"Level" is a palindrome. A kind of onomatopoeia of the letter.
Friday, December 30, 2005
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Paranoia, blog rage, sanctimony. Welcome to the non-event. Please wear your (an)aesthetic identification badge at all times.
I take Jane's point, re: Foetry, about the transposition of real political anxieties, and the powerlessness that results therefrom, into the thinkable realm of poetics. This is what happens with Ron, he confuses forces and flows and market conditions with people. There's no conspiracy here. There's five billion shooters on the grassy knoll, dude. It's not like J.D. McClatchy and who-not are sitting in smoke-filled backrooms plotting their takeover of the poetry world. It's a lot of people, whom the big pictures eludes, making decisions that are for the most part based on what they think is right, and the rest of the time on their own petty needs and allegiances. Talk of a "School of Quietude" or a "Gang of Eight" is just bullshit; it hypostasizes into concrete personages and institutions things that are trans-personal and trans-institutional.
At one point, no doubt, the agonistic model--reader as enemy--of poetry writing which Ron puts forward was necessary, and it produced some great poetry, great criticism. But now it just seems like post-traumatic stress disorder; the enemy is no longer there, the last time there was an object of critique as Ron defines it was probably twenty years ago. Ron and the other poets associated with "Language" have become a dominant force in the poetry world, and so it's foolish for Ron to act as if he's still marginal. Yes, the big publishers don't, for the most part, publish their books. But in terms of cultural capital--well, which poets do you think critics are, for the most part, paying attention to. I won't say more, because I think Juliana Spahr, in her powerful piece "Spiderwasp, or literary criticism" has already made an excellent case for the obsolescence of this conflict-oriented model of thinking. As much as Tony Tost wants to revive it, and as much as it seems to produce good poetry in his case--to my mind it's time to move on. Some other kind of beast is emerging and that's where I want to look.
To Seth Abramson: most bloggers I know don't take Ron all that seriously. In fact, I only read him to make sure I'm still alive. Annoyance is one of the crucial vital signs. If you think he's the oracle at Delphi, you've gotten the wrong impression. It's not like people are saying to themselves, "oh well, Ron hasn't mentioned anything about Lara Glenum's The Hounds of No, so it must not be very good." Jim Behrle speaks for many of us, I think, with his tender and affectionate fuck-you to the kind of egoic, oracular utterances you find on Ron's blog. It's worth noting that, as far I can recall, and I'm certainly not a constant reader, this is the only time Ron has ever responded to another blogger directly. Most of the time, he's talking into dead air, despite the hundreds of links on his page. Elsewhere, you find dialogue. In Ronland there's just dialectic against a not-there. (Caveat: I have deep respect for much of Ron's work--his criticism and his poetry--but I also think he's endlessly wrong-headed in his blog.
To Franz Wright: whatever. The best response to people like that is the phrase formerly known as silence. Engaging with that kind of shit reifies its inital terms, and gives it power. There's no answer, because it's the wrong question.
To Gabe: I love you like a brother, man. But I think Franz Wright probably has plenty of insecurity and shame on his own end. He obviously doesn't need your help feeling worthless. And again--let's direct all of this wasted energy somewhere else. I propose a Flarf e-mail war on the Pentagon and the White House. Paging Brian Stefans. . .
Thursday, December 22, 2005
And what would we do without Ange Mlinko’s casual brilliance? Happy to note no Pound in the elements, but no Crane either. Perhaps we need a fifth element, void, for which I nominate Stein: background chatter, background grammars in front of which all of the others posit and tip-off and turn.
So, Winter (especially late winter) is Williams. Eliot Fall? Moore-Stevens Summer and Stein Spring? Hmm. . . all mythologies fail, eventually, I suppose. Is that what they’re for?
I’m excitedly waiting for Jordan’s rundown of the year in Poesy.
Google Earth: Now you can look at porn in one window and, in the other, make sure no-one’s going to walk through the door.
We’ll do the spying for you, W. I see London, I see France.
Overheard on the eve of Stanley Williams’ execution.
Three crustypunks in a coffee shop in the Mission.
Citizen One (male): All I’m saying, dude, is if he’s guilty I’d want him killed.
Citizen Two (female): Yeah, but what gives some fat white guy the right to decide who lives and who dies.
Citizen Three (male): Whatever, I think everybody should fucking die.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
There’s something about the strange travels/travails of the commodity in this Rauschenberg anecdote quoted below. Before the assemblage can be worth scads of money, it has to be first worth nothing, or more precisely, less than nothing. Not the nothing that’s worth nothing, but the nothing that’s not:
[Once he walked 30 blocks uptown with one of his so-called black paintings - canvases with expressionist black brush strokes that incorporated odd bits of detritus - and tried to sell it to a rich collector for $15. "I won't say who," Mr. Rauchenberg said impishly.
"She said she couldn't buy it so cheap," he continued. "I almost gave it to her, at the thought of walking another 30 blocks home with the painting. But I thought, well, if she couldn't afford to pay so little for it, she certainly couldn't afford to take it for nothing." ]
Noah’s second birthday on Friday. He’s still singing happy birthday to himself, and half-expecting a second round of presents. Yesterday, in the storm, the lights went off at Anna’s parents house. When they came back on, Noah yelled: party time! Pictures to follow. _______________
Relieved to have survived the semester, and to have finished my essay on Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day and Vito Acconci, the Situationist International and De Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life—one of the most arduous and tricky pieces of critical writing I’ve ever done. The poem has such speed and momentum that any kind of attempt to break off a passage to work with is like wading into a fast, cold creek. Plus, I was really outside of my ken--trying to expand it, rather--with the Acconci.
If anybody’s interested in reading it, I’d appreciate the feedback.
Reading Jalal Toufic’s Distracted (a copy of which Lyn kindly gave me). I’ve tried in the past to abuse and misquote the copyright clause in the front matter of books, but now I see it’s already been done about as well as one can. Hilarious, and absolutely true:
“Some parts of this book can be created by others and hence may be produced by them without permissions from the author and the publisher. No part of this book may be paraphrased in any form or by any means.”
Rainy, rainy here. An Elmo doll facedown in a puddle in the courtyard. But this Diplo remix of Beck’s Guero (on the album called Guerolito) is pretty great.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Saturday, December 03, 2005
I quite like semi-colons in poetry, and to the extent that I find them inscrutable, I also find them beautiful. I especially like archaic usages of the semi-colon, and the bizarre sentences they allow, as found in eighteenth-century prose and undergraduate papers. If semi-colons don't display "poetic" beauty, then they do allow for a precision that excites me. I think it's the most indeterminate and yet absolute of marks; it's a piece of punctuation that flouts and points up the problematic conventions of the sentence as whole thought. And as much as this is one of the jobs of poetry, to allow us to think and feel with new grammars, new relationships between things, the semi-colon belongs here, is beautiful because true: a mark of closure and yet, at the same time, openness; equivalence and difference. It does wink, as if to say it knows our secret:
[From ‘Punctuation Marks’ in Notes to Literature, Volume 1. ed. Rolf Tiedemann and trans. Shierry Weber Nicholson. Columbia University Press. 1958. pp. 96-7. ]
The writer is in a permanent predicament when it comes to punctuation marks; if one were fully aware while writing, one would sense the impossibility of ever using a mark of punctuation correctly and would give up writing altogether. For the requirements of the rules of punctuation and those of the subjective need for logic and expression are not compatible: in punctuation marks the check the writer draws on language is refused payment. The writer cannot trust in the rules which are often rigid and crude; nor can he ignore them without indulging in a kind of eccentricity and doing harm to their nature by calling attention to what is inconspicuous – and inconspicuousness is what punctuation lives by. But if, on the other hand, he is serious, he may not sacrifice any part of his aim to a universal, for no writer today can completely identify with anything universal; he does so only at the price of affecting the archaic. The conflict must be endured each time, and one needs either a lot of strength or a lot of stupidity not to lose heart. At best one can advise that punctuation marks be handled the way musicians handle forbidden chord progressions and incorrect voice leading. With every act of punctuation, like every musical cadence, one can tell whether there is an intention or whether it is pure sloppiness.
Agnes Varda's The Gleaners and I is really fantastic: a wonderfully goofy and unabashedly personal sensibility that is surprising in a documentary. If you're interested in the politics and aesthetics of trash, in its possibilities and pathos, this movie is for you.
The Squid and the Whale is also great--perfect details, perfect timing, just enough humor to make the painful feelings of embarrassment for the characters sufferable. It's the apotheosis of its form, of the "indie" family drama that I would like to see less of but that when done well reminds me where I come from, and almost even tells me why.
Working on my 75 pages--an essay about waste and The Day of the Locust, an essay about Bernadette May and performance art, and one on Wittgenstein, Michael Palmer and Rosmarie Waldrop. By the middle of the month, I should be blogging again with more regularity.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
I don't know what to think about France. But I do know that it's unsettling to watch an argument about violence and social change turn increasingly violent itself. I'm hopeful, though, that the good will and respect among these people I've come to admire so will carry them to the other side.
