The cupboard looks bare. What'sup? Ultimately, I started this for me and my bridal search, and because I liked the weblogging medium. Maybe Pierre Bourdieu says it better: "Magnified preferences ['tastes'] of capital distribution change like butt paste and discount cosmetics and subdominant esthetic fields both balloon and mature. Like on that trip to Vegas." Bourdieu goes home to his Cajun kitchen, after, and hears a voice in his head. "One can gain knowledge from my shortcomings as well as my insights." Thus Song of the White Swan (son ultime texte) -- a snob's snob analysis of the heterodoxology of ethereal release where acolytes feel their way like stage hands approaching cultural masculinisms as "un amor fati," exposing the false universality of scenery (reave notoriety farina).
Well, ah! Thanks for the loose projectiles. My jowls drip with hyper-doo from that last entry, below, especially in ascribing the humor categories, all dozen of them. The intent was, you got it, burgeoning gosh, non-serious. Nobody, evidently, savors being holed up in one un-nuanced facet of her output, however, and why the Cheney couldn't I see that? Comedy, amusement, these are some of the last skillful things to get right is why. And it's not going to do any good to say that Pantaloons is affiliated with the "Shouts & Murmurs" page of The New England Journal of Homeopathy, is it? (To which scantily clad pucks fire back in one unmodulated voice, there is no such page and no such zine, and why the Karl Rove not?) Poets are particularly sensitized to the word 'affiliates,' I suppose. Conceded, David Reisman saw this art-for-the-perception-of-camaraderie coming since, you see, art is a microcosm of the giga-lonely American tree that is overgrown and that has nowhere to go but that is still filled with enough self-regard to be haunted by the chase to eat of its kind. Larry Fagin, Douglas Messerli, Steve Clay, publishers who are (or may be, in Clay's case) poets, know this. They've spent a good amount of their lives in service to (eating?) poets and, more to the point, in service to defining schools of poets, fabricating camaraderie of a tall order. Yet how often do the poets curl up with a book of Fagin's poems? How often do they sup with him? Might be Fagin's fate is a facile and pathetic illustration of the shrinking prospects of affiliation used up. But it is only illustrative, since species-wide the buck loses color over time, a fate that awaits even lovers among poets, I am told. The tricky part for the artist is the work that does not fade but that is safe-kept by a barkeep in New Haven for reckoning later.
Kristin Prevallet is on a mission. Several missions. Scratch Sides, subtitled "Poetry, Documentation, and Image-Text Projects," collects a pile of found items and reworks them into sincere falsehood. The first two sections of projects run on juxtaposed sentences or sentence fragments lifted from newspapers, e-mail, web searches, and the like. Middle sections document Prevallet's interest in fantasy narrative to accompany random-focus snapshots, for example, in "The Catalogue of Lost Glimpses," a "faux-ethnographic text," as Prevallet self-knowingly describes it in her ample end notes. Closing sections of Scratch Sides are the best reads, perhaps because they are in part tributes to other writers, borrowing inspiration from Robert Creeley, Dodie Bellamy and Brenda Coultas, among others. The visuals throughout have a catch-as catch-can feel -- hand-drawn loops on graph paper, sidewalk video stills, web-based passport shots downloaded and reprinted as-is. In the "Key Food" project, however, Prevallet messes with lurid fonts, rewriting supermarket coupons in fat, sloppy letters. A tomato sauce offer reads, "Crash & Burn Playdough F#!k Lego." Prevallet's principal aim is to amuse, but some of the juxtaposed texts go on too earnestly or too long without a sustained ironic pitch. In "Synthesis B" she lists 17 items from "A Glossary of Terms" for shopping The Gap online and defines them by resourcing a UFO piece from Fortean Times. Funny idea, mixed results. Pleat is defined as "an infant-like state generally pressed flat"; tint is "black helicopters and stealth aircraft, usually pale or delicate." In "After It" Prevallet shows her gift for unearnest mimicry, sending up Creeley's bent for taut, sweeping observation:
Lost in an embryonic lull where color and speech are the string around a finger forgetful of emergence as such.
That "as such" replicates Creeley's off-handedness, but it is also genuine stooping to a level of insincerity and dumbness that Prevallet could gamble more with, were she unearnestly to let go.
Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You Juliana Spahr
"Conceptually provocative," Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You is fashioned from "documentary poetics," according to back cover copy. The poems have an anthropological feel, made up of short lines of anywhere from one to seven or eight words, divided into six interdependent sections, reverberating with variations on diphthongs and key words to convey the inarguable. "Oh yes. We are lost there and here. / And here and there we err. / And we are that err. / And we are that lost." This is from a two-page piece, the only poem in the first section. The poem ends with "tear." The second section has nine one-page poems that continue themes introduced in the first, as well as listing examples of "da kine," the unattainable best, the Hawaiian pidgin term for this. Since Spahr is a colonial to da kine, she's sure to note that, and by extension her lists create implicative spaces in which we may infer how her exotic status is also ours: "So da kine is complex and the word / means anything and that is what is / lovely about it. // As lovely as a tattoo tear." This section concludes, "...For da / kine. I am reaching." Other sections have multiple pages of fleet poems that ricochet with what precede, as well. The last poem of the third section, for instance, begins, "The metaphor here of how we / need // and how we reach..." One section that stands on its own is titled "a younger man, an older man, and a woman." Although Spahr is detailing the movement of three acrobats performing under the rubric "Living Sculpture," her descriptions relate more universally to relational provocation: "A younger man and an older man / are support. A woman is a tower." Or: "We build ourselves into a / configuration. // We tremble as we do this." Spahr's rapacity for didacticism shows up, however, calming things down, "In culture a woman leans her body / forward across their arms." Sensual dislocation saturates the lyricism so that it winds up swimming with and against the current, having it both ways, aspiring to a disassociative meaning, "our personal story" beginning "with a list" and culminating in culture, and thus "it is what remains," but "it is switching...and it feels strange this / way, top of tongue on top of / tongue."
Chinese Whispers John Ashbery
Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2002
Even if your contention is that a half dozen or more earlier books are more splendid than Chinese Whispers, where would that leave us? "The spring has gone under -- it wasn't / supposed to be like this." Like fools, we let him into our house. As titmouse or watershed as mayhap in dreams, our Grand Guignol trickster's up to his old poetry. Iris and the little ones have run out onto the interstate. Listen, John Ashbery's nasally inspissated by fears. The exploded road becomes a kiss. We -- you and I guess -- are the undeserving nabobs and goners now. His appetite ("I'd like to handle you, / bruise you with kisses") is "a little too blue in mid-morning," yet Ashbery's never going to stop stuffing himself on (a) the ancients (Red Skelton, FDR, Sleeping Beauty, DeSoto); (b) frigging place names in America (Utica; Shoehorn, Kansas; Amber, Tennessee; Bakerloo; Duluth); (c) masticated parole ("we were cool / with that"; "a lady raises a far shuttle"); (d) blistering self-critique ("The nexus of the star is a superbrain"). Ashbery forces satiric verse back into, yeah, wait, I have a riddle for you: hangman, hare, a sun which passeth its zenith, an abstract assent, curses, an arrow ("my arrow"): "Cells in the wind," he calls them, and that's just in the last two-pager, "Sir Gammer Vans," atypically brief. Others in more space can examine Ashberian cohesion, "gauzy syntax," he writes, here. I would suggest Ashbery's command over argument ranks as biblical (that is, it's traceable to elevated prose narratives from the Old Testament), were I not more interested in imagining his progress making "headway" in multi-tonal sonata-like exposition. This is because his propositions are so plentiful, elaborated so distinctly, he can set forth an A-B-A musical cartouche faceted to its core with argumentative complexities. Check out Part II of "Heavenly Days," the penultimate poem, abandon for the moment Ashbery's semantic deftness, and follow the syntax by isolating his expository transitions. First sentence in Stanza One (A) proposes, "Between sleep and rubbish is" blah -- followed by "though" and "if" in second sentence. Third sentence: "Yes." Fourth: "When..." The pattern is assertion qualified and conditioned, then re-proposed, further conditioned, and so on. Stanza Two (B, counter to A) starts, "Still..." Stanza Three (A, the recap) contains a quick opening proposition commencing, "As it was..." and a nine-line final sentence beginning, "Then..." Of course, other times Ashbery cuts down on the transitions: "Too bad he too, when I / am // meaning if I came along it'd / already be too late. // Some of the swans are swarming. / The spring has gone under -- it wasn't / supposed to be like this." That's also a fresh way to make headway. Bracts are neoteric. Coffee? Like alway, new thing.
