Friday, August 15, 2008

 

Listen to The Jane Crown Show on internet talk radio

Saturday, August 16

5:00 PM Eastern

Joe Milford Hosts Ron Silliman
on the Jane Crown Show

Call-in Number (646) 200-0176

 


Photo © Star Black 2008

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

 

Tens of thousands mourn Darwish

The laureate of all Arabs

Poet and Icon

Palestinians turn out for Darwish

Official ceremony

I begged him not to go

BBC

Agence France Press obit for
Mahmoud Darwish

A salute to Darwish
in Dar Al-Hayat

Al Jazeerah
(video)

Jidariyya

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Laura Carter reads Rae Armantrout

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Charles Olson:
Language as Physical Fact

(a conference in
Tucson)

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Khlebnikov Carnival

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Tonight in Philly --
Mina Loy celebration

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SlamCharlotte
repeats as National Slam Champion

A detailed account
of the final night

The week in review

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The day Robert Creeley met Franz Kline

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Close reading John Ashbery

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Remembering (reconjuring?)
Steve Abbbott

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Best summer reading list, 2008

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Stan Apps on how flarf differs
from previous avant tendencies

Kasey Mohammad on the value
of critical distance

Zizek / flarf  / Gurlesque

Dark Fantom’s
Breaking News

How to avoid fleeting poetry trends

§

Mayakovsky’s Night Wraps the Sky

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Russians reverse themselves
on the censoring of
Sofi Oksanen

§

The accidental Keats

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Six classic wordle poets

§

Terry Teachout’s
unfortunate omissions

§

Lisa Russ Spaar’s
Satin Cash

§

Talking with Elizabeth Trew

§

Crossing TV’s alps
with Charles Van Doren

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Kindle hype boosts Amazon stock

Can Kindle break the e-book curse?

§

6 months of short reviews
from the librarians at
the University of Arizona
Poetry Center

§

Lorna Page
takes care of her posse

§

April Ossman’s
Anxious Music

§

Odd’s odd

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Why yuck?

§

Top 10 Literary Virgins

§

Nate Pritts
Sensational Spectacular

§

“The Englishness of English Poetry
(part 1) (part 2)

§

Fady Joudah’s
The Earth in the Attic

§

The short story wars
in
Canada

§

This year’s Hugo Awards

§

Susan Hutton’s
On the Vanishing of Large Creatures

§

the finest of modernist poets…”

§

Haiku’d” –
McCain & Obama ads
reduced to 17 syllabobbles

§

Paige Ackerson-Kiely’s
In No One’s Land

§

Caitlin Thomas’ diary is for sale

Her copy of Dylan Thomas’ first book
valued at £25,000

§

Ted Solotaroff has died

Richard Stern on Solotaroff,
Dariwsh & the Olympics

§

The new Photo-Eye
is devoted to the 50th anniversary
of Robert Frank’s Americans

§

Is this your art?

§

Saving Iowa City

§

Dog turd runs amok

§

John Cage
In a Landscape

§

A chord sequence you’ve never heard before

§

When tape was king –
The San Francisco Tape Music Center

§

Where size is all

§

What is the Singularity?

§

Jürgen Habermas :
Europe at an impass

§

Distinct moral systems

§

Some 80 blogs
added to the roster
this past month,
thanks to Lynn Behrendt!

§

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

 


Roger Rice, Katrina Sings the Blues

Quite some time ago – at least 14 years¹ – I was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to give a reading & my host, Hank Lazer, was rightfully escorting me to the wonders & surprises of a college town as deep in the Old South as one could get, such as a two-unit ice cream “chain” that had one shop in Tuscaloosa, but the other in Havana. At one point, on one of the town’s main commercial streets, we ducked into a store tucked among the shoe repair & hardware merchants & came upon the finest folk art gallery I had ever seen – or have ever seen since.

