Monday, January 30, 2006

Andrews Elmo Parker Shapiro

Bruce Andrews gave a devastating reading last night for David Larsen's New Yipes! reading series, in the concrete and drywall space of endless possibility that is 21 Grand. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard and with such abandon, or had such a clear sense of the violence upon which so much belly-humor depends. Stopping then, and thinking, not so funny.
Andrews read his poems with an expressive variety and a sense to the value of pauses and tempo changes that I wish more poets would learn from; you could really hear the prose form as a series of grammatical constraints: a set of sentence-forms wherein his avalanche of mixed categories (mixed metaphors, as I meta- here) click into place. I do wish that I got more of a sense of this when I read Andrews on the page, as much as I realize that the all-at-onceness and the brutality of the prose is part of its work. I suspect, though, that now when I turn to read Andrews I'll have a different, and much improved, experience of it. Perhaps, to some degree, the extension and success (or, to some I'm sure, the diminution) of writers like Kasey and Bill Luoma and Kevin Davies is that they bring this kind of variety to the page, and with it a wider range of possible gestures, swerves and gear-shifts.
Perhaps a year ago, Jonathan Mayhew made the remark that Bruce Andrews reminded him of hip-hop, for which comment, as I remember, he was castigated by bloggers various and sundry. Although I see how this is a deeply problematic comparison, I think that what Jonathan was picking up on was the common influence of beat poetry on both forms --those noun paintings and register collisions that you hear in performance poetry today, and which eighties and early-nineties hip hop to some degree resembled. Perhaps the historical argument is shaky, and the common denominator is only an apprent one. Obviously, lots of other influences (vernacular traditions, etc.) that the two don't share, but there was something to Jonathan's comment nonetheless. . .


In other news, it appears our children's toys are in favor of euthanasia. Possible subtitles: paging Melanie Klein; or, revenge of the commodity--potty training = want not equaling need; excess here, privation there (with all apologies to those bloggers/readers who are in the process of potty training their children). The revolution will be really cute.


Saw the Cornelia Parker installation at the Good Herb center--beautiful and eery, certainly, but how much anti-work a bad pun for a title can do. A word is worth at least a thousand pixels in this instance, or else a superficial politics poorly hung. I sort of wanted the one church in front of the other--a seeing-through rather than a seeing-next-to. And why so cubic? I'm still trying to figure that out.

But Noah was so happy to go on the carousel. He rode the goat. All goats lead to roses.


Reading a David Shapiro book for the first time ever (A Burning Interior). What a thrill!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Apologies to those who feel I missed the subtlety of their poems. "About" is always a bad preposition for poetry, implying as it does a distinction between content and form, subject matter and presentation that often doesn't hold. In English, propositions are like the streets of D.C. or Boston or an awkward simile. . . There should be (but ain't) a quicker, more direct way to get where you want to go. I would, however, have to be a deep literalist of the body to miss the sex--metaphorical or not--in those poems. It doesn't really require any exegetical jujitsu to extract. It's not like I'm saying that walking up a staircase (as Freud does) resembles sex in that it involves repetitive motion with an eventual endpoint. Nor am I playing a dull round of find-the-privates.

Of course, I agree that the way the anthology was described by Reb, as well as the way the preface and the cover frame the poems in it, colors my reading. I was responding to the anthology as an object, as poems in a specific context. I would assume that most people, like me, don't believe that the poem is some kind of stable unchanging object capable of resisting whatever context might impinge upon them. . . Maybe certain poems can do that to a certain degree, but not these ones. And this is not like a remark about quality; I like all the poems to which I referred. . .

I mean, if you acknowledge that Art Brut are ten times as talented instrumentally, and much better writers. . . .Same tone, same note-to-self dividing line downjoy.

Are Art Brut and Bloc Party the same band?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bedside Anthology

Since receiving it, I have wanted to write about, and recommend, Reb Livingston and Molly Arden's provocative anthology The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel--even though I haven't had the time to read all of the poems in it.

