Saturday, September 06, 2003
Blogger and Blog*Spot are currently experiencing a denial-of-service attack. We are very sad about this, but working hard to get it under control. Thank you for your patience.
Blogger has been up & down today, mostly the latter. From Sitemeter, I can tell that it must gone south sometime around Eastern, and it appears as if it has up sporadically since around . I finally was able to log at . But it went down again before I could post. I got back on around . If you’re reading this, then the problem has been resolved.
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Thoughts while surfing:
Jerrold Shiroma’s weblog has declared its affinity for the Philadelphia Eagles. While I half share this bias in the fair-weather way I have about football – I don’t really pay attention until the playoffs – I have this nasty gut feel that tells me that this will be a more difficult year to be a fan of the Iggles, as they are known hereabouts, than it appears on paper.
In the meantime, I just want to see if Felipe can take the J’ints past the 6th game of the World Series.
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Patrick Durgin thinks that I used to deploy the term “avant-garde” “along Burger’s lines (Theory of the Avant-Garde)” back in the 1970s. This Burger being Peter, not Mary. But I never liked Burger, Patrick. I did cite him once in my piece on post-modernism in Poetics Journal 7, but only to distinguish his position – which cleaves the “avant-garde” (in his mind dada, surrealism, futurism, etc.) from a more conservative modernism (Pound, Joyce, the cubists) that wanted to recuperate the art object – from that of Clement Greenberg’s, who tended to see such phenomena as continuous. I agree with Greenberg that, say, Pollock needs to be understood as a major thinker, but the positioning of that generation of work – I would include Cage & Olson alongside Pollock, for example, Merce Cunningham in dance – alongside (and, for painting at least, within) the critical confines of an art-critical movement aligned with the New Critics is a far more convoluted & problematic history that I was there trying to untangle.
I’ve literally never mentioned Burger elsewhere. I did a search on all my critical writing and, with that exception & references to Mary’s poetry in the blog, every other occurrence to burger alludes to what Helen: Sweetheart of the Internet would call “murdered-cow sandwich.”
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Most irritating habit of 2003: “cute names” for weblogs. In 30 years, these monikers will look like Nehru jackets & puka shell necklaces. I think of them as verbal leisure suits. Like tattoos faded & distended over middle-aged potbellies, they will come to haunt those who chose them. Especially those silly enough to imagine they can ever leave them behind.
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I love the story of James Meetze’s high school teacher knowing exactly which Allen Ginsberg text to drop on the brutal kitten. But I have to agree with Kasey about which Ginsberg book is the one for the desert island. By the way, Kasey, thanks for including me in that list of Ten Essential 20th-Century Poetics Statements. I am humbled.
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The dark side of blogging.
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The best single-course website I’ve seen of late is Ben Friedlander’s class on “Modern / Postmodern American Poetry: 1940s.” It’s right up there with Al Filreis’ English 88. Ben’s electronic resources page is worth a visit to the site just for itself.
I don’t know why, but I always think of English 88 as being the name for a car, something along the lines of a Morris Minor adapted for surfboards. In my mind, Jan & Dean should be singing about English 88. Or maybe Wink Martindale.
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Friday, September 05, 2003
In order to
fully read Robert
H.D. Book, which I’m still doing one year after starting this weblog –
it was one of my very first items on the blog – I’ve been immersing myself in
the life & poetry of Hilda Doolittle. I’m in the middle of her poetry &
also reading Barbara Guest’s biography, Herself
Defined, which I heartily recommend. I’ve also read Paint It Today, a novel written mostly in 1921 that felt stiff, as
though Doolittle was uncomfortable with prose, and Tribute to Freud, mostly written in the mid-1940s, with prose that
struck me as supple, nuanced & powerful. I have H.D.’s Pound memoir sitting
atop one stack of unread books so that I don’t forget it &
It’s not clear
to me that one actually needs to read H.D. to
make sense of The H.D. Book, given
as a beacon & homing point for this effort, though
points of comparison might be that
One of the
side effects of being an autodidact – a trait I share with both Duncan &
H.D. – is that I get around to things when I get around to them & not
before. While I’d read Trilogy
when it first came out as a New Directions volume in 1973, goaded in good
part by Duncan’s many poems to & about her in Roots and Branches, the poetry Duncan was writing right as he began
The H.D. Book, I can now see that I
will return to these poems of Doolittle’s &, as I do, will set down the Collected Poems 1912-1944 to return to
the New Directions. It was these
Mother of mouthings,
the grey doves in your many branches
code and decode what warnings
we call recall of love’s watery tones?
