Saturday, November 04, 2006

 

To watch
Bruce Andrews
spar with Bill O’Reilly
on The O’Reilly Factor
click on the image above,
then scroll down
to “Other Features”
& click on the image of Bruce

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Sometime early on Sunday,
this weblog will welcome its 900,000th visit.

Thank you.

In 2002-03,
it took 50 weeks
to get the first 50,000 visits.
The last 100,000
came in just 14.

§

Farouk Shousha
off the air

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Friday, November 03, 2006

 


David Bromige

 

Early in 1968, a friend at SF State, David Perry (a graduate of the writing program at Bard & master’s level writing student at State not to be confused with the current, much younger poet of the same name) convinced me to attend a reading at the Albany Public Library in order to hear one of his old Bard classmates, Harvey Bialy. The great irony, from my perspective, being that this was the very same room, even, where I’d spent nearly every Saturday morning for the past 20 years as part of my mother’s ongoing attempts to get my brother & I out of the house – it was the very room where I’d first discovered poetry, seriously discovered it, just six years before.

Bialy was quieter than I expected, more low key. But it was the fellow with whom he read, a Canadian grad student at Berkeley born in the U.K., with a deep voice that could have earned him a living introducing Masterpiece Theater episodes, David Bromige, who totally thrilled me. This was somebody whose every word I wanted to read.

On my way home, tho, David Perry caught the F Bus back to his home in the City while I proceeded to hitchhike back to my apartment in the Adams Point section of Oakland when I got a ride from another attendee at the reading. This happened to be David Melnick, a UC grad student &, by great co-incidence, a one-time roommate of the Chicago Review’s Iven Lourie. We talked as fast as we could about all the different things we suddenly discovered we shared, beginning with a similar taste in poetics – at that moment, I think both of us would have suggested that Louis Zukofsky was our second favorite poet (I would have put Duncan first & Melnick Ashbery). I’d never met another Zukofsky fan, as such, so this seemed amazing to me. Almost immediately, Melnick started to recruit me for a project that he had in mind. He wanted to create a revolution of sorts with the campus magazine at UC, Occident, in those days as sad an example of School of Quietude college journal as one might find. Specifically, David was interested in getting the work of the New York School, in particular, David Shapiro, into the pages of this publication that had once been edited by the likes of Diane Wakoski, Robert Duncan & Jack Spicer when they were students. My own interest was in promoting the next generation of the New American poets generally – this fellow Bromige seemed like a perfect example – and so I agreed to help out – I wouldn’t actually transfer to UC for another 18 months, but I started coming to editorial meetings & nobody thought to throw me out. So Occident became the focal point, magazine-wise, for the next period of my life.

The immediate problem – challenge might be a better word – was that the executive editor of the journal, Lewis Dolinsky, was certain that bringing beatniks into the magazine was a career stopper for his editorial ambitions and so he appointed a new grad student, David McAleavey, poetry editor largely to serve as gatekeeper, hoping to ensure that the barbarians would stay on the right side of the wall. The problem with Dolinsky’s plan was that McAleavey wasn’t really a literary conservative – he was interested in the work of John Berryman, but mostly he was unread in the New Americans. So Melnick & I simply shared our various enthusiasms with the man – in response, McAleavey actually taught me, finally, how to play at least a passable game of chess.

This project had all kinds of repercussions beyond simply getting the work of Bromige & Shapiro into Occident. Melnick & I used our mutual Chicago Review connections to propose a feature on new poets of the Bay Area, which eventually was published in 1970, David McAleavey would go on to publish both my first book, Crow, and Melnick’s, Eclogs, when he was with Ithaca House (McAleavey having transferred to Cornell to finish his PhD, which turned out to be on George Oppen), and Melnick went on to work for decades alongside Lewis Dolinsky on the editorial staff of the San Francisco Chronicle (both retired when it was taken over by the Hearst syndicate). The Chicago Review feature, which got the work of d alexander, Harvey Bialy, David Bromige, Ken Irby, Joanne Kyger, McAleavey, David Perry, George Stanley, Julia Vinograd & Al Young into that publication, in turn is what set me up for the feature I would later edit for Alcheringa, which in turn led directly to In the American Tree.

That’s a lot to get out of a single act of hitch-hiking.

But throughout this entire period, it was always evident that the committee structure of Occident was not going to lead to great literature, as such. The best journals have always reflected the aesthetic commitment of a single individual, or a cabal of like minded co-conspirators. I was, by now, both disinterested in academic rags & had not yet fully found any alternatives that fit my own sense of what was needed.

