Monday, December 15, 2008

Miles To Go

Biking The U.S. of Awesomeness
The mass email correspondence of cross-country cyclists Meryl Estes, Nicole Grohoski, Caitlin Prentice and Jonathan Stuart-Moore, illustrated by Charles Mahal
. New York: Graphic Union Press, 2008. 55 pp.

O, open road, (almost) endless and winding.

Here is the bicycle bell (mini-clarion) of a new generation, out to discover the U.S. of Awesomeness unburdened by cars, gasoline, or that gritty taste kicked up by long miles of high speed driving. This book is a pleasant, present, joyous record of the travels of four young bicyclists who, in the summer of 2005, pedaled their way from Maine to Oregon. It was planned as a project for a Geography course at Middlebury College in Vermont that spring, and then carried out and documented nearly every week for the 100s of people who received their emails. As a travel narrative, it is full of simple pleasures and perplexing frustrations met with wit and humor that speak of a kind of Thoreauean deliberateness. Not exactly a philosophical meditation, it is instead a collectively-authored account (written in the third-person singular) comprising the landmarks, landscapes, and local flavors encountered on the road. The path itself is traced by illustrator Mahal across a large map that spans the final five pages of the book.

As a document, it provides lots of factual detail: a "bikers' index" lists the amount of peanut butter eaten; the cyclists' regimen of diet and daily progress; the aid and comfort given by strangers who unexpectedly encounter the voyagers along the way; and praise for the community of family, friends and supporters.

While this account of a
+4000-mile trek is rather brief--so brief as to leave a desire to know more--the combined array of illustrations, introduction, excerpts from the original "guidebook", emails from the relieved and celebratory cyclists' parents and the index provide a diversity of ways to read through what is truly a one-of-a-kind, and awesome, expedition.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some Poems

Julie Perini. Videos to Be Constructed in Your Head. (Buffalo, 2007) 8 pp. A small book , 5.5"X4", picked up at Squeaky Wheel or Hallwalls last summer. A brief homage to Yoko Ono's 1962 Tokyo exhibition Paintings to Be Constructed in Your Head. 6 brief instructions or prompts for the imagination: #1 "This is a video unlike anything/you have seen before." #2 "This is a video to be read out loud/so go back and read this out loud./Try not to feel shy or awkward about it." and #3 "this is a short video. " If the early 1960s were an age of conceptual, Fluxus art, ours is an age of repetitions.

Rikki Ducornet, illustrated by T. Motley.
Clean. (an excerpt from The One Marvelous Thing, Dalkey Archive Press, 2008). A small, 5.5"X2", 12-page "freebie" booklet done after the style of Jack Chick's proselytizing, fear-inducing pamphlets. Drives the notion of "cleanliness" to absurd heights: "And Jesus says: 'Do you smell good and are you the color of roast veal?' And the old folks answer 'O yes, Lord, we are clean and Our thoughts are like white sauce and our blood is like water and we are ready, O sweet Jesus." Funny and gross, quite a combo.

d.a. levy. "What can I say?" (poem one-fold excerpt from
RANDOM SIGHTINGS WITH NO ONE AROUND, Kirpan Press, 2007). 4 pp. 6"X4". This poem is subtitled "for r.j.s May 10, 1967/imprisoned for making a moral decision to help other young people even if it meant endangering himself". levy's friend was hounded, censored, jailed, etc., in Cleveland, OH. It takes the attitude of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and crafts an angry portrait of a loss of identity amidst a culture of fear and suspicion.

this poem is wired
they are listening
they are in the audience
they are in the poem
they are in the words
they are waiting for something obscene
for something un-american
for something about drugs

they dont know
i am as frightened as
they are


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Elevator Express

Jessica Smith. Organic Furniture Cellar: Works on Paper 2002-2004. Charlottesville, Va: Outside Voices, 2004.

This is an incredibly well-made book.
An impeccable book, even, if such a word doesn’t sound archaic. From the lush tapestry of green on the cover, the thick black endpapers, the erudite Foreword sparkling with serious insight into the art of poetry, architecture, music and painting, all the way to the poems themselves, each moment of a reader’s looking and touching encounters a new thing of verbal and visual beauty. Jessica Smith has composed a work with a dynamic range rarely seen—a book as a performance, a score for reading which permits wild permutations for each poem, and a poetry of scholarship with continuous insistence on considering the distances from the spoken to the seen, the eye and the ear, the eye as a means of reading language, and the ear as an organ of spatialities. If this book of diverse poems—54 in 6 sections, divided into 2 halves—can be described in a single sentence, it might be: we learn more about the degree to which our senses are cooperative functions of a synthetic relation from their strict separation in a work of art, in a single aesthetic encounter, than we do when they are submerged in a thematic, conventional work in an established genre. We are more lastingly challenged to consider our ways of making meaning to the degree that more of our senses are engaged in simultaneity and succession (terms she defines in her Foreword). This is a book of many places, an artography (drop the see), yet she has assiduously followed Creeley’s advice: keep looking. This is splendid artifice, a painterly architecture, a making, and the site of her έποίησε.

Here, to the best of my skill in transcribing it, is one of her poems.
To set a work like this in a blog takes careful composition, and must be built line by line. This is the poem “Locations along the Rust Belt” from the section “Canal Series” in the division “Chronography” from the book Organic Furniture Cellar:

[i spent an hour trying to format this--couldn't do it. I am not "web ready" as they say. This isn't the poem, these are all the words in the poem, but they bear no relation to what this poem is, or how it should be enacted.]

fascination with



grain elevators
in order

if you want to remember
glasses with limes at the a loved one, sloss furnace
bottom turn up around the
comfort lose it .let
cities everyday activities.

remembering is suffocating,

b ear

suffering vulcan
7. g dying under
buffalo drives

drink recover its name. If someone has died


the light

may be red.


It has taken me three years to give Jessica Smith’s poetry a composed response. We went to school together. I consider her a friend. We’ve shared, at some remove in age and space, similar experiences in the attempt to compose distinct careers as writers. We’ve studied many of the same texts, and were trained in the same, distinct tradition of aesthetics, one recognizable by its differences from a more conventional approach to writing, the page, and the poem. One major component of OFC is the way she is able to acknowledge that tradition and take it into the future, deepen it, expand it, fulfill it by exceeding its limitations, by expanding the ground & source from which it emerges.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

While You Wait

I experienced a household power outage this morning. Buffalo is so beautiful because of its spacious, urban-friendly older houses (many of which are under threat of demolition because of the ongoing financial blockade--er--recession. Sorry, did I just attribute intention to how economically mucked-up our region is??). But along with that aging grandeur it also means that many of them are not fully up-to-date in terms of plumbing, heating, etc. So, I lost three pages worth of my post, and will have to reconstruct it. But in the meantime, take a look over at the sidebar. Go ahead, look over there ->

see those amazing-looking books?
Wouldn't you like to read one, or simply have that kind of chic book art elegance on your bookshelf? Don't be afraid, now. Remember, mama poetry loves you. Why don't you order one today? You seriously have to stop going around talking about Germs, Guns, and Steel and start talking about Venus 93, TwentyTwo and At Any Point. These aren't the nineties anymore, you know.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Gesso Apprentice

My apologies for the fragmentary, uneven nature of this post.

The Gesso Apprentice.

