Saturday, May 01, 2004

 

Paul Muldoon characterized his work for the Rosenbach Alphabet as a “rock lyric” & he assures me that it really is intended to be printed all in caps. This is particularly fitting, perhaps, for a writer whose current CD is Paul Muldoon Unplugged & who co-wrote the title song of Warren Zevon’s CD My Ride’s Here with the late rocker. In addition to his day job at Princeton, Muldoon is Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. Muldoon’s ninth book, Moy Sand and Gravel, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003. Muldoon had the 17th letter in the Rosenbach Alphabet – read the poem first & then figure it out.

 

 

ONLY THING

 

 

 

I’M A MAN WITH A FUTURE

 

YOU’RE A WOMAN WITH A PAST

 

WE LIVE FOR THE PRESENT

 

IT’S THE ONLY THING THAT LASTS

 

 

 

WHEN THEY DON’T RECALL

 

WHY PHILIP ROSENBACH                      

 

FOUND HIMSELF AMONG A CAST

 

OF THOUSANDS AT THE FALLS

 

OR HOW THOSE PLAQUES

 

TO THE MISSING HAVE AMASSED

 

 

 

IT’S UNLIKELY, YOU’LL FIND,

 

ANYONE HAS KEPT IN MIND

 

 

 

 

I’M A MAN WITH A FUTURE

 

YOU’RE A WOMAN WITH A PAST

 

WE LIVE FOR THE PRESENT

 

IT’S THE ONLY THING THAT LASTS

 

 

 

THEY DON’T KNOW IF THE FUHRER

 

COULD REALLY AND TRULY

 

HAVE MOUNTED THOSE GYMNASTS

 

NOR ARE THEY ANY SURER

 

IF THE BIBLE IN LOGOOLI

 

FORETELLS FLOOD AND FAMINE-BLAST

 

 

 

I’M A MAN WITH A FUTURE

 

YOU’RE A WOMAN WITH A PAST

 

WE LIVE FOR THE PRESENT

 

IT’S THE ONLY THING THAT LASTS

 

 

 

 

YOU’RE STILL LOOKING FOR A STUDIO

 

TO OPTION GILGAMESH

 

I’M STILL GOING AGAINST THE FLOW

 

OF YOUR MICROMESH

 

YOU’RE STILL SAYING NO

 

I’M STILL GETTING FRESH

 

THOUGH JACKIE AND BO

 

HAVE GONE THE WAY OF ALL FLESH

 

 

 

THOUGH OUR QUERYING THE YONI’S

 

POSITION ON THE LINGAM

 

HAS SO MANY STAND AGHAST

 

AND THOUGH DE ACOSTA’S CONEY

 

AND GARBO’S GINGHAM

 

ARE BOTH FADING RATHER FAST

 

 

 

I’M STILL A MAN WITH A FUTURE

 

YOU’RE STILL A WOMAN WITH A PAST

 

 

 

WE LIVE FOR THE PRESENT

 

IT’S THE ONLY THING THAT LASTS



Friday, April 30, 2004

 

“How will I know what I thought until I read it in your blog?” – thus sayeth a friend, in jest I trust, shortly after the lightning-like presentation of the Rosenbach Alphabet Wednesday night in an upstairs gallery of Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum.

 

The event was noteworthy for several reasons – one being its display of primarily Philadelphia-area poetries of all manner. There was definitely a Noah’s ark feel to the event. Another, very Philadelphia aspect, was its Pew sponsorship & curatorial context – very much in a white-wine reception kind of setting, in a gallery that frankly couldn’t hold the number of people who attempted to get into the room (tho that number was probably no more than 100, more than a quarter of whom were “the poets”). Before the event itself a few of us took a tour of the museum, pausing in its third floor recreation of Marianne Moore’s Greenwich Village studio, or noting the curious juxtaposition of the Rosenbach’s Melville collection housed in a case in a room otherwise given over to a display of the work of Maurice Sendak (who, in addition to his own books, is both a serious Melville devotee and a Rosenbach board member). The current Sendak exhibit is of sketches for Alligators All Around, a book my sons read several hundred times a few years back.

