Saturday, November 19, 2005

 

Today

DAVID SHAPIRO & RON SILLIMAN

Segue Reading Series @ Bowery Poetry Club

Saturday, November 19: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

308 Bowery, just north of Houston, NYC

$6 admission goes to support the readers

 

David Shapiro has written many books of poems & many volumes of translations, anthologies, the first book on John Ashbery, the first book on Jasper Johns' drawing, & the first book on Mondrian's flowers. He studied at Cambridge University & Columbia & has taught at Bard, Cooper Union, William Paterson, Columbia, & Princeton, among others. His most recent books have come out from Overlook: Lateness, To an Idea, House (Blown Apart), After a Lost Original. He is currently working on a selected poems.

In the photo above, Shapiro is seated in the office of the president of Columbia University during an antiwar student takeover of the building, Spring 1968.

The Segue Reading Series is made possible by the support of The Segue Foundation. For more information, please visit Segue Foundation, The Bowery Poetry Club or call (212) 614-0505. Curators for October & November are Nada Gordon & Gary Sullivan.



Friday, November 18, 2005

 

Carl Thayler died last Sunday at the age of 72. He was a poet whose work I always associated with that of Paul Blackburn, what one might think of as the New York side of Black Mountain. Thayler wasn’t in New York all that long, as it turned out, acting on the stage during the 1950s – a Hollywood lad, Thayler also appeared such films as High School Confidential, something I hadn’t known until I read his obit in the Wisconsin State Journal. The first comment about Thayler on his website is from the historian of the Harley Davidson company. Pavement Saw & Skanky Possum did relatively recent books, but he’s another example of a poet whose writing cries out for that honkin’ big collection that will make everybody sit up & take notice. You can actually find a decent amount of his work up on the web, including a number of poems in Jacket. But the one I looked for when I heard he had died is what I take to be an elegy of sorts, entitled “Pee Wee Distarcy” after a midget car racing driver of the 1940s & early ‘50s. It was originally in Caterpillar 6, and is in the Caterpillar Anthology on the page immediately preceding Harvey Bialy. Reading this poem, try to hear those line breaks & how hard they are compared with the work of Jimmy Schuyler & Alan Dugan I ran here the other day. Then think about how Thayler uses free floating periods & open parentheses as a visual scoring of the poem’s oral pace. That’s becoming a lost art.

It begins with a hole
being no decision but
like the cat puts his foot into
your coffee, is
the trail to the prey

these simple maneuvers   .   Pee Wee
like Falstaff
a reconciled hemisphere
with injury so swollen & robust
obscene Graces
surround him

a fat man   .   never won a race
slops over
the stain comes to the shirt
too quickly, is
a trail thru to the heart

I mean it is a world
of hard knocks & he
ripped 40 feet of fence out to die   (
the toilet so situated & occupied
when hit
a bare ass thru flames moving out   .   Pee Wee

it was contempt
moved through fire

in passing through
is love

 

Θ Φ Θ

 

Tomorrow, David Shapiro & I will be reading at the Bowery Poetry Club (308 Bowery) in Manhattan at 4 PM. Do come if you can.



Thursday, November 17, 2005

 

The very first page is so strong it nearly took my head off:

If the judgment’s cruel
that’s a wake-up call: increase
energy, attention. These little pumpkins ornament
themselves with swells, die
pushing live volume packed spring-
form hard as a knock: Decease
and resist. Content
surges exactly as memory
closes its rear-guarding
eyes
— the world rushes in not by! just be
steady, receptors, measure is fuel:
whatever moves move with the
drift which moving never lies.

Yes, that is a sonnet. Yes, it really does depend on rhyme: eyes/lies, increase/decease, cruel/fuel, probably in that order of importance. Yes, the poem is really about itself, as densely packed with information & sound as anything one might find in Zukofsky, even Shakespeare. Yes, this poem really is equal parts humor & passion & earnestness, immediately playful & utterly serious. Yes, that just might be an echo of Jack Spicer you hear in the slightly sarcastic humor of the first two lines & yes that is absolutely an echo of Robert Duncan audible in the three instances of the verb to move in the final two. Yes, if you are really paying attention, the end rhymes of Shakespeare’s own first sonnet terminate almost precisely with just these same end-words, albeit in other order – the two “exceptions” being the for thee & guarding for niggarding. And yes, the one change deals with the political problem of Shakespeare’s own 16th century presumptions embodied as discourse, while the change to the empowers that fabulous enjambment of the next to last line, as sensuous a pause as one might, moving, imagine. Decease / and resist – how did he come up with that?

