Saturday, March 14, 2009

 

Robert & Doris Evans at our wedding 23 years ago. They loved to dance.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

 

Michael Davidson reading (MP3)

& talking with Charles Bernstein (MP3)

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Charles Bernstein’s “Morality”

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Tim Griffin on Rae Armantrout

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Talking with Norma Cole

Why I am not a translator, take 2”

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Notes on Conceptualisms

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Allen Ginsberg: Mind-Writing Slogans

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Talking with Michael Schiavo

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Noah Eli Gordon on Andrew Joron

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Tisa Bryant’s Unexplained Presence

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Merrill Gilfillan’s
“A Nap by the Kickapoo”

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The secret anthology

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Nate Mackey’s
Song of the Andoumboulou 1 to 7

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Samuel R. Delany
at the Philadelphia Free Library
March 18

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Collected vs. selected
in Olson & O’Hara

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James Longenbach & the line

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SUNY Buffalo gets funds
to digitize tapes

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Citation as explanation:
Louis Zukofsky & Walter Benjamin

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Two books by Ed Baker
(one with Cid Corman)

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The First 100 Days
poem-a-day
project
has reached the halfway mark

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Ronald Johnson, visionary

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Reading report: Futurism

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Oulipo in New York

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the poetry of the stones

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Close reading flarf, part 12

Part 12b & 12c

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One less indie publisher

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Yet another plausible
portrait of Shakespeare

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The Best of Contemporary
Mexican Fiction

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It’s e-book week

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The Shelley Memorial Award
goes to
Gary Young

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The 5 rules of book cover design

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Whatever became of Bill Barich

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“My lunch with M.F.K. Fisher
& Jessamyn West to boot

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Poets who don’t read
& other problems

Reading vs. writing

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In the office with Franz Kafka

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Alissa Valles Orphan Fire

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The Journals of Grace Hartigan

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John Zorn at Yoshi’s SF

Zorn & Richard Foreman
in the Astronome

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Johnny Magic

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What are intellectuals good for?

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Kierkegaard the post-avant

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Perry Anderson’s
The
Origins of Postmodernity

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

 

I was reading Marjorie Perloff’s interview with Hélène Aji and Antoine Cazé, and in it Perloff discusses – and for the most part dismisses – anthologies. It made me stop and think about how the role of the anthology, as a project, changes not just with the book, but over time as well.

Consider for example the Donald Allen anthology, The New American Poetry, published in 1960, and still the most successful volume in the genre nearly 50 years later. It included 44 post-avant poets at a time when no contemporaneous account of the total number of publishing U.S.poets estimated more than 100. In hindsight, I think those estimates were low and that a more reasonable figure in 1960 would have been somewhere between 200 and 500, but certainly not more than that latter tally. Whatever the actual count, the Allen anthology represented a substantial portion of the publishing poets in America, somewhere between 10 and 40 percent of the entire spectrum. What Allen was doing was gathering together and foregrounding a particular part of the spectrum of what was being done. In doing so, he repositioned the spectrum itself, which could no longer pretend that there were simply competent American poets and the rest.

A half century later, there are well over 10,000 poets publishing in English in the U.S., a sum that is at least 20 times – and conceivably 100 times – the number active when Allen pulled together his book. One of Perloff’s complaints is that “anthologies have gotten narrower rather than broader,” but this is looking at the situation through the wrong end of the telescope. The narrowest of the three examples she gives, “experimental women poets,” is today a category so large that an anthology – there is more than one with this focus – represents an attempt to sort through the hundreds, if not thousands, of poets who might legitimately seek to be included. The New American Poetry had four women poets: Helen Adam, Barbara Guest, Madeline Gleason & Denise Levertov. Even when one acknowledges the other women writers who should have been included – e.g., Diane di Prima, Joanne Kyger, Kathleen Fraser, Hettie Jones – the number is tiny. Indeed, the first anthology of post-avant women’s writing, published in 1962 by Totem/Corinth Press & with an introduction from the then-LeRoi Jones, was entitled Four Young Lady Poets, and included Barbara Moraff, Carol Berge, Rochelle Owens & Diane Wakoski. In 1962, this is not a category that appears to have inspired double digits. That title tells you just how far removed from the present day that epoch was.

