Saturday, November 11, 2006
photo by Tom Raworth
If you happen to be in
The Work of Leslie Scalapino
A celebration and inquiry into the work of prominent contemporary experimental Bay Area writer and publisher (of O Books) Leslie Scalapino. Leslie Scalapino's over 20 books challenge the boundaries of poetry, prose and visual art. Her most recent titles are Orchid Jetsam, Dahlia's Iris and Zither & Autobiography. Six poets will each present a short talk on aspects of Scalapino's work, followed by a question/answer session. Poets will include Brenda Iijima, who will host the discussion, Rod Smith, Laura Elrick, Alan Davies, Jennifer Scappettone and Rodrigo Toscano.
Rod Smith is the author of In Memory of My Theories, Protective Immediacy, The Good House, Music or Honesty, and, forthcoming You Bête. He publishes Edge Books and edits the journal Aerial in
Laura Elrick's book Fantasies in Permeable Structures is recently out from
Alan Davies is the author of many books of poetry including Active 24 Hours (Roof), Name (This), Rave (Roof), and Candor (O Books).
Jennifer Scappettone's recent poetry, prose, and translations from the Italian are forthcoming in 4x4, Drunken Boat, P-Queue, The Cracked Slab Anthology of New
Rodrigo Toscano is the author of To Leveling Swerve (Krupskaya Books, 2004), Platform (Atelos, 2003), The Disparities (Green Integer, 2002) and Partisans (O Books, 1999). His poetry has been translated into French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. Toscano is originally from
Brenda Iijima is the author of Around Sea (O Books, 2004) and two forthcoming titles: Animate, Inanimate Aims (Litmus Press) and Eco Quarry Bellwether (OtherVoices). She runs Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs from
Hopefully someone will think to collect – and publish! – everything that is presented there. And double hopefully someone will speak to the endlessly fascinating question of Scalapino’s theory of genre. And (final hopefully) someone will think to send a detailed a report.
Labels: Leslie Scalapino
Friday, November 10, 2006
Donald Hall & Liam Rector were musing about whether or not the “boomer generation” had any “iconic poems” to call their own. It’s an interesting enough question, although the definitions of all these terms are, I think, more than a little suspect.
What exactly, for example, is an iconic poem? Is it a text that is not only universally recognized by everyone in the next (and following) generations as a watershed work, a defining moment for the age? Something known as a synecdoche for poetry itself by nonpoets? If so, then the iconic poems of Mr. Hall’s generation (indeed of the latter half of the 20th century) are exactly one, and it begins with “I saw the best minds of my generation.” Or is the iconic the simply the anthology poem, the signature piece, of each of that era’s major poets, the way “Red Wheel Barrow” was for William Carlos Williams or “I Know a Man” was for Robert Creeley? If so, then Hall’s generation has a couple of dozen, albeit almost exclusively focused around the New American Poetry. What about an “almost perfect” poem by somebody who is or was a decent, but hardly major poet, whether Gregory Corso’s “Marriage,” Denise Levertov’s “Scenes from the Life of the Peppertrees” or Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel”? Can a sequence or book be taken as an iconic poem, such as Williams’ Spring & All or Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets? Or a long poem itself, such as The Cantos or even just The Pisan Cantos, or “A” or Maximus?
Lets say, just for hypotheticals here, that the answer to most of these questions is affirmative. The iconic instance of language poetry would almost have to be Lyn Hejinian’s My Life. Yet it has been marketed as a novel, doesn’t have a single stable version, and Hejinian herself was a war baby rather than a boomer. Robert Grenier’s Sentences would seem to me to be as clearly a second such instance, albeit with the same kind of contingencies.
But here I think the contingencies of small press distribution – and the changing model of poet to audience during the past quarter century – comes into play. There are works, even books, that I would myself gladly characterize as iconic, defining not only of the poets themselves but of the period in which it was written, such as Bob Perelman’s 7 Works or David Bromige’s My Poetry. But those books have been out of print for decades now, even if it is impossible for me to conceive of any list of “top twenty” books of the past three or four decades without them.