I’m reading a book called The Gesso Apprentice. This book is anonymously written. It is composed of 25 poems. It is a book some people here in this town may own. But other than that, I don’t know if it’s for sale anywhere. Court poets used to circulate their poems in manuscript within a tightly delimited circle of readers. Yet, because of their proximity to royalty, they could expect some degree of legacy for their poems despite their scant readership. At the same time that Marvell and Sidney were writing their poems for the gentry, in Spain the chapbook was circulating like crazy, so much so the crown tried to censor and shut down presses because these little books had such an influence on the population. (For a good look at chapbooks and Spanish nationalism, check out Wlad Godzich’s essay “Popular Culture and Spanish Literary History” in The Culture of Literacy [Harvard UP, 1994, which, completely out of context, has this wonderful sentence: “part of the answer to the problem of transmission of literary culture lies in the chapbooks”]). On the one hand, reading a book like The Gesso Apprentice makes the reader feel part of a privileged group of specialized readers, part of a community made up of an aristocracy of art. On the other hand, because of the strength of these poems, it seems somewhat ridiculous to publish them anonymously. But to call these poems “aristocratic” isn’t a very reasonable designation. Nor does it at all reflect the community in which this book circulates. It’s very important to see where the chapbook stands today vis-à-vis this august past—both challenge and support to the Spanish Empire in the 16th century, and of questionable value in the current literary marketplace—thinking here of Kyle Schlesinger’s admission that his press can no longer viably publish chapbooks.

I have twice been told who the author of this book is. But I don’t want to break the anonymity of its authorship, even though I feel that, in its deliberate effacing of an “author” attribute it makes an overwrought gesture towards authenticity. I think this anonymity is certainly meant to be taken as a gesture of humility (or so I guess, though these poems are not at all a questioning of poetry’s ability to speak, enact, or designate), but it could be mistaken for an attempt at deliberate obscurity or the manufacture of mystique. The only reason I say this is because these poems are amazing. There is a long sequence of prose poems that make up the bulk of the book, and they are, too, a kind of enactment of fragility the likes of which I haven’t read before. Perhaps the removal of the author’s name helps keep the gender of the author in suspension, so that we aren’t concerned whether these poems were written by a woman or a man.

The poems before this sequence, while important for their own reasons, seem simply a kind of warm up for the extended portraiture provided in the main section of the book, entitled “The Tyst Poems”. The Tyst Poems describe a character with wings who goes through a startling series of transformations and self-mutilations while engaged in a rather tragic struggle between life and art, flight and flightlessness, waking and dreaming, and strength and weakness. While it seems somewhat akin to the late romantic conceits of the Rosetti circle and their imitators (especially in Swinbourne’s penchant for ekphrastic poems, or poems about a work of art), there is a grittier side to these poems that save them from preciousness or the merely illustrative.

I’ll provide one example from the book, and then leave it at that. I think there is more to say, a lot more, about this book, but I’ve run out of time.


Molten glass at breath’s end. Inside its wobbly swelling Tyst masturbates. When the shop closes, she rides the nose of the mute home to his sister’s house. The saliva that bubbles at his lips while he sleeps she shapes into flightless likenesses of endangered moons.

Okay, one last point: the anonymity here makes of my response a kind of well-defined and specific address—a response to a set of poems that becomes so hard to extend beyond anything more than a personal letter writ large onto the intimate/public screen of a blog. It makes the simplest description of the work seem like a failure of the art itself (the art of criticism, and the art of essay). I feel somewhat compelled to respond in a like form—to compose a letter say, or construct an intact dramatic form in which to stage an overheard discussion between two actors discussing the book’s themes by way of a particular, delimited crisis they are both engaged in, and must figure out together or dissolve away from the stage, let the stage dissolve, and stand there looking at each other as the theater goes black.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Eli Drabman: Daylight on the wires

Eli Drabman. Daylight on the wires. Buffalo (?): Vigilance Society 1917, (2007?) 20 pp.

I’m pretty sure I grew up in a conservative suburb, because I remember not having read anything like Daylight on the wires until I was nineteen and going to college. I also just now realize that I’ve not even lived half of my life on my own; meaning, I lived more than half my life in my parents’ house, and less than half of it somewhere else. I mention these facts because Eli once told me that his parents gave him a very serious upbringing, stressing politeness and manners all the while. He impressed on me how important that upbringing had been for him, and I’ve always respected the serious perspective he took on how much that strict environment had helped him when he had moved out on his own as an adult. I remember that, as much as my parents stressed manners and good behavior, and were models of sobriety and concentration, honesty and hard work, I still seemed to get into trouble of the worst sort: I would do something wrong, but rather than have the strength or wit to avoid detection, I usually just waited until someone came along to see what I had done, or said, or had not done that I was supposed to do. This is called “asking for it,” but in the worst way; because it lacked any literal request, and instead involved my making some terrible blunder as a means for having to fix it later. But only when someone told me to. I’m not going to go into the finer psychology of this. But needless to say, if I had read a book like Daylight on the wires as an adolescent, I wouldn’t have needed to make the mistakes I did. If I were fourteen again, I would have been very well off, and a lot wiser, if every week or so I would have gotten my hands on something just like, or very similar, to this book.

In fact, I think younger people, younger adults, in their teens, should read lots of books like Drabman’s. And this doesn’t mean that this book is only suitable for readers in their teens. It simply means that it can, at the right time, get you ready for things that will be coming along in your life that you’d be better off thinking more about. At least, for a teen like the teen I was, and maybe at that particular time I was a teen (in the 1980s). It would be cool if the hundred or so chapbook publishers I know of could pool their resources and create an outreach subscription service for readers in early adulthood. Sure, as a young man I needed lots of good solid information, but I also need the stuff of imagination way beyond, and more realistic by way of its surrealistic fabulation, anything I had at that age.

I’m not even sure what transpires, in any realistic narrative sense, in Drabman’s book. But there is a lot of hunger involved, a good deal of anger, or at least bewilderment, and a strenuous desire for an escape from boring, dead predicaments. Beyond these mere hulls of my interpretation, picked up from a less-than-rigorous reading of the book, there is an amazing degree of intricately woven imagery that unfolds in long curling waves from these pages.

The book is large, composed of 8.5" X 11"-sized sheets of paper, printed on one side only, and stapled near the edge of the papers. The poems themselves are shaped along the page to create long, linear margins for the text. What is gained visually, which is a lot, because the pages are stunningly beautiful, does make for a rather prosaic reading experience. Which is all to the point, and not a criticism. The poems here read like sections of a work of fiction, a poetic fiction that bubbles with unreal, hypnotic, and nightmare visions that widen out and collapse back to a kind of breathless familiarity once again. There is a wonderful tension between the underlying sense of daily life presented here, and the hallucinatory, crowded imagery streaming atop every poem:

…she blames me for

not putting needles in my eyes, for holding a mouse head

as if it were a diamond’s relentless consistency, or angels

posing as grandmothers scrawled their wings across a sky

making sundown shudder like a dawn in camera jaws, hold

furious screaming against the hollow in your chest to see if

you vibrate at that frequency, climb inside a tree, write one

name with a knife and put an arrow through it before the tourists

light you on fire…

This seems to me on one level a kind of domestic, if wildly tangled, scene: a way of describing the inner contours of two people in serious contention for each other’s heartstrings. At least I think it is. But obviously it’s a lot more than that. What is evident on every page, and in practically every line, is a vivid series of unexpected imagery, surprising in an irrational/rational connective web of accumulated modification, as if metaphors were still trying to fight their way out of the language into the direct perception of the thing thus qualified. If I could say more, and get you to track down a copy of this book, I would. But I’m not trying to sell you this book, I’m trying to say what effect its had on me. And it was a vivid one. Why I couldn’t help but think of myself at age fourteen, I don’t know. These are mature poems. They stunned me. Could you, dear reader find a copy of this book if you wanted one? You might be able to get one from Michael Cross. But I don’t even know where he lives, or what his email address is. I do know he edited a new magazine called On, and that this magazine has a critical essay by (or about) Eli Drabman in it. Do try to get a copy of that—because I think it is just now available. I don’t have a copy of it, though.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Aaron Lowinger's open night: a gush

Open Night by Aaron Lowinger. San Francisco: Transmission Press, 2008. 32 pp.