Robert Cargo had been a French professor at Alabama &, with his wife Helen, a lifelong collector of what we might now call outsider art. There were stacks of regional quilts not in the manner you might find in a midtown gallery on 57th Street in New York, but almost as if you had wandered into a rug shop. There were the sequined hex flags and Santeria art from Haiti. I immediately recognized some paintings by Howard Finster, the backwoods minister who became one of the first true superstars of this genre, participating in the Venice Biennale in 1984 & designing the cover for the 1985 Talking Heads album Little Creatures. There were paintings by dozens of other artists as well, most of whom were new to me. Having retired from teaching, Cargo was now able to indulge this passion full time. He took Hank & I around & gave us the cook’s tour of his collection. I was flat out blown away.

When I returned home, I raved to Krishna about how much she would have loved to have seen this gallery. Her own mother was still quilting at the time, and, when I first met her, Krishna had been the director of the arts program at Central City Hospitality House, the closest thing San Francisco has to an active folk art center. But then life got busy, as it will with kids, we settled into our digs in Chester County, PA, and our folk art interests focused on the American Visionary Art Museum on the Baltimore harbor, which I’ve written about here on two previous occasions.

Then in November 2006, the folk artist Mose Tolliver died, an artist whose work I knew & I heard a lovely remembrance of him on All Things Considered. Later that day, or maybe later that week, I went online to see if there were any images of his work on the web. Indeed there were, and the first one I clicked on took me right back to Cargo Folk Art, the fabulous little gallery in Tuscaloosa .

Only it wasn’t in Tuscaloosa any more. It was now just one mile from my house.

There is, of course, a story to that, it being that as Helen’s health had failed, Robert Cargo had to turn more of his attention to care giving, so that his daughter Caroline Cargo took over the directorship of the gallery, moving it up to her home here in Paoli. An added irony, perhaps, might be that Caroline Cargo is that most rare of beings, a citizen of Paoli who once lived, as we did, in Berkeley . Go figure. We had never met in person until last week.

So this past Wednesday, I took the afternoon off work & Krishna & I finally got to visit the Cargo Folk Art gallery together. It’s open by appointment, which has the advantage that every visit is a guided tour of one of the great folk art collections in the United States. How great? Enough to make a donation of 156 African-American quilts, including some from Gee’s Bend, to the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska. The remainder of the Cargo collection consists of over 1,500 quilts and 400 quilt tops. We didn’t even get to see one percent of that, but it took all afternoon.

And while there was a while on Wednesday when Caroline & Krishna were unfolding quilt after quilt on the living room floor, most of what we saw that afternoon were paintings & sculpture. The first artist we focused on – my old prison movement background coming to the fore – were the paintings and drawings of Roger Rice, who did the watercolor at the top of this note. Rice is serving a life sentence in Mississippi and has, at best, sporadic access to art supplies. His work ranges between prison scenes & visionary portraits that reflect his background as an ordained fundamentalist preacher. One of the few artists in the collection with any sort of formal art training – some high school classes – Rice was already showing and selling his work when he was arrested.

Access to materials was not the issue with artists like Jimmy Lee Sudduth, a painter whose works were often done on boards, which might be gouged or burned for an effect, and who combined common house paints with mud (“earth pigments,” the gallery website calls this). Sudduth, like Tolliver and several of the other artists in the collection, has passed away now. One of those was Joseph Hardin, a man so crippled by arthritis that he was barely able to move – an artist Cargo knew was delivering food to Hardin in the Meals on Wheels program & recognized the quality of the work, putting Cargo in touch with artist.

I recommend exploring the gallery web site to get some sense of this great place. And, if you have any serious interest in folk art or in collecting, I really recommend calling and setting up an appointment to see it all firsthand. It’s one of the treasures not just of Chester County, but of the entire Philadelphia region.

My own interest in folk art is that the work of untrained artists often strike me as being much closer to what I’m doing in my poetry than the excessively processed works of the MFA mills. The perpetual construction that was Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, for example, is exactly what I think I’m doing with my own life poem that keeps on adding sections in all directions. The use of found materials, whether the bottle caps embedded in the Towers or the use of mud or the decision to work on board or, in one case, paper bags treated as canvases – not unlike the way the Gee’s Bend quilters recycle old blue jeans into their quilts – makes perfect intuitive sense to me. Of course one’s art should be continuous with life as we find it. And when it works, as with a painting done on an old tree truck, there’s a magic I can’t quite articulate. So I have to just sit down & look & be dazzled & amazed.