Do you know that experience where you sit down with a new CD & understand within its first few bars that your whole idea of music needs to change? Or where you go to the cinema and realize that your idea of what film can be is about to be transformed completely even after just the first few frames of whatever great movie? That was how I felt reading this first poem, entitled “I” – the numeral, not the letter – the first of 80-some sonnets gathered together in Aaron Shurin’s brand new Involuntary Lyrics, just out from Rusty Morrison’s Omnidawn Press. This is not the first time that a book by Shurin has filled me with awe, even envy.

Just to convey a whiff of the range here, which is much greater than the employment of a single source code (the end words in Shakespeare’s sonnets) might imply, is “XXXII”:

love men
all day
in thought
pull cover
from age
make survey
inventory brought
to lover
body’s equipage
suck time
panoply prove
inside pen
mutual love
rhyme rhyme

There are poems here with even shorter lines, some that use multiple columns, one long one that combines four consecutive sonnets, even “CXLVII”:

One wants love and assuaged desire, one wants the hair-breadth spin of foxtails, the sprouty droop of rattlesnake grass, shuffling whire of the blue jay’s thick flight, metallic hoot of the koukouvaya owl predawn Crete still heat no other sound except

small lap of the Libyan Sea. . . . One gets these and murder in the first degree for killing an administrator, shit pile for shoeshine, spare change for square foot, grainy lust of the 2 a.m. bar impenetrable hide bound, the dead letters in their special nowhere office, the dead air quiet, still. . . .

One wants a first person tighter than betrayal, or a plural shiftier than signage, one needs spectator heels for walking now to balance the hump of should or finds pennies on the sidewalk to play over eyes, take care! . . . .

One sees as if through tinted lenses elegant continuance and perforating dis-ease,

hallucinogenic pine trees and swallows in loopy unrest. . . .

One calls out the names of the days and the years, Febu-ember, Haveyouever, Jewels and Mai-Lai, Year of the Fox Kittens, Year of the Stuffed Gorge, Year of the Cream Patina, Sloughed Skin Year, Lapping Dog Year, Year of Bitterns and Mice — ill-

met again by moonlight but happy to case a shadow. . . . By the plum tree rounding out in purple leaves, with a light wind reminiscent of secret-hero-of-the-poem, plangent as magnolia but quicker to recede, one questions which are

the letters that make sense and which ones are dispensable, which is the thud of the one true monosyllable, please,

which one gives vent to a solitary moan and which expressed

the will of the people — and which people? words are frangible, pliable, pitiable dust but oh what traces they leave! One longs for specificity in abstraction, presence in absence, love-

in-idleness, the magic of translucence and the skeletal superiority of fact. . . . The spasms of bright

light show what’s there then not there, there then not there, the perch of his just-fallen hair over brow, sharp wag of Puggy’s tail, Mary’s first pinafore, Rusty’s erection, Steve’s freckled nose, a Texan trout rumored to be gigantic but never rising kept

hidden by the tangle of submerged branches, June bugs, swamp mist on Lake Cherokee 1958, stars drawling constellations over a hay-ride one tries to remember but memory won’t be tried. . . . One hears in the close night

rumors of cars, rumors of people, rumors of gunshots, champagne corks, tra-la-la-ing, obsessive argumentation, squeak of the ol’ mattress spring, gurgle of Gallo hastily slurped, slam of the front door solid oak, siren far off then near then far off, one listens carefully, dutifully, calibrating as if to repudiate or approve. . . .

All ellipses – and that reiterated phrase in the 12th line – in the original. Shurin seems to have no limit as to what he can do with a form more closed – in the constructivist sense – than anything a so-called New Formalist might e’er imagine. The sweep is startling & if there is any limit to this relatively slim volume it is only that he has not include translations (or whatever you might call them) for every single Shakespearean sonnet. In fact, in a note at book’s end, Shurin states what should be obvious: “I didn’t read the Sonnets for Involuntary Lyrics – their semantic weight being much too powerful.”