While I was at SF State in 1968, my linguistics professor, Ed van Aelstyn, one of the founding editors of Coyote’s Journal, persuaded me that I should solve this problem by doing my own publication. That sounded like a great idea, so I began to solicit work, drawing principally from my favorite contributors to Caterpillar – this was made easier one afternoon when d alexander showed up at my apartment just below the Rad Lab woods in the Berkeley Hills with his rolodex in hand.

There was only one catch. I had no clue about how to publish a magazine and no cash whatsoever. My strategy for getting through college had been to get a student loan that would cover my tuition, books and rent for a semester – always taking care to pay the whole semester’s rent in advance – at which point I had so little cash that I always qualified for food stamps. Even if I’d understood what I was getting into, there was no cash around – I could go for a month on just $20 once I’d handled the rent, etc., so long as I had my “agricultural coupons.”

When, one day, I got a terrific unsolicited submission of work from David Gitin, somebody whom I really didn’t know – I had met him once or twice & that was all – I knew I had to do something. So I typed up a few pages of work, hand drew a title logo & took the first issue of Tottel’s to Krishna Copy on Telegraph Avenue. The first issue had work from David Bromige, Jerry Rothenberg, Robert Kelly, Daphne Marlatt, Robert David Cohen, David Perry & somebody I’d just gotten to know, Robert Grenier.

If you look at my bibliography on the EPC website, you can trace this transition in interests & focus. In 1969, I published work in Poetry and Caterpillar, and in Arts in Society, all essentially the outcome of attempts I’d made to do so over the two previous years. I also had work in the South Florida Poetry Journal, to which I’d been steered by Duane Locke. Herbert Kubly, a writer of travel memoirs, also used my poem from TriQuarterly as the frontispiece to a book on Greece. And I’d managed to get work into Occident.

The following year, I had work only in Occident and the first issue of Tottels (tho this is also the year when the Chicago Review feature came out). At this point, I was focused in on my own projects in writing, not concerned with publishing somewhere that might cause me to “get ahead.”

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

 


Cid Corman

I noted Tuesday that

Whereas I felt intimidated by the poetry gods who turned up in Coyote’s Journal … I actively campaigned over the next few years to get my work into Caterpillar, Origin and Poetry

This I think is not atypical for young poets. I would be surprised to discover that a young poet did not have a gap, indeed a gulf, between the magazines they read & the ones in which they publish or seek to publish.

My very first experience of print (outside of one occasion in the highschool literary mag) came in Richard Krech’s Community Libertarian, a one-shot mimeo publication that focused primarily on the street poets of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in 1965, tho I think Rich coaxed an article out of David Dellinger to help give the publication the mix of poetry-meets-politics he was seeking (and I can’t help thinking that his sense of this helped set me in the direction I’ve gone ever since then). He followed this again the next year with a more purely literary magazine, Avalanche – saddle stapled into the familiar 8.5-by-5.75-inch format – that had more of a hippy feel to itself. Those were my earliest publications, although I was already starting to send work out in the kind of scattershot way that only a 19-year-old poet can do, failing to distinguish between The New Yorker & a mimeograph magazine. My work in Community Libertarian is an inept hybrid between Howl and The Waste Land, literally my first serious attempt at writing anything. By the time Avalanche came around the following year, I was still an incoherent mix – Gary Snyder mixed with Alan Dugan, one might say – but at least the tone of angst had calmed down some.

The next two publications to pick up on my work had profound, but divergent impacts on me. One was Poetry Northwest, a School of Quietude venue that has recently re-emerged from the crypt. David Waggoner accepted a couple of poems on the condition that he could revise the final lines of each. He told me what he wanted to do, which basically was to provide a more sharply defined sense of closure, and I agreed. Afterwards, tho, I felt completely abused by the process. I have never knowingly let somebody else rework my verse again, and I’ve been known to have a hair-trigger temper over sloppy translations as well.

The other publication was Kauri, a mimeo mag stapled together with pages that were faint enough when the journal first arrived. Where I found the work in Poetry Northwest completely boring – my own included – Kauri was lively & full of controversy. Somebody in an earlier issue had dismissed the work of some unknown visual artist by the name of Andy Warhol & some acquaintances of his by the names of David & Eleanor Antin were writing back to peel the cobwebs out of the earlier writer’s eyes. They were blunt & uncharitable & it was fascinating. There was another poet, if my memory serves me correctly, by the name of Clayton Eshleman who also had work that I noted & liked. I had never heard of any of these people before, not even Warhol, so I made a mental note to pay attention to any work of theirs I might see in the future.

