Saturday, February 17, 2007

 

A terrific anthology
of contemporary poetry
from
Taiwan
edited by Shin Yu Pai

7 poets
each with an interview,
& the poems
include a couple of sound files
and a video
realization
of Chen Li’s
War Symphony

§

The rest of
Fascicle 3
is no slouch either

with an Eritrean portfolio
including translations from
Tigrinya, Tigre & Arabic

poetry from over 50 poets,
new work by Alexei Parshchikov
(gotta wonder about that
translation strategy
tho),
whole chapbooks
by Allyssa Wolf
&
Vicente Huidobro,
work by Harry Crosby
plus an essay on Crosby
by D.H. Lawrence,
plus
Roberto Tejada on Clayton Eshleman,
Kevin Killian on George Oppen
Graham Foust on Looking
Mark Wallace on P. Inman

& oodles more

§

Also up online
with a ton of reviews
is the latest
Galatea Resurrects,
a magazine
done entirely in Blogger

§

Noisiest home page
for a new mag
goes to
Mad Hatters’ Review

Where Joe Amato
has some new poetry
&
Lynda Schor
offers an interview
& a “whatnot
with tips on diapering

§

Artie Gold
one of
Montreal’s
Vehicule poets

& a fine, fine fellow
died Wednesday

§

A praise day
in memory of
Diane Burns

§

The politics of slams

§

What I like best
about this review
of the history of poets
at Harvard
is that the author
can’t spell
Charles Olson

§

Looking at the Booker
from the vantage
of
India

§

Vaclav Havel
in
America

§

Rodney Jones
wins
$100K poetry prize

§

The Stephen King of his day

§

Trying to forget
the dreariness of Auden
"in his cups"
in order to celebrate
the centennial

§

O Anna
Akhmatova!

§

The blindness
of Borges

§

Greg Tate
on
Bob Dylan
as the future of rap

§

The Ashbery Bridge

§

Viggo, reading

§

If you thought Dan Brown
was dreadful,
wait till you read
the Dan Brown Wannabes

§

Banksy gone bad

§

Fluffing your aura
to make it
even more real

§

The problems of conserving
contemporary painting

§

Howard Hodgkin at the Yale

§

Saving classical music

§

And if,
on March 2nd,
you should find yourself
in
Atlanta
at the AWP,
check this out:

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Friday, February 16, 2007

 

Emmett Williams

1925 - 2007


photo by Anne Tardos

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

 

Written between 1919 & 1921, & published in 1927 in a Russian émigré journal, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s short novel We insured that he would never again be permitted to publish inside of Joe Stalin’s Soviet state. The one-time naval engineer, who at one point had supervised the construction of Soviet icebreakers in British shipyards, and who may have chosen the names of his characters – D-503, I-330, S-4711 – from the specifications for the ship Saint Alexander Nevsky, creates a simple-enough fable of a dystopian future that would serve as a model for both Brave New World and 1984. Persuaded by the presence of a Bruce Sterling introduction, I picked up the Natasha Randall translation because I was looking for something short to read during a month when I had two long business trips before starting what I expect will be the novel that will take up my fiction reading for the rest of this year, Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day. Even though We has a significant pedigree – “the best single work of science fiction yet written” says Ursula K. Le Guin on the book’s front cover – I was surprised by just how much I liked this book.

Partly this is because of the ways in which Zamyatin, born the same year as H.D. & just a year younger than Pound, foretells elements of the future, such as the creation of the Berlin Wall, decades in advance. Partly it’s because this is a passionate tale that falls outside of genre boundaries, even tho it is now routinely treated – viz. Le Guin – as part of the history of sci-fi. The story line really is the Garden of Eden inverted. After centuries of war, the civilization known here as The One State is, in fact, a city walled off from the external world, run by a dictatorial Benefactor as a technocratic and rationalist utopia. Families & religion are abolished, people literally live in glass apartment buildings and must request permission to lower their blinds for pre-assigned sexual liaisons, which are scheduled in advance by ticket (one senses that nobody would ever think to say No). D-503 is the master builder of the Integral, the city state’s projected entry into space travel and as committed a bureaucrat as you could imagine. All of this goes to hell (more or less literally) when D-503 finds himself falling in love with one of his sexual partners, I-330, who is something of a terrorist, determined to Tear Down This Wall.