Designed by Logan Ryan Smith, the poems in this book continue from the end flyleaf onto the back cover of the book. I'd never seen a book do that before. I've never read poems like these before. Here is a returning book, half of it published the year before, but now bigger, wider, ever & even more generous.

Lowinger doesn't waste a single word, or even a syllable. That I would do likewise in acknowledging his art. This chapbook contains 50 poems, all of them entitled "open night". It suggests "opening night," the big introduction of a new work--art, musical, a play, or the first day of baseball in the spring. Or a request: "open, night". Open all night, like a 24hr store.

Open Night has the recipe, gives you a blend of the finest choicest meters. Creeley's tight syncopation, hip-hop's matter-of-fact skips, samples, and scratches, and watershed meditations nourish every single time scale sermon in smoke of night. My series, "The Table," is a cheap knockoff propped on spindly legs. The Buffalo News should give him $1000.

Yes, Virginia, this book is a tuxedo.

open night

Your mouth opens
like the movies do
your clock continues
to click
you make me feel like sleeping
in different places
speaking many tongues


Thursday, December 4, 2008

an alien here

leah angstman. an alien here. Cambridge, Mass.: Propaganda Press, 2008. Pocket Protector series book one. 64 pp. 2”X 2.75”.

This is a “teeny tiny poetry book” that was sent to me by my fellow chapbook revolutionaries at the Alternating Current Arts Cooperative in Massachusetts. I learned of this press, and the publishers, through Doug Holder’s Boston Small Press Poetry Scene blog after he posted a notice to the UB/UPenn Poetics email listserv, and where I read his extended review of Ed Galing’s chapbooks, which the Co-op publishes. Reading Holder, I felt an immediate “zip” of recognition for what I had once thought of as “street poetry” when I was a constant regular at the Brady’s Cafe poetry marathons in Kent, Ohio from 1996-1998. There was a retired chemistry professor (Edmund?) who used to stand at the microphone and, in a labored, earnest voice, read endlessly bad poems about a younger woman he’d fallen in love with. Holder’s review of Galing’s books worked on me as only that kind of nostalgia can: poems that are remarkable not because they reinvent the language or enact brilliant theoretical stagings of density and prowess, but because they are intensely vulnerable in their articulation of helplessness: a poverty of language, a simplicity of statement, and basic, conventional emotional states for some reason so obvious that I feel relief somebody is bothering to articulate them at all. But am I guilty of patronizing? Of course, Ed Galing’s work is a kind of writing, and a reading style (if read in public), that has a number of real and palpable drawbacks. It is the seduction of one’s critical capacity toward slumber that is the most suspicious component in work of this nature. In terms of rhetorical persuasion, the stance of innocence and candor is odious to a more literary perspective simply because, in hearing or reading it, one feels compelled, even coerced, into admiring the poet for having staged a private, interior space in the public one of the poem, or at a public event. But how is it that intellectual friends of mine can ridicule a poetry like Galing’s and turn around and rave about the films of Sam Shepard or John Cassavetes? Part of the effect, even power of this performance, lies not in the generosity of the poem, or poet, but in the realization that the artifice of a private world is being built up even as it is torn down by the implied honesty of the feeling expressed: “I felt this, therefore I trust it more than anything else.” We have a lot of names to use for this dimension in our poetic culture—confessional poetry, or School of Quietude—and I even learned this year of a semi-organized group of poets proclaiming a “new sincerity”. My own seeming liability as a reader, poet, and writer, is that I do not reject this kind of poetic outright, or on principal. I was once asked by a friend (and by way of suggestion) to accept the idea that my having been “rejected” by the academy, or having been rankled by the experience of years-long & fruitless application for work, was fully meliorated by the “consolation of lyric”. I think my friend even said that lyric was my “consolation prize”! As if the whole of one’s engagement with academic intellectual work was really, and in fact, a space of competitive antagonism where the achievement of rational discourse, the ability to reason, could only be achieved at the rejection of that human dimension we call “feeling” as a kind of residue; and that, moving onward from there, one had to reject all poetic works that would assert a fact of sensibility, in whatever pathetic form it momentarily held, as painfully naive, gullible and just, too, well, pathetic.

This is a lot to say as a warm up to describing leah angstman’s book, and it doesn’t really arrive at the kind of thesis one would hope from an objective critic, able to bring his diverse & many years’ experience as a reader to the work at hand. But the work here is quite specific, and intent on its communication, as in the poem “i don’t respond to hey baby”: “for a minute i forget you/and am a little disappointed/ at my cap’s nakedness”. There are a number of issues I have with this book. But the issue isn’t with the fact that almost every poem is directed toward a specific individual (and here is the itinerary: a lover who smokes, a “you” who is in fact the speaker in the poem, a lover who is compared to Spiderman, Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots, someone the speaker is infatuated with, a recent ex-boyfriend, “everyone”—in the poem “on the level”—which is one of my favorites, a personified drug—maybe heroin, the author’s grandfather, an absent partner, a creep on a bus trying to flirt with the speaker, a sex partner, the reader, someone attractive and eight years younger than the speaker, an old friend, and then, in the last three poems: nobody, nobody, and nobody!). And my issue isn’t with how beautiful and simple this tiny book really is. My issue is with the effect that the pop culture references and products mentioned in the book have on me, which is the same effect a beer commercial has on me, or a scene in a romantic movie when the music begins to swell and I feel my tears start to form against my will. And my issue is not with the poems, because, as I made my way through the book, I realized that the poetry was getting better and better—I especially enjoyed the extended narrative poem “1926” that forms the centerpiece to the book. And when the poems ceased trying to address a specific individual, I begin to feel less closed off from the words and imagery, because I no longer had a problem trying to identify with a “you”. angstman has the capacity to describe scenes with flair: “driving through spastic june cottonwoods/like snow in summer rainbow days/and speckled tori amos days/and robin eggs/broken at my feet”. I found myself abetting these early 1990s musical and cultural loci—found myself caught in a nostalgia for something I never really had, if only because I like cottonwood trees for the same reasons mentioned here. The simplicity of angstman’s line is pleasurable, just as Bukowski is pleasurable, by making the implied spaces of the poem move with a determined, if singleminded, need or perception. But I guess I should try to identify what these poems would offer to someone never acquainted with what are familiar signifiers for me. What would they offer to the “alien” indicated in the title? I guess I could say that there is a real place inhabited within the book. The poems are narrative, each is self-contained in its theme, and unified toward the complete delineation of the sense evoked. Erotically charged and sensible at the same time, it provides a cumulative and composite portrait, and the identity, foregrounded in this work, while “imperfect”, is in every case palpable—mainly because the voice is one that persists through shades and nuances of tenor, of motion, of estrangement, of experience and of acceptance. These are poems as “easy goods”, yes. But in guessing what source was mined (and minded) to make them, there seems nothing more difficult in the world to achieve. I am made mindful of the basic antagonisms prevalent in the human universe just as readily here than I am in a work, say, of Rodrigo Toscano or Joshua Clover. While angstman’s poems take up stakes on a plane of language separate from these authors, for me, at least, the sense of accomplishment is equivalent.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I'm Feeling Frisky

And ambitious. Because there are about 50 pieces of poetry sitting on my desk--little objects, broadsides, chapbooks, entire books, unexplainable concatenations of verbal intention and dispersion--and I want to acknowledge each and every one. So, if I'm not being too florid in my thinking, I will try to acknowledge, note, gush and analyze 1 (one) new work every day for the next 1068 days. But I need a three-day safety buffer. That means if I go three days, then I will post about three works. And I dedicate the Frisky Ambitious Project to Promote Poetic Living to Miriam. For Miriam.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nudged by Jack,

Who posted a thanks online for the Saturday night events at Gateway Gallery, I'm going to thank everybody, too. Especially those who organized & hosted events this weekend, & everyone who participated in what was, for me, a marathon (marathong?, maybe paratextual-gong-throng) of fun:

Jack Topht and Russell Pascatore for getting me on the Radical Onslaught bill of wildly divergent noise/punk/Dada/folk styles--so thanks to them & relatives (like Lindsay and Peter) and the Gateway Gallery and to the Buffalo weather for being so dominion-ative as it was FREEZING COLD outside. (the first fact of Buffalo is that "the weather asserts its dominion" ). I read what are, in my opinion, my most ethically questionable poems at this event. I did not feel comfortable reading them, and I don't think I was supposed to, because I didn't feel comfortable when I wrote them.

