Sunday, December 27, 2009

hallelujahs & mirabilia waft o'er the tent of my dreaming

& then I saw a bird.

It resembled the kingfisher.

It nested at sea.

As it sat on its egg, all the seas were calmed.

Happy solstice!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Please Write (and tell us why)

This is kind of like a quiz plus words about why you chose this particular person.

1. Who is the most beautiful person you have ever met?

2. Who is the smartest person you have ever met?

3. Who is the funniest person you have ever met?

4. Who is the most erotic and sexy person you have ever met?

I will post my own answers within a week. You don't have to name people if you don't want to.

Please write!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jerks in Cyberspace

If you aren't certain enough of yourself to sign your own garbage talk on my my blog, then please keep your opinions to yourself.

Have a nice day.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Moving Time Again

The press (which is really me) is moving again. In my New York City perambulations, I first stayed in Bed-Stuy. So I moved to Bensonhurst, where I loved the neighborhood & now I'm moving to Bay Ridge. I've got an unlimited metrocard, so I'll be able to span the boroughs from those verdant shores. R-line UP! Please do come help me with the moving party this Saturday. This time all the heavy lifting will be done by real movers, so it will be more celebration than persperation.

Favorite idea of this morning (a description of Scarry's Resisting Representation): "Looking at problematic areas of expression not at the moment when representation is resisted, but at the moment when that resistance is at last overcome, suggesting a domain of plenitude and inclusion."

Today's teaching menu main courses: Thomas Hardy and William Blake.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Future is Here

Um, uh, well, like. . .
I guess, um, since there was so much inarticulate anxiety in my last post on the ability to think the "now", Ron Silliman has stepped in to announce it: it's Tao Lin's Shoplifting From American Apparel. As in the Jay-Z video , all our pure products are now in place. I've spotted at least four well-placed product names in this video, but I'm sure there are many more, and they glide in among the real places mentioned in the lyrics without any sense of their (the streets and buildings of New York) being any different from a product you can go buy (or try to steal) RIGHT NOW. I guess I will ad- (oops, i forgot the last letter of my word) my own critical bumpersticker here:

In the American literature of today, statement has given way to product placement.

Welcome to 1993. Have a good day.


p.s. i'm aware of the blatant irony of my critique--that my blog is, in some measure, just an ad for little scratch pad press, the Alternating Current co-op press in Cambridge, and at another level, in the Richard Thompson video, an advertisement for the Vincent motorcycle company's "Black Lightning". No matter the tiny extent of reach my favored products can have for an audience, or even that a Black Lightning is a very rare and hard-to-find antique, I am in the literary/arts promotion business just as much as I am a writer or critic. Perhaps the ability to recognize a current moment rests simply on the degree to which we understand our own role in the very thing we hope to grasp, or move away from. As Miriam once wrote about photography--we give assent in the very act of recognition. Perhaps being bewildered and inarticulate can, on its furthest side, be a kind of protest against the demands made on our recognition. On the nearest side, though, to be inarticulate is a tragic loss of affect, sympathy and responsibility.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Ability to Recognize the New

One of the more recent and important questions here at Unbecoming and Undisbecoming has been, "Are we capable of recognizing the new?" Meaning that, as we are capable of seeing and saying, can we effectively describe an important change in attitude, a shift in the productive, generative spirit of our time or the general appearance of a content that demands a new form?

The question arose in regard to Undisbecoming's recognition that Erich Auerbach, in his brilliant work of historical literary criticism, Mimesis, was, despite his immense penetration into literature's relations between the individual and the social, yet unable to understand Virginia Woolf's new approach to narrative, as the previous generation's novels of realist and naturalist inclination suddenly gave way to modernism's destabilized frames of reference.

Unbecoming, clearing his throat, stated that he felt that, given his academic training, the critical models he'd inherited, and his ongoing study of "the classics", he was less equipped to recognize or even be aware of what was emerging as definitive of the contemporary moment in literature and art (and music, too!). But, he thought to himself, he once believed that he had understood what the new would require.

Undisbecoming then said that we didn't even have the language to say what the new looked or felt like.

Unbecoming, as is his wont, then went into a long explanation about his growing discomfort over the texts he was using in his teaching, in that he was uncertain they were going to be the best means for his students to grapple with the current situations, those that troubled us all.

Undisbecoming, with a tear forming, but not from sorrow, then explained how the current conditions could be seen as hopeless, and that, as far as she could tell, it meant that we had to think in terms of catastrophe.

Unbecoming then, once again, began one of his apologias for his attitude towards popular music, film and literature, by saying that it (his attitude) had been formed in a crucible of mistrust over pop culture's history of merciless exploitation, and the means that a music industry has to decontextualize the structures of feeling that a shared & social musical performance creates, in order to make that music mean anything it wanted it to.

They then talked about Flaubert, Stendhal, Balzac, Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence.

Undisbecoming had heard a song wafting from a car on Atlantic Avenue a few days ago and liked it, and Unbecoming was anxious to hear a song that had been recommended to him. They discovered that it was the same song. They listened to it. It was the new jam.

Here are some new books of poetry published by Alternating Current. (PO Box 398058. Cambridge MA 02139)

David Stone. under the el. (2009)
K. Alma Peterson. Befallen. (2009)
Leah Angstman. Some Misplaced Joan of Arc. (2009)
David S. Pointer. Camelot Kid's Triggertopia. (2009)
Jason Fisk. The Sagging: Spirits & Skin. (2009)
Adrian Manning. All This I See Before Me, All This I Cannot Resist. (2009)
Various Authors. Poiesis Number Three. (2009)

Featured lines from Poiesis Number Three by T. Kilgore Splake:

deep in december tides
samper bootsteps crunching
arctic long hite
misty dreams
pretty girl lover
never found
april motorcycle fevers
vincent "black lightning"


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Larkin Grimm at the Issue Project Room 10/16/09

Larkin Grimm dedicated her set at the Issue Project Room last Friday to the venue's late founder and artistic director Suzanne Fiol, who recently died of brain cancer; to die of a broken head!—we tried to wrap our minds around it but there was a wind whipping through the room, and our chests were great caverns.
In this here country performance is exhausted by art, rock and roll, and miracles and we fans bore witness as the lady hit rock and roll with a stick and drew from it a violent, bridge and tunnel Papagayo. It carried the spirit of Suzanne Fiol’s heart, not head, and conjured the ghost ships of those Spanish armadas it had once upon a time nudged along their merry discovering ways. Larkin Grimm doesn’t cradle her guitar in order to keep the song precious, but she wears it out like she does her lungs, and her ecstatically open address laments the lot of us as part of the still plodding procession of pioneers receding backward into the annals of American memory in search of the last wilderness. She sings to the weary searcher and colonist, pats down a bed of moss and asks America in its own voice to finally go to sleep. The high Nor’easter settles obediently and our blown minds can all rest easy into the earth’s downy matter with her plangent lullaby.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lost Notes Now Playing

Trees Falling
On Words
The Robert Creeley Conference

Travelogue of the Interior
Buffalo and Environs
October 13-14, 2006.
Account written January 8-9, 2007, during the rains of winter, amidst some small home improvements and repairs.

