Posts Tagged ‘Dave Bonta’

Imitation: issue summary and index of imitative models

June 8, 2012 1 comment

by Dave Bonta and Siona van Dijk

Editing this issue was a delight. If you’re a regular reader, we hope you’ve enjoyed watching it unfold. Among the things it taught us: the distance between jest and reverence is sometimes not very great; imitations of one author in the style of another are more common than we thought; “difficult” and experimental writers attract almost as many imitators as the more accessible ones, perhaps because of the challenge they present; poems that are themselves imitations tend to attract further imitations (though we didn’t often choose the results for publication); and you all really, really like Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

Well, O.K., we sort of expected that last result. And it wasn’t a big surprise that we received multiple imitations of Hemingway, Dickinson and Plath, either. It makes sense that the most idiosyncratic authors and artists would be among the most often imitated: creative people are attracted to otherness, and putting on a mask that’s strikingly different from one’s own face brings out the inner child. Playfulness or the desire to improve one’s craft aren’t the only impulses at work in this issue, though. Sometimes an imitation responds to or expands upon a point made in the original work. And sometimes, too, parody seems like the best way to critique some lamentable tendency of the imitated author: Wordsworth’s sexism, Richard Lovelace’s fatuousness and Dylan Thomas’ failure to take his own advice about dying were all pilloried in this issue, for example.

At the other extreme, we were charmed that a few contributors went so far as to dedicate their pieces to the authors whose styles they imitated. There’s something touching and very human about the impulse to engage dead authors and artists in conversation. In some cases, of course, the imitated authors are still with us, so there’s a chance they’ll read these imitations. What must it be like to encounter this kind of tribute to the power of one’s work?

A few of the contributors to this issue are working on book-length collections in the imitative mode. We were pleased to be able to excerpt such ambitious projects as the collaborative “Odes of Opposition” by Lisa McCool-Grime and Nancy Flynn, Marilyn Annucci‘s manuscript After Her, and DeWitt Clinton‘s poem-by-poem response to Kenneth Rexroth’s One Hundred Poems from the Chinese.

It’s interesting to note the relative proportion of male to female authors and artists among the imitative models, which movements and national literatures are represented, and so forth. Rather than continue to try to summarize the issue, though, we thought it might be more useful to compile a complete index of imitative models.

What struck you most about this issue? Feel free to leave your own assessments in the comments.

The following links go to imitations in the issue, not to the original works or artists/authors.

Adcock, Fleur (“The Ex-Queen Among the Astronomers“)

Agee, James (A Death in the Family)

Albertí, Rafael (Sobre los ángeles)

Ashbery, John (general)

Atwood, Margaret (“Heart“)

Bacon, Francis (Self-portrait, 1972)

Balthus (telegram sent to the Tate Gallery, 1968)

Bishop, Elizabeth (“One Art“)

Bobrowksi, Johannes (“Fishing port“)

Borges, Jorge Luis (“Limits“)

Breton, Andre (“Free Union“)

Bukowski, Charles (general)

Canaletto (general)

Cisneros, Sandra (“You Bring Out the Mexican In Me“)

Collins, Billy (general)

cummings, e.e. (general)

Dickinson, Emily (“I heard a fly buzz when I died…“)

Drummond de Andrade, Carlos (“In the Middle of the Road“)

Eliot, T.S. (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“)

Gass, William (“In the Heart of the Heart of the Country“)

Ginsberg, Allen (general)

Glück, Louise (general)

Gregg, Linda (general)

Hardy, Thomas (“The Convergence of the Twain“)

Hass, Robert (“Meditation at Lagunitas“)

Hemingway, Ernest (general)

Hesiod (general)

Heynen, Jim (short stories)

Hopper, Edward (general)

Hughes, Ted (general)

Jarnot, Lisa (“Poem Beginning with a Line by Frank Lima“; “Ye white Antarctic birds“)

Keats, John (general)

Larkin, Philip (“Vers de Societé“)

Levine, Philip (general)

Lissaint, Carvens (“Tell Them“)

Lovelace, Richard (“To Lucasta, Going to the Wars“)

McBryde, Ian (Slivers)

Melville, Herman (Moby Dick: 1, 2)

Moore, Lenard D. (“Postcard to an Ecologist“)

Olson, Charles (The Maximus Poems)

Oppen, George (general)

Owen, Wilfred (“Dulce et Decorum Est“)

Pamuk, Orhan (My Name Is Red)

Parker, Dorothy (general)

Picasso, Pablo (Self-portrait / Autoportrait, 1972)

Plath, Sylvia (various; “You’re”: 1, 2)

P’o, Su Tung (“The Terrace in the Snow“)