 

Coming from California, I feel hyperconscious about the way a reading like this would be unlikely to occur in, say, San Francisco. First of all, arts organizations in the Bay Area have never created spaces like the Rosenbach, created from the home of two brothers, one a rare book dealer, who died just fifty years ago. Second, I can only think of a couple of events in San Francisco – a reception for Edmond Jabès at the French Consulate, say – that brought together anything like the range of poets one saw at the Rosenbach Wednesday.

 

One element that all the poets participating held in common was this was writing to order, under deadline. Need I suggest that this is not how most of us work? More than a couple of the pieces had only been written that morning. One poet read a second section to her piece that had occurred to her literally as she was leaving her job to come to the reading.

 

That means that the works that have appeared here – and the four others that will show up over the next several days – can’t really be seen as being in any sense “typical” of the writing of the poets involved. At the reading itself, a couple of people spoke of the alphabet itself as being a “great leveler,” but I’m not sure that leveling is what really went on Wednesday. Rather, I think that the artifice inherent in the project, the very nature of the “deadline poet” process, served instead as a liberating mechanism, permitting poets to write outside of themselves if they so chose. So, in a sense, what I see here instead is rather a writing beyond. How far & in what ways is what I find most compelling in the pieces thus far by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Nathalie Anderson, Linh Dinh, Daisy Fried & CA Conrad. In the next couple of days I’ll add works by Susan Stewart, Paul Muldoon, Bob Perelman & Mytili Jagannathan.

 

The Rosenbach Alphabet itself is going to be published in hard copy – what you’re getting here is really just a taste – when I get more details, I will post them.



Thursday, April 29, 2004

 

Last September, I came down harshly on the work of Jake Berry, a retro-avant-gardist whose work was included in the anthology Another South. I characterized Berry’s excerpt from his long poem Brambu Drezi as being “as dense a cluster of overwriting & cliché as I’ve come across in a long time.” Fireworks ensued, all quite predictable. Now Jack Foley, who was traveling when this all took place, has sent along as strong a defense of Berry’s writing as I’ve seen, so I thought it only fair to include it here.

 

I was out of the country when the brouhaha about Jake Berry erupted — and I just found out about it yesterday.

 

I don't want to open the fray again except to say that I admire Berry's work and that — though I realize you dislike what you've seen of it — I feel that, under other circumstances, you would be the first to question what kind of language gets designated as "cliche" or "overwritten." You remember, I'm sure, that these were charges regularly made against Robert Duncan's poetry.

 

Convincing anyone of almost anything is a task for angels, but this is a passage I like. It's the conclusion of the second book of Brambu Drezi. See if you like it too. The "Papa" is of course Papa Legba from the Voodoo tradition, and the "speaker" at this point is in some sense Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Orpheus.

 

   We can no longer separate the stars
    or the currents in the navel of Hades
or Sadir, the breast,
         rising and falling in the swelling dark
    the kabbalists name Daath
     no sky at all, but pure unbroken light
     the stars so compressed and alien
and the switchboard constantly nagging for attention
    "Will someone please get the damn phone?"
     what do these salesmen desire
        but to rob the cruxpoint of its heat,
caught themselves in the dragon's maw
         that points north and from there gathering the cups and uneaten cake
       the hungry traffic silence
(the pain one must bear to be comfortable in this world is enormous)
          here, a cafe buried in infinite daylight
               is a vibrant cancer here at the bottom of the well,
     We can no longer separate the clanging stars.