Rather, this is a project far more in the spirit of Oulipo & it’s primary impulse – the lead to this “Foot Note” of Shurin’s – can be stated quite clearly:

The line is dead; long live the line!

Returning to verse form after 15 years of prose poetry, Shurin has given us a book as dense as & more faceted than, say, Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers. It is not merely a masterwork, but the evolution of a confident & still growing, ever questing imagination never content to settle for whatever he’s done before. I am so friggin’ jealous that it’s obscene!



Wednesday, November 16, 2005

 

In 1981, Steve Benson participated in a series of performances that included – there was more going on than just this – verbal improvisations while listening over headsets (and thus hidden to the audience) to excerpts from Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony & Berg’s Chamber Concerto. I hadn’t thought about these in awhile – I had loved them at the time & they’d certainly helped to cement Benson’s well-earned reputation as one of the bravest & boldest writers of my generation – when I received a volume in the mail, Mark Lamoureux’ Film Poems, from Katalanché Press. The preface to the volume reads as follows:

These poems were written in the darkened theater as the films themselves took place on the screen. I had not previously viewed any of the films in question. Thus, the poems are an attempt to mimetically simulate the experience of viewing the films: as the film unfolds for the first time, so does the poem – consequently each poem’s destination is uncertain. Like film, the poems are intended as an homage to light & time.

That is an inherently interesting project, although I would disagree with Lamoureux about what, literally, he is doing. These texts, mostly short, may for him mimetically simulate the experience of viewing the films – for the rest of us, whether or not we’ve seen the films (mostly art film classics by such directors Bruce Baille, Stan Vanderbeek & Stan Brakhage), what we have here are machines made of words, that must stand on their own as poems if they are to stand at all. Fortunately for us all, they stand up rather well. Here are two works predicated upon films by Vanderbeek. The first is “Skullduggery”:

Jitterbug chiaroscuro

the kids are

allright engine

                            skull on


skull underneath the

skin

                            sea        of

ethereal fire

                            Backwards

                            bird,

flare painted

                            masks of

fight war surrealism

how then tulip in
                            cloud fetish

The second poem is after Vanderbeek’s “Science Friction”:

Gilded

phalloi                 ascending

              space

              eyes
Eiffel                  fire

More interesting, I think, than whether or not these poems can be said to adequately represent their source films (any more than Benson’s Berg represented Berg) is whether or not they work as poems given their structure as palimpsests, the riskiest of all poetic genres. In both of these instances, they do, suggesting that Lamoureux was focusing at least as much on the poem as he was on the film involved. The reason that I think that palimpsests – poems that appear to consist of snatches of relatively unrelated lines or phrases spatially scattered across the page – are risky is that when they don’t hang together, they seriously don’t hang together. Reading a text like Clark Coolidge’s Space is a textbook in how to make it work, but it’s still something one sees failing on the page today something like 80 percent of the time. Lamoureux is in the other 20.

How he accomplishes this is pretty straightforward – a number of the works in Film Poems are quite short, on the scale of “Science Friction,” which enables Lamoureux to treat individual words & phrases almost sculpturally. He has individual phrases run across multiple lines on occasion – the kids are / allright – which dislodges the line = phrase logic that can make palimpsests feel quite static. He makes a great use of sound. And, most important of all, the frames of the terms used – this is possibly one consequence of using films as his writing trigger – tend to gel quite nicely. Consider the balance of sound & sense in the passage from phalloi through fire in “Science Friction.”

Elsewhere, Lamoureux has shown himself to be concerned & adept with issues of rhetoric that don’t usually turn up in palimpsests. In fact, tho, I think it’s one of the abiding deep issues of this beautifully produced all-too-slender volume. Indeed, he seems fascinated at the possibility of discovering one within this “suture culture,” which in practice means that these works are indeed word scatter-grams just like all other palimpsests even as they are studded with fabulous gems throughout. Perhaps the most successful poem is one based on Irina Evteeva’s “Clown”:

Moon noose

flatfoot raven

cosmos            comrade

                     a fly buzzed

bison speech               history errant

                     fish mouth chrysalis

Herculean       shoals

brown            prow            spectre

                                      figurehead
                                      cherish
boats            such            angels

                                     or

                                     cupid
                                     clock

           locomotive snow

                                loss parade

sea             self            rain

Only 100 copies of Film Poems were printed, with a corrugated cardboard cover & transparent rose end-papers. At $6, this edition should go out of print all too quickly. Hopefully this series will turn up as a section in a far larger volume sometime soon.



