Wednesday, September 20, 2006

This pleat of somber lace which retains the infinite woven by a thousand, each according to the thread or the prolongation, its secret unknown, assembles distant interlacings where there sleeps some luxury to take account of--a ghoul, a knot, some foliage--and to present.
. . .
I do not know if the Host circumscribes perspicaciously his domain: it will please me to mark it out, and also certain conditions. The right to accomplish nothing exceptional, or lacking in vulgar bustle: anyone must pay for it by being omitted and, you might say, by death as a person. His exploits are committed while dreaming, so as to bother no one; but still their program is displayed for those who care nothing about it.

Mallarme, _As for the Book_, trans. Mary Ann Caws


And, then, finding a copy of "Crise du Vers" in front of me, from which I had to make English idiom in less than hour. . . No dice.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hero List

I expect to soon hear reports about the new Alice Notley offering,--Alma, or the Dead Women, from Granary. The poems sounded great when she read here last Spring. Sadly, it will probably be a month before I can get to it.

Other books on the horizon that I'm happy about:

1)Eshelman's The Complete Poems (Bilingual!), Cesar Vallejo, from UC Press. Another $50 book, like the Berrigan, but it's $50 of the poet who--as well as anyone else--dispenses with notion that linguistic experimentation and personality are somehow at odds. Tactical subjectivity--little Spains and Parises and Perus everywhere. And it will help me recover some of my Spanish. When I reach for it now, all I find is French.

2) Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon. They were calling this Untitled Thomas Pynchon for awhile, and the page count keeps gets a little higher each time I look at the Amazon page. Pynchon's auto-blurb strikes me as a bit hokey, ditto the title, but as far as I'm concerned he's where the American imagination goes when it gets tired of fucking around. There's probably no living writer to whom I owe more.


Here's the totally amazing reading schedule for the Holloway series at UC Berkeley:


Thursday Sept. 27th @ 7:30pm - Reception to Follow

Thursday Oct. 12th @ 6:30pm

Wednesday Oct. 25th @ 6:30pm

Thursday Nov. 16th @ 6:30pm

Wednesday Nov. 29th @ 6:30pm
Bob Perelman


I read with Karen Anderson, Anne Boyer, Jordan Davis & Co. and Karl Parker at Knox College (Galesburg, IL) on Oct. 13th and 14th. Info here

I'm told that Galesburg is basically close to nowhere that is not itself nowhere near itself, or something like that, but you should come out if you can. It promises to be a good time.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Books and Poems

Josh Corey asked for more about the concept-book, and so more he will get.

We are in a historical moment, it seems to me, where the collection or miscellany of poems/writings has had its star dimmed by the long poem, the serial poem and proceduralist or mixed-genre book. I have no way of knowing how much this has to do with changing tastes among, on the one hand, writers, or on the other, publishers, but considering that these are often the same people [sometimes even the very same person, as in self-publication], I suspect it a little of both.

There are a number of things one can note about this trend. First, that it evidences the strongly digested (and to some, no doubt, strongly misread) influence of language-poetry and associated, although sometimes NOT similar, 70s-80s-90s writers on younger poets (as well as the continuing prolificness of these writers themselves)--and this holds true, even if poet X., who wrote a series or concept book, has never cracked open a single volume by any of the people who fought and died in the brutal poetry wars. I won't name names. With this comes the partial success of an effort to remember a certain strain of Modernism to which often, at least in English, the weighty name of Pound attaches. On the other hand, as much as he wrote long poems, Wallace Stevens, I think, produced collections; however much we can say about the unitariness of _Harmonium_, there's an attention to the individual poem as quasi-autonomous space, as monad--an attention to, yes I will use the word, the lyric--that must, I think, be seen as the other of the trend toward the book. Pound, on the other hand, wrote a cross-referenced encyclopedia. Of course, this is a multi-axis graph upon which every work will occupy a certain area. Many (probably the best) will often make deciding difficult.