The lamp has been taken apart, I find there's an armature that's burnt out. This won't take much, a dollar or two at the hardware store.

Charles Bernstein kicked things off a few weeks early with an historico-critical presentation of his version of the history of the poetics program, while eliding Dennis Tedlock and Charles Olson's participation in the constitution of the poetics program. He humorously and usefully has the "class" of attendees closely read a poem he hands out to us. A week before the conference I see Steve McCaffery handing off a copy of the conference poster to the owner of Rust Belt Books, saying, "Here is a souvenir" and explaining how the posters keep disappearing every time he puts one up. I assume it was the drawing by Harvey Breverman that occasioned the theft of these promotional posters.

There were some pre-conference readings of papers by Graduate Students at UB on Thursday. Sarah Campbell related Creeley to Wittgenstein. As I gave my remarks about Creeley's last two books of poetry published before he died, a heavy, wet snow began to fall. The horrible weather continued throughout the day, (I must admit I was also undergoing the worst fall of my life, though from long hindsight, here in Oct. of 2009, my major difficulties were just beginning). As I write this now, Jan. 2007, the lamp has been fixed with a replacement of the $5.00 switch-and-armature.

The opening reading of the night was begun with a few words from Creeley's wife and companion, mother of his two children Hannah and Will: Penelope. She was thrilled to announce the publication by the University of California Press of the second volume of Robert Creeley's Collected Poems. She also wished luck to Steve McCaffery in the continuance of the poetics program at Buffalo that Creeley had overseen since the early 1970s, in a semi-admonishing tone. It was later reported that McCaffery had responded to this charge, and Penelope's participation in the conference, in somewhat negative terms. I won't repeat the supposed words he said, but let's say, with the devastating snowstorm which descended on the conference, the city's trees, changes in venue, and the change in featured speakers, McCaffery had to deal with the perhaps most difficult circumstances a conference organizer could likely face.

In terms of changed schedules, the snowstorm, or "thundersnow" as it came to be known (or The October Surprise, the Friday the 13th Storm, and my favorite: Arborgeddon) caused the cancellation of Marjorie Perloff's appearance and a reading by Charles Bernstein on Saturday. The conference papers were not given at the University itself, which had shut down due to the weather. Instead, the conference was moved on Friday morning to a downtown hotel, and then eventually was held at the Trinity Church on Saturday.

I've decided to repair the dryer myself, needing a belt. I've called an appliance supply store, and hope Theresa can pick up the belt on her way home and to her afternoon job.

Here is a Creeley poem from 1970, a poem that enters us fully into the sense of unseasonable weather:

As Now It Would Be Snow

As now it would be snow
one would see, and in
the days, ways of looking
become as soft as shapes
under the snow, as dumb,
and the trees grey, in
the white light, he said:

the mind is right to
fight the cold for the
cold is not its cold, and
the sun is cold, the
night as white as days,
against the mind, trying
to put the mind away.

As now it would be snow,
he could see the days
become another way which
he could not go back
to, and seeing trees
as sharp, still, in his
mind, he said: the mind is

right. The snow will go
and mind remain, and mind
as cold as snow upon the
shapes of trees, to see
the trees as shapes as
sharp as cold, when sun
has put the snow away.

As now it would be snow
he would see, and the
trees no longer sharp
but soft shapes, and for
the eye, a grey against
white, he thought, he
said: the time is right,

and the season cajoled,
and peaceful, what is
to do, is done in the
coldness of the cold
sun, and in a night as
light, as white as day,
I put the mind away.

There are more poems on this theme, though the above is, I think, his best. There is one from a few years later:

Xmas Poem: Bolinas

All around
the snow
don't fall.

Come Christmas
we'll get high
and go find it.

A suggestive notion here in this poem about what is meant by "no snow." Of course, we can go back further in time, to the early "accumulation" that is For Love:

The Snow

The broken snow should leave the traces
of yesterday's walks, the paths worn in,
and bring friends to our door
somewhere in the dark winter.

Sometime in April I will get at last
the flowers promised you long ago,--
to think of it
will help us through.

The night is a pleasure to us,
I think sleeping, and what warmth secures
me you bring,
giving at last freely of yourself.

Myself was old, was confused, was wanting,--
to sing of an old song,
through the last echo of hurting,
brought now home.

More snow comes in thinking about Buffalo. Odd, here in January, that there is no snow, that all
our snow came during the Robert Creeley conference in October.


Steady, the evening fades
up the street into sunset
over the lake. Winter sits

quiet here, snow piled
by the road, the walks stamped
down or shoveled. The kids

in the time before dinner are
playing, sliding on the old ice.
The dogs are out, walking,

and it's soon inside again,
with the light gone. Time
to eat, to think of it all.

immediately, this poem is followed by:


Snow lifts it
by slowing

the movement expected,
makes walking

slower, harder,
makes face ache,

eyes blur, hands fumble,
makes the day explicit,

the night quiet,
the outside more so

and the inside glow
with warmth, with people

if you're lucky, if
world's been good to you,

won't so simply
kill you, freeze you.

Then the gnomic poem:

Season's upon us
Weather alarms us
Snow riot peace
Leaves struck fist.

Here is perhaps my favorite, as it moves comfortably between the real world and the realm of verbal art from his book of 1990:


The upper part is snow,
white, lower, grey
to brown, a thicket,
lacing, light seeming
hedge of branches, twigs,
growths of a tree, trees,
see eyes, holes, through
the interlacings, the white
emphatic spaced places
of the snow, the gravity,
weight, holds it, on top,
as down under, the grey,
brown, edged red, or
ground it has come to,
must all come down.

The first readings of the event were by Rosemarie Waldrop and Robin Blaser. Blaser has just published a revised and expanded edition of his collected poems, a gathering he calls Holy Forest. The sanctuary in which they read is large and echoey--their voices are swallowed. There was a reception which preceded the readings, but I couldn't find out anything thus. Graduate students are grumbling about who was invited or not. Seems Steve McCaffery picks and chooses who is allowed to meet poets. His is a poetics not of inclusion, but exclusion. I've been told also that he has said "I don't believe in community."