She raises the bedroom window
to let in the air and pearl-grey
light of morning
where the first world stript of its names extends,
where initial things go,
beckoning dove-sounds recur
taking what we know of them
from the soul leaps to the tongue’s tip
as if to tell
in the word for it.
years after I first read those lines – I am almost positive that I did so on
the N-Judah trolley heading out to SF State – I understand really for the first
Love’s watery tones – the echo from spring’s flowery markets, the phrase that concludes the second line
of the first (and title) poem to this book is inescapable.
Thursday, September 04, 2003
You, I, us, them, we – pronouns are at once both the
most anonymous of all names and positions within a field of relations. As Sam
Beckett has shown, one might spin a world from such elements.
How many more of you
did you say
back at home?
Such a question
can never be innocent. But context is everything – one could articulate this in
a way that might sound flattering just as readily as one could emphasize the
implicit substitutability of you
hidden there. The context that Gottlieb provides is filled with such statements
of verbal jockeying, but it also is enveloped in the discourse of business,
suggesting as well that at home in
this sentence could just as easily be a job title, a cube number, a pay grade.
The poem in a way reminds me a little of
Gottlieb achieves this in part by insisting on the word What:
· What we have here is a bona fide secondary market
· What we deign to disdain
· What we can rely on is / this agreeable corruption, / this cheerful hatred.
· What we did to ourselves
· What we can always put down / as a custodial death.
· What one once bowed to.
· What appears to us,
Not one of these, it is worth noting, is a question. Who, when, where, how & why have nothing like this level of representation in Lost and Found – What defines its speaker (assuredly not Gottlieb) as the “bringer of meanings,” something marcom execs have been coaching CEOs on for decades, the rhetoric (to their minds) of leadership. Gottlieb is showing us that its underbelly is at once both dark & soft. For the same reasons, What will prove to be just as prominent in the book’s final poem, “Careering Obloquy.”
Which sets this word up to have its most profound impact on the work that is bracketed by these two, ”The Dust,” a poem in which What does not appear once, but is everywhere. “The Dust” is one of the half dozen most important poems written by anyone associated with language poetry. It’s a read-this-&-change-your-life experience.
At one level, “The Dust” is that oldest of all literary forms, the list poem, but here Gottlieb gives it to us with a vocabulary so unadorned that it literally is rattling to try & read aloud. Here are the first two stanzas:
VHF Main Antenna Bracing, Southeast
Left Rear Wheel Assembly, Retractor
First Class Galley Convection Oven Number One
First Class Galley Convection Oven Number Two
Knoll workstation fabric panel, 3'6" by 2', with crepe
Knoll workstation fabric panel, 3'6" by 2'6", with crepe
Knoll workstation fabric panel, 3'6" by 3'6", with crepe
BPI workstation 1/2 plexiglass panel, 5'6" by 2'6"
Hon workstation 1/2 plexiglass panel, 5'6" by 3'
Interior Concepts workstation T-base for non-raceway panels
Anderson Hickey workstation connector post, 6'
Global workstation full plexiglass panel, 5' by 2'6"
After the erudition of “Issue of Error,” “The Dust” feels like a bucket of ice water dumped on the reader’s senses. The vocabulary, or so it at first appears, reeks of commercial product catalogs – it’s no accident that the second stanza focuses on office cubicle components. But “The Dust” is not only an index of words but also (and even more so) a rhetoric. This is no ideas but in things carried out with a vengeance heretofore not imagined, the physical world chronicled obsessively but without characterization, each stanza offering a new nexus of descriptive language, leading at last to an ultimate list –
Joseph P. Kellett
Joseph J. Keller
Frederick H. Kelley
Joseph A. Kelly
Maurice Patrick Kelly
Timothy C. Kelly
Thomas Michael Kelly
Thomas W. Kelly
Richard John Kelly, Jr.