Thanks to Mike Basinski, Chris Fritton and Don Metz for the BUFFLUXUS 47 minute St. Francis of Assisi/Jerome Rothenberg/Charles Morrow deep-sea civil twilight 6:00 A.M. pillow/toaster freakout I experienced chanting animal sounds, Basinsk-ese, and a reverent Christian prayer until I was hoarse, all the while circling specimen jars depicting ominous intimidating historical icons and hoping the sun would rise just to spite them.

And thank you/thank you for the amazingly candle-lit, ginger-tea & hard liquor afternoon Before the Swallow: Kristi for asking me to read, Erin V. & Rust Belt Books for setting everything to that incredible frequency, & thanks to Martin Clibbens and David Tirrell for reading their works & returning me to scansion and prosody after losing them for 12 hours. So thanks to all involved, especially the audience. At the culmination of my 20-hour wander, the kind of poetry I love best felt at the center again--earlier it was capital-A Art that trumped poetry at the art museum, and it was sheer radical onslaughtedness that overwhelmed it at the Gateway, but both of these earlier events signalled movements towards poetry's verge (selvage) into other materials. Usefully. But somehow RBB asks & asks for a writer's best works, best offerings.

Thanks especially to Jaye for insisting on the continuity of it all--to go on and on as if it were all one continuous work: how I slept for two hours in a server/circuit power-source closet (that Cat discovered); contritiously ate pancakes ("so fluffy you could crawl between them and fall asleep") while overseen by my friend's jealous eyes; found a nice wristwatch hanging from a flower as I walked down a side street; drank endless coffees from ten different shops; went to a Church service and felt my heart break at the sound of a bell choir; walked and walked the streets for hours trying to not talk about sex; angered some aristocratic squirrels with reedy harmonica duets with my b'hoy JB; happily watched the Bills score 54 points over the Chiefs in A-low's hospitable homestead in the great B-lo; and was inexplicably dumbfounded by John Merkle's ability to cook delicious gourmet pizzas at the rate of four per hour (thanks John!). Thanks especially to Cat for wine, raspberries, heartfelt conversations and magic door-opening powers. And to anybody who made a point to be at the shows. I'm still basking in the glow (or is it a fatigue symptom?). I still wonder a wee bit why all these performances were overwhelmingly by men. Was this all "guy stuff'? I don't really think so--but I think it was the most gender-imbalanced large-scale series of performances I can ever remember taking part in.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ted Greenwald read his poetry last night at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum but I was too cold and sleepy to go

So here is a stanza from his poem "Next Week", from the book Common Sense, Kensington, Calif.: L Publications, 1978:

thus it happened that, the rain fell
and the man sat
putting a roof on the house of his body
every once in awhile he uttered a thought or two
but most of the time
he was a window for others to look through

Monday, November 10, 2008


Rene Daumal, (in Rothenberg and Joris' Poems for the Millenium):

The prima materia of poetic emotion is a synesthetic chaos. A confused mixture of diverse emotions is first felt painfully in the body, like a swarming of multiple lives trying to escape. It is usually that uncomfortable feeling that forces the poet to take up the pen, be it as a vague and imperious need to exteriorize himself or in a less coarse fashion.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Poetry, yo

i go to poetry readings, but not usually to the drinks after. i intend no disrespect to the readers or organizers, but i have learned that what would seem community is really something needing definition by way of a social scene more than the ostensive occasion to hear an art form enacted. besides, i get tired from walking or bicycling to readings, and just want to get back to home in order to eat and then sleep and get ready for the day job. but sometimes i do go for drinks, because i got my fuzzy on.

Here are some recent readings i attended:

October 19.
Yellow Edenwald Field. Launch reading hosted by edric mesmer. i heard Lisa Forrest, Martin Clibbens and Kristianne Meal read. The magazine could be had for $2, so i bought one. nicely done book of buffalo poets. i also bought a mysterious book of poems, anonymously written, with a painted cover, entitled The Gesso Apprentice.

October 23. i went to Medaille College to hear Christopher Schmidt at the Huber Library.

October 26. This was my own reading to inaugurate the Sundays at Central reading series. Paul White read as well.

October 29. Michael Ondaatje read in Ashbury Hall at Babeville downtown to a packed house.

October 30. Geraldine Monk read eerie poems and sonnets at the Hallwalls Cinema.

i've also been receiving a lot of books in the mail recently. i'm puzzling over ways to respond. One thing i had hoped to do was publish my reviews in Celery Flute, which as yet, has about 20 different notices that will have to wait until that magazine can be printed. On the other hand, i'm wavering over what to say here, as i have written lots of responses to books before, and the circumstances of web reviewing still leads me to have reservations.

All of the readings in the past two weeks were in different places--a used bookstore/theater space, a remodeled church sanctuary, a small college library, a big public library, a small dark cinema/stage. Each of these spaces lent a different character to the readings, and, typically, the audiences were strikingly different in size and character, class and community. Each author presented a distinct style--just as the books i am given, now piled around me, traverse vastly different ground.

Because of its brevity, i was able to read through all of issue 15 of 6X6, a well-crafted literary object in its own right, from Ugly Duckling Presse. The poems did maintain a kind of character, as of a time, if not slightly tilted by the inclusion of newly translated poems by the Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841).

[Oh, i don't know if i can stand it, there's just too much here on my desk!--a weight of compiled intentions, forms of intensity in conjunction, disjunction, and that, that. . .what is the word for the unsewn hem? Scurf? Beyond a fringe. i can't even take a running leap towards all of these books!]