The trinity is an architectural jewel, but an acoustic nightmare. The event as a whole is a bit too formal for me, Steve is reading a long list of acknowledgements. Penelope Creeley remarks about a return from Finland in 1989. She reads from the new Collected Poems Vol.2, which poems are, in her words, "A distillation of a day with a world of thought." She reads "Testament" from the 1972 A Day Book.

One poet is introduced by Victoria Brockmeier. I ask myself here in Trinity church how I can make my report by incorporating the words and comments of others. Do I talk about the things Aaron Lowinger says to me as the reading takes place? Someone else hands a shot of whiskey along the pew. He's in a joking mood. I'm here to hear poetry, but I'm also struck by the fact that I am in a community of poets, a lot of them wishing they were someplace else. But that is the spirit of this place, a kind of double-consciousness that often refuses to see what it is, or where it is we are. Is there a sense of place to McCaffery's recent chapbook "Crime Scene" or is this a universalized place on par with the nature of ubiquity that is the structuring conceit of all mass media?

1. Disconnect power.

There is a microphone problem. I decide that we're in a Gothic space. Waldrop reads a poem called "Here": "The room opens and . . ." Waldrop has had three of her works published in one volume, Reproduction of Profiles, Excluded Middle, and Law of Gravity. I notice in her reading that she uses Kafka. Not many poets can do so. Her poetry is a questioning and use of the realm of facts. I like the way she equates painting with stairs. She says in her poem that she will perhaps quote "ancient misogynists." Some other lines stand out: "I believed entropy meant hugging my legs close to my body." She writes in a prosaic form but uses a good deal of simile to poetic effect. There is a conversational mode, question or answer, or more of an epistolary address in her Wittgenstein poems. She reads "Feverish Propositions" that, as she says, reveal an essence of character. "Useless Geometry": "I dream of stroking a lime", oh, she really says "line". She is a very propositional poet in much of this work, many If--Then statements, holding to a cadence of the proposition, viz., If | | | | , then | | | | , or with an optional set of extended four beats in either statement.

Then Robin Blaser is introduced. He was born in 1925, so is close to Creeley in age. As he steps up to speak his first word a loud peal of thunder sounds throughout the church. I look around, Robin is laughing. This is kind of eerie. Trees are cracking and falling in Buffalo tonight. Blaser has immense erudtion. He speaks of his generation of poets, or of all poets, as a "tribe". He reads the Robert Creeley poem "The Plan". "The plan is the body" is repeated many times. For some reason I always hear Allen Ginsberg as the impetus for this poem, perhaps in its repetition, its insistence on "plan" and "body". Blaser then reads "Image Nation 6", but I'm only hearing every third word he speaks, he's very soft spoken, the room is too large, and he's not reading into the microphone. He uses a quote from William Blake. Geoffry Hlibchuk is running around trying to get the sound fixed. I'm only hearing the highpoints of each line, the stress surface on the waves of his whispered verse. "Truth is laughter," I hear him say. He reads the poem "Lair" twice. The first time he is inaudible, then the microphone is fixed, stuffed up under his nose, and he reads it again. The audience cheers. The reading is over, and we go for a few beers at the bar. Kyle Schlesinger tells me to read Two Against the Tide by Adrian Wilson, and Richard Owens tells me to read the Kenneth Rexroth biography by Linda Hamalian. I ask Stephen Fredman what Creeley's favorite Olson quote was, and he tells me: "Limits are what any of us are inside of." I guess this is to be found in one of Olson's poems. But Creeley also had a motto: "Responsibility is the ability to respond." As Olson called Creeley "The figure of Outward" and Creeley always liked to say "Onwards" (I only learned of this when Bernstein wrote it on a page of my dissertation), and this conference is called on words. The opening night Gala is over. I don't try to sidle up to the featured poets, they seem perfectly happy amongst themselves and their peerage. I go home into a night of heavy, wet destruction.

2. Remove front panel, (two screws, lower corner). Swing out to disengage.

The snow continues until 3 or 4 a.m., it had started around 2 or three, whenever I delivered my paper and huge flakes of snow fell outside Capen Hall. Because of this snow, I miss the first paper read the next day (I begin to think I will always miss Ben Friedlander's papers--as I did in Philadelphia at the MLA.) Ben later tells me it was about Walter Benjamin and Wilhelm Dilthey, called "What is Experience?" linked up to Dilthey's Das Erlebnis und die Dictung of 1905. I was told that Peter Middleton recorded this. In fact, Middleton recorded as much as possible. Luckily, I arrive at the hotel where the conference has been moved early enough to hear Rosemarie Waldrop and Robin Blaser give a reprise performance for the group gathered in the small meeting room. Penelope Creeley greets me warmly, as I am the first of the younger scholars to arrive. Christianne Miller also smiles and says hello, and we talk about the storm and the UB English Department's recent hires and planned hires.

Waldrop reads "Time Revelers". I like the alliteration in the line "cracking block of ice". It is a prose poem about travelers. The poem includes memories of parents, and she uses philosophical propositions once again, to good effect. There is also a lot of use of the dictionary. She reads a poem "Dreams" from April 1981: "He listened to the lake so long he didn't hear". Blaser reads "Image Nation 12", with lines "I make out a boat . . .a soul's image". Oh, this is a boat of friends. "The work of it drinks us up". House--elevator--boat. After this he says, "I'm moved by my own poem" and smiles in that warm way of his. Again Creeley's "The Plan"--"you remember I speak it", these are two-stress lines. The whole time I'm thinking about the tree I saw this morning, split open like a slender, three-petalled flower. There are two feet of snow on the ground, and underneath it is a layer of water.

The next paper is Michael Gizzi's. It is about jazz in Boston in the 1950s. I get the gist of it as an argument that the power of this music was formative of Creeley's prosody and subject matter. Gizzi speaks of Kathleen Ferrier and Morton Feldman, the bars in Boston and Providence, the High Hat and Celebrity Club. Bebop and Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell. Charlie Parker, who "played outside the tune", and Olson described the music as "how to dance sitting down--an alternative to the potted metrics of the 50s." A song from Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk from 1955 is played for us.

And now I must finish the home improvements, make the repairs.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

"don't bet the rent on literature" C. Potts

There has never been more than one successful strategy: publish the best writing you can get with the highest production values you can and distribute it as far as your funds and energy permit. Tactically, a poem in the mouth is worth two on the tree.

from Speaking for the Dumb: Rants and Other Writings by Poets & Pubs. Cleve, Oh?: greenpandapress. Oct. 2006.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Weel i woot it, the bumpkin err'd

She felt mortified by her failure, and insulted by the nonchalant behaviour and indifference of Uddereek to her charms and beauty, which even her attentions to him had not prevented her from seeing had been admiringly gazed upon by many another elfin swain who had envied Uddereek his great good fortune in sitting next to her, and would have given anything, even the tips of their tiny moustaches, to have had half the sweet blandishments bestowed upon them that had been thrown away upon his unsympathizing heart. She was deeply hurt and thirsted for revenge. That there was a mystery somewhere she was certain, and that a rival who had already full possession of his heart existed, she was fully convinced, or he never could have so withstood such sweet sorcery as she had tried upon him.


