The state of poets' critical discourse is threadbare. Boosterism doesn't cut it when analytical skill and substance are scrutinized. Slack disdain, boredom are vulgarities of intellect, poor experiment. A better experiment is to see through the imitation, and find ways to espouse what we write.
most of the poetry that affects me (Isaid this would be predictable) is poetry that is in some way conspicuously "unpoetic," a description that no longer has any real meaning in relation to most work which announces itself as experimental, avant-garde, procedural, etc. Stein's famous remark about outlaw and classic literature still holds; there is simply not much that is "outlaw" about a great deal of the current writing that sees itself as following in that tradition.To turn to metaphor as a medium of abbreviation, the gold still in the hills, poetry "that is in some way conspicuously 'unpoetic,'" no longer has any real meaning -- tagged with that i.d., gold -- in relation to "most work which announces itself as" like-gold. Gold affects me, or to use another abbreviation, X affects me, but the term X (gold, unpoetic) doesn't mean anything to (most) entities that call themselves like-X (almost-X, near-X, fake-X, workshopped-X).
The questions that go begging are, What are the poems that affect you? What are their qualities other than the problematic "unpoetic" one? What would be good substitute terminology for "unpoetic," "outlaw," "avant-garde"?
A broader line of questions begins. Are you complaining about terminology, "unpoetic," for example? Or do you see what affects you no longer can be described sufficiently, forcefully as "unpoetic," because it is more that this or something else? And finally, for now, is there in the sum of contemporary poetry somehow less of what affects you, and does that dimunition prompt your ambivalence and apathy?
A P.S. of sorts. Kasey goes on to point to one aspect of the unpoetic -- a willingness "to resist the stifling influence of self-appointed Guardians of the Ideological Purity of the Experimental Contemporary." Both the influence and constituency of these Guardians are not yet clear, not in the least "conspicuous." Kasey perhaps sees a linkage between Guardians and "publishing/arts-funding mafia(s)"; on the other hand he feels MFA programs, their staff, etc. are "not the problem. Academia is good." I'm wondering then how provisional that bifurcation is -- the divide between mafias and Academia -- and whether further elaboration of Guardianship, as it were, might reveal degrees of academic complicity.
November 11, PA's, Union Sq.
This one almost got away, comments from an older notebook I misplaced.
"Bits of refrain dovetailing...collecting sonorous echoes" -- almost-familiar backdrop snips from two poems in Peter Gizzi's Some Values of Landscape and Weather. Peter read from this text and a longer sequence from The Outer Nationale, forthcoming from Wesleyan. The impression from both books builds a "stupid indelibility / of birdsong...wind, all that rustle." Peter's goal could be soothing, sonorous bravado to counterweight the "ding-dong decay" and "tink-tink" of wind chimes, as your "cells [are] wobbling / to stabilize / your dinky atomic / clock, O?" Then, with other poems, it's more than life affirming mortality: it's a will to refabricate -- "Victoriana fanning into empire" (the poem "Hawthorne"); to obfuscate -- "Desire...or a lone tire track -- they were the same" ("Wind"); to show how the "fanfare of stone air" can be done -- "This is a poem about breath, / brick, a piece of ink / in the distance" ("Edgar Poe"). And then, the perpetual jacketing of botanic and ornithological metaphors complement particularities of Peter's wife's poetry, newly evidenced in Elizabeth Willis's Meteoric Flowers. Life-affirming, fabricating, complementary, Peter's new work feels more corporeal, moves in many directions, all one large direction, really, struggles "to get to the body and other noises," reaches a point where "behind The Grail and new elm, the alien says welcome." All that rustle.
Speaking of the corporeal, Rosmarie Waldrop read from an unpublished manuscript as well as her New Directions Curves to the Apple; one section of the latter reprints her The Reproduction of Profiles. These are profiles in physics, physique, and seduction, I believe: "...bodies fitted like links in the chain...you hoped people were watching...the salt reached saturation...I did not know where I lost my body as it had no vowels..." Rosmarie speaks from nature performed like a black mass to sacred woods and human form, "the deepest rivers are no rivers at all...the wind dispersed the sycamores," as the he-she dialog darts through trees of life, chanting over his "exhibitionism," her "dark inside the body," his "not talking to me to disguise his thoughts," her miserere "if I threw myself in, could I figure out his chemistry?" There's a lovely solid head in place in all the ceremony (thank goodness) that argues against too much division between his body and hers. "You said it might be different if we could stay outside logic. I knew you meant barefoot." Beyond the raw physical, Rosmarie also tried "a little useless geometry" and other calculations, a mental language to test ideals "justifying an opaque body" and attempting to find "Which is effect? Which is cause?" One answer is to walk the earth "almost like orphans...words in the distance...or on paper," words "to tie ribbons to the idea of body."
