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.