all of whom
– though Gottlieb never points this out
– died in
of “The Dust” takes these same elements of names & objects – again the
names are of
Rollerblade, ABEC X10 Extenblade
Kiran Reddy Gopu
John Patrick Salamone
Hartmann 44" Overnight Lite Garment Bag
Ching Ping Tung
Coffee, regular, sesame bagel, toasted with cream cheese
This is, in fact, the very same mix we heard in “Issue of Error,” only now the absence of stylization – one of the hardest of all styles to achieve – moves the work from the social satire at the heart of the first poem to what is, bizarrely so given its roster of wallboard, snacks & names far more opaque than any pronoun, a graceful, even elegant resolution.
earlier version of this book, Gottlieb put “The Dust” first, a placement that
rendered the other poems extensions of this overwhelming performance.*
Positioned now at the center, “The Dust” functions as the lynchpin in a more
complex, more political & ultimately angrier argument. “Careering Obloquy”
is the remarkably literal title of the third & final poem, one that returns
us to the same mix of pronoun, putdown & office chatter we found at the
start of the book. The implicit argument – that nothing has changed in the
relations of exploitation & “just barely coping” – permeates the
The tidy and the particulates.
How much smaller may we dice you?
It's the coating, a theraputic misadventure in fine,
a static of palliatives laid, course upon course,
so many tell-tale adjournments
and hasty replantings,
writ large -
and scrawled across its stratocumulous,
this much we do not know.
It is more than we usually have in hand, at the end,
as it empties into the resigned estuary:
a blistering consolidation,
a topical reagent,
a gainsaying treatment,
a subdural reply,
an asymetric lump.
Unit histories, the asides of scullions and lint folders,
shy, reticulous, squamous,
interposed countersignatures, pilled suites.
The retired colors.
written before that the finest book I’d read relating to the September 11th
* As, indeed, putting “The Dust” last would also yield a completely different book.
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
A note on translation from Murat Nemet-Nejat:
I just read your thoughts on translation in your August blog:
"I simply don’t know if there is a tradition of homophonia in Oulipo or other languages, or if the form is specifically American (one might argue that its dynamics replicate the treasure collecting instincts of centuries of exploration by Westciv hegemons, that a homophonic translation isn’t necessarily that different from seeing an Egyptian tomb on the edge of Central Park). From my perspective, a more telling question is whether or not it’s possible, if there should not be a fortuitous correspondence of tones between source & target languages, to assert other values in the homophonic translation, to make it anything other than a statement about this ghost dance of tongues."
Is really translation about transferring? Walter Benjamin says it is distance that makes a work translatable: translation is a motion by two languages to a third place. I am guessing that is what you are implying by 'this ghost dance of tongues,' though I sense a negative twist in your assertion.
In a homophonic translation questions underlying the translation process do not disappear. What is sound? What about the "sound" of the other tongue is one translating? The physical texture of words? the cadences, the movement among words? the change of pitch?
In your entry you speculate that you know of no Asian languages translated homophonically because their sound structures are very different. Wouldn't a simpler explanation be that there is no interest? After all Chris is translating a surrealist icon. Catullus is a Western classic. These are re-writings of assimilated entities.
There is at least one homophonic translation of the Basho frog poem I remember. Of course, that haiku can be seen as a sound poem in the original.
Once the association of translation with similarity is decoupled, all sorts of possibilities open up. I do all my writing in English though my English is affected by the rhythms, thought and syntactical patterns of Turkish, an Asiatic "sound" which is very different from English.
