Saturday, November 19, 2005
DAVID SHAPIRO & RON SILLIMAN
Saturday, November 19:
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
In the photo above, Shapiro is seated in the office of the president of
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
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
a reconciled hemisphere
with injury so swollen & robust
a fat man . never won a race
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
a bare ass thru flames moving out . Pee Wee
it was contempt
moved through fire
in passing through
Θ Φ Θ
Tomorrow, David Shapiro & I will be reading at the Bowery Poetry Club (308 Bowery) in
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
— 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”:
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
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
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”:
the kids are
skull underneath the
fight war surrealism
how then tulip in
The second poem is after Vanderbeek’s “Science Friction”:
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.
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”:
a fly buzzed
bison speech history errant
fish mouth chrysalis
brown prow spectre
boats such angels
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
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 –
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 wants to come back.
I tell her it’s impossible.
We haven’t progressed far enough yet,
and the Yankees will be in
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.
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
Or you could walk across the El Paso Street Bridge & suddenly be in
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
Dump the fucker
Shoot it in the head.
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
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.
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:
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
Kyoto, Ibaraki & Hokkaido, Japan
Cheju, Pusan & Seoul, Korea
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
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
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Rio Grande do Sul, Rio de Janero & Sao Paolo, Brazil
La Paz, Bolivia
Kildare & Dublin, Ireland
Kokkola & Helsinki, Finland
Saksvik & Molde, Norway
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.