 

                 We begin.
              The dream has murdered the dreamer
                   with a key of tongues,
           her fingers manipulating the seabed,
            and the necklace between her breasts sobbing,
                  12 trees in the wound,
                  thunder in the west,
                  I study the heart of Brahma
                            and hear voices
             when they tore her from the tree
              the branches sighed
        down at the crossroads, down at the crossroads
               they say he comes smelling of graves.
                         hey Papa, please let me pass
                       see, I bring sweet tobacco
                                     and doves for stew
                     bury her heart beneath the roses
                       her eyes beneath the Oak
                 and she will rise again someday
              he wrote until dawn and received the third baptism of Spirit,
                           he clutched the adversary's thigh, and refused to
                   release his hold,
                               for a name, for a deal in blood,
                           to bear the mark
                           to bear the mark
                                               out of nothing

 

                                                                 a fire



Wednesday, April 28, 2004

 

The next-to-last line in my own poem for the Rosenbach Alphabet was suggested by the physical history of the letter J as outlined in the American Heritage Dictionary (whose magnified pages bedeck the pedestals of the displays for each letter in the Rosenbach Museum show). CA Conrad, Craig Allen to his friends, develops his section in this curious collaboration from the same source. His book Frank is forthcoming from Jargon Books, the storied press of Jonathan Williams.

 

Dear Ron, below is my poem for the alphabet reading wednesday, looking forward to the event.  Pertho is the ancient rune where our P has some roots.  Pertho looks like a C with its top and bottom crunched in, pointy.  it also faces its opening east on the page, much like our C's opening and our P's horse head faces east.  my favorite thing about Pertho (which our P lacks) is that it can be used in the reverse, facing west on the page.  Freya Aswynn has been studying this ancient alphabet nearly all her life, and she feels strongly that Pertho is where many of the other runes were derived, which furthers her translation of Pertho facing east to birth.  Freya also sees the Nordic traditions using Pertho as a chess piece, and a secret, which makes sense in using Pertho to find someTHING'S opposite.  but written in a runic script, or word, in the reverse, could also show a decrease in energy, or even death.  so when i think about all this, i tend to feel that our P chickens out in a sense, alluding to our culmination of centuries of christian fears of hell, which leads to a paranoia of dying at all, a paranoia of living properly, finally leading to our unbridled consumerism and endless other folds of distraction from a cold, hard focus on our mortality.  P to me is the perfect example of fear.  Pertho was fully embraced as the ultimate symbol for accepting life's oppositions.  maybe it would be the perfect time in human history to introduce a reverse P.  OR EVEN a double P, the bulbous upper portions simultaneously east and west, sort of an ink and paper version of quantum chromodynamics.  where the nuclear energy glues the quarks, this is all symbolism with the double P of course (wish i could type a double P right now), the stem fusing time and/or energy.  anyway, whether or not anyone would listen to me for the need to evolve the alphabet with a west-facing P and a double P, well, we'll just have to see.  here's my poem:

 

P for Interest In Waking    

 

Pertho East )  )   )    )     )      )       )        )         )

bigger than an ant only in size "the parasitologist will be here in a moment to remove you from society PLEASE have a candy!"  pentagon cuts Iraqi circles square divide weapons contract by desire for another Ramadan America's face the day money drifts out of reach open your PDR Guide to Biological and Chemical Warfare Response implement White House Crucifix Stool Softener the passion of Chrissssssstina holds Papa's letter in air I leap hold on by my teeth I may not have ovaries but I've planted my feet in this marsh more than once Present? present our conscience to the world our sober apologies

 

(         (        (       (      (     (    (   (  ( Pertho West

perforate the language no sleeping bag HEY does this mean we're not staying? means there's no sleeping weigh your English Brother by date and hour of atrocity weigh ourselves complicit with every unanswered damnation my pop at cardboard box factory meditation not preservation's sanity but sanity's preservation Philly sounds of Philly Sound now you take that P poets (!) sounding Philly young palomino vegetarian in land of the cheese steak new plastic surgery won't prevent new tumor (permanence is fiction's definition) Presley, Lisa-Marie her father's face on blue balloon she carries to wood of screaming crows "I'm glad you're all right!" yell it before waking



Tuesday, April 27, 2004

 

I first met Daisy Fried because we were in the same “class” of Pew Fellowship recipients back in 1998. You can find her work in Ploughshares & you can find it in Can We Have Our Ball Back, which should tell you something about her ability to reach out to different audiences. Her book She Didn’t Mean To Do It came out from Pittsburgh back in 2001. In spite of the actual content of the title poem, I always hear that line as consciously askew – I think Daisy Fried means exactly what she does. In the Rosenbach Alphabet, she holds the letter “F.”

