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.

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