Saturday, August 16, 2003
The UPS guy just showed up, looking as he always does, somewhere between a squat version of Patrick Stewart & a shorter David Antin, lugging in his arms the carton of books I acquired at Small Press Distribution (SPD) while I was in Berkeley. I now finally can put together the third part of my three-part “books over a two-week trip” scenario, joining the roster of books acquired while out west below with the list I posted on July 29 of those I took with me to read while I was there and the list I posted August 2nd of books & journals that came in the mail while I was gone.
admit that I’ve been spoiled. I had a house for six years just one block from
SPD when I last lived in
· Cunt-Ups, Dodie Bellamy
· Indictable Suborners, David Bromige
· Bleeding Optimist, Mary Burger
· Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy, Carolyn Burke
· Baffling Means, Clark Coolidge & Philip Guston
· A Handmade Museum, Brenda Coultas
· Rules of the House, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa
· The Cloud of Knowable Things, Elaine Equi
· Young Robert Duncan: Portrait of the Poet as Homosexual in Society, Ekbert Faas
· Philip Guston Retrospective, Philip Guston
· Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Interest, Anselm Hollo
· Dreaming the Miracle: Three French Prose Poets, Max Jacob, Francis Ponge, Jean Follain
· Three Poems, Stephen Jonas
· What is Poetry: Conversations with the American Avant-Garde, Daniel Kane
· Mirage #4 / Period(ical) #107, edited by Kevin Killian & Dodie Bellamy
· Margaret & Dusty, Alice Notley
A Prose Poem, Edgar
· Present Tense, Stephen Ratcliffe
· How to Do Things with Words, Joan Retallack
The Public World / Syntactically
Enough, edited by
Music or Honesty,
· Little Casino, Gilbert Sorrentino
· Goof Book, Philip Whalen
That, for me,
is a year’s reading. But it won’t even make a visible difference to the stacks
of unread books in my bedroom (which have more or less overwhelmed & buried
the bookcase that was set aside for books-still-to-read).
And as I type this, the mailman comes by & hands me a copy of
Friday, August 15, 2003
The first substantial publication of previously unavailable work by Louis Zukofsky since the private printing of Eighty Flowers shortly after his death in 1978 – as well as hands down the strangest new book by a major modernist in many a year – A Useful Art collects Louis Zukofsky’s writing on design & crafts conducted under the employ of the WPA. Edited by Kenneth Sherwood, with an afterword by John Taggart, A Useful Art contains a 50-page essay on the history of ironwork in America from 1585 to 1856, a second major work on American kitchenware from 1608 to 1875, shorter pieces on chalk, tin & toleware, plus a hodge-podge of radio scripts & research notes on specific items from the smithing traditions as well as on ancillary topics, including carpets & friendship quilts. In short, this is Antiques Roadshow with Louis Zukofsky! Like his other critical writing, it’s both meticulous and quite dry.
The relation of A Useful Art to Zukofsky’s poetry is no doubt oblique – not unlike the relation of Kafka’s Measures to Prevent Accidents in Factories and Farms to the short stories & novels that followed. There are specific lines and phrases in “A” that might be traced back to Zukofsky’s day job – which extended from 1936 into 1939 – yet, as Sherwood notes in his introduction, Zukofsky had written “To my wash-stand” in 1932. What strikes me, skimming through this book for the first time, is how Zukofsky’s famed domesticity, his role as the chronicler of the family, can be seen here as related to the lives of the anonymous artisans & craftspeople whose work passes through our hands with our being barely aware of them. The book’s only obvious failing is that only writings from the last two years of Zukofsky’s job appear to have survived.
