Shiny 14
Michael Friedman, Editor

It seems only a few months, but Shiny 13 came out three years ago. We presume it took most of three years for Michael Friedman to assemble the sort of master work Number 14 offers in spades. The impression is that only the best would do. Notice how Friedman opens and closes his 150-page collection: to begin, a single-page heart-stopper by John Godfrey, followed by a dozen rare pages from Steve Benson; to cap everything off, three poems from Charles North. Sandwiched between these early-late period maestros, some of the brightest work from poets you'd give your casino winnings to just to follow and imitate (that is, if you're a follower and imitator and winner like me). The poetry here is of a taste set that I associate with Colorado (where Shiny is published), carefully selected and purposefully ordered and, yes, these are implicitly essentialist pieces that play out esthetic strains of New York and San Francisco, typifying a criteria-based, stuff-on-the-page-is-primary editorial ethos (as opposed to work from chums or bits and bobs via random channels). So what is this stuff? Larry Fagin, an editor who has embodied the on-the-page ethos for decades, pours his notes out in brief paragraphs of disjunctive sentences that smart of a future, "sharpened down to next to nothing," under very very late French influence: "The descent, hearing coolly only your own ears, for cabin life is pressurized." The notes are zinging, adding up to widespread excuses for their own sake, some no longer than two or three words: "Chilly tarnish." Or "George said he's already fitted himself for a coffin. Make it click. Lazy folks work the hardest." In "Vancouver Poem" George Stanley -- talk about rarity -- proves his brand of erudition an equivalent of Ashbery's, making his, that is Stanley's, the darker of the horses: "A change in the relation / of background to figure..." as, OMG: "In the dream I lamented the passing of bistros / like the Modern, which was Sausi's 3 reterritorializations back / (bistro, fr. Russian bistro fast)."

Is it just me? or does Eileen Myles undo herself every time she speaks? In "Rene," a memoir piece, she speaks of Rene Ricard (who, incidentally, on Dec. 26, was given a roaring web reprieve at Dennis Cooper's blog) as a "carrier," one who "needed to be a member of somebody, everybody's families." In "Rene" Eileen spells out the irresistible giving as well as getting entailed in interconnectivity and glamor, a social dynamic behind what, frankly, has been lost to many younger poets: carriers are those who have this bundled-up, nervy, outgoing attractiveness (this, um, charisma) and have to pass it on to others (or, at least, empathetically encourage it in others), as Rene and Ted Berrigan, among many, did for Eileen and as she has done:
We were carrying the message, day and night for about ten years. That's about as long as you get. The houses are open and all you need is about three of you to go everywhere and make these gauzy invisible strings between people. It just makes sense that so many of us had time during the day and would stand in one another's kitchen. Smoking and talking and watching our faces change in the light.
There's more, much more. Clark Coolidge continues to stun. First line: "Now it's birds      a new loaf with shutters..." Fourteen 14-line collaborations from Ted Greenwald and Kit Robinson (East and West charismas!) -- "As they one-remove the chains / People like that." People will also like this all-are-lost humoresque from Jennifer Moxley, "The Quest," in which even decency and elegance are subsumed by eco-superordinates: "The arc of grace, a mystical exit from the trap / of birth chance and bloodlines, call it talent / or perhaps obedience: mostly we are poor."

There's more work here than I can point my mouse to. I'm grateful for all poems reflective of vigorous sexual frustration, ones that conflate youth's weariness and her attendant courtship with (or almost with) muse-like 'contact.' And there are a number of them in Shiny 14 -- that seems, in fact, another feature to Friedman's editorial disambiguation, poetry above or near the round feelings of sexiness. If a poem imitates sensual pleasures with or without extraordinary outcomes, that's really cool for Friedman, as in the kick-off "Through the Wall" by John Godfrey. There is "No way through the wall," Godfrey says, but he also instructs us, "I forsake your lips / to get in on the action / Then you are gone / and I get along." Steve Benson follows in similarly bifurcated joy: "...you're stumbling away from that / durable, penetrating pressure, and yet the next thing that you know / you've walked right into it, like a log..." I'm skipping a lot of others' near-bliss, but to give further evidence of Friedman's enduring appetite, I look to Charles North's brief poems of, as I say, an early-late period, one with a give-away title "So Much Writing" that points to "an older / brain that isn't old enough to remember being a celebrant." His are poems about being poems -- better than sex, in other words, as in "Poem Beginning with an Early Poem," there is more work and more than work to embrace since "systematic derangement of the senses / is a go. Erections are hard. Poetry is difficult." Hard and difficult, nothing but the best.


Defining, much less espousing, avant verse for a conflicted era is a daunting task. With so many high-cheekboned grads of first- and second-tier credentialing academies, poetry and publishing, it's, oh you know.. a cross between over-mature, upscale manufacturing for an "informed" demographic and a type of raw, flamboyant guerilla-pandering to younger, trendier appetites.

