Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Book Launch for Jaye Bartell this Friday

Ever After / Never Under
a poem in 20 choruses

Friday, August 29:
a new book from little scratch pad editions
[book is now $7 + $1 postage].
Reading, song, cinema by
Jaye Bartell, Shane Meyer and Akrem Serdar.
::RUST BELT BOOKS:: 202 Allen St. Buffalo NY:: 7 p.m.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Spleen Dream #14

walking naked in argyle frames
wood frames
rotted wood frames
coffee bean breaks into powder
something wrong with this tobacco
walk ankled broker than thou
walk weak-ankled in argyle
naked with alimony
strafing mysterical and mako’d over
with stucco stars’ teeth,
angle heaped hamsters
worked the Neko streets of drawn
this blind everything’s silhouetted by the frowns
turned to wall and antler’d me
and the memes of dream bloated by the rage for orders
half-sandwiched by an ampuled reputation
which was disputed to never defend yourself evenly
even if they want notes for nature know
the wire tripped was meant to be burnt
so burn your own photographs not mine
was it harpless or helpless she said he was turtled?
taffeta and tarragon, do ray me with a lamp
well wall antler’d being blank glass-eyed tear drip
by being simply hog tied, well-turned oinkers
up on the eaves drop, drip drop drip
down from the eaves dropper snickety snick:
leave the walls alone! your badge of honor ripped
into swatches, the overheard is much too underhanded,
dream girls in fast cars will whisker you cat alley’d
right by the bureaucrats--
alley, alley, in comfry & a poultice in the pulpit
walking ankle-shackled by art’s feelingless love muffins
did I just say that or will you
ostensive ostriches and paragons of hot dogs
get me out of this fucking museum,
its friezing over in here.

we’re like cows now our fordy assemblage line specializations
make you know nobody but nobody but who knows it &
this verse line worker, he’ll carry that crying jag
just as long as the shard stays pointy to his nerves
of the hour, by the hour, and for the hour.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Russell Salamon & John Ruskin (for Russell "the sky is crying" Pascatore)

I've been reading Russell Salamon's book Woodsmoke & Green Tea (deep cleveland press, 2007) [Press/purchasing information here]. There will be a more detailed review of this book in the upcoming special "Performing Patchen" issue of Celery Flute.

Salamon shared a house with d.a. levy in 1964-1965. In 1994 he published a book detailing this experience, composed of an extended letter of prose to levy, interspersed with both his own and levy's poetry, all of which contribute to one of the best poetic memoirs I have ever read. Descent into Cleveland is an important text in literary autobiography, as it maintains a tone both reflective of the life and activity they shared, now 30 years gone, while it continues forward a consistent viewpoint that shows that the activity begun in that distant past is still ongoing, and of our present life. The current book, Woodsmoke & Green Tea is a project in poetic invention that extends over each of the 44 poems in the book. In his introduction to the collection, Salamon provides a valuable example of an articulate, argumentative statement of poetics. Amidst this, he offers what I consider one of the most powerful descriptions of what a great musical performance can accomplish:

Let's say the symphony orchestra has just washed a tidal wave of sounds over you. You rise up sputtering, gasping for breath, and as the next wave hits you, sections of your body float off in pieces. Little is left besides an exalted feeling of heaven and hell. And that was only the first movement. The third movement tries to heal you, but now you have six arms and no legs. You can climb vines in the jungle very quickly. Among the branches you squawk like a green parrot. The last movement won't let you come back until you promise never again to be human. You lie, and you say,
"I promise"

If ecopoetics, as a distinctive grounding for works of poetry and other arts, is to have some weight in coming years, Salamon is pointing to one component that seems urgently necessary, that the composed form must provide means of extending the senses in a visceral way in order to re-imagine our own capacity for movement, perception, and sense. Salamon describes an imaginative reinvention/transformation of capacity and perception experienced within a particular performance--and the poetry in his book bears out this conjecture. Some other level of reference, beyond our agreed-upon certainties, must be available to the poet, even if it forgoes scientific accuracy. Via the sonic ground and mutability of imaginative relations, I would argue, poetry participates in a reordering of conventional linguistic continuities. And the formal bounds of this, in meter, form, frame or process, are the supports which allow our entry and egress.

