Saturday, April 17, 2004
I’m getting jaded. I didn’t even notice that the visitor count had gone over 125,000 this past week. The idea that one might have readers, tho, still fills me with a boyish optimism. Thank you for stopping by.
Friday, April 16, 2004
a project. Twenty-six poets take one letter of the alphabet each & write a
poem that is supposed to last, when read aloud, no more than two minutes. Each
piece also is to focus upon an exhibit, one for each letter, of items from the
permanent collection of the Rosenbach Museum in
poets involved are a diverse lot, to say the least — Linh Dinh & Paul
· A “pap boat” that looks like small silver gravy dish, intended to feed the young or infirm
literally an early mode of badminton racquet that was turned in this instance
by Jacob Johnson, a
· An oil portrait of a child by an unknown artist, circa 1780
A photograph of Alice Liddell (the muse
of Alice in Wonderland) with her
sisters Lorina & Edith taken by Charles Dodgson
(Lewis Carroll) that ripples with Dodgson’s sense of
preteen eros —
· And this, Marianne Moore’s first poem, written at age eight, copied by hand with illustrations not once, but twice:
This Christmas morn
You do adorn
Bring Warner a horn
And me a doll
That is all.
You can see one of these holographs (the lower one I think) on the page facing page 1 of the new The New Poems of Marianne Moore, edited by Grace Schulman.
These poems will all be assembled for a reading on the 28th of April, joining together the Rosenbach & the National Poetry Month. Some sort of publication is planned as well, tho I doubt it will appear on a battledore.
at my own collection, I am taken with how much tension & desire seems apparent
in these “innocent” objects,
J is for Juvenile
This April eve
you do deceive
with a sign of youth
as an open mouth
or a book laid wide
& a wish supplied
anonymous as a stare
that cried “I was there”
with my silver boat
& a mouth my moat
so never mourn
the boy his horn
one stroke to score
Thursday, April 15, 2004
Readers of this blog will know by now that while I am interested in most aspects of the post-avant writing landscape, one sector that I have tended to be less enthusiastic is that segment of retro-avant-gardism that tends to employ new technology in order to generate post-rational texts, ranging from tossing dice to the latest in flash technology. I often feel that such writing is too in love with techné & not with the text, sort of an avant-gardism at all costs strategy that can yield works as lumbering as anything the school of quietude could produce. This is ironic, given that such work, to proceed at all, generally must ignore Blake’s Law – that all good poetry must be platform independent. Ironic because Blake, as the first intermedia poet, is something of a father figure – 200 years removed – to this poetics.
& ironic, perhaps, in another sense as well. It’s not that I haven’t done a little of this myself – you will find a (partially) chance-created work in Crow, my very first book –
what high lurking hornets buick the moose
– and one could argue that my own use of mathematics, such as the Fibonacci series, or the disruptions between syntax & context that account for the cognitive dissonance at the heart of a work like 2197 play into the very same ethos. Yet it’s precisely my own encounters with such indeterminacy that drives my own view that such poetry is best practiced in moderation, for what it can teach about the limits of meaning & intention, not as the central project of anyone’s work.
Indeed, it is partly my take on the retro-avant world that pushes me to prefer the term post-avant to describe contemporary progressive poetics, to point to what renders progressive poetry progressive – the sense that art continually evolves, expands, transforms. Recreating zaum in 2004 is hardly any different than recreating the Italian sonnet, just a little more interesting. Certainly there is no word to describe poetry that is more antiquarian than “experimental.”
The result is that I tend to approach certain venues – Augie Highland’s Muse Apprentice Guild, the email journal Poethia, Geoffrey Gazta’s BlazeVox, even UbuWeb – with some caution. As I do writers who primarily associate with such locales. Thus when I write something positive, say, about the poetry of Peter Ganick, as I have done & just may do again, it is not because he is such an integral part of the retro-avant scene, but almost in spite of that.