This gives me a few choices, given, by your view, an unbreachable distance between the two:
a) I can keep quiet and stop writing. By the way, that was the advice of Ciardi – no person can write poetry outside one's mother tongue.*
b) I can pretend I am a full-blooded American and write the way I will be taught at one college or another.
c) I can insist that the way I experience English will become part of this language.
One's idea of translation is related to one's assumptions on other things, particularly how one sees the other and lets oneself be affected by it.
Of course, the whole of Wittgenstein's language systems makes any idea of translation impossible. It supports closed systems.
In the last several months I did not get involved in any blog reading since I have been finishing an anthology of Turkish poetry I was working on four years. This labor day weekend it is finished. Your post on the Poetry List caught my attention.
Ciardi appears to have forgotten Joseph Conrad, Louis
Zukofsky, Jack Kerouac, William Carlos Williams, Vladimir Nabokov, Anselm
Hollo, Pierre Joris,
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
The self-designated Wily Filipino, Benito Vergara, quotes Caterina Fake citing my blog on poets’ novelists & notes that the John Zorn list has a similar discussion every year. Then he decides to turn the question around: what do poets listen to?
That’s an interesting question. I recall being fascinated by Ted Berrigan’s 1959 collection of 45 RPM “singles” listed as an appendix to Ron Padgett’s memoir Ted. His collection, with all of its Perry Como, Al Jolson & Tommy Dorsey, was an absolute index of the difference between our generations. 45s were just coming in when I started paying attention to music as a kid. My mom had a number of old 78s mostly by Nat “King” Cole & I recall that it wasn’t until we bought our first 45 player in 1958 that I bought my very first record, Bobby Day’s Rock-in Robin. The flip side was And Over – “and over and over and over again, I said this dance is gonna be a drag” – that I can hear with crystal clarity just by thinking about it.
But that was then & this is now. The truth is that, since I’ve had kids of my own, I’ve learned to appreciate silence much more than I used to. One of the main functions of music growing up was to shut the adults in my life out in order to create some psychic space for myself. I no longer need that in the same way.
I do buy CDs, though not all that often, & not too long ago organized the ones in my study into 13 stacks along the top of a couple of bookcases & the mantelpiece to a fireplace I’ve never used. This just makes it easier to find what I’m looking for, although my modus operandi is to take something from the bottom of a stack just so that I know I haven’t heard it in awhile. These are the stacks:
· Folk music – a lot of stuff from the ‘60s, including the Harry Smith anthologies, Eric Von Schmidt, and a Mark Spoelstra CD from the Folkways series that you have to get the Smithsonian to individually burn for you – Spoelstra was the best 12-string guitarist of that generation, but failed to get famous because he was doing his “alternative service” as a conscientious objector to the military right when Dylan & Ochs & Paxton and the rest exploded – by the time Spoelstra was finished, Dylan had gone electric & that scene was already gone
· Jazz – from the big bands to Marty Ehrlich and the Ganelin Trio; a lot of Anthony Braxton & Steve Lacy in this stack, but not enough to break out separately
· Rova Saxophone Quartet – including other projects by its members – one of my larger stacks
· Blues – from Robert Johnson to the Blind Boys of Alabama; you’ve never heard Muddy Waters if you haven’t heard his acoustic “plantation album”
music – lots of gamelan,
· Rock – from Janis to Radiohead with Bruce, REM, North Mississippi All-Stars, Los Lobos, Tom Waits & even Jim Carroll. Arc, the “live” CD of nothing but guitar feedback from Neil Young & Crazy Horse is a secret treasure here.
