Saturday, June 23, 2007
Juan Ramón Jiménez:
sex with the nuns
Poetry from Guantanamo
may require subscription
to the Wall Street Journal)
37 years in exile,
Nazek Al Malaika
dies in Cairo
You do the math:
in John Ashbery & Lyn Hejinian
Rescuing Canadian neglectorinos
Interviewing Charles Bernstein
Why is Rushdie a knight?
Librarian fending off
the attack of
the Blog People
of the decline
in newspaper critics
According to HFN,
the Home Furnishing News
Barnes & Noble is testing
The Great British Novel:
a contradiction in terms?
(& Brad Gooch!)
Seeking the 19th century
for expats in Osaka
The real (19th century) deal
One free book
for each 11-year-old
in the country
(now about their parents…)
Aiming to spoil
Gioia at Stanford:
art before celebrity
The cult of the amateur 2.0
as an installation
in a bloodbath
wishes they weren’t
The NY Times
takes it more seriously
Form failing function
puts modernist architecture
People in glass houses
dot dot dot
The naked museum
Friday, June 22, 2007
The first time I ever read an excerpt from Ketjak publicly, at a restaurant on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue, either very late in 1974 or possibly early ’75, my co-reader was (or was to have been) Kathy Acker. I say “was to have been” since instead of showing up herself, Kathy sent three surrogates whom she had instructed to talk about what she was like as a lover. Peter Gordon, whom I believe may then have been Kathy’s husband (a distinction both seemed to take very lightly), was one speaker. Composer (and later a longtime researcher at the famed Xerox PARC think tank in Palo Alto, a job he segued into having been a successful programmer of music for early generation video games) Rich Gold was the second. I forget just who the third was, tho it may have been either Clay Fear (pianist Christopher Berg) or possibly Phil Harmonic or even Blue Gene Tyranny, other composers from the electronic music scene around Mills College. In fact, they never discussed what Acker was like as a lover, certainly not in the usual sense of depicting her as a sexual partner. Rather, the trio talked instead about what it might be that would have caused Acker to think (a) to do this, what the role of gossip or possibly gossip plus sex might be in the art scene, and (b) why she would think that her lovers in particular could sit down side by side & have a reasonable conversation on this topic in public. It was a utopian moment, albeit one delivered with some puzzlement & bemusement. It was apparent that all three cared about Kathy much more deeply than I think she ever would have acknowledged.
I had thought that my new poem – I was reading Ketjak out of the green notebook in which the early portion of the text was composed – was going to sound quite revolutionary, all this reiteration & weaving together of different themes. But in fact I’d been trumped by Kathy’s marvelous sense of self-mythologization & theater. Years later, I once heard a poet who’d been there recount almost verbatim the discussion between the three panelists. Who else had been on that bill, I asked. He couldn’t remember.
Last Sunday, I found myself in a not completely dissimilar situation at the Zinc Bar in
Smith began her reading by distributing a dozen or so copies of OFC to the audience, roughly one for every three people there. She then announced that she was going to read the text on page 43, and proceeded to read it. Silently.
This is, I think, an impulse every writer who has ever given a reading must have felt somewhere along the line. But never before have I actually seen someone act upon that impulse. As a move in a reading, it’s brash, “right,” obvious & “juvenile” all at once. It’s the complexity of all those different aspects working in unison (or at cross purposes) that probably stops each of us from proceeding to act on this impulse. Smith’s gift is that she acts where others demure.
Smith followed this by reading, really reading aloud, most tho not all of Exile, the first of three works that make up the Topology half of Organic Furniture Cellar. In some fashion not entirely evident to me, Exile is a read-through of James Joyce’s Ulysses (this reading occurring on the day after Bloomsday). Hearing her proceed through these poems made me conscious of the degree of organization in OFC: one half, or movement, dedicated to time, Chronology, the other to space, Topology, each composed of three suites, at least one of which perceptibly deals with the dimension of the other half of the book.