November 11, Lily Pad, Inman Sq.
November 18, P.A.'s, Union Sq.
My notes on last week's readings are piling up. Brief summaries, then, with apologies to readers I've missed.
A week ago Kate Greenstreet read un-giddy, neo-minimalist poems, detailing a spun-out self-preservation that takes in familial and domestic details and re-radiates them far and wide: "trash just blew across the kitchen floor...nobody's been so happy." There's a time-lost-moving-on quality, at once unfond and plain-spoken -- "to eat alone in truck stops" and "Hardly cry at all." The sense of roads not taken as well as "disappearing to control content" permeates her highly ambitious blues project, her persona "being one of three or four people we might have been." In the sequence titled "Great Women of Science" from her recently released case sensitive, within one paragraph Kate's enabled a set of sparse images to stretch the blues into half a generation of untold notes to exile:
I was nervous, but nobody looked at me twice. And by the time I'd pulled up to number fifteen, and got my mother's good suitcase and the rest of my tunafish sandwiches in on the bed, I felt pretty good. I locked the door, both locks, and unwrapped another sandwich. And drank a glass of water from the tap, with a toast to my escape.Kate's tropes are devastating realia, mother's good suitcase, sandwiches on the bed, both locks. Or, from the same sequence, time, a universal impingement, again weighs in with this less imagistic, toughened narrative:
"There are places that we go -- to keep from going somewhere else. Well, partly, we've been waiting our whole lives --"There's constant movement, then, searching for the hard particular. As with her graphic art, Kate realizes the easily visualized are nothing much in themselves; even "bones / are unremarkable." It's what's not seen right off, like a self at a truck stop, that "isn't quite right." She admits, "Things got complicated." Then cites another's language, "'It's hidden / in the ordinary.'" There's a lot of partially hidden citation in case sensitive. Lest we assume Kate is processing only a "lived" experience, check footnotes to "Great Women of Science." Her seemingly-self-involved accounts call up and answer quotations from Loraine Niedecker and co-minimalist Agnes Martin. The artist can indeed disappear "to control content," controlling self and any impulse toward regret for the greater science of movement in poetry.
There were millions.
There were all those years.
I don't know that many New York avants who keep track of their Yankee heritage. John Godfrey knows where he comes from, but it hardly enters his poetry. There's Coolidge, but he's not much of a New Yorker, and he too works off and away from the stalwart pedigree (if that's the term). Joe Elliot is one Yankee unmistakably crazy about lineages of things. For the poem "What We Know About the Iceman" Joe inserts known data about a 25- to 40-year-old male who "died around two hundred / generations ago." The slender data get truncated as Joe repeats himself so that previous lines get reduced to "generations ago / ago / go / o." That funnel sound includes everyone, I think, as Joe is no snob. "If you can't arrange your own birth / then SUSpend disbelief ANd just BE a bEing..." he incants in "For a Granary Opening." Poems in Opposable Thumb take up the primary and risky, all-encompassing business of hoping something happens: "this something doesn't happen yet / the perpetual tension of this / anticipation provides that indefinite stability / the system needs to grow..." Joe's clear exposition here, especially in a key term, "indefinite stability," operates as his gloss on hope, more typical of the New York School variety, that is, hope and attentiveness that characterize a slew of poets, from James Schuyler looking out his window to John Ashbery getting drenched by every "sexual moment." Consider the brassy piece titled "Rehearsing for Shows I Know Won't Open," where Joe asks, "Is the admission of a ploy a ploy?" Like Schuyler, perhaps, but in this case also like O'Hara, Denby, his skill is so light a touch, a bantam weight's, he taps you on the cheek for a knockout, as he continues:
Unable to move on to a new thoughtRed pumps, rainwater, the backyard. As I said, Joe is no snob.
I simply repeat the one I just had
Unable to move on to a new thought
I simply repeat the
and 'the' becomes a trellis for circumstance
and votive red pumps
and rainwater in a tin can in the backyard of an ordinary house for sale...