A Useful Art, however, is in one sense just the forerunner of a much more important new Zukofsky volume that is due to be published in September, Le Style Apollinaire, edited by Serge Gavronsky. Two sections of Zukofsky’s booklength examination of the French poet were published in Westminster Magazine in 1932, while a French edition (done in collaboration with Rene Taupin) appeared in 1934. That Zukofsky’s “first book” will arrive finally in English some 25 years after the poet’s death underscores all too clearly the problem of resources that progressive literature continues to face.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
The New Brut: I hadn’t expected my comments on the stereotypical representation of langpo in James Meetze’s Quizmo survey to be read as an attack on the New Brutalism, per se. My comment was aimed more at the implication of one sentence in Meetze’s quiz than it was his poetics. Yet of the more than 8,000 words of commentary this generated on Meetze’s site, the weblogs of others – including (but not limited to) Kasey Mohammad, Catherine Meng, Laurable, Alli Warren, Jim Berhle, Tim Yu & Chris Sullivan – plus Squawkboxes to Kasey’s site & my own, and a discussion on the PoetryEtc list, one recurrent theme was the trope of boxing:
M Kasey stepping into the ring in his black and white uniform blowing a whistle. The crowds are covering eyes & tossing their popcorn. Barbara Guest comes out holding a sign…. Round 2. The bell’s been rung…. [Meng]
M (i)n the midst of the warring din…. we have in the one corner the Senior Poet…. In the other, we have the scruffy, sap-filled Byronic spokesman for Poetic Youth. [Mohammad]
M Do I feel as if he called me out? Of course I do…. [Meetze]
So much for my ability to make what I thought was a relatively simple point: the stereotype – langpos are opposed to emotion – irks me and isn’t supported by looking at the work itself. I don’t think that bellicosity improves international relations (W: take note) & certainly don’t think it does much for poetry.
Fanny Howe’s Gone as my sample
of emotion in langpo not because she was a woman – tho in hindsight I should
have seen that objection coming – but
because I’d just finished reading the book. I was in fact noodling around with
the idea of a second blog on Gone to
supplement the one I did on May
20 when that line in Quizmo got my attention. I could have, as easily,
chosen the work of
As for the New Brutalism, I’m really agnostic – I’ve liked the poetry I’ve seen & the people I’ve met who’ve associated themselves with this term, but I haven’t read nearly enough to make generalizations or draw conclusions. As with anything that’s new & emerging, the New Brut’s primary challenge is to differentiate itself from the broad range of other poetries that are currently contending for mindshare. At the moment, I don’t think it’s clear, for example, that NB, so-called, even has differentiation as a goal & Kasey’s admonition against manifestos seems to be implying that he doesn’t think that this is where NB is going.
contrary to what Kasey suggests, I don’t think that langpo’s historic problems
I see more
positives than negatives to a discussion like this. Kasey’s piece was a
reasoned & intelligent essay on the topic of emotion in poetry, generations
& positionality. Tim Yu followed with a response that I wish I’d written
myself.* Alli’s shorter reply is a work of art in its
own right. And James Meetze responded quite credibly by articulating some of
what he’s thinking about with regards to his poetry & my own. I actually
agree with Meetze on the question of language poetry’s “time” – it’s over. As I
first wrote in the intro to In the
American Tree in 1984, langpo always was a moment rather than a movement.
That is why it is possible to include writers – Howe (either one), Armantrout,
Bernadette Mayer, P. Inman, John Mason, Jean Day, Ray Di
Palma, Erica Hunt,
* I’m not, I
should note, convinced that this conundrum can be reduced to a “difference in
sensibilities.” For one thing, langpo as a social phenomenon demonstrated as
broad a range in sensibility as one might imagine. I certainly can tell, for
example, that somebody who would name his weblog The Brutal Kittens places a value on the ironic superimposition of
competing frames. My complaint wasn’t that Meetze has a sense of humor, but
rather that that one particular quip was predicated on bad data. And has, as
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Somebody today will be this blog’s 50,000th visitor. An exact count is available at the bottom of this page. If it is you, send me an email & tell me who you are.
hasn’t shined more brightly on
comparison is deliberate. In some ways, Jordan Davis strikes me as being closer
as a poet to the late museum
Here is one example, which I’ll follow with a caution:
Jubilee of Evening
These are the killers
Linking arms in a circle
Turning in a circle, singing
“We are all killers, hey”
“We are killers all”
Every girl is a cat
Every dog is a boy
Meet me at the reservoir
And I’ll hold you blurry
Like a camera in the wind
I wish I was a tentacle
Being ground into paper
I wish you were my leader
Rounding the corner, singing
is this: like
In “Jubilee of Evening,” for example, we see a poem of the circle dance – we could trace the history of that trope back through Robert Duncan to Blake to antiquity – yet never has this archetypal scene been performed in quite this way. The lethal undertones of the first stanza** are dramatically undercut by the second which combines an notably skewed linguistic comparison – those first two lines are not parallel – followed by a particularly contemporary image of romance.