Poetry Northwest’s format was simple, but relatively professional. Kauri, frankly, looked like crap, but it was by far the more exciting publication. I was beginning to get just the hint of a critical sensibility.

As it turned out, being accepted at Poetry Northwest opened lots of curious doors for me. I soon had work accepted by the Chicago Review, TriQuarterly, Southern Review and Arts in Society. Both the Chicago Review and Arts in Society seemed to me to be ambivalent about which side of the aesthetic divide they owed their allegiance, but the other two were anti-New American poetics, the Southern Review militantly so. The Chicago Review’s editor at the time, Eugene Wildman, though, was an experimental novelist who had already put out an anthology of sorts of concrete poetry. One of several poetry editors, as I recall, was Iven Lourie, whose older brother Richard was already part of the Hanging Loose collective. Lourie had this idea – or maybe it was Wildman’s idea & Lourie’s role was execution, so to speak – that Chicago Review should “discover” a half dozen young poets and then push them aggressively until they all were famous, which would in turn allow it to thrive from the backwash of their notoriety. The people they selected for this effort included Robin Magowan, Dennis Schmitz, William Hunt and me. This enabled us to get our work into the journal on a slightly more regular basis so that we could begin to actually get some kind of continuous following. Nobody seemed to notice that none of us had all that much in common – tho as it turns out I’ve enjoyed & followed both Magowan & Schmitz’ writing ever since.

By now, however, what I was writing & where I was publishing had diverged dramatically from what I was reading. Most people whose work was compelling to me by 1967 – Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Phil Whalen, Jack Spicer, Louis Zukofsky – were not showing up at all in publications like TriQuarterly (tho Duncan would published a chapter of the H.D. Book in the very same issue where I had work). In Arts in Society in 1969 – again the work had been accepted years in advance – I had poetry on a page opposite one C.H. Hejinian. I didn’t know that people called her Lyn, or even that she was a she. It would take us nearly another seven years to meet. But I was at a stage where I felt that there were three very disjunct world of poetry: the one of the work I was most interested in reading, the one in which I was publishing, and a third one composed of the younger poets I knew around San Francisco & Berkeley.

By now I was studying at SF State & making great use of its library. The poetry buyer right before I arrived had been Robin Blaser, tho he’d already moved north to Canada, but the collection that he left behind was superb. While I mostly focused on the books in the collection – I read every volume in the American poetry section, A to Z – I did read every copy of Origin, which was in the rare books collection, & began writing to Corman. Origin’s magical period, when it had been a direct extension of the Black Mountain poets, had long since passed, but the aura of its imprint lingered on & Corman’s own vision has itself had a significant impact on American poetry.

I was also writing to Clayton Eshleman fairly regularly as well, sending him work that might be for Caterpillar & getting back detailed if brusque critiques. His tone could be daunting but it was apparent that he had always seriously read the poems & thought about what he was going to say before writing – I was amazed at how rare that seemed to be (still am, in fact) – and tho I seldom fully agreed with him, at least not in simple terms, defining myself against his criticism was extraordinarily useful. I had a parallel, if less intimidating, correspondence going on at the same time with Robert Kelly, one of Caterpillar’s associate editors.

In retrospect, it’s interesting that none of the most ambitious work of mine from that period ever did get published, tho you can find it in the archives at UC San Diego. Both Poetry and Caterpillar ended up taking work that I thought of as being finger exercises. What that probably means in practice is that I was able to focus adequately in those short spaces to adequately get through the poem, brief as it was. But by the time Henry Rago had accepted my piece for Poetry, my interest in publishing further in academic (or what I would now call School of Quietude) journals had dissipated almost entirely. It was not just the bland & ultimately lazy work I felt I saw all around me in such publications so much as it was a growing recognition that I would never find the readers I was seeking in those pages. So far as I can tell, Ray DiPalma is the sole individual who ever read my piece in the Southern Review. Though the poem was written in 1966 or ’67 & had been accepted almost immediately, it didn’t reach print for another five years. When it came out, Ray sent me a note that asked simply “Do you have a secret life?”

