Friday, March 31, 2006




The following are urban samples uncovered during trial apocalypse. We
thought it weird to have loved survival so, wanting place on a plaque,
boulevards with vertigo trees. Armored cars raced in and out the thick
goings-on the dream flush with cash. Of flesh: glittering hyperlinks flee
the paving stones, astride the Intro-Duct, the splash page, a suspension
of time-sensitive abbreviations, by the waters of Of. Having died at
some future date our feet factored primes of, so I would (gone) go, begot
by dint of my new, radiant, heat-seeking and child-safe preposition
which, a propos of nothing, proposing nothing but purest impropriety,
was neither about nor to nor of the city it would make its non-object.
House to house like institutes for social research collect affect and fact,
such that we don’t have to deal with or even disinfect their non-history.
At the theological center of the city, where the posthumans congress in
underground malls, what no-one said (poetry): how the north was done.



No Rule for Applying a Rule

open cover letter

Toward a Pornography of the Sublime is a collection of poems about—but also “of” and “to” and “from” and “for”--Los Angeles.

That said, a book of poems “about” Los Angeles is like a piece of jewelry about homelessness.

I am not the first to suggest that hyper-visibility is one of the form common forms—one of the most conspicuous types—of invisibility. It is “the nothing that is.” LA’s long shots of long shots, its aerial views and mirror play, memorializes its own speechlessness, its lost voice. But Los Angeles only pretends to have no voice. Its voice, its many voices, are not really lost, only thrown, its would-be observer led astray, toward the bright patches.

Los Angeles is anti-poetry—is narrative and image, which are poetry too—and so for my purpose, that voice is poetry, just as the content of the expensive piece of jewelry does turn out to be poverty—poverty zero-degree, invisibility zero-degree, poetry zero-degree.

Poetry is blind; it doesn’t see; it can make images that are not visible. And for this reason, poetry has carte blanche in Los Angeles. It breezes right through the checkpoints. It goes everywhere without anyone noticing. It is LA’s open secret, its theology; the city is laid out on top of a series of lines and stanzas and enjambments cobbled together from land deeds and labor and diaries. Ed Ruscha knows this; that’s why he can represent the city with a few words on a chemical-acrylic backdrop. All of the Europeans who came—Adorno and Fritz Lang and Schoenberg and Stravinsky and Baudrillard—they all missed the poem for its words (which were pictures).

And now it seems almost too late, since every city has its Los Angeles, a little pastel and Pilates whereby it can feign its own authenticity as elsewhere. When an American says Los Angeles these days, she means modernity, she means secularism, she means a concept or an evacuated category of the understanding.

So a book of poems about Los Angeles is a book about modernity and Pilates but also a book about this concept and how it misses the place for its replacements and clichés; how the place everywhere exceeds the concept and cliché; which moves into the clichés and decorates them wildly and in colors no-one has invented yet.

Like LA, Toward a Pornography of the Sublime spreads from multiple and competing centers. Like LA, poetry is not a genre but the absence of genre and the form of this absence (abundance), for which Los Angeles is a metonym. Poetry as cinema, as utopia and its dear friend dystopia, as sprawl and suture and cars and tele-__ ; as race and class in the wrong sit-com, the wrong .com. It has its real: subdivisions, historic buildings, pools, theme parks, surfaces and depths; its riots, floods, fires, earthquakes; its childhood and old age, paved-over trolley lines, beaches, piers, cul-de-sacs, freeways, backalleys; its countries of origin, its history of chauvinism, racism, intolerance, its romances, political corruption, police, movie sets, myths and weathers. All these poetry can do.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

And this . . .

Saturday April 1st
12 Noon-4 PM * 20-50% off all books!
30% student discount
Readings at 2 PM * Music at 12:30 and 3 PM

Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the US, teaches at UC Berkeley.
Etel Adnan, Lebanese American poet and painter, will read from In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country.
Aaron Shurin, author of Involuntary Lyrics, co-directs the MFA in Writing Program at USF.
David Larsen is author of The Thorn and co-curator of the New Yipes series in Oakland.
Geraldine Kim’s first book, Povel, won Fence Book’s 2005 Modern Poets Series.
Steve Orth is the band Shivshark. They write story telling songs with no choruses or guitar solos and sing them to people, young and old.