So it is not that anthology editors have become more narrow in their conception over time, but rather that the field itself has become so large & diverse that new tools, and new levels of specificity, are required to make sense of it. For someone like Perloff, who is anxious to preserve the role of the critic as gatekeeper – as she says elsewhere in the same interview “I like to pick the winners” – the recalibration required just to stay in focus when going over a constantly (and rapidly) expanding field presents an enormous challenge. The whole idea of seeking “to see who ‘the great ones’ are” requires a stability of perspective that may in fact not stay stable when the terrain expands by an order of magnitude, and then does so again.

Plus Perloff is certainly smart enough to see that arguing, instead, for “timeless values” is the same old con invoked by Official Verse Culture when it lamely attempts to pass off the likes of an Andrew Motion as a serious writer. As she herself notes in the interview¹, English-language poetry in the 19th century, especially in the U.K., was the expression of the culture of Christian white males. Power – political and economic – was close at hand. As we enter the 21st century, poetry instead has become the domain of outsiders – subalterns are everywhere. In the U.S., even among the more conservative poets, you will find relatively few committed Republicans with major corporate backgrounds a la Dana Gioia. Many more are gay or lesbian, and more than a few are immigrants a la Charlie Simic. Indeed, one of the most interesting moves by Official Verse Culture in the U.S. has been the adoption of several successful Irish quietists, such as Paul Muldoon and Eavan Boland, who both represent the “center” over there that some factions within the School of Quietude seek to preserve, while themselves being literally ec-centric from a strictly Oxbridge perspective. And the posties? We’re as motley a crew as one can find on these shores.

But just tracking the evolution of even one strand of oppositional poetics from its location in the 1950s – four women in an anthology of 44 poets from a field that did not exceed 500 – to large anthologies of “experimental women poets” will demonstrate the transformation. Mary Margaret Sloan’s Moving Borders: Three Decades of Innovative Writing by Women, a volume that is already demanding escalated rare book prices just eleven years after publication, has 50 poets, tracking the transition from the New Americans in the 1950s up to the early ‘90s. Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-Po Listserv, edited by Moira Richards, Rosemary Starace & Lesley Wheeler, has 259 contributors, the bulk of whom could be called innovative as well. Stephanie Young’s Bay Poetics has over 100 poets – the “San Francisco Renaissance” section of The New American Poetry had just 13.

Both Bay Poetics and Letters to the World aren’t focused precisely on post-avant poetics, tho it would be easy to read them that way as that segment of the spectrum has expanded at a faster rate than any other over the past half century. But – and this was the point I set out to make when I sat down to write – the expansion itself is by far the more important process. We are rapidly reaching the point where one’s relationship to the overall map is less important than one’s relation to how the map is changing as it grows.

In the poetry wars of the late 1970s & early ‘80s, the primary objection that some poets had toward language writing was that it changed the map to which they’d sworn allegiance. They were committed to their reading(s) of the New American Poetry and the idea that it no longer was an Eternal Truth as to how poetry existed was considered heresy. Today we are twice the distance from that era than it was from the New Americans. It is all but impossible to even characterize the map of poetry today. If this were the 1950s, a quarter of America’s poets would be producing flarf, another quarter conceptual poetry. What we have is a much bigger pie, and one sliced into many more fairly narrow slices. And it’s up for grabs as to the order in which they fit.

That’s very bad – very nearly fatal – for the process of “picking the winners.” But it’s actually very good for poetry, which is far richer today than it has ever been in its history. What we need, however, is for our critical thinking to catch up.