A Handmade Museum Brenda Coultas
Coffee House Press 2003
I'm as prone to clever procedure as any other reader of the language, I believe. And I'm a complete pushover when language proceeds from a lived praxis, a habit of picking up trash, for example, and a meta-view that dealing in and talking on Second Street bum bed pads, among other things, one is awash in social history and polisci. Nearly half of Brenda Coultas's A Handmade Museum is comprised of "The Bowery Project," subtitled "An Experiment in Public Character." The poems give up a first-person narrator who develops "a joy of dumpsters," cold trash, garbage, puke. We find her squatting down to pick up damp, ruined t-shirts off the street. Cardboard boxes, black plastic bags, and shards everywhere the narrator turns, waking up, "seeing garbage with new eyes" even when 'off-duty,' taking the train to Long Island, she observes a "perfectly in-your-face Hamptons punk-gangster" yelling to his "plain" girlfriend, "This is the worst day of my life, you miserable bitch." Coultas acknowledges dependence on a timeline and half-wishful sleights, "I stack things up. I don't think about it, I put blinders on but hope through accumulation they'll form a pattern out of chaos." The patterns cohere and in the poem "Bowery Mind," for instance, we start to distinguish their pathos from factual reporting -- a man carries "a deflated blow-up doll in a basket...to make a statement," as the man informs the narrator, a statement that encapsulates broader concentric designs: "people moved away...came to cities, all saying this is what I did...for posterity. Along came me saying this is what I did for poetry. A lot of people came here all at once, this is how and why my tenement exists." There are just a few moments (in some of the non-garbage material) when the language veers more mightily toward the piquant rather than not. In the poem "The Human Museum" Coultas provides us with a songlike bio, starting with a day of birth, "I be a small girl my bone ringlets not yet fused," concluding (I think a bit off-key), "I'm a spokesmodel for God. Let me in. / I'm God's spokesmodel, / Please forgive me." More frequent, Coultas assumes her robust 'public character' by breaking through "the anonymity of the page," often in disarming, direct address to her readers: "I learned to write so I could describe the world / the birdhouse is empty / say something beautiful about it." Nudging us into participatory lyricism, as it were, compelled to declare, "I am intentionally writing this for you," not content with passive readership in shared chaos and pattern, "Brenda Coultas covered you in quilts while you were singing."
Projects. Photography. Photo-portraits. Performance piece. Keeping musical scores. Kermit & Klimt. Notes on future poems. Notes on notes. Clack mopery. Documenta flop-flip. Introduction, preface (Anne Tardos interviewed by Lyn Hejinian), errata. Trilingual Two-page Spreads (Ein paar Lungen). Caught in a cage is a Congo bar. The reader / interpreter as plaything -- I like that. Stubbed at random. The globe should be taken seriously. Kingfisher birdie num-num. Collective promptitude. Baby toe expressionism. Shlipky erotica.
The maxipad poem begins like this.
Something was pouring "out." Filling the "field"
sideways as "they" moved forward the crying
the empty bowls on the "table." In the empty hat
of the hero breaking "branches" spreading
wood into the night sky I "understood" about
herds the crying "out" as in a basement
the "height" of passion sawed the breaking
in the miracle cause of the half blood
and how they "fed" loose on their tears
or their "paradise" depending on the weather.
The postman's wife down the road
making it vacant, a "wind" blowing down
as before, suddenly, why they left
overlooking the "sea" and knew the meaning,
the history of five hundred years,
her wings rise up out of the dark
lovers and the river in July
the greatness and then the microwaving began.
"One" could call it the agon the "joy" was at the start or something.
Feeling the urge to read poetry pre-nine-eleven, I rediscover the pleasures of studying Kimberly Lyons's Abracadabra. Apart from absence of terroristic anxiety, the text is remarkable as it can be read along a developmental line that plots a writer's burgeoning dexterity with sensual data, prosodic technique, insight. There are two points to make in this regard. First, there are many episodes, especially in the poems at the beginning, in which Lyons takes us into a kind of lyrical domestic confidence, familiarity that is admittedly artifice but also outright sexy maneuvering. In "Go Dog Go" one deals with manageable visual disorientation that seems to result from some teasing and very playful physical contact, "Blinds / slice the sky / into / levels of / autumnal energy // There's your ball! / a lime green spot / on the floor that covers / my nose..." The song wails like a lovesick pup: Yeah, yeah, he smacks me in the face with a baby fist.