The third stanza can be read a variety of different ways, depending I think on whether the reader envisions the figure of the leader “rounding” and “singing” as returning thematically to the circle dance of the first stanza & thus generating hardcore closure, or else as carrying the poem to an entirely different third place so that the work functions as a postmodern triptych of distinct moments. Both readings are plausible – this would be a very “teachable” text for that reason – and nothing that I can see in the poem tips the author’s hand here.
every poem in this book can be read fruitfully this way, yet to very different
ends just because the poems are so different – Davis is as unconcerned with
creating an all-over effect or signature style as any poet I’ve read – and yet
these poems become instantly recognizable. I suspect (understatement) that the
title poem to Million Poems Journal,
a comic masterpiece that is every bit as good as Corso’s
“Marriage” or any like poem by Kenneth Koch, will be
* Albeit with a noir twist that I don’t see in Brown’s poetry.
** I envision a group of Israeli rogue settlers dancing while wearing Uzis strapped to their backs when I read this stanza. This suggests something quite unlike the “carefree” apolitical nature of O’Hara’s first gen NY School poetics.
Labels: Jordan Davis
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Impressions of the first evening’s reading from The Philly Sound fest at La Tazza 108:
¨ Starting an hour late works well from
the perspective of getting through the horrific traffic, a combination of
normal Friday Philadelphia traffic hell plus a Bruce Springsteen concert. At
the announced starting time, I’m still trying to make my way down to
¨ Patrick Scanlon has smartly commandeered the Pac-Man machine from which to sell books. I buy Uneveness & The Blood Sonnets by Juliana Spahr & Cut and Shoot, a collaboration by Cathleen Miller & Deborah Richards. I put copies of Secret Swan #14 on the machine to be given out for free. And I wonder if Juliana knows that unevenness is misspelled.
¨ I see Herman Beavers at a table
going through a manuscript.
¨ On the flip side, Tom shows up to tell me that John Godfrey was unable to get off work in time to make tonight’s reading. I’ve always wanted to read with Godfrey, so this is a major disappointment, especially since I know already that I won’t be able to attend Saturday.
¨ A man comes up to me &
introduces himself as CA Conrad.
Other than the mysterious Invisible
Adjunct, Conrad is the only other member of the
¨ I see several old friends as the
reading starts to gather: Kristen Gallagher
in town from Buffalo, John Krick with
whom I used to work at TSS, Daniel Abd
al-Hayy Moore (whom I warn I will misconstrue in
my reading, which I later do), possibly the only person in the room who is
older than I. I see several of the event’s organizers – Mytili Jagannathan,
¨ At some point, Devaney asks if Eddie Berrigan has arrived
&, as if conjured by his name, he’s standing immediately behind Tom. So the
event gets under way. Tom & Maggie (nee
¨ Next up is Beavers, which makes for an amazing contrast. Beavers is every bit as much about genre as Berrigan seems to be about dissolving it. An African-American academic on the high side of 40, Beavers’ poetry mostly employs dramatic monolog combined with black dialect to articulate a space that sounds a little like Al Young with all of the New American allusions of Young’s work drained away. Beavers’ work is technically competent, funny & smart. But it sounds very much like an example of a generation of writing that has already been thoroughly framed by history. I’m most interested in his last works, which are prose poems & a failed (in Beavers’ term) sestina, though they don’t sound different from the earlier pieces.
¨ At the break, Jena Osman asks me how long I intend to read. We’ve all been instructed to do 15 minute sets. Beavers’ reading ran 25, which was still modest compared with Berrigan’s 40. We can already see the Goth band that will soon be playing in the basement rock club carting their instruments & electronics downstairs. “You mean, how long is 15 minutes in my world,” I ask.