There is also the issue of works that are personally important to one, but which may not be the poems that most people immediately think of when they hear a given poet’s name. For example, I would expect most people to think of Progress when they hear the name Barrett Watten, but I always also think of “Factors Influencing the Weather,” and all three of the texts collected in Plasma / Paralleles / “X” – poems that had a tremendous impact on my sense of what is possible in this genre. I can’t conceive of contemporary poetry without them, tho you may not feel this way about them yourself.
Which I think shows me where the problem lies – there really is no good definition of iconic. Who is to say that the memorable popular verse of a famously bad poet (Edgar Guest, Ogden Nash, Billy Collins) couldn’t be defined as iconic? What then would be the value in the term?
So I come back to my original definition. The only truly iconic poem I can think of over the past two generations, maybe three, is Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Am I wrong?
Thursday, November 09, 2006
It was the Russian Formalist critics who first noted that one of the historic roles of art – and one of art’s inexorable drivers toward incessant, ongoing change – is to incorporate new aspects of society into the art itself. Without which any genre would very quickly lose much of its connectedness with the life of the community from which it springs. Indeed, in poetry, the refusal of this function in favor of a defensive conventionality is perhaps the most serious weakness of the
One clear instance of poetry bringing in new language into the place of the poem was Ed Friedman’s 1979 project, The Telephone Book, which presented, verbatim, a month and a half of transcribed telephone calls by the then-director of the Poetry Project at St. Marks Church. The culture of phone etiquette – this was before you could actually who was calling before they identified themselves – combined with the elements of Friedman’s life – not just poetry, but also his participation in the controversial do-it-yourself therapy movement called co-counseling – to yield a text that edged up against, say, Bernadette Mayer’s works of memory & reconstruction on the one side, and social codes so banal that they were all but “invisible” because of being “too boring to notice.” The result was a brave & wonderful book & consciously a challenge to read, at once formal & painfully intimate.
All of these same elements, save for the co-counseling, are invoked again in a new work, Inbox (a reverse memoir), by Noah Eli Gordon, forthcoming from BlazeVOX books. I’ve been asked if I’d blurb it, but I think this book is too important to let pass with just a few words for a rear cover. Inbox is exactly what its title suggests, a work of art that includes email received by the author, albeit written entirely by his correspondents, over a period of time. By way of introduction, Gordon uses his permission letter, which reads (in part):
I recently completed a book project that includes
some of your writing and wanted to both tell you
about it and ask your permission to [attempt to]
publish the work. I’m currently calling the manuscript
INBOX, which should send up the requisite bells and
whistles, 55 pages of uninterrupted prose that
constitutes a kind of temporal autobiography, well
conceptually anyway. I thought it would be interesting
to see what would happen if I were to take the body-
text of every email that was addressed specifically to
me [nothing forwarded or from any listserv] currently
in my inbox [over 200] and let all of the voices collide
into one continuous text. The work is arranged in
reverse chronology, mirroring the setup of my email
program. I removed everyone’s name and any phrase
with which they’d closed their email; additionally, I
removed any specific address mentioned. I’m really
pleased with the results, as it sculpts the space
between the every detritus of dinner plans to
discussions of fonts and notes from long lost friends.
To be honest, as I’m a person pretty free of drama,
the bulk of the work is boring, but intentionally so, in
the generative, ambient way that Tan Lin writes
about, well, one would hope anyhow. It’s the collision
of voices that makes the work compelling, at least to
me. The only thing is… I didn’t write any of it; you did!
Of course there’s something awfully self-aggrandizing
to a project like this, and I’m fully aware of it, which is
why I’m thinking of it as an autobiography. I don’t think
it would be right for me to show any of the
manuscript to anyone until I’ve received everyone’s
permission to share the work. Let me just say this:
there’s not really anything all that incriminating in
here, and most of the gossip is pretty bland. I still
have many of the emails from which the text was
created [although not all] so I’d be willing to send folks
copies of whatever they’ve written that I do still have,
if need be. Although, to be honest, I think the integrity
of the project is kind of dependant on folks NOT being
aware of the make up of their contribution, as the
voices dissolves into one another without any
transition. Also let me say that if I do end up doing
anything with the text, it will not include anyone’s
name, outside of those mentioned in the body text of
messages; besides my name, there is no author
attribution within the manuscript. Most of the text is
dinky pobiz stuff, me hashing out the shape of
chapbook manuscripts I’ve published, or will publish,
directions to readings, etc. It is not at all my intension
to take advantage of or disrupt anyone’s confidence.