November 9, BU
Fanny Howe is one poet associated with Boston who winds up on most everyone's list of likeable, accomplished practitioners. Published by mainstays such as UC and Greywolf, Fanny could be mistaken as a parcel of official verse, along with Dana Gioia, for example, and Robert Bly (Greywolf) while others place her within an academically-sanctioned, emerging post-language movement with Joshua Clover and, perhaps, Juliana Spahr (UC). There's little doubt her language takes pleasure from slants of narrative pointed at travels and human character, memories of family and landscapes, often partly recouped or resolved by observation that is also a question in search of conditions before family, before culture, even -- or, vice versa, inquiry that evolves as a sighting of something more basic than what's conventionally observed. In a semi-abstract sequence from On the Ground (Greywolf 2004), Fanny sees "Inside this egg the walls are lacquered blue..." Here are the next four lines:
Creamy tones of windowsillThe "egg" is broken open for interpretation. Would this be Fanny's pre-cultural condition exposed? Or womankind's? Or, indeed, that of "Man"? I'm a bit up in the air over how domesticated the interior appears, and Fanny seems unconvinced, too (Dawn from hell on up); still the rooster-Man conundrum (deny, deny, deny) is facile, and it raises questions. Let's finish the sequence:
and slat. Dawn from hell on up
I hear a rooster deny, deny, deny
or is it Man
Lies smell in every detailMaybe the language here does not rise to the proposed semi-abstraction, defining what Fanny observes as lies "in every detail," mere echoes of apocalypse and treachery. The narrative in pursuit of a pre-Biblical condition carries a stiff object lesson, but it's one that is partly self-canceling (Lies) and because of this, it's unresolved, perhaps necessarily.
as the light increases in this shell
Maybe the end of the world happened long ago
A whirl as quick as Judas breaking his neck
and every sound is an echo
Fanny chose poems from On the Ground for the largely undergraduate audience at BU's College of Basic Studies. The poems gambol on "living in mouth and eye [but] part of the world is earlier than this." She's halfway out there, as it were, but like the rest of us she's half-worshipper within a cultural system, but no doubt more respectful than most, wanting "to return all words back to prayers they once were." Fanny read a number of unpublished pieces as well, many travel notes about Ireland, "tar black roofs...faces made of brick." She describes these as reflections of the itinerant life (hers?) without memory (a compositional trick). In one piece she looked over a patch of monastic countryside and found more than greenery, "I saw a beautiful place to live ... we [the monks and she] argued on behalf of sex -- nowhere is better than the road to a bog -- flanked by monks, my fear of men recedes." That last bit is an uncharacteristic turn to self-consciousness or, better, a more self-exposed quest for the pre-culture within.
November 11, Poetry Center, Suffolk University
May this duo read every other month, say, for the rest of the decade -- they'll never run out of fresh poetry, never fail to leave me needy for more. The beasts. Del Ray Cross picked poems from the beginning and middle sections of his Lub Luffly, one of two books launched by Pressed Wafer at the reading. Del claims, "my poetry doesn't understand the heart," a wee lie, which he continues, "it requires an understanding of the heart," not only a lie but also a fabulous, tangential instant of special pleading. Here's another tangent. In the poem "7 sins" envy is addressed as a vessel pulling away: "i watch it go // i was in love with the water / that brought that ship to me." It's a mariner's way to spin yarns and make up names for the "words we // don't use," to traverse the ocean of sexual attraction cheating on and lying about the one(s) who got away. When the whole apparatus ships off, it's really sticky, the universal disappearing act that Del locks foreheads with in "7 sins," most remarkably in the section subtitled "lust."
somebody got betweenDel read dozens of poems about love's mounting continuum between ungainly and supreme, one that mentions Kevin Killian, briefly mixing "business with pleasure," poet's job, number one, telling tiny lies that are true. That's what Del is up to in Lub Luffly, "I hack in order to park / on an instant," and adds, elsewhere, "I tell many stories...little ears of ink settle upon each tissue of flimflam / until there's a whole book of em."
you and me. a handsome face
with a handsome body.
we glued ourselves to
the face and body. and
then we squeezed
until it was just us again.