There was a time when the American avant was stupefyingly inward-directed, outright disenfranchised, far easier to typecast due to the pervasiveness of bad manners that combined streetwise hauteur with a sense of borrowed, uppercrust vulgarity. Avantism's denizens toiled in self-imposed, well-earned obscurity, gaining parcels of notoriety through sheer luck of craft and ironic adherence to a somber code that branded fellow travelers as nonconformist, anti-bourgeois, agnostic. Back in the day, any encounter with tenure or a 9-to-5 job, say, or with organized religion, save a yogi, was grounds for dismissal from the inner circle. Today, the floodgates have swung open. Why, a cathedral-attending youngster with good bones might be a candidate for the new, wage-earning avant if she were to fall into the correct academic environs. The ranks of the avant have swelled, thus "democratized" in that many a well-schooled writer can be enrolled so long as she knows where to find the sign-up list.

Under a mountain of debt, making friends with 'danger.'

This explosive growth in elite poetry circles brings a new set of challenges, however, a plethora of scholastic enthusiasms and stylistic 'varietals' that make whacky practice altogether harder to characterize. How do you label a serpentine semantics within a daybook convention of mixed genres? Or how will critics and academics reach consensus for describing a pronoun-less pantoum addressed to a transgendered threesome, an old-chestnut structure with slightly flared inner rhymes and -- rather than couplets -- tercets of repeating diphthongs?

There is in short obvious need for broadening avant categories. This is why this coming season, post-MLA, after months of deliberation and a series of intense strategy sessions, the avant community finally has pulled together its considerable resources and come up with fresh categories, none of them models of linguistic clarity in itself, though many are now splashed bravely, in a self-congratulatory fashion, across 20-pixel-high banners at web portals of avant publishing sites and showoff blogs. Examples of the new categories: "Traditional Cool Avant," "Transitional Asyntactical Avant," and -- perhaps the most inspired -- "Hip Contemporary Avant."

The American poetics community then is starting to contend with the problem of naming or describing work that is designed to defy categorization. In recent years, as practitioners and indie publishers rebelled against the linguistically-based minimalism that held sway in the late 20th century, an individualistic, mix-and-match eclecticism has become fashionable, and is now becoming the norm. This look -- contemporary blank space peppered with antique and craftsy prosody, a bespoke poetics that tweaks traditional forms with unusual syntax and estranged semantics -- has filtered into the collective avant consciousness, thanks largely to self-publishing, e-magazines, and blogs.

For poets like Enid O'Something and Michael Add-on, who helped pioneer the "new avantism," as it has sometimes been called, defining their approaches was relatively simple. O'Something used the phrase "warm modernism" to set her work apart from what she saw as the coldness of minimalist postmodern poetics, and Add-on spoke of "tradition with an avant twist" -- a term that, along with "warm modern," has since been appropriated by legions of bookstore clerks stumped for a way to explain why old-fashioned verse might now be coated in gangsta discourse or robbed of selective vowels for its own sake. (Elaborating recently on his "vision for avantism," Add-on said, "I see no reason not to offer classic pieces for foundation but always done with mod moxie.")

But how to stand out from the pack when rebellion has become the rule? Names and slogans are now "the hardest part of my job," said Red Angle, the vice president for espousal, youth-scouting, and marketing at Century Publishing in Hickory, PA, who oversees the naming of individual pieces and entire collections for up-and-comers. "Literally, every time I do it I want to quit and find a new career." No wonder. Dreaming up a name for one of the new collections "that’s descriptive and engaging -- not to mention hasn’t already been used, isn’t completely banal, and meets the approval of the rest of the avant management team -- is a nearly impossible task," he said.

It's a mix of eclecticisms beneath a towering rock hurtling downhill.

Coming up with nomenclature for a collection in a way that is compelling, evocative, and clear can mean the difference -- at least to those charged with doing it -- between attracting an entirely new group of customers and repelling existing ones. Consumers of verse these days "define themselves in different terms than the ones we used to use in the poetry industry," like traditional or contemporary, said Bruce Birnbach, co-chair alternate of the working adjunct poetics transitional avant study subgroup of the MLA. "If we speak to them in our industry terms we're going to miss. You have to be very careful about putting the poetry customer into a box."

Sometimes the high stakes can nonetheless lead to a certain timidity. The marketing team at Century spent more than three months conducting focus groups, researching consumer data, and combing thesauruses before introducing a collection that became available to consumers earlier this year, under the rather predictable rubric "New Avant Traditional."

