Friday, December 17, 2004

 

 

 

Somebody spilled coffee on page 7 of Walter Mosley’s Walkin’ the Dog & the Paoli Library, 800 square-foot edifice that it is, tucked away in the back of the local Wachovia Bank branch, stamped “withdrawn” across the inside front cover & sold it for all of 25¢. I splurged and bought it, Barry Hannah’s Yonder Stands, Ellen Gilchrist’s Net of Jewels & Norman Podhoretz’ Ex-Friends (proof positive that this was, in fact, a splurge) for one dollar.

 

I’ve been reading Mosley’s books for over a decade – I find intelligent crime mysteries a good palette cleanser between heavier or more dense books & this was my sequel to The Guermantes Way. However, like Mosley’s previous Socrates Fortlow book, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, this really isn’t a novel. Nor, frankly, is it truly a collection of short stories, tho one might characterize it as linked tales & be the least inaccurate of all. Not unlike Blue Light, Mosley’s first (but apparently not last) foray into sci-fi, the Socrates Fortlow works are all about what narrativity might be when it’s not thrusting you along the ineluctable locomotive of plot. In this sense, the books are kin to something like Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren & even the later works of Thomas Pynchon, Vineland & Mason & Dixon. All strike me as works of fiction that approach what Viktor Shklovsky once called plotless prose.

 

Not that any of these are anti-narrative, if by narrative we understand it literally – as the unfolding of meaning in time. Rather, all simply withhold that unfolding from its traditional displacement onto plot. Pynchon, for example, strikes me as wildly in love with plot devices, as such, so much so that his more recent books foreground these precisely by letting the referenced world implied by his language wander & stray. Dhalgren does something similar, but for different reasons – Delany’s really interested in the ideas that map a constructed world. Walkin’ the Dog is closer to Dhalgren in spirit than to Pynchon, tho I think what Mosley is trying to sketch out isn’t ideas so much as it is character, particularly one who isn’t reflective or clear to himself.

 

I recall, close to 30 years ago, Kathy Acker thinking aloud something very much like this – how does character arise out of words, phrases, syntax? In one of her early novels, she appropriates plot from a variety of sources, including some court documents I passed onto her (I had been using the backsides as typing paper, literally), imposing the names of her “characters” – her friends – against a series of disparate materials. Does Phil Harmonic remain the same if his name is superimposed over a porn novel, pop fiction, a political document or in re van Geldern? It was around this same time that Acker “gave a reading” in Berkeley by sending over three of her recent lovers with instructions to discuss her.

 

There is, of course, a long & not always distinguished history of the unreliable narrator in fiction, generally. Lolita’s fate is only disclosed in a faux academic forward. Benjy, in The Sound and the Fury, lacks the ability assess what he sees, even as he sees everything. Etc. What Mosley is up to in Walkin’ the Dog is, in its own way, a lot closer to Acker’s construction of persons through arbitrary mechanisms than the psychological realism, a kind of tromp l’oeil narrative gesture, feigned in works like Lolita.

 

Socrates Fortlow’s model, tho, isn’t a person at all. It’s a type, a variation on the mystery novel hero, precisely the sort embodied so effectively by Easy Rawlins in Mosley’s earlier books, the ones that made him justly famous. Like Robert Parker’s Spencer, the perfect NPR-listening, gourmet-cooking, in-touch-with-his-inner-child ex-cop, Easy Rawlins’ ability to comprehend, articulate not only his Self but his limits renders him infinitely likeable to an audience, accessible & sympathetic. Socrates Fortlow, tho, is much closer to another Parker character from the Spencer series, the lethal black Other, Hawk, who may be Spencer’s partner & lifelong friend but who is capable of a level of violence that renders him a destabilizing element from the perspective of all of Spencer’s adversaries in novel after novel. The bad guys may not fear Spencer, but they’re cautious around Hawk. Easy Rawlins has a similar sidekick, the sociopath Mouse.

 

Fortlow is the tale told from the vantage of a Hawk or Mouse, with no Spencer or Rawlins to fall back on & no mystery to solve either. Fortlow’s back story is that he’s a black man in his sixties who spent most of his life in prison in Indiana for murders – one of them of his girlfriend – which he did in fact commit. He’s on the streets again, in LA, working in a supermarket, living in what amounts to a squat. He’s not all bad – he has a two-legged dog named Killer & a young friend, Darryl, whom he’s mentoring Big Brother style through a series of foster parenting placements. Like Hawk or Mouse, Fortlow is never very far from violence – there are places in this book when he comes across more as a form of pure anger than anything else. He’s inarticulate in some critical places (at the very end of this book, when he has a chance to consolidate a real victory, he can’t do it, because he doesn’t believe in the world in which that could happen). Women sometimes frighten him or perhaps it’s who he becomes around them that disturbs him so.