I do want to register my ambivalence about the events in France, while repeating that I don't feel sufficiently informed. Isn't what's at stake in Franklin and Ange's responses to Jane the fear that means justified by an end become ends in-and-of-themselves?
Shit floats, politically speaking; even though in Republican Barcelona the anarcho-syndicalists outnumbered the Stalinists by about five-to-one, they opted out of participation, perhaps rightfully, in things like policing and hauling trash and establishing confederations. As such, they basically handed over control of the city, and what had been sixty years in the making was unmade.
I do believe that destroying property is perhaps the only thing that makes anybody pay attention. Nonetheless, bourgeois of me as it may be, I can't help but hope for a more tactical, and hence more productive, kind of destruction. As much as I believe Benjamin when he tells me that violence is the ground of law, I don't feel so good about hurting/maiming people. Even those attached to state power. A few choiceful assassinations every now and then, sure.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Sunday, October 30, 2005
I wasn't a fan of Everything Is Illuminated's schmaltzy magical realism, but I might just have to see the movie now for the sake of Eugene Hartz, whose Gogol Bordello has Noah and I dancing a poor but exuberant mazurka in the kitchen! Immigrant Punk! I don't even know what a mazurka is!
Friday, October 28, 2005
Noah has taken to appending "everybody" to his sentences. As in: "Noah is going to eat some cereal EVERYBODY."
Everybody: sometimes known as mommy.
He's started to toilet train himself. But whenever he decides to interject the scatological into conversations, I can't understand what he's talking about in the slightest. He makes absolutely no sense, which is pretty rare for him.
Parenting will turn you into a psychoanalyst, just as working will turn you into a Marxist.
Reading poems will turn you into a poet.
My feelings about a particular kind of book:
Naivete is fine; I have been known to call myself naive, in an attempt to preempt other people calling me naive first. You can't call yourself humble either, or a liar.
But naivete plus didacticism? It doesn't matter how many neo-Boschian gel filters you plaster to my eyes-- I still want to know you know you don't know some things.
If you don't want to question your assumptions, hide them better.
Get as ethical as you want, it's still tourism.
Reading Cole Swensen's 125-poem metonym The Book of a Hundred Hands. Astounding, some are:
As what will not relent: The felting delta mapped in the mind
with its boundless arboretum of neural withins:
the witness: to insist it
is equally infinite out there in its fingers
a port city in a blizzard.
Great pun/image--"felting deltas"--in the first line. Very much do I admire Swensen's relentless push to give graspable qualities to everything immaterial in life: language, thought, desire. Who doesn't like materialism, even if only as a break from the vagaries of everything you already know we know you know? But I've already bumped into the same poem more than a couple of times, and I'm wondering if I won't feel exhausted by the time I get to the end. The deeply tranquil, occasionaly mournful, meditative tone of the poems, although good at inducing in me a feeling of reverence might make me long, after page 125, for a little ir-reverence in the form of a Kevin Davies or his like. But an enjoyable book so far.
If you're looking for the illustrated Adorno, or theory with more vitality, Alexander Kluge's your guy. Reading Case Histories right now, and I'm looking forward to picking up The Devil's Blindspot when it comes out in paperback.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Evidently there's some kind of immortal soul warning system out there. Sitting down to read a little Bataille before a much-needed nap, the doorbell. Jehovah's Witnesses. Their publication's name: Awake! Maybe later.
Noah is learning to count. He can get to eleven, but then, because it sounds so much like seven, he follows it with eight: 8, 9, 10, 11, 8, 9, 10, 11, 8 . . . Better to avoid the teens.
He has an imaginary friend named Diaperhead.
courtesy of J. Davis's anthology
Apocalyptics --- 1
Ted Kooser--- 1
Ange Mlinko--- 2
Everyone Else-- 1
Eros-- Game cancelled
Thursday, October 06, 2005
I should be writing about West's The Day of the Locust, but I'm seduced back into The Borg by the discussion about poetry and philosophy Ange spurred here, here and here.
Most of what I wanted to say has been said already, but there are a couple of points that I think are worth making. Like everyone else, it seems, I'm intrigued by the idea (er, non-idea) of doing Plato one back, and kicking him out of the Republic. A life without ideas, life perhaps become its own best idea, sound nice right about now. But I waver, here, too. At the risk of sounding like I'm feeing poetry to the dogs of philosophical ideation, (and noting that this is probably a variation on Jane's point), I'm not sure it's really possible to get away, ever, from ideas, although I admire a good philophical escape-artist as much as any other kind of artist. Even when O'Hara writes, in the most quotable manifesto of all time, "when I get lofty enough I've stopped thinking and that's when refreshment arrives" we certainly all of us agree, and cheer, and perhaps feel relieved from the burden of making good sense, and good citizens, but this is an idea, too, an idea that poetry results is the termination of ideas, of thinking. It's just not an idea that's all that portable; it needs to be performed in the poems themselves, as Ange does in certain poems from Starred Wire like "Imaginary Standard Distance" and "Poetry as Scholarship," where she tenderly pokes fun at the attempt to proceed from axioms or make "life . . . a thesis." Stressing sense and affect and the jouissance of the text is an idea, it's just one that poetry is probably better suited to convey than certain philosophical modes--which is why some of the best idea-workers--Nietsczhe, Barthes, Kierkegaard, Benjamin, etc.--are poets in their own right. So, I think Chris is correct in saying that the distinction needs to be refined: looking at the different kinds of questions posed/arguments conducted in poetry and philosophy is one way, but I also think we could distinguish between methods--poetry is much more likely to perform or enact an argument rather than communicate it, and much more likely to take the fight to the streets, literalize it, think it through in sense-data and affects and experience. Form, I guess, is the difference: philosophy is much less likely to think in form, and when it does I become tempted not only to admire it more but to call it poetry.
Of course, Ange's right--I myself reserve the right to be a sophist, to contradict myself, to refuse systems, and summaries and paraphrases, to choose questions over answers. But then, again, so do many thinkers. Choosing to be a sophist is itself an idea about ideas, about their relevance, their proper place in the scheme of things. . . This is, I think, what Ange was getting at with her remarks about risk the other day (which sound like, umm, Nietschze?)--ideas as theatre, as sketchy provisos, tentative and expedient means to an end but no ends-in-and-of themselves.
So even though I like to write about poetry and think about it thinking aboutlessly, this is where a reviewer might go wrong in assigning the relationship between poetry and ideas, expecting to find a portable or didactic or disembodied idea in a poem or book of poems. With something like Fourier Series, which clearly puts so much energy into form, and formal thinking, it's a real mistake to critique its "message" or "argument" without checking that content against the more "sedimented content" of the form. Fourier Series, to my mind, with its grids and sections and lyrical juxtapositions, is all about dialectic and a certain dialectical irony. I would be hesistant to accuse any section of imperialist rhetoric without seeing how such rhetoric might be ironized or undone by an adjacent moment. Perhaps that's what McSweeney meant, that she wanted to see these ironies made clearer or more vivid. That's a fair request. But it did sound from her as if she wanted Josh to put a little note at the bottom stating his political sentiments vis-a-vis "manifest destiny" as it is embodied by Wayne and westerns.
It may be a bad idea to ask poetry to tell us what to think. But poetry can allow a rich occasion, a rich site, for thought. In the end, that's why something that's orientalist or imperialist or sexist or whatnot has a place in poetry that it doesn't really have elsewhere--poems allow us the opportunity to think through these things ourselves. If McSweeney felt she didn't get to do much thinking through of ideas, just idea-listening, fine; that's an OK critique. I, on the other hand, did a good deal of thinking and feeling and sensing, and sometimes all three at once.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
When I went to buy Ted Mathys' book, Forge, over at SPD, the girl who took the book from me to scan the barcode looked at the cover, said hmmm, turned it over, looked at his author photo and said, "wow, he's really hot." But where the vaguely counter-cultural piercings, and where the penumbra of nudity?!
Some serious intake/output imbalances here, which this short post is unlikely to remedy. Reading, reading, reading. Reading the reading of reading, text welling in every available interstice, a feeling for the most part enjoyable if I follow these tips.
I like Jane's notion of an emergent poetics, and do indeed prefer the term to the unavoidable "avant-garde." There's a humility, and a tentative, provisional character to the former that forestalls the concretizing, institutionalizing nature of the term "a-g" which is, to my mind, not at all a-g. I also like the connotation of emergency, a state of crisis in which a previous set of laws and institutions are annulled and in which new--perhaps better, perhaps more efficiently vicious--dynamics can be set up. Of course, I have to consider the ways in which the current regime, and the more intractable machinations it sits on the surface of, has used a perpetual, slo-mo emergency as a excuse to do all sorts of things that would , perhaps, be otherwise intolerable. But the scrambled space post-emergency does seem to allow the possibility for positive change. Or call me an idealist.