Bayrn da’n choine, dy doogh da’n choine!
Cooat d’an dreeyn, dy, doogh d'an dreeyn!
Breechyn d’an toyn, dy, doogh da’n toyn!
Agh my she Chiat ooily, shoh cha nee Chiat Glen reagh Rushen

text by Edward Callow from The Phynodderree (1882), image by Thornton Oakley in Folk Tales of Brittany by Elsie Masson (1929).


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Reading Exacts a Heavy Cost / What It Takes To Be Popular /The Arts & Sciences

Just listen to this summary of what it “costs” to read a book:

Self-publishing companies may produce books for less than $5, but how much does all this production cost readers? In ‘So Many Books,’ Zaid playfully writes that ‘if a mass-market paperback costs $10 and takes two hours to read, for a minimum-wage earner the time spent is worth as much as the book.’ But for someone earning around $50 to $500 an hour, ‘the cost of buying and reading the book is $100 to $1,000’ — not including the time it takes to find out about the book and track it down.
“You’re an Author? Me Too!” NYT, April 27, 2009 by Rachel Donadio.

Oh, the agony of connecting to the imagination, our own boundless minds!

It's good that Zaid “playfully” draws this comparison, rather than have anyone take these remarks seriously. In the conclusion of my dissertation on Blake, bpNichol and Kenneth Patchen, I also jokingly provided a formula for the “cost” of poetry in terms of energy used to produce the materials, hours worked, and value of the paper—in trying to materially quantify the value of my dissertation. Ideas of the “worth” of poetry are perplexing, as every poet I know is attempting to actualize his or her creative potentials to the fullest extent possible as a value. But again and again, I find there always seems to be a needed justification for the activity. What basic questions are we asked about our efforts, if we don't achieve popularity, or some factual gain? On the one hand, a “valuable” set of questions is being asked of writers, and on the other, most writers ask themselves about their place in the larger society, the relation of writing to economy (always a complicated affair, but an important one), but also about the meaning of the activity for all of their other relationships, communities, writing friends & casual connections. How do we frame our aesthetic ideas, and our reasons for taking up the work? As a project? A poetics? I’ve found that writing is often an affirmation (if not a complication) of personal relationships, social responsibility, and an endlessly renewable resource. But as a less-than-perfect communicator myself, I've learned that the poem, its forms, its disturbances, as well as its theatrical dimensions (entertainment value) are a way of thinking through again. The poem is an amazing form of concentration and is a way of thinking through the senses themselves.

The other day a friend of mine reminded me that she doesn’t “get” contemporary poetry or painting; even though she is, on her own terms, a very accomplished new media artist. I take her opinions seriously, and feel the questions she raised needed to be addressed.

One important found-by-the-blog comment has helped me address this question of audience-v-value. Bob Grumman (an eminent visual poet) breaks down some of the basic, though necessary distinctions for why a lot of people don't like capital P poetry. He is responding to a rather lunkheaded essay he read in the New Criterion (bleech!) that laments poetry’s “loss of audience” since the days of Longfellow. I’m often faced with the “audience” question myself. It's one reason I decided to include a meter that counts the number of visits to my blog. Grumman explains that poetry is not “popular” simply because the prevalent cultural examples of poetry are poorly defined. Distinctions should be made about the multitude of reasons for reading a poem. We often forget just how much poetry is readily available in any number of places & in many different forms. The issue centers on which poetic forms are defined in ways that announce themselves as “poems”:

The reason poetry is no longer as popular as it may have been in Longfellow's day is that newer forms of art can do what it used to do for the aesthetically unsophisticated much better than it could. For instance, (1) still and cinematic photography are its superior at capturing easily-digested moments of beauty in both the natural and man-made world, and are widely and cheaply available; (2) the novel--and now--the movies and television--easily surpass it in story-telling, and are widely and cheaply available; (3) television talk-show hosts, news commentators, televangelists and the like are vastly more facile than it in expressing moral dogma capable of being understood by imbeciles, and are widely and cheaply available; and (4) pop musicians (in particular, rap artists--whose lyrics are memorized as lovingly as any prior poets' texts) outdo it in providing the simple fun of doggerel, sentimentality and plain stupidity, and their texts are widely and cheaply available.

The few poets who do reach a wide audience do it by conventionally expressing simple human truths that appeal to the masses, but only if they are establishment-aided representatives of a certified victims' group like Rita Dove and Maya Angelou, unusually effective careerists like Billy Collins, or celebrities like Jewel. As for our best poets, they compose for people with functioning minds and viscera. The result is poetry using traditional means that is, for the most part, dauntingly complex, and/or poetry that is innovative in the manner of Cummings or Pound, or of contemporary language-centered and pluraesthetic poetries. And the limited, and quiet, audience. It's as simple as that.

A good definition. At the same time, I was also blown away by Gillian K. Ferguson’s poetic project that takes its rhetorical direction from Wordsworth, no less. Her work can be found in a completely free online publication of a “1000 page” poem on the Human Genome. In her introduction to the poem, she has this to say about the role of the poet:

The role of the popular science writer as a ‘filter’ is obviously vital; but along with this, I believe there is no better ‘way in’ than the arts; and no better language than poetry to help this process. Poetry is the ‘right’ kind of language; it can be used to express grand concepts, but will not abandon feeling, reaction, emotional responses as invalid or ‘wrong’ because these things are ‘non-factual’; or rather, cannot be expressed as equations, computations or chemistry.

Poetry’s ‘special’ language is able to incorporate, bridge, and explore these parts of understanding as first nature; as an expansion of vision and perspective, thus contributing to greater understanding. The prevalent view of science as being somehow an absolute dictator whose stark ‘facts’ must be accepted unquestioningly as the entire ‘truth’ - contrasting with the intuitive notion of the ‘messier’, more blurred, interconnecting, seeping understanding of life that being alive instead presents to us - is no longer adequate. And even the most detailed blow-by-blow minute breakdown of the anatomy and processes of a flower, down to the very last chemistry and molecule, misses out something vital in the nature of that flower if this description conveys nothing of the flower’s beauty and aesthetic impact on the human senses. The purely ‘factual’ picture lacks adequate range of vision to present the whole meaning of the flower. In addition, we are simply ‘missing out’ on some of the most fabulous and mind-expanding findings ever made by mankind; life revealed at its most marvellous, creative, and spellbinding.