Okay, i'll try. Here is 6X6: Anne Heide--a poem called "The Gold Planet" in six sections. The form reminds me of a sequence called "Cinnabar Verses" in another recent book, Rhrubarb, by Robert Kocik (Bowdoinham, Maine: Field Books, 2007), in its use of short, enigmatic lines. Gold and Cinnabar also seem to go together, as the use of cinnabar in the old alchemists' art was to lead eventually to the production of gold. Here is a line from Heide: "Planet renames the mine a possible clot like a lucky horse wouldn't step on it." And here is one from Kocik: "Load unicorn with broken horn sidewise into back of battered station wagon". Mere coincidence? i don't think so. Will Hubbard gives us a six-poem cycle called "Ordines". Now, i don't even know what this word means. Instead, i will talk about Hubbard's chapbook The God Is Quiet That Would Have You, from Brooklyn's CapGunPress (2007). This is a top-stapled book not unlike a restaurant server's order pad. It contains 26 poems. i like the title, because it has the word "God", which can mean anything, and the word "You" which can also mean anything, including "God". It's a cool title because it has a kind of smirk about it, like it knows something that the reader doesn't. In his introduction, Jaye Bartell calls this poetry "vulnerability enacted." With his reference to Henry Miller, i think of a kind of poetry of the heroic as found in bohemian life. The shortened lines disguise the fact that some of these poems are modified iambic quatrains. There are many references to French films, like those of Catherine Breillat, famous for her near-porn film Romance X. The influence of Hubbard's onetime teacher, Robert Creeley, also appears rather frequently, especially in a reference to Bresson's film about Sir Lancelot, which was the source of Creeley's great poem "Bresson's Movies". This chapbook is instead a kind of chiseled notebook, aimed as it is to achieve an interrelation, abounding with hyper-minimal, fractured line endings. The highpoint for me names a condition based on the drowning, treacherous, transgressive ground of love called "Walk the Plank". Vulnerable, and yet, not. The rest of 6X6 #15 is tidy and oblique, confessional, but yet witholding. Poems by David Goldstein, Lawrence Giffin, and Emma Rossi (my favorite of the issue--a poetry of discouraged attempts to articulate something foundering into a bliss of potential statements, never accepted, but let loose into their own pinball ricochets.) (If we get to soi disant nth-gen newyawk school as a label, can we finally talk about something else?)

i keep wanting to put another two books in dialogue with each other: Kim Chinquee's first book Oh Baby (Spokane: Ravenna Press, 2008) and Jason Irwin's first book Watering the Dead (Montpelier, Ohio: Pavement Saw, 2008). They couldn't be more unlike each other, though, in terms of voicing, the line, description. And yet, each is an attempt to reconstruct narrative form. Chinquee's book contains around 80 flash fictions and prose poems, while Irwin's book collects 45 poems into three sections. i guess the clearest intersection of content in these books is the prevalence of references to alcohol. There are very pertinent differences: Chinquee's prose-poems range wide and far, yet keep bringing me back to a sense of the subaltern, the way serious human situations can only find us by way of consumables and products, and in this way i am impressed with Chinquee's ability to hone plain language (Great Plains language?) into resonant descriptions. Here are emotional realities trapped in the transgressions of things: eating, drinking, and loving mean Denny's, vodka, and fucking. Here is the detritus of a world all wrapped up in a menacing Walmart happyface. Kill your emoticon. This work is closer to Brenda Coultas' than George Saunders'. But the real background I keep thinking of is Charles Reznikoff's Testimony: The United States. In a way, i want to scream and throw the book at something, if only to protest the world as i find it there. But that is its effectiveness--you can not not want what this book discloses. Which makes it function on that fine line between irony and ridicule, what we most recognize brought close to an edge of near illiteracy, between a deep sympathy for what cannot be articulated except by way of a consumer society's detritus of consumption and the dismissal of a satire that furthers the burn. All of these poems are pre-consumed or about the pre-consumed, and the work it takes to find the art is almost the same as the work we are asked to accept as our actual enjoyment, which, in reality, is a preconsumed happiness. A kind of poetry working backwards, but not as far afield as Acker's "writing stupid". In contrast, Irwin works from a more familiar space: remembrance. Here, the goal is to build a set of portraits, mostly self-portraits, that will stand as confirmation of the facts of one's place, family, and activity. This impulse overwhelms the fact of the lineated text. The question of its poetry hinges mostly on the very fact that the author chooses when the line must end, rather than accepting as default the frame provided. While this is something in itself, and shouldn't be discounted, i tended to ignore line endings completely while reading the book, and instead read it as a set of prose elegies.

now i must take a walk. please read books. write books. eat well. vote for Obama. It ain't gonna be paradise if he wins, but it ain't gonna be a bridge to nowhere, either.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Chapbook Legends: Johnny Appleseed

The following is from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, November 1871, by W.D. Haley, and reprinted in B.A. Botkin's Treasury of American Folklore, Crown Publishers, 1944. pp. 261-270. It has been greatly modified to fit your screen.

Among the heroes of endurance that was voluntary, and of action that was creative and not sanguinary, there was one man whose name, seldom mentioned now save by some few surviving pioneers, deserves to be perpetuated. Jonathan Chapman arrived in Jefferson County, Ohio in the Spring of 1806, transporting a load of apple seeds to the Western Frontier. There is good reason to believe he was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1775. Whether impelled in his eccentricities by some absolute misery of the heart which could only find relief in incessant motion, or governed by a benevolent monomania, his whole life after age 26 was devoted to the work of planting apple seeds in remote places. He used the old Indian trail that led from Fort Duquesne to Detroit, by way of Fort Sandusky, or what is styled the 'second route through the wilderness of Ohio.' With bare feet he would penetrate to some remote spot that combined picturesqueness and fertility of soil, and there he would plant his seeds, place a slight enclosure around the place, and leave them to grow until the trees were large enough to be transplanted by the settlers. In later years, his principal garment was made of a coffee sack, and a hat of pasteboard with an immense peak in front. He was always treated with the greatest respect by the rudest frontiersman, and he was regarded as a great medicine man by the Indians on account of the fortitude with which he could endure pain. Even during the war of 1812, Johnny Appleseed continued his wanderings and was never harmed by the roving bands of hostiles, he traversed the border day and night warning every settler of any approaching peril. He believed it to be a sin to kill any creature for food, and thought all that was necessary for human sustenance was produced by the soil. He entertained a profound reverence for the Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg, and always carried a few volumes with him. He was probably not only the first colporteur in the wilderness of Ohio, but as he had no tract society to furnish him supplies, he divided his books into several pieces, leaving a portion at a log-cabin, and on a subsequent visit furnishing another fragment, and continuing this process as diligently as though the work had been published in serial numbers. By this plan he was enabled to furnish reading for several people at the same time, and out of one book. It was his custom, when he had been welcomed to some hospitable house after a weary day of journeying, to lie down on the puncheon floor, produce his few tattered books, and read and expound until his uncultivated hearers would catch the spirit and glow of his enthusiasm, while they scarcely comprehended his language. A lady who knew him in later years writes: 'We can hear him read now, just as he did that summer day, when we were busy quilting upstairs, and he lay near the door, his voice rising denunciatory and thrilling--strong and loud as the roar of wind and waves, then soft and soothing as the balmy airs that quivered the morning-glory leaves about his gray beard."
In autumn Johnny would make a diligent search for lame or broken-down horses, and gathering them up, he would bargain for their food and shelter until next spring, when he would lead them away to some good pasture for the summer. No Brahmin could be more concerned for the preservation of insect life, and the only occasion on which he destroyed a venomous reptile was a source of long regret, to which he could never refer without manifesting sadness. On one occasion when Johnny built a fire near where he intended to pass the night, he noticed that the blaze attracted large numbers of mosquitoes, many of whom flew too near his fire and were burned. He immediately brought water and quenched the fire, accounting for his conduct afterward by saying, "God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort which should be the means of destroying any of his creatures!" His expenses for food and clothing were so very limited that, not withstanding his freedom from the auri sacra fames, he was frequently in possession of more money than he cared to keep, and it was quickly disposed of for wintering infirm horses, or given to some poor family whom the ague had prostrated or the accidents of border life impoverished. In a single instance only is he known to have invested his surplus means in the purchase of land, having received a deed from Alexander Finley, of Mohican Township, Ashland County, Ohio, for a part of the southwest quarter of section twenty-six; but with his customary indifference to matters of value, Johnny failed to record the deed, and lost it. He procured some seeds of dog-fennel, or May-weed, in Pennsylvania, and sowed them in the vicinity of every house in the region of his travels. He believed that this offensively-odored weed possessed valuable antimalarial virtues. The consequence was that successive flourishing crops of the weed spread over the whole country, and caused almost as much trouble as the disease it was intended to ward off. At seventy-two years of age, forty-six of which had been devoted to his self-imposed mission, he ripened into death as naturally and beautifully as the seeds of his own planting had grown into fibre and bud and blossom and the matured fruit. Thus died one of the memorable men of pioneer times, who never inflicted pain or knew an enemy--a man of strange habits, in whom there dwelt a comprehensive love that reached with one hand downward to the lowest forms of life, and with the other upward to the very throne of heaven. A laboring, self-denying benefactor of his race, homeless, solitary, and ragged, he trod the thorny earth with bare and bleeding feet, intent only upon making the wilderness fruitful. His deeds will live in the fragrance of the apple blossoms he loved so well, and the story of his life will be a perpetual proof that virtues may be found under meanest apparel, far from the gilded halls and towering spires.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What is a Chapbook?