Which leads me to Jeff Harrison.
the tall-parody crook
tells me his dog is one
of the central zeroes
WW breaks quills,
fabled flesh really
red ready read
cut with a gurgle
a back pile of puddles
cut with a gurgle
tub meat untended
who said a nightmare's
a sly kind of counterwish
still they continue -
referred to as A,B, & C
mumbo jumbo types
the surface / of carcasses
he's a good sort
caught its breath
wonder the work
at the other
a last leave
to waylay him
verge on yet,
stamnos, lemmings' wiles
toast w/out crust for
4. for who folds
fresh decks of
snatches up the broom
can't be! QUIZ:
what was his name?
did you know his loot
listens to me when he's laughing?
his poor little worried loot!
dark olive suggestion
Wormswork in the world?
Wormswork in the world?
don’t know whether or not
Indeed, much of what is good about this is how sparingly each stanza or section is written – there is no excess. Individual sections are mostly abstract, but revolve sufficiently tightly around a core set of terms & frames to never seem pointless. My favorite –
-- has an almost Grenier-like quality to it, the two terms perfectly balanced off of one another. If I were teaching, that stanza would be a good one for a demonstration of the parsimony principle – there are a lot of possible narrative frames that can be generated out of such minimal details & it would be fun to see who would incorporate the other sections into their projected reading & just how they would go about it.
spare approach to abstraction combined with a discursive range that is tight
enough to let it all “cohere” is something you cannot concoct through chance save, in fact, by
chance. I don’t think that
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Books, chaplets & literary journals that came via mail or UPS on Monday, the day after I got back from one week’s vacation:
· Jeff Clark, Music and Suicide
· Jack Collum, Extremes & Balances
· Geoffrey Dyer, The Dirty Halo of Everything
· Graham Foust, Leave the Room to Itself
· Peter Gizzi, Some Values of Landscape and Weather
· David Meltzer, Shema
· Hoa Nguyen, Add Some Blue
· J.H. Prynne, Furtherance
· Richard Roundy, The Other Kind of Vertigo
· Kaia Sand, Interval
· Cole Swenson, Goest
Fiction & Plays
· William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch: The Restored Text
· Frank O’Hara, Amorous Nightmares of Delay: Selected Plays
· Gertrude Stein, Mrs. Reynolds
· William Carlos Williams, The Great American Novel
· Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings: Volume 4 – 1938-1940
· Michael Davidson, Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics
· Daniel Kane, What is Poetry (Conversations with the American Avant-Garde)
· Charles Olson, Selected Letters (edited by Ralph Maud)
· Joan Retallack, The Poethical Wager
· Dodo Bird
· Poetry Project Newsletter
· Skanky Possum
A number of these I bought. Some I didn’t. The chances that I will have the time to read all 26 this week so that I will be ready for whatever next week brings are exactly zero. Not to mention all the journals I get for the day job, The Nation, plus a dozen or so publications that come with frequent flyer miles from airlines I seldom use. Did I mention that I read six newspapers every day as well?
point being that it simply is impossible for even the most responsible or
compulsive reader to try & keep up, truly keep up, with the state of
post-avant writing. At some point, something is going to have to give, people
will & do make choices & out of those choices, I would venture, new,
further cracks in the landscape must appear. When there are well over 100 “
1967-68, I worked for about 18 months in the employ of the U.S. Post Office, my
one stint of federal service. Specifically, I was a dispatch clerk in a
facility called The Ferry Annex in
soon thereafter, Jack Shoemaker moved north from
Corbett has an piece in the current Boston Phoenix, explaining the why & how
of Pressed Wafer. Up in
In addition to the aesthetics of poetry & the politics of poetry & the distribution or economics of poetry, a snapshot like this points toward a sociology of poetry as well. The social funneling processes are not distributed evenly & I suspect one could spell out in Bourdieuean fashion why this or that writer ends up publishing what & where they do. What, for example, is Jeff Clark doing publishing with FSG? How does a Joe Ceravolo go from a high profile beginning to near obscurity only to emerge posthumously as enormously influential? If so few women have followed along the path of the projectivists, how do we explain, say, Denise Levertov? How is she like/unlike those other New Americans who broke with their projectivist beginnings, Dorn & Baraka?
Questions for which I don’t really have answers, even where (as in Levertov’s case) I might have “instincts.” But things that I think about as I begin to plow through this mountain of books.