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

 

Susan Weil,
an artist at
Black Mountain

§

Mose Tolliver
1920-2006

A good collection
of his work

§

The anthropologist
Clifford Geertz
1926-2006

§

Lewis MacAdams
on Allen Ginsberg

And this
more skeptical
perspective

§

Here, Bullet

A hit book
of poems
from the war in
Iraq

§

Ennui,”
a new poem
by Sylvia Plath

Surrounded by hype

§

The love life
of William Empson

through all the booze and battiness
(a slightly more literary review)

§

Critiquing
Reading Lolita in Tehran
in Tehran

§

The “first novel
by an African-American
woman”

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

 

  

Jed Birmingham sent me an email last week, asking me about poetry journals. Which were the ones that had had the greatest impact on me? Then, in his introduction of me at Autostart on Thursday, Charles Bernstein talked of the impact my own little poetry newsletter, Tottel’s, had had for him back in the early 1970s. And was kind enough to mention “The Dwelling Place,” a feature of nine poets that I did for Alcheringa in 1975¹ – my afterword to that selection, “Surprised by Sign: Notes on Nine,” was my first attempt to write about language poetry.

So I’ve been mulling over the question Jed asked. It’s two questions, really, for one’s relationship to the magazines one reads is not identical to one’s relationship to the magazines where one publishes. And I think for younger poets this is especially true.

So I would draw a fairly sharp line between my experience of magazines in the 1960s with that in the 1970s & after. Let’s think about the 1960s first.

There seemed to be a lot of magazines around, but in retrospect relatively few had deep meaning for me. Three in particular stand out: Coyote’s Journal, Caterpillar & Poetry. There were other magazines, of course, ranging from the New Directions Annuals – a once-a-year anthology that always made you wonder why, if this was the same press that had pioneered the work of Pound & Williams, it always seemed so bland & muddled – to Beatitude, the irregularly published journal of the SF post-beat street scene in North Beach – to journals like R.C. Lion, Hollow Orange, Odda Tala, Kauri & Work that all represented different aspects of the New American (and, tho I don’t know that anyone yet saw it as such, the post-New American) scene, to more academic fair, such as Poetry Northwest, TriQuarterly, Southern Review, Chicago Review & Arts in Society. The library at San Francisco State had Origin and I read it, even studied it, & started corresponding with Cid Corman, in what was really my first concerted effort to campaign my way into a journal I liked. But you couldn’t find it in a bookstore. Nor could you reliably find any publications of the New York School, save – very intermittently – for The World.

I’ve written before of Coyote’s Journal and its expression of an aesthetic I’ve called New Western writing, a swath of New American poetics that would begin with Gary Snyder & Phil Whalen, independent poets nominally associated with the Beats, and also include those, like Edward Dorn, who rose out of the Projectivist tendencies of Black Mountain, but actively engaged issues of the west. The journal got underway in 1964 when the University of Oregon campus magazine, Northwest Review, ran afoul of school officials & local reactionaries by publishing work by Phil Whalen, Antonin Artaud & an interview with Fidel Castro. The Journal published eight issues between then and the fall of 1967, before going into a more intermittent schedule – the most recent issue, numero 13, came out mostly online (& in print in Europe) in 1999. The eighth issue, from 1967 gives a sense of its range. Contributors included Charles Olson (“rages / strain / Dog of Tartarus”), Joanne Kyger, Richard Duerden, Tom Clark (still publishing as Thomas in those days), Ed van Aelstyn (one of the journal’s founding editors & later my linguistics professor at SF State), Robert Duncan (a chapter from The H.D. Book), Gary Snyder, Phil Whalen, Jim Koller (by then the co-editor with van Aelstyn & over the long haul the journal’s driving presence), Peter Armstrong, Paul Blackburn, Larry Eigner, Edward Dorn, John Hall, Gary Snyder, & Sergei Bielyi. Armstrong, Hall & Bielyi are the only names I don’t recognize here. More than half of the contributors had appeared in Donald Allen’s breakthrough The New American Poetry a few years before.