Tuesday, November 15, 2005

 

If there is an American Siberia, a land of complete remoteness, my vote goes to anywhere in Texas south of Waco. When you are in El Paso, the trip to San Diego is only 100 miles longer than the trip to Dallas. It would be hard to find a location more well suited to the New Western aesthetic that grew up in the 1960s around the magazine Coyote’s Journal than El Paso. Born on the one hand out of Charles Olson’s theories of line & space, helped along by Ed Dorn, and on the other by the open-ended Zen-based poetics of the likes of Gary Snyder, Phil Whalen & Lew Welch, the New Western mode seemed to attract people who actually wanted to live the life, as distinct from just dress up like it in a New York City coffee house. The downside of that is that you’re more apt to have your work noticed if you can get to St. Marks by walking.

El Paso is where you would find one Bobby Byrd, not to be confused with James Brown’s famed sideman in the Famous Flames, but a poet who did indeed appear in Coyote’s Journal back before editor-in-chief James Koller took the publication off to Maine. Indeed, if you put Byrd alongside Drum Hadley, Bill Deemer, any of the poets mentioned in the above paragraph, or maybe David Meltzer or Larry Goodell, you would find a continuity of style & a commonality of concern quite remarkable, especially considering that Byrd is so far removed even from Hadley, let alone Deemer in the northwest corner of Oregon.

Byrd is still quite active, still producing poetry that is utterly enjoyable. The most recent book of his that I have is On the Transmigration of Souls in El Paso, which was published by Byrd’s own Cinco Puntos Press back in 1992. It is one of those books that makes you painfully aware that there is somewhere a big book to be published of Byrd’s work, one of those volumes that will make a lot of younger readers ask “Why haven’t I heard of this guy before?” Good question.

There is a pun in the title of that book – El Paso being not so far from Spanish for transmigration – that points to an aspect of Byrd’s writing, its wry wit, that will be recognizable to anyone who has read either Whalen or the first two generations of the New York School. Indeed there are titles here – “Things You Can’t Do in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, #11” – that echo, maybe even mock a little, the work of Ted Berrigan. And you can find poems here that, frankly, could have been written anywhere, as in “The End of the 1990 Season.”

It’s Saturday afternoon.
The A’s are playing the Tigers.
Canseco is such an asshole.
Cecil Fielder nails one deep into next year.
But I’m nodding off to sleep anyway.
The phone rings.
It’s Janis Joplin.
She’s lonely.
She wants to come back.
I tell her it’s impossible.
We haven’t progressed far enough yet,
and the Yankees will be in
New York forever.
She says she doesn’t want to hear about forever.
What do you want me to do? I ask her.
She doesn’t answer. I tell her
that there’s nothing she can do but wait.
Please wait.
Please.
And please call me back another time.
But not on Saturday afternoon.
I like to take a nap on Saturday afternoon.

That’s a more complex little poem than it first appears, and one that has aged nicely over the past 15 years as the baseball careers of Canseco & Fielder have become as ethereal in memory as the Texas accent of Janis Joplin. She was, it is worth noting, from Port Arthur, which is at the very southeastern corner of the state, just as El Paso is at the southwestern tip – it’s 100 miles further to Port Arthur from El Paso than it is to San Diego.

Or you could walk across the El Paso Street Bridge & suddenly be in Juarez, Mexico, a little jaunt William Carlos Williams once memorialized in The Desert Music. Byrd never actually describes that walk when he writes about it in “Lines Composed on the El Paso Street Bridge”:

William Carlos Williams is dead.
Flossie is dead. Robert McAlmon is dead.
You can study about it in school.

That is a poem that will be luminous to any fan of Williams, recalling not just The Desert Music, but also Paul Blackburn’s great elegy to Williams, which is only slightly longer than Byrd’s.