“The words ‘classic’ and ‘traditional’ are emotionally charged words and mean different things for different people,” Red Angle explained of the struggle. “Twenty to thirty percent of our customers say they want traditional, fucked-up poetry but they don't want their grandma’s or their parent’s discontinuity. They want it to be fresher and contemporized so that it’s their own. They want it to have some kind of classic feel, but they want it to be slightly different."

Smaller presses that specialize in hybrid poetry are also finding the naming process difficult. Christian Plasman started Bolierplate Publishing in 2002 to provide what its website describes as a "select portfolio of classic poetic forms inspired by traditional fine contemporary lifestyles." Three years later, after assembling an impressive collection of poetry volumes packaged in a wide array of avant stratagems, the best title Plasman and his colleagues could think of was "Bolierplate Originals."


Benazir Bhutto's assassination today marks U.S. counterterrorist policy an unequivocal failure. As witnessed over the last half dozen years, our domestic economy and political democracy have been put in peril by the solopcism that increments of U.S.-organized warfare and policing can contain cadres of geopolitcial strategists who wrap their appeals in religious fanaticism. Stateside we face our own fantacisms, capitalist, partisan, and fundamentalist, with fewer diplomatic options overseas and no hope that our geopolitics will get smarter. The so-called Middle East and Indian subcontinent are at risk, with only a prospect of Russia and some in the European Union, along with China (in the background), making up for the shortfall brought about by Bhutto's death and diminished U.S. influence.


Kate Greenstreet's Dec. 25 post continues her examination of looks for the holiday.
Geof notes my year-end 'paean' that comes as a 'discount,' too. This is so, and common enough. Geof sees Spencer Selby's "Greeting Almost" behaving similarly.


Year end (or beginning, depending on peephole position) brings on festive designs and perspectives. Among them:

Dennis Cooper's end-beginning comes to us sur vidéo dans le style français.

Ange Mlinko's has been struck by the first sunrise after solstice, and we are struck, parenthetically, to learn that she, blogwise, will be " going emeritus" [sic] soon, again.

Geof Huth's snows, a few neat typoglyphs for the season.

Kate Greenstreet's been thinking out her festivities, mostly in photographs, for three days now, entries dated Dec. 19, 21, 23.


It's been fun being Wallace Stevens. Ask ___ or ____.
God knows poetry is a comic undertaking. Mad as hell, it also knows you're the best of the best, a cabin addiction, thin, harsh, tactfully infernal. You make the others' farce pop in its screwed, me-good duality, unmediated, vain slackness, and simplicity, lowly, fossilized, a deaf gauze. I love the species.


Everything here is a necessity. I've hired a hypnotist. I barge into your cheeky apartment (or that reference to an apartment) and find you naked doing pushups on top of the white shag. My thoughts are just transparent enough to let me see you and conceal you in a cloud.
Viceless meaning, o elusive replica ..


Best Xmas wishes.


Frank Sherlock & Alan Davies
December 8
Pierre Menard Gallery, Cambridge

A mirthful and robust Frank Sherlock came to Boston with a pile of manuscripts, among them three recent chaps, Wounds in an Imaginary Nature Show, Over Here, and Daybook of Perversities & Main Events, from Night Flag, Katalanche, and Cy Gist, respectively. The Wounds text captures Frank's hallucinations while he was hospitalized last winter, recovering from meningitis compounded by kidney failure and a heart attack. He read Wounds and all his work with vigor and a recuperative humor that was remarkable, orchestrating a panoply of contraries, "finding...lost history," "a yearn for the new to be older," sticking with vulnerable, fractured narrative to make it a wholly "walkaround" feeling with "nuanced / angles." You get it, something more than poetry is on the line when Frank says, "I am bruised I am dazzled" and a couple of pages later, "This could / have turned out to be a ghost story." The head "wants to / float free w/out the decapitation," Frank observes, unethereally, while the poems and his performance will to "get down get down." The short, renga-like stanzas of Daybook reach emaciated bottom, fulfilling the proposition that there is "harm in harmony," sounding basso, atonal and not a little offbeat, as the narrator skins himself "to hogtie / the dischord," in which "sovereignty" is "a rebel victor" whose love "wears a wifebeater," and whose children grow into "skeletons that grow to become / something." This is poetry about what's beyond the page, eavesdropping, gunfire, the modest that "becomes vanished," painted bones that "feel / real like painted bones."