* * *

I woke up in a liminal state this morning, feeling the same way Salamon's empathetic listener describes that initial immersive experience of a symphony. In shreds of acute disorientation, I reached for some stable point around which the morning (beautiful as it was) would compose. Again, as with the Ram Dass book, I opened a book at random. I held Sesame and Lilies, by John Ruskin, a British critic of the victorian era, a writer I had avoided throughout my college years because he had gained some notoriety as an author characteristic of some long abandoned project in poetic thought. But since the physical book itself was well made, probably in the 1890s, by the Henry Altemus company in Philadelphia, with its Arts & Crafts/William Morris-style raised floral design, I was interested enough to sample a page:

...the effect of failure upon my own mind has been the reverse of [Alexander Pope's, typified in such sentiments as these: "Each want of happiness by hope supplied/And each vacuity of sense, by pride.//Hope builds as fast as Knowledge can destroy;/In Folly's cup still laughs the bubble joy."]. The more my life disappointed me, the more solemn and wonderful it became to me. It seemed, contrarily to Pope's saying, that the vanity of it was indeed given in vain; [Pope's lines read: "One pleasure past, another still we gain;/And not a vanity is given in vain."] but that there was something behind the veil of it which was not vanity. It became to me, not a painted cloud, but a terrible and impenetrable one; not a mirage, which vanished as I drew near, but a pillar of darkness, to which I was forbidden to draw near. For I saw that both my own failure, and such success in petty things as in its poor triumph seemed to me worse than failure, came from the want of sufficiently earnest effort to understand the whole law and meaning of existence, and to bring it to noble and due end; as, on the other hand, I saw more and more clearly that all enduring success in the arts, or in any other occupation, had come from the ruling of lower purposes,--not by a conviction of their nothingness, but by a solemn faith in the advancing power of human nature, or in the promise, however dimly apprehended, that the mortal part of it would one day be swallowed up in immortality; and that, indeed, the arts themselves never had reached any vital strength or honor but in the effort to proclaim this immortality, and in the service of either of great and just religion, or of some unselfish patriotism and law of such national life as must be the foundation of religion. (p. 180-181)

I have to say this is where I stopped--so many metaphysical underpinnings that poststructuralist philosophy had taken time to explore were invoked here, that I wondered if Ruskin could really mean that any feeling for success in the arts depends on this same credo ut intelligam that answers to his sense of not knowing where next to turn. What I do find interesting are the conditions of the question: basically, some felt sense of failure that seeks some other explanatory grounding in which the attempt at art can be justified. For Ruskin, this is immortality grounded on "lower purposes" which find a kind of warm tidal hum of permanence named just religion, law, patriotism, and national life. While I admit to a vast ignorance of both Ruskin and Arnold, my limited memory recalls that both writers eventually abandoned poetry to write criticism for the remainder of their lives. It is an interesting "verge" if you will, the space of the question of one's activity, or the recall of the purposes towards which an activity is aimed, as if Ruskin were accurate enough in his assumption of why he had written poetry when that activity began (I don't know, I am taking this quote "out of context" so to speak, the essay itself is grandly titled "Of the Mystery of Life"). In this small excerpt, Ruskin identifies why he has begun rowing in the deeps: failure. But he posits two contradicting rationales: Pope's seemingly endless renewal in vanity after vanity, as from an unlimited source of diversion and performance, and the option of a "solemn faith in the advancing power of human nature". Ruskin discredits the first approach, calling it the "rule of lower purposes", if it doesn't see itself tied to larger purposes. My question is not by necessity the same as Ruskin's but does allow me to see an interesting component of how choices are discerned. For Ruskin, we can stay mollified and creatively productive by watching the shifting light over Pope's "painted clouds" or we can instead watch them harden into an "impenetrable" mystery that must align itself with institutionalized identities--in a "national life" or as communicant in a "great and just religion". Are we faced with parallels to these options today? If we are of Pope's persuasion, does that mean we simply expand our wardrobes and paint ourselves with the available light? Or do we try to transform our lower purposes (which are mutable) into aspirations for "immortal" life as provided through the prevailing structures of church and state? Of course this language is, in our current discourse, antiquated. It may be better to ask for a new set of options. Something more fitting of the current environment in which the question plays itself out. For me, at least, the question remains relevant. But how, and why, and for how long one goes about answering it is another problem in itself.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blog turns 30!