The range of these poems formally goes from the softer side of Black Mountain aesthetics (think Whalen, or Anselm Hollo) to the New York School, but with a tone that is ultimately distinct from either. Whether that’s El Paso, West Texas, or just Byrd himself is anybody’s guess. But in a poem like “The Broken Coffee Pot,” it’s unmistakable:

Dump the fucker

Shoot it in the head.

Yeah.

Poor thing.

On the Transmigration of Souls in El Paso is still available from Cincos Puntos. At $9.95, it is outrageously underpriced & an absolute steal.



Monday, November 14, 2005

 

Within the history of the School of Quietude (SoQ), there may not be a better – nor more problematic – poet than Elizabeth Bishop. More problematic, because to call Bishop a member of that tradition is to point to all of that concept’s leaks & gaps. Yet how else could one characterize somebody who published fully 32 of her life’s slim output of poems in The New Yorker, or who was perhaps the most significant influence on Robert Lowell, the central figure of the SoQ during its most cohesive & successful historical moment, and who published her poetry exclusively with major trade presses? When it first came out in 1969, winning the National Book Award, her Complete Poems contained just 83 works.

Bishop herself seems to have had no particular interest in these sort of questions. But her discipleship of Marianne Moore went well beyond the aesthetic. Moore, personal friends with Williams Carlos Williams, H.D. & Ezra Pound, working as the editor of The Dial, positioned herself perfectly midway between modernism and the pre-agrarian SoQ poets of her day. Moore’s own work makes perfect sense if one reads it coming as much out of Hopkins, Robinson & Yeats, just as it does against the harder edges that modernism followed after Imagism. If, in fact, there had never been a division between that American literature which saw itself as a fawning derivative of British letters & that which, following Whitman & Dickinson, sought out that which was uniquely American, Marianne Moore would have been the zero degree of such writing.

Reading Bishop, we find Moore’s fingerprints everywhere (& largely we approve): in Bishop’s line, in her vocabulary with its modernist preference for the particular, in her sense that the sound elements of traditional verse work best in the New World as an echo, rather than mimicked directly. Nowhere is this more directly acknowledged than in “Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore,” of which these are the first two of its eight stanzas:

From Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning,
    please come flying.
In a cloud of fiery pale chemicals,
    please come flying,
to the rapid rolling of thousands of small blue drums
descending out of the mackerel sky
over the glittering grandstand of harbor-water,
    please come flying.

Whistles, pennants and smoke are blowing. The ships
are signaling cordially with multitudes of flags
rising and falling like birds all over the harbor.
Enter: two rivers, gracefully bearing
countless little pellucid jellies
in cut-glass epergnes dragging with silver chains.
The flight is safe; the weather is all arranged.
The waves are running in verses this fine morning.
    Please come flying.

When was the last time you got to use epergnes in a poem? There are some turns of phrase here – fiery pale chemicals, mackerel sky, countless little pellucid jellies – that are as fine as anything you will find in the work of Allen Ginsberg or Pound or Eliot or Hart Crane. Bishop’s writing at its best is faultless. And her notorious care with the construction of her poems – they often took years to finish – pays off with a verse that can, as here, feel as free anything the Beats ever did. Yet literally the very next poem in the Collected is a work that shows the old forms made new without, in the same instant, ever having been rejected. This is called “The Shampoo”:

The still explosions on the rocks,
the lichens, grow
by spreading, gray, concentric shocks.
They have arranged
to meet the rings around the moon, although
within our memories they have not changed.

And since the heavens will attend
as long on us,
you’ve been, dear friend,
precipitate and pragmatical;
and look what happens. For Time is
nothing if not amenable.

The shooting stars in your black hair
in bright formation
are flocking where,
so straight, so soon?
— Come, let me wash it in this big tin basin,
battered and shiny like the moon.

Eliotic as this poem is, it’s a trifle – as filled with air as any poem about cats – and more than a few phrases here, including the whole last line, could legitimately be called clunkers. Yet the variable line length – legacy of Moore & Eliot both – and that extraordinary A/B/A/C/B/C rhyme scheme are flawless. Unlike the previous “Invitation,” “The Shampoo” is not particularly about the language Bishop deploys – even if, as with pragmatical, she can’t help herself with a Mooresque twist – as it is with its form as form.

