Friday, January 23, 2004
Ron Silliman forthcoming events
24, Saturday, : reading with Stacy Szymaszek, Chicago Poetry Project,
Chicago Authors Room, 7th Floor, Harold Washington Library,
7, Saturday, : reading with
3, Wednesday, : reading with Michael McClure, St. Marks Poetry Project,
“Poor Chicago.” Here I come. I can’t believe that making such a flip & ultimately dumb remark on this blog got me an invitation to come & read – with Stacy Szymaszek no less! On the other hand, those Chicagoans are no dummies – they invited me for the third week of January!
Eastern seaboard as cold as it has been the past few weeks, tho,
Thursday, January 22, 2004
Part of the
myth of Lorine Niedecker is that of the “woman in the woods,” the isolated poet
working at such a remove from literary centers that her work goes un- or at
least under-appreciated until after her passing. That of course is largely
hokum – Niedecker’s connections with the Objectivists were early, deep &
lasting, and kept her connected even during the twenty-year period (1940-60)
when Objectivism itself was mostly out of print & forgotten. A better
example than Niedecker of a poet whose remove from The Scene caused genuine
neglect might be Besmilr Brigham, who moved around between
Rae Armantrout benefited greatly from living in
is the kind of poet who would be a household name in post-avant circles if only
she had spent a couple of years in
Happily, there are three new poems of Cooper’s in the Tucson issue of Can We Have Our Ball Back, one of the very best online zines of verse. The issue, guest-edited by Tim Peterson, came out six months or so ago, it would seem, but I didn’t notice it until I came across a link on the POG website, which I was looking at because of Heather Nagami’s poetry in Antennae. Nagami’s actually not in that issue – presumably because she’s moved back to the Bay Area – but Cooper is among the 27 poets who are to be found there, some of whom will be familiar to readers of this blog (David Ray, Dan Featherston, Charles Alexander, Tenney Nathanson, Sheila Murphy gerrymandered in from Phoenix), others of whom will be new (I recommend Frances Sjoberg).
Lisa Cooper is part of a vibrant poetry scene. But just as clearly,
So I’d recommend that you read these poems by Cooper, especially “As if Your Life Depended” & “Vagabond.” I’d try putting one of them up here, but I had trouble enough with the spacing in Jules Boykoff’s piece the other day &, anyway, I want you to browse around both the Tucson issue as well.
And, likewise, you should take a look at these two poems of Cooper’s from Poethia, now part of the CybpherAnthology of Discontinguous Literature, luigi-bob drake’s infelicitously named ongoing web collection of post-avant verse.
Scenes – by
which I mean geographic communities,
as opposed to an aesthetic community
that transcends any particular geography (which in the past I’ve called networks in order to distinguish them
from geo-specific scenes) – can have an enormous impact on individual writers,
a good deal of it healthy. Many poets do their very best work when they have a
sense of it directly responding to the work & ideas of their closest
associates, some of which may just be a collective desire for everyone to do
their very best, to push (& be pushed by) their comrades. Yet scenes are
diverse aesthetically, where networks almost by definition tend to focus on
certain aspects or approaches to the poem. This has both positive &
negative implications. Niedecker & Brigham lacked scenes, yet Niedecker –
and this may be a decisive difference betwixt the two – had a network that
proved one of most fruitful in this century, where Brigham’s contacts with
other poets appear to have been sporadic. The
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Boykoff, Kaia Sand is a
D.C. poet whose work can be found in Antennae
4 who also appeared last February in the Social Mark conference in
If only we could dematerialize, be an aura for a while. The lingerie saleswoman says you should never tape your giftwraps. If I tell you the contents of my day I feel like I’m balancing a checkbook. Here be dragons. But I can name some weapons like our doing as our undoing.”
Other than the allusion to Walter Benjamin (& just possibly Lucy Lippard) in that first sentence, everything a reader needs in this passage is to be found here. If there is a narrative or schematic frame behind the five sentences, it’s not apparent. Yet the syntax proceeds as though a continuous thread were being woven. The language poses a world of lost chances (If only…), unpleasant choices (If I tell you), as mundane as a department store, as epic as a fable, ending on a double bind. This little work is tight, terrifying, brilliant all at once.