I think Josh is correct in his suspicion that to identify an emergent formation is to sap it of some of its destabilizing power, to relegate it to the noun-farm of the past. Coincidentally, I just read the Williams book for class ("the leisure of the theory class)", and it's worth noting that what Williams refers to as "structure of feeling" is, technically, pre-emergent, part of a present that continually outpaces our ability to describe and represent it. Or at least that's the implication. He's unclear about whether such structures can be truly recognized in the present, inventing as they do the terms for their own recognition. Maybe that's why Jane refuses to speculate on the historical significance of the god-term in recent poetry. But that doesn't make me any less curious about the historical and physical and cultural, etc., conditions that would provoke a turn to a God-concept as Jane sees it, not a mediator between me-and-you-and-everyone-we-know but some other kind of otherwordly thing. Are we in the realm of a personal God? Would this be an attempt to counter the bland, blind whatever-happen-happens God of Bush and Co.?
Do let's go there. Tell me your thoughts on this.
Oh, and a reminder. Do come to this--
Wednesday September 21Holloway: Mark McMorris8 p.m., Maude Fife Room(315 on the 3rd floorof Wheeler Hallon the UC Berkeley campus)
Tuesday September 27Mills College:Claudia Rankine5:30, Mills Hall Living RoomFREEparty after reading
Monday, September 12, 2005
I’m way late in getting back to this, but Jordan was kind of enough to respond to my request for a little explication of his ideas about affect, or perhaps in keeping with his spirit, his feelings on affect. Here’s what he says, if you didn’t catch it in the comment box:
Basically? affect spreads. All art transmits affect; the language arts get affect over with very little interference. Narrative is a masking agent, an affect-delivery retarder - it can extend the affect buzz, and it definitely makes it easier for the affect to be transmitted from one recipient to the next, but it also degrades the feeling, makes it so less feeling comes through. I understand why it's so difficult for socialized individuals to communicate feelings. Feelings sell. And I'd hate to be any part of fomenting a dogma. I'm no dogma fomenter. But as Paul Valery said, poetry isn't made of ideas (or feelings), it's made of words.
I’m willing to admit I’ve been too often getting on the wrong bus—the one marked Whatever, Man—and lo!, thinking that the ultimate goal all along was the production of IDEAS, or thoughts or even pretty pictures, when ideas are, in fact, overrated, and well, pay shit, and are less productive and useful than feelings, which people can employ in manners various and sundry with little claim to my responsibility thereto, even if this is, touché, also an idea. I see now that boredom is my enemy and yours as much as or more than stupidity or bad faith. Boredom can lead to an experience of others’ misery as entertainment. I see this so very clearly, and I haven’t been bored, really, in months. This increases my capacity for outrage. But those feeling almost always come attached, in the language arts, to some kind of semantics, to grammars of me and you and then and now and no and yes, and so I feel the need to pay attention to that, too. I’m not saying that Jordan doesn’t do this; he’s one of my favorite reviewers, and I really appreciate the way he reads. (Aside: I’m very, very sad that I missed his show in Ithaca—with devastatingly brilliant Ange Mlinko— and that I’ll have to wait until it comes to CA or finds a home on TV or the web).
My confusion? I’m not sure I understand how the term “affect” really describes the device or reading experience that thwarts the omnipresent boredom and emptiness and sterility of life. Affect seems to me to miss the important intellectual component to the poems I value, poems that allow the reader a space in which she can play, by thinking and feeling her way through a landscape sufficiently various and complicated that one can’t step into the same feeling twice. Feelings sell ideas right? And it’s hard to get those ideas out of the poem; people might even hide their ideas inside of your poem.
Affect, also, seems to suggest something singular, like boo-hoo or ha-ha or yeah, when in fact the poems I enjoy the most create these strange, grainy, chunky affect-scapes of boo-hoo yeah! and ouch ha-ha! and whee oh shit! My suspicion is that we’re bumping up against Eliot’s claim about the Cartesian splitting of thoughts and feelings after the Metaphysicals. At best, to think is to feel, to feel is to think, and the term for this is something like spirit. There are thoughts behind them feelings, and feelings behind them thoughts, or at least that’s the movie they’re showing on the psychoanalytic ceilings. Poetry? Some kind of feelingthought--which Jordan may of may not mean by the term affect—which outpaces our ability to describe it, and perhaps invents the conditions and feelings necessary for its experience.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Horrifying, this report (via Josh) from New Orleans. I'm having difficulty thinking of anything uglier than a scared racist with a badge and weapon. OK,"scared racist" is redundant: all racists are scared, I know.
My wish: that the government kicks down, that the Notional Guards get everyone out and settled, sparing no expense. And after that: a good investigation, a trial, and despite all my anarchist compunctions, jail. Or some nice neighborly vigilantism, whichever comes first. As my friend Karl Parker puts it in his version of the liar's paradox: "prisons should be outlawed." Prisons are for those who believe in prison.
Would that this wakes the country up to the essential automation and ice-hearted nature of Bush and Co., or AOWC as Drew Gardner --you can see it, clear as day, all over his slack cipher of a face. He just don't give a fuck. He has the serenity of a man whose faith in the design of fate is absolute. This is just theater for the believers, just a sign, a wonder. [string of expletives removed by authority of the FCC]
I'm being shrill, I know. Apologies. Over and out.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Thursday, September 01, 2005
When I said "I don't like it," I was not referring to Josh's recipe, but the world, or at least that part of the world reflected in the small, glassy eyes of our commander-in-chief when he utters phrases like "zero-tolerance." The urge to leap into the television and throttle him is almost unbearable. Be cruel, Josh. Stick to your guns. Poor taste may be the only taste left us.
A cruel, true cocktail from Josh this morning.
And then behind that inadequate sedative, there's a bridge over the Tigris, which has somehow been diverted into the Mississippi. I don't like it.
Tried to read all of Midwinter Day yesterday while going to class, taking Noah to the marina, buying fruit at the best produce market in the entire world, cooking dinner and avoiding the news. Had about twenty pages left this morning, and then typed up my presentation for Lyn Hejinian's course on the long poem. What an unbelievably vertiginous, pliant and commodious piece of writing, as close maybe as words can come to writing life as quickly as it happens, before while-it-happens happens. "Walk on water, daddy, walk on water!" he kept saying, while looking through the pier railings at the sharky, choppy baywaters. "Splash it!" In his uninflected pure grammar, the imperative slides into the indicative and back again. Every command is a description. Every description commands.
To my surprise, the shift from teacher to student hasn't resulted in awkward pridebound seat-squirming. I'm enjoying it. I might talk too much, but I've always done that.
This isn't school, really. More like advanced playtime. School was this rat's nest of breezeways and stucco bungalows and big haired boys and girls I occasionally saw flickering, miragelike, through purple bongplastic. I haven't been back since 1992.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
As eerie as it is that Wittgenstein refers to his anti-metaphysical theory in the Tractatus as a "final solution" to philosophy's ills, I can't but help feel that it would be nice if Blogger had some kind of program that would remind certain bloggers of the meaninglessness of general, axiomatic or universal claims about poetry. Show don't tell--oops, I did it again. Better: I'll show you mine if you show me yours. As Foucault did it.
The writers who I most admire out there in The Blog are those who convey their aesthetic positions by way of desciption, observation, response, evaluation--sex-- rather than the programmatic filing of land-claims with the po authorities--death. Of course, 'tis also fun to read over-the-top manifestoes, when the ridiculousness of large, blanketing claims becomes, in and of itself, a source of pleasure and part of the game. Like coastal fog.
Likely, then, that I won't be able to convince Jordan to elaborate on his sense of the primacy of affect. But it's worth asking.
Am I crazy to hear the angel of death in the last line of the Tractatus? Lamb's blood sign of the anti-metaphysical, and the unsaid out of Egypt?
Friday, August 26, 2005
For those of you who can bear to add another site to your digital perambulations, check out Boyd Spahr's 440 days of order & decorum, a daily whose every poem references a current member of the House of Representatives, either in the body of the poem, title or some kind of note. It will run until the 2006 elections. I'm up today, yesterday there was a fantastic poem by Alli Warren, and lots of people I have and have not heard of will follow.
I have long suspected that the "occasional" poem is one good measure of a poet's skills. Who among us could write a poem for a wedding that is not embarrassingly mawkish and cloying and also, at the same time, doesn't cause those being "honored" to scowl, cringe or fling wine? How about a Bar Mitzvah, a funeral? I'm not talking about your friends who have a good sense of humor and appreciate poetry, but, like, a non-literary and perhaps even rectitudinous relative. . . Of course, just by guessing, there's some poets I admire very much who probably couldn't or wouldn't do it. There are others who would have no problem at all. Me? Not so much.
Let me rephrase: here we're dealing less with a measure of poetic excellence than a poetic task that could be, for some, inordinately difficult, even impossible. So I've given myself an assignment: before you die, write an occasional poem that is both hair-raisingly thrilling and that does not call forth a hail of foodstuffs.
