buried in the overgrowth, and I fear that neither current nor future readers may get to enjoy their art. That would be the most devastating result of the new math of poetry. The loss would be incalculable.

Comment Here on any of the above or below and read the comments of others too. Log in under "Name" or "Anonymous" if you like, but please be sure to sign some facsimile of your name. Actual name is best, but use what you like. Or email me at if you have difficulty.