Saturday, June 18, 2005

 

You make me dizzy, Mr. Gizzi

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A belated welcome to blogland, Pamela Lu.

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K. Silem Mohammad has a poem
with a title that I wish I’d written
in the new GutCult



Friday, June 17, 2005

 

Consider the following elements of insinuated stylization: of the first nine actors listed in the credits of Batman Begins, only one – Katie Holmes – was actually born in the United States. Christian Bale (Wales), Michael Caine (U.K), Liam Neeson (Northern Ireland), Gary Oldman (U.K.), Cillian Murphy (Ireland), Tom Wilkinson (U.K.), Rutger Hauer (Netherlands) & Ken Watanabe (Japan) all are listed above Morgan Freeman’s liltingly soft portrayal of the weapons wizard in the basement.¹ Gotham, that supremely narrative city, is recognizably modeled after Chicago, remodeled perhaps by the same urban planner who did Bladerunner’s Los Angeles. Almost all of the violence occurs in such close-up that one can’t really see it all – it’s transformed into shape, form, speed & sound effect, reminiscent more of certain films of Stan Brakhage than anything else.

Director Christopher Nolan’s limitless sense of style (viz Memento’s narrative in reverse, or the presentation of an almost hallucinatory sleeplessness in Insomnia) carries throughout the casting. Rutger Hauer as the amoral capitalist turns another Bladerunner echo on its head (all he needs is a cloned owl). And Gary Oldman’s good cop, his ordinariness underscored by large glasses, large moustache & clothes at least one size too big, is the antithesis of his beyond-the-top villains, such as the bad narc of The Professional. Finally, there is Liam Neeson reprising his Qui-Gon Jinn role from Star Wars right down to the saber training, this time as unrepentant fascist.

Batman Begins is more noir than thou. One review I saw called it Batman & Freud. And at one point during the Tibetan part of the film – you knew there was Tibetan part of the film, right? – my mind wandered over alternate titles on the order of Bodhisattva Batman or Batman, Jedi. But what this move really is is a Batman for people who hate the Jeff Koons-type caricature into which the Batman franchise has degenerated. This is, in short, a Batman for grownups.

I’ve seen two general types of reviews thus far – those that were thrilled at the idea of an intellectually rich & layered film based on the worst of the comic book-action movie franchises & those who thought the idea of an intellectual film about Batman was ponderous & pretentious. I’m more in the former camp, but not because I think this film explores Bruce Wayne’s tortured character. That, I think, is the cover story, the layer added to justify the deeper film. In this movie, it is style that is the narrative, and the ultimate meaning of Batman Begins.

 

¹ This works, precisely because it’s so consistent – only Caine & Watenabe are allowed to sound “foreign,” but the American accents are so gently stylized (the best is Wilkinson’s gangsterese) that it’s clearly an element of the film – when Freeman & Holmes speak, their American voices convey not nationality, but directness & sincerity – and here the Latin meaning of that word, without wax, is entirely appropriate. I’ve never heard a film make such careful use of this aspect of the actor’s palette before. It makes me almost anxious to hear Neeson in his forthcoming role as Steven Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln.



Thursday, June 16, 2005

 

Megan Swihart asked a couple of questions that I’ve heard more than once before:

What possibilities are opened and what problems/limitations are created by the academic location of language poets in the academy? Do you feel that language poetry still remains on the margins of American poetry?

Of the 40 poets included in In the American Tree, eleven either have – or have retired from – regular jobs teaching literature &/or writing in the academy. A few others work in or around the academy in different situations. Bruce Andrews teaches, but not literature. Eleven out of 40 is hardly a vast percentage – what is the ratio for contributors to Ploughshares? – yet it clearly is a much higher number than, say, in 1978, the year L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E was first published, when I believe only David Bromige & Michael Davidson were teaching literature.