Thank whomever, clap for them, Jim Behrle has welshed on a pledge to publish no book in his lifetime. He must have been mad. Or shaken up by inferred expectations of the poetry clans ("Owls whoop...ready to catch our late show's curtains"). He's gotten over it, obviously, even as he maintains mistrust of blurbing, a careerist institution, for him, as the back cover to She's My Best Friend is a blank, except for the lone, unshaven stick figure, Jim's vaguely S & M self-caricature demanding, "Aw yeah! Blurb 'this'!" Did I just write vaguely S & M?
guess tonite you left the club becauseThose are nearly tentative closing lines to "New Outgoing Message." On cue, the next, "To My Valentine for SM" opens, "I want what everyone wants. The prongs of the vise..." Jim ("who chokes you like / you like it") is the persona, ok? So let me breathe a little to collect myself. Jim is doing things poets of the happy sort have been doing for -- oh, decades and decades -- clubbing, feeling sick and giddy inside, not having what he's having, hating what's desired hurts, loving it too, tasting fame, feeling slightly boozy (with, thank you, no booze), and so forth. He's doing this in what? I'm citing only six or seven lines. All his poems fill with such rouse and a life, one that's unafraid on occasion to acknowledge spirits, the ones "who laugh at / us for being alive." Hey, they're "shrieking or whatever," though "we've never been this happy," Jim says, in his final poem on Saturday, "ruckus served all day."
everything you want is wrong
that's the fist you're feeling
now that I'm famous
November 12, Plough and Stars
Ange Mlinko read mostly from unpublished material and the news is, the poems are visually loopier ("candle flame herniated"), meta-denser ("dreaming continually behind the scenes"), more consensually entwined ("jasmine overpowers journalism") than those in last year's Starred Wire. Her outreach, phenomenologically a triumph, takes in ranges of things tangible or almost so, from particle physics (yeah!) to baby bottoms, along with other, darker stuff, "dappled zinc," fishbowl offices, and "something called the jewelry district." She's not beyond flashing her feminist internationale streak in a series of three poems to chums of Peggy Guggenheim (each with New York, Paris, and surrealist connections), poet Mina Loy; novelist and painter Leonora Carrington, amour to Max Ernst; artist Jacqueline Lamba, Andre Breton's second wife. The scarier work captures that exurban arsenal amassing north and west (make that south and east, in California) of most intelligent cities in whose reflections glass box conference rooms sidle up to blueberry fields, places you can still pick your own, a flank of globalism, as it were, the heavily protected "peninsula of the peninsula" where data get poured over under a "glaucous sky...near Peekskill" and where "rich kids [are] selling back their books." Anti-Julliette new title: "Teenage Royalty." Big laugh line: "lilacs, schnauz for schnauz."
It's been two years since Dan Bouchard has read anywhere, and even longer here in his own city. He chose poems from The Filaments, new from Zasterle. Dan's sense of place -- pirates' coves of Massachusetts -- and attendant history -- including, in this manuscript, that of Pawtucket, RI -- is one distinctive feature to the work, and makes it feel very New England-y. His commitment to flora and flying things, however, is as marked as that of a landscapist off anywhere who's touched by a Chinese tradition in which human animals are only one of many luminous parts: "the paraphernalia that surround pigeons cast shadows that make people look small." The paraphernalia are the "light and no light" that equal "length" in tether grasses; also they are "a pair of voices [whose] tune is like a sieve or ice cutter." At one point Dan asks, "Am I the poet?" -- a way to keep the tune in check as the voice notes goldfinch, a clam shack sign, "bright dogwood stems along walls," and in "Pawtucket" searching for the place a great grandmother once lived, "justice and virtue are worth a look." In the same vein, Dan observes, "the president said 'Bring it on.' Did he say 'Bring it on?' Yes he did and on it came. The pirate game."