 

The book is written through Fortlow’s perspective in the third person, standard detective fare. But many of these tales really wouldn’t work as short stories – there’s not enough conflict, the movement is too opaque, the shift depends on what you read in another tale early on. Some of them are very quiet – yet one of them is (literally) a riot. The arrival of high drama shows up almost as disjunctively as the way Eisenstein introduced color midway through Ivan the Terrible – there’s no preparation for it, but it transforms the scale of every other detail in the work entirely. That is not, as Mosley knows, unlike how violence works – it takes all the loose data of everyday life, casting it all into a high contrast relief from which it can never afterward be divorced.

 

It feels in places as if Mosley is painting a figured abstraction in this book – not unlike de Kooning’s women, for example. You can see the figure there and yet you can’t really. He isn’t using the tools of a poet – he has a good sense of language, an ear for dialog and the ability to know what both sentence and paragraph can be – something he shares in his genre work with Elmore Leonard, perhaps, but not Parker, whose prose is weak tea indeed. Mosley is painting with the devices of the mystery story, but not giving us a mystery. He wants us to see Fortlow, even more than Fortlow can see himself, but Mosley also wants us to see the paint & canvas, all these literary devices, to appreciate them for exactly what they are.

 

He tried this earlier in Blue Light, his first venture in science fiction, which is something of a disaster of a book, or so I recall feeling when I read it some years back. In Walkin’ the Dog, that same post-narrative impulse is at work, or maybe at play, but now it moves with pacing & efficiency – it’s even elegant in its digressions, which can be more important than the frame tale out of which they arose. A trip to a nursery to buy a tree may be the high point of the book: the clerks are taking advantage of Fortlow and he has no clue.

 

Mosley’s not the first genre specialist to show just how much more he might be capable of doing. You can see Stephen King, with his wonderful sense of sentence & paragraph, chomping at the bit to write beyond his tales of terror. Mosley here has given us something akin to a cubist fresco of the anti-detective story. It’s not perfect, but it works darn well.

 



Thursday, December 16, 2004

 

It’s not every day that somebody hands you a set of eleven books bound in string that you can then fit into the side pocket of a suit jacket. But that is what CA Conrad handed me the other night at the Public Library, and how I then brought the collection home. These are, as you might have gathered already, instances of micropublishing, the latest suite of work from Baltimore’s Furniture Press.

 

It is probably generous to describe these as books, even chapbooks. For want of a $40 saddle-stitch stapler, each collection is a series of between three and six unbound half-sheets of paper that form little book-thingees 5½” high, 4¼” across. All have the name of the author on the cover, but not all also have titles & only some of those actually show up on the cover. On the back, we can see that each is part of a numbered series, entitled “{PO25¢EM}” – numbers 21 through 31, to be exact.

 

This is, as you might gather (and you would not be wrong), a decidedly quirky publishing project. But it is solid as poetry, from start to finish. Included in this cluster are:

 

·        Alicia Askenase

·        CA Conrad

·        Tom Devaney

·        Brett Evans

·        Greg Fuchs

·        Hassen

·        Ish Klein

·        Chris McCreary

·        Jenn McCreary

·        Ethel Rackin

·        Frank Sherlock


With the exception of Fuchs, who escaped to trendy Brooklyn awhile back, the rest are Philadelphia area poets, a good cross section of the local literary scene, ranging from Askenase, a co-founder of 6ix and former curator of the reading series at the Walt Whitman Center in Camden, to Frank Sherlock, impresario of the current series at La Tazza.

 

None, so far as I can tell, wrote anything “special” for this format, but all have work that fits well here. The approaches are quite various. For instance, Askenase’s project, Suspect, is a serial poem exploring the language surrounding our current wars in Afghanistan & Iraq:

 

there really were

no

civilians dying

 

 

to think

 

 

 

we cared deeply about them

 

 

in the painting

 

Tom Devaney & CA Conrad both have short books of poems. I take Evans’ Bacon Assegai as a long poem, tho possibly it is a series. Its language has the thick materiality I associate with late Zukofsky, circa 80 Flowers or “A”-22 & -23, viz:

 

Plover pywipes

breeding season catch-flower

t’ fèass mony jeers

pleasure to more

pleasure. She sent her two sis

ters upstairs to pull down

my wisdome teeth. I came loose

rather by art

than by strength.