At Small Press Distribution
1341 7th St. (off Gilman), Berkeley


Down in LA over the weekend, with Anna and Noah, I caught the Courbet landscape show at the Getty's hyper-classical mountaintop purgatory. So much of the energy in those paintings--that wind which seems to pick you up and plant you inside the painting--comes from the decisive placement here and there of patches where the grain of the canvas shows through. What's that in poetry? Grammar, letters, stuttering.


Two from Noah:

"Stop talking to mommy. It hurts my ears."

And then, playing with his imaginary watch (a rubber band), he says , "I need a bandaid on it."
He should be grateful, I tell him. Some of us need a tourniquet.


One of the great pleasures of Blog-o-ville has been watching Josh think through and work out his dissertation--starting with what seemed, originally, a difficult and super-specific idea, and turning it into something that has been invaluable to me in understanding the current moment in N. American poetry and its antecedents--a moment that, with its confluence of coasts west, east and internal, romanticism and modernism, visionary-poetry and deconstruction, seems to find its analogue in European philosophy's turn toward ethics, politics and the theological. I haven't worked out what this means exactly--or how I feel about affirmation, construction or mythology in an age that seems to need the destructive as much as any, even if construction and destruction, in the best poets, seem two side-effects of the same motion. I see this in Lisa Robertson, in Josh's own poems, in Juliana Spahr, in Joshua Clover, in Anne Boyer and, in general, in much but not all of the poetry that moves me these days, moves me out of days and out of work, too. Less of a turn, then, than an addition to the continuing negational-critical project of things like Flarf.

Lately, I've been trying to learn to avoid a general impatience with groundwork and a general desire to overreach, to get to The Point--so I'll admit, for now, that my sense of all the history here is perhaps not clear enough for me to really map out what's happening. Is this just an extension of Modernist mythography? My suspicion is that the answer is no, but I'm still a ways off from that no.

I'll save my overreaching for the poems, where it's fun and where nobody (well, most body) cares.


What's up with Charles Valle's editor's note in the new Fence? It's going to take more than name-checking (or, perhaps, mike-checking) Althusser and Benedict Anderson to make the last cover into an attempt to "question the reproduction of the relations of production." I didn't see any question there at all. Just a dull descriptive sentence--a crass attempt to link Fence to some vaguely edgy indie-rock eroticism, in hopes that the readers of Nylon might pull it off the shelf and find it impossible to relinquish. Any stoner with a pair of scissors and a gluestick could do better. Nevertheless, I always find good reading in Fence.

32 years old today. Huh.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What I think: political and aesthetic sense.
What you think: marketing, hype.

If there's a political unconscious, it's over there, where the posers and hypocrites play.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Last night: Alice Notley. Best poetry reading ever. She's Blake.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Looking, Reading

If you want to read about Joshua Clover’s The Totality for Kids, scroll down

Poets looking for proof of their utility to the rest of the world might be cheered by considering the effect of their absence upon Thomas Hirschhorn’s installation, Utopia, Utopia = One World, One War, One Army, One Dress at California College of the Arts’ Wattis Insitute. Ugly to the ughth degree, Hirschhorn’s maze of camouflage and theoretical afflatus, replete with don’t-eat-the-brown-acid art-school touches like dissembled mannequins and toy soldiers, is occasionally ugly in a profound and moving manner. One wall features shelf after shelf of globes from which camouflage excrescences bulge; on one wall-map camouflage has, à la The Blob or a nanotech “Grey Goo” apocalypse, taken over North and South America. The mannequins, too, seem afflicted by this cancer, hemorrhaging camouflage from their skulls or torsos. But the most grating and, in the end, suffocating aspect of this installation, is the text—an essay by the erstwhile philosopher Marcus Steinweg—that Hirschhorn has cut and pasted in fonts of various sizes and in fragments designed, it seems, to empty the language of all but a few crumbs of intelligibility. Différance and cogito and uebermensch and, um, fragments of sentences about Deleuze and Lacan and Badiou and Agamben and Scooby Doo, no Kristeva or Cixous or Judith Butler of course. These are all thinkers, mind you, who I read and think about and take seriously enough to dislike the ways in which they have been reduced to, well, a fashion, a gesture, flourish, a screen or camouflage for who-knows-what velleities utopian or dystopian or both. It makes one scared of the invisible and subterranean complicities that might underlie the work I take seriously and believe in. For Derrida, one of the things that announces, as he says, “the death of the civilization of the book” and its metaphysical accompaniment, is an inflation and emptying out of language, “a convulsive proliferation of libraries”—the image of which, Hirschhorn has certainly given us.