November 9, MIT
It's been Clayton Eshleman week in Boston; he's given three public readings, one on his translating Cesar Vellejo, among other things. (His complete translations of Vallejo will be released next week by UC Press in a bilingual edition.) I caught up with Eshleman last night at MIT where he read from his 2003 Wesleyan Press hybrid, Juniper Fuse. Over the last few years, it's safe to conclude, Wesleyan has shown a penchant for releasing poet-project books, that is, poetry and poetics that not only focus on a thematic but also spell out the writer's procedures and 'life investment' in the work. Prose, part personal narrative, part historical and theoretical speculation, verse and verse-prose combinations, heavily captioned drawings, color plates -- Juniper Fuse is a humdinger of the type. By the time his research for Juniper Fuse was completed, Eshleman, along with his wife Caryl, had made more than two dozen sojourns over as many summers to the Upper Paleolithic caves in southwestern France. His obsession is charged with the aim to return to "origins of image-making...the early days of soul-making." These caves are flooded with images, some dating to over 30,000 years ago. I found Eshleman's opening thoughts about what's inside the caves extremely informative, as any foundational statements would be to one uneducated in specialist domains such as Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon aesthetics. I have to say Eshleman sustained my curiosity throughout even while downsizing the role of poetry. Process explanation is Eshleman's forte. Try this passage about visual intake affected by crawling on hands and knees and squirming to move into and through the caves:
if one were to film one's posture through this entire process [...] it might look like a St-Vitus dance of the stages in the life of man, birth channel expulsion to old age, but without chronological order, a jumble of exaggerated and strained positions that correspondingly increase the image pressure in one's mind --Conversely, the poems are often as high-sounding as the last stanza from "Cemeteries of Paradise":
Packed with perpetuity'sThere is something of an alpha veil about the poetics here. If I can concoct a meaning for alpha veil, it might refer to a self-engaging, world-builder impulse, a throwback to the XIXth century, one which indeed resulted in great expansions in natural and applied sciences. To accomplish tasks, a self-study will often rush on while she or he continues speaking to himself, recognizing "wordflora" is a make-it-do term for cave drawings and glyphs, maybe, not stopping to examine fully or further explore the semantic mobius strip entwined in "negation" that is "packed" inside a filigree of veil. Eshleman's material, stones impregnated with horse heads and vulvae, clay bison with cracked torsos, images of Gods with bird-beaked stanchions, these are fascinating, soulful topoi that await even more project work and poetry.
negation, with swaying wordflora,
the alpha veil still refuses to unravel.
November 8, Sackler Museum, Harvard
Lyn Hejinian says she finds it hard to write nonsequitur. I believe her, though in one sense Hejinian has been composing nonsequitur, seemingly with ease, from the first published diaries.
I was reading several books at once, usually three.This snippet from My Life -- which Hejinian did not read last night -- indicates, in another sense, we're leaping ahead in a narrative flow, moving cohesively from reading to the typewriter, musing about the very instruments that occasion writing, desiring more. In the first of three long works that Hejinian read, a piece titled notably "The Unfollowed," she attempts, as explained in her preliminary remarks, a series of elegies "built of nonsequitur to refute death as a logical outcome." The premise strikes me as wishful or mock-naïve. Yet, Hejinian's tactic of deploying nonsequitur is more in doubt, as the result is more leaping narrative following its peculiar logic, surely, while hardly inexplicable or nonverifiable or unexpected. Here are some run-on notes from the first minutes, with a few patches missing, transcribed as fast as I could capture them.
If faster, then more.
The typewriter at night was classical.
...fog rolls in... someone follows me... the visible is rough... all kinds of words here... November 8, what kind of beginning is that? ... another kind of sphinx trick... up go the shades tonight... the sun is too coherent..."The Unfollowed" is a work in progress, long enough to allow itself a little funk, rhyming at times (jam / ham; chairs / stairs), off-sounding in the obvious ("the here and now is always current, or is it?"). Hejinian also read from Slowly (Tuumba 2002), a "protest poem" that might encourage one to stop rushing and "regard the dark...finding unapologetically what painters have known for years." This work is more perambulatory, less personal account than urban desire, a walk-through with skyscrapers "outskirting" and, somehow, "intangible as futility." Bleaker moments suggest more unfulfilled desire, in which every inch is "premonition," just "look up cascade, see failure." Hejinian's third work was a selection from another project in progress loosely based on Scheherazade. One again feels force distributed between unscientific nonsequitur (dreams are internal criticism) and comprehensible narrative metaphor (every dinner table is a bridge). The persona here, the I, takes on a few other jobs, those of pilot, voyager, emergency technician, merchant's wife, sailor, "a poignant catalyst." Hejinian declares "I am self-taught shred" toward the end of her reading. That covers it, except for her closing lines, the night's most memorable, finding herself at the crossroads of "a great forest. I have just one memory of it, but I want two."
November 6, Tazza, Providence
Rodney Koeneke read almost exclusively from Musee Mechanique, half the time reciting sans text. This is verse shorn from detritus of search engines (Rodney's descriptor, one many disavow, "Google sculpture"). Delivering poems like pizza from memory sets up haunting tricks of spectacular dissonance. It's one thing to take bodily possession of word combinations that are "out there" in the public domain (a web page, say), that cohere by sheer happenstance (search data on the page) and will of the poet (reassembling the data). It's entirely a new feat of criminal merchandizing, though, to come off possessed of those word combinations -- that is, to invest a lyric inevitability and mechanized order in happenstance through corporal memorization. The affect is bug-eyed insincerity that demands to be taken in and fed until it implodes.