 

¹ My version of carbon dating: as we crossed the University of Alabama campus, we encountered George Starbuck, whom I’d met briefly at San Francisco State in the 1960s & for whose work I’ve always had a distinct fondness. Hank mentioned my reading, which I believe was the following night, and George apologized, saying that, at his age, he didn’t get out to readings much any more. My memory is that this occurred maybe two years before Starbuck passed away in 1996 at the age of 65, meaning that he would have been one year older than I am now.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

 


Benjamin’s grave, Portbou, Spain

So what role might theory play today, both for poetry and in the broader world?

There is no such thing as a poem without a theory. Or one might reverse that and say that all poetry embodies theory, but not in the manner of a proof. Rather, theory is – when it is done intelligently – a statement of the assumptions that are being made, the underlying forces that are at play, the interplay between the potential of a poem & its actual existence in the world. When a writer says that he or she “has no” theory or just simply writes whatever they may be “given” to write, it does not mean that there is no theory, but rather that they refuse to look at these things, and that that is a critical, indeed foundational, part of their own theory, i.e. their own practice as poets.

I’m of course interested in that writing that explores the potential of these dynamics to an intense degree, which puts me somewhat on the other end of the spectrum, although I also will invariably write “what I am given” & worry about its implications later. But I try to be awake to these things, both in the moment of writing & later.

Right now it feels to me that poetry is in a particularly interesting – if precarious – position in that the relationships between writer & reader are changing simply because of external (or, if you will, social) forces. A nation of 10,000 poets is very different from one of 500, particularly if the overall population of the former is just double that of the latter. And soon enough we will be able to look back and say how a nation of 10,000 poets were the “good old days,” when there weren’t so many poets about. So those changes are setting a whole series of dynamics into play and I don’t think anybody – surely not me – can tell yet quite what that all means.

But some people seem to me to working very hard diving into the question, whether or not they even think that’s the question they’re addressing, and I have enormous admiration for them. This seems to me the essence of flarf, frankly, the whole idea of asking what is “appropriate” is to suggest that the definitions thereof might be in flux. Do I think they have the answers? Not yet, I don’t. But I don’t see anybody else asking the most important questions any more sharply than this. And so I think it’s something we would all do well to heed.

There are hundreds of poets, indeed hundreds of types of poetry that proceed along as though nothing has changed, is changing, will change. And yet it has, it is doing so, and will even more tomorrow. Some of this work is terrific, but it now enters into a different world, perhaps even than the one the poet had suspected. It’s interesting to watch where and how it goes. But I worry that these poets leave themselves open – perhaps too open – to being buffeted by the winds of history without thinking through the risks and implications. I sometimes worry that this is where I’d put my own poetry today if I really thought about it hard.

In the larger world than just poetry, it seems to me that theory without a social movement is severely reduced in what it can do. The theoretical orientation of western Marxism seems to me never to have been surpassed – capital continues to be the most powerful social force in human history – even as the practical utility of Marxism has shown its limitations. Marx himself was able to see quite perceptibly into the future up to, say, the age of automated manufacturing, but once capital ceased to be based on manufacturing as a primary engine of wealth creation, it was able to move well beyond the reach of unionized labor. It bothers me no end to realize that Marx, who was the first true advocate of globalization, would cringe to see the various forms of protectionist thinking that are taking place today without regard of political orientation. The fight to keep jobs in the U.S. is not wrong, as such, but it is no different than the desire to build a wall to protect us from Mexico, that instance of profound xenophobia.

But what do I mean by globalization in that last paragraph? Simply the evolution of a single world market, both for goods & services, raw materials & finished products, such that company X in nation A cannot flee to nation B the minute the workers get uppity. We are still far from that day in a world in which the majority of the world’s citizens have never heard a dial tone. But we are moving in that direction quite rapidly.

Marx himself appears to have imagined globalization as being immanent in the late 19th century. We know this from the fact that he saw it as a necessary precondition for working to create real change. Stalin’s “socialism in one country” was the next century’s attempt to get around that fundamental principle, and the result was mass starvation. North Korea has replicated that experiment, and that result. To call what became of those nations socialism is to make a mockery of that word. But the deeper question isn’t semantic. It’s the age old What is to be done?