notes towards an essay on culture and the distribution of poetry
The term “chapbook” came into regular use among speakers of English in the late eighteenth century in order to designate a small book containing ballads, poems, tales or tracts. It was typically sold from town to town by a “chapman”, or traveling merchant, and could be easily carried among other portable wares. For centuries, the chapbook was, and perhaps still is, the form of print publication most easily obtained by a large or growing literate population in modern, industrializing cultures. It usually consists of a single signature of text, bound in a paper slightly heavier than its interior pages, and optimally results in a book of 32 to 40 pages in length. A “signature” is a single set of pages folded and separately bound. Most hardbound books are a collection of signatures stacked one atop the other and sewn together and covered in a much harder material (like cardboard, but sometimes wood) which is either glued or sewn to the signatures. Today most chapbooks are based on a set of 6-10 sheets of letter-sized paper folded in half and stapled. The term octavo is typically used for this size of a book (5.5” X 8.5”), since it means a standard sized sheet of printer's paper has been folded three times. The first fold is called a folio (fold) and is usually the size used for a single page of a newspaper. Fold this sheet again and you have the quatro size. Larger books, like photography, art books and graphic novels, come in quatro size. On the third fold, the original sheet is now divided into eight sections—octavo (2X2X2). The term duodecimo is usually used for anything smaller than octavo, since now the number of pages created from the original sheet has hit the double digits (like 16). Of course, the size of the printer’s sheet varies from place to place, which provides for a range of sizes for each of these terms folio, quatro, octavo, and duodecimo.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Audio Recording

An audio recording of my reading at the Welcome to Boog City Festival has been posted online.
It took place on September 20.

Here is the link:

There are also recordings from many other poets:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Poem out of 2004

i wrote this poem in the fall of 2004 and published it in Roofing and Siding in 2007. I'd moved to Fordham Ave., where the sleeping was uneasy, and a rowing machine downstairs kicked in every morning at 6:00 AM no matter what. I'd sent an essay on bpNichol and Patchen to New Literary History and was about to begin my first semester of adjuncting at UB. This is the original version, which is slightly different from the version in the later book, where it goes by the name "Mining That Coppery Tone":

Mining the College, Boy

My mines troubled with wrath,
my lines treacly with thefts.

Stolen: musty lathe of steel,
that a.m. shy penny profile
accused of sprocketry
in the dim melancholy
of false sirens
with true import.

That soap really takes a layer off.
Thanks for the tip on bankruptcy.

Which part didn't you like?
This is your defense,
so why are you so defensive?

I didn't dream it but saw
somewhere projected on the old beach-towel screen
the chin-thrust face of a woman in shame
like a profile on an old penny.

Slack again in various week-timed
month dredge and fact of one's whole private world
cumbered and yet the veil torn and less
strength to continue, to push through.
It is about interior integrity.
Hand it across with your penny.

I looked somewhere crawly
for my soul
almost to address it,
things at hand feeling corroded,
mechanistic, as though imagination had fallen
completely inert.

Our ginger footsteps say what in the
great cold outside has more durability
than the flash of light,
the photographer's flash,
or the bubble-fluff concentration, illusory found sound
of a siren on a rock leading us to memories
of when the keys belonged to each of us,
and all was held in trust,
like a penny.


I guess, reflecting back on the amazing readings I heard last night at Medaille College in celebration of Raymond Federman's 80th birthday, this is a poem that halts midway between a "saying" and a "playing"--it stops to look around after going only so far on its way towards the full pleasures of a writing that says as it un-says, a poetry-performance that can invoke the space of literature even as it empties out any assertive writerly function (as in "authority") by way of content-ment. I was directed to this poem by a line in something Steve McCaffery had read last night--and this is crude paraphrase--to the effect that "Heaven is a bank in which God has failed to invest."

The young man of the house where I lived liked to defend the penny, and would proclaim his cause loudly--"SAVE THE PENNY!" with hand raised in the air. It was fun to bait him sometimes as to the value of using pennies. In the end, I gave him a few buckets of pennies I'd saved up over the years. As an adjunct, the money was tight. Poetic values were uncertain and could fluctuate madly at any point. What was a dollar-value to the mining it would take to make my lines & references add up? "Expenditure without reserve" was the claim made for culture, but that seemed a supply-side injunction. What a crazy line of work!! The college boy had dug down deeply in order to coin the metal within him, though it would have been a lot more fun to swirl around on the multicolored film-surface of the bubble. That way you have air within, and air without, a balance of pressures, and smoky Brownian complexities to keep you from realizing you're about a quarter mile above the earth. If anything, I learned last night (and have to thank Jaye for pointing this out) that the mere context for a story just about brings all the pleasures of storytelling into view, and the more we find genre frames to push through, the more we gain a vantage of just how easy it is to unravel a genre through the slightest tear at its margin. Even though I wasn't drinking last night, I got ripped! The margins let you know the mettle of what's inside them--and yes, I do trust. What was Joyce's first book called? Pomes Pennyeach.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


My goosh. Ten days of digital silence! Perhaps the appropriation of my name for a spurious poem in Issue 1 (actually written by the Erika T. Carter robot) cowed me. I enjoyed the ripples and ferment caused by the book, but I never got around to downloading it. I liked how Nick Piombino described the experience as a really good party, almost a "happening" in the old sense, on the UB UPENN poetics listserv.

What I did lately: I have been working, but, oddly enough for me, having some fun.
I spent a few days trying to learn all the ways and whys of how the economy is failing. Then I watched some presidential debates, shouting out "LIAR" a lot. I am very impressed by Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party, as I've been watching the parallel debates on Democracy Now! I am less dismayed after hearing more candidates.

Then I went camping for three nights. It was amazing. I was taken. I was given amazing gifts. I was happy to give in return. Trains thundered in the distance. The weather was perfect, and the moon lit the night. We built fires on shale creeksides. We cooked simple meals and made coffee. We camped in a wild garlic patch. Spiders and chubs danced merry jigs to our wild ukulele detunings. Green pools chilled us to the bone. Conversations took entire days to unfold.
-- --
Later today I will be pouring champagne at Raymond Federman's 80th birthday party.

Later this month I will be designing and publishing a small anthology of poems by poets who live in Buffalo. Jonathan Skinner's new book, With Naked Foot, will be available from little scratch pad editions very very soon.

On October 26th, with Paul White, I will help inaugurate the "Sundays at Central" reading series at the Buffalo and Erie County Central Library at 3:00 PM. 1 Lafayette Square in downtown Buffalo. The reading will take place in the West Room, next to the Cafe.

Then in November, on Sunday the 23rd, I'll be reading at Rust Belt Books with Martin Clibbens and David Tirrell.