Further, and more important, langpo has been incorporated into academic discourse well beyond the actual employment of a couple of handfuls of individuals. There are many schools that now include writers who might not have been in the Tree, but certainly are not far removed from its concerns as writers. Even more teach different langpos from time to time as a part of the curriculum. And then there are the programs, like the Electronic Poetry Center, PENNsound, Ubuweb, Modern American Poetry & others that make the work of many poets available, and which include language poetry as a regular part of the landscape. Finally, there are university presses from California to Wesleyan to Alabama that are now publishing langpos from time to time.

At one level, this sounds not unlike the experience of the New American Poets twenty years earlier. 20 of the 44 poets included in the Allen anthology went on to have sustained teaching careers, and three – Snyder, Ashbery & Schuyler – have thus far received Pulitzers, not to mention a host of other awards (not, strictly speaking, a function of the academy, but rather an infrastructural adjunct to the trade press world) that have not yet been accorded any of the langpos. Thus language poets have had far less involvement with the academy & other institutions of what Charles Bernstein likes to call Official Verse Culture – not exactly identical to the School of Quietude, tho the overlaps are worth noting – than did the prior generation. Yet this limited engagement has been a point of continuing curiosity & comment with regards to language writing, hardly at all with regards to the New American Poets.

Why is that?

Part of the answer, I think, has been the efficacy of that engagement. There are two dimensions to this, one theoretical, the other institutional. Langpos are perceived to have integrated easily into the academy – at least the nine who actually did once anybody began using the phrase language writing – in part because their ease with theoretical discourse resonated with a theory-driven period in humanities programs in general. This, however, discounts much if not all of the theoretical and critical writing of the previous generation, as if Olson’s critical theory, or Duncan’s, the voluminous reviews and short statements penned by Robert Creeley & Gilbert Sorrentino, the political writing of Amiri Baraka, the various editorial-critical projects of Ed Dorn, the art criticism penned by John Ashbery (and a host of second & third-gen NY Schoolers), the ecological writing of Gary Snyder, the lectures given by Jack Spicer, Lew Welch’s book on Gertrude Stein weren’t, somehow, already there. Or at least were not to be taken seriously outside of certain constrained contexts.

It may well be that with the exception of a couple of famous examples – Harold Bloom’s advocacy for a certain side of John Ashbery, in particular – New American Poets found the impact of their critical work muted by the larger institutional base enjoyed by the School of Quietude in the 1950s & ‘60s, which was just then emerging from the institutional monopoly enjoyed by New Criticism in the 1940s. Yet what was Black Mountain College during the Olson years but an attempt to enact theory in full-blown institutional practice? It was the New American Poets, and some others like Tom Pickard & Andrew Crozier immediately influenced by them, who resurrected the Objectivists – Duncan, Creeley, Levertov & Jonathan Williams raised Zukofsky up from virtual obscurity. It was Allen Ginsberg & Anne Waldman at Naropa who, taking the hint from Black Mountain, showed that an alternative writing & poetics program was indeed possible, Duncan in turn leading the same sort of effort at New College in San Francisco. And it was Olson, Creeley & Allen De Loach who made Buffalo a home for the post-avant long before Charles Bernstein arrived.

If the language poets who moved into the academy in the 1980s & ‘90s flourished there, a major part of the reason was because of the work New American Poets had done a generation earlier to make this possible. Of particular importance – and something seldom noted – were contributions made by that “in-between” generation of poets too young to have been included in the Allen anthology & already mature artists by the time langpo rolled around, people like Robert Kelly at Bard & Kathleen Fraser at San Francisco State, David Antin & Jerry Rothenberg at UC San Diego, Rachel Blau DuPlessis & Toby Olson at Temple, Keith Waldrop at Brown, Kenneth Irby at Kansas, Hank Lazer at Alabama, Ted Berrigan & Anselm Hollo at several different institutions – and the truth is that this list omits more examples than it includes.

So some of the “success” of a few language writers in the academy is really more a matter of them receiving credit for a process that is both larger – and longer in coming – than their own contributions, as such. It’s more as if people just noticed the presence of the post-avant once contributors to In the American Tree showed up. Yet of the 400 writing programs that are a part of the AWP, just how many could one really call post-avant, let alone language oriented, in their flavor? Twenty out of 400? Forty?