The yellow dog is in the green tree the dogs are having a dog party! that's what I meant
Lyons converts moments like this into discourse that will "extend extravagantly" into a "new realm" where "bedroom curtains of lace and flies / describe an astronomy ... a vault of feeling / encases our tango." If Lyons were only to keep this going, notating what flutters up and around in love, I'd follow her in a heartbeat though exhausted. But Lyons gives proof of generosity that genuinely extends from an embrace toward insight and a prime responsibility, for a poet, the performance of ranges of dangerous emotion through contrivance within verse that in one of its most direct forms concatenates objects of the sayable, felt world: "Say 'party hat,' or 'red couch,' 'lime / green popsicle,' and 'taxi.' 'Umbrella / tree,' 'indigo,' 'come,' and 'promise.' / Breezy big snow drops, egg on the / head..." So this is my second point. Lyons uses poetry not only to make love but to make great things appear and impossibly new and nearly unsayable things -- this is the dangerous part -- "to not be so conscious. / To come here to this park. / The earth becomes closer / yet turns away." I call such paradox real manufacture, the poet's insight and responsibility, because to attempt less fails us as common parlance usually does. W H Auden, through "Caliban to the Audience," argues for a parallel view: "we do at last see ourselves as we are, neither cosy nor playful, but swaying out on the ultimate wind-whipped cornice that overhangs the unabiding void -- we have never stood anywhere else..." Similarly, Lyons's insight is to sway from the indoors out to the cosmos, say, "How ever this room got made, the perspectives / rotate / so as each wall is a universe / of ordering nodes / and a cat will chase a snake will bite the bee / in days to come watch and see."
WHRB, Harvard College radio, hosts a noteworthy orgy this week, playing selections from New York School Composers who practiced post-WWII a complicated variety of serialist and minimalist techniques as well as working with the aid of chance operations. These are musicians who are parallel -- acquaintances and sometimes co-inspirers -- to the first generation of New York School Poets. (The orgy phenomenon is an end-of-semester ritual in which an ample amount of pieces defined by composer, genre, era, etc. airs and in the airing, in many cases, constitutes an audio catalog raisonne.) The most striking affect, for me, so far is a) how un-antique John Cage's music sounds, at times symphonic in its extended but minute measures of abrasive coloration, dangerously overloaded with plucking repetitions and voided centers that moodily echo what precedes; and simultaneous, b) what tedium Cage's spoken text evokes, enunciated in well-bred tones of distraction that restrict enthusiastic intake and call attention to overdependence on 'unauthored' base points in general and, more specific, flat veneration of dogma. While cut-ups, the texts are humorless and crazily unironic. Though I like some of what is said, such as, to paraphrase, everything is caused by everything else.
Africa Wayne takes snaps of landscape or, more, cityscape "worn down" with parks and bridges "without volume," otherwise emptied for the moment of urbane particulars though "trees resemble trees" and people walk on and off as human fragments. These are monochromes of presentiment, aptly timed, perhaps, but also they stand in as classics within a tradition where one becomes engrossed in distinguishing between photographic stasis that is merely 'set up' and convincingly natural deflation projective of torpor and foreboding. For contrast, a narrator stylizes happier, more intimate times: "flaming candelabra. gaudy glee. / I say your smile nightly. / we were giddy once." More often she or he is steeped in entropic apprehension: "you stay seated because of the way the / room feels when you leave." The city stays put, as well, to face its undisclosed comeuppance, "below the constellations there / are streetlights. unlike alone a / neighborhood. balleted between / garages ... measured space / for miniatures ... small castles gather for the pile." Some of Wayne's line-breaks feel almost reckless ("the way the / room"; "alone a / neighborhood") until you realize that they are the equivalent of crop marks, determined more by the typographic measure of the line, with each line's length roughly conforming to previous and subsequent lines. Some poems conclude with internal off-rhymes ("laughter / laster"; "murky / try"; "palms / calm"), but the lyric is "a clip of the rhythm / as the train hits the dark." Prosody and foreboding aside, one value of Tiny Pony centers on returning the city to its stern foundations in collective shelter within a broadly shared occasion for sorrow we label nature.