I never felt confident enough in my own work to submit work to Coyote’s Journal during that incredible run, but right as its eighth issue in four years was coming into print (it would be another four years before the next one showed up), Clayton Eshleman, fresh from travels to Japan & South America, began Caterpillar in New York City. Physically, Caterpillar looked enough like Coyote’s Journal to give one the sense that a baton had been handed off – tho Eshleman has told me that his actual model was Corman’s Origin. Here was a journal from New York that (a) was visibly not the New York School and (b) was reliably distributed on the West Coast, something you couldn’t say about any NY School publication. In a sense, it was also a direct descendant of smaller, earlier journals, like Yugen & Floating Bear & Trobar, and not entirely unrelated to Lita Hornick’s larger but more occasional Kulchur. For the most part, those were journals I had heard of, tho never seen. Caterpillar printed many – tho not all – of the same poets you could find in Coyote’s Journal, such as Blackburn, Duncan, Snyder & Olson, but did so alongside other poets like Armand Schwerner, Hugh Seidman, Gilbert Sorrentino, David Antin, Jackson Mac Low, Diane Wakoski, Michael Heller, Robert Kelly & Jerry Rothenberg that gave the journal a far more Eastern & urban sensibility. Tho it also had a fairly short lifespan, maybe five full years before Clayton moved west & revamped his publishing energies into a new publication, Sulfur, Caterpillar (even more than Coyote’s Journal) had a remarkably centering impact. Everybody I knew had a strong opinion about it – not always favorable, although often so – and virtually every other post-avant publication could be characterized by the ways in which it was not Caterpillar.

Whereas I felt intimidated by the poetry gods who turned up in Coyote’s Journal – I was all of 21 when that eighth issue was on the stands –  I actively campaigned over the next few years to get my work into Caterpillar, Origin and Poetry.

Poetry may seem like the odd journal in this trio, but it’s not really. During Henry Rago’s 14-year run as editor of that journal, starting in 1955 & ending only with his sudden death while on sabbatical in 1969, Poetry went through an evolution quite unlike any other School of Quietude (or, for that matter, post-avant) publication before or since. The journal Rago inherited in 1955 was largely living on its laurels for having published Ezra Pound & his friends early on – one could politely characterize the aesthetics of virtually all of its previous editors not only as undistinguished, but indistinguishable. In part, this was because through the Second World War, the actual number of publishing poets in the United States was a fraction of what it is today, something that could be counted in the hundreds – the current figure is at least 10,000 – and for the most part Pound’s engagement with modernism & the one special issue Poetry had devoted to the Objectivists in 1931 had enabled it to say that it had “represented” the various forms of non-conventional poetries around. But if you weren’t somebody Pound was promoting, the chances of an avant writer getting into the publication were relatively slim. Gertrude Stein never once appeared there. Nor did Mina Loy. Nor did Bern Porter. Nor Philip Lamantia. Parker Tyler, Charles Henri Ford & Kenneth Rexroth were about as radical as it got once you strayed from the Pound-Williams tradition.

Well, there was one other exception, but it wasn’t particularly visible until the New American poetries started popping up everywhere in the early 1950s. The ongoing tension between modernist & anti-modernist poetries had percolated along quietly until the arrest & trial of Ezra Pound for treason after the fall of the fascist regime in Italy, when a number of poets, led by Robert Silliman Hillyer (1934 Pulitzer Prize Winner, first published in Poetry in 1924), sought to ban the writings of Pound, or at to least drive them from print. With the publication & subsequent obscenity prosecution of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, not to mention the combative tone of the poem itself, the gloves were off between the School of Quietude & the New Americans. And Poetry generally knew which side it was on.

Except when it came to Robert Duncan & several poets of the New York School, specifically Kenneth Koch (first published in Poetry in 1945), Frank O’Hara (December 1951) & John Ashbery (1955).² Duncan had first published in Poetry in 1942, well before the New American phenomenon congealed, & tho he was the person perhaps most responsible for the combative stance of the Allen anthology – he refused to appear in the Robert Kelly-Paris Leary Controversy of Poets collection because of the presence of poets like Robert Lowell – he had been able to publish in Poetry all along.³