Meaning: get poetry past the sensation censors.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Went to the UC Berkeley library yesterday to check out my first book, The Arcades Project. Surprised to find it available, since I am told that it often occurs that books are read at this university, for reasons of compunction and professional standing and even, yes, pleasure or edification. For someone who hasn't had borrowing privileges at a good library in over four years (InterLibrary Loan is great and all, but not the same as finding it on the shelves yourself), this was a romantic experience, even if you discount the fact that the stacks are gorgeously designed, a terraced, open floorplan with wells of sunlight doing a marvelous job of convincing me that I was not, in fact, underground. Someday I'll make a trip to Seattle and check out the Rem Koolhaas library but for now this one will do just fine.
Is all of this a longwinded way of saying that I find myself swooming over Ange's poems of reading and of libraries in Starred Wire (hear "start wire," as in start yer engines)? Well, yes:
The papercut's open, but we leave the library
as if it were a hotel in pale sun's off-season.
Nymphs and zephys are still working on the landscape,
ears are open loggias, enchantments defoliate;
but inside the library are year-round temperate climates
whose forests are like an afterlife of forests.
Money is changed often like the first metaphor
that's really more an afterlife of metaphor; or,
the library of botany crosses the library of demons.
A universe convenient to itself would not want opposite ends
to stay there, or a woman impregnated by a book
would never bear a real baby, as we have read.
("Flowers Grow Out of the Cracks in the Stacks")
I appreciate that The New Yorker decided to mention some poetry worth reading. Maybe they'll start publishing more of it, too, although who even sends poems to The New Yorker. Occasionally, after reading over one of my own poems that I'm very dissatisfied with, I'll think, so as to assuage, "well, maybe The New Yorker would want it." So I'm appreciative, but I don't really hear O'Hara in this book, unless by O'Hara they mean poems that occasionally take place in an urban environment and have very little truck with misery. Or, poems that find in aesthetic experience something more than this week's vocabulary exercises. That is, poems that can have an aesthetic experience. No, I hear Moore and, perhaps, Ashbery as well. O'Hara probably wouldn't have turned around and went back into the library. Maybe early O'Hara. But instead, here, patience encircling the poets' bouts of restlessness, an attention to the small and obscure and hyper-specific, and to description as a way of enlarging sensation, these are a few of the admirable traits that set this poetry apart from the equally admirable forward-moving exuberance of O'Hara. Luckily, I have a few months to consider with more leisure how this quirky, rice-grain precise, buoyant, learned but not pretentious poetry does what it does when it does it--for I shall review it for an upcoming issue of Xantippe.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Friday, August 19, 2005
Took BART--I'm always tempted to say "the" BART, announcing myself as an intruding Ephraimite-- across the bay yesterday (my first trip to SF since arriving) to check out SHAMPOO's 5th anniversary extravaganza reading in a commodious gallery with mediocre art in, of all places, a shopping mall. Everyone read for five minutes or so, often not long enough to get a real sense of a poet's work, especially in the case of those with whom I'm not very familiar. "Has trouble listening" was a frequent remark on my childhood report cards. But from about the third line on, Alli Warren had me hooked. It always gets me when someone starts the poem before starting the poem, in the middle of introductory remarks or without any introductory remarks, as it almost never happens that I'm reading idly along in, say, New American Writing and then suddenly exclaim, to no-one in particular, "oh, this must be a poem!" This should happen more often in life. Not sure if she wrote the poem for this particular occasion, but she had this uncanny way of referring not only to the physical location of the reading--The Embarcadero--but also the act of reading or speaking itself. This made it feel as if I knew exactly what she was talking about, even when I had no idea what she was talking about, as in a dream phrases like "the logical hands of the positive clock" shine with an mundane transparency that fades upon waking.
I liked Ronald Palmer, too, and Kevin Killian, who moved his hips suggestively during the reading. By the time Stephanie Young came on, I was feeling skittery and sitting off to the side on a wobbly stool and squinting one eye to push the lighting around the room, like something liquid in a tube.
Feeling shy and very hungry, so I didn't introduce myself to anyone, just headed up into North Beach for some undercooked rigatoni.
Been drawing with Noah lately: "momma" and "baby" are his favorite subjects, a bramble or tumbleweed of lines, and then as an afterthought, "daddy," a kind of not-to-code rollercoaster. I especially like his double-fisted technique--green in one hand and blue in the other. It's very AbEx, very baby.
Noah hasn't figured out pronouns yet--refers to himself as "Noah" or "Baby." But we're doing three and four-word sentences-- noun-adjective-noun or noun-verb-noun noun, and even comparison. He's got the idea that describing the impossible is funny. Now, what would give him that impression?
Sunday, August 14, 2005
How good is L. Robertson's Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture? I do not think we have this adjective, nor that I am up to the task of inventing one. I'm tempted, now, to think that occasional pieces such as these, that so transcend their occasions and contexts, may be the most durable kind of language.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
OK, but what's not so obvious from Jonathan's post here is whether or not he enjoys Sarah Manguso's poems. Or has the term avant-garde become--as some of us suspected during the latest flare-up of the AG wars--simply a fancy evaluative term. I will say that Manguso's poetry is distinctive and original, and really, truly funny--as much as it belongs to a tradition less associated with the typical lineages than the aphoristic/parablesque traditions of Nietschze, Kafka, Russell Edson, early James Tate, etc. (When we all have the same parents, it's called incest! Or religion.) There are lots of people working in this mode today, and few are as good, or have as much range, as Manguso. She's better than recent Tate, much better than Dean Young, and as good as Mary Ruefle. And for me--now I'm getting into trouble--she points out what's missing (speed, range, knives) in younger writers like Arielle Greenberg and Sabrina Orah Mark.
She also has the distinction of being utterly committed to her vision, such that every time I read some of her prose I feel it has very little to do with the particular writer or subject she's ostensibly writing about, and everything to do with Manguso. I mean, I'm always furiously shaking my head and writing letters-to-the-editor. I find her sort-of conservative and close-minded in her way, but no less reactionary than some of the people on "the other side" of the fence, whom she accuses of writing "encrypted banalities." But she has the courage of her convictions, and unless it's a very small party, she's not towing any kind of line. Plus, umm, the poems are good! I didn't love all of The Captain Lands in Paradise with its overlays of Romantic cliches of discovery/invention and occasionally Casio-quality dream-effects. But everything I've seen of hers since has pretty much blown me away. The recent poems are more committed to poignant acts-of-thought, rangier in diction and mood, and brimming with intriguing situations. I like the custody arrangement/rapprochement she's worked out in the bitter divorce between narrative and image; it's not something many are doing. For my money, her poems in The Hat were some of the stand-outs in a compendium of stand-outs.
I'll give Jonathan the Kasey Mohammed item. Yes, genius. Always? Who cares.
Well, Jane wanted to hear what some of us really think. Get yer hackles up!
This will conclude our monthly test of the Emergency Honesty System. Bye.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Gonna' have to start multi-tasking while pages load; the Berkeley network is tin-can-and-string slow.
Went to SPD to pick up the Robertson book yesterday; they actually let you wander the wondrously disorganized catacombs and BROWSE, like the first day out of prison or something, candy-store-in-a-kid, dazed among the strange new forms. Thought that it might be nice if you could just download all of that print into my gray matter, but then I'd lose the pleasure of actually reading it. No way out of the traffic-patterns of time, I suppose.
Managed to escape for under $40: Jarnot's Black Dog Songs; Moxley's Often Capital and Gordon's The Area of Sound Called the Subtone. But now, as I lie in bed at night, less than a mile from the headwaters of so much crashing and churning thought, I'll have to listen to that seductive sucking sound in my pocket: read me, read me, please.
Sunday, August 07, 2005
So Jordan and Josh already have copies of Ange's Starred Wire in hand. I'm jealous, and consoled only by the fact that I live less than a mile from Small Press Distribution, and can now pick up books in person, and without packaging other than paper and ink itself. I'll go soon to pick up Lisa Robertson's Occasional Poems and . . ., which I've been burning to read, for reasons obvious and not so obvious. Lara Glenum's Hounds of No should arrive soon, too, and lots of other ripping titles this fall. When, by the way, can we expect The Return of Millions Poems?
I'm sure the monitiors over at National Foetry Agency will accuse me of a cliquish tendency to read books by other bloggers, but can I help it if these people happen to be good, even great, poets?
Installing--er, mounting--shelves in our new apartment, it occurred to me that when The Encyclopedia of the New Erotics gets written, certainly some space will have to be devoted to a discussion of weight-bearing studs and stud detectors, the need for which grows as does the thin, evermore fragile nature of the walls which partition our daily life:
"Hearing her biological clock strike the eleventh hour, our accountant's acupuncturist's lawyer, whom we had gladly not yet met, ran out into the serotoninish twilight armed only with a stud-detector and some nebulous compunctions about flooring. The rest is, well, terribly depressing and therefore too exciting to relate."