“Culpability Over Cocktails” is the seventh piece in the sequence:
The tea is overdue. The question oversteeped. The remedy overstated. Howling is happenstance. Grandmother is gorgeous.
Here is my palm to read said the dying man. Why don’t you test your prescience? Here is the daily news. Let me give you a hand.
This latter section is heavily preconditioned through the prior occurrence of Grandmother as a narrative figure – the only one really named in the sequence – as well as by the term Let, a command posing as a request, the first word in both the third & fourth prose poems. Indeed, the palm & hand fit neatly, almost too neatly, into the “Let me tell you the story of my body” theme that runs through these pieces. Finally, the predicates of the first three sentences are so neatly shuffled: The A is C. The B is A. The C is B.
If my experience of the first piece quoted above is one of a glimpse of the infinite difficulty & horror of contemporary existence, my experience of the latter is in sharp contrast almost claustrophobic, not thematically, but formally. It bespeaks a desire in the post-avant artwork to arrive at a closed form. The ninth section is different, maybe, but to my eye no less problematic*
This is, I think, one of the most difficult problems post-avant works have to confront. On the one hand, it is impossible not to notice just how brilliant Sand is & can be in her writing. On the other, she chooses to give us a well-wrought urn precisely where I would value more, far more, the ragged edges of her pushing this brilliance further into the world, using it as a tool of investigation rather than aesthetics.
This is a
hesitation I have had at times over the years over the work of other poets –
Ironically, fragmentation is exactly the issue here. In addition to the title “Cognitive Dissonance,” the series starts with an epigram from Kristin Prevallet:
She fainted at the sight of so many fragments, for she thought her mind was frazzled. Luckily, it was just the world, crumbling around her.
the poem – October 2001 – but even without that, the relationship of the series
to the attacks on
* How long will
it take a reader to recognize that the “digits” the narrative voice declares it
will “speak in” is a series of three phone numbers? Unless
one takes that middle one – 9 1 1 – to be a date.
The first number is the White House comment line, the last
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Jules Boykoff is a D.C. poet, co-editor of Tangent, who I got to hear read at the Social Mark conference last February. Because he’s a D.C. poet, you can find Boykoff’s work sprinkled around the D.C. Poetry anthology – check out the years 2001 & 2003. At the time, I wrote about Boykoff’s reading at some length (tho I misspelled his name pretty consistently – Sorry!), so I was pleased come across his work in the fourth issue of Antennae.
It was my
impression in February that many of the contributors to Social Mark had been picked by the Calgary poet,
“I should have worn my yarmulke”
“I thought that was a yarmulke”
in the spliced space
where Frida Kahlo
hung her dress
free-lanced justice cobble met three-piece machete diction in the dark alley behind the mini-mart in the place where here meant now & now meant the fair tale that every scientific group rehearses by the evening fire
this is not a pipe [bomb]
sonuva sonuva being more to the point [now]
petroleum Cadillac karaoke roadkill
“I am an unabashed fan of
the parameter is defined by
“then there’s the heritage thing”
because if that were the case
we’d all be uptrodden by now
headlight frippery glut
statistically significant bard throttle
More noise please!
There is a great deal to like here – a fine ear & excellent sense of wit – and even if you don’t, there’s not much waiting before the next completely different event. Tonally, it has the quality of surfing the radio dial, searching for that right song (might be Mingus, might be Eminem – you won’t know till you find it). But it can also have that other quality that we experience whenever somebody else has their hand on the dial or the remote – gee, I wonder where that might be going. I feel that way to some degree about the second section above, a lovely, almost perfect image, full of mystery (authorization for what? what spliced space?), that could easily have been the first stanza of a fabulous longer piece we may never read.
Like Cabri, Boykoff has a very social imagination – it’s no accident, I suppose, that the subtitle of Boykoff’s weekly D.C. radio program Roots & Culture is Making the World Unsafe for Plutocracy. But Boykoff likes to play with knives pointed in all directions at once:
bowdlerized & Vendlerized &
come we go easy now
“as in NAFTA, buddy”
That section is worth the price of admission to Antennae ($6) alone & what really makes these three disparate lines work so well together is how the ear plays in the second one. That it enables Boykoff to equate Helen Vendler’s campaign for illiteracy first with bowdlerization & then with NAFTA is a stroke of genius. I wish I’d written it.