Pound, Ezra (general)

Pulp magazines from the 1930s (Westerns)

Queneau, Raymond (Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes: 1, 2)

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (Self Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar)

Rexroth, Kenneth (One Hundred Poems from the Chinese)

Rich, Adrienne (“Final Notations“)

Rilke, Rainer Maria (“Archaic Torso of Apollo“)

Roethke, Theodore (“Cuttings (later)“)

Ryan, Kay (general)

Šalamun, Tomaž (“I Smell Horses in Poland“)

Shakespeare, William (Hamlet soliloquy; Sonnet 130)

Siken, Richard (Crush)

Smart, Christopher (“Jubilate Agno“)

Stein, Gerturde (general)

Stern, Gerald (“Spring“)

Stevens, Wallace (“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird“)

Stevenson, Robert Louis (“My Shadow“)

Strand, Mark (“Keeping Things Whole“)

Thomas, Dylan (general)

Twain, Mark (general)

Uelsmann, Jerry (general)

Van Gogh, Vincent (Self-Portrait, September 1889)

Vasarely, Victor (general)

Vermeer, Johannes (Girl with a Pearl Earring)

Weston, Edward (Pepper, 1930)

Whitman, Walt (“Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun“)

Wilbur, Richard (The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems)

Williams, William Carlos (“The Widow’s Lament in Springtime“; general)

Woloch, Cecelia (“Blazon“)

Wordsworth, William (various)

Categories: Imitation Tags: ,

Red Letter Day

April 4, 2006 17 comments

Japan was a trip, sometimes in more ways than one. This guy Paul I used to hang out with got a buddy back in the states to mail him some LSD. Something told me not to drop with him, so I politely turned him down when he offered to share. Another one of our classmates had no such scruples, however. I don’t remember his name, but he was the guy who started the Buddhist meditation group in the foreigners’ dorm.

He told me they ate two tabs each and rode the trains back and forth for hours. All the rice paddies were flooded, so it quickly became impossible to tell where the sky stopped and the ground began. Clouds above, clouds below, and in between the mountains were like enormous green Buddha-bodies, swollen with wisdom. For a while, he said, they were bowing gassho to everything. When darkness fell, they started looking at the lights as if each one was a vow somebody had made, a little particle of determination.

They were trying not to attract too much attention – like a foreigner in Japan can ever avoid being noticed! – but as they were coming back toward the college, a pair of giggly co-eds sat down across from them and they began to flirt.

“We started imitating them, you know? Putting our hands over our mouths to hide our teeth, which of course made them laugh even harder, so then we started speaking the most atrocious Japanese phrases we could think of, like gokiburisama deshita and bikkurisumasu, until we knew we had it made. Every girl wants a guy with a sense of humor, you know?

“It turns out one of them has an apartment not too far from the Makino station, so we go there, stopping at a couple of vending machines to pick up a packet of condoms and one of those mini-kegs of Sapporo. Paul was crazy, he wanted to tie them up right away, but I said no, first we had to snuggle and look deeply interested while they told us all about themselves, got sloppy drunk, started whispering secrets in our ears. Which were safe with us, because we didn’t know what the fuck they were saying once they lapsed into heavy Osaka dialect. Mine even blubbered a little, which of course made me cry, too. That’s just the way I am.

“Paul and I were coming down by this point, but the sex was still pretty strange. It didn’t help that they were both virgins. Mine was nice, she went through all the motions of liking it, but blood is hard to hide. I figure she must’ve looked at some of those pornographic comic books that the salarymen are always reading on the subways, because she knew the routine pretty well – even tried to give me a blowjob. But the girl Paul was with lay still as a stone and whimpered the whole time. He gets that look in his eyes. It scares people.”

He said he persuaded Paul to give them the rest of the LSD, four more tabs.

“We told them it was a kind of medicine, that it would make everything beautiful. Pretty soon they were tripping really hard, and Paul got the idea of writing our names on their forearms with the point of a knife. They loved it! You know how Japanese are about anything with Roman letters on it. When we left, they were both totally engrossed, staring down at the red letters as if they could see all the way inside. Hell, maybe they could. It gave us something to talk about the next day, after the mountains went back to being mountains.”

by Dave Bonta of Via Negativa

Twin Bed

February 3, 2006 11 comments

All winter long, I keep the thermostat turned down as low as possible to conserve oil. I dress like a homeless person – overcoat, knit cap, fingerless gloves to permit typing. The cold creeps in around doors and windows: ah, what healthy air, I tell myself. No need to worry about the build-up of air-borne toxins from carpet out-gassing in this old cottage.