In wlapping there is as

the laundress stacking shirts

again green shutters.

not to woo the Chinese woo

is to stop fun

interruptions, pinching

punc

tuitions hup netting off

ballad light – bog o’ stars

& inclined to kick to move

 

That’s simply great to read aloud, as I’ve done more than once.

 

As with Evans, who I believe is the only here I’ve not met, I find myself responding most strongly to people with whose writing I’ve not connected before. The uninominal Hassen is a case in point. Only a couple of her poems even stretch out to two lines, but they utilize the call-and-response play that is possible with their titles as well as can be done:

 

true or false

 

 

i like the idea of an accomplished fact

 

 

*

 

crap shoot

 

 

handwriting in mirror rather than face

 

 

*

 

atomic

 

 

life is hard; fuck me

 

 

*

 

 

consolation

 

 

my comic book expression of horror

 

There is, as should be visible from just these three poets, a considerable diversity here, evidence I would argue that there is, finally, no such thing as a Philadelphia style, tho there are tendencies one might note, such as an openness to wit, a sense of what is being done elsewhere, an avoidance of the pretentious. Between Ethel Rackin’s post-New American narrative & Frank Sherlock’s boxed two-liners –

 


      There’s a dream teardrop flooding the street
      Butt ugly native seeks sexy alien to come together & drown

 

 

one can find the whole of the post-avant tradition (save, I suppose, those versions that for reasons of software can’t be contained, really, on the page). At the same time, it’s an excellent anthology of what poetry in Philadelphia means, here on the cusp of 2005.

 

For more info, or to obtain copies, write furniture_press@graffiti.net.

 



Wednesday, December 15, 2004

 

 

 

 

If all you knew about Devin Johnston as a poet was that he was involved in the publication of Flood Editions, you would expect that his poetry would show extraordinary care, a total awareness of what other new poets are doing, and a certain fondness for a certain side of the New American poetry, that vein which leads through Robert Duncan & Ronald Johnson and more recently via the likes of John Taggart & Tom Pickard. You would not be wrong.

 

Along the way, Johnston wrote – and published via Wesleyan – what I take to have been his dissertation, the only really credible look we have at poetry & the occult, Precipitations. Johnston is currently, or so sayeth his website at St. Louis University, working on a new book of essays on birds, pastoralism, and poverty in modern poetry.

None of which really prepares you for the poetry. Johnston may just be the poet most deeply committed to the idea of repose, stillness & subtlety in American poetry since Tom Meyer. Dig:

 

In an Orchard

 

Shades of Gram

somatic code

 

I sense some strain

of you in what

 

I am – or did

in turning down

 

a cell path

choked with vines

 

from a relict rose

or metal vetch

 

impediments

 

of what I own

to what I owe

 

the shadow of

a seed unfurled

 

I was a wolf

and not a lamb

 

as your thoughts

turned to mine

 

ensconced in pulp

I found you

 

hard but not

 

so difficult

to understand

 

This poem, from Aversions, his new book from Omnidawn, just floors me. What convinces me first is the knowledge that I would go to enormous, irrational lengths to be able to pen a line as compact & lush in the same moment as ensconced in pulp. Poetry literally doesn’t get any better. Yet there is so much more going on in this poem. For example, a less attentive poet would have composed it entirely in couplets whereas Johnston has understand exactly where – and how – to regulate the pace of the text by having a text that goes 5-1-5-1-1 in which both of the fives & that final one represent couplets. The line impediments refers as much to the linguistic gaudiness of such word choices as relict & vetch as to the problem of clogged paths. Similarly, Johnston sets up the four syllable line – present in five of the first six lines – just so that he can later vary it to audible effect. This is a complicated remarkably dense love poem – there’s some erotic stalking going on – much more so than is immediately apparent to a reader’s eye reacting to the spareness of these lines.