Hirschhorn likes Deleuze—he’s designed monuments to the philosopher— and his show reminds me of an important distinction that I came across the other day when reading Deleuze, who has often been accused, by me even, of a kind of irresponsible glorification of insanity and naive primitivism which is unrealistic at best and dangerous at worst. What is to distinguish Deleuze’s “cosmic” deterritorializing, his liquidation of the individual, of the self, of relationship to place and memory and experience, from the operations of global capital? The following quote explains: “Sobriety, sobriety: that is the common prerequisite for the deterritorialization of matters, the molecularization of material, and the cosmicization of forces. Maybe a child can do that. But the sobriety involved is not necessarily the becoming of the child, quite the contrary; the becoming-mad involved is not necessarily the becoming of the madman, quite the contrary. . . Thus the problem of the artist is that the modern depopulation of the people results in an open earth, and by means of art, or by means to which art contributes. Instead of being bombarded from all sides in a limiting cosmos, the people and the earth must be like the vectors of a cosmos that carries the off; then the cosmos will be art.” In this, Hirschhorn might overshoot the mark, and produce an undifferentiated glop rather than vectors of escape.

Hirschhorn might have done to collaborate with, if not a different philosopher, then with a poet—poets being those who know the utopian genre, its temptations and dangers, so well. Joshua Clover’s long-awaited (here at least) The Totality for Kids also knows very well the pleasures of the textual. It’s one of the most citational books I can think of: the title of the book is a quote (from Raoul Vaneigem), the titles of the poems are often quotes, the poems themselves are filled with citations from Apollinaire and Benjamin and Marx and Joy Division and Lettrist and Situationist-texts, “filling / The April air with silver quotation marks,” “under the strict surveillance of quotation marks. . .” The most prevalent source authors here are Benjamin and the various writers of the Situationist International and its predecessor group, particularly the “Formulary for a New Urbanism” of Ivan Chtchetglov, of whom Guy Debord writes “he transformed cities and life merely by looking at them. In a single year he discovered enough material for a century of demands; the depths and mysteries of urban space were his conquest. . .” Chtchetglov, along with others, merits a number of excellent elegies in this book, elegies which are also eulogies and which cause the book to hover between the sense of potentialities lost and potentialities to come.

So, full as it is with the writing of writers, Totality is as much a book about cities, chiefly Paris, as it is a book about citations-- a book about books, a city of books and a book of cities. As Clover writes it, “a copy of the city in the library and another in the ether. Indeed, the cities-for-texts metaphor field is one this book’s most insistent tropes; you could replace city with poetry, or make a similar series of substitutions, and the essential drive of these poems would be about the same.

All in all, I’m wild about Totality; it has shown itself well worth the decade-long wait. Perhaps what I think is the most remarkable thing about this book is its insistent location in the sensorium—in colors, textures, sex, jokes, painkillers, friendship, music and fun and the commingling in the mind—all things the all-too-frequent abandonment of which by everyday life poetry can be measure of. At the same time, Totality refuses to ignore the provenance of these pleasures, their implication in a system of exploitation and misery: “beneath it the gear rooms of the calendar where tiny cracks have been discovered in every hour time has started to trickle staunched with grease and sweat a shudder a sadness at waking.” Joshua and his collaborators are smart enough and have spent enough time thinking about capital to know that there are qualitative differences in these kinds of sensual experiences—some that are part of the problem and some that are part of the solution and some that just are: “many systems to put those dreams there inside her amphitheatrical skull operated by people known as affect workers like you and me and Drew Barrymore. We help people feel certain ways and are paid a living wage plus the little bit extra called the hook or the sting—a small but pleasant feeling like tiny holographic version of meeting the president.”