With these exceptions, Poetry had only admitted token publication of a few New Americans – Robert Creeley in 1957, Denise Levertov in 1958 – until 1962, when the journal almost on a dime made a major reassessment of its role and began publishing everybody, the only publication in American history actually to do so in any kind of balance. Thus, to pick a random example, September 1966 starts off by giving pride of place on its cover to the publication of Louis Zukofsky’s “A”-15, one of his most dense texts, starting as it does with a homophonic translation from the Hebrew. But also included in that issue are W.S. Graham, Robert Bly, Aram Saroyan, Gibbons Ruark, Shirley Kaufman, Richard Howand, Tom Clark (tho he goes by Thomas here also), and Guy Davenport. The October-November 1963 double issue leads off with John Berryman and includes such conservative stalwarts as J.V. Cunningham, Hayden Carruth, Randall Jarrell, Carolyn Kizer, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke & Karl Shapiro (like Carruth a former editor of Poetry), but it also includes Robert Duncan, Ronald Johnson, Denise Levertov, Charles Olson, Gary Snyder & Louis Zukofsky. Two years later, the summer double issue leads off with Wendell Berry & includes SoQ heavies Carruth, Galway Kinnell, Anne Sexton & Theodore Weiss. But it also includes Creeley, Duncan, Ron Johnson, Koch, Levertov, Olson, Snyder, Gael Turnbull & Phil Whalen. The January 1969 issue leads off with Kenneth Koch’s “Sleeping with Women,” and includes SoQ poets Philip Booth, Lewis Turco & Stephen Dobyns. But it also includes Anselm Hollo, Larry Eigner, Mitch Goodman (Denise Levertov’s husband, better known as a novelist), Hugh Seidman & me.

From 1962 through 1969, every poet in America knew to send their very best poems to Poetry, the ones around which they would organize their next book. And it shows – it’s an extraordinary run, unmatched certainly in my lifetime for breadth & quality of work. Henry Rago took a sabbatical for the 1968-69 school year & Daryl Hine, a little-known Canadian formalist who was teaching in the Chicago area, but who apparently either had the time or was able to take it, substituted for Rago on an interim basis. (He’s listed as Visiting Editor for the issue in which my work appears.) When Rago died of a heart attack, tho, Hine was able to stay on permanently & the current neocon regime was set in place. Now that there is serious money in the house, thanks to Ruth Lilly, it is unlikely that the pseudoformalists will ever let go. And once Hine flushed the last of Rago’s acceptances through the publishing process, that it was for ecumenicalism in American verse. But for seven years, Poetry was the best poetry magazine ever published. And it’s interesting to wonder if such a publication could ever happen again.

 

¹ It was published in 1975. I did the editing in 1973. The nine poets included Bruce Andrews, Barbara Baracks, Clark Coolidge, visual poet Lee DeJasu, Ray Di Palma, Robert Grenier, David Melnick, Barrett Watten & your humble correspondent.

² For this purpose, I would not include Edwin Denby’s lone appearance in 1926.

³ But see his letter to Denise Levertov of October 22, 1958 in The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, pp. 143-145, where he complains about the editing practices of Rago, Don Allen & Cid Corman, one after another.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

 

Imagine how much harder it would have been for Gutenberg to have invented the Western version of the printed book if he had also had to invent the literature this new technology was to print. In addition to the Bible, Gutenberg appears to have limited his output to sections of Aelius Donatus’ Latin grammar and some papal documents. Just twenty years later, William Caxton is introducing printing into England, translating books himself & even opening the first English language bookstore. His successor, Wynkyn de Worde¹,is already printing The Canterbury Tales, Robin Hood and the work of John Skelton. Worde is the man who gave English printing the use of italics, ignoring Aldus Manutius patent thereon (tho it appears that one of Manutius’ employees, Francesco Griffo, did the actual inventing).

This line of thought kept flashing through my mind at Autostart on Thursday during the early evening reading – if reading is the right word – by five contributors to the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume One (ELC) at Kelly Writers House on the Penn campus last Thursday. The collection, available at no cost both on CD and over the internet, is part of the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO), an organization that has worked since 1999 to promote and facilitate the writing, publishing, and reading of electronic literature.” The collection is edited by N. Katherine Hayles, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg and Stephanie Strickland, none of whom happens to actually be in the collection. As I overheard somebody say to Strickland, Autostart was something akin to a “summit” of wired writers.

Which is why it was amusing to see the event begin with a panel that included myself, Charles Bernstein, Bob Perelman & Jena Osman, since in many respects we represent the “old” in contrast to much that is being done by the likes of Alan Sondheim, John Caley, Lance Olson, Jim Rosenberg, Brian Kim Stefans, Shelley Jackson, Michael Joyce, Rob Wittig, Bill Marsh, Kenny Goldsmith, Loss Pequeño Glazier, Emily Short, Deena Larsen or Maria Mencia, just a few of the 66 contributors to this digital anthology. We four are, after all, still writers committed to the idea of print culture. It’s the context out of which our writing emerges & we aren’t particularly struggling with that.