Ah, narrative. . .
I'll fly away
I'm a soul man
I'm coming over
I'm not an addict
I ain't no joke
I am there while you choke on me
I and I survie
I don't blame you
I don't want to grow up
I fought the law (and the law won)
I fought the law (and I won)
I fought the law
I hate the way you love
I hope that I don't fall in love
I just don't know what to do
I let a song go out of my hear
I like the way you move
I luv I jah
I might be wrong
I put a spell on you
I shot the sheriff
I stay away
I wanna be sedated
I want you
I would for you
Ice cream for crow
Saturday, August 06, 2005
The corporate culture of Christ? A little bit of etymological prestidigitation here, I'd say, from corpus to corporation. It's not like J.C. evicted the labor organizers from the temple. Ah, the transparency of blind, everyday evil: difficult to find a better example of the patent spiritual hypocrisy (Christian Capitalism) for which the 'zeros may be remembered. If you're a CEO and a Christian, fine, I won't begrudge you your contradictions if you'll accept mine. Just please don't theorize about it.
Sunday, July 31, 2005
With what joy in my heart did I, having suffered the infernal heats and sweats of the Central Valley, crest the hills into Richmond and feel percuss upon my skin the healing, cool breezes and fogs of the SF bay, knowing that I would soon see Anna and Noah and our new home and all else full of promises rich and strange. Five days of nearly constant locomotion; even while I was asleep the road kept slipping under me. A lovely visit with GG in Normal, Illinois (see picture above). Gabe's still basically insane in his own special and inimitable way, so it's good to know that town's name has only served as an inducement to irony. Kansas, Kansas, etc. A place they call Denver; the high plains of Wyoming; the salt flats of Utah. Terrible twenty-car accident in the Great Basin of Nevada, the westbound lanes of I-80 become a helicopter landing pad for a good three hours. I've never seen anything like it, and I hope never to see such a thing again. There must be a way to transport goods that doesn't involve deadly behemoth tractor-trailers manned by underslept and probably malnourished people, given the food options on the road (burger after burger after burger). After that, I failed to cause any real substantial trouble in Reno. Not in the mood. But I did take a lovely little walk at Donner Summit the following day.
The truck arrives later this afternoon, and so, with my already ravaged body, I'll haul all of our things up into our new second-and-third-floor apartment at University Village in Albany. The townhouses there are surprisingly handsome, with lots of light and air, and a communal feeling--toys everywhere, friendly albeit exhausted looking student parents, joy-stricken children--that's probably rare these days. Smaller, of course, than our house in Ithaca, but many perquisites.
If you are alive mostly in the Bay Area and are reading this, please do let me know how I can find out about poetry readings. I'm eager to begin living here with my ears.
Monday, July 25, 2005
Driving x-country early tomorrow morning, going back to Cali' (after twelve years) so the blog will be down until the 1st of August at least. I plan to visit Gabe in Normal, IL. I've got Paradise Lost on the iPod, as well as newest Kazuo Ishiguro novel which, people tell me, is actually good. I'll let you know.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Hmm. Since I've now heard this a few times, I suppose I should chime in vis-a-vis Tate and Young. In college, I worshipped these two guys, wanted to be them, read their books to tatters at the expense of other kinds of things I could have been reading. And perhaps for this reason, a personal reason, I can't really get into recent work by either one. Since The Worshipful Company of Fletchers, Tate seems on autopilot, virtually lobotomized-- a member not of the School of Quietude but as Jordan renames it, the School of Klonopin--and although I get that he's aiming for a it's-so-boring-and-dull-and-empty-it's-funny kind of humor, I ain't feeling it. Incidentally, I don't like most of Andy Kaufman either, so perhaps I lack the necessary brain centers for this kind of humor. With recent Young, I miss the ferocity and extemporaneity of Strike Anywhere, his ability to riff in wide orbits on the smallest and most petty and ridiculous of occasions. In all of his writing since, I get an eagerness to impress and a devicey, algorithmic goofiness. I do occasional find myself knocked down by a poem or two, but I feel sad, mostly, that he got so much attention for doing what comes so easily to him--goofing off in the back of the class. To my mind, Young's the class clown; Tate doesn't even show up to class. (When, as an undergraduate, I went, heart in hand, to petition to get into his workshop, he could only answer in two words: "Not possible.") If I had to choose, and I'd prefer not to, I'd take the early and middle Tate, from Oblivion Ha-Ha onto Fletchers--there's more punk-rock in Tate, more revisionary humor as opposed to humor about things we already find funny/annoying, more necessary and vital affront to what we expect(ed) from poetry. Young, on the other hand, seems to be operating within the bounds of a certain dignity and propriety. There may be more craft in Young, more verbal pizzazz and a more voracious imagination, but there's also that lemon-scent Pledge smell. Mary Ruefle, on the other hand, does everything Young does and more.
As for Vallejo, The Black Heralds has its brilliant moments--I enjoyed Eshelman's translation in the recent APR--but it's probably not the place to start. Read anything from Eshelman's translation of his posthumous poems "El hecho is que el llugar. . . (The fact is the place. . .") or "Nueve Monstruous" or anything in the immediate vicinity of these poems. "Tengo un miedo de ser. . . (I have a terrible fear . . ." [I don't have my book, so I may be misquoting.] Whenever I read these poems, I'm convinced that he's as good of a poet as they come--compassion, rage, dazzling intelligence--a completely original and oblique diction, corkscrew syntax, delicious exclamation points and too many dashes!--alternating between tortuous description and flat, plain declaration. He underwrites every bit of sentiment or directness that he conveys in those poems, emerging as it does out of the most gravelly, pixelated and visceral confusion. I find his lack of anxiety about big nouns--fear, time, love, desire and Co.-- refreshing.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Not much time for a detailed response here (caught up in the translation of self we call moving), but as I'm still irked after a couple of days, I do feel compelled to say that I prefer "confusion" to the kinds of easy certitudes expressed in this post by the usually wonderful and thrilling Kasey Mohammed. What makes the Lib. of America anthology work, and I do think it's successful despite some grievous intra-poet omissions ("Discrete Series" yo!), is that multiple editors with different aesthetics were involved. I, for one, do want an anthology that includes both C.K. Williams and Susan Howe, Richard Wilbur and Bernadette Mayer (I'm not intentionally gendering these pairs). If, a la Godel, we have to choose between consistency or completeness; or a la Heisenberg, location or velocity, I'll take the latter.
Friday, July 15, 2005
Oh, and a google of warm thanks to Jordan for putting me in his 2005 poems list. Twice! I'm truly honored to have my work noted by such a reader's reader.
An interesting observation, this. My first reaction is to recall the late 'eighties and early 'nineties, and with them a poetry lousy/scintillant with angels-- lexicological angels and supercomputing angels, voyeur angels, all of course puppeted by the tragic figure of Benjamin's angel. If the troupe of angelic tropes had to do with the dawning of the information age, with an awareness of our increasingly media-ted lives, and the need for some hyperquick poetic figure which could thread and braid and create a space for us there, what then might the more condensed, and more removed, transcendent figure of God suggest? Perhaps, as Jane suggests, I can't really do without ethical thinking right now (or SSRI's!) and after I hit a certain bandwidth of "news," I'm hankering for some kind of human or inhuman force that tells me going on just might make sense. And then, of course, there's the qualitative change in fundamentalist Christianity here in Gringolandia, not more of it but more of it visible, met as it is with fundamentalisms Muslim and Jewish behind the painted screens of which the corporations could, like, give a fuck. If I grew up with a Christian framework, I would want to hollow out that rhetoric from the inside, rub Kierkegaard in Bush's face, and show him how far he is from anything like real faith, incapable of doubt or indecision as he is. Even Jesus doubted, right? Some days I'm completely nauseated with it, and the word "christian" is a synonym for fascist. Then I read someone like Fanny Howe, or Kierk., or even Augustine and think, wait, wait, that's right, this is what it's about.
A few years ago, I probably would have gotten existentialist on the quiz, too, but I got creative constructionist . The SSRI's only work, really, in a pinch, only give me enough time to start cooking up some of the stuff in my own brainpan: "It is not enough to cover the rock with leaves. / We must be cured of it by a cure of the ground / Or a cure of ourselves, that is equal to a cure of the ground." Like Ange, I worry that anything more than a daytrip to the punk-rock mentality might freak out the kid, as much as he, too, likes to listen to X or Bad Brains. 3 days out of 5, I'd rather be a reasonably happy sophist than a miserable debunker of illusions. But wait, I'm reading Bataille today; I'm in Williamsburg of the Piercings where the people around me are so cool they can barely stand each other, and I just helped Daniel move the contents of his apartment while sweating a veritable Mississippi's worth of overpriced bottled water. . .