Smith is, I’ve decided, a formalist who thinks deeply about large structures. In this sense, her work does resemble the writing of Steve McCaffery (whom she acknowledges in the surprisingly straightforward ten-page introduction to OFC, a manifesto calling for a “plastic” poetics) as well as certain works by such dissimilar writers as Barrett Watten & Jack Spicer. OFC is a closed poem in rather the same way that a sestina is closed, or perhaps a better analogy might be The Odyssey. Even as each page looks like a testament to the ludic, its very existence depends upon the whole.
In her critical writing – Smith’s acknowledgement’s page is every bit as detailed & serious as the book’s introduction – she is very clear that these “works on paper” (OFC’s actual subtitle) are not to be thought of as spoken & that she wants to challenge the lazier habits of reading as well:
With plastic poetry, I want to change the reading space in such a way that the one who reads is forced to make amends for new structures in his or her virtual path. The words on a page must be plastic in virtual space as architecture and sculpture are plastic in real space.
One way to mark this in a reading obviously is to disrupt the readerliness of the event over & over, by reading a text silently or by saying, as Smith did of The Wandering Rocks section of Exile,
I really like this poem. I read it all the time in my head, but I’m not going to read it right now.
Having read the opening suite of Topology – Smith’s source of Ulysses being something of an icon of the geographically centered text¹ – she turned to Canal Series, the first suite of Chronography, OFC’s opening section, which might be said to document Smith’s move – more than just physical – from her home state of Alabama to Buffalo, New York. She described the suite as her “cultural shock” poetry.
The only passage of Smith’s reading that did not come from the opening suites of OFC’s two sections proved to be the one she read silently, the “Nightwalks” poem of Shifting Landscapes (the third of Chronography’s suites). It’s a poem that in part articulates the experience of driving as well as a need to demarcate the distinction between “inside the circle” & “outside the circle.” Given that Smith had just driven for eight hours from Richmond, Virginia, for this reading – the drive should have taken six, but the usual Sunday I-95 coagulation was made that much worse by Father’s Day traffic heading home -- and that Smith arrived with something like ten minutes to spare before she went on, the interregnum created by the silent reading proved not unlike a moment’s meditation, creating the spacing in which a reading could proceed. Not that Smith doesn’t have, as she has announced both on her blog & at the Zinc Bar, “problems with reading.”
I gave my reading, pleased to see all the folks in the audience, to see among them Kit Robinson (in town for a family event), Ted Greenwald & Charles Bernstein, as well as younger poets such as Brenda Iijima & Douglas Rothschild, & younger poets still, such as Adam Golaski & Eric Gelsinger (neither of whom I’d met before). I reminded myself that Smith is really part of this last cohort, and that in fact I wrote Ketjak five years before she was born. That is a humbling situation.
The instant I was done, Smith hopped back up, announcing that “I want to read some more,” in response to what I’d just read. She then proceeded to read The Sirens section of Exile, which does indeed echo the self-same chapter of Ulysses, bronze by gold, albeit in Smith’s version the capital letter isn’t the b as it is for Joyce, but rather the n since its spelling out a mid-word acrostic that reads vertically NEON LIT CHURCHES. Keeping her reading persona intact, one part Kathy Acker, one part Scarlett O’Hara, as well as her poetics (upper limit Cage, lower limit the performance-centered wit of a Steve McCaffery), Smith commented “I like poetry as litigation.” Indeed.
¹ All those Dublin tourists following their maps of Ulysses from station to station.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Kostas Anagnopoulos, Irritant, Ugly Duckling Presse,
Stan Apps, Info Ration, Make Now Press,
John Ashbery, A Worldly Country,
Ed Barrett, Kevin White, Pressed Wafer,
Ellen Baxt, Analfabeto / An Alphabet, Shearsman,
Marvin Bell, Mars Being Red, Copper Canyon Press, Port
Erin Elizabeth Burke, Run Down the Emphasis, Kitchen Press,
Clint Burnham, Rental Van, Anvil Press,
Inger Christensen, It, translated by Susanna Nied, New Directions,
Norman Finkelstein, Passing Over, Marsh Hawk Press, East Rockaway, NY, 2007
Elisa Gabbert, Thanks for Sending the Engine, Kitchen Press,
Kenneth Goldsmith, Traffic, Make Now Press,
Kate Greenstreet, Rushes, Above/Ground Press,
Cathy Park Hong, Dance Dance Revolution, W.W.