Our bags have several uses:The purposes of corrupted innocence are many, of course, but Rodney's link to a) unhingedness thanks to what's happened to our belief systems since 9/11 -- suggested by Rodney in his brief intro -- and just maybe b) a much-needed poke in the eyes of ideologues who've forgotten to check their serious baggage at lyric's door. There are other purposeful subtexts, we know, because Rodney told us. Poems in the series titled "On the Clamways" toy with Clark Coolidge but are really concerned with sex and advertising, just like Coolidge! In addition, I'm sure Rodney wants to reinforce bad taste and spoil the eating experience. I spilt my Tazza panino when he read "Pizza Kitty." Wouldn't you? "'What turns you on, Pizza Kitty? / Mommy does not like to get kitty kisses... // 'Kitty, come down!' Pizza / all over our bodies."
The Auto Club float (decorated entirely by Auto
Club members); carnation smoke that trails the plane; Kaffir lilies
with oblong tongues.
David Trinidad goes to memories to tell us how it's doing today. One of several pink poems recycles 60s lipsticks. Polar bear pink, pussy willow pink, daredevil pink, Jupiter pink, E. S. pink, snuggle pink, helpless pink. Today for David, as for most poets, is the writing presence; more, David includes memories as emphatic, forward-moving parts of a dynamic technology of the now. In a poem that mentions regret, the persona loses the boy, but "drove home and put him in a poem...later it rained. I know from the poem." Memory, then, the writing presence, fellow poets and, yes, Poetry are primary data, with elegies for Tim Dlugos, James Schuyler (with a "popsicle blue sky"), a memorial for Loraine Niedeker and another piece for living poet and friend Elaine Equi (about a doll memorial!). David's last piece excerpted three sections published in Combo 14/15 from the 20-part "A Poem Under the Influence." It's poetry about composing itself, its constraints, its repetitions, its initial design as a 20-day project taking up to two years to pull together its human connectedness to "pink threads": "Poem / which became, some time ago, as much about what I can't fit in / as can. All those / memories..." Memories and feelings, hard to express credibly, so more memories first of the famous, the Dali Lama and Sylvia Plath, and then they "drive in a circle" to recall a Bob, a Henry, an Ed, "another old friend who died during the / writing of this / poem." When feelings emerge they go to essentials: "What's the point of all that intense / foreplay if it / doesn't lead / to acute core-reaching fucking?" This is a question reflecting on a sexual encounter, but could easily apply to the poet inquiring after his own presence-as-foreplay that requires total E. S. pink daredevil helplessness to move forward writing the now.
November 5, Demolicious, Cambridge
James Cook read his "projections" for The New Cartographers series, now in pamphlet form, first appearing this summer at the New Arts Festival in Gloucester where James is based. His piece, titled "Cartoglossographia," has two sections similarly subtitled in graeco-cognates: cartopedegraphia and cartoglossolalia. Charles Olson's self-as-teacher influence is obvious, James's beginning with snips from The Maximus Poems, an epic that derives from Olson's formula "about a person and a place." James calls his piece "a draft," and I think that's accurate. I find open stretches in the draft exposition, which after the Olson citation, asks "Where the hell am I?" but marches on in the fourth sentence, "Walk the boundary of your town." If some self or person will be examined here, we'll benefit from knowing how and why he or she shifts from I to you. Admittedly, several paragraphs or stanzas in, James declares, "I am not on the map. I exist but marginally." Then, "You are here. I am not." This insistence on only "you" is contradicted again and again by I-headed propositions -- I swam; I am eager; I have mapped, etc. So the person part of Olson's formula is up for grabs. The place part (Where the hell am I?) is clearer if many times more abstract (on the surface) than Olson's (or James's) Dogtown. It's a word map that unfolds as it merges physical and political attributes (the tree by the foodstand; the coastline for the taking) with appropriation (from William Blake, Italo Calvino, Fanny Howe, others). I especially like it when James plays along with citation. Jorge Luis Borges's "abominable" mirrors with copulation are countered by James's "The menu is not the food." Even better, after citing Robert Duncan three times James is reminded of Dunkin Donuts, a Gloucester mainstay if there ever was one.