It’s hard to imagine Bishop having been born in the same town as Charles Olson, just two years his junior. They seem like creatures almost out of different centuries, yet both are direct & contemporaneous descendants of Pound’s early dicta on how to write. If the agrarians, Warren & Ransom & to some degree Jarrell, had not focused on Lowell as the anointed poet of the next generation right at the moment that their takeover of the academy in their Batman-like costumes as New Critics, and had not Lowell himself looked to Bishop as friend & mentor, one wonders what would have happened to the SoQ, whether, for example, such projects as Plath’s Ariel or Berryman’s Dream Songs could ever have occurred. Just as it is fascinating to contemplate what might have occurred had not Adrienne Rich, herself a part of the Brahmin literary heritage, turned in good part back to Bishop when she rebelled against patriarchal, and well as formal, closure in the 1960s. Just as one wonders, a little wistfully perhaps, what might have happened had Bishop herself known Stein, or become friends with Robert Duncan (they could have had the best discussions of H.D. imaginable). And ultimately it’s Bishop as much as Auden that is the Ashbery influence that has rendered him palatable to the SoQ, even during the years (especially the 1970s) when his program as poet was to openly ridicule the tradition.

I have sometimes pointed to Joanne Kyger as being the key to the jigsaw puzzle that is the New American poetry – she is the one writer who fits, to some degree or other, within every one of its different aesthetics, the lone gal among the poets of the Spicer Circle, the key to the move to the mesa in Bolinas that would join the New York School to the New Western aesthetic of a Phil Whalen, a beat poet formally trained by Hugh Kenner himself. In somewhat parallel – or is it perpendicular? – fashion, Bishop is the key figure that joins so many different elements of the SoQ back to modernism & forward to such aesthetics as 1970s feminism (or at least that side of it that did not rise out of the post-Beat aesthetics of Judy Grahn, Pat Parker & Susan Griffin). It’s a damn shame that Bishop never spent any time on the mesa, hanging out with Creeley, Berkson & Tom Clark. One can only imagine what American poetry might have become.



Sunday, November 13, 2005

 

Some of the people who have visited this blog just this weekend have logged in from the following locations:

Chennai, Kerala, Bangalore, Mumbai & Delhi, India
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Parow, South Africa
Trinidad and Tobago
The Dominican Republic
Seti, Nepal
Kyoto, Ibaraki & Hokkaido, Japan
Beijing, China
Cheju, Pusan & Seoul, Korea
Taipei, Taiwan
Bangkok, Thailand
Hanoi, Vietnam
Jakarta, Indonesia
Cairo, Egypt
The Sudan
Nigeria
Algeria
Morocco
Pakistan
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Pudu, Malaysia
Singapore
Hong Kong
Benguet, Philippines
Haifa, Israel
Amman, Jordan
Muscat, Oman
Erzerum, Kutahya & Kayseri, Turkey
Ubobo, Queensland, Australia
Daceyville & Goomla, New South Wales, Australia
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Salisbury, South Australia, Australia
Wooroloo & Perth, Western Australia
Auckland, Plimmerton, Plymouth & Gisborne, New Zealand
Santiago, Chile
Guayaquil, Ecuador
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Rio Grande do Sul, Rio de Janero & Sao Paolo, Brazil
Lima, Peru
Medellin, Columbia
Guadalajara, Mexico
La Paz, Bolivia
Kecskemt, Hungary
Bucharest, Romania
Vienna, Austria
Kildare & Dublin, Ireland
Kalamta, Greece
Kokkola & Helsinki, Finland
Saksvik & Molde, Norway
Gdansk, Poland
Braga & Funchal, Portugal
Madrid, Cadiz, Castilla La Mancha, & the Canary Islands, Spain
& all over the U.K. and Central Europe

I had not anticipated this kind of geographic reach when I began the blog – tho I think that has more to do with my sense of my poetry (not to mention person) not having traveled all that much – so this is a wonderful aspect of the weblog & it pleases me no end. I'm sure there is a discussion to be had about the problematics of globalization here, but I'm going to save for that for another day.



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