Justin Marks, You Being You By Proxy, Kitchen Press,
Jennifer Moxley, The L:ine, Post-Apollo Press,
Frank Parker, Heart Shaped Blossoms, self-published,
Matt Rasmussen, Fingergun, Kitchen Press,
Stuart Ross, I Cut My Finger, Anvil Press,
Emma Rossi, Becoming, Green Zone,
Ara Shirinyan, Syria Is In The World, Palm Press,
Chris Tonelli, (Wide Tree), Kitchen Press,
Amish Trivedi, The Naked Rain, no publisher listed,
Jay Wright, Music’s Mask and Measure, Flood Editions, Chicago, 2007
Gordon Ball, Dark Music, Cityful Press, Longmont, CO, 2006
Morton Hurley (editor), The Anthology of Spam Poetry: The First Hour, Vértice 1925,
David Markson, The Last Novel, Shoemaker Hoard,
Cormac McCarthy, The Road, Vintage Books,
Freckerick Smock, Pax Intrantibus: A Meditation on the Poetry of Thomas Merton, Broadstone Books,
Christa Wolf, One Day A Year: 1960-2000, translated by Lowell Bangerter, Europa Editions,
Oh One Arrow, flim forum press.
Open Letter, Thirteenth Series, Number 2, Spring 2007, Into the Looking-Glass Labyrinth: Myths & Mystery in Canadian Literature,
Works all received after June 12th
Labels: Recently Received
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
I heard them jamming on Monday
with members of
the Sun Ra Arkestra,
& it was,
§Read more »
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
The most exciting and satisfying anthology I’ve acquired in the past month is The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century, edited by William Allegrezza & Raymond Bianchi and published by their own Cracked Slab Books. It’s by no means a perfect anthology – indeed, it makes some of the same basic mistakes that I excoriated the editors of Saints of Hysteria over – no index of contributors (which, frankly, even an acknowledgements page or bionotes section can accomplish), no visible theory of organization, some questionable calls concerning the book’s scope, even mixing in poetic statements with the poetry. Yet whereas Saints very quickly collapses under the aggregate weight of bad decisions, City Visible just sails on through. It not only is easily the best anthology I’ve ever seen that tried to capture the lively scene of the Second City, but it’s a worthy companion to Stephanie Young’s Bay Poetics, which for my money is the gold standard in contemporary poetry anthologies, especially ones that offer a regional focus.¹ Why does City Visible succeed where Hysteria simply proves to be too-well named?
The answer is generosity. Where one is painfully aware that the editors of Hysteria are constantly shuffling the deck in order to keep the reader from figuring out just how few cards they’re playing with, City Visible, which – for its project – is positively anorectic at 250 pages (half the size of Bay Poetics), repeatedly errs on the side of inclusion. Its 52 poets offer a very broad definition of what is
At just under five pages per poet, it turns out to be a better presentation overall than the 30 pages accorded each of 13 participants in the Rankine & Sewell volume with its far broader scope precisely because City Visible offers so much more context. What jumps immediately at me is how very important the line is for so many of these poets, whether it’s the very long line of Jennifer Scappetone, the lush rhetorical line of Peter O’Leary, the variable stanzas & gaps in lines of Ed Roberson, Szymaszek’s sense of the Olsonian, even William Fuller’s hyper-precise prose poems, or, to pick a very different example, this:
I will fuck you up.
Come back here motherfucker.
You ‘bout to get served.
This poem by Luis Urrea is, among its other virtues, a perfect haiku. Urrea’s fabulous ear for the vernacular is almost enough to make me love this form for the first time in decades.
What’s interesting about this, for me at least, is that the great knock against
The City Visible does one thing that I generally don’t care for in anthologies, but which works here to give this book far more of a sense of order than, say, Hysteria: it uses photographs of the poets at the beginning of each selection. It’s not so much the quality of the photo – some, like Juliana Spahr’s snapshot of Jennifer Scappettone, don’t reproduce well at all in a thumbnail size on the matte finish of your standard trade book paper – as it is the instant visual separation of one poet from the next. In a way, these miniature photos accomplish much of what a gray page separating out each contributor would have done, but without adding 50-plus pages to the project. This is especially important since Allegrezza & Bianchi seem determined to make use of almost every inch of white space imaginable. When a contributor doesn’t use the three-quarters of a page given over to poetic statements – Michael O’Leary’s piece is one sentence long – the glare of unused paper is startling.