I would suggest that part of the current will toward the book, and the will to work against the autonomy of the poem or lyric, has to do with the frailty, the non-autonomy, of the individual poem post-blog, post-google, post massive-gift-economy of 500 journals. Making a book means, for some writers but no doubt not all, something that resists our uncanny ability as consumers and well-meaning dilettantes to reduce things to soundbites, blurbs, banal paraphrases, anthology pieces, blog posts. On a more neutral note, a book resists the current state of poetry in which (and I do think this is a good thing) everybody with half a brain is their own journal. For my part, reading journals these days is a constant reminder that writing a wonderful poem turns out to be, in the end, not all that hard. Or perhaps that great is now a somewhat empty term, just a quality set beside other qualities, a meta-quality that has settled back into the heap. We have an entire century and then some of models, and resistance to those models, for modern poetry. Producing an object that lies between two flaps, though, whether a collection or a "book," seems somehow, in my experience, more difficult.

So, the poet post-google, post-language confronts a crisis of value with several notable features: 1)"The wealth of libraries in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an 'immense collection of anthologies'" 2)The good news: there are lots of great poems! 2) The bad news: it's hard to remember who wrote them, because everyone has the same name, even if they have different names. You could even say that the death of the author is the birth of the anthology, and lo, a kind of indirect hagiography--of schools, etc.--condescends around the corpse 3) Ergo, quick, write a book! One which demands a large share of the reader's available attention/concentration.

Let me say that I like--nay, love--many of these books; I've written one of them, and I would not in any way suggest that they be any different. Rather, I'm only hoping to begin a conversation about the perhaps unconscious social impulses that lie behind this trend, and the things that might be endangered in such a state. Without a doubt, this kind of durability is to be valued. But the drawback to the popularity of the book over the collection is that that book's concept, idea, base may be used as an apology for lots of, let's admit it, tedium without recourse to any of the arguments for the value of tedium--(see spinach, cooked; Popeye and negativity)

I find it interesting that the work of poets to give poetry an "expanded field," as Barrett Watten points out, borrowing Rosalind Krauss's formulation, to push poetry into discourse, into the site, into--yikes!--life even, ends up contributing to, twenty years later, a supremacy of the book, as if despite its will and ability to push out beyond the flaps, nevertheless the elasticity of that totality has outflanked poetry and bound it to the page. Now that we know claims about the death of the book (and the beginning of writing) are bound to be overblown, might we claim that the decomposition of the book has lead, paradoxically or just plain dialectically, to a strengthening of the book?* Doubtless, there are many writers of the generation now reignant who do not or do not often write collections or miscellanies but who would probably not consider the production of books the chief feature of their writing, books being in some way only a facet of a larger poetics or project. I think of something like Bernadette Mayer's _Midwinter Day_, where the books is a sort of residue, a glorious residue, of the original action. Is there a danger now of confusing the one with the other? Of thinking that having a poetics, having something to make in the way of poetry, means having a book, even if often the two go together? **

I won't pretend that I'm yet able to think a full thougth, or even half of a thought, here. Only two things: let's not confuse the book with poetry, and let's not forget about the possibilities that the individual, and even short, poem (or piece) offers--however much the weakminded have asked us to believe that such a notion is inherently bourgeois. For, sometimes, it seems to me the work isthe poem, and sometimes not--and the poem as such is often the most visible aspect of some of my favorite writers' work. And then there are books that are too disparate to conform to the narrow options discussed above--things like Kevin Davies _Comp._ or John Ashbery's _Rivers and Mountains_.

*You might say that the same thing happens in art after minimalism, where the turn toward the conceptual, the theoretical, the textual, and to the failed attempt to outsmart the commodity, gives way to an even more powerful fusion of commercialism and art. While the most fascinating and inventive of these attempts continue pushing out into the expanded field, their epigones go to art school and decide that art is *just* paraphernalia, rather than paraphernalia to a vanished concept. The psuedo-conceptual. From here, this looks like it was fun for awhile and then not. Although it was good to be reminded that, yes, ideas are for sale, this doesn't mean you need a half-a-million dollars to execute a non-idea.

**Perhaps the best piece of evidence I can give of this is Johanna Drucker's rewriting, in _A Century of Artist's Books_, of the initial chapter from Derrida's _Of Grammatology_ ("The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing") as "The End of Writing and the Beginning of the Book." Am I missing something--the original French perhaps--or is this the kind of error that's so huge as to fly by everyone--analysts, editors, Jonathan Culler, French consulates, etc.? This is the guy who talks about "the death of the civilization of the book"?