Finally, langpo – and the post-avant in general – has been successful because it is centered not in the academy at all, but in the major metro areas of the United States. If 11 out of 40 contributors to the Tree teach writing, or have done so for extended periods, then 72.5 percent have not. They’ve worked as health inspectors, therapists, newspaper editors, typesetters, librarians, marketers, lingerie designers, in non-profit organizations and in the computer industry. That’s where the center of American poetry always has been – as indeed the students in those other 360 or so writing programs will soon discover the moment they don’t get teaching jobs.

So it is in that sense that I would argue that, no, language poetry – a literary tendency I see as an historical moment, say 1970 into the very early 1980s, more than a lifelong description of the writing of those of us tarred with that brush – is not at all marginal to American poetry. It is one part of a much larger, expanded center that I see as quite continuous back to the end of the Second World War & beyond, continuing now, some 20 years after the idea of “language poetry” as something cohesively militant last really made sense , as this much broader post-avant scene that one sees today. The breadth of this is such that one might have, say, Geof Huth at one extreme& Henry Gould & John Latta at another (all librarians, I do believe) – but it’s far larger than any one literary tendency can possibly direct, govern or probably even influence.

So if, by “the academy,” what we mean are those people who teach writing and/or literature for a living, really the question I would pose to Megan Swihart is just the reverse: Should the academy feel that it remains on the margins of American poetry? Less, I think, than was the case some 50 years ago, when Olson, Creeley & to some extent Duncan first pioneered the idea of post-avants teaching for money, tho it still has a long way to go.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

 

This is a coda to yesterday’s note on the idea of books as representation. It’s also a follow-up to my complaint back on the comment stream for May 12 that Le Style Apollinaire is “the great missing element in every LZ study I've ever read.” The reason, I think, is simple: of all Zukofsky works, with maybe the exception of WPA folk-art material, it has been the least available, the least known, the least read. The edition finally published last year by Wesleyan under the title of The Writing of Guillaume Apollinaire demonstrates why. Of all Zukofsky texts, including the homophonic translation of Catullus, Apollinaire proves the hardest to read. Then there is the question of how best to situate it within the framework of Zukofsky studies overall. Here, to give a sense of the flavor of it all, is the very first sentence, opening a section entitled “Le Flâneur”:

“Le flâneur de deux rives” who visited “le plus rarement possible dans les grand bibliothèques” and liked “mieux (se) promener sur le quais cette délicieuse bibliothèques publique” listened receptively and wrote down the words of a singularly mindful reader of his acquaintance:

This pastiche of English & French is nobly translated by Serge Gavronsky – just possibly the only translator I can think of with whom I would have trusted this text – as follows:

“The stroller of both banks” qui n’allait “as rarely as possible to the great libraries” et aimaitmieux (se) promener” along the quays, that delightful public library,” savait aussi prêter l’oreille:il a note les paroles d’un lecteur de sa connaisance singulièrement observateur:

Were it all in English, perhaps it might read:

The stroller of both banks who visited as rarely as possible to the great libraries and liked better (to) walk along the quays, that delightful public library, listened receptively and wrote down the words of a singularly mindful reader of his acquaintance:

Given that my own French borders on non-existent, I’m guessing a little there. Still, it would seem to me to be a deliberately resistant syntax even had it been monolingual. Hopscotching for no apparent reason from one language to the other only renders it that much more opaque. This is followed by a lengthy paragraph entirely in French in the spirit of Apollinaire’s “Le Flâneur des deux rives” but describing instead Zukofsky’s own experiences trying to find contemporary French volumes in the Carnegie Library, where they were often stolen due to poor stock control vs. the far richer collection of Yiddish literature at the 14th Street branch of the New York Public Library. The section then concludes with a short passage, this time in English:

Years after the War, following the shadow of the flâneur’s seeming divagations, his three books Il y a, L’Hérésiarque & Cie, and Calligrammes disappeared from the “Bibliothèque Carnegie” for several months, and after that passage were again available for public use.