Among the collections of poetry, however, only three of the eleven authors are
my age or older – there are also more women & the one person of color in
this rather accidental set. While I wouldn’t want to generalize from such
meager evidence, it is the case that poetry today, in post-avant circles &
elsewhere, is far more reflective of
Still, we’re a long ways yet from parity. While half of MFA students may be women, a figure I’ve heard & cannot verify, only 28 percent of the 263 bloggers listed to the left for whom I can reliably identify gender are female. Between reading & studying and publishing & speaking publicly a second gendered funneling process continues to occur, even if it’s not at the same level it was a decade ago.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
While I was away some folks decided to turn my comments section into their own little listserv, which then descended into at least three people calling one another names, a level of personal invective I would not accept in my own children. As I didn’t have my laptop with me, all I could do, once I realized what was going on, was to pull the comments function altogether.
I’ve resurrected the function now, but deleted everything after April 1. I’ve also used the Squawkbox “banning” feature to ensure that the three folks in question take a time out to think about their behavior in public.
Much of what
so much fun as a motion picture relates, I think, precisely to this question of
influence I was mulling over yesterday. Hellboy is not only *not* original, but
is very nearly slavish in its overt sampling of its sources. Just a few of
these include Indiana Jones,
Ghostbusters, X-Men, Frankenstein, Mimic — director Guillermo
del Toro is quoting himself there — Spiderman, Men in Black, Lord of the Rings (notably the Balrog & troll sequences), Harry Potter, Shrek, Edward Scissorhands, The
Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Girl Interrupted, the writings of
H.P. Lovecraft & the songs of Robert Johnson. I know that I'm missing more
references than I got, especially since I don't follow either the American
What holds this anthology of low rent devices together is editing. The film virtually never slows down — the few scenes that give the audience a chance to catch their breath & build the nominal depth of character for the narrative's four main characters — Hellboy, his girl Sparky, their FBI keeper John Myers, and HB's "father," good ole absent-minded professor Broom (John Hurt made up as Albert Einstein) — are short & filled with both edits & flashbacks so as not to let go of the film's underlying, relentless pace.
As you might anticipate from this circus of allusions, the film's focus isn't on hanging together narratively — indeed, there are large gaps, most notably in the lumbering way that the film takes Hellboy's primary partner, "Blue," a creature from the Black Lagoon type who appears to have cribbed his sensitive soul from 3CPO, the Star Wars bot, out of the story line for the film's last third so that it can concentrate on the love triangle between Sparky (Princess Lea) and Hellboy (Hans Solo) & Myers (Luke Skywalker) as they try to keep Rasputin from opening the portal to the Other Side. For all of the energy that has gone into creating Hellboy, a sort of red Shrek, Blue & Sparky or Liz, a gal with a pyrokinesis problem, the film's bad guys are remarkably lacking in charisma.
That this gumbo hangs together at all is a considerable achievement, yet, as should be obvious, this is a film that eschews greatness, depth, insight or real affection. The film is so firmly focused on its roster of homages that it never looks up to consider what it might add to this pantheon of Saturday afternoon thrillers. The result, I suspect, may be that the film will rake in the requisite hundreds of millions of dollars, but have no impact whatsoever even on the genres it holds most dear.
Hellboy, in short, is a filmic equivalent of new formalism. If, that is, new formalism took its marching orders from the livelier venues of poetry. Which, in turn, new formalism emphatically does not.
Which brings me back to the question of influence & originality vs. derivation. Robert Duncan, the most thoughtful of those arguing for a derivationist perspective, for the idea that no poem is born disconnected from the whole of literary history, nowhere argues that poetry itself does not thereby evolve. Indeed, I think it is clear from his work that poets necessarily write the poems they themselves need & that this need can be seen (or, perhaps better, felt) as a lack or absence in the poetic constellation. Hellboy, like new formalism, works from the presumption that the map of the heavens for its genre is largely, if not entirely, complete. The most one might strive for is to add one's own name to an already crowded roster.