There are a lot of poets here who are reasonably well known far beyond the West Coast of Lake Michigan – Eric Elshtain, Peter & Michael O’Leary, William Fuller, Ed Roberson, Arielle Greenberg, Shin Yu Pai, Dan Beachy-Quick, Maxine Chernoff, Paul Hoover, Tim Yu, Laura Sims, Roberto Harrison, Stacy Szymaszek – as well as poets who were completely new to me, including Srikanth Reddy, Suzanne Buffam, Erica Berheim, Garin Cychol, Kristy Odelius, Simone Muench, Lea Graham, Michelle Taransky, Cecilia Pinto, Johanny Paz, Ela Kotowska, Jennifer Karmin. And a bunch in between, such as John Tipton or Mark Tardi, whose poetry is some of my favorite in this volume. Tipton & Tardi are two poets I’ve been following for some time now, but it’s not clear to me that they’re nearly as widely known as they’re going to be in, say, another five years. This book should actually help in that process.
What I wasn’t able to figure out, tho, is why this order of poets and not some other. It’s not alphabetical, nor by date of birth, two fairly traditional strategies for organizing collections like this. It doesn’t start off with Paul Hoover & Maxine Chernoff, tho it is very clear that if this scene has parental figures in the way Olson functioned as one for
What I wish, in a way, is that Bianchi & Allegrezza had done for City Visible – beyond, say, just having more pages to work with, or a title that was more accurate, such as From Chicago Out (which would capture the role the city really has in this volume) – is to organize the contents more akin to the way Don Allen gathered his 44 poets in 1960 into five suites. Even if they had, say, gathered the departed into one group, perhaps Wisconsin poets into a second, Iowa into a third, and then divided the true current Chicagoans into one set of poets more aligned with formal poetry institutions, and a second grouping of those whose day jobs are not thus institutionalized around writing, it would have made for a more powerful reading. That’s an opportunity that Stephanie Young missed as well in Bay Poetics but I think I would argue that that minute you go beyond some minimum number of contributors – say thirty – some kind of ordering device or strategy is utterly necessary. The order here is not only NOT better than alphabetical, it’s not as effective as an alphabetical because there’s no perceptible rationale.
Similarly, I wish the editors had taken maybe ten more pages to discuss their process, their inclusions & exclusions, their theory of the order and anything which might be useful to contextualize the project further. (Did any poets refuse to participate, for example, the way
In all, this is an exciting, eye opening & absolutely useful volume. Its faults, like those of the Allen anthology, have more to do with the limits of human beings and economics & how this book got here in this form than they do with anything that might be “wrong” with the result. One question I would be fascinated to have answered, for example, is whether the editors approached any larger press – the
¹ In addition to Bay Poetics and the numerous anthologies of the
² The risk in this approach, it seems to me, is that it so broadens your possible roster of contributors that it quickly becomes almost meaningless. For example, David Melnick & Tom Mandel both attended the University of Chicago, Andrew Levy taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology for years, Tina Darragh & P. Inman went to library school in Illinois, Jim Liddy’s been practicing a poetics that is one part Jack Spicer, one part Paddy Kavanagh in Milwaukee for decades, Morgan Gibson was once the archetypal Milwaukee poet. Indiana (Eshleman, Hirschman, Fredman) & Michigan (Eshleman again, Wakoski, Watten, Harryman, George & Chris Tysh, Notambu, Pearson when he was there, even John Latta in Ann Arbor) all get left out of this mental map. I’m not suggesting, actually, that any of these poets need to be here – certainly not the way I would argue for Deanovich, Gartung or Sloan – but that the book’s methodology opens the door to such questions.
³ And just as invariably not mentioning Gwendolyn Brooks or, to employ this expanded geographic model, Lorine Niedecker.