This is a remarkably accurate description of the book itself, tho, like The Telephone Book, inbox somewhat fetishizes its source material by printing it pretty much verbatim from start to finish whereas I think you would get a truer picture of the actual language of email (or of phone conversation) precisely by breaking it apart – sentences seem an obvious point – and scrambling them, so that you look primarily (if not only) to the language & not all these miniature narratives. Will Noah accept this invite? Will the proofs for that chapbook be adequate? Etc. I’m reminded that when Kathy Acker decided to focus on the juridical language of the courts system, she didn’t adopt the dramatized fictive canon of Perry Mason et al, but used the actual language of in re van Geldern as her source material, while also substituting in the names of friends (and by that fact, characters from other sections of the same novel). Acker’s strategy is not unlike Harry Partch’s music composed on a scale of his making on instruments he invented from materials & objects that already exist in the world. Friedman & Gordon more or less give you the raw objects instead.
Sociologically, Inbox is fascinating. As reading, it’s a tougher go, and I think one finds it possible almost primarily because of the “guess the writer” roman a clef element in the work. Who wrote, for example, on the very second page of the work:
I’m writing to invite you to read in the Poetry Project 2004-2005 Monday Night Series at St. Mark’s Church in NY on
My own sense is that the material works best to the degree it is most mysterious, most turned toward the language, most disjunct:
Have you worked as a DJ? What relationship do you see, if any, between the worlds of publishing books & putting out music? Silliman’s Blog tells me today that you just won the Sawtooth Poetry Prize. What manuscript is in the works on that front? Can you talk a bit about your chapbook venture?
That, I presume, is all one correspondent, but the jump-jump-jump between sentences gives it an urgency the passage above lacks.
So my sense here is that the “more aesthetic” approach that, say, Linh Dinh takes toward the discourse of instant messaging in his most recent work, writing in that discourse rather than mere replicating of the always already written, ultimately makes more sense to me in terms of how best to bring a previous absent (albeit all-but-omnipresent) layer of language into writing. But this doesn’t cancel out the importance of Noah Eli Gordon’s Inbox. It presents the highest order of conceptual poetics just by being itself.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
American book awards
thought of this?
of the poetry scene
The $5 Pollock
prose in comix
(the journal, that is)
The Shakespeare Wars
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
I first met Barrett Watten in the fall of 1964, when he was a senior at Skyline High School in Oakland & I was hanging out on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. We had a mutual friend, Davy Smith-Margen, a brilliant, peripatetic kid, but he was killed in an auto accident coming back from
Grenier I met after transferring finally to UC Berkeley. It was a mid-year transfer, which meant in practice that I could still submit work to the various student writing contests held by the university each year, but really didn’t have any time to get to know the faculty who would be judging the submissions. I pulled together three separate submissions – no names permitted on the manuscript pages – one for each contest, and was planning to submit the one that looked most Olsonian – which in practice, or at least in my practice, meant longest & most pompous & obtuse – to the Joan Lee Yang Award, potentially the most lucrative of the contests, when both Rochelle Nameroff & David Melnick persuaded me that I should send in instead a submission that consisted almost entirely of shorter pieces, essentially a first draft of what would become my first book, Crow. The guy who was judging that contest, they both argued, likes shorter. Their counsel proved its worth when I learned that I had won first prize, tho I still had never met the judge & didn’t do so for a couple of months until, one afternoon in Serendipity Books on Shattuck (an operation that encompassed the business that is now Serendipity Books, the rare book emporium, and Small Press Distribution), a blond fellow who looked too casual to be faculty at Berkeley came up to me & introduced himself, saying, “I thought you were Arthur Sze.”