 

 

FIRST FISH FOLIO

 

My heart and paw smack for you as for a fish

salmoning up falls. I split froths and folios

of H2O to snatch to snare you. Daresay it is the first

 

food to starve, water to thirst

me. To you to you I cleave and claw and fish

and flounder and hake and bass for compliments in defoliated

 

rivers and mountains. And cities. Pause I, prowl I. My arms I exfoliated

for the wedding. They glowed! Firstburst

of married hours, we split a fishbone

 

wishily—for luck I mean. It stuck. I swallowed hard, my fishy

                                                             folly, my

                                                           first.



Monday, April 26, 2004

 

Here is the “X” section of the Rosenbach alphabet. Linh Dinh has just returned to Philadelphia, having spent in recent years in Italy & his native Vietnam. He reads at Molly’s Books & Café on Saturday, and will be at the Rosenbach event this Wednesday night (see the Calendar in Saturday’s blog for details).

 

X

 

Where my home used to be,

Where my face used to be,

 

Always firm and frontal,

It has become my first and last name.

 

It is the only word I know.

Behind this x sign here

 

Is another x sign (here),

Perched on a swirly stool,

 

Coy, exasperated,

Waiting for that final x.



Sunday, April 25, 2004

 

Some critical items newly up on the web that are worth reading & thinking about:

 

The first is Hank Lazer’s “The People’s Poetry,” in the current issue of The Boston Review. The second is “Avant, Post-Avant, and Beyond,” a roundtable on Joan Houlihan’s Boston Comment website, featuring Oren Izenberg, Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Burt, Alan Golding, H.L. Hix, Kent Johnson & Joe Amato. Amato’s trope of the yellow submarine is priceless – I kept waiting for him to name The Blue Meanies & break out in a chorus of We all live….

 

The roundtable grew out of reactions to Houlihan’s own negative take on contemporary writing, but she has interestingly stepped back from the fray itself, presumably functioning here primarily to frame questions. The questions, it is worth noting, are fair & reasonable. Lazer’s focus is so close to the concerns of the roundtable that the two really function as contributions to the same larger debate, which might be characterized as how best to characterize the post-language literary landscape. A question that haunts this blog much of the time as well.

 

Also in The Boston Review & definitely worth reading is Marjorie Perloff’s review of Richard Sieburth’s new editions of the poetry of Ezra Pound. 

 

Җ         Җ         Җ

 

Great moments in irony: The 2004 René Wellek Prize, awarded by the American Comparative Literature Association, has gone to Barrett Watten’s The Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Politics. Wellek at least attended the Prague School for Linguistics while Roman Jakobson was on its faculty, from whom he seems to have borrowed (and denatured) much of the work of the Russian Formalists in his particular contribution to New Criticism as it emerged in the 1930s.

 

This blog gave Watten’s book – which I’m still reading – its very first critical mention back in June 2003. When I read it, the first verse of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” runs incessantly through my backbrain. Not only are Watten’s own concerns similar, but the density that characterizes Dylan’s best writing – almost a verticality – is something that Watten shares & has brought forward both in his poetry & his critical work. Watten’s book deserves every award it gets.

 

Җ         Җ         Җ

 

Weird personal note: Friday afternoon, while I was having a perfectly ordinary phone conversation with a friend, the hearing on the right side of my head literally shut off. A trip to the doctor yesterday revealed no ear wax buildup, so I’ve been given some steroids & an anti-viral medication in the hopes that this is what is causing pressure on the nerves. After about eight hours on the steroids (but before I’d gotten the anti-viral meds) my hearing started to return. I’ll see a specialist tomorrow, but it’s been very disorienting. I was at a restaurant on Friday night & was served the wrong entrée & it took me the longest time to realize it, simply because I couldn’t think straight. So any craziness here this coming week will probably just be an accurate reflection of your correspondent.



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