It's an anthology full of fantastic work, as those of you who regularly read No Tell Motel already know. But I also find it disturbing--as an anthology about sex in the present moment in American culture, it leaves a somewhat troubling afterimage in my mind. It makes me feel that sex as a meaningful aspect of bodily life is in trouble, as all things interpersonal are in trouble. If this anthology presents, between its pages, a safe harbor for the erotic, a place where one's needs and desires will not be betrayed, it is one so threatened by isolation, non-communication and indirection, that most of the fucking/lovemaking/intercourse, etc. in this anthology fails. Maybe sex, as a nodal point where social power is both performed--(assume the position)--and subverted( (_________)-style), has always been this way. But somehow I suspect that the quintupling of porn consumption (and I am all for porn, I have no qualms about it) tells us something. Between the Paxil/Prozac/Zoloft holy-trinity and the adult film industry, I somehow feel that Americans (for all our professed liberatedness about sex) have more sexual hangups than fin-de-siecle Viennese. When everything is sexualized, when sex is, as Shanna Compton's poem has it, just a font advertisers use to sell products, just something you can have added to your latte for thirty-five cents, you get sex like the Johnny in Anne Boyer's poem imagines it: "His popular mechanics lacked imagery." One wonders, have we gone from "Having a Coke with You" to "Having a Coke with Coke"? I've often felt that the supposed liberation of sexuality of the so-called "sexual revolution" had, as one of its untoward consequencs, the diffusion and, as such, liquidation of sexuality. Sex, then: everywhere and nowhere. Or maybe this is just parenthood talking. Maybe people aren't really more afraid to flirt; maybe I'm just becoming gradually less attractive.

I'm not an expert in these matters (an amateur, certainly), and I don't pretend to have fully thought through what this means. As such, I'll refrain from concluding that all of this signals the end of the human, of history, the body. Thoughts?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Probably Not

Just discovered Clayton Banes blog Eyeball Hatred.

In Pegasus books a couple of months ago, checking out their small but excellent poetry selection--from presses large and small and even smaller--I said to myself, "I bet somebody here reads poetry blogs." And I was right.

I'm sure that there are writers and presses that get left out by the kind of tastemaking done here in the blog-o-sphere, but it seems like a good thing to me--because, well, I think many of my favorite bloggers have good, eclectic taste not obviously beholden to any particular clique or ideology.

It won't last long. You'll all be replaced by corporate robots designed to write and act and draw vindictive cartoons just like real live humans. Oh, wait, cancel that thought. I just remembered, we don't matter to corporate publishing. Might we start to?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bling-Bling, Darling!

My review of Lara Glenum's The Hounds of No and Gabriel Gudding's A Defense of Poetry is up at Jacket 29.

Which means that I value many of the same poets/poetries (the poetries of inelegance, affront, etc.) that Gorranson does. But how am I supposed to take seriously a blog post that calls Berryman monoglossic? Maybe only one or two other poets of that generation that achieve the same kind of schizic polyvocality. And who is less afraid to "needle, wheedle, singe, disarm and scarify the reader" as Adrienne Rich, in one of my all-time favorite blurbs, has it?

Like Silliman, I sense in this post a tendency to read poetry as a mere product of its genealogy, criticism then becomes the kind of name-dropping game that New Criticism came into being to stop, by directing our attention to the pleasures and possibilties of poetic surface. In this, Silliman and Gorannson join hands (surprise!) with Harold Bloom: "the meaning of a poem is another poem." Certainly, there are poets who trade, complacently, upon the aura of sophistication/radicality (like Jane's LeRoy readers/gentrifiers who want the aura of edginess that comes from moving into the Mission or Echo Park or Fort Greene) that prior language-experiments bring to their poems. I'm not sure how one establishes one's anti-hierarchical stance, and I worry that the implication of Gorannson's post would reduce a poem to 1) who publishes it 2) some statement akin to "I may seem like the the man, but really, I'm not darling. I care." There are other ways, but form (in the widest sense of the terms) is the best way to do this. As Glenum and McSweeney demonstrate in their own poems.

When we get down to it, I think Kasey provides a really excellent marker: sensibility. There is powerful poetry that is elegant or skillful. If you don't like early Merrill or all of Marianne Moore, fine. I do. But there isn't really much powerful poetry that is bored/boring or complacent or self-satisfied.

Let's remember this: Repugnant people, and pugnacious cultures, can produce great art. Repugnant art, I think, rarely makes great people.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

If Jim's petition succeeds in graduating Silliman from UC Berkeley, do you think he'll go on to get an MFA at Iowa? I spidey senses tell me there's a graphic novel on the horizon.

