Bio & Response

Stephen Ratcliffe

Stephen Ratcliffe's most recent books are Portraits & Repetition (The
Post-Apollo Press) and SOUND/(system) (Green Integer). Listening to
, a collection of essays on contemporary poetry and poetics, was published by SUNY Press in 2000. He is publisher of Avenue B and directs the Creative Writing program at Mills College in Oakland.

Question #1: In DR #2 Johannes Göransson makes the observation regarding Russell Edson that, “Sometimes, when I’ve read his poems I start to write like him too. It’s infectious.” Whose poems get under your skin in this way? Whose poems should get under more people’s skin? Also, how does the pp/ff form contribute to or enable what Göransson calls ‘infectious’?

I've been reading Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journals lately, for a course I'm teaching in English Romantic Poetry, and it occurs to me now that they're models of a kind of writing that might be called prose poem (but isn't, since it's called journal) and also a model of something I'm doing in REAL, in that she's trying to write down 'what happened' in any given day, sometimes quite 'matter of factly' ("I worked in the garden in the morning. Wm prepared Pea sticks. Threatening for rain but yet it comes not.") sometimes 'confessional' ("I had the tooth-ach in the night -- took Laudanum."), sometimes remarkably observant in its 'description' of nature ("showery night the lake still in the morning -- in the afternoon flashing light from the beams of the sun, as it was rufled by the wind."). She has no apparent 'literary ambition' (she begins journal on the day her beloved brother William leaves on a 3 week walking tour with brother John, because" I shall give WM Pleasure by it when he comes home again"), doesn't try to 'shape' the writing beyond what it is as record of things, and as 'record' (also) an enactment in words (a WORD ENACTMENT) of those things as she has seen/noted them, which seeing/noting seems to give them a certain 'value,' as such, AS THINGS: "A beautiful yellow, palish yellow flower, that looked thick round & double, & smelt very sweet -- I supposed it was a ranunculus -- Crowfoot, the grassy-leaved Rabbit-toothed white flower, strawberries, Geranium -- scentless violet, anemones two kinds, orchises, primroses. The heckberry very beautiful as a low shrub. The crab coming out. Met a blind man driving a very large beautiful Bull & a cow -- he walked with two sticks." And so it goes on -- not 'shaped' and not a 'poem' (or 'prose poem'!) but writing itself, writing that transcribes actual things/actions/events in the world as they were, or seemed to be in that present moment of seeing/noting them. The writing in REAL tries to do something of this 'translation' of world into words, not as Dorothy Wordsworth did (whatever she did!) because I'm trying to give a 'shape' to things (the lines) on the page (among other things), but I'm interested to
think of her work at this point, having written REAL.