The sexual frankness & sometimes daft combinations of retro-industrialism & futurama reads like a scramble of genres and some of the details – such as indicating just how far into the future this is by periodically noting the presence of gills on all the main characters even if the most advanced communications technology appears to be radio or the vague descriptions of “aeros,” the individual flying systems some (tho not all) of the characters appear to have access to – actually gives the book some of the rough feel one gets, say, from a Philip K. Dick book, where the futuristic elaboration of detail (think Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke) just isn’t a value.

It’s worth noting the degree, tho, to which, even as early as 1921 – when Lenin is still alive & nine years before Mayakovsky will commit suicide – Zamyatin grasps the problems of the totalitarian state. Inhabitants of the One State are not called citizens but ciphers and when I-330’s rebellion shows initial signs of success, the Benefactor orders everyone to come in for surgery to remove the one human feature that is the source of all unhappiness, the imagination. D-503’s alienation grows even more profound when he finds himself one of the few remaining people yet to have a lobotomy.

Zamyatin didn’t fare a whole lot better than his character. Perpetually in trouble with the authorities (both before & after the Bolsheviks took control), he finally emigrated to France where he co-wrote the screenplay for Jean Renoir’s version of The Lower Depths, but mostly scraped by in poverty before dying of a heart attack at the age of 53. Wikipedia notes that he’s buried on Rue du Stalingrad in Thiais, south of Paris.

Randall’s translation is quite good, tho occasionally she picks a contemporary idiom that sounds out of place for a book written in 1921, albeit set centuries, if not millennia, in the future. Part of what makes this works, I think, is Randall’s own training not as a poet but as a physicist, not that removed from the concerns either of the engineer Zamyatin or those of his protagonist, the rocket scientist. This is, in its own way, a very left-brain cry for the joys of the irrational, the spontaneous, the truly committed. If you have any interest in the history of science fiction, this is a precursor you are certain one day to read & Randall’s edition is well suited to its task.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

 

Eric von Schmidt
one of the best
of the ‘60s folkies
has died

(2nd Row, 3rd Right
remains one of the great
albums of that decade)

§

Moneyball
and
Poetry

§

A view of the Nigerian poetry scene

§

John Ashbery
at his best

§

Yes, ‘Señor’ Fluffy

§

Quincy Troupe
in Austin

§

Before there was Neal & Jack,
there was Sam & Bill

§

Marcel & James
just said no

§

But did Bill
know Fletcher?

§

Bidding
for Kim Addonizio’s
thong

§

Interviewing Steve Swallow
about
Robert Creeley

§

An interview with
Neil Gaiman

§

Talking with
Nate Mackey

§

Quoting
Louis Menand

§

Talking with
Nikki Giovanni

§

The Independent Press Association
has folded

§

Modernism
comes to the Corcoran

§

New music
and the blogosphere

§

The ontology of
Second Life

§

Writers in Turkey
have no choice
but to be
public intellectuals

§

the voice of
British Asian poetry”

§

Why are there no
great Braille poets?

§

The best selling book
in
America
won’t be published
until July

§

Stanley Fish
turns on the radio

§

Jonathan Mayhew
gives
good snowclone

§

Of Barbara Jane Reyes

§

Amanda Nadelberg
on
Lisa Lubasch

§

The last hurrah
of the Berkeley Renaissance

§

O’Dowd against Chick Lit

§

Or you could try this

§

Free the Ulysses Two!

§

Hoohaa!

§

Edwin Morgan at 86

§

Look at this article in its
”printable view”
and the example
doesn’t look like
”condensed language”
in the slightest,
just a pleonast’s
sloppy prose

§

“Poetry
should be as well written
as prose
(Rebecca Brown
quoting Pound)

§

Why theme-based
anthologies
are a joke

§

The battle over aesthetics
sends in the clowns

§

Yes,
conservatives
really are like that

§

For example,
Al Alvarez

§

The book as new tech,
ja?

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

 

When ROVA: Orkestrova’s Electric Ascension started last Saturday night at Philadelphia’s International House, the audience hadn’t even stopped chatting amongst themselves. Maybe it was the way in which turntablist Marina Rosenfeld’s first manipulations of her dub plates – digitally prerecorded electronic music pressed into large acetates, not unlike the old “masters” for LPs or 78s, which Rosenfeld then handles much the way hip-hop DJs do commercial records – echoed the effects of an orchestra warming up. Gradually the rest of the semicircular arc of musicians join in – Wilco guitarist Nels Cline; Andrew Cyrille, veteran of more than 100 CDs with everyone from Dave Burrell to Anthony Braxton, on drums; bass guitar maestro Trevor Dunn, a one-time member of Mr. Bungle; violinists Carla Kihlstedt and Jenny Scheinman; and Andrea Parkins on a giant white electric accordion as well as laptop electronics. The volumes & complexities build.