I'm pretty much a novice to keeping an on-line, web-log journal. I've been thinking a lot about the best use I can make of the Unbecoming Normality idea and venue. Part of this means reading a lot of other blogs. Which means spending a lot of time on line. I've read a lot of pages recently, and the truth is, I'm reading via computer more than I'm reading books away from the screen. I've enjoyed a lot of amazing sites, in addition to favorites I've put in the "friends" list, like Jessica Smith, Michael Salinger, Ron Silliman, and Chris Fritton (who got me started on this by emailing an announcement of his new blog):

Shopping at EverythingRon.com is a hilarious site dedicated to the difficulties of using the English language without having fluency. The great thing about his site is that all his examples are advertisements hoping to sell you something. The mistakes being made reveal other grammars, wonderfully unexpected images, and provides news ways to think about my own language, English, especially how funny my own sentences would sound if I were writing in a language I didn't have fluency in. For me, this is every other language on earth (and I don't have such an easy time of it with this one).

I like poetry sites that include poems. I find that I will read an entire online poem if its less than 40-50 lines. Otherwise I seem to get attention deficit issues. So my approach to poetry blogs is a lot like my old television viewing habits--easily bored, always ready to switch channels. I'm not happy about this. It seems I've simply moved from being a couch potato to being a computer potato. Navel Orange is a poetry blog by Jill Chan in New Zealand. She is also the editor of Poetry SZ: Demystifying Mental Illness, a unique on-line magazine. I like Navel Orange because Chan posts new poems almost every other day, and then removes them 2-3 days later. I think this is a good way of having your work read, bringing readers back, and showing the writing process as it takes place. I will be borrowing this idea for poems that I feel should be in-print, or will be gathered for a later collection. Other poems will become part of the blog on their own. Thanks for the inspiration, Jill!

I get a lot of information about poetry and poetry websites from the Poetics List managed by the University at Buffalo and Pennsylvania University. Today I enjoyed finding Ed Galing's moving, direct works at Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene.

I also envision this blog to be a way to respond and reflect on larger, societal issues. I was angered and dismayed by this story in the the local news. A very sad indication of how much more sensitivity and maturity is needed in our world. The local independent newspaper is also encouraging bloggers to join Great Lakes Urban Exchange, which may take up a role here. The site is based on a great idea, and an easy way to read about projects and ideas that will help re-invent our mismanaged urban spaces.

A blog is also a way of expressing oneself. Sometimes it is the latest emotional state that has taken over all our energies, or sometimes the blog can be shaped into the work of art itself, the filtering and transformation of our circumstances into a deliberate (sometimes indecorous) statement.

So lately I've been thinking about just how much my own "way" in the world unfolds like a soap opera, that the little fiction/drama composed in my head out of the circumstances of my day need to be recast into a new genre: COMEDY. Because my life is, really, funnier than I think. My various conflicts, conflicted emotions, and misunderstandings seem so huge when I'm in the middle of them that it seems hard to say STOP, take a deep breath, and put the whole thing into context. Of course, when I've let the day to day circumstances go unattended to, I end up with a big mess, so that I need to stop what I'm doing, untangle all the knotted threads of the day, and let them all resonate together as a big, beautiful chord. And when I'm convinced I'm in a hurry, that time is running out, deadlines are looming, it's very hard to do that.

So, I get a lot of useful information from longer works, and not just quick fix, ill-considered blogging, or deceptively formatted commercial websites--

one theme that keeps coming up lately, are little maxims in other languages that I've taken the time to memorize. I think they work on me because I have to memorize them simply to remember what they mean, phrases demanding greater attention and care to understand because they are unfamiliar or oddly formulated, and can thus draw on them more readily, see them as sonic impressions beyond the easily forgotten cliche or homily. One of these has been mens sana in corpore sano.