As if to commune with Frank's walkaround, Alan Davies read piercing, atonal selections from "ODES and fragments," a manuscript he holds separate from his continuing project of discrete, numbered "books" (Book One, Book Two, etc.). Alan's high-stakes odes are suspended wordplays -- "Flungking slangward (glangward) ... // fluggerer frag slung drag olden klip slankerers ..." -- long breaths of seeming repetition -- "oh yeah that was it what was it was it" -- punctuated with now and again starry equilibria evidenced in some titles with varied capitalizations, "Slooping Down the Long Slope Toward," "Glassine is a color to the wandering eye," "being momentless upon a sea." Alan's atonality is, first, grandiose and, second, plain-spoken, and that's the right order, more than reminiscent -- as gratuitous as this may seem -- of mature Gertrude Stein.
From totemless tea things as if wishing could turn them, all that, to
Something worth taking from life, an afterthought maybe or the sling
Things that we give to one another when giving is not enough, when
Things are not enough, are not things...
Unlike Stein, though, Alan floats a boatload of livid experience, including rage against warfare, against the warred-upon, and against an entirety of the haplessly singing, warring species.
Over the side of the dim hope, the sluck track strack slinkers, the real ones, the yous
And the mes, the nameless (all of us) that gastrously glet misspelt, trimpt, slumpckt
And slaughtered, it’s that simple, or haven’t you been paying any kind of attlention

to this
Other odes move in love-turned, "tilting long avenues of rain" in which "automatically your lipstick / brings me round again." Wordy. Simple. Enraged. In love. It's a perfecta!


New Year's wouldn't be New Year's w/out Joan Houlihan & Fred Marchant's manuscript confab. (Register before De. 21!)
Tom Raworth's idea of Xmas now. (Love the Blackwater figurehead front and center.)


It's not just baseball players. I can't think of a juicier metaphor for the Bush years, for the fattening of the American tribe, for the gummy-bear passivity of young and old leftists, for the flaccid, bloated cultural production we contribute to and consume. Only slim HD video screens from Asia buck the trend of The Steroid Era, yet they too come oversized to operate as the precise foil for showing us off as the fatsos we've willed ourselves to become, to preside over the longest episode of war without a scratch, too pumped to care.


You're not paying attention. (Major Jackson)


There were so many surprises at Frank Sherlock and Alan Davies's reading last Saturday, I can't believe I haven't done a little write-up yet. Soon, coming soon.


Your looking for me was a put-up job, coming again, twice.

You and I fed the hoary marmot composing and defrauding

Those grey and beige minutes, after, as they hobbled on,

Straightforward, warm-toned, slightly smudged. Hodgkin's,

I agree. "Stutterers stutter trying not to stutter,"

looking to ruses with adaptability in circumstance.

Unable to help us play a single practical

joke, I hadn't spoken to you for months, having found

direction and refinement in the background stress.

I can see it happening and image the con on a brain scan

where my data get processed in fewer and fewer dots, then

broadcast to nutty rhyme in the evening and native fluency,

a miracle for mesmerics, sensory organs along w/ photos

of a construction zone perforated by mirrors, swindles,

procedural lunges toward another prank. I said I had.

I mamma-ed my speech into these lines.


Tony Torn does Lou Dobbs. Episode 1: A devil on my dick. 2: Lee Ann strikes back.
Beckett is you know what.
I was born at noon December 7 in Panama City. This rosy thin frame, pink as a brook trout put into a diorama of brushes with dolorous eat-in cults. Centruroides exilicauda, an old computer, was hissing softly to one side of a makeshift sweep of the clinic. "Look how much better it looks." Tracking my dyslexia, mom played up the danger presaging childhood, "nothing hurts him," bundling me and her works in an enormous blood-red flag given her by Señor Domínguez.

Words to the newborn for the new year: Toneless, never complicated, grandma's sarcasm.

If the North revolts, venerate the knife and wielders of the knife. Children like me shall meet their commander, contributing to the reconstruction of the haves. "Do you realize they still have bags of children from last year?" Some four thousand countdowns, the families are lined up. Hands are severed to recover a watch.
Don't stab me, Ra son, you put shit out there it comes back, god bless.

My shit is real you can see thru snow pants, the runny kind, it's a joke.

What am I a machine? you get my chest up my pussy's down syndrome.

Nasty, nasty happy hump putty now you want to talk.


Try: children throwing their dinner scraps into the "hog slop" -- summary detail by Barbara Henning reviewing Brenda Coultas.
Two Saturday readings, in nearly direct conflict, and far apart, given Boston traffic.

Saturday, December 8, 7 pm
Frank Sherlock & Alan Davies
Pierre Menard Gallery
12 Arrow Street
Harvard Square

Saturday, December 8, 8 pm
Andrea Baker, Jennifer Bartlett & Reb Livingston
So-and-So Series
516 East 2nd Street
South Boston
One disturbing thing about Steven Ellis's blogging is that it demonstrates how much is missed by not reading his poetry more frequently, more thoroughly ... more of it. This problem now partially resolved via his blog. Who else fibs as neo-angelically? "Laertes to Odysseus to Telemachus, / familial moral necessities" ...
Poets on MySpace. It's ok, they're on the brink.


It's all the rage. You're on your own island.
Thanks, 1-800-Mattress.
Cuckoo dwarves.