I'm ready to publish Celery Flute 2:1. I swear.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Merest Belief

i believe health care is an inalienable right

i believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should end immediately

i believe the wall st. bailout is the single biggest rapid transfer of wealth upward (and outward) this country has ever seen

i believe that the system that created our economic and social problems is the least likely one to solve them

i believe in mildheartedness

i believe in hard work, and an honest dollar

if you know of a candidate i can vote for in November who may support my beliefs, please let me know, because i haven't seen one mentioned on my nightly news

i'd really like to vote, too

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Poetry Scandal

I'm incredibly busy today, but I have to weigh in on the Issue 1 debate (Kenneth Goldsmith was first to post about it here) even if in less thought-out form than I'd like, mainly because one of its creators is now miserable and wants to pull the work off the internet. I support the work they've done in programming here, and their funny, whisker-pulling approach to e-poetry. They produced an algorithm-based impossible-to-print book (though, if anyone would like to print it out, I'd love to see a copy). The poems are not pirated. People's names were used, and even then in an arbitrary fashion, so that, as Ron points out, some people who are not even self-identified poets are included in the anthology. The most intelligent response to all the anger generated is by Nada Gordon, whose comments are posted at Ron Silliman's blog. I agree with her, and she defines the issue better than I ever could. Ron Silliman is angry, sort of, but I am not. Yes, I am included, and no, the poem is not mine, but it does have a a higher amount of "noun X and noun Y" clauses than other poems, which makes me feel that more than my name was entered into the algorithm that generated the poems. My only full-length collection of poems is entitled Roofing and Siding. I enjoyed the "project" of Issue 1, and skimming through the "book". Those who are angered by it should cool down and see it for what it is: a hoax, an architecture built out of the electronic public sphere and placed back into it to give part of its writing community a chance to do a double-take. Nobody needs to get sued over this. And for the people most upset, they should realize I never knew their names before this, but now I do, and can look forward to reading their works on their own terms, and not feel that anything appearing in Issue 1 reflects their achievement as poets. Anyone angered about the way we do and do not "own" our names can ask me all about it, because I've spent many a wasted moment in my life dealing with stupid people expecting me to laugh with them about my own name. I have more than a few examples to offer proving we don't have ownership over our names.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Doug's Boog Blog Pt. 1

On the bus from Buffalo I read Lyn Hejinian’s My Life in the Nineties which was a beguiling read, as I couldn’t determine whether, as a “text” it was presenting a question of the poem in the domain of philosophy (questioning the poem), or a question of philosophy in the domain of the poetic (questioning philosophy). Personally, it was an event of reading in transit, and so I decided that the real beauty of the work lay in its bringing the question of the sentence into view. This is a tension that art is consistently asked to dramatize for us: a form in tension with content. As autobiography, the details of the work disclose some events that may or may not occur to the writer as a human being traveling and living a literary life in the United States at the end of the twentieth century. As a work of poetic art, the poem discloses the thought inherent in sentences, allowing the act of composition to take precedence over the dramatic interest we may have in the facts of her life. The real facts in this book were, for me, the interrelations between words in units of syntax—a poetics of the line as a statement modulated by the following statement, and the uncertain position of what role a particular grammatical form or word can take in the ongoing disclosure of the sentence. Prosody in the new My Life, the rhythm or words sounds, is not strictly metrical in a pre-modern sense: there is no ambition towards temporal repetition, the kind of lull or hypnosis that strictly metered verse provides us. Instead, the poem attempts to understand a prosody of thought and perception as temporal acts of cognition. While the poetic form becomes a particular exercise of thought, a negotiation of rhetoric & sentential acts, the content itself is sensuous, rhythms actualized by the palpability of referents to disclose an emotional, tactile, human-centered universe. Poetry that I like always asks for re-reading and opens its pleasures only to serious commitment, and this may be one of the central dilemmas for poets today: encouraging repetition in reading, in dwelling and maintaining a relationship with a particular text or poem long enough for it to disclose its particular rhythms and interrelationships; relations between what is staged or manipulated as a literary inheritance, and what is liberated and given for mind-body pleasure.

The bus trip took far longer than I had expected, so I had missed both the opening night of the Boog City events on Thursday, as well as the events at the Sidewalk Café on Friday as a result of the time it took me to get into the city. There were a lot of difficulties encountered in simply making this trip at all, facts of the “less-than-shoestring” budget of the press itself, carrying all the books in my arms like a traveling salesman, or colporteur, and knowing that I could not spend any money at all, but desperately needed to make money. It seemed as though all the outward signs of this trip were giving me a counter-message to what I felt was my goal: to publicize and celebrate the work of poets I had published, to make a living, rather than have that living provided and shaped for me. This is the ongoing story of my adult life, a constant realization of the limits to what can be accomplished given the sincere, deliberate goals I want to achieve. I wanted the books to be sought out and bought by readers. But very few, almost none, of the people I know who live in the city came to buy my books. On the one hand, that was an implicit/explicit judgment of the work I had done, and if I were to settle into a self-critical mode, I would see it as a rejection of my work as publisher and poet. It brings to mind both the structuring of my expectations and efforts, and the structuring of literature as a cultural form. In the social myth of the United States, the poet has a particular role, as does the small press publisher, and so many of our social, commercial, and performative literary events are structured in such a way as to fulfill and perpetuate these tropes, these commonplaces we’ve established for our cultural life. The margin provided for contesting these roles is very thin, and the thinnest is the economic one. As the US Congress decides on the value of financial “paper” and rejects the convoluted and confusing determinations of value during the recent, so-called Wall Street bailout, on another level, readers of poetry in this, the literary capital of our nation, determine the value of the quite literal paper that I have worked on to print and publish. While the poems by these authors have great value both to me and themselves, another set of values is invoked during the “Fair” and “Festival”. Much has been made of the idea of a “gift” economy among poets, and to a great extent I have also participated in this idea. Another aspect of this money/poetry conundrum is the fact that, as David McFadden mentions in his Great Lakes Suite, “poets don’t buy books.” After removing/being removed from academic culture and losing my ability to purchase books as easily as I once did, I, too, rarely buy books. Small press is for many a form of counter-economy, a realization of a different form of exchange vastly removed from that of the type engaged in by the commercial and securities banks. My education in the fine distinctions and complicated world of the poetry hustle took on a new and useful dimension over the Boog City weekend.

I didn’t even know where I was going to sleep that night as I got off the bus next to the port authority terminal. I was going to meet a friend at the Café readings and Lou Reed cover-band show, but she wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to come into the city. So I called another friend who lived closer to Manhattan, and he gave me an easier set of instructions to follow. I walked through the port authority building, and the first set of automated MTA vendors I came to was all shut down. I had to stand in a long line to buy a pass from the woman in the booth. Tired and sweaty, I finally was able to get on one train that, jiggle and bump, brought me out into the fabled city of Brooklyn, a place not entirely unlike some of my beloved Buffalo streets, except for the fact that these streets were full of people moving around and there was a feeling of motion, speed, and foot-traffic-friendly drivers. I guess I should say that there are just a few blocks of streets in Buffalo that have this feeling, whereas Brooklyn is the size of Buffalo and then some. All of Brooklyn’s streets are full of life and movement, new scenes, people of all kinds of backgrounds, careers and motivations. I walked about a mile from the station to Will Hubbard’s place, in a fantastic location practically overlooking the East River, under the Williamsburg Bridge, next to the recently-saved brick behemoth of the Domino Sugar factory. I met a group of guys in their twenties, drinking, smoking, living it up and getting ready to prowl the streets. They were really getting nostalgic and joyous over the song “Santa Monica” by the band Everclear. Will painted the words “Mom and Pop” on a cheap print of the old New York skyline, and we all took turns trying to guess what it meant (Will included). Jaye took me to a deli a few blocks away for a sammich, and we marveled at the cover of the New York Post, featuring pictures and a story about a midget that would have made P.T. Barnum proud. And to my surprise, my favorite kind of tobacco was over a dollar cheaper here! On return, the Everclear crew decided to decamp and head to a party featuring a brass band and booze, and I was thankful to get a chance to lay down on Dan and Will’s awesome leather couch, glue my sweaty and tired back to the soporific cowhide, and disappear into dreams of green electronic grasshoppers skittering over windswept drifts of highly-refined white sugar. In Santa Monica.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Buffalo Poets In Conversation

Hosted by the gracious & loquacious Will Hubbard; guided expertly through the maz'y Brooklyn streets by gentleman Jaye, and then offered good company and sweet ocean-side idleness by Damian of Damianco (in celebration of his birthday), I enjoyed the Welcome to Boog City Festival as it transformed from work into one righteous vacation. I'll be scientifically untangling the 1000 minutiae of my weekend on this blog soon enough.