Ric Royer organizes Baltimore's Transmodern Performance Festival and works with the Performance Thanatology Research Society. A University of Buffalo grad, Ric combined or, better, doubled performative and linguistic acumens for hilarious theater of the eat-your-reflection variety. The set-up goes like this. Dressed normally, almost blandly, Ric takes to the podium as expected, doesn't even trip over a gaggle of computer and projector wires, speaks at a super conversational level on his interest in a Doubles Museum out of Calgary for goodness sakes. He introduces through narrative Museum curator Dr. Armand and his vain pal Jill. They seem to miss opportunities to get closer to one another, Ric relates. He's about three minutes into this "intro," lifting up exhibit pieces, Q-tips, Doublemint gum, a two-headed nickel, and so forth, and one realizes one is trapped, "helpless," looking at the "face of one's face reflecting as if translating" one's body "contorted" by (drum rolls, please) secrets revealed -- one is co-equal, co-blown away with the performer, "twins, one more like the other." It's a downlow deadpan tongue in one's cheek. Get it out of there! Don't get any closer than the black-and-white slides (for that archival feel). Turn down the lighting -- there's a glowing Macbook from which Ric could read occasionally, but the monolog is extemporaneous, mostly, breaking into a growl at one point, arms overhead: "If you throw up your own hands it means you have eaten them," Ric said. It was great.
A week ago Muqtada al-Sadr succeeded in breaking up U.S. checkpoints around Sadr City where an American service man is thought to be held hostage.
House Majority Leader John Boehner this week cites generals on the ground for failures in Iraq.
Detailed instructions for building a nuclear bomb were taken down from a U.S. government website a few days ago.
"What are you smoking?" Tony Snow responds to a reporter's question whether timing of Hussein's verdict and death sentence were coordinated by the White House.
ABC News reports the polls are now tightening.
Bruce is a video star.
November 2, BU School of Management
Paul Violi is the only poet I know who went to BU (undergrad), the only BU grad I know, period. This is odd, given that the megaplex literally hovers down the street. I taught there for a couple of years before Harvard. At the time, president John Silber's iron will in evidence, the place felt spooky. (It still does.) (Echo effect.) Turns out my teaching went all right, and the collegiality there was no more ironic or unsympathetic or vapid than at MIT, Harvard, or the two national universities where I taught in Japan. I just disliked the mall cleavage. Or too many still-adolescent guys, with no features, who couldn't stand out even if they wanted to -- they didn't. It feels like a crowded prep school that mom, along with dad, who owns a dealership or something, ships you off to to get processed so you can compete better. The School of Management intensifies that feeling. Shiny, expensive 595 Commonwealth Avenue might stand tall across from a Goodyear plant. Lobby-wise, pablum-hued marble floors reflect lovey's panties and the social democracy statues, watered down from models in Terry Gilliam's "Brazil."
I go on about megaplex atmospherics, because they affect Andrei Codrescu deeply, I'd guess. He read, or maybe I should say he showed up, in a fourth floor meeting room of some paneled veneer sort. This is a newer big-bucks building, remember, but the carpet was glazed with soda and foodstuffs -- maybe that's why they chose an Orlando hotel pattern? to mask what buildings and maintenance miss? Let me get to the ugly parts. Suited audience. At least one gum chewer. Late arrivals, with briefcases, walked into the middle of the reading, prancing from the back to the front, scouting out the 'best' seats. (Future management types.) An audio-visual bitch (I'm sure she's a very important A-lister in another life) opened and re-opened a door, up front next to Codrescu, to adjust knobs at the lectern as Codrescu was reading. Oh, what? both times she's holding a conversation with someone invisible on the other side of the door.
Codrescu claimed to like it. "It's nice to be interrupted twice." Then, he was interrupted often by his discursive preludes to and commentary on a handful of poems. His NPR stints notwithstanding, he's not filled in the Big Personality, not this evening, but he ad-libbed a half-amusing tale of the Romanian American "convert to the old faith of poetry," whose "vocabulary is smaller than my feelings." Based in New Orleans, Codrescu finds his city "the most spiritually interesting," even before Katrina (cheap rents), but now more so: "Poetry is doing well there -- no health care, psychological devastation," etc. Certainly his earlier poems deliver on his standard of "poetic terrorism," but Codrescu lets time and his academic work turn down his heat. Last night he argued that a poet's only geography is Greyhound, but notably he was rushing to make a flight back to teach in New Orleans. Still, Codrescu remains an acute self-critic and poetry observer, mentioning he heard Alice Notley read last week in New Orleans. "She is America's most interesting poet now," he said.