The passage is dated “New York, March 14, 1932.” One can only imagine what a man like Zukofsky, who later in life is said to have kept every publication in its own separate plastic envelope, must have thought of theft & the chaos of a public library. But if it is Zukofsky speaking here, albeit through a filter of dueling tongues, who then is “Le flâneur de deux rives” to whom this is addressed? Guillaume Apollinaire, dead 13 years in 1932, or perhaps René Taupin, Zukofsky’s collaborator on this booklength critical project?

How one answers that question will set up to some degree just how one reads this work. And here is the conundrum: if the language of this passage (and this book) is not stable, neither is its sense of authorship, literally its author-ity, and finally its motivation. Gavronsky, in his English language introduction (following a French foreword by Jean Davie), puts a great deal of interpretive weight on a note penned to “an original unique written copy with the initials ‘G.A. & L.Z.” to the effect that “This collaboration was written entirely by L.Z. and the French quotations are also his arrangement. It was subsequently translated by R.T. into French, and the French version was published by Les Presses modernes, Paris, France, 1934.” This would hardly be the last time in the history of the academy where the junior author of a critical collaboration did all of the work, only to find the more established ‘collaborator’ listed first.

Yet this note, Brad Haas points out, is flatly contradicted by letters that Zukofsky sent to Ezra Pound in 1931 & ’32. In these, Zukofsky portrays himself as essentially a ghost-writer, motivated by the $50 per month – a living wage, even if a marginal one, during the Depression – Taupin is paying. The letters suggest that Taupin directed some if not all of the book’s focus, but left it to Zukofsky to get it into Taupin’s style:

Great difficulty of the work is that it must sound as if it came out of one consorted mind – Taupin’s – that is, his next on inspiration & mine must show the same woof of thought…. Net result: writing as an individual handiwork pretty distasteful.

The two letters to Pound, written a year and eight days apart, are quite consistent in presenting Le Style as a job for hire. Still, Zukofsky is adamant that the work entailed was his alone:

No, it’s not René, as you will see when you see his adaptation entirely in French (remarkable what a difference), but it’s L.Z. alright painstakingly obstructing the technique of FLOW.

Haas, who teaches at a Seventh-Day Adventist College in D.C. (where he also matriculated), and who has written usefully before on David Jones & Ronald Johnson, publishing for the most part in Carlo Parcelli & Joe Brennan’s webzine, Flashpoint, presents the contradiction between Gavronsky’s presentation – the work is an integral part of the Zukofsky canon – and LZ’s own to Pound – the work was a “job” – as though it were a scandal, rather than a question of how to represent the project given directly contradictory information. If Gavronsky is to be faulted, it’s for framing the context too simply. But the fuller version yields an irresolvable, and primary, question: Is this portrait a true Zukofsky? Or is it closer to A Useful Art, LZ’s WPA-financed writing on design, clearly a job for hire? One might ask the same of Kafka’s insurance writing, or of Charles Bernstein’s pharmaceutical newsletters in the years before he was hired into the academy. Some of my own handiwork can still be found in the California Penal Code, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I think of it as “my writing.”

Gavronsky obviously wants to answer yes with regards to Apollinaire, Haas wants to at least entertain a negative response. The answer ultimately is to be found in the text, not necessarily just in the autobiographical passages – such as when Zukofsky seems to anticipate Benjamin’s elevation of the Baudelarean concept of the flâneur in confessing how he got the materials on which this project was based – as in its methodology, “L.Z. alright painstakingly obstructing the technique of FLOW.” That dimension is unmistakable. But is it possible to have a work that both is & isn’t a part of a poet’s oeuvre? On this point I agree with Einstein’s view: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I don’t think the question of the Apollinaire is an either/or – I think it’s a both/and.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

 


Louis Zukofsky (L) & Jerry Reisman

I thought that if I could put it all down, that would be one way. And next the thought came to me that to leave all out would be another, and truer, way.