Finally, the ROVA portion of the “Orkestrova” kicks in as Larry Ochs, Bruce Ackley, John Raskin & Steve Adams of the ROVA saxophone quartet come in. By now, the 400-seat theater is utterly filled with a solid wall of sound. The only time I’ve ever heard anything like it in my life was a Paul Butterfield Concert at UC Berkeley, circa 1965, where the Chicago blues band turned its volume up to max & wailed. The feeling tonight, tho, is different. It’s not about volume, but about fullness. If it’s a wall, it’s a remarkably Louise Nevelson kind of structure, not the slightest monolithic or totalitarian. But it is unquestionably overwhelming. Your immediate instinct is to check your “fight or flight” reaction. And you can feel the 300 or so other souls in the audience doing likewise. But almost instantaneously, you begin to hear into the music, as the Orkestrova begins to explore the intent & possibilities of John Coltrane’s vision of epic improvisation.

Electric Ascension is an arrangement of John Coltrane’s 1965 masterwork, Ascension, in which Coltrane attempted – whether he succeeded or not has been a point of contention for over 40 years – to create a form for intense improvisation within the big band form. ‘Trane also used 11 musicians: five saxophone players (himself, Archie Shepp & Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax, Marion Brown & John Tchicai on alto), two trumpets (Freddie Hubbard, Dewey Johnson), McCoy Tyner on piano, two bass players (Art Davis & Jimmy Garrison), and Elvin Jones on drums. Coltrane’s version – he recorded it twice & actually switched versions midway through the original release of the LP – runs roughly 40 minutes.

In 1995, ROVA and the late Glenn Spearman teamed up to form the “5 sax” core of a recreation of Ascension, with Dave Douglas & Raphe Malik on trumpets, George Cremaschi and Lisle Ellis on bass, Don Robinson on drums, with Chris Brown on piano. While this version was faithful to the instrumentation of Coltrane’s original, it has – at least in the ears of the two ROVA members with whom I discussed this over cheese cake in a student bar after the concert – something of a “historical re-enactors” feel to it.

So in 2003, ROVA set out to do it again, but with a new arrangement that incorporates the latest trends in contemporary music ensembles. In the version that was recorded by KFJC & released as the Electric Ascension CD, Robinson is still on drums & Chris Brown is still involved, now on electronics. The string section – Kihlstedt & Scheinman – is the same as played at I-House on Saturday. And you will find Nels Cline still on guitar. On the recorded version, however, Fred Frith handles the bass, Otomo Yoshilhide the turntables & Ikue Mori operates the drum machines in lieu of an accordion. The CD is superb, but you will need great speakers and a lot of volume to get even a remote sense of what we heard at I-House.

This is where the question of live vs. recorded music, especially in a genre with a lot of improvisation, becomes especially acute. Two of the musicians on Saturday – Rosenfeld on turn tables & Cyrille on drums – were tackling the composition for the very first time. Others have been there for each of its nine or ten performances to date. In any event, the transformation into a new arrangement with new instruments removes any impulse toward literal recreation: the most you get are the reiteration of certain key themes, particularly at the beginning & end. As the piece evolves – there are a remarkable number of potential combinations to consider, tho the final project is actually spare in terms of the number it deploys – some remarkable moments & explorations occur – the high point Saturday (for me at least) was the violin duet between Kihlstedt & Scheinman, who’ve collaborated on more than a few projects together since they first met at Oberlin – it was both a collaboration &, it felt, a contest almost in the rap challenge or “doing the dozens” sense.

My program has notes scribbled over it describing my sense of the feeling of the overall project during the course of the 60-plus minutes that the Orkestrova takes to work its way through Coltrane’s 40-minute map: wall → ocean → forest → cathedral. Each, it occurs to me in retrospect, represents a stage of increasing involvement & differentiation, from the impenetrability of the initial wall through the dive into to the overallness of the ocean to some individuation of details (literally the trees within the forest) to, finally, a resonant & remarkably symmetrical sense of architectural form.