During my own presentation, I reiterated some things I’ve discussed in bits & pieces here on the blog, that I think there are two impulses behind the rise of digital lit, one of them demographic, the other technological. The demographic one is simple – how in a world in which there are 10,000 publishing poets, can somebody do something that will stand out? It also, to the degree that it can be replicated over the web (as not all digital lit can), bypasses the ancient distribution systems that print culture leaves in place for poetry, much in the way this blog enables me to have share my thinking with readers worldwide every day.

The technological impulse is infinitely more complex and ultimately vastly more interesting to think about, as people figure out what to do & how to do it in ways that are often completely knew to poetry. This is a world in which a creative person can at least replicate the groundbreaking experiences of a Gutenberg – the possibility is right there in front of you, so no wonder it’s so attractive to so many people.

The problem of what to do with all this is the thing, tho it may be simply that, like Gutenberg, this is all simply still too new & that, soon enough, we will not only be “printing” the equivalent of the Canterbury Tales, but designing new forms altogether, as Laurence Sterne did the novel soon enough after the distributable book became a possibility.

If distribution & the web is the digital world’s answer to the problem of demographics, then the larger question will focus around the problem of constantly evolving platforms & the relationship of these new works to time. I proposed a scale – Bob Perelman, following Zukofsky, referred to it as an integral, but that’s a term I’ve never fully understood – that I call Upper Limit Homer, Lower Limit Refrigerator Magnets. The poetry we ascribe to Homer has lasted for perhaps 3,000 years. Poems composed with refrigerator magnets often fail to survive for thousands (or even tens) of seconds before someone else comes along to rearrange the text. It’s worth keeping in mind just how much our work is like refrigerator magnets. Even the writing of Ezra Pound & Gertrude Stein, which dates back now roughly 100 years, is much closer to the magnet end of the scale than to Homer’s.

But for a poem to survive at all, it has to pass what I call The Blake Test – the work has to be platform independent. Long before any of us learns about the existence of an online Blake Archive, we have already confronted his work many many times, in anthologies that completely decontextualize his writing, even in something like Dover’s William Blake Stained Glass Colouring Book. Not only does Blake’s greatness peek through all of these bowdlerized presentations, for many decades it was the only way his work could survive. Indeed, the same could be said for Homer. None of the Odyssey was written for the page, but it did make effective use of the first storage technology known to our species: rhyme. Twenty-eight centuries hence, sound repetition no longer has the same technological or social meaning, but the poem itself survives just fine, thank you. Already, graphic texts built in Harvard Graphics or through Ventura Publisher – programs whose platforms no longer exist, save in computer museums or somebody’s attic – have become inaccessible. What makes us think Java or Flash is going to last any longer? Indeed, many of the works we would soon see were composed in Inform 6, a program that itself has already been superceded.

When, later in the day at Writers House, five of the collection’s authorsMary Flanagan, Aya Karpinska, Aaron Reed, Stuart Moulthrop & Noah Wardrip-fruin – presented works on the facility’s new giant flatscreen monitor, I wondered just how many of these pieces might pass the most rudimentary form of the Blake Test – how many of these would I bother to read if I saw it as pure text on a plain printed page? Realistically, only Aya Karpinska’s collaboration with Daniel Howe, which happily is one of the pieces actually included in the collection (and is what will come up if you click her link above), which uses simple reiteration of short phrases in a method that recalls both some of Zukofsky’s finger exercises or the reiterative writing of Helmut Heissenbüttel. However, this piece also makes use of simple, elegant graphics and a breathy voiceover that will remind listeners of the deadpan operas of Robert Ashley. If there is a difference between the Karpinska/Howe collab and, say, the work of someone like Zukofsky, it’s that, cognitively, the latter is much more formal, whereas the vaguely erotic elements of open.ended could be interpreted in wide range of ways, some of them quite sophomoric.

Now five contributors out of 66 is hardly a fair sampling, nor were the extremely short presentations even a fair sampling of the authors themselves. This collection does contain some breath-taking work on it, such as Brian Kim Stefans’ The Dreamlife of Letters, a flash poem in response to the work of Rachel Blau DuPlessis. It was also obvious from the Q&A session after the presentations that several of the presenters (and other contributors to the collection in the room, such as J.R. Carpenter) are superb thinkers.

Yet at the same time, I often felt as if I were at a printers’ convention circa 1455, all this intellectual frisson, so very little (as yet) work.