I used to think — and still do, mostly — that what so animated the Poetry Wars of the late 1970s & early '80s was that language poetry, simply by existing, demonstrated that the constellation of possibilities articulated by the New American poetries of the 1950s where themselves not complete. Langpo's most animated opponents where those, like Tom Clark, who had signed up for a particular flavor of the New American mapping, and who were passionately committed to the idea that their universe not change. It was, to say the least, a teleological reading of literary history. What was most objectionable about langpo therefore was simply that it existed. Had langpo presented itself as, say, third-generation projectivism, nobody would have complained. Perhaps, precisely, because no one would have noticed.
To date, newer tendencies, such as the New Brutalism, have yet to articulate exactly how the map of the constellations itself must change. As certainly it must. Langpo's origins in the Vietnam conflict may position it with regards to the issues of today, but they hardly render it adequate to a post-Soviet universe in which the issue of anti-modernism, whether in failed states — where anti-modernism comes out as a mode of theocratic fascism — or in post-industrial centers (where one form of anti-modernism shows up as the School of Quietude), is inescapable. The langpo position, I would suggest, is that the tasks of modernism itself were never completed, that the bulb of the Enlightenment has mostly flickered without giving full lumination, & that much remains yet to be done.
So I look at Hellboy as a guilty pleasure for a world in which guilt itself is no longer palpable, and it would be easy to despair. What happens when there are no more films to make, no more poems to write? Hellboy's solution, that we should make the old ones over & over, feels to me woefully inadequate. What is excluded from this motion picture is precisely what cinema needs.
Monday, April 12, 2004
How does one gauge influence?
Two of the
books I carried around with me during my
Both of these poetries are close to my heart, tho one obviously is so close as to make me itch:
Not not this. What,
That's Davies writing. Just typing it makes me twitch.
has argued that language poetry is or was first of all a relationship to knowledge
& that an almost symphonic heterogeneity of detail is a characteristic
feature that results from this — yet projectivism, especially as practiced
first by Olson & then by Blackburn had a very similar epistemological
reach, a desire to be able to include anything & everythin
Here is Behrle's "Power Outage":
a fat candle beneath a leggy one.
words through my fist's shadow, huge on the page
only our street,
windows around the corner electric.
kids playful on the dark hill.
Boston Edison's "aware of the problem"
and has "dispatched a team."
that's a relief.
a room full of candles.
writing a poem for the new Meanie
out Sunday at Waterstone's.
will it be ready?
truck headed up the hill
against the one-way, headlights
push the dark.
we need more words for "the dark."
the lights return
seeing how lonely a candle
over the dead phone looks.
wick still, its shine rings the wall.
Reading this, I find myself intrigued at Behrle's choices, for example to mention not just the name of the publication in which the outage either will or won't impact his ability to complete the work, but the date & location of its publication, yet not to name the abandoned book. It's not simply that Behrle's the coeditor of Meanie, but rather that only at the point of anxiety do Behrle's terms come into a sort of terminological hyperfocus. Elsewise, with the lone exception of the electric company, nouns function here as types: truck headed up the hill.
It's against this correlation of anxiety with naming that Behrle makes his demand for "more words for 'the dark'" It's an extraordinary act of metaphor, particularly coming with all the surface features of a poetics that has been said to eschew metaphor.
I can't make the same kind of reading, I realize, with Lateral Argument – even tho I think Davies work here offers both greater range & more depth than does Behrle – simply because I feel so close to what Davies is trying that I don't trust my own judgment. At 27 pages, with ear & wit turned up to the max, Davies' poem feels like a major work of art. But in some ways (many ways) I would trust that conclusion so much more if I couldn't find my own reflection here. That, in turn, makes me feel that I'm being unfair to him, and very possibly I am.
Davies uses line length & positioning to give a sense of poem as field that is itself fairly close to the projectivists (tho more so to Duncan than to Olson or Blackburn), which renders it almost impossible to quote here on the blog. Further, Davies does something else that I've seen a few times of late of often ending a sentence in the first line of a new stanza, so that it becomes impossible not only to see the stanza as anything like the contained "room" of words implied by that term's origin, but impossible also to quote the stanza out of context. It's a mode of writing that resists any sense of rest until the poem's very end, which means that almost any excerpt would have to be "incomplete," if not actually "bad."
This makes it
easier for me to explain why I think