October 21, MIT
Alice Notley read from two books released in 2006, Grave of Light and Alma, or The Dead Woman. This was her first Boston showing in 24 years, speeding through a bounty of poems as if to make up lost time, but not so; she had a lot to convey in her brief hour of perpetual experimentation. Her reading communicated more than an appetite for experiment and something else necessary but rare in poetics, trance. Beginning and concluding with pieces from Grave of Light, her new and selected, Notley sung in constructs spanning beyond three decades, remarking that when looking at poems of the 70s and 80s she discovers "a person I don't recognize anymore. I find that interesting." Lack of self-recognition is conditioned by living pragmatism that compels diminution of enculturated forms of thought and language, such as self-regard and short-term memory, in favor of more aestheticized idioms. The larger, hipper impression, I believe, is that the Notley who read to us last week is as unlikely to remember the person writing from the day or night previous as the person who wrote decades earlier. More like Dante tuning up through Whitman, but also like Dickinson, Wieners, and several New York poet-colleagues, Notley in her selected poems is pointed relentlessly against simple self-satisfaction and minor stance: "I am the people," Notley proclaims, and we need to stay alert, "That's how you get to be yourself thinking of Frank O'Hara." (If her logic escapes you, just try.) When Notley read from Alma, or The Dead Woman, the trance state was cinched. Clinched. The texts are as dark, twisty, and encrypted as any Inferno in American English. This isn't fair, no snippet will do it, after all, but taste all her moves in just these six lines.
we were all this isThe passage cited is from a page titled "The Spy Appears." We are welcomed as text-conscious spooks (what does that mean?) within a labyrinth where Carmen is, among other entities, a song. Alma (a spy's spy, always there though unnamed, often) is a god, a junkie, a dead child, so many things. What gives? The texts are about researched fear and what chirps beyond terror. Other titles might help. "The Coming War"; "Negative Space"; "They Are All Dead Today"; "The Dead Are Not Happy." The first few lines of the poem "Terror," may also help. Notley read this to great affect:
they were that too.
the spy instantly freaks. what does that mean? what can those words mean? Carmen says but i never have to know i only sing.
we were all this is
they were that too
as fate i don't feel it but i do the research Moira says. terror is allowed in. and then, the fate shape is made. as if you must feel it for it to be your fate.Until I heard Notely enact her new poetry I had not uderstood why I am unglued, had not recognized my own need for a language and method for understanding, as I had not yet confronted a credible personal account -- no, a personal insertion -- within a globe full of tedious badness, full of the now. These poems and Notley's performance of them are miles over the top. It's been more than a week now. I have not recovered.
i, i have none now -- terror, except at being here at night sometimes. or is it at what has happened to me.
[I should add here that I am being serious.]
Bharati becomes something about our demise -- Bharati as a mobile phone service subscriber, unnoticeably an ulterior motive fashioned into a user profile. My own motives aren't the least bit ulterior, redirected from fragmentary and lost sources (rain).
[Spot had just turned 'about' from a trip to Thunder Bay with Lance. Spot discovers and contacts Keesha and me. These should work for most men with Lance problems, says the expert panel co-chairman ... So which fox drug is best? The expert won't say. Barb? Spot?]
Why make so much of fragmentary blue in here and there a bird, or butterfly?
A surrogate image is corroding on the field, its emptied refraction dancing on the taillight of aural preclusion of experience for syntactical beings (in a sentence).
The cliffside depends on weather, on the power grid, on the rust fabric of walls about to be torn down, on the danger of falling cornices (they did).
[The first Keesha, a 13-yr-old, accidentally applied an enema containing lye. But she also had Donald Sutherland's bio on her. Does or did he mention lutefisk -- fish jellied in lye? Not sure.]
Rain is widely construed as inaudible tendencies toward plundering of contexts in relation to the body's asymmetry and neuropsychology.
Rain can only be descrewed during dry spells. Fever, ague, intemperance, railroad spine, neurasthenia, all emerge otherwise, the flu, the common cold, silenced.
How do I threaten a referent on the Could page? I'm writing this for one reason only, so the receiver will sound an alarm (an annunciator light).
Duly of course sounded.
[Rain, dew lied, scored, so undid. Common rail favor tampers with the road pine. They flew. The co-old. Lanced.]