The was the first time in the non-quite-twelve years that I’ve lived in Philadelphia that ROVA has played here, and it occurred to me that one of the things I miss most about not living in the Bay Area is not being able to hear this group two or three times each year. There are early sections of The Alphabet, Blue in particular, that were written almost entirely either at live jazz events in San Francisco (especially the large free jam sessions at Pangaea on Bernal Heights that often would involve two or three members of ROVA’s original lineup, plus others such as John Gruntfest). Although the expansion of distribution, from houses like the Jazz Loft or the Downtown Music Gallery (which is just up the street from the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan), has improved greatly in recent years, Saturday’s event reminded me no amount of CDs or downloadable MP3s can replace the three-dimension experience of literally being in the music at a live performance, especially one that has as many ideas, as densely & intensely packed, as this one. So here’s to the Ars Nova Workshop, who sponsored the ROVA Orkestrova last Saturday, and which has been a fabulous addition to our local music ecology. Mark Christman, the secret sauce of the Ars Nova project, has been doing a great job. Thank you, Mark!

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Monday, February 12, 2007

 

I know that some people are going to cringe to hear this note’s topic sentence, so let’s just be blunt about it. We can come back and address the collateral damage after:

Fifty years from now, when people are writing without irony of “the classics of flarf,” one of the works that will turn up on that relatively short list will be Michael Magee’s My Angie Dickinson.

The book has just been released by Zasterle Press, so recently in fact that it doesn’t yet show up either on the Zasterle website, nor that of Small Press Distribution, where eventually you will be able to buy it.

The idea that flarf, which Gary Sullivan once characterized as

A quality of intentional or unintentional "flarfiness." A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying, awfulness. Wrong. Un-P.C. Out of control. "Not okay."

should have “classics” is, by itself, problematic. The whole notion of a “classic” “awfulness” ought to be oxymoronic even if one were to associate it with the somewhat older notions of kitsch or camp. But when I think of kitsch, say, I think of some social institution on the order of the Lawrence Welk Show, the 1950s TV bandleader whose sense of the polka drained the music of its ethnic heritage, substituting a treacly version of super-Americanism. Flarf, by its character, goes against that grain, raising its forms to the level of conscious while, in most cases, both loving & attacking them at the same time.

Magee’s choice of Emily Dickinson is a case in point. Magee notes in his forward that he seeks to

disrupt some of the pieties around Emily Dickinson’s work that I don’t believe have served her poems very well. (As an example, I would note the rarely mentioned fact that Emily Dickinson is one of the funniest poets ever.)

Whitman & Dickinson share an outsider’s perspective on what was already a submissive & imitative Anglophiliac literary establishment by the end of the Civil War, but where, when the descendants of that establishment claim Whitman for their own today, they simply look like fools, Dickinson’s own social isolation permitted her work to be mediated by that same establishment. That she is, grammatically at least, the most disruptive & fragmentary poet of the 19th century – Blake, Lautréamont & Rimbaud have nothing on her – has often been smoothed over by School of Quietude “heirs,”¹ at least until Susan Howe reclaimed the poet in all her rawness. It’s not an accident that Magee’s title points directly at Howe’s My Emily Dickinson, nor that he acknowledges her by name in his foreword.

Magee’s description of his methodology deserves to be noted:

The poems in this book were written during an intensive period of reading and writing in 2003 and 2004. I was curious as to whether I could, using some of Emily Dickinson’s forms, evoke in my own readership that combination of shock, bewilderment, excitement, pleasure (a process of dis-orientation and re-orientation) that I imagined Dickinson’s earliest readers must have felt when reading her work. I was cognizant of the fact that Dickinson’s poems, in both form and content, remain surprisingly volatile despite the various historical attempts to render them more placid. This is especially true of those invisible poems that continually escape anthologization and discussion, many of which stray far from English hymnology. So, I reread Emily Dickinson’s Collected Poems and, as I did, performed Google searches using the phrase “Angie Dickinson” combined with bits of syntax from Emily Dickinson’s poems: “Angie Dickinson” + “Hope is”. Likewise I would sometimes integrate rhyming words into the search: “Angie Dickinson” + “with a” + “chimp” + “limp”. Each poem involved a series of such intuitive searches followed by fine stitching together, the mouse replacing the needlepoint.