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
It looks as if the conversation about Chris Nealon's "Camp Messianism" article is almost over (for those of you wanting to read it who don't have access to Project Muse, please, please, don't pay twelve dollars--talk about exchange value!--for the thing. Find a university library that carries American Literature). Ange chimes in by noting that, in her experience, the deployment of Frankfurt school Marxism as a theoretical model for experimental poetry may indicate a period style, and might therefore tell us that there are things such a style will not, or cannot, think, given its self-reinforcing qualities. (She doesn't go this far, and is surprisingly value-neutral, but I think this is her implication). Probably right, but the whole point of Nealon's article is to articulate an emerging stance among post-avant poets, a passive rather than active relation to capitalism and its vicissitudes, motivated in part by the social changes of the late 90's--globalization, the micro-infiltration of technology, etc.--and the ensuing hopelessness. (What to attack? Where's the machine actually located?) Ironic camp, a kind of mock-submission to the laws of consumerism, emerges as a sort of passive-aggressive strategy to resist the encroachment of Starbucks and Walmart and the great surplusses of late-late capitalism that, nevertheless, don't ensure survival for the world's poor, let alone America's poor. (Worth noting here, in response to Jeffery Bahr and Henry Gould , that the whole point of this article is to demonstrate the inadequacy of terms like capitalism and even late-capitalism: hence late-late capitalism. Calling this ahistorical is like calling a tomato inorganic: like, what?). Nealon's identifying a poetry of affect rather than direct linguistic confrontation, of stance rather than performance, or perhaps of stance as performance. For an example, we need look no further than Chris Nealon's own The Joyous Age, where the dominant lyric gesture is not "I am x, I am y" but rather "I like x, I feel [insert emotion] toward y." It's a stance that would gather in the orphaned objects of capitalism, that would work against, in Joshua Clover's words (perhaps borrowed from a Situationist text) "things made things" via the invention of "new desires." I, for one, find this useful as a way of looking at some current poetry and thinking on poetry that I come across these days, whereas it doesn't seem as productive in relation to the work of 'eighties and 'nineties langpo--which situates repressive political power in language itself--or certain NY school writing (I can't believe I'm using this odious term), which translates political and ethical problems into aesthetic ones. (Warning: dangerous categorical claims above. I reserve the right to take everything back). For my money, what could better demonstrate the wish to take all of the flimflam of consumerism to the redemption center and turn it into something life-affirming than this poem? One might identify a similar stance in Susan Wheeler's Ledger, Corey's Fourier Series and perhaps even in Ange's poems too. Who knows if "camp messianism" will prove a useful marker in the coming years. It's a campsite; you don't stay there forever. That's the whole point, I think: refusing to imagine a forever like this one.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
I'm glad that everything I had wanted to add to the paraphrase/meaning discussion already got said. For me, the only way into the full experience of the poem is through an attempt to account for or paraphrase what's going on as I read it--even Gertrude Stein or Clark Coolidge. I'm not sure I know how to read words without producing mental words (or sometimes images, a visual or sensual paraphrase). Then, when and if I feel the failure of that paraphrase to do justice to all of the multiple levels of sense and experience at play, I know I'm in the presence of magnificence. As O'Hara, always a good closer, says: "I’m not saying that I don’t have practically the most lofty ideas of anyone writing today, but what difference does that make? They’re just ideas. The only good thing about it is that when I get lofty enough I’ve stopped thinking and that’s when refreshment arrives."
Monday, July 11, 2005
Yes, yes, and Wittgenstein would probably add, given his talent for analogy, that even if the poem's pure cream, in consuming it we become the cakey surround: the meaning of a word its use in a language etc. An occasion for thought: some of it fun, some of it dreary and hateful.
Friday, July 08, 2005
I'm packing up the house and feeling those Proustian emotions-- pleasure-edged sadness, and brief interruptive transmissions of hobbling anxiety, which the displacement of belongings always seems to liberate. I belong to them as much or more than they belong to me: as if the stable arrangement of baby-ravaged IKEA furniture, books and CDs, the sprawl of toys, the foodstuffs crammed in cabinets, all served to ballast and modulate and temper some kind of primary vertigo, anomie, that cast-away I was at zero seconds old. It's exciting in a way; terrifying as it is, there's an abundance in the spinning compass. I've always hoped that word was related to compassion.
So these things, these products, this greaty bounty, so much trash and ridiculous excess the divestment of which feels like any number of unnameable bodily functions, have been doing the job of narrating my life here in Ithaca for years now. Not ten years to return but seven to leave. They've done a good job, these things, told a good and compelling story, one of loss and delusion, love and more love, propinquity and friendship and meaningful work. But there could have been so many other stories. I see that now. I see that I'm basically a machine for moving, and there's a cruelty in that I'm not sure I can brook.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
At the chess tables a few hours ago, Dennis says "Well, it looks like it's bad guys 3, good guys 1." From where I stand, it's a total fucking shutout. Unless in your book the good guys are the ones who make money whichever way the bodies or markets fall. But it's not a game, and there's no numerical system that can keep score.
If it's true what Chirac says that you can't trust people who eat poorly, neither can you trust those who eat well. We don't suffer immediate consequences from stupidity. I like French food, but I'll be the first to admit that their marvelous gastronomical culture is built around the principle of making putrefaction not only palatable but delicious. Cirrhotic goose liver? Calves' brains? Such skills in the kitchen probably arose from times of famine when there was nothing to be had but offal. Every great perfume has a note of something horrible in it: death or shit, musk or civet extract or unspecifiable rot. It makes the flowers last. Similarly, as Sontag points out, every great beauty has some inexcusable feature, something exaggerated or grotesque or plain ugly. Perfection's ugly. Witness Angelina Jolie.
But of course it shouldn't escape our attention that the culinary insults begin to fly just before the leaders of the fed world decide just how badly Africa will starve, just how sick we'll let Africa get, and whether global warming can be headed off without reducing consumption.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Bush's less-than-subtle wink to the footsoldiers of the end days, promising judicial candidates who "strictly and faithfully interpret the Constitution," makes me wonder if his kind of faith permits interpretation. Indeed, I wonder if the guy has ever interpreted anything. Every object of contemplation that he happens upon seems to mirror his preconceived convictions. He'd be the kid in my literature class who avoids analyzing a poem by way of platitude and loquacious pseudo-philosophical flatulence. And everything in a convoluted passive voice, everything acted upon by invisible outside forces.
With uncanny timing, Noah Feldman's article in this Sunday's NYT magazine does suggest an actual honest-to-god (pun intended) political solution to the redstate/bluestate impasse: cut off govermental money for religion but permit the legislative exercise of religious convictions. Unfortunately, although it sounds good and all, I don't really buy the idea that you can put dollars in one room and ideology in the other. Wouldn't allowing a school board to vote in "intelligent design" mean, by way of federal monies, a de facto financing of ideology? And don't we have a right to protect those unfortunate kids in Denton who want the straight dope? It seems a recipe for a sort of ideological Yugoslavia, with belief-system refugees flooding to the places where it's still, mostly, safe to think some things sometimes.
Saturday, July 02, 2005
I am returning the enclosed gene marker, for which I can no longer find any legal, profitable, or even enjoyable use. I no longer believe it to be a lost poem of Sappho. Please dispose of it in accordance with section 27 of the statutory code.
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A long overdue word about Daniel Subkoff's show:
As he had called me up a week prior to ask if I or anyone I knew owned a gun, I was, um, relieved that 1) there were no dead bodies and 2) I never even had the chance to ask myself if I liked it, so immediate were the pleasures, and so deep the spaces for contemplation it opened. I'm a sucker for anything that moves from the 2-d to the 3-d and back, pieces where the surface en- and -unfolds, and Daniel's bigger work, featuring primed canvas from which long strips are cut to form ladders that then attach to the floor and ceiling, suggested as much the invitingness of the blank canvas as its constrictions. I want to see a whole series of these. The other piece, an ink drawing, should remind anyone of their worst erotic relationships--two figures constituted by and enmeshed within the webs they've cast around each other. Yikes. But the ultimate vote of approval came from Noah, who appreciated the hook-and-ladder truck imagery of the first offering. Nothing else came close, not even the gold potatoes, and Anna and I were so glad to have made it down that weekend. For the first time in far too long, Anna didn't have to miss something fun due to those parental duties for which I can't, to my great chagrin, sub. Do other men get jealous that they can't breastfeed? I'm not sure I'd want the frontal appearance that goes with it but he's always so calm and sweet and happy when he's nursing. Or maybe this is all some banal Freudian displacement which you can surely figure out on your own.
Anyway, if you're in or near Chinatown anytime soon, you should check Daniel out. You'll be better off without the solid, unventilated mass of people and only the King of Beers to dull the effect of their less-than-rigorous bathing schedules, I promise. Stay tuned for news of future productions from Daniel.
