Saturday, June 02, 2007
photo © 2006 by Gordon Ball (Courtesy of Jacket)
on Allen Ginsberg & Co.
by Gordon Ball
50 years ago this week,
A history & exhibition
The dog & pony show
What’s your font?
The number of titles
published each year
Gabriel García Márquez
as the founding father
if they’d read any
good books lately,
lists C.D. Wright
lists Nikki Giovanni
Geoffrey G. O’Brien
John Ashbery’s “Clepsydra”
of destroying a language
On the Road
on the end
drops its critics
its arts coverage
while it’s laid-off
gets a job
the future (if any)
of book reviews
The close connection
business & poetry
in the New Gutter
Dialog as critique:
makes it to
the leader’s quadrant
Dada, Gary Snyder
& environmental action
A profile of
on the website of Poetry:
Getting wild & crazy
Giving up poetry
A profile of
Where are the children’s books
denouncing gay rights,
& promoting gun ownership?
Why Hal Meyerson
is the best
but not representative
& a profile
of the retrospective
eats a corgi
Friday, June 01, 2007
Sunday, June 3,
Rained out by the Nor’easter on Tax Day, we’re gonna try this again because it’s worth doing right. Ken Rumble (
So let me reiterate: more than any other individual, Gil Ott is the person responsible for the strength of the poetry community in
One way to carry on Gil’s work and his name is to publish a work each year that demonstrates the same principles Gil worked so tirelessly for in life. Tim Peterson is the recipient of the First Annual Gil Ott Book Award for his book Since I Moved In (Chax Press, 2007), selected by series editors Charles Alexander, Eli Goldblatt, Myung Mi Kim and Nathaniel Mackey. It is, as I noted here, a great selection.
We will also be celebrating Gil Ott's work and life directly. Those participating include:
Click HERE for Traffic.
Click HERE for The Form of Our Uncertainty, a festschrift for Gil.
Click HERE for 2 audio clips from Frequency, including “The Moon Does Not Run on Gasoline”
Click HERE for audio from a tribute to Gil at Writers House.
Click HERE for a video of Gil.
Click HERE for Gil's last interview.
Click HERE at WIKIPEDIA, they're looking for help creating Gil's page.
This blog note lovingly plagiarized from CAConrad’s Upcoming Events.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
To the Cognescenti is Tom Mandel’s twelfth book¹ in just under 30 years. But it’s also his first in ten, eleven if you disallow his collaboration with the late Dan Davidson, Absence Sensorium, as a special project. Another way of saying this would be that Tom Mandel published ten books from the ages of 36 through the age of 54, and one solo edition since. That’s not an unusual pattern for a mature poet – Mandel hasn’t resorted to the Quietist dodge of tacking a half dozen pieces to an evolving “New & Selected” that gets reissued under different titles every few years. As I once heard Anselm Hollo express this same progression, the older you get the more reasons you can think of not to put some certain set of words down on paper, especially if you feel you’ve written that before. From the outside, this might look like increasing caution setting in with one’s second half century. My own sense is that it’s really more a phenomenon of sharpening one’s focus.
Focus is the story of the poet Tom Mandel. As peripatetic as his vocational career has proven – he’s worked everywhere including the California Arts Council, Macmillan Books (where he worked on the novels of Harry Matthews but also published Jonathan Livingston Seagull), SuperCuts (where he was in charge of marketing), ComputerLand back when it was the largest single employer of poets in the 1980s, some venture involving golf shoes from Pakistan, directing the Poetry Center at San Francisco State, plus positions with a half dozen or more software startup firms – Mandel tuned in fairly early on to the fact that he was, or was going to be, a fundamentally spiritual poet. I first noticed this in Realism, published by Burning Deck in 1991, but reading through his books in reverse order now, I think it really starts to become obvious much earlier, no later than his fourth volume,
This may seem surprising, given that Mandel is perhaps the most cosmopolitan of the language poets, a product (like David Melnick) of a Straussian education at the University of Chicago, a one-time student of Hannah Arendt’s & protégé of sorts of Saul Bellow (which led to the job at Macmillan & certainly didn’t hurt getting the position with the Poetry Center), a serious reader of philosophy & theory (not just the usual suspects, either), a one-time member of the famed (and self-named) “Jew Group” of San Francisco alongside the likes of Melnick & Ben Friedlander who brought their critical and close reading skills to the Old Testament², and nowadays a familiar site at any number of social technology conferences³ (indeed, the photo of Tom I posted for our reading in Baltimore was taken by digerati maven Esther Dyson).