¨ I find it hard-to-impossible at readings where I’m on the agenda to really focus & this gets worse the closer I get to my own turn. So it’s really a comment as to how strong a reader & writer Osman is that she breaks through my increasingly self-contained shell. She reads two pieces – actually staying well within the 15 minute mark – one that I think is called “Bowdlerizer,” then a second longer work entitled “The Novel of Nowhere,” a piece inspired, Osman says, by Colin Powell’s comment that “war is not inevitable.” There is a figure named Bosch, although it is never clear whether it is the Gothic painter or the ousted Dominican president who Osman has in mind. This piece is brilliant, exceptionally moving & over far too soon.
¨ I read a version of the same
excerpts from VOG that I did at the
Drawing Center in New York in June & at 21 Grand in Oakland in July, adding
one new piece, “Of Grammatology” – it’s been one that I’ve been undecided on
& had even been thinking of excising from VOG, but when I was contemplating that fate this past week, I
decided that I liked it & that the long “found” sentence in the middle of
such a short prose piece gave it a structure that engaged me – while
subtracting several others. As I read, I struggle with the lack of a podium –
it takes me forever to get one page out of my hand & onto the table to my
side, so that every multipage piece feels disrupted to me as there is an
exaggerated stanza between every page. The audience is quieter, more somber
& with less laughter, than either of those in NY or
¨ As he’s leaving (and I’m preparing to), Beavers comes up to me to tell me that my reading was “edgy.” I’m still pondering what that might mean.
¨ Afterwards, I’m driving Krick back to where his own car was parked & he comments that we were the oldest people in the room. This isn’t, strictly speaking, accurate – Abd al-Hayy has a couple of years on me – but it’s close enough. Out of a 100 people, there were maybe 98 who were younger. This makes me contemplate the sometimes problematic continuity of American poetry. This in turn reminds me of one reader’s comment to one of the sillier Quizmo games – Which Michael Palmer book are you? – which was “Who is Michael Palmer?”
Monday, August 11, 2003
Inventions of Necessity, Jonathan Greene's 18th
book, is a Selected Poems. I've followed his writing at a distance for a long
Greene can be said to write a post-projectivist poem of quiet urgency. Indeed, the adjectives that appear on the book's back cover — "low-keyed," "calm," meditative" — are not inaccurate. But more than any other poet coming, as he has, out of the New American tradition, Greene writes a poem of narrative & expository completeness. Thus, for example, "The Match":
They box, they wrestle,
they call each other names
under their breath —
how else could it be
that two men would embrace
before such a multitude.
Greene's poems are flawless. And while one might expect that a volume that allots just 77 pages to the work of 30 years would be forced to focus almost exclusively on Greene's very best poems, it is evident everywhere in this volume that perfection & closure are important values for him. Which in turn makes me realize how unusual Greene is in this regard, at least among "our kind" of poets.
that Greene is a closet
it's been making me wonder the most about this morning is why so few post-avant
poets share Greene's compulsion for closure. It is one of the
So Greene's uniqueness lies not, at least not importantly, in the New York boy having gone off to make a life in Kentucky, although that also was certain to set him apart from his peers, but in his vision for the poem. One might quarrel with Greene's need for completeness, but he makes the case convincingly that, for him at least, this necessity is absolute.
Sunday, August 10, 2003
Why do so many young poets smoke? Given that nearly all the younger writers I know have militant anti-capitalist positions, why do they turn their very own cardiovascular systems over to the most cynical, deadly & addictive strategy the corporations have ever developed? This makes no sense whatsoever.
My first impression of Friday night’s Philly Sound reading at La Tazza 108 is Saturday morning’s splitting headache, the result of all that second-hand smoke.
ш ш ш
Even sillier than it sounds? Poetry magazine’s new editor,
Christian Wiman, is interviewed by Chicago Public Radio here
& gives new meaning to the term revenant.
I wouldn’t want to substitute revenant for
ш ш ш
On a saner note, I found this somewhat older print interview with Samuel R. Delany.
ш ш ш
There is a very nice review of this blog from Daniel Massei en español. Gracias!
ш ш ш
Since I’ve begun making changes in my blog format, the number of visitors per day has jumped over twenty percent and the number of pages viewed per visit – which had been virtually static since last fall – has also risen by more than ten percent. Supermarkets shuffle their stock periodically because they know that it leads to a predictable spike – 17 percent on average – in “impulse shopping.”