 

Not every poem in Aversions is this successful, tho one could say the same of almost any book of poems. However, more of this book reaches this high degree of torque, at least to my ear, than Johnston’s earlier Telepathy, published by Paper Bark Press in Australia. Telepathy may actually take more risks – it shows a broader range formally – than Aversions, but Johnston is a poet who is at his best when he stays closest to a core sense of the poem as language infinitely focused. In a way, I think Johnston understands that the risk of quietness is not noise, but muddle. He plays with that in a poem late in the earlier book, “Insinuations”:

 

Some call it base

to cocker lust –

 

as starlings flock

 

or skirr

 

for cockling crust

 

and pithless hull –

 

some call it base;

 

their line’s a hedge

for quiet & division.

 

Where every hinge

brings its own contagion.

 

But when we talk –

of what I don’t recall

 

dans sa presque

disparition vibratoire –

 

it’s like the moon.

Or fallen seeds.

 

Or swarms of bees.

Or helium.

 

A trembling horizon

of elocution.

 

Wry wit indeed & wise is the writer who knows himself half this well. Johnston actually has a new chapbook, newer even than Aversions, entitled Looking Out, printed as a fine press chapbook by Johnston’s own LVNG as “supplemental series number 8.” A collaboration really, with superb line drawings by Brian Calvin (whose name goes first on the cover), Looking Out contains just four poems, but each one is a beauty. Consider, by way of a taste, this first stanza of “Clouds”:

 

What and what and what and what

reiterate the clouds, igneous

in source and crushing weight

ten thousand feet above the earth.

 

You can understand why Johnston would be writing essays on the subject of pastoralism, tho it’s a well-read nature, as we note later on:

 

Yet the active file distinguishes

hounds, greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs;

gate and mirror; heads of lettuce

 

glazed with rain; Taj Mahal

and traveler; marching trees of

Birnam Wood; sheep from Deuteronomy.

 

Never have clouds been quite so cataloged as here. Johnston seems to be arriving as one of our best poets of a certain sensibility – not unlike Lisa Jarnot & Graham Foust (both Flood authors) or, say, Leonard Schwartz, Johnston is bringing forward a tradition in American poetry that has seemed muted in recent years. I can detect the echoes of Williams in that first stanza of “Clouds,” even more than in that latter appropriation, but I hear Duncan also & at least one side of Zukofsky, the fine discriminations of LZ’s shorter poems.

 

So much of American poetry has always moved forward precisely through such renewal, bringing back influences that had earlier seemed to recede. I don’t think I would characterize this as a movement, at least not yet, but it certainly is one of the healthiest & most interesting trends now happening in contemporary poetry. And that somebody writing as subtly as does Johnston can be at the heart of this new tendency seems to me the very best news of all.



Tuesday, December 14, 2004

 

One of the little ironies of poetry is that “open readings” are not truly open, at least not in the sense of any randomness of infinite possibility. Rather, any open reading series that I’ve ever observed turns pretty quickly into a community. There are the regulars, the newcomers, the invited outsiders & I’m sure a social anthropologist would be able to articulate the roles, especially among the regulars, even further.

 

I was reminded of this last week when I read at the Philadelphia Free Library, an imposing four-story building that occupies an entire city block just down from the Art Museum. Although I was invited specifically to read with Margot Chew Barringer, it was clear from the initial invitation six months earlier that we were to be the featured readers in an open reading series. Held on the first Monday of each month – Linh Dinh will be reading with Tree Riesener on January 3 – the series is hosted by poet Dan Maguire and has that identifiable core of regular attendees who know one another. A featured reader is made to feel very much the special guest, but that’s different really from being in a space – Kelly Writers House, the Poetry Project, Canessa Park, wherever – in which the poet feels literally “at home.”

 

After Margot & I had completed our sets in the rooftop gallery that is the setting for the series, Maguire read out the names of other poets who had signed up to read. There appeared to be an unspoken rule about keeping it to two poems per person, and most were introduced just by their first names. But it was evident that many of the readers already knew one another & some, Maguire indicated, were participants in a writers’ workshop conducted at another of the city’s 55 libraries.

 

The range of work presented over the next 45 minutes was exactly what you might expect if you have been observing open readings, as I have, for nearly 40 years. There were poets who clearly were publishing, attending events like the Mabel Dodge festival, and getting work out that aspired for the most part to the School of Quietude in all its various manifestations. There was one man who recited from memory a poem in perfectly rhymed iambics a shaggy tale involving bears and constipation – this echo of Robert Service got the heartiest applause of the evening. One young woman read a poem about stud farms in Kentucky that made the process of breeding horses sound exactly like ritualized rape. A captain in the Philadelphia fire department read some work. Another woman had a poem about her ichthyosis. The fellow sitting directly behind me got up, read and made a pitch for the work of the Magee Players, a theater arts group for the brain injured in which he’s a member. There wasn’t a single work during the entire evening that wasn’t carefully considered & constructed. Maguire himself closed the reading with a poem about participating in a workshop led by Robert Bly that sounded influenced not at all by Bly, but rather the wry, evolving humor that used to characterize the best poetry of Gregory Corso.