This I think Tom would tell me is a both/and rather than an either/or situation. Not dissimilarly, one notices similarities & affinities in his poetry that are themselves unique among the langpos – the impact of Edmond Jabès, for one, and of Harry Matthews’, the lone individual to hold membership both in the NY School & Oulipo. Mandel’s stanzas have an elegance & efficiency – qualities that don’t always go together – that reminds me at times of Michael Gottlieb or John Yau or maybe what the gorgeous vehicles Michael Palmer constructs might look like if they were given eight- or twelve-cylinder engines. The result is that the poems of Tom Mandel’s are at once quite familiar & yet unlike those of any other writer in my generation. Viz the tenth section of his Cognescenti’s title poem (one of two long works that bracket a suite of recent short pieces entitled “First Poems”), which has itself something akin to a section title, in italics, “later the narrator finds himself where…”
The sun rises even when there is
little to say, and goes down
behind it in darkness.
Winds come full tilt over the crest
of a hill bathing the house.
Smoke rising in a profound
column of nightfulness; wind
drinks inside the cloud.
The moon rises next.
Now comes Porky Pig in her
professorial gown sounding
like Donald Duck and ready to consent
or consume whatever avidity draws.
”There are no shells in your shotgun,”
she spits. “Just stick a finger
in your mouth as if to vomit
down the barrel.” I’ve found
one like her in every such place.
Perhaps she was driven from
to rule the world, or from
she is in my path. “You who hold
these words in your hand, be sure
to read them in their state of production.
One enough, alone enough
at home enough we are together
you and I when I write them.”
I suspect that the cartoon allusions will call to mind the likes of John Ashbery & Kenneth Koch, but there is a sharpness to Mandel’s tone you won’t find in either. There is more Thomas Nast than Looney Tunes in that portrayal. Similarly, it’s interesting – and ultimately undecidable, I think – to try to figure out just whose words those are captured by the section’s final quotes. If they belong to Professor Pig, then here is an instant of true reconciliation. But if to the author, then a wave of regret floods the language (and the reader). Which is it? And how best parse that sequence: One, alone, at home, we are together? The asymmetry of the relationship wobbles dramatically. Yet the poem functions precisely by maintaining its balance.
Mandel is at his strongest in these longer forms. My own version of his selected poems would be nothing but. They deepen as they build, yet Mandel seems adamant in his refusal to provide any sort of (easy) closure. Mandel concludes one section of “Cheshbon ha-nefesh,” the book’s other long sequence, named for the process of personal accounting – literally taking inventory of the soul – first articulated by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin in 1812, with the question “where shall I look for an answer?” This to a question asked, not for the first time, two sections later, again with its final words: “What makes me happy?”
That is the kind of question that will drive a restless imagination, and Mandel’s clearly driven to pursue this vertical quest – vertigo is not an atypical response at different moments along the way – across the horizontal dimensions of the real. I feel fortunate to have been able to accompany Tom through his books on this journey for three decades now. I’d love to feel that we have another three yet to travel.
¹ They’re listed, albeit not exactly in chronological order, on the rear cover of Cognescenti and with Mandel’s Gaz Press production, Four Strange Books, rendered stranger still by a new title: Three Strange Books.
² This was, as I understand it, a follow-on to Robert Duncan’s “Homer Club” that read the Greek author in his native tongue.
³ Not, however, to be confused with professional futurist Thomas F. Mandel who died in 1995.
Labels: Tom Mandel
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
The writing of
Maxine Hong Kingston
The Inky reviews
volume of verse
& an interview
with Natasha Trethewey
of Erica Funkhouser
without a permit
Time to define
How I spent the war
Do databases have a sense of humor?
that if you buy
Way More West
you should also buy
The Age of Huts (compleat)
Trying to document
the growth of
Yet another article
of indie imprints
Was C. Day-Lewis
Wondering just how quiet
Quietude should be
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
I generally despise I-95 & there’s nothing about the Memorial Day Weekend that is apt to make me love it any more deeply. As it happened, I had to view the aftermath of what appeared to be a fatal accident near
As an audio-book, Doctor Sax is a hoot & a half, as a number of readers work their through a screenplay Kerouac wrote based on his novel, accompanied by an occasional sound-effect (balls scattering on a pool table, etc.) and a reasonably decent score by John Medeski. Of the 14 voices heard on this 2-CD affair, two have considerably more than half of all the air time – the narrator, spoken by the late Robert Creeley, the one role in this project that demands (and gets) a fair amount of quiet subtlety, & a variety of characters all given voice by poet-rock star Jim Carroll, who generally does a good job distinguishing between his roles & pulls off an utterly spooky Peter Lorre imitation in the process. Doctor Sax is spoken by Grateful Dead lyricist & poet Robert Hunter, who frankly sounds too healthy for a character that seems to have been based in part on Kerouac’s roommate during the penning of Sax, William S. Burroughs. The wizard Faustus is portrayed by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who plays the role as tho he were the old character actor Gabby Hayes. All the players appear to be having a blast & the pleasure is contagious. I was able to listen to the entire project straight through twice with only one day between sessions & never once suffered a moment’s boredom.