Finally watched Bad Education last night, and despite everyone's claims that the absence of women--except as through-the-looking-glass images of the male characters' lives--had caused Almodovar to lose his edge, I was impressed with the first half of the movie, which placed me squarely between discomfort and descriptive rapture, in the style of Flaubert or Nabokov. Problem is, the films gets caught up in its obligations to plot elements, caught in the gears and cogs of Borgesian frame-breaking, and fails, I suppose, to push me all the way to the contemplation of infinity that good plots like this do. I get bored with the nesting structures of play-within-play, and not even the scene of a man pretending to be his tranvestite brother playing a film character based on his brother's life, who's in turn pretending, within the film, to be that character's sister, or whatever, could save it. Almodovar's best, I think, when he thinks in seeing, not doing, and with all of these loose-ends to tie up there's no time left for his brilliance with mise-en-scene, nor does his camp and kink really gel with all of the twists and turns. But it's definitely worth watching.
Friday, July 01, 2005
A couple of daydreams from the mordant Ange Mlinko. Version 1: "Freedom Tower" in the sense that a building is dedicated to its deceased benefactor. Version 2: a 1,776 ft. lightning rod so that the rest of us can go about with the business of our lives. All of this by way of Jane, by way of the the NYT: "impregnable" as in sterile, barren.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
"The troops here . . . murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that . . . despises all dissent. Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own grim image of tyranny and oppression, by toppling governments."
This is too easy, I know. How perfect that he delivers this feeble demagoguery from Fort Bragg, he with his swagger and confidence-man braggadocio? An empty joy, this.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Jane's comments of last week are a fitting and astute coda to the Foetry affair, and aside from this brief remark, hopefully the last we'll hear of it. I should note, though, that one of the upshots of the fallout from Foetry is a greater transparency on the part of contest administrators, if also a somewhat paranoid eagerness to assuage the wounded egos of the rejected, as if at any moment an Alan Cordle might go all librarian on their ass. Many of the contests to which I've submitted in the last year have provided not only detailed descriptions of their operations--how first readers are selected, how finalists are judged--but also narratives by the judges and editors and/or their own impression of the field. Earlier in the year, for instance, Michael Wiegers sent a five-page e-mail describing at great lengths the merits, as he saw them, of the finalists for the Hayden Carruth award, and quoting representative passages. If I wasn't surprised that his aesthetic and mine differ in more places than they overlap, I was also happy to know exactly where we stand. I also thought it was a charitable act to those unfortunates who came close, but not close enough. It's preferable, in many senses, to not even place for these contests. More recently, Sarabande's editors have sent a list and explanation of the five qualities--Transfomation, Ratio, Submission, Obsession, and Power to Silence--that they look for in a good manuscript. Although I can think of a couple books that I've enjoyed from Sarabande, particularly Deborah Tall's Summons, these seem exceptions to Sarabande's staid and unthreatening position, with its inistence on the principles of proportionality, moderation, and passivity on the part of both reader and writer. Most troubling, I suppose, is their praise of a poem's "power to silence," which I must admit certainly lends credence to some of Silliman's often annoying remarks about "quietude." It's worth quoting in full.
"It's been remarked that the first reacction to powerful art is silene. Bad art on the other hand tends to evoke a flood of language. Easy and fun: to pan. Hard to praise. It's a bad sign when we're halfway through a poem and the voices in our heads have already begun to comment. What's missing most of the time is the intrigue of the unfamiliar. A good poem leads you to a place you didn't know existed. It is like disovering a hidden room in a house where you lived for many years. When the poet shows you the hidden room it may be dark and forbidding, or airy and awash with sun, furnished like a room in your dreams. You look for a long time at the objects there, which are familiar and strange at once. How can we not have known, all these years? It is the wonder at finding suh a room, where previously there was none, that takes away speech."
What we have an image of here is the sublime without the requisite threat, cruelty or indifference, a sublime which only confirms what had long been familiar but unarticulated. The silencing power of this art isn't that of the awe-inspiring, or the stupefyingly difficult. For that kind of work, although it might eventually silence, first must engage the reader, wear her out. This kind of silence sounds to me like boredom, or death, or at the very least an unvarying repetition of recollected emotions. I do want poetry to generate voices in my head, not commentary as much as a kind of parapoetry. I'm not sure how you can have an experience of the unfamiliar in the midst of general brain-death. It sounds like poetry as T.V., and I'd rather just watch T.V.
But, disagree as I might, I'm glad the editors have taken the time to set down these aesthetic musings. Differ though we may, this doesn't mean, necessarily, that I won't apply to the contest again. The winner of the prize this year, Matthew Lippman, has written some poems I recall enjoying, and I'm happy to have underwritten the expense of publishing his book, even if there were indubitably manuscripts from the pool of entries that I'd rather read.. This wouldn't be the first time that the right book was picked for the wrong reasons. Because I'm fortunate enough to be employed right now, twenty-five dollars is a small amount to contribute to all but the most egregiously wrong-headed of publishers.
Probably nothing will come of this but the hypocritical posturing of administration figures complemented by the cravenness of the press, but it's still encouraging. It's for the sake of cases like this that I sometimes fantasize about going to law school.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
As I've been thinking, given a push by Deleuze, that Michael Jackson might be what we all really look like or are deep down, if there were a deep down, the diabolical result of the declaration of universal human rights which no-one really respects, neuter tupperware product of the we're-all-the-same machine which means we're all equally worthless, little neverlands occasionally allowed to rock out and moonwalk and crotch-grab in our own music video, in which case it might be a good time to express my demolisment at the hands of and admiration for Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation, which reminds me that documentation of a life survived need not locomote along the tired rails of heroism and recuperation. It's a pure past, the past that was always past. I mean, I didn't feel manipulated, only burned and in that fire asked to consider the value and consequence of putting oneself in the third person, of bearing up under the dissociative disorder which washes events of all localizing emotion except a dim, diffused love in whose wake a brilliantly edited montage of super-8 footage, polaroids and post-disco effects dances on the pin of a head. Because, even if we let the 'eighties and 'nineties narrate for us, it's still important to have been allowed to be a person sometimes, on the beach perhaps. Like Frank O'Hara! Part of this has to do with the fact that I'm an imbecile of memory, that I remember little of my life before, say, twenty-eight and what I do remember seems horribly overprocessed, totally fucked by a Byzantine network of footnotes and false leads and a few scraps of grainy security-monitor footage. I read Proust with an pained nostalgia empty of all reference, wary of Orphic neck-injuries. Not gone? Just walled off by a moat and a rusty drawbridge? But "I do" "remember" days when the shifting points-of-view of internal dialogue were a monstrous thermometer: I and I, they and me, you and I, we and you. We was the worst.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
An unfortunate title, I know, but I'll be here (on the Canadian border, right next to the Manhattan Bridge) on Friday night. I promise full refunds for those dissatisfied with Daniel Subkoff's "things."
Monday, June 20, 2005
An iPod for Father's day? I take back everything I ever said about a conspiracy by the Organization of Tie Manufacturers. I'll parent so much more effectively listening to The Butthole Surfers cover Variations on a Theme by Paganini (kidding).
Noah's guitar-obsession is beginning to outpace the fire-engine thing and, in other music news, I've learned through blogolandia that J. Clover beat me to the punch by using The Mountain Goats' title "The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton." Figures. Could you find a more obvious title for a poem than that?
Looks like my furrowed brow's holding up my pants again.