A few days later I sat down to participate in a historic conversation with 9 other Buffalo poets at the awesome Bon Vivant performance hall/art gallery/poetry showcase space. To hear our thoughts, in a raw recording, please visit

Once at their site, you can find the file by clicking on Susan Marie's "This is NOT the Apple" show.

Hear me feverishly read prepared statements while all the other poets comfortably discuss their writing life with relaxed, eloquent ease!


Saturday, September 20, 2008

boog city festival

My bus was over an hour late out of Buffalo. It had been held up en route from Toronto at the border (reminding me of Hejinian's line, "where there are borders there is barbarism"), and we took a long scenic route through beautiful New York State. Which means I missed the Sidewalk readings. I've just awakened under the Williamsburg Bridge & will walk it this morning with Jaye to Cakeshop. Hooray. Eating raisins, dried bananas, unsalted sunflower seeds & apple rings. Lots of literature. LOTS. Brooklyn is cool.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Welcome

It's late summer here, air turning cooler, clear starry skies in Buffalo just before dawn, and I'm cleaning my apartment thinking about the weekend coming up: I'm taking the little scratch pad editions and a sheaf of my own verse downstate to Manhattan and Brooklyn. I've got a specially- designed "chap-caddy" for the books. What I love about the small small press bookfair and the reading coming up will be my chance to meet lots of poets and writers. Another bonus of the Boog City events is the amount of music featured. Being the publisher of a small small press means my expectations and hopes are very high, and the reality will likely be a great time meeting writers, musicians and poets, with the chance to make enough in sales to pay for the trip. Music, muses, and poems on the page: Cole Porter and colporteurs.

I'll be posting more about this event in the coming days.

Here is, as far as I can remember off the top of my head, all the little scratch pad books I've ever published:

Self-publishing era (1996-2004):

Eating a Stone. 1996. Single copy of various modes of writing. Maximum pathos, widest set of styles. Really my first attempt at collecting and binding my poems into a book. I gave this to a friend, it went with her to Rochester, and then I asked for her to mail it back.

Snack Size. 1997. Compiled after taking my first official graduate creative writing class, in which I received a grade of "B". I didn't make this book for the class, but rather was influenced mostly by the poets reading at the coffeehouse just over the border from the University. When Starbucks bought the building and ended its long tradition of music, art and poetry, the music moved to an old theater and became The Kent Stage, and the poetry moved to the Standing Rock gallery. There was an education professor who graded papers at the coffeehouse every day, Doc Zuckerman, who helped me design it. I made 25 copies, misspelled Charles Olson's name on the back cover, and then it was photocopied in an edition of 250 by Impetus Press. I've only this year finally run out of these. A month ago I read from this book for the first time in Buffalo in a dark room (Bon Vivant) while reading by candlelight (I had to hold the candle in order to see the text). I was sweating profusely. I felt like a brand new poet somehow.

Pulling the Long Face. (24 poems). 1998. Jayce Renner was crucial to this book. He set up a photo shoot based on my poem "Hats Off to Jacob Nibenegenesabe" a shaggy dog tale of going on the road overburdened by unsold artworks and a giant armoire. I only made 25 of these.

Edge of Perception. 2000. A little book that I don't have an enormous love for, but respect greatly. It marks my first real grappling with my move to Buffalo and the hypercharged atmosphere of intense philosophical and experimental poetry. Mike Kelleher helped me edit it, or at least encouraged me to think of a book as a complete artistic event. He also got me to change the name of the book, originally titled: Douglas Manson Verses Himself.

Topographic Resolution. 2000. Compiled for the Elevator Box Project, so, in a way, co-published with the ephemeral Elevator Press--a "box" project of art & poetry developed by Michael Kelleher and Brian Collier. One of my most favorite books. My text compares our "carbon economy" to the last days of the Aztecs, looks at gender identity, and also includes a catalog of 40 objects collected exactly one mile from my house in 40 directions, each one named for a poet, and given a weather. In the box were works by Rosa Alcala, Chris Alexander, Joel Bettridge, Michelle Citrin, Kristen Gallagher, Ike Kim, Brian Lampkin, Tim McPeek, Linda Russo, Jonathan Skinner and Roberto Tejada. 40 copies made. Ric Royer and Chris Fritton began the Ferrum Wheel art/poetry object-magazines soon after. And Damian Weber then began compiling found text for his "Source Material" magazine.

Love Sounds (Like Perfidy). 2002. Only 25 copies made, but quite a blast. I genetically designed a new letter for this book. I power-drilled every copy. I had great help from Eliza Newman-Saul in design work. The poem ended up as the central work in my book Roofing and Siding in the complete sequence of the "Sines Poem". Sinne's pome. Signs Poem. Synespoem.

The Flatland Adventures of Blip and Ouch. 2004. Sort of like a play. But really a kind of inverted Wizard of Oz TV commercial. I made an audio recording of this.

A Book of Birthdays. 2005. A work from the archives, compiling of lines. Not really a publication, but a way of giving. Cover designed by Theresa Rico.

Small Press era (2005-present):

Autobiography 1: Perfect Game by Aaron Lowinger. 2005. 27 poems organized around the game of baseball. What a work! 200 copies (100 of these with color covers).

Sections in Four Seasons by Douglas Manson. 2006. first part of to becoming normal. 26 copies.

TwentyTwo (first pallet) by Kristianne Meal. 2007--the small edition, "buff & rust" only 22 copies.

At Any Point by Douglas Manson. 2007--the small edition, "buff & rust". 25 copies.

TwentyTwo (first pallet) by Kristianne Meal. 2007. "editions #1". 100 copies.

Accidental Thrust by Nick Traenkner. 2007. "editions #2". 25 copies.

Of Venus 93 by Michael Basinski. 2007. "editions #3". 200 copies.

At Any Point by Douglas Manson. 2008. Expanded edition (text & prints). "editions #4". 100 copies.

NTR P C E ST R by L.A. Howe. 2007. "editions #5". 100 copies. A procedural work on the poem "Easter" by Frank O'Hara.

Words in Season by Tom Yorty. 2007. "editions #6". 200 copies.

Imaginary Poems for my Imaginary Girlfriend Named Anabel by Elizabeth Mariani. 2008. "2.1". 100 copies (green cover). Note: a new edition, with yellow cover, now in print from semperverdi press.

Ever After / Never Under (20 choruses)
by Jaye Bartell. 2008. "2.2". 200 copies.

(forthcoming) With Naked Foot by Jonathan Skinner. 2008. "2.3". 100 copies.

Okay, I lied--I had to look up some of these books.