· Bob Dylan – not quite as tall a stack as Rova, but I have a lot of Dylan tapes floating around as well – my newest CD is the soundtrack to Masked & Anonymous – you have to hear “Like a Rolling Stone” as a rap song in Italian
· Poetry – the category that CD stores ineptly categorize as “spoken word” if they even have it at all – from Creeley to Kenning to Ganick to cheek
· Premodernist classical music – the shortest stack of all, these are virtually all “accidents” in terms of my collection except for some Pavarotti
· Modernist “classical” music –i.e. Satie, Anthiel, Bowles
· Postmodern “classical” music – Cage & after (the only tall stack of “classical”); Terry Riley, Harry Partch, Phil Glass, Lou Harrison, Tina Davidson, Annie Gosfield, Alan Hovhaness
· Steve Reich – my preference is for the earlier work, through Drumming
· Olivier Messiaen -- I like Myung-Whun Chung’s interpretations
I included two Dylan albums in my list of other “essential titles” yesterday, but (as a result, in fact) I tend to listen to his work less often than I do a lot of these other CDs – they overwhelm me & I can’t write poetry for a couple of days, literally.
Twenty years ago, there would have been a lot more rock than there is in the current collection. I went through a rap period during the time when I was only buying tapes, but was over that by the time I moved over to CDs (not all that long ago). I have a couple of cartons of LPs in the garage that I haven’t even looked at since I moved from Berkeley in ’95 – some of the older rock and earlier Rova pieces can be found in both on CD & LP.
month I will go hear Tracy Grammer at The Point &
over the summer I’ve heard Norah Jones, Gillian Welch, Steve Forbert & Lucy KIaplansky,
all performers in the singer-songwriter “
* As Stephen Kirbach notes in the 17th comment to my August 27th blog, the Beatles at one point have a song in which Sir Paul yells at one point, “JOE JOE,” yet another possible interpretation to that poem of Grenier’s.
Monday, September 01, 2003
I’ve been mulling the idea for the past several days of whether or not to add these two last items to my list of “essential titles” for Peter Davis & I woke up this morning with a sense of certainty that they should be included.
Charles Olson, Proprioception & Henri Lefebvre, Dialectical Materialism
of these two volumes is the most schematic of Charles Olson’s critical writing,
the second a translation of an early (1940, but written in ‘36) book by the
French philosopher of everyday life. The first appeared originally as a
I’ve joined these two books because it was their conjunction, rather than either one individually, that puts them on this list. I found myself reading the two of them more or less at the same time, scratching my head at Olson’s insistence that thinking takes place within the body, following Lefebvre’s attempt to rescue Marx for a western Marxism that was only then starting to emerge when it became clear to me, utterly & completely, that these two books were making, with different vocabularies & working out of radically different traditions, the same argument.
argument about the nature of knowledge & knowing, that the first can never
be present without the second being simultaneously active, so that knowledge
itself can never be decontextualized & certainly can
It is within Proprioception that Olson, so often characterized as the poet of voice & breath, offers his note on “Logography”:
Word writing. Instead of ‘idea writing’ (ideogram etc). That would seem to be it.
Olson goes on to situate the origin of phonetics in the function of naming. Whether or not this is good historical linguistics I couldn’t tell you, but what to me is the most fascinating side of this extraordinary process is the degree to which it reveals Olson as willing to pursue the consequences of his ideas even when it turns the poet on his head, right side up. There is an ambition within Olson’s critical writing that is never more overt than here, a confidence that the simplest focus on a particular, any given detail, how for example a word is sounded, can, if you just follow it out, take you anywhere, & that nothing in turn can be the restricted domain of the expert.
Similarly for Lefebvre, identifying a Marx that is the furthest thing from the static intellectual dictator than Stalinism sought to turn him into, a Marx that in the 1960s & ‘70s will become visible to those who begin not with Capital or The Communist Manifesto, but with the Grundrisse, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte & The German Ideology, transforms the role of theory within the political.
this leaves me with the question of what
about all the other books, all the other titles that have similarly had a
profound impact on me both as person & writer. Here, simply to acknowledge
some, are a few that I have found very nearly as defining as any I’ve listed
thus far: Rae Armantrout, Extremities; Roland
Barthes, Writing Degree Zero; Walter