Friday, June 17, 2005
Following up on yesterday's post . . . .Yau does a wonderful job of contending with the meta-reviewer's claims that Ashbery isn't really all that exciting as a prose writer. I must admit to having felt the same myself, even as much as reading Ashb.'s poems can make it difficult for me think of him as belonging to the same species as me. A few of the pieces in Selected Prose do have a workmanly quality or exude the odor of loveless labor. But there are other pieces--on Stein, on Roussel, on Mapplethorpe--that are as good reviews come. When Ashbery's on, he shies away almost completely from evaluation or comparison, and instead pursues his difficult, personal and ambivalent perceptions onto a far promontory (premonitory?) from which I can consider, say, Mapplethorpe, and by extension, art and writing in general. Perhaps because he shies away from intense, singular affect I might initially get the impression of the ho-hum. But if I read on, I'll find myself somewhere strangely familiar and yet also strangely unmapped. He's a great model, for me, of what a review can and should do. Also: the bidirectional interview between Ashbery and Koch is one of funniest, most vertiginous moveable feasts I've ever encountered. What a perfect portrait of two minds germane enough to weather confict, irony and multiple levels of play and teasing! It reminds me, as I'm sure it reminds others, of those best conversations with good friends, those late nights of talk and wit the residue of which is just plain old poetry.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
The blogs are abuzz with thoughts on the status of poetry reviewing, kicked off by a longer-than-usual-post by our friend P0-bot: (here, here, here, here). John Yau's article on Ashbery as reviewer, in the May/June APR, and on reviewing culture in the artworld, might provide a useful perspective, and some sort of explanation for the place where we are. If Ashbery's influence is as massive as we all suspect it to be, and his definition of great art is that which makes exposition or explanation of it unnecessary--and troubles even the articulation of appreciation-- where does that leave all of us with advanced degrees and precise vocabularies and sagging bookshelves? We're then in a situation where, yes, we want to be told what we might enjoy but also want to be entertained during the process. The thesis-driven review--which notes a tendency among several different books--is a good thing, and often makes for an edifying read, but I suspect that a great deal of the most interesting poetry will fail to conform to this model. Books like this often ask for another kind of writing largely confined to academic journals, even if these distinctions aren't hard and fast. All of this is why--per Tim Yu's comments--I read blogs. I don't agree with Tim, though, that a large reviewing concern need be committed to one particular side of the poetry-wars or another--as is the case with Boston Review and Poetry. The virtue of the Constant Critic site, and other journals or sites that feature regular reviewers, is that you come to get a sense for a particular reviewer's tastes/agenda--Jordan or Joyelle McSweeney or Stephen Burt or Calvin Bedient--as much as you do a particular magazine's. I don't see any reason why we couldn't have a clearing house for these individuals and, then, wildcards like myself thrown in for good measure. Would it be a solution to segregate the zing-zing from the bling-bling and thesis-y? I would call it The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Friday, June 10, 2005
Since Josh and Jordan are making nice, I thought now as good a time as any to quickly remark on what a compelling, and yes smart, but more importantly, brave book Fourier Series is. It's a poem that's afraid of neither its ambitions for poetry and theory and human thoughtwork, nor its Whitmanic utopian hopefulness for the promises inherent in the American west. Even LA, even Vegas! And this is precisely why the book is good. Now I don't want to make it seem like Josh has wandered into a Haight-Ashbury wormhole--there's as much critical energy here as there is posited utopian vision, as much Hunter S. Thompson as there is Ronald Johnson or Hart Crane. But there's a certain fearlessness here about American history--read: slavery, genocide, war, etc.--that I suspect will strike some as a violation of poetic table etiquette. He's just not melancholy enough:
you shouldn't doubt
I speak for the mukluked tribe
who found this iceplanet's
engraved on the skin
of white whales
Is he allowed to say that? Isn't he from the suburbs of Jersey, like Jewish or something? And to call himself "sincere" at the same time, instead of distancing himself with a joke or something, as if the humorous word "mukluk" were some kind of apology? The nerve! Yes, the nerve, the one that, perhaps more poets should strike, whether we like it or not. It's good to see a poet as unafraid of identity politics as he is, and it's good also to see someone as unafraid of Modernism with all its fascist minefields, someone who offers not only critique but also something to come after the critique, even if it's a tentative, provisional, and ultimately indeterminate vision (phew!). I guess what I mean is--he's not afraid of the future. And he does all this in the context of language-play, and an insistence on the immanent, erotic pleasures both within and without the poem. Occasionally, these moments of play, of punning, of silliness that are the seriousness of the poem, do fall flat, but that's all of a piece with the poem's overall bravery.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
This from Josh: "Yet I'm coming to feel that sheer indeterminacy, the infinite play of the signifier, and the postmodern sublime have also exhausted themselves. I am searching and searching right now, through all this philosophy and in my own writing, for what might follow the negative—for the recovery of subjectivity—for the ends of elegy."
Yes, yes indeed, and I'd add that, along with the recovery of subjectivity comes the recovery of totality, too, and the beginning of the end, perhaps, of the sometimes merely reflexive disjunction that characterizes so much postmodern poetry, a point that Christopher Nealon makes in his essay "Camp Messianism . . ." (American Literature, available from Project Muse). We might be able to distinguish between good and bad totality, as Adorno does, or distinguish between liberated subjectivity and a merely fragmented subjectivity. Fragmentation is a part of the violence of our age, too. And it ain't always good, as the layout of the more and more New Jersified Town of Ithaca reminds me.
But enough intellectualism for today. I'm going to go read James--"a mind so fine. . . no mere idea can penetrate it." (Eliot).
Does anyone else have the experience of enjoying the latter half of a book more than the first? This seems to happen to me all the time, and I must confess I'm a bit mystified as to the cause. Often, I'll feel lukewarm about the first ten pages of a book--and then, gradually, through persevering, come to realize that I'm in the middle of a genuine-like poetic experience. This happened to me most recently with Susan Wheeler's Ledger. In the first section, I was thinking, OK, intriguingly involuted descriptive language, a pretty palette, but so? and why so much weight on the money metaphor? But by the end of the book, after the first few longer, and more disjunctive or experimental, pieces, I was in awe, I was ready to sell things for a bit of whatever currency the book was printed on or with. I was ready to write my name in red ink on its back page as I watched the money metaphor metastasize (and alliterate), colonizing every last bit of interpersonal space. The book's slamming.
Now, I might chalk up this experience--let's call it front-boredom--to the need to learn a particular poet's language, except that on rereading the initial poems, it's often the case that I still don't really care for them. This mystifies me because, when showing my manuscripts to others, I'm often told to front-load the book as much as possible, put the best poems first, since I can rearrange the manuscript later if it gets taken. Now, certainly with an established poet there isn't as much need to grab a first reader, and so avoid the gong, but this happens with first books, too. Are these poets forsaking the practice of front-loading? Are they committed to a genetic or developmental narrative, wherein the final poems demonstrate a fuller command of or flexibility within their material? Are people doing what is often the case with 19th-century novels, where the writer throws all her resources into the task of boring you to death in the first 100 pages, so as to scare away the unworthy and make the consequent rewards all the more pleasurable. Is this about me? Do I just have bad taste respective to the taste of the poets I like?
It's because of this experience that I sometimes must force myself to read collections cover to cover, rather than skipping around after the first few poems and searching for something I like. If I do that, I might bounce around in a book for years without surveying its pleasures. Should I start reading the last five pages, then the first five, first?
Speaking of beginnings, I watched the premiere of the new season of Six Feet Under last night, and found it a bit of a mess, a bit tired, and despite all the fine writing, less successful at warding off the melodrama that the fantastic acting always flirts with and yet usually escapes. It's probably a good thing that the show's been cancelled; I want to see these actors get the challenging movie roles they deserve. Especially Lauren Ambrose; the girl's brilliant, and getting sexier and sexier.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
The latest product of Didi Menendez's ever-expanding internet poetry emporium, the Gabe Gudding issue of MiPoesias, is now available. Please do check out the stupefying cabinet of wonders that Gabe and Didi have assembled here--from the post-punk abjection of Lara Glenum to the crystalline intensities of Rae Armantrout, from the informatic bricolage of Kasey Mohammed to the post-industrial rough sleep of Christian Bok, from my genius friend Karl Parker to my genius friend Josh Corey. Until my copy of The Hat arrives, this will do for reading.
You can read an interview with me here, and a couple of poems here.
Monday, June 06, 2005
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Monday, May 30, 2005
I wish that I could explain my absence from blogging by way of an exciting narrative with multiple, shifting points-of-view, street-cred-building references and animals whose quaint way of speaking bears the heavy hand of The Censor, but alas I've spent most of the last week supine, reading Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembing, Deleuze's Difference and Repetition, and Wings of the Dove, or lamenting the beating that my favorites the Phoenix Suns are taking at the hands of San Antonio Spurs. Yet another reason to hate Texas: what state can have three playoff-quality basketball teams? One with lots of oil money. . . Kierkegaard says that I should both accept that they will lose tonight and hold on to the hope that they won't, marry Beckett's "I can't go on" to his "I'll go on."
There's that paradox again, the one that makes relaxation, or the absence of responsibilities, one of the most time-consuming endeavors one can pursue. As the temperature rises, more and more air percolates in between my thoughts; by mid-July I'm averaging a mere one or two perplexed, mostly empty looks a day. Until then, I'll be perusing the Library at Nothingness, a trove of writings on and by the members of the Situationist International. I haven't looked at any of this stuff since my undergraduate days in Lester Mazur's Decentralism class, and I'm thinking that it will help Toward a Pornography of the Sublime, which is at the very least getting longer. LA D->rive anyone?
Something ought to be said, and then retracted just as quickly, without as much as exposing one chink in the mosaic of armored silences which it is our custom to dutifully polish, about litotes in James, not only the rhetorical kind, at which he's certainly no hack, but the larger thematic or characterological variety, where, to take a cue from Josh, any positive emotion, thought or motive you can attribute to the characters is the result of a negated negative--the bad thing the person does not do or does not say, as Milly "was to wonder in subsequent reflection what in the world they had actually said, since they made such a success of what they didn't say. . . ." It's a dizzying and alien place to spend an hour or two, but what's amazing is how well James quickly sends me to finishing school, how quickly he teaches me to read the proper cues, or lack thereof. And his syntax is, as everyone says, a visceral thrill, as if the comma had become its own kind of word. A fun to place to visit, but I don't think I could live there--those impressionistic, beaten-gold interiors would give me a permanent case of vertigo.