I soon got to know Grenier better by taking a tutorial with him, a close reading of Zukofsky’s “A” (I had asked both James E.B. Breslin & Dick Bridgman, but each had passed, since it would have required reading the work as well). Grenier was right in the middle of writing the great works that would eventually make up Sentences, which to this day I would still rank as one of the crowning achievements of 20th century poetry, right alongside Tender Buttons, Spring & All, “A” or The Pisan Cantos, the best of Creeley, the best of Olson, Duncan’s Passages, or Ashbery’s Three Poems. Grenier, like everyone else at that moment in American poetry, had been reading Creeley’s Pieces, and had seen their relationship to Zukofsky’s short poems, as well as to the linked verse being written by Ted Berrigan & Stein’s work 65 years earlier in Tender Buttons, a book that had yet to be assimilated into the canon. But where both Creeley & Stein had used micropoetry to focus on formal questions within the poem as such, Grenier’s focus was outward (and in that regard actually closer to Berrigan’s work), seeking to learn what this process of magnification would yield if applied to language in situ. It was almost an anthropological poetics that he seemed to propose. And it was also a rebuke. The Projectivist poets, he seemed to be arguing, spent way too much time trying to figure out how to represent language, but not nearly enough thinking of what it actually was, how it operated, in our mouths, ears, and on the page.
There were a group of younger poets who hung around Grenier in Berkeley – George Ushanoff and Curtis Faville foremost among them – and I picked up the sense, very quickly, that I had suddenly stumbled on the revolution. What Grenier was talking about – constantly, regardless of what the topic at hand might be (even when playing basketball with Hugh Wittemeyer & Stephen Spender, which Grenier once coaxed me into doing) – was something that I couldn’t find in any magazine.
If you read Tottel’s, which is fairly difficult to do given its fugitive nature to begin with & the fact that I had not figured out at that moment the importance of archives (there may be copies in SUNY Buffalo’s rare books collection and in that of the New York Public Library), you can see how it evolves from that first issue, in which Grenier is simply one of several post-avants but the overall aesthetic is much closer to Caterpillar, to becoming one of the first two journals of what we would today call language poetry. The second issue was again a general number, and while there was no evidence of this new writing as such in its pages, the work I tended to look towards it, such as this poem by David Perry (again, not the young poet by the same name today), which led off the issue. The piece is entitled “To a Bird Shadow”:
ring who was
ly our own il
lustrations and I
love u lie
ka bird shadow.
The third issue, in June 1971, was Tottel’s first single-author number, devoted to one of the
Clark Coolidge led of the sixth issue, again a general number. He had been somebody whose work I had been unable to read until I met Grenier & ran back into Watten. Watten had, in fact, made a conscious effort to show me how to do this by focusing on the role of humor in Coolidge’s poetry, which owes a lot to the work of both Phil Whalen & Jonathan Williams. Coolidge would have his own single-author issue two years later (there had been earlier ones devoted to David Gitin & Thomas Meyer in the meantime, and I would follow immediately with issues devoted to Ray DiPalma, David Melnick, Bruce Andrews & Larry Eigner).
So that if I say that in 1970, just one year after having appeared in both Poetry and Caterpillar, plus three other journals & as the frontispiece to a book from a major trade press, my poetry only appeared in the campus magazine at Berkeley, Occident, and in a five page photocopied handout that I myself had published (this being the first issue of Tottel’s), and that 1970 proved to be a much more important year for me, publishing-wise, maybe you will understand what I mean.
But the real excitement in the fall of 1970 was the news that Grenier (who had moved on from
It’s worth taking a look at who shows up in that issue. The first poet is Robert Kelly, the second Curtis Faville, the third – her only appearance in print to my knowledge – Laura Knecht, the fourth Tom Clark (short linked poems “from The Notebooks” as their title says), followed by Jim Preston & Thomas March Blum (two Grenier students I believe from Tufts – Blum has one poem entitled “Africa” that has no text at all), followed now by Clark Coolidge, Grenier, Anne Waldman (again very short poems, including the one-line text of “Turn”: suddenly you weren’t listening!), Sidney Goldfarb, Anselm Hollo, Wayne Kabak, more Sidney Goldfarb (this time prose), Grenier’s wife Emily Lord, extracts from the Ph.D. dissertation of Peter Warshall (picked primarily as instances of language, e.g., “Last, ‘Alone’ was most difficult to define. Kaufman used no other adult within twenty feet.”), three poems by Marcia Lawther, four poems by me, six poems by Larry Eigner, a serial work by Watten (the fabled “radio day in Soma City” that was also published as a chapbook for a printing class at Iowa City), two poems by Robert Creeley, a piece of prose by Ken Irby, a photograph of the desk of Charles Olson at the time of his death by Elsa Dorfman, followed by two other portraits she did of Olson & prose accounts accompanying each, one of which functionally is a description of his funeral.