I agree! I’d recommend a reading of her entire introduction. I appreciate the critical value of serious intellectual work, especially when it is helpful in defining one’s terms and extending our ability to describe value; but of late, and increasingly, I am much more inclined towards positive visions of communication, and the sense it provides of purposes and goals amenable to the writing of poetry that must be its own intrinsic reward. A wild proliferation of senses, palpability and signification in a ludic or logic-curving relation catches me every time, rather than timid passivity.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

move over, summer! now there's something leaner!

where titania hid the indian kid

& where keats found his feets:

in the eglantine,

next to the coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,

under hot nodding violets, fast-fading and wet,

amidst the oxlips (in background),

with wild thymes, wild thymes! and wyld stallyns--rowing in eden,

in a murmurous haunt of flies, luscious & lulling.

the dudes: William Shakespeare and John Keats. Inside they're crying.

(the drawing of oxlips above is "Oxlips and Daisies" by Tricia Newell, this a copyrighted image that i'm using without her permission, and with no hope of profitting by using it, so please visit her site. If you ARE tricia newell, thanks for the great drawing, and please don't sue me!)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

at one

these are notes.

not an argument.

so i'm trying to eat good food. smile at the sun. cross on green and stop on red.

i read somewhere that saying there were not serious and lasting aesthetic differences among American poets was like throwing a sucker-punch. A mean gesture. Not ameliorative.

But maybe our sudden realizations take us aback and we can make new differentiations once we've regained our senses. half the time i deliberately place myself in the path of oncoming shock. this is kocik's susceptive science.

i'm not satisfied with dissatisfaction. its not a stance, proposal or a program for art.
that smart writer Walter Benjamin explained Baudelaire's broodiness as somewhat dependent on the consistent quick movements he had to make to get from point a to point b in crowded places. That and combining a kind of appetite that is cheered and checked by an equally appetitive company (or lot). Arakawa and Gins design architectures to make it very very hard to get to the bathroom, thus extending our lives indefinitely by making basic fluid movements impossible. this is a recipe for romanticism.

if i could sing with the glee singers of bright pill-crushed joys and festive reedy stringed things glittering like shiny green crystals and hairy nimbuses, get lost in rhythms' wooden-wagons circled ukulele plasma squirt in the wildflower meadow i'd do it all the time.

i desire to achieve a lasting sympathy with the scope and scale of the popular entertainments. an effort immediately palpable in the results. but there's a lot we forgot. we forgot sooooo much.

if i could eat greeny greens and drink fresh fruit juices all the time and run at dawn and salve all scrapes encountered, and open up Doug & Mir's Texts and Textiles again i sure would.

but there are liens and leases all over the place. "No sharing" someone told me. on the train they pipe in the words: "please do not give".

i fell into a swoon and collapsed and dreamed i was in a crowd of dissatisfied wanting people who were impatient. i must pay very close attention to my thoughts at these times, and observe them very carefully. i can't read the iconography very well any more. but i can see where the symbols tremble enough to gain purchase.

there is no reason for writing if not part of a conversation. sure, i'm comfortable with Blanchot's infinite conversation, inasmuch as we can be comfortable with the basic premise of discomfort he presents us with.

but i'm serious. i called seven people this morning. i don't want to be typing right now.

read the announcements, show up in the place, say hello to the people. do this. it is enough.

there is no one driving the source of the shock i deliberately placed myself in front of.

non-dairy whipped topping, sugar, margarine, cheese food, canned tomato soup.

there are no outsiders, no outre poets. forget art.

i'm happy to give due acknowledgment and greet warmly the suddenly perceived off-garde poets.

off-garde poets and artists don't apply shocks and are as happy to get them as they are hate mail and the quietude of critics who won't review their books and are reluctant to speak their names in certain company.

off-garde poets are susceptible to unannounced delays and unexpected rainshowers of gifts and surprise kisses and cuddles walking right up to your room and saying, "there, you needed that"

they don't throw sucker-punches

they have kids and eat in restaurants. o my.

they throw parties.

they don't mind people stealing all their best ideas, because they're worth imitating, even if badly.

no not giving!

no not sharing!

they find the minutiae of individuality as perplexing as the silliness of the thing they walked 44 blocks to buy and got yelled at at every intersection and very nearly chopped at by an irate pedestrian. but the smiles of gentle souls are as shocking also.

their kind of love is not insomnia or tobacco or fetish mediation posing as direct experience.

they don't hunt madly for mirrors as confirmation.

like this and like this and like this, it's beautiful now, see?


Friday, September 11, 2009

To you. For this.

Two cheap hamburgers digesting into useless grease and supplementary globs of unusable energy flow thickly into his blood and nerves as a spreading lethargy. He is sitting at a table in the public library of a small, insignificant city. A grey rain is shrouding heaven’s unwinking light, it seems to him, even as it sustains and renews the emergent blooms and budding limbs of the winterlong featureless trees outside the windows. On his travel into the city, the subway car smelled of an intransigent rot, while a small pile of shattered masonry and brick on the sidewalk startled him with its modest scale of ruin. He had set out on his day with the predisposition of clinging to every indication of tragedy he would encounter. Yet every notable discrepancy, every pale, exhausted or wasted face mocked him by being possessed a kind of comforting softness or minimal expectation that transformed the prevailing mood into cheer, or at least the caricature of failure: rain, rot, and ruin. On his walk through the fugitive downtown streets, some of the architecture consoled him with fluted, curling moldings, intricately worked stone, or the striking color contrasts of building materials, while most of the living human landscape served only as a reminder of an insentient, indifferent dark age recently endured, not yet concluded.

He tries to capture his own smell by arcing his arms in front of him, forming a small sphere of air permeated with his own odor. He is worried that he now carries, or even has contributed to the intransigent odor of rot he experienced a few minutes earlier on the inbound subway car. At the cheapest restaurant in town, a man in a wheelchair is talking into a cellphone about his gratitude for his two children for keeping him “aboard”: aboard the steady ship of sobriety. He is thankful that he had not spent his time and money getting high and drunk. Another man at the counter relates that he had just spent twenty-three years in prison, having been released just fourteen days ago. He seems calm. The woman he is speaking to, an old classmate from childhood, asks, “Are you serving?” And he responds, “Oh, yes. I’m serving the lord. It’s the only way I could have survived.”

He feels perched like a bird, or carefully set in his chair by a loving hand, looking out through the shelves and into the rain, thinking it a sign of life, the promise of spring, rather than some undisclosable and indistinguishable blur of failure. He is there to challenge himself, as if in some kind of self-declared spiritual contest. At its least, to understand the meaning of what is, in his mind, the very warehousing of that same mind in being thrust out of his job, in the structured idleness to which he has given over his sense of purpose. The challenge then is to broach that isolation to which he seems fated; to refuse playing out a narrative, built up from the constant reinforcement of marginal cinematic and TV cliches of his youth, in which a man is unexpectedly thrown (as the passive mind forever figures it) into an idleness for which he is both grateful and furious. Why open such a shape of feeling in language? To whom? For what reason? To you. For this.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Welcome to Boog City :: 5 Days of Poetry & Music

Here's the program page listing small presses & my featured poet. It's me!