By nine-thirty or ten at night, the warming effect of a full belly has begun to wear off, and the cold begins to insinuate itself through the five layers of clothing on my upper body and the jeans and thermal underwear below. My fingers slowly grow numb. But how handy, really, to have something like this compelling me go to bed on time! Otherwise my book might tempt me to stay up too late.

So the thermostat gets turned down even lower – Take that, President Cheney! – and I change into bedclothes and crawl under a heavy pile of blankets and quilts. It’s a little difficult to turn over, but really, all that tossing and turning I do in the warmer months isn’t good for my back.

I lie in the darkness feeling very snug and secure in my little nest, warming my hands by pressing them against my chest and under my armpits. The contact of cold and warm feels delicious – a thing I’ve enjoyed ever since I was a kid. I had the darkest, coldest bedroom in the house, and grew very acclimated to it over the years. I recall with some nostalgia being small enough to crawl all the way under the covers in my twin bed, where I’d thrust my bare feet into the coldest corners. The initial bite of cold would send shivers down my spine.

When there were no more cold pockets to explore, sometimes I’d turn around and around under the covers until I could no longer remember which end of the bed was which, like a turtle lost in its own shell. Then I’d stop and lie still, trying to guess, and poke my head tentatively toward where I thought the pillow should be.

It was wonderful to be wrong: I’d savor the feeling of disorientation as long as I could. The room and everything beyond it would slowly pivot back into place, but for one long moment I’d feel myself cut loose from my moorings, like a spaceship drifting near absolute zero, free from the influence of any local star.

Written by Dave Bonta of Via Negativa.

Categories: Lies and Hiding Tags:

How Glass Breaks: Four Theories

November 9, 2005 8 comments

on the macroscopic scale
can be deceiving. Measured
in microns, the fracture surface
resembles the long-lost, infinitesimal
twin of a rent in metal –
that famously elastic break.
So too, then, with glass:
cavities as narrow as a few nanometers
open ahead of the crack,
flowing together
in the last fraction of a second before
the wineglass shatters under
the bridegroom’s shoe.

Atom separates from
individual atom
in rapid sequence
wherever the amorphous
solid – glass –
encounters stress.
The blind cane of an atomic
force microscope can tap
all along the edge of a crack
& find no sign of deformation,
no pits or pockmarks.
Glass must therefore be
as we’d always thought:
immaculately brittle.

Atoms under pressure slip
& slide across each other;
nothing is simple. Friction
leads to atom-sized cracks
& the cracks widen into
the necessary cavities, yes.
But all along the fracture zone,
the same pressure
responsible for the break
makes the gaps snap shut
immediately thereafter.
Let’s call them nanovoids,
these model wounds,
healing as perfectly as if
they had never been.

Approaching the fracture origin,
the surface of a crack appears
increasingly smooth. But under
an electron microscope, each region
shows the same kinds of features
at a finer & finer scale – a fractal
self-affinity. Beginning at ground
zero, we name these regions
mirror, mist, hackle,
macroscopic crack branching
energy magnified in chaotic order.
Given an opening, given vibration,
atoms in the amorphous silica will
change partners – a choreography
of rings that first contract, then
join together, encircling ever
larger volumes until the last
bonds fail & the atoms
dance irrevocably


Inspired by an article in Research: Penn State, “What Makes Glass Break,” by Walt Mills (online, 2005). Also consulted:

F. Célarié, S. Prades, D. Bonamy, L. Ferrero, E. Bouchaud, C. Guillot, and C. Marlière, “Glass Breaks like Metal, but at the Nanometer Scale.” Physical Review Letters 90, 075504 (2003).

J.-P. Guin and S. M. Wiederhorn, “Fracture of Silicate Glasses: Ductile or Brittle?” Physical Review Letters 92:21, 215502 (2004).

R. K. Kalia, A. Nakano, P. Vashishta, C. L. Rountree, L. Van Brutzel and S. Ogata, “Multiresolution atomistic simulations of dynamic fracture in nanostructured ceramics and glasses.” International Journal of Fracture 121:1-2, 71 (2003).

J. J. Mecholsky, J. K. West, and D. E. Passoja, “Fractal dimension as a characterization of free volume created during fracture in brittle materials.” Philosophical Magazine A, 82:17/18, 3163 (2002).

by Dave Bonta of Via Negativa

Categories: Science as Poetry Tags:


November 1, 2005 8 comments

I’ve never had very many heroes, mostly because I prefer people in the round, with all their imperfections on display, and also because I think hero worship has been a scourge on humanity and on the earth. But ever since I first read about the life of Rosa Parks, almost twenty years ago in the one women’s studies course I managed to take at college, I have felt a deep reverence for her. She is a model not only of courage in rebellion against an oppressive social order, but also of consciousness and selflessness. The criticism sometimes heard – that the homage paid to Parks is somehow unjustified, because some other folks before her displayed similar courage in defying segregation – misses the point, I think. That one, spur-of-the-moment yet fully prepared-for act will earn her an immortal mention in the chronicles of our would-be civilization, but it does neither her nor us any good if we fail to learn from it.