In picking Angie rather than, say, Emily Dickinson, “a sort of Zelig figure in American popular culture,” Magee is picking not only the former lover of Frank Sinatra & actress in over 130 films & TV shows, but also a creature as self-made in her own way as was the poet. Angeline Brown – Dickinson was the surname of her first husband – was, like Lawrence Welk, born in North Dakota but transformed in L.A. The first major American female actress to routinely accept roles that required nudity & later the longtime star of Police Woman, Dickinson offered a persona that was tough, just a little brassy, but also always intelligent. She was a natural progression in a chain of actresses that included Dietrich & Bacall.

I had a hunch that searching her name would throw up an unending stream of interesting Googled material. Whatever voices emerged from this procedure were, to my mind, pure “flarf”….

Here, just to test this, is “087”:

To Die For — an idea — is Rather
Vegas to Flea
Let’s not — Devolve into Conjecture —
Sea-change on me.

The president hasn’t “Entered the Image” —
Achilles assumed when hid,
Himself among Women Puzzling questions
An old Yearning with His dad —

Jon Bon Jovi is
Classic deadbeat showing
Up — occasionally —
In Order — to beat — up His mother
Version — “to fully” —

This is where it gets interesting. Magee’s poems replicate the start-stop stutter step movement central to Dickinson’s prosody, but through this sonic veil we get glimpses of a world that is sharply etched, celebrity-ridden, but also more than a little dangerous. What Magee’s searches found literally appears to have been a series of websites that included Dickinson among other targets of celeb gossip (hence Bon Jovi) as well as others that recap the narratives of various films & TV episodes. The overall effect is a little like viewing the world through a TV that gets only two channels: E! & Turner Classic Movies.

As a project, My Angie Dickinson also rubs up against the notorious vessel model of communications, the linguistic equivalent of intelligent design. In this telling, poems functionally are molds into which content is then poured. But as with the poem above, what results constantly refutes the theory itself. The materiality of these snatches – “’too fully’” indeed – push back with as much resistance as Vegas or Flea.Throughout, one catches Magee’s own deft hand & sense of wit, as with “082”:

An “added” — Pleasure —
Tinsel Girl remembered —
Feathers
His “menacing peril” —

The overall result is not that far away from something like Charles Bernstein’s Nude Formalism: brilliant, hilarious, deeply conceived, completely serious, with more twists than a pretzel factory, well written, but still thoroughly flarf. Just for good measure, My Angie Dickinson is also the most ambitious production, design wise, Zasterle has yet attempted. This book is a joy.

 

¹ To the degree that one poet I know used to claim you could read all of her poems aloud to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas. If you suppress all the dashes (or presume them to be silent or “not really there”), this just might be plausible.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

 


Linh Dinh & Frank Sherlock on the streets of Philadelphia

One of the lessons I think anyone learned who came into the orbit of the late Gil Ott is that, outside of the writing itself, virtually all of the other tasks of the poetry are identical to those of community organizing. That’s something that Gil taught primarily through example, but its impact on the next generation of poets in Philadelphia has been profound, which in turn has not only had a lot to do with the renaissance of poetry here, but even, I daresay, the kinds of poetry being written & associated with the region.

One of the writers who clearly has learned this lesson well is Frank Sherlock, longtime host of the reading series at La Tazza, whose day job until recently had been working with a nonprofit to ensure that kids in Philadelphia schools get healthy food to eat rather than just high fructose corporate profit margins. Awhile back, Frank took some time off to go down to New Orleans, help out a little & see what’s become of the city that’s a monument to George Bush’s domestic agenda. When he got back, however, Frank fell ill. C.A. Conrad tells what happened next:

Our good friend Frank Sherlock was rushed to the hospital January 22nd with a sudden and mysterious illness which turned out to be a serious case of meningitis. He needed emergency surgery, and also suffered a heart attack and kidney failure as a result of symptoms related to the illness.

The timing could not be worse as this attack of meningitis happened during the two month window in which Frank is without health insurance.

His friends have come together to help raise money at this critical time. We are reaching out to other friends and the poetry community on Frank's behalf. Please consider sending donations for his hospital bills, physical therapy, as well as his very expensive medications and other needs.

Thanks to the generosity of Juliana Spahr you can now send checks for the Frank Sherlock EMERGENCY FUND which will be tax deductible!

'A 'A ARTS
c/o J. Spahr
5000 MacArthur Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94613

CHECKS SHOULD BE MADE OUT TO "'A 'A ARTS"
and these checks will be tax deductible.
PLEASE MAKE A NOTE THAT YOUR CHECK IS FOR FRANK SHERLOCK.
Thanks so much! Your donations are very much appreciated!

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