Check out the full program here:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

sometimes you hafta

sometimes you just hafta to say what the fuck, and when you get done getting mad at everyone else around you, you turn around and see what it is you got spinning on the karma wheel and somehow somehow somehow begin to get the joke that is your life, when compared to the ideal image you formed of it when your were ten years old.

so you're one of these thousands of creative souls who decided to believe the hype about the pursuit of happiness and in the meantime took odd jobs and grabbed hold of bits and ends of the roots of the tree of life or even quite luckily saw the great sweet million-colored blossom way up there in the canopy and began the climb and after exhaustion and a million scratches reached up and looked in and there in the petal cup was a pool of dried sap and all these dead scraggy bees and flies, and all the nectar gone baby gone.

and when you realize you have this kind of woodsman dimension to yourself but you're not very handy with the saw or bow and that you're far too inattentive to the here and now to ever make devoted love offerings to the various gorgeous kind women who love you in ways that say to you both stay near and here i lay out sweet decades of surety and security, except for the fact that your watusi and merengue are good enough for a few passes across the ballroom parquet but there's this little tremble in your step and you seem exhausted these days straight from the getgo, i mean, really, brother.

the former landlady won't release the deposit and the cheapest place to live looks good but puts you way out in the suburbs and nobody reminds you of anybody you used to know, and you have to learn your own language all over again plus two or three others that you know nothing about, and everyone's asking "are you a city person?" and "are you a city person?" and you try to say "yes yes of course" even though you feel like a sailboat out on wide sargasso seas of just you, a seagull, a sunset, a porpoise and a bit of kelp, well, then you think about what a good time it would be to have just a fifth of whiskey and some easy horny women with come hither manners in a relatively free loving zone for a day or two at least.

and your most beloved beloved one won't let you make big dinners for her anymore and you want to hold her close in the thunderstorm and see what she had to say about the fog-shrouded mega-opolis blinking a mile from a fifth-story roof where you're holding hands and you can hear her heart beating fast in sweet expectation and you just said the most amazing words of devotion, but then you get hit with this sharp-toothed "you're smothering me" childhood hangup overdrive that makes you wish you were a merman and had a secret underwater hangout with cool glow-globes and every time you wanted you could just jump in any body of water or toilet and swim there, where all the rest of your friendly sea-monster family and friends were waiting with delicious mango-juices and nothing but funny jokes and everybody just tickling each other's ribs.

But no, there's this drag of time and you sense yourself instead of a light easygoing child of intricate and hilarious diversion a poor struggling poet with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and lowest common denominator expectations because even you yourself had let people down, and then they, the people you loved, let you down, and then you realized nobody was as strong as you thought they were, and it makes it harder to trust and love someone unconditionally, but you were even on top of that supposed to, like, atone for all their crimes as well as your own, you said: WOAH, what is this? and perhaps just want to hum a single syllable for three days as a way of making sure something would persist and stop for just a few restorative minutes to give you a breathing space instead of the constant wailing deafening stereo music weapons or even actual weapons, and you stop wondering what they seem to be fighting over because they simply just like to fight and it fits the weird evolutionary jinx they want to fantasize about and gives them something to be proud of since all the good seats have been mooched. OUCH, you say, and then they say "well, just get used to it" so that something positive comes of it anyway, maybe. and even though they aren't always worth trusting you just love 'em though from a sort of window seat and not fully up close enough to get the full smell of it, life and sweat, and they're just as likely to turn their backs on you as surprise you with sweet attention and loving cupcake devotion after all.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Two Books by Jerome Rothenberg

Poems For The Millennium Volume Three: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry. Edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey C. Robinson. 928 pp. 2009.

Jerome Rothenberg. Poetics & Polemics 1980-2005. essays and interviews. Co-edited with Steven Clay. University of Alabama Press. 2008.

Jerome Rothenberg’s commitment to literary and ritual traditions is both conflictual and creative. One the one hand, his scores of literary anthologies, which he calls “manifesto-anthologies” (influenced by the groundbreaking book The New American Poetry of 1960), have been published with regularity over the past forty years. Each book indicates his desire to break up conventional and neatly-packaged historical eras that usually come down to us as textbook summaries of entire bodies of thought. He does this in what he considers one of his central tasks as a poet—to gather, edit, and comment on arrangements of poems into “Galleries,” “Books,” “Preludes” and “Manifestos” in order to show us the still-unknown multitudes of cultural poetic forms (ritual, theatrical, musical and scientific) which do not typically qualify as poems for us. For Rothenberg, a poem is a work of writing more comprehensive than our specialized, compartmentalized ideas about a work of art: it something that gives us, in compact form, information and insight on the endeavors and emotions of entire societies. On the other hand, Rothenberg views the collection, editing, and presentation of historical authors as a revolutionary act—which means bridging the distances separating languages, by translating into English many passionate & expressive forms specific to single groups and places (even nations) and counteracting the deteriorating effects of time with the invocation of the creative act—foundational acts (as ever-repeatable dramas) that serve as origins. This is a revolution of relations: showing the reader how a sequence of poems/poetic texts reflects a continuum of practices that are akin as well as kind to one another.

These two new volumes continue his own personal traditions while playing his grand game of mind expansion and historical reframing: the anthology (co-edited with poet and Romantic scholar Jeffrey C. Robinson of the University of Colorado) is a refreshment of poets who define our sense of the Romantic: Goethe, Shelley, Lord Byron, Wordsworth, Hugo and Nerval. Included with these poets are sections of Asian poets, Outsider poets, poets questioning and redramatising the creation of the world or its loss of divinity, and aesthetic/political manifestos. The editors’ choices from famous poets aren’t based at all on the “canon” of key texts; they have searched through the full collections of the author’s writings in order to find more experimental forms; the kind of writing that, in the twentieth century, moved from a kind of marginal, discredited status to the center of serious critical and intellectual study. While there are expected excerpts from major authors, like Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” there are also examples from diaries, daily journals and notes, poems suppressed or unpublished by their authors, and the kind of poems that reflect the noisy, violent, sexually explicit, ridiculously fantastic and hallucinatory side of romanticism. As a presentation of Romantic literature, Rothenberg and Robinson’s unique itinerary through the nineteenth century serves as a kind of pre-face (or “book of origins”) to the modernist and postmodernist poetry that appeared in the first two volumes of Poems for the Millenium (published in 1995 and 1998), in which the avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, from Dada and Surrealism to Concrete and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, are covered.