A few others I've taken a liking to, found in my recent reading in and about Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, is a quote from Goethe:

suchen ist irren

which means, "to seek is to err". This has become a useful way for me to think about writing, or the longer project of writing as a means to respond to the world, friends and loved ones, the way a "way" is pointed out--because I am so full of the energy to discover new things, to allow myself a degree of drift in my attention (and thus led astray). The search for an open way through life leads us into error, to mistakes, and away from our assumed starting point and any destination we had so thoroughly envisioned. It opens the way to allow beauty into our lives, because the search we are embarked upon has few certainties. Watts called this, in one sense, the wisdom of insecurity.

So I've downloaded and started reading Rosenstock-Huessy's book I Am an Impure Thinker (you can find it here). And here are a few ideas of his that I find really amazing:

"I am an impure thinker. I am hurt, swayed, shaken, elated, disillusioned, shocked, comforted, and I have to transmit my mental experiences lest I die. And although I may die. To write a book is no luxury. It is a means of survival. By writing a book, a man frees his mind of an overwhelming impression. The test for a book is its lack of arbitrariness, the fact that it had to be done in order to clear the road for further life and work." (p. 2)

He is also comparing broad concepts, like Descartes cogito ergo sum, with the older form credo ut intelligam, which he says Descartes wanted to replace. And Rosenstock-Huessy continues with this one: respondeo etsi mutabor, "I respond although I will be changed".

For me that is an important view of being a writer & good friend: one writes to respond to an overwhelming impression, and in doing so, the writing changes, and so does the writer. So much that I do for myself is in some way to resist that change, but the longer I do, it seems the less motivated I am. It has meant my not taking the writing, or any commitment to any project, seriously enough, not letting go enough to embrace the change that awaits me.

And so, since I wanted to present it here, I will include this final notion, which seems to follow from what I've included so far: that we are hardly single, solitary, self-created individuals; that our responses or representations in writing also take part in a social, integrated component of many sources, revealing not just a part of who I am, but some small facet of who we all are (not to be too presumptious); but that, in essence, we're never alone. I was looking (randomly) in Ram Dass and Paul Gorman's How Can I Help? And came to a passage on helplessness:

We go about our lives thinking that helplessness happens to "other people" and this can make us forget our responsibility to others (like visiting a friend or loved one who has fallen ill or become immobile). When we ourselves become helpless, we realize "the price of our conditioning...We've clung to models of ourselves as independent, defining ourselves largely in terms of our power to shape our own destiny. There's been little encouragement to acknowledge and explore our vulnerability." When suddenly we're encountered with our own helplessness, "our ego is adrift...Because our power is so threatened and our ability to control our environment so curtailed, we may explore ways of using our helplessness to gain power. Perhaps we get others to focus on our predicament. Controlling attention is power. Or perhaps we play on people's pity, guilt or sense of duty." The best way through, the book suggests, is to examine and explore this helplessness. In the end, after the free-fall, you discover how you yourself create the conditions of that feeling. If you can go into it, you will gain a better understanding of self, community, and how to better seize positive, life-altering and affirming opportunities. (quotes are from pages 136-139, Knopf, 1985).

* * *

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Tracking the Hits

I've decided to keep track of browsing on the weblog here.

Nobody responded to my ideas about poetry and poets, so I've abandoned that topic.

I'm considering doing book reviews for the blog. If anything else to stay in practice, and to respond to new works. I got a copy of Bradley Lastname's book Your Pretty Typeface is Going to Hell in the mail recently.

I'll post again, and extensively, when the hit-meter reaches 30.

It will be a sign of the blog's maturity.

Then a new poem at 50.

Okay. It's a plan.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mens sana in corpore sano

Just for the record: in High School, probably as a RESULT of High School, I would indulge in the smoking of a plant that, while medicinal, is considered illegal. The consistent use of this plant made me lazy, irritable, and constantly preoccupied with trivialities. I don't recommend it. After high school, I stopped using it, and anything else the lousy crowd I ran with was ingesting. That was in 1989. Since then, I've turned down 99.9% of all offers to enjoy the blessed herb & other assorted no-nos. I don't use any kind of "drugs" but I do have a certain, perhaps overweening fondness for tobacco, coffee, and the occasional after-work drink. So there.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Stealing from the Public (Stealing from Adults)

Three cheers for Bill Moyers, breaking it down on the Grand Old Party.

(this link may direct to a new Moyers feature after 8/8/08)