 

All this reminded me of the original open reading series in which I’d participated, back in late 1965 & into the following spring, at Shakespeare & Co. Books in Berkeley. I could be found there every Sunday afternoon, listening to a revolving community of readers that included such people as the late Pat Parker, future blogger Gerard Van der Luen, future right-wing commentator Stephen Schwartz, Richard Krech (my very first publisher), Marty Abrahamson, Paul Xavier (in those days Paul X), Alta & John Oliver Simon (the lone UC Berkeley student to regularly make this scene, which was all of four blocks from campus), the future rock critic John Poet (in those days John Thomson), even Judy Grahn. The only thing we had in common was that we were all relatively new to poetry & working very hard to figure out just where this might be leading us. Pat Parker was married back then to Bob Parker, tall & thjn, who wrote what I recall as lovely, very skinny poems influenced by Robert Creeley. It was Bob who first turned me onto John Sinclair’s magazine Work out of Detroit and well as Kauri, edited by Will Inman, two mimeographed periodicals that accepted my work literally during its first year of existence, and through which I got to know significantly more of the national scene. It was also into this series’ slot on Sundays that Shakespeare & Co. dropped in a memorial reading for Jack Spicer in January ‘66, which is where I first heard Robin Blaser & first connected with Spicer’s poetry.

 

The event at the Free Library also reminded me of the Tenderloin Writers Workshop that I ran in the late 1970s, and which was later run by other poets including John Mason & Kit Robinson. That workshop was much more indigenous to its inner city neighborhood & so had a different feel than the off-campus, hippie-inflected series in Berkeley. Also it was a workshop as such, tho occasionally we had guests, including Bev Dahlen, Bob Holman & Steve Abbott. Yet a number of the participants in the workshop – which included Eskimo writer Mary Tallmountain, future Crayon co-editor Bob Harrison & some others who went on to long-term involvements with writing & publishing – also were regulars at the open reading series that took place in those days at the San Francisco Public Library, very close to an exact equivalent of the series at the library here in Philly.

 

While it’s easy to note the few who went to publish, especially if, like Pat Parker or John Oliver Simon, they went to publish a lot, the majority of poets in all of these series are writers who might be characterized by a single unifying feature – they don’t read much, if any, contemporary poetry. That’s exactly how you get rhymed poems about constipation & bears. I’ve always been sort of dumbfounded by that – my big problem has always been how to keep my poetry reading habit down to a manageable addiction – but it does seem to be an absolute constant among such series as these, enough so that I have had to think hard over the years about what it means to produce poetry essentially in a vacuum.

 

Surely it’s a legitimate means of using the art. More than published poetry, even at its best, this mode of poetry naïf, to give it a name, is a remarkably personal medium. The degree of work involved in creating a couple hundred couplets on the topic of constipation & bears is not inconsiderable – and to do so with wit & humor all the more challenging. That is a work that really can only exist in today’s world in the immediacy of oral presentation. But the response to it will also be immediate, even if not long-lived.

 

It was the immediacy of response that ultimately drove me out of the open reading circuit sometime around the summer of 1966. I had discovered, as I suspect every slam poet today must discover, that nothing succeeds in a live audience environment better than humor. I saw more than a couple of the regulars in the Shakespeare & Co. series start to evolve into literary stand-up comics. With the evolution of the Actualists in the mid-1960s, this was actually a possible direction that one could take with one’s eyes wide open. But I knew already that, while I always wanted humor & puns in my poetry (especially bad puns, deliberately awful, a genre unto itself), I didn’t want ultimately to become a stand-up comic. I’d actually given that a shot for a little while earlier in 1964 & knew that becoming the new Lenny Bruce or Lord Buckley wasn’t what I was about. Tho I might have done a fabulous variation on The Nazz.



Monday, December 13, 2004

 

 

Of all the contributors to In the American Tree, the writer who has done the most to challenge & expand our sense of what genre might mean is Carla Harryman. Her prose poem “Forward” was the one “creative” work to make its way into the anthology’s critical section. Even now, Harryman is a cataloger’s nightmare – is she a poet who writes fiction & theater, a playwright who does poetry & fiction, etc.?