Those two sentences, the opening of John Ashbery’s “The New Spirit,” have been ringing in the back of my imagination of late, not with regards to Ashbery & his work – tho I think Three Poems to be his very best work – but with regards to Louis Zukofsky & the thought experiment of two weeks ago, in which I created a hypothetical Selected Poems that contained roughly one-third of his oeuvre, totaling some (again hypothetical) 427 pages. What if the assignment had been different? What if, instead, I had been given a set number of pages with which to work? Let’s say 150, more or less what the little Library of America (LoA) selected volumes for the likes of Kenneth Fearing, Muriel Rukeyser et al have had. How would one represent Zukofsky in such a space?

In that first version of a Selected, I allotted “A 265 pages, a bit of a fiction since the UC Press of “A” is set in 9-point type on an 11-point line where Zukofsky’s Complete Short Poetry from Johns Hopkins is set in 11-point type on a 14-point line. Set in the same point size – say the more common 9-on-11 – the short poems would shrink down roughly 20 percent, say 32 pages. What this means in practice is that our earlier version would have set almost exactly two-thirds of its pages aside for “A.

Working with a predetermined page count, I would take basically that same stance, setting 100 pages aside for “A,giving the rest to the short poems. Further, using the Library of America as a model, I would reverse my adjustments for page size in the opposite direction. That is to say, to get to 100 pages in the LoA format, I would have to limit myself to something like just 80 pages of the UC Press version of “A.” My basic premise with regards to that longpoem would be to keep complete sections, but if I choose the one that I think show off Zukofsky at his strongest – 1 through 3, 7, 9, 15 & 16, 22 & 23 – I have ten pages too many and, save for the Poundian opening of the first three numbers, I don’t really include any of the passages in which Zukofsky lets his thinking air out, developmentally. This would be exactly the sort of impossible trade-off that a project like this would entail. If I were to think of the book less as a Selected and more as an introduction to Zukofsky’s work, I might be inclined to go the other way – excising 22 and maybe including some passages (the same material I noted on May 31) from “A” – 12. Yet dropping “A” – 22 would probably cause me to cry myself to sleep that night.

Either way, I’m now going to have to reduce my selections from The Complete Short Poems down to just 42 pages. Twelve of those go immediately to “Poem beginning ‘The’,” leaving me just 30 pages for the remainder of Zukofsky’s career. This is the hardest single part of this project – worse even than choosing between “A” – 22 & excerpts from “A” -12 – because there are two projects, “Mantis” and “Song of Degrees,” that by themselves would take up 15 pages, both of which deserve to be here. Two other sequences or longer poems, “4 Other Countries” and “The Old Poet Moves to a New Apartment 14 Times,” are simply too long to consider. For similar reasons, I would drop all of the poem I love from the sequence “29 Poems,” part of the book 55 Poems that was Zukofsky’s first.

So let’s say that from the “29 Songs” section of that same book, I keep numbers 5 (“It’s a gay li-ife”), 16 (“Crickets’/thickets”) & 22 (“To my wash-stand”), plus “Mantis” & “’Mantis’: An Interpretation” from that first volume. Including “Poem beginning ‘The,’” 55 Poems has 23.5 of my sum of 42 pages for non-“A” work. That’s right, I think, in terms of representing his best work, since some portion of this represents his best work prior to that project while the shorter poems during it tend generally to be more slight.

I could, for example, pack all of Anew down into two pages, including 9 & 10, 20 & 21, 24 & 38. I would include just the first two sections from “Song of Degrees,” the only work I would keep from Some Time, and only the title poem from Barely and Widely, three books reduced to just a little over five pages.

From I’s (pronounced eyes), however, I would include Motet, which here as in the longer selected would be the one piece with a musical score included, “Peri Poietikes,” the title sequence & finally, the lone poem from After I’s, “Atque in Perpetuum A.W.” This is closer to six than to five pages, but with the three previous books, let’s say they all come in at eleven pages total. This leaves me with 7.5 pages remaining for all of Catullus, 80 Flowers & LZ’s final poem, “Gamut.” As I did before, I not going to spell these out here, simply because I haven’t done the homework on those texts that they require. However, here I think I would opt for giving more room to 80 Flowers, and for including “Gamut,” thus reducing Catullus to two or, at most, three pages.