Then again, if Ron came back to finish up his credits, he might be a student in a class I'm TA'ing. Now *that* would be an *occasion* for asterisks. I'll start writing my post-post-avant syllabus (on post-it notes of course) now.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Notes from Los Angeles

Very pleasantly surprised by Ecstasy, the current show at The Geffen Contemporary. I'm ambivalent about the current trend in curation to title, market and organize shows such that they stand a chance of drawing the kind of audience that would usually steer clear of modern art. As an outgrowth of the corporatization of the museum, I'm right well repulsed. But as an attempt to present exciting, stimulating and disturbing art to a wider audience, I'm down. There has to be some way, though, to do this without curation-as-pandering--for if there were, on free night in the museum, scores of MDMA-victims emptily examining the paintings and sculptures, the primary affect of the show was far from ecstatic or jubilant. This, it's worth noting, from someone who would rather go to a Kevin Costner double-feature than consume a psychedelic: 98-percent terror, 2-percent bliss. Yes, despite the frequent exclamations of "woah, man, that's weird," Takashi Murakami's big tryptich was more Hiroshima than Haight-Ashbury. Vertigo and not elation or transport was what the show continuously delivered.

Most worth mentioning is Franz Ackermann's installation "Sky Shop--Lobby." It gave me exactly what I've hoped to find on this trip, a visual rhetoric for thinking the flattened, low-depth city which eludes any total concept. Ackermann encyclopedializes a great number of the devices of twentieth-century art--the geometrics of conceptual art, the big gestures of Ab-Expressionism, the flat acrylics of pop-art and minimalism, the return of the figure, photocollage. I especially like the way that geometrical drawing explodes into the infolding and unfolding painted (bodily) and photographed (architectural) spaces. As much as this article criticizes the apolitical apparatus with which Ackermann surrounds his installations, I'm not as convinced that I should listen to him (Ackermann). For my money, the installation gives a symphonic, total vision of urban life, from the ideological-conceptual substrates of the drawings to the literal imagery of the photographs to the emotionality/viscerality of the swirling acrylics. Even if Ackermann thinks of himself as an uncritical and detached flaneur, a tourist, I'm not sure that his vision isn't more interventive and transformative than he thinks it. There's a keen sense of the emotional and mental (psychogeographical) terrain of the city and the possibilities (sort of) for cutting and pasting and reconstituting these spaces to make them more hospitable to, umm, life. In any case, the installation challenged me to think and see space differently, to push against the resistances to vision with which any complex visual cityscape presents me.

Also wonderful: Eija-Liisa Ahtila's video tryptych "Talo/The House." I'm not sure that I've ever seen a more effective visual portrayal of psychosis, of the multi-channel experience of time and space that accompanies a psychotic break, where "a boat in the harbor is everywhere boat that has ever crossed the harbor" (probably misquoting), and where, like Borges's "Funes the Memorious," every moment in time is simultaneous, richly and fully present. This reminds, of course, of the kinds of psychological and literary moments that Deleuze and Guattari focus on in Anti-Oedipus but it also reminds of the pain and paralysis (which they tend to overlook) that comes with this. The actress in this piece is great, and so, too, is the writing, all of which suggests that Ahtila would probably make a great feature film.

The big room with Amanita Muscaria growing from the ceiling? Not so much.


Plus, I saw these houses yesterday (above).

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Not too sure how I should feel about the fact that, now that Los Angeles is nearly tolerable, it feels more and more like a borough of New York. Only: lower rates of bodily collision. And better weather.


Such an art hotspot, now, LA, that you can't actually see any of the art produced here. It's all in Chelsea.


Terrible news (from Josh) about Ithaca's bookstore, the Bookery closing. He did really build an incredible poetry selection there. It's a big blow to pedestrians, too: one less place which sells items of value, as opposed to overpriced (tourist shops) and very cheap (dollar-stores) things for which no true purpose (besides sheer accumulation for accumulation's sake) can be found. If it's 7:00 in Ithaca, and you need a pen or toilet paper, you're out of luck. But why would a healthy American citizen be without a car these days anyway, except due to scorn or lazineness or plain contrariness? I'd prefer not to say.