“I Shall Not Be Moved,” they sang. Rosa Parks–followed quickly by leaders in the anti-segregation movement, and soon thereafter by the entire African-American population of Montgomery, Alabama–found and occupied the unmoving pivot-point of a great lever. In her own words,

People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

I daresay she would have little use for us now, scrambling for appropriate adjectives in our efforts to eulogize her. How silly of me, the tears welling up last week when I heard about her passing, and now again as I read excerpts from the speeches given in her honor as she lay in state under the Capitol rotunda. Try and live a worthy life yourself, she’d probably say, with a hint of exasperation. But these tears aren’t really for you, Ms. Parks. They’re for us.

by Dave Bonta of Via Negativa

Categories: Change and Continuity Tags:

The Coming Buddha

September 22, 2005 5 comments

Miroku Bosatsu

Yours is the graven image made
for my idolatry. Let’s not call it fate—
it’s clearly karma.
I bypass all the other buddhas now,
pay my admission & stride quickly
through the main hall, past the pagoda & out
the back gate to visit you
alone in the convent.
I lift my eyes to the glow
of your in-drawn smile, meditate
on the perfect arch of your eyebrows,
like crescent moons, & the one
delicious finger pointing
at your lips.

So began a mash note to the object of my first adult crush, a beautiful hermaphrodite with balls on her head, two of them, side by side—a high-fashion hairdo, no doubt, back in 8th-century Korea where she was born. She occupies the place of honor in the main hall of an ancient Japanese convent, the Chûgûji, attached to the famous Hôryûji temple outside Nara. She lounges on her pedestal in a relaxed half-lotus position, reaching her right hand toward her chin, her extended middle finger almost touching her cheek. Her faint smile hints of something wonderful to come. The folds of her robe ripple around the T-shaped intersection of crossed leg and knee like sand dunes formed by alternating winds.

I knew that, in all likelihood, she had been built around a wooden frame, and the sculpted wood was probably as thin and hollow as a cicada’s shell. But being an inveterate tree-hugger, I preferred to imagine that she had been carved from a single block of wood, that the sculptor had lifted her with a few strokes of his chisel from the heartwood of some mighty cypress. Even as she sits eternally poised a half-second away from some earth-shaking realization, somewhere back behind her navel, concentric rings might still mark the spot where the tip of the original sprout once unfurled.

After the first two or three centuries of intense borrowing from China, a native Japanese aestheticism slowly took root. The wooden temples and sculptures, once painted in the bright colors that the Chinese have always considered auspicious, were allowed to fade and weather; the resulting patina and play of shadows became highly prized. Some thousand-year-old sculptures, if stored properly, can still retain traces of color. But this one—believed by most scholars to represent Miroku, or Maitreya in Sanskrit—wore a shiny coat of black lacquer. It couldn’t have been too many centuries since she was last retouched.

The first time I saw her, glistening in the natural light filtered through rice-paper windows, she took my breath away. The downward gaze suggested not submissiveness, but the opposite: a great power to transform, held in reserve. Behind her, attached somehow to the back of her head, rose a large nimbus with miniature embossed buddhas floating in full lotus position around a ring of flowers and a central, open blossom. In contrast to the main figure, it was stained in various shades of faded red.

Since Miroku is the Coming Buddha—virtually a Buddhist Messiah—the halo took on a special significance for me. I figured it was meant to represent Miroku’s own vision of a future buddhaverse, presently gestating somewhere in the otherwise still waters of samadhi. If it didn’t make her sound too cartoonish, one could say that this halo functions as an 8th-century thought-balloon—the kind with a light bulb in it. But perhaps a better comparison might be with a soap bubble. Indeed, her upraised hand looks very much as if it might once have held a small wand with a loop of bamboo at the end for dipping into a bowl of soapy water, and her smile signals just the right hint of bemusement. In imagination I sit again on the hard tatami mats, gazing up worshipfully when I should be meditating on earthly transience, my nostrils prickling once more with the smell of sandalwood. I’m waiting for a perfect sphere of her breath to float down in front of me like a fishing lure, its fragile container glistening with the five parts of light.

Miroku, Maitreya,
beautiful buddha-in-waiting,
please don’t give my salvation a second thought.
This present longing, impossible as it is,
is sweeter to me than the most certain
future bliss.

Written by Dave Bonta of Via Negativa.

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