So my table of contents would look something like this:

That, I think, is a do-able book. It would be, in fact, an introduction to Zukofsky far more than a true Selected, which dampens somewhat the value of printing the works in a rough version of chronological order, but it would still be – Zukofsky’s accomplishment, not that of an editor – an incontestably great book. And, I hope, not one that would have critics howling at “obvious” omissions, such as would happen if I did a similar volume for Ashbery & included nothing from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror or the books that immediately followed that while devoting enough pages to Flow Chart to show how that work resists development.

Projects like this I think foreground all the ways in which books transform any writer’s poetry into poems, which from my perspective of always preferring the former to the latter is certainly going to be problematic. We forget, I think, all the ways in which books themselves are representations. That, after all, was the essence of what Jennifer Moxley was noting in her afterword to Often Capital, a concern with how that book might portray, or misportray, the whole of her writing. And it’s the issue ultimately behind the question of Ronald Johnson’s collected works, including Radi Os as published (four sections) vs. as written (nine sections). Not to mention the struggle between the project never completed, WOR(L)DS, and the version that got finished, ARK.

Not long ago, a publisher asked me to review the Complete Poems of an author, a member of the 1950s generation, now deceased. Save for an unpublished manuscript from his college years, the manuscript contained almost nothing that had not appeared in book form previously. I loved the manuscript & told the publisher so, but seriously recommended that they lose the word Complete from the title. The instant that book is published, dozens of other later poems are destined to show up in the manuscripts & correspondence of friends of the poet. Indeed, one of the fun aspects of attending the Zukofsky centennial last year at Columbia consisted precisely of hearing several short poems not contained in the Johns Hopkins Complete Short Poetry.

All of which suggests that in addition to the Complete Collected – an edition that does not yet exist – and reissues of Catullus & 80 Flowers, plus for my money “the twins,” “A” – 22 & 23, there are at least two, possibly more, selecteds that could easily be justified. Like the old Vietnamese war slogan – One, Two, Three, Many Zukofskys.

 

¹ Because it’s impossible to demonstrate via excerpts the ways in which Ashbery executes the most vicious parody of the School of Quietude imaginable, which is important historically precisely because the people being ridiculed lapped it up.

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Monday, June 13, 2005

 

All the way from Beijing, Bob Marcacci wants to know if I see a rift “between online poets and print poets. It seems like they are two different worlds. The cross-over only appears slight.” That gave me pause & sent me back to my own bibliography to see just what the implications of the web have been.

I’ve been using computers since 1982, when I returned from a stint of teaching at UC San Diego & volunteered to handle the mailing list for the Northern California chapter of DSA, which I agreed to do precisely because it would force me to learn how to use the primitive PC on which the list was to be maintained. Much of my work over the next seven years turned out to be the computerization of tasks in different nonprofit organizations, first the development office of the California Institute of Integral Studies, then The Socialist Review, before actually making the move to work in the computer industry directly. I worked at ComputerLand’s headquarters for a year at least before the marketing group established its first primitive network. At that point, if I recall correctly, we were all still working on DOS, using Windows only as a test environment in case the operating system should ever succeed.

By May, 1995, when I moved to Pennsylvania to work for a joint venture co-owned by IBM & Kodak, I was already a participant in the Poetics List at Buffalo. There were 634 messages that month on the list, exactly nine more than were posted last month. There were, however, maybe one-third of the number of list members, suggesting that the list itself has something like an ecological limit with regards to messages that one can heed over a month. Which would in turn imply that this limit will mean very different things to a subscriber list of 300 and one of 1,000.