What I’m getting at here is that this book, like much of my favorite poetry of the present moment, is visionary without being theological or without, that is, a loss of critical power. Here I’m referencing my other favorite Joshua’s schema of a week ago, where he attempted to distinguish between A-negativity and criticality/ B-romantic-expressionism and / C-romantic-visionary poetry. Although I think there’s usually one tendency that’s more apparent than the others, I think there has always been a good deal of poetry in which A and C are part of the same essential thrust—poetry that is decreative as much as it is visionary, and without any of the didacticism which might sometimew accompany such a project. Joshua’s book is one more fine addition to this tradition.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

What I'm Reading

The Canary

A first turn through the pages of this magazine finds me among most entertaining aned engaging of accomplices and interlocutors. I’m about where Jordan was when he gave it his enthusiastic approval the first time around—and like Jordan I find the editors’ sensibilities consonant with mine. Jennifer Moxley’s poems, which open the journal, are rueful meditations on how quickly political engagement can turn to empty formalism; at the same time, these are also, it seems, a reflection on Moxley’s poetics, and they evince her obligation to a continued engagement with poetic (as well as political )form, if she is to maintain the integrity and intensity of disposition that readers have come to expect from her. The stunning last poem, surreal in the best sense of the term—an engagement with, rather than withdrawal, from the real—with its post-apocalyptic mall scene, seems to set up a image reservoir that the rest of the journal, oddly, keeps drawing from. Some kind of revenant keeps returning throughout these poems—in Alice Notley’s spare and broken and absence-haunted songs; in Raymond McDaniel’s Oulipo meets Hopkins meets Night of the Living Dead meets Mother Goose; in Gillian Conoley’s Frankenstein. No zombies in Moxley’s poem, but I’m reminded that malls and other places of public exchange are, of course, the sites of choice for undead hordes because there, within the regurgitated melodies and brand-lighting and must-have non-needs, they blend right in. This makes The Canary less the kind that sings kindly by the window than the kind you take into the coal-mine. It’s also a nice object—the not-quite-sky-blue, artless cover lets us look through to the contents, and I find the font and the not-quite-square size of the thing particularly satisfying: where too big meets too small, where things do not equal themselves, yep, there’s poetry.

There are lots of other poems that deserve mention—Brenda Shaughnessy, Philip Jenks, Anne Boyer (we love you! come out of the barn and publish your book!) and Joshua Clover, whose sublime The Totality for Kids just arrived. I need a couple of days to think on this book before I can say a few words about it. Do get a copy, though.


Pretty Young Thing (Danielle Pafunda)

Someone should write an article about poets like Danielle, Heidi Lynn Staples and Lara Glenum, among others, who it seems are working hard to reanimate/ disinter the seemingly decomposed (and not so exquisite) corpse of surrealism and the powers of negation it offers us in this particular damaged and damaging time. Danielle’s book reminds me of Lara’s (which I reviewed here) to a certain degree: they have a milieu in common (places called Body and Non-Body)—but the poems in PYT don’t use the narrative or topical frames that one finds in Hounds of No. Danielle’s book truly goes on its nerve, pushing forward, Beckett-like, by a thread of texture or by dint of poetic will and desire. The long poems in this book are particularly good, continuously generating and then displacing narratives as they go—here a wedding, an operation, subjectivity, sex, here womanhood in all its intellectual and biological armature. One can hear, to a certain sense, the riddling and riddled textures of Berryman’s Dream Songs and Dickinson’s best poems. Indeed, you could probably make the case that the form of these poems is, in many cases, an example of the seven-beat line which some prosodists have found occasion to think of as a kind of ballad meter (two lines for the price of one):

When I got out in the weather, the weather was missing. The hour
slit like an electric cord, splintered, and fused to the pavement.
There was a space in the road where I thought a handsome cab should be.
There was really a space, and you would’ve been here to fill it.

Not incidentally, that handsome cab does appear in the final line of the book. But it’s on fire:

At the end of Oklahoma, only the haystack was burning. The surrey.


Last but not least, I wanted to mention that those of who are in New York early next week should go see Ben Lerner read at the Poetry Project on Monday, Mar. 13 (8:00 p.m). Ben’s Angle of Yaw (out from Copper Canyon late this year, or early next year) was one of the highlights of my 2005 reading season. You can find a chunk from the book in the recent Conjunctions. There’s a fierce directness and clarity and license to Ben’s poems. As well as anyone, Ben gets the feeling of the present moment—its vertigo, its floating blidnesses, its perversities—right.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

So, no, as it turns out, it is not, in point of fact, exploitation or environmental degradation that gives coffee most of its flavor.

Next item: let's hear it for an agenda-crippling, troop-withdrawing impeachment in early 2007.

Public service announcement: If like me you've searched long and hard for a Fair Trade/Organic coffee bean that is not only doesn't taste like battery acid but is less expensive per weight than prohibited substances, search no further: Terranova Coffee Roasting, from Sacramento. At, like, $6.50/lb.