& Ashbery were hardly the only poets using linked
verse in the 1960s. Phil Whalen did likewise, and even a non-New American like Eliot
Monday, January 19, 2004
this mental block with the fourth issue of Antennae,
So I asked
Seldess to resend it, which he kindly did, & the instant I opened the
package I slapped my forehead. I knew exactly where my earlier copies were –I could
see them from where I’m sitting right now. But I hadn’t associated the little
mag in the brown paper wrapper whose “logo” for the issue is, literally, a
coffee stain from the bottom of a mug. Not just any mug either – a “Wings to Wisdom LLC
commemorative mug” from a new age self-empowerment seminar that took place in
contributions by several people who should be familiar to readers of this blog:
Stacy Szymaszek, David Pavelich, Kasey Mohammad, Jules Boykoff, Kaia Sand, John M. Bennett. But the one who really gets & holds my
attention the first time seriously through Antennae
is Heather Nagami. She has a series of ten poems, “The Agenda,” that all
center around public &/or
The new owner of a convenience store
on the southwest part of town
would like to keep the liquor license held by the previous owner;
he’s gotten rid of the liqueurs and other quick fixes,
reducing the store’s alcohol supply from four doors to three,
an accommodation that would be made only by a family man, such as himself,
especially considering the loss of profit –
alcohol sales being the main source of income
for such a small outfit, like cigarettes
at the Oriental and American Food store
on the corner of Grand and Stone,
not that it’s a small place, but surely less populated
than Albertson’s or Fry’s,
and while his corner store brings customers,
there’s gotta be that extra bottle to keep them on his corner instead of the one
two blocks down, which is exactly
what Council Member West has a problem with:
why does the neighborhood need another store selling liquor
when there already is one only two blocks east?
Council Member West thinks that the Mayor and all of the Council Members
remember what happened when too many licenses were given on
Council Members Ronstadt and Anderson agree, and so does Ibarra,
who generally agrees with Leal, though Leal, the council member
for the ward in which the store is located, says nothing.
Juice, Council Member West commands,
peering down toward the man behind the mike. I think you’ll
be surprised at how many people will be plenty happy with juice.
Hardly ever has found language, appropriated discourse sounded more closely attuned to what Ms. Niedecker once referred to as the “condensary” of poetry – not Reznikoff’s Testimony, nor the early novels of Kathy Acker. One could characterize this as a narrative poem – it tells a story that will be familiar in any state in which liquor licenses are controlled at the local level – but I think that’s a misreading. Nagami is hearing that, certainly, but she is, I think, listening for all the other elements in the language, up to & including the delicious double meaning of the poem’s key word, Juice.
I think I can demonstrate this conclusively with the next poem in the sequence, “The Tale of the Substitute Motion”:
Council Member Ronstadt makes the motion that Council Member Ibarra replaces with a substitute motion; but Council Member Dunbar (new since the elections) asks Vice-Mayor West to address Ronstadt’s motion, which, says West, has not been seconded, and Dunbar seconds, though it’s too late to second it because Council Member Scott has just seconded the substitute motion.
Goldberg-esque quality of legislative process, even
in a midsized city like
heard “The Roll Call” at a workshop Lisa Jarnot & I jointly gave at POG in
* The same council members remain in
office &, yes, current Vice-Mayor Ronstadt is related to the singer, as
well as being the current iteration of one of
Sunday, January 18, 2004
Bizarre-Misreading-of-the-Week Award: Mike Snider writes, and I quote: “Ron Silliman thinks that the line exists in space, not in time.” That’s not only not what I wrote, but fairly close to its opposite. The line functions in speech (i.e. in time) and in writing (where it is both temporal & spatial).
The interaction between the two dimensions is, of course, precisely where Derrida makes so much mischief in Of Grammatology. But to reduce the question of the line to an either/or proposition is simply to be guilty of base reductionism. Bad poetry lies on either side of that virgule. Bad theory too.
On the basis of this hallucinatory reading, Snider concludes that it “explains why he and I share so little in our thinking about poetry.” Well, yes, Michael, assigning meaning to language in an utterly random fashion probably does explain that.