It wasn’t until 1998 that I first had a poem published online, in Xconnect. That same year, Laura Moriarty included another poem in her online zine, Non, but that zine & its links appear to have gone away. I started this blog in 2002, feeling wildly successful that first autumn because I averaged 90 visits per day, less than a tenth of what there is now. I didn’t even start a blogroll until sometime in 2003, simply because it didn’t seem that there were enough other people doing poetry blogs to make it worthwhile. (The list on the left today stands at 550.)

Yet this will be the first year that the majority of my publications of poetry in periodicals will be online. In addition to the list of recent appearances I posted yesterday, I have had two poems appear in email zinelets, one in RealPoetik that Kirby Olson sends out, the other in Halvard Johnson’s Poems by Others. To date, I haven’t had any appearances this year in a hard copy mag, tho I do think that will change by year’s end.

All of which suggests to me that there is a steady evolution going on, one that is hardly complete, which is gradually transforming how poets relate to the web as well as to institutions of poetry, such as magazines & even books.

When I look at the list of bloggers to my left, one of the things I note is that I’m not a kid anymore – the number of poets who are generally in my age bracket & whom I’ve known¹ most of the years I’ve been active in & around poetry is darn small, perhaps just Steve Vincent, Barrett Watten, Norman Fischer & Nick Piombino, with some others like Tom Beckett & Tom Raworth not so far behind. A third cluster of folks I note are those who seemed to be around for awhile, then disappeared & have now resurfaced, tho their relation to poetry may now be more oblique (viz. Harvey Bialy, John Perrault & Gerard van der Luen).

When weblogs around poetry first began to spring up in number in early 2003, it may have been true that there was an aesthetic slant towards the post-avant, but, if so, this lasted only a few months at the very most, as more poets & different kinds of poets discovered that the medium had something to offer, as a place to discuss poetry and even to post one’s own. There are School of Quietude poets in abundance & even some slammers in the blogroll to the left – that sort of cultural dispersal is only going to increase.

This suggests that one aspect of what Bob is suggesting isn’t necessarily the case – there is no aesthetic rift that I can see around publishing on the web, or with regards to blogging (which, it should be noted, are not the same thing, even tho they may be related). Ultimately, it doesn’t give the post-avant or School of Quietude any advantage, except insofar as the dissemination of better ideas might do so.

But there is, clearly, a second rift – tho the connation of “tear” in that word choice might not be the most accurate – that is apparent, and this literally is one of age. It is not news, I hope, that poets, even the most productive & intelligent & “most successful” (whatever definition you might want for that), don’t necessarily produce work uniformly throughout their lives. Some have very intense short careers, others have ones that cluster around different periods of productivity, a lot start out writing a lot and taper off as experience gives them so many more reasons for not putting this word here, that phrase there. But there clearly is also an age factor evident in computer use in this society. Younger people, who grew up with computers always already there, are far more apt to be comfortable using them for everyday activities. My wife, on the other hand, reads her email maybe six times per year. Neither my mother or my mother-in-law make any effort to become acquainted with the PC & as both are suffering now from macular degeneration, the limits of the standard store-bought system makes that less & less likely, even tho word-into-voice software does exist today. This is just the intersection of technology innovation and stage-of-life issues – even tho I’ve worked in high tech now for 16 years, I can’t bring myself to show any real interest in the kind of gaming technology that my own sons are going off to summer camp to learn how to program.

Last year, my own high school graduating class celebrated its fortieth anniversary. Because I’m reasonably visible on the web, the organizing committee for the event was able to reach me – something that they had not done for any of the previous five-year reunions. On the other hand, the directory & memorial book that accompanied the event was a low-end small press chapbook. Nobody to my knowledge thought to suggest something like a website, simply because computer use among the alums of Albany High’s class of ’64 still falls well short of critical mass. Indeed, the one alumni web site that even exists for the school to this date is one that has barely been updated in the past five years that was originally created by my sixth grade teacher, Al Nielsen. At some point, no doubt, tho, some younger alums can be expected to bring Albany alumni into the contemporary world.