Rothenberg’s new volume of essays covers twenty-five years of his critical and editorial writing after 1980. As he says in an interview: “The impulses of what we do as poets and artists go back to ancient sources in religion and ritual.” If the poets he promotes take their “impulses” from these sources, we can see that his collaborations with other editors have enabled a kind of unique synthesis of the radical dimension of western poetry in the first two “big” Poems for the Millennium books of modern/postmodern poetry with his own life-long project in worldwide ethnopoetics and comparative religion. Poetics & Polemics features many public lectures and essays that explain these two central activities: to present to English readers the works of other cultures’ poetic ritual, storytelling and comedic arts, and to rethink the kind of knowledge readers gain through poetry by creating collections of enormous scope and variety. As he states in an interview: “What Pierre Joris and I valued most in the poetry of our time had been almost systematically omitted from, or marginalized in, the anthologies and literary histories then current. The mix of poetry and poetics was something we worked to bring out—and the sense of poetry being the center of a program, a proposition or a set of propositions working in the public sphere.”

Given the broad disclosures in his Poetics & Polemics, readers will better understand Rothenberg’s bent for the startlingly unfamiliar and noncanonical side of Romanticism, one that embraces tribal, athiest, street-level and antinomian inflections. Since the 1950s, academic romanticism has been walled in by ideas such as “the man of feeling,” “romantic suicide”, “the fatal woman”, and “the metaphysical quester”; and then, when pushed through the 1970s meatgrinder of theory, further dehydrated by supplementarity, substitution, metaphysical closure, paradoxical foldings and force-fields of textuality and ideology. While we still have a hangover from those earlier times in our notion of “the outsider”, Rothenberg remains a critical editor suspicious of such ideas, since it is on the outside of literature where “the bulk of poetry is written—or spoken & memorized—or where works of language are created that do what poetry does but without a claim to being poetry as such.” Rothenberg’s anthologies are critically important for readers today because they strain incessantly against what an anthology is typically designed to produce: a compact closure of an era, identity, locale or spirit within an editorial framework of cold analysis and partiality. Rothenberg and Jeffrey C. Robinson’s romanticism is instead as anxious for the twentieth century as George Lucas’ last three Star Wars films were anxious for what happened before them in our history, but took place after them in their history. In poetry-land this means the first two volumes of Poems for the Millennium: “from Fin-de-Si├Ęcle to Negritude” and “From Postwar to Millenium”. The patchwork rattletrap Millennium Falcon is once again on a new mercenary voyage from outworld to outworld, harrassing the Dark Empire with it cargo of exotic spices and glimmers of vast occulted traditions. Buy this book. Read the poems. Skim through these brief interludes, and watch the stars blur like retinal burns every time you turn the page. Listen closely enough, and after each little excerpt newly unearthed from the archives of this or that iconic or neglected figure, you may almost hear: “Punch it, Chewie!!”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

signal :: breaking up :: at any point :: sound ages

breaking sudden broadcast
amend propose and wed
deep analytic need
from all (to fail
to all due regard
in geste where
the pain crackled
temple to temple
i read there
notes on p.o.d
positive enjoyment
that lichen
sprung from a hole
or wholes
stitched up in listing
monostichic tonal drifts
in snowy deeps
our own black trails
betoken linear frays
to set the self abash
in tides or tricks
of the velcro eye
to catch at the always
stream of cast off
washing through and blue
their ostensibly generous minds


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

volts in molds make tinny trades amongst molecules

a kind of sugary ooze slicks these midaugust dense-sweat agonized self-shoeboxing summer grease is the word wallows, one that only a burning beam refracted from an all-concrete environ melting dead desires into complete jello failures of all formely-working vocabularies and appeals could appreciate. Out of this wispy pudding of joyless crumb-scatter some kind of acetate spore has percolated into my emails and is haunting a blind man's larynx way way out on a mossy pier, and not having any other way to answer to it, I send it your way. It's a song that a friend of my nephew's babysitter wrote. If you listen to it, you might envision a room in a bland building with 95 degree fahrenheit smog permeating every corner and pore of its windowless sound booth. At least that's what I think of when I hear it. Some kind of wolf-of-bitter-disposition tearing at a dead rabbit's heart. Or no, maybe not: you might think its the most beautiful sunset you've ever heard crashing headlong into a glitter factory.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Poetics

There is one element of poetry that I see has remained unchanged over the past thirty years, and that is fundamentally important to my writing and other activities as a poet. There is a confluence, one that may be hotly contested, of the receptivity that goes by the name of the humanist, creative and writerly activity, and the experimental modes of avant-garde poetics that work by formal invention. In Poetry, and particularly in my own work, this confluence appears more and more in terms of various developments of conceit. I mean by conceit that poetry is result of a mental activity, in addition to the writer and reader’s sense that a poem is an elaborately figurative form of cultural communication.

Whether that conceit has to do with, on the one hand, an image of the poet's subjectivity and deep epiphanic evocation, or is an announcement and foregrounding of the artificiality, discursive privilege and tyranny of language over individual intentions on the other, the making of the poem nevertheless retains conceited notions of its specific activity, makes for itself a distinct function and purpose in the more diffuse life of the language(s) it participates in. Even if the poem's intention or performance is to quicken the crisis of representation, thwart its assumed transparency, or exist at the level of disarticulated language-substance, it cannot shake off its status as art. It can be accidental just as much as it is architectural, but the poem, through all of its special stagings, techniques and introductory fanfare, makes its designations and amplifications felt by way of the distinct attention it draws to modes of communicability. This is an aspect of its medium, of it mediums (humming), and its mediations of our recognition, our ability to recognize and desire. It functions, operates, and inquires by use of the conceit: the cilia of antennae that test the receptivity and communicability of various modes of figurative perception. It bugs us.

I sense that a lot of the fineness in poetry's evaluative overtures are lost in the abrasive and pornographic gratification that overwhelms our public word-transport systems (of which Flarf poetry is one form of protest-by-glut and oversaturation). Poetry tests the social axioms (of economy, of truth-conditions, or acceptable modes of speech) for flexibility and integration, and as it reconfigures points of convergence or levels of perceptual capability, it determines the degree of the community's openness and responsiveness by these very permutations of truth-conditions and economies. The necessity of furtive travel in dark alleyways and altering of terrain by way of conceit doesn't necessitate the building of an exotic Poetry Preserve in which to house the menagerie of wordy evolution's fantastic creations, or by which to corral its wildness for the big-game sharpshooters of editing and criticism, but the fact that poets and poetic activity exist in tenuous relationships with large subsidized institutions and other philanthropic entities doesn't diagnose the artform as too weak for an "open" market, but reveals the paucity of the "market-friendly" forms of activity permissible to our regulated communities.