Sax is a novel that was published, like so much of Kerouac’s writing, to mixed reviews. This is especially true for those books that focus not on Kerouac’s life as an wandering anti-authoritarian minstrel & wastrel but his childhood. But in some sense, Sax is to Kerouac’s understanding of himself what The Prelude was to Wordsworth. This is really the tale of the growth of a poet’s mind, but as a troubled kid (and one who doesn’t get it that he’s troubled). Functionally, the story operates as a series of concentric tales, each more extreme (and disturbed) than the one before. In the first, Jacky Duluoz is a kid who plays hooky in order to stay home and play fantasy games of horse racing using marbles & ball-bearings. In the second, Jacky is both detective & miscreant in a mystery to catch The Black Thief,. a neighborhood criminal who specializes in stealing the toys of Duluoz’ friends. The Black Thief’s undoing comes as a result of leaving his taunting notes behind on the same orange paper that young Duluoz uses to practice his writing skills, literally trying to verbally sketch out commonplace physical elements of the neighborhood (50-plus years later, this is recognizable as a classic writing exercise, but it’s fascinating to see Kerouac suggest that he was compulsively working at his skills at depiction at what must have been no more than the age of ten). The third tale is Duluoz’ interactions with the realms of the unknown, represented by Faustus, Count Condu, Doctor Sax, various vamps & wizard wives, and of course the Great World Snake that comes to threaten the world until it is carried off by a giant bird
SURROUNDED BY MY DOVES! MY DOVES, MY YOUNG AND SILLY DOVES!...... BIRDS OF PARADISE COMING TO SAVE MANKIND!
As Sax puts it. Kerouac’s mythology here is a mashup avant le lettre of Catholicism, Central European ghost stories & some over-the-top Freudian remnants that work precisely because they are such a motley combination. This is intermingled with some extraordinary instances of description, most of which comes through Creeley’s role, and a great ear for dialog. For example, what makes the above passage work is precisely the word “silly” in a context that seems so very jarring.
The production and direction of the entire project at the hands of Kerouac’s nephew Jim Sampas is rough, but serviceable. When Sampas first started taking active control of Kerouac’s archive I recall worrying that Sampas wasn’t going to get it and that he would want simply beatify his uncle whose very flaws – such as the deeply creepy sentimentalism toward Kerouac’s mother – really prove to be driving forces for Kerouac, even if what they drove him to was his much too young death from alcoholism. But in fact Sampas seems to be in touch with both the Kerouac who is appallingly crude & the one who is, for better or worse, the Jimi Hendrix of fictional prose. Under Sampas' direction, you can hear this troupe of friends making it up as they go along. In this early stages, for example, different characters pronounce Duluoz quite differently. For Creeley it is Də-looz, for Carrol it is Do-loo-ǎz, with the short a pronounced as in cats. But over the course of the recording most everyone comes to settle on Də-loo-ahz with the stress on the second syllable. This is the sort of detail that a professional would have gotten down before committing a moment to tape, but professionalism was not Kerouac’s claim to writing – quite the opposite – and its absence here makes for texture, not problems.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Lynn Behrendt, 8 Poems from
Joel Bettridge, That Abrupt Here, The Cultural Society,
Matthew Cooperman, Still: (to be) Perpetual, dove | tail,
Jack Crimmins, Kit Fox Blues, introduction by Diane di Prima, Eidolon Editions,
Clark Coolidge, Counting on Planet Zero, Fewer & Further Press,
Bill Deemer, A Few for Lew, Coyote Books,
Tinker Greene, Solid Smoke, Śravana Chapbook,
Christine Hamm, Children Having Trouble with Meat, MiPoesias Print Editions, Lulu.com, 2007
Carla Harryman, Open Box (Improvisations), Belladonna Books,
José Kozer, Stet, Junction Press,
Laura Moriarty, An Air Force, Hooke Press,
Kaya Oakes, Telegraph, Pavement Saw Press,
Rochelle Owens, Luca: Discourse on Life and Death, Junction Press,
Rochelle Owens, New and Selected Poems 1961-1996, Junction Press,
Elizabeth Redding, The Hot Garment of Love is Insecure, Ugly Duckling Presse,
Michael Scharf, For Kid Rock – Total Freedom, Spectacular Books, no location listed, 2007
Armand Schwerner, Selected Shorter Poems, Junction Press,
Victor Segalen, Stèles, translated by Timothy Billings & Christopher Bush, with a foreword by Haun Saussy, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT 2007
Sandra Simonds, The Tar Pit Diatoms, Otoliths,
Sandra Simonds, The Humble Travelogues of Mr. Ian Worthington Written from Land & Sea (or notes on the life and letters), Cy Gist Press, no location given, 2007
Larissa Szporluk, Embryos & Idiots,
Mark Weiss, Fieldnotes, Junction Press,
C. Dale Young, The Second Person,
Samuel R. Delany, About Writing: 7 Essays, 4 Letters & 5 Interviews,
Claudia Rankine & Lisa Sewell, American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics,
Frank Carter, Frank Carter Remembered, no publisher listed, no location listed, 1999.
Phil Davenport, Constellation of Luminous Details: Poems & Sound Treatments, no publisher listed,
All works received on or after
Labels: Recently Received