The world in poetry is not so different. Computer use among poets over the age of 50 continues to be far short of universal & for every writer like Barrett Watten or Steve Vincent who has become comfortable with the technology, there are others like Clark Coolidge & Bob Grenier who have largely avoided it. For people in this latter category, it stands to reason that they will be less inclined to send works to online journals. Indeed, if you look at Clark Coolidge’s web page at the Electronic Poetry Center, there are only two instances of his work linked at the site that appear to have been published first on the web, a poem from a 1999 issue of Kenning, and a series of ten poems in a 2001 edition of Jacket, both instances I suspect of the editor seeking out the author. Indeed, the great value of the EPC site has been the large number of works that were computerized for the first time in order to be sampled there. Grenier’s page is even more stark in this regard – virtually all of his online occasions have been the result of a couple of longtime supporters, Karl Young & Michael Waltuch. Grenier’s one webzine appearance seems to have been in Non, which as I noted above is no longer available on the web.

If you’re a poet over the age, say, of 60, as both Coolidge & Grenier happen to be, and have been publishing for over 30 years, with any luck, you’re going to be a position of having at least a little control over what appears & when in journals (Grenier, it should be noted, has made it harder by working in formats that often resist mass representation, and his show at the Marianne Boesky Gallery last fall was in many ways the equivalent of a big book publication). So it stands to reason that you are more apt to say yes to journals that you yourself are likely to see and read – which for older poets still means hard copy.

This has been changing over time for those of us who are in our 50s (even if only just barely), but I think it’s already entirely ordinary for a poet who is 40 to feel comfortable with online zines. For poets younger than that, it’s a no-brainer. For poets under 30, online zines have been around most if not all of their publishing lives. It doesn’t represent an “alternative” or even “the new” – it’s just part of what’s there.

I think there is a serious question as to the future viability of certain types of hard copy small press journals. For the cost of a poorly printed saddle-stapled zine that has no hope of getting carried and displayed in all but a handful of indulgent bookstores, one can mount a webzine that has global distribution and that can, if handled properly, stay online for years, potentially even decades. Unless one is really exploring the implications of fine press printing, why would one make the decision in 2005 to go with hard copy if it means the limited impact and distribution of the saddle-stapled journal (and, if so, why wouldn’t one opt for sewn binding)?

On the other hand, I think the saddle-stapled chapbook will last quite a bit longer, perhaps even through the 21st century. But I do think that more and more publishers will be realize the value of maintaining their out-of-print archives indefinitely on the web. Right now there are a lot of web journals that don’t keep their back issues up indefinitely and only a few hard copy publishers who make PDF or other versions of older books available. Within a few years (five? even that seems long), I expect both webzines and chapbook series will consider archive sites standard operating procedure. Further, I think that universities will eventually wake up to the importance of archival sites as such, just as Penn is doing in taking on the maintenance of the Ubuweb archives (and eventually, one suspects, those of the EPC as well). There will of course be some negotiations and issues to be resolved long term – copyright being the foremost among them – but this is a trend that seems as inevitable over time as downloading music & movies.

So, to reiterate Bob’s question from the start of this note, do I see a rift between print & online poets? The answer really is only insofar as there may be an institutional difference between the visibility of certain older poets who publish through wide distribution presses like FSG or Knopf & those who still work primarily among small presses. Depending on where you stand with regards to the School of Quietude v. Post Avant question, that either will or will not seem like such a big deal. But the real axis of difference is just age or stage-of-life & technology, and, just as technology continues to evolve, so will that relationship.

 

¹ This phrase turns out to be an important qualification for an interesting reason. One thing the web does is erase some (tho not all) of the penalty that most “late starters” suffer in getting their work out & around, or beyond a regionally isolate poetry scene.



Sunday, June 12, 2005

 


Some recent publications of mine on the web:

From VOG:
Latchkey.Net

Sections of Zyxt:
BigBridge
Drunken Boat
Latchkey.Net
Latchkey.Net (again)
MiPOesias: Revista Literaria
Shampoo


Critical writing:
“As to Violin Music:” Time in the Longpoem

Interview:
By Shane Allison




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