 

Like Leslie Scalapino – the other great genre-investigator of my generation – Harryman does this not by erasing the boundaries of conventional genres, but rather by setting them on edge against one another. Case in point: “Open Box,” a lengthy poetic series of Harryman’s produced via Macromedia Flash in the current number of the always excellent online journal, Mark(s), The poems are quatrains, as in:

 

An enterprise ghost with cake atop formal break

Better hear me out

Said an authoritarian fragment

I licked her icing

 

Or:

 

It had been there before

An open box

Invites the poem

To turn around in it

 

Or:

 

Someday

Some say

Snarl

For fun

 

Or (my favorite):

 

Otherwise

Without sticking

Her colors have less meaning

Is her desire for them

 

The etymological among us will recognize an echo between that term box & the Italian word for room or chamber, stanza, and these poems play with this – even tho one side of this reader rebels against a four-line stanza being equated, however loosely, with the six-sided figure of a box.

 

These are, as the above demonstrate, tightly packed short poems – one could trace a lineage back to the likes of Creeley & Raworth – perhaps two dozen in all (I tried counting, but kept getting lost in the poems themselves, then thwarted by the way the Flash program loops, so that there is, ultimately, no “end” other than “Xing out”).

 

The integrity of the line feels most central to me in these works, hard edged with caps at the left margin. Most of these poems entail what one might think of as two or more speech acts, as if to demonstrate how infinite the varieties of such a compacted form might be. When the statement runs over into a second or third line, you feel it almost physically.

 

At what level, then, is this a poem and at what level are these poems? “Open Box” seems to me to be playing precisely with that distinction, as if refusing to answer it might be its ultimate (yet hidden) meaning. The graphic on the site only heightens any categorical anxiety – there is indeed an open box, pointedly angled askew – this is, of course, the only way to see a three dimensional object like this on a two-dimensional medium such as a screen. Yet the pages emerge with each click, floating (not always in the same direction) to present a text on what appears to be a four-sided sheet of paper, two dimensional save for the shadow it casts. (Again, I suffer a twinge of cognitive dissonance here – the lines of the poems are perfectly straight, yet the page’s contours suggest a rippling effect, the limitations of 3D in a two-dimensional medium.)

 

A further question, for me, is whether or not Flash is part of the presentation of the poem or part of the poem itself. I think one can make a reasonable argument for either position. The poems are, after all, ultimately independent of the medium (what I always think of as the Blake test, that the poem must be platform independent) – this could just as effectively have been a chapbook. The poems don’t appear in a perpetually random sequence, such as with Bob Grenier’s web version of Sentences (which makes “looking up” one of Grenier’s texts all but impossible).

 

Yet that loop is infinite, and the graphic presentation is as much a part of the reader’s experience as the text itself. This is obviously not a “flash poem” in the same sense as Brian Kim Stefans’ “Please Think Again (A Poem for Airports)” – a text you have to alt-tab to get out of – yet the distance between Harryman &Stefans is almost one of degree, not kind. Almost, I wrote – because Stefans’ piece is not only not portable across platforms, the writing in it doesn’t really function as writing – it’s closer to Kenny Goldsmith’s utopia of “uncreative writing.” That’s a very different space than Harryman’s.

 

It may be a function of my age, but I find myself far more suspicious of the “uncreative” position than I am the inherent textuality of “Open Box.” Rather than evading that instinctual element that is at the heart of craft – you can sense it right on the surface of the third poem I quoted above – that aspect of “Please Think Again” strikes me as shut down, or, more accurately, as displaced to the dimension of graphic design.

 

This may be an echo of why (& how) Charles Olson can create palimpsests of words and it’s writing, often great writing, but the far more elegant graphic texts of Karl Kempton (say, as represented in his contribution to Writing to be Seen, Bob Grumman & Crag Hill’s anthology of vizpo) come across as flat & ultimately boring, aspiring to be snowflakes but turning out doilies.

 

There is that instant of cognitive depth – no one has ever defined more acutely than Bob Grenier in “On Speech,” “the word way back in the head that is the thought or feeling forming out of the ‘vast’ silence/noise of consciousness experience world all the time, as waking/dreaming, words occurring and these are the words of the poems . . . .” If Harryman’s language has this – and it does, in spades – and Stefans’ does not, that’s because it’s not the language that he’s interested in. And that, it seems to me, is a grand canyon of difference.

 



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