 

¹ Just possibly the most fortuitously named individual in history.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

 

Yes, that was the most poorly played World Series I’ve ever seen also. And my memories thereof go back all the way to 1954, which was when the underdog New York Giants swept the highly favored Cleveland Indians, thanks to the hitting of Dusty Rhodes & one great catch in centerfield by Willie Mays. I didn’t really begin rooting for the Giants until they moved to San Francisco, four years later, but they’ve never won the whole shebang in the intervening 52 years.

This year both the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals were routinely the underdogs in each of their playoff series – the Tigers making it the playoffs after a record number of losing seasons, the Cardinals squandering a huge lead in the National League central division, going 12-17 the last month of the season, and becoming the team with the fewest wins ever to play in the World Series, let alone win it – until they finally met one another, when Detroit became the favorites simply on the theory that the American League is by far the better half of baseball these days. So St. Louis winning meant that the underdog won every single round of the playoffs.

I personally expected Detroit to win, using my highly scientific “former Phillies” analysis. Each team had one ex-Phil in a key position, Detroit with second baseman Placido Polanco, whom the Phils dealt once Chase Utley emerged as the best player at that position in all of baseball, the Cardinals with Scott Rolen (who used to live out in our neighborhood when he was a Phillie), the multi-gold glove, multi-time all-star third baseman. Polanco had been the MVP of the American League Championships & is somebody who always gives 110 percent effort on everything, while the much more talented Rolen seems to drift along at around 85 percent much of the time. So I was thinking Polanco gave Detroit an edge. I always thought the Phils should have put Polanco at third & dealt David Bell instead. If the Phils – the team with the best record in baseball after the trading deadline – had gotten to the playoffs, they would have eaten both the Cardinals & Tigers for breakfast. And with Polanco, they wouldn’t have sucked as badly as they did the first half of this season & would have made it. As it was, the Phils simply dumped Bell at this year’s trading deadline. Which, no coincidence, is when they suddenly got good.

Unfortunately, once the Series started, Polanco was trying to give 150 percent effort & trying way too hard, ending up the show without a single hit. Rolen, true to form, finished the Series with a ten-game hitting streak in which only one of his hits really made a difference. Detroit also suffered from having dispatched the Oakland A’s so quickly. The Tigers looked really rusty in the first game in Detroit, which St. Louis won & even tho they tied the series briefly behind the pitching of Ken “Muddy” Rogers the next night, they never found their equilibrium. That momentum thing is not to be underestimated – it’s why so many wild card teams have gone on to win the Series. They’re still struggling and playing hard right up to the last day of the regular season, where the “better” division champions have often been coasting for weeks, only to get eliminated before anyone can find the ignition button once the playoffs arrive.

But the largest single reason St. Louis is celebrating this weekend is Dave Duncan, the one-time major league catcher who has been the team’s pitching coach for the past 11 seasons, after a nine-year stint in the same role for the Oakland A’s, all two decades working alongside manager Tony La Russa. Duncan, who is also the father of Cardinal rightfielder (and defensive butcher) Chris Duncan, is very possibly the best pitching coach in all of baseball and is somebody I would happily recommend to Cooperstown if it ever got smart enough to put coaches into the Baseball Hall of Fame¹.

Detroit clearly had the much better pitching staff this year and, in short series like each round of the playoffs, that usually is what makes the difference. But St. Louis consistently got great starts from journeymen hurlers, including a brilliant game from one-time Tiger Jeff Weaver on Friday. It reminded me of how, in his Oakland days, Duncan took two has-been starters, Bob Welch & Dennis Eckersley, and made the former into a Cy Young award winner & the latter into the best relief pitcher of the era, winning both the Cy Young & MVP awards in 1992 & going on to the Hall of Fame. Duncan also took a young pitcher who had never panned out with any of the teams he had played with previously, Dave Stewart, and helped him to win 20 games four seasons in a row, becoming the MVP of the 1989 World Series & the American League Championship Series MVP in both 1990 and 1993. Stewart ended up going head to head against Roger Clemens eight times in his career and won seven of those outings. That’s the Dave Duncan effect.

 

 

¹ Also deserving are Lee Mazzone, the longtime pitching coach of the Atlanta Braves, and the man they call Popeye (and the Gerbil), Don Zimmer, a coach with many teams, and, as a senior advisor to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the last Brooklyn Dodger still active in professional baseball.

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