And then Grenier’s critical pieces. First a major review of Creeley’s first volume of essays, A Quick Graph, which Grenier argues basically completes the idea of literary criticism:
Criticism as literary indulgence will no doubt go on and be respected, but in the work that matters, comment is finished, there will have to be no essential difference between criticism and poems, if for no other reason than that poems are going to be so real that nobody will want to read “about” something.
At the end of this piece is a photo, uncredited, of Pound & Olga Rudge looking out of a window in
“PROJECTIVE VERSE,’ IS PIECES ON
And this is followed by reviews of Gertrude Stein’s Lectures in America – nothing but quoted passages until, right at the end, Grenier quotes Pieces again – and Edward Lear’s The Complete Nonsense Book.
While Grenier & Watten are clearly including both the New York School & the Projectivists (and by practice not including any SF Renaissance or Beat poets), Grenier’s critical works frame them as the culmination of the past. Olson is dead & Projectivism is seen as not really beginning until Creeley’s work of 1969, Pieces. If my own Tottel’s glides between a focus on the New American Poetry & what we today would call language writing, the revolutionary nature of This, and especially This 1, was inescapable. In my life, this is the magazine that changed the world.
From Community Libertarian & Poetry Nothwest to Tottel’s & This – these represent all of the types of relationships I’ve really ever had with a journal, from reading & just trying to get my work represented, to using them as a means of making a statement, ultimately to becoming part of a conversation that had, as its explicit goal, a desire to change literature itself. And while there have continued to be journals that have had a major impact on me, from Poetics Journal, Roof & L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E to Chain & Crayon & No, all can seen, from my perspective at least, as extensions of impulses that first found themselves in Coyote’s Journal, Caterpillar, the Poetry of the latter half of Henry Rago’s editorial years, the campus magazine at UC Berkeley, Occident, my own photocopied (and later mimeographed) newsletter, Tottel’s, and finally This.
My point being that there isn’t just one value or one relationship one might have to a journal & that it’s important to explore all of the many options. Tho to have a This in one’s life is a particular gift & not something very many people get to have. If I have a standard complaint about so many of today’s journals, that they’re not sufficiently radical, that they want to be merely of the world, but not to change it, it’s precisely because what’s then closed off to their participants is this last dimension. That’s an experience I’d love to share with all.
Monday, November 06, 2006
If, tomorrow, Bob Casey wins his election and becomes the senator-elect from the state of
But Bob Casey will vote to raise minimum wage and will help to put Democrats in control of the senate. Plus, he’s not Rick Santorum. In fact, that has been virtually his entire campaign strategy – he is not Rick Santorum. Santorum has clearly had presidential ambitions and would love nothing less than to deliver the
But, in a year in which a lot of the Democratic challengers are moderates, Bob Casey is about as indigestible an alternative as one can imagine. That’s the nature of choices in the election in 2006. Governor Ed Rendell made a conscious political decision to force virtually every other credible candidate, most notably former Congressman Joe Hoeffel, from the race. He could do this because Rendell functionally controls so much in the way both of campaign funding and party endorsements. The lone plausible alternative who could have mounted a campaign without relying at least partly on Rendell was MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews, one-time aide to former House Speaker Tip O’Neill. But Matthews, who is no liberal, chose not to run in a year in which his brother is the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor.
Rendell’s logic is simple. Casey enjoys tremendous name recognition because of his father, the late governor (and also an anti-choice well-to-the-right-of-center Democrat). Having finally won a statewide race (after a few attempts, one of which saw him lose the Democratic nomination for governor to Ed Rendell), Casey has shown that he can plausibly win. Also he did endorse Rendell after losing to him in 2002. With his record so far to the right, there’s no way really for Santorum to gang up on him as a gun-controlling abortionist. So Casey, who is largely ineffective as a speaker, has been able to run against an incumbent using something very much like a “rose garden” strategy, keeping debates to a minimum. This race thus is nothing more than a referendum on Santorum. And people in
And, yes, there are no third party candidates on the ballot. Santorum actually tried mightily to get a pro-choice Green Party candidate certified, just to split the Democratic vote.
