Saturday, March 11, 2006
A good but brief interview with Kyle Schlesinger in
A couple of good posts on Thomas Meyer by Jeff Davis, including a test of translation, resurrecting a model of close reading that Clayton Eshleman pioneered in the great journal Caterpillar.
This blog got noticed by Slate, not for anything written about poetry, but about fashion…. What impact did this have on visits here? So far as I can tell, absolutely none.
Twenty-three days after her death, the Los Angeles Times weighs in with an obit of Barbara Guest. Again we get the trifecta: Guest is associated in this short piece with modernism, Abstract Expressionism and language poetry, as if these terms were commensurate and flowed easily one into the other. At least the examples of Abstract Expressionism are Pollock & de Kooning, the example of langpo Charles Bernstein.
Last night, right before the toasters – rebel robots called Cylons, bent on the destruction of the human race – arrived to capture the human colony on the planet of New Caprica in the season-ending episode of Battlestar Gallactica, a union rep, Galen Tyrol, played by Aaron Douglas, gave a rousing speech that was, word for word, Mario Savio’s call to action from the steps of Sproul Hall just prior to the Free Speech Movement sit-in on December 3, 1964:
There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop.
To someone who was fortunate enough to hear those lines the first time they were given, that was a very weird moment of déjà vu indeed.
Friday, March 10, 2006
I have come across a perfectly wonderful book of antiwar poems. Or perhaps I’ve come across a perfectly wonderful book of love poems. It’s the same book, all too aptly named At War with the U.S. Sometimes the poems are manifestly antiwar texts:
I am no maker
what is left is ashes
of whatever fire, what ever
To go on
is the act, what is left
is always changing
Cinders of a poem
cinders of a body
killed for ferocious love
Sometimes the poems are more purely love poems:
I feed off that
I am so greedy for her
life. It’s so hard
to come back, throw away
your life at the typewriter
Rather toss with her
on the living room rug
go back, read the old poems
while she’s asleep abed
while you are, separate historian
Sometimes they’re in between:
At war with the
I embrace you
get off my back
in the light
where I can see you
Or they come from an angle that is more complicated:
The white car
below my window
has a window
in which I see
one year old head
She is off to her war called school
& my fingers look like hers
save that they hold
whose brand name
by the ancient sweat
of one thumb,
And sometimes it’s the very banality of the consequence that makes it seem so very brutal:
Her first black eye
just when Nixon is getting his
Who hit her they ask on the street
The world came by & did it
& who runs this world
indeed indeed indeed indeed, a vortex
that may come around
& slug you with a 38th parallel
any day of the week
What’s this. Sunday
The swelling has just about
returned to normal
As this last poem suggests, however, this isn’t the
Reader I just want you here right now
Later you may go where you will
I just want to get the counting over with
the exchange of prisoners
to detach a name from nature’s hodge podge
This is my moment, our moment
Thursday, March 09, 2006
With regards to Project Runway, my first instinct, as it turned out, was correct:
I’ve already decided – weeks ago in fact – that [Daniel] Vosovic, who until recently was a competitive gymnast on the national level, is the one who should win. If he doesn’t, it will be because [Chloe] Dao – who was born to Vietnamese parents in
Chloe’s professionalism was the element cited by the judges in naming Dao as the winner of Project Runway. And while I didn’t feel that her collection as a whole held together as well as a statement as did the more subtle colors & textures offered by bad boy Santino Rice, it’s worth noting that Dao took the most risks, and that is exactly what the judges wanted. Michael Kors made a point of offering Vosovic a job before he could even leave the runway. Maybe Kors is the winner of Project Runway after all.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Tonight is the finale of Project Runway, about which I’ve written before. After looking at all three of the finalists’ collections up on the website, I hate to have to say it, but I think the winner is going to be Santino Rice. His collection has a look and feel to it of a single overarching vision. Daniel Vosovic, my personal favorite, has a collection that looks far too safe. Chloe Dao takes more risks in some of her pieces than does Rice, but only about two-thirds of her collection really hangs together.
Last week’s episode attempted, belatedly I thought, to humanize Rice, showing him playing with his best friends’ kids, talking about his stretch of homelessness, even apologizing to Chloe & Daniel for being such an unrelenting schmuck throughout the season. Given that the show didn’t even touch on Vosovic’s career as a competitive gymnast, I felt that the narrative markers were being put in place.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
When Mark Linenthal first introduced George Oppen to Robert Duncan, Oppen’s first words were, “Robert, I want to talk with you about your vowels.” When, on the plane to
What washes over, hovers lower.
He admires the shades,
stares at shadows for hours. Neither oblique nor orphic,
this sense of oblivion.
Of course metamorphosis. & how obvious to crack, crumble,
OK, but please don’t sink, slip, split,
That is the second section, from a total of five, of “Phantom Planet,” one of the poems here in verse. At times, in the prose poems, the effect is even more dense:
Portents of nonporous borders sweep between sleep and sickness, gently exfoliating all skin types, toking on lowly hash pipes, indulging our decadence in the face of dastardly disaster as Klaxons click off at a clap.