Once upon a time I attempted to use the conceits of mobility, motility, and the machinic, in the attempt to convey a certain dismay with the culture of the sports/utility vehicle, and to address the urgent demand for new desiring iconographies and spatialities, our access to them, and the movement into and between them. This was a vehicle for the use of language, in its going out, its coming and returning--seeing exactly where a fascination with high-speed mobility, rapacious consummation/abandonment and the territorial consumerism so central to my upbringing and society met the desire for an end to strip-mall convenience and urban expansion. This resulted in certain disinvestments of the "open-road" philosophy, without giving up the joy of the stroll, the amble, and forgotten qualities of the abiding. Poetry shouldn't have to make new roads: it should grow new feet. Since then, along my zig-zag travels, I have been obsessed by sleep, waking and the necessity of house and home:

where o where does one lay this weary burden down,

and who will build me up anew come morning.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Of Place

a note to announce that the press has moved to brooklyn new york after many many years in buffalo. hello brooklyn!! of course, i don't have an actual letterpress, or a mimeo machine, but i do have two computers, a scanner and a black and white printer. as the huge cloud of dust raised by the move has yet to settle, it will be a few weeks before any new writing, publishing and other worthwhile activity will get underway. and i've pulled a few of my more recent posts after realizing they were a bit backhandedly whiney, along with some photos of myself that i think were less flattering than cool. i'll be teaching classes this fall, which will be a very welcome change and afford me a great chance to make a new start.

coming up in September i'll be taking part in the ever-growing Welcome to Boog City annual reading and small press book fair at Unnameable Books, where i hope to meet lots and lots of writers and publishers. right now the schedule is huge and not yet posted in full, so I'll send more details in a few days. it was this very event last year that sparked the idea, and stoked the fires, that eventually encouraged me to move here. O my. what a great place!

Saturday, July 11, 2009


"Going to Marbles Town"

patrol this good regard
the well beyond the well
only surmise the various
measures on which one may
negative gift of artifact
on the variable line
count as game or press

vigilance manifests
of the former selves
selvage the ignore threads
squab of cuyahoga
out-patrolled in compassion
movement is not marking lines
preconceived in needed
extraneous mode like ever-tremble

there in the belly sits Jonah
or in the Carrier blacks and reds
the same figure
considered not a column of air
but the image of reflect
the skim of eye on pool
what study casts you there
the right to plaster to address them

is pastel this imagine
is through the layers
accumulate stop hold merge
step and step are not a measure
welcome is pearl is to say so
and we do, these faces up
outward what interior
lacustrine ardor and the fizz

lap spoken in diminuendo
click and tap these asserts
single have met and design
counter-field arras disembarked
caught from the drift to
might or might not or forgot
its pulsate now so green
as the best relinquish

(december 2005, and less tricky in translating to html)


Stupid desire sits in piles of packaging
spans vast and empty boxes surrounding
a tiny red pill
a niacin high

What pleasure comes in soft folds or
shovel-headed burrowing forms

some preeminent pulse of settling numbness
ice cold viral hot

(note: poem written April 2, 2005)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Laser Lights, or, Interpenetrations: Buffalo

I’ve always wondered about the meaning of autobiography, and to go with it, the kinds of disclosures that people make about themselves during correspondence interviews (where conversation can take place over vast scales of time and distance). Written interviews, especially like those collected in the third volume of Tom Beckett’s E-X-C-H-A-N-G-E-V-A-L-U-E-S: The final XIV Interviews +One, focus in equal portions on the life of the interviewee and the work that distinguishes them. Interviews are usually initiated because of the work an artist has accomplished, work that brings about a desire for detailed explanations as to how it came about. Interviews attract us because they promise a look into the mind, working methods, interests and origins of the subject, and they propitiate a desire felt among readers, the randomly curious, the fledgeling practitioner as well as the solitary artisan for the sense of belonging to a community. Interviews attract us because we also want to learn how something complex and beautiful (such as a major poem) actually came about. We want to know the person’s politics, what they’re like at home, find out what’s really going on in line 347 of the poem Gelid Cuspidors in the Bank Lobby of my Heart. In their collaborative interview manuscript Interpenetration of Views, Tom Beckett and Geof Huth have recorded a year (May 2008-May 2009) of daily conversational exchanges and questions. Two days ago, they presented a portion of it in Buffalo as a kind of performance art: definitely as an experiment, but also as a way of “reading” themselves back to each other and to us--as we all shared a proximity that, paradoxically, transformed the intimacy of the interview text into a kind of distanced, objectified formal presentation, such as one finds at serious poetry happenings. Better still, the “Interpenetrations: Buffalo” event seemed to be less about the chance for those assembled in the room to swap shop and dig poetic as it was a chance to examine that “big hulking” manuscript they brought with them. It seemed to sit there, emanating unknown reserves of thought and energy, perplexity and pathos as if it were a record of events that took place long ago and far far away.

It’s interesting to think about how many interviews I have heard, read, watched and even conducted in the course of my life.

I have myself conducted and recorded over 45 interviews in the last 10 years—the first of these in a conversational “round” with Brenda Coultas in 2000, and the most recent of these with the artistic director of Hollywood’s Unknown Theater in 2007.

The central reason for lesser concern with the form and the art of the interview is, I think, because it seems to demand far less attention than I gave, or give, to a work of serious literary art—to poetry, to works of complex philosophy, or the mind- and mood-altering books that teach me a new way to read each time I pick them up. What I want to say here is that Tom Beckett and Geof Huth have, I think, initiated, even if somewhat uncertainly, a concretization of the activity of the interview in such a way that it just might provide us a chance to see deeply into what has heretofore seemed (to me) “mere” journalism—or a subsidiary poetics—and therefore less enduring in meaning because it is simply a conversation, as easy as falling out of bed; and engaged in because, as writers, we want to learn from each other, deepen our relationships with each other, commiserate, console, and challenge each other. I see now that, for years, I’ve been assuming that the sources of the work of art really come from some other place (but I don’t want to get into the where of it right now). Of course, I can articulate this now only because I’d been blind for so long as to how wrong my ideas (assumptions, really) were. And, after Saturday night, I can see how nothing seems more obvious than the way that formal interview situations are composed entirely of performances—whether we are performing “ourselves” for the sake of the interview, or we are creating narrative or a valedictory showing of ourselves (despite our dissimulations, shows of humility, candor and deference). Interviews are intended to provide public, personal accounts of the reasonableness of our activities. But I would now say that, in just such a way that they are performances (and Jerry Springer can take credit for making this realization easier, too), they are as available to us to be treated aesthetically as anything else.

MORE to come . . .