I don’t see anything approaching a movement that could provide the sustaining force to a new generation of theory approximating anything even remotely as rich as that which rose up in Europe in the wake of the two world wars & which flourished for a time in the U.S. after 1968. The environmental movement is the only one that strikes me as even having anything even remotely approaching a global potential, but it is dispersed & fragmented & easily distracted. Tho the reality is that we will have to address the limitation of natural resources question before we have achieved globalization.

In such a time one thing theory can do – one secondary social role it has long fulfilled – is to function as a guilty conscience, a nag, a doubt. Any historic marker that what exists now is neither inevitable nor permanent, that it was different once & will be again. Whether we like those changes or not.

Two things do seem to follow from this. One is a bias on my part toward work that more closely approximates the best of Walter Benjamin. In & around the work of art, I am tempted to call this a sociology of form. Those are two terms that sit very uneasily near one another, and that discomfort is I think a primary dynamic. A lot of what I try to accomplish on this blog amounts to poking one or the other of these terms, trying to push each into some interaction with the other, to see what turns up.

The second is a commitment of theory toward use. What I mean by that is that one has to ask, repeatedly, how does this connect to practice? Both to those social formations who are struggling today for peace, justice, change, the reclamation of the planet itself, and with regards to art to the actual creation of new works. Theory that is content to fixate on the 19th century novel is, by definition, useless. We’re just not there anymore. And haven’t been, by my watch, for over 108 years. Unless it can explain, or deepen our understanding, as to what befell the serious novel, a genre that is all but extinct even as poetry grows & grows & grows.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

 

A “state funeral” for
Mahmoud Darwish
 in the
West Bank Tuesday

Poet of the resistance

Palestinians mourn national poet

Jerusalem Post:
Should Darwish be taught in Israeli schools?
(see the article on
Guyana below)

Darwish article in Al-Ahram Weekly

New York Times obit

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51 years after publication,
Mad Men hype provokes a run on
O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency

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Kristin Prevallet’s I, Afterlife

§

George Oppen & the value
of a well-edited Collected

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Hearing Creeley read

§

Talking with Michelle Naka Pierce

§

Stephen Burt on Juan Felipe Herrera

§

“I have seen the future…
and it is Hermitage Books

§

Remembering Al Purdy

“I remember Al Purdy

§

Gina Myers on Justin Sirois

§

Is poetry a technology?

§

Defining fine press categories

§

August 8, 1876 –
the start of the mimeo revolution

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Kindle sales reach 240,000

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Spoonbill & Sugartown

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From slams to marriage

§

Ten things to do
at the 2008 National Poetry Slam

Day one of the National Slam

The Wednesday night competition

Another perspective

The Thursday night quarter finals

Plus the Nerd Slam

§

Poetry slam in 2012 Olympics?

Slams across the border

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An actual poetry-in-the-Olympics story!

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Brent Cunningham in Publisher’s Weekly:
why small press publishing
is like baseball

§

Talking with Sun Yung Shin

§

Wordle does Hejinian

§

John Ashbery on Elizabeth Bishop (MP3)

Ashbery reading from Chinese Whispers (MP3)

§

Picking winners” & the “true avant-garde”

§

Kazem Al Saher
to perform on
Prince of Poets

§

Ten propositions on flarf

§

A survey on purchasing poetry

Geof Huth’s answers

§

A profile of Fady Joudah

§

A Kurdish bestseller
about poetry

§

Celebrating Jonathan Williams

§

Tarpaulin Sky

§

Publishing & literary culture
in the shadow of
The Birds’ Nest

§

In India,
a pol publishes a book
of poems written
on his cellphone

§

I thought language poetry was…”
(scroll down)

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When cowboys come to Prescott

Marge Tucker, cowboy poet

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Solzhenitsyn obits & articles:
The Stratfor intelligence group
Philadelphia Inquirer
Wall Street Journal
New York Times
NY Times
again
The Guardian
LA Times
Reuters
Pravda
BBC
NPR

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As entertaining as C-SPAN2 ever gets