Which is the 11th piece in a larger series entitled “False Correspondences,” which harkens specifically of work that Robert did in the very early 1950s, prior to the emergence of Opening of the Field.¹ And the deliberate use of the abbreviated “w/in” is itself a marker that Duncan was in McCreary’s mind at the time this was written.
Like Robert’s work, this is stuff that people are either going to relish or despise. There is not much room for a middle ground. In the first passage above what happens referentially is nothing. It might as well be the confession of a hash smoker, stunned into a gentle oblivion. The second passage carries extends that same sense even further.
This book feels looser & more free than the work of McCreary’s I’ve read previously, less worried about perfection & more open to whatever comes. As a result, tho it is not a thick book (unpaginated but almost certainly no more than 80 pages), it feels quite full, as if capable of looking in all directions, even when, as in these passages, it is taking a private account of material close at hand, often no further than the ear.
I’m on the relish side of that either/or bar myself, intrigued most, I think, not when he follows his ear, but those instances when he turns away from its potential for predictability, the way, in the first passage above, that final word disappear redeploys those clotted s & p sounds from the previous lines, letting it end on an open r. The other element I trust completely, tho I’ve seen it before in his work, is the twinkle of his wit, that wonderfully o’er the top dastardly disaster in the prose piece above, the deprecation of this barely varied scheme.
My sense – and this is a presumption – is that this book, even tho a step forward from McCreary’s earlier books, remains preparatory to an as yet unannounced (undreamed?) major project that he is still carefully stalking out. I find myself held where he is today, looking forward greatly to where he’s going to be in, say, another ten years.
¹ Tho there is evidence that a draft of the title poem of that 1960 breakthrough volume was first written some around 1953.
Monday, March 06, 2006
One of the ironic coincidences of American history is that the oldest buildings still standing in
Fisherman’s Wharf is a curio for tourists, not fishermen, South of Market has been entirely gentrified, North of Market redefined again & again.
The history of
Barbara Jane Reyes’ Poeta en
The book is built symmetrically around three sections called [orient], [dis•orient] & [re•orient], in turn bracketed by relative brief pro- and epilogues. With [dis•orient] placed squarely at the center, Reyes moves through a cycle of poems, initially in verse form, a stanza of English followed by another of Tagalog, first in script, then phonetically. This in turn gives way to a series of prose poems, works in verse, even prayers:
our lady who crushes serpents
our lady of lamentations
our lady full of grace whose weeping statues bleed,
our lady who makes the sun dance, pray for us
our lady of salt pilgrimage
our lady of building demolition
our lady of crack houses
santa maria, madre de dios, pray for us sinners
our lady of unbroken hymens
preteen vessel of god’s seed
your uterus is a blessed receptacle.
our lady of neon strip joints
our lady of blowjobs in kerouac alley
our lady of tricked out street kids, pray for us
blessed mother of cholo tattoos
you are the tightest homegirl
our lady of filas and lipliner
our lady of viernes santo procession
our lady of garbage-sifting toothless men
our lady of urban renewal’s blight
pray for us sinners   ipanalangin n’yo kamin makasalanan
now and at the hour ngayon at kung
of our death     kami ay mamamatay
Although, seemingly the least postmodern poem in the book – the end of [dis•orient] returns obsessively to the form of prayer – “[ave maria]” conveys a lot of the tensions in the book very quickly, culturally, linguistically, politically. This poem comes immediately after one that visits the International Hotel site in San Francisco (just a couple of blocks down the street from Kerouac Alley), where, in the early 1970s, a building filled with Filipino men was plowed over in the name of development – last I saw, that development was yet to turn up. The opacity of Tagalog here is matched elsewhere in this book with a similar failure to understand English – what does “m-town” mean? Who was Charlie during the Vietnam War? – and will lead, in the [re•orient] section, to a fabulous piece called “[Filipino Names],” like Rocky, Hazel, Ichiban, Bong, Dodo & GE
Does not stand for General Electric.
But no one can tell us her real name.
Elsewhere there is an allusion to calle de sección ocho & I wondered how many readers – especially at a distance, physically or culturally – will get it that that is a reference to federally subsidized housing. There are moments here in which I deeply felt how cut off I am by my own monophone roots, but this book is set up I think to let nearly everyone have some sense of this. What it is for me might not be the passages it would be for someone else, but the presence is pretty much inescapable.
In the hands of a lesser talent, this direct confrontation with global politics could suffer from what I think of as “John Sayles disease,” obviousness, a poetry to be agreed with rather than experienced. It is precisely because Reyes doesn’t settle for simple, unconflicted answers – us good, them bad, modernity (and post-) even worse – but rather lets the conflicts stay conflicts, the tensions stay tense, that render this a compelling reading experience. You don’t need an m-town in your hometown for this to be a very important book.