My biggest fear is that tomorrow, Democrats will win 49 seats and the GOP will win 49 seats, with independents Bernie Sanders & Joe Lieberman taking the other two. Sanders, a progressive, will line up with the Democrats, but I can just imagine Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 1998, opting to line up with the GOP, so that our friend Dick Cheney will end up casting the vote that determines that the GOP continues to chair (and govern) committees in the senate. My second biggest fear is a voting machine debacle, less because of conscious fraud – I think that comes later unless we get systems that keep a paper trail – than because the offices in charge of administering elections are typically small operations that get big just once or twice each year for one day, and that the probability of systems not operating correctly, or key cards being missing, that sort of thing, seems very high in a year when so much of the country is using automated voting machines for the first time. I’d recommend that you get to the polls early and bring a book.
It will be interesting to see what the new Congress does once it arrives in session. I wouldn’t count on very much. If only the House is in Democratic hands, I think its focus will turn to investigating the shenanigans of the past six years – there is fertile ground there. If both houses are in Democratic hands, I think there will be serious discussions about whether or not there is more political advantage to be gained by impeaching Bush or using him as a whipping boy for two more years – I expect the Democrats to do the latter, frankly.¹ By then, it should be patently obvious that Bush is the only American president ever to lose two wars. Functionally, he already has, but so long as he can pour in fresh bodies to get blown apart in
By now it should be beyond obvious why it is important to elect the next president and not get bogged down in the narcissism of Ralph Nader. 2008 will also be the strangest political election this country has seen in a long time, with no president or vice-president in the mix (save possibly for Al Gore, which was awhile ago). One thing that makes it hard to gauge what might happen in two years is that the political media is unbelievably unreliable on this subject. For example, virtually all of the major news outlet pundits will end up, as they always do, favoring one or another senator. They all live in D.C. and this is all they know. They all know these guys (and a few gals) and who doesn’t want to be on speaking terms with the next president of the
However, because of the particular nature of this election, with no candidate carrying the record of incumbency, it just might be different. Just this one time.
But the second thing to keep in mind is that window for running for the presidency is incredibly narrow. The Democratic frontrunner Senator Sam Nunn decided not to challenge George H.W. Bush in 1992 and to wait until 1996. But by 1996, tho, people were already forgetting about him since he played no role in the
What all this means is this: if Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John McCain don’t get elected in 2008, they will never be president. Period. End of story. It doesn’t mean that they could not subsequently be nominated. But it does mean that they would be running the same sort of handicap as Bob Dole had in 1996.
As it is, being a senator is a heavy negative and it still will be. The last time we had a genuinely open election like this, in 1952, we got the governor of
But for such a race to happen, of course, the front-runners, Clinton & McCain, will have to stumble. They have organizations, name recognition, and money, lots of it. However, both are wearing huge bull’s-eyes for the other candidates (and Fox News) to aim at for the next two years. History is littered with the failed campaigns of front-runners. Watching the feeding frenzy around John Kerry this past weekend when the so-called botched joke wasn’t funny mostly because it was true – economic disadvantage kills you – reminded me of what piranhas these folks will be, given the slightest chance. We’re going to get to see that game played out again a few times between now and the fall of 2008.
I would like to think that the Democrats winning tomorrow would change the tenor of the election in 2008 by ending the war in
¹ For one thing, you would have to impeach both Bush & Cheney, since he controls American foreign policy. And one thing no Democrat in the U.S. Senate wants is for another Democrat, whether its Nancy Pelosi or any other Democrat to become Speaker of the House, to be an incumbent president come primary time in 2008. So while it makes far more sense than the impeachment over a blowjob of the
Sunday, November 05, 2006
I have 4 tickets
to hear Bob Dylan live
at the Spectrum
on Saturday, November 18
But I can’t go.
If you would like to obtain
some or all
of these tickets
send me an email