§

Pratilipi

§

Ted Greenwald at the EPC

§

Some Iowa City press releases
never change

§

One topic on which
Reginald Shepherd & I
agree 100%

§

A year of reading alphabetically

§

Voices & Visions

§

Where to sit
when writing poetry or prose

§

A response to a reading by
Michael Cross & Rob Halpern

§

Los Angeles, Detroit &
critical regionalism
within PoMo theory

§

Ray Bradbury:
Long Beach is at war
with books

§

Dodie Bellamy’s
bedtime reading

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Doris Lessing’s parents

§

A report on the Pigeon Poetry Cup
with a great photo

§

Amazon has agreed to buy Abebooks.com

§

Talking of Dickinson & Higginson
with Brenda Wineapple

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The King’s English

§

A profile of Susanne Dubroff

§

The LA Times is backfilling
some old literary pieces online,
including this assessment of Charles Bukowski
by Aram Saroyan

§

Ron Slate on Warren Woessner

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Heidi Williamson,
poet-in-residence
at the
London Science Museum

§

Stanley Plumly’s Posthumous Keats

First Chapter

§

Reading Philip Larkin in Pakistan

§

Mick Imlah, master of verse

§

The “real” tree

§

The future of Hebrew

§

Zilka Joseph between two worlds

§

Tagore in the rain

§

On the Road – a radio tribute
(available until 8/15)

§

Getting Guyana’s national poet
into the schools

§

Pentti Saarikoski’s The Edge of Europe

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The francophone poetry
of the
Indian Ocean

§

New writing in South Africa

§

A novel too dangerous to publish?

Random House thinks so

§

The impact of the market on
(mostly) School of Quietude
recording archives

§

James Tate reading (MP3)

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The art scene in Taos

§

“100 Near Perfect Books of Poetry”

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Poetry invites introspection

§

Mary Karr on Robert Hayden

§

Saving the library
in Timbuktu

§

Save our bookstore

§

A profile of the Book Barn
(one of 3 indies
still in my neck of the woods)

§

Non-virtual book buying

§

One way to boost book revenues

§

Floods in Montpelier
hit a bookstore

§

Why McNally works

§

Allegories of disablement

§

Finnish PEN
protests Russian censorship

§

Longing for Ye Olde New Criticism

§

Who framed George Lakoff?

§

More on Orwell’s diaries online

§

Kayoko Hashimoto & Ban’ya Natsuishi

§

Pearse Hutchinson’s At Least for Awhile

§

Poet, goaltender, nut bar

§

Talking with Gulzar

§

What role for the Prime Minister in
the Prime Minister’s Awards
in Australia?

§

Gift poetry & music
in Zimbabwe

§

Good bad
but not evil”

§

Binding Charles Alexander (MP4)

§

This is your brain
on Shakespeare

§

Larry Lessig:
When art becomes crime

§

Is the BBC
killing the writing?

§

French publishing
looks forward to
a gloomy fall

§

Film, translation, subtitles & dubs

§

Paul Lansky unplugs

§

Anthony Braxton:
Trans-idiomatic model building

§

Music theory
in the academy vs.
music theory
in music

§

David Byrne’s bike racks

§

A critic on the receiving end

§

“What I call a sound

§

The Embassy of Anaphoria

§

The dancing death

§

Jazz & social relations

§

Don’t blame the newspapers!

§

Andy Warhol & Gertrude Stein

§

The dean of Indian painting
takes up poetry

§

Visual culture’s number 1 subject

§

Eye-detic

Jim Murdoch on poetry & art
(part 1) (part 2)

§

Who was Francis Bacon?

Damien Hirst on “dirty painters
who wrestle with the dark stuff”

§

Quantification & art history

§

Shades of John Ashcroft!

§

When the judge quits over the art

§

Jackson Pollock & the Iowa City flood

§

Tagging Keith Haring

§

Anthropology – “’postmodern’ cesspool”

§

Boredom as cultural resistance

§

In praise of elitism
(a tale of Vegas & Chicago)

§

How theory “damaged” the humanities

§

The insect museum

But the East Bay Vivarium
is still my favorite store
for browsing!

§

Farewell to Tony Russo

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