 

¹ “There is no question that Modernist and Postmodernist literature is by definition an exile literature. Think of the Romantics and Victorians in England—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Browning and the novelists Jane Austen, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens—they were all English writers, with English names and they were all Christian. In the 20th C, this changes. Think of the ‘French’ poets Apollinaire and Cendrars, both of them pseudonymous poets who were not French at all. Think of Tristan Tzara (Sammy Rosenbaum) or the Czech Jewish Kafka writing in German or in the U.S., the various African-American poets. By the later twentieth century in America, exile has become the aesthetic norm from Black Mountain (founded by Joseph Albers) to the absorption of French poststructuralist theory and the Frankfurt School.”

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

 

Sam Beckett’s early correspondence

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Barry Schwabsky on Barbara Guest

Read more »

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Monday, March 09, 2009

 


Malin Akerman & Patrick Wilson have all the emotional power of Ken & Barbie

This is the golden age of movie effects, or at least it should be. Computer graphics have been enhanced to the level that anything is possible, anything you can dream of can be presented as a plausible physical reality on film, a phenomenon that leaves directors, screenwriters & stuntmen drunk with the potential. Yet the problem remains that for the golden age to actually exist, these same individuals have to envision it, have to make it happen. Just as early motion pictures owe a great deal of their narrative structures to the imaginations of D.W. Griffith & Sergei Eisenstein, men who figured out how to transform a story into the new medium, the potential of today’s film technology is just waiting for someone to come along and imagine what it truly might be.

The problem, however, is that Hollywood – the whole professional lets-make-an-entertainment industry – is terrified of losing money (this year especially) and that the people they’ve trained & groomed & put into positions of power reflect the same timorous nature. Two sides of this problem were on view this past weekend – first in the film extravaganza Watchmen, one of the most ambitious movies ever, and second in the boom-bang-boom previews that ran endlessly before the 2-hour 48-minute long film began.

Director Zack Snyder has tried to do something new & brave in Watchmen, which is to reinvent cinema completely. Part of what results is awe-inspiring, genuinely breath-taking, as ambitious in its own right as was Todd Haynes’ Dylan faux-biopic, I’m Not There or anything ever written by Charlie Kaufman. And parts of it are leaden, tedious, so corny that they leave you guffawing, such as the sex scene in which Nite Owl II, having cured his erectile function disorder through a night of good old caped adventures finally gets it on with Silk Spectre II, woodenly portrayed by Malin Akerman (an actress who could take lessons in the thespian arts from Paris Hilton), while Leonard Cohen gravels through Hallelujah, the soundtrack turned so loud it’s the foreground.

Snyder has pretty much abandoned action-picture dynamics (think the new Bond films or anything with the word Bourne in the title) altogether, and instead has tried to make the graphic novel. Complete with Alan Moore’s long prose asides that in the original comics took up a full page in every episode. He’s abandoned cinematic pacing. What he wants is something that doesn’t look or feel like a film at all, that is as new to the genre as Watchmen was to the world of comic books when it first appeared a quarter century ago.

Narratively, Snyder has added relatively little, tho most of what is new, like a martial arts fight scene down a prison corridor by Nite Owl II & Silk Spectre II done as a parody of superhero fighting, distracts or detracts. He’s also sliced away relatively little, which given the size of the graphic novel is almost surprising. Where he really has added is a dimension you can’t get in comics, which is the score, from the strains of Bob Dylan singing “The Times They Are A’Changin’” over  the most leisurely opening credits I’ve ever seen – the first real hint that we’re not in regular old movie land – to Simon & Garfunkel singing “The Sounds of Silence” during the funeral of The Comedian to a punk version of “Desolation Row” in the closing credits by My Chemical Romance. As with Leonard Cohen during the film’s principle sex scene – as explicit as anything I’ve ever seen in a picture aimed at adolescent males – the presence of Simon & Garfunkel plays against the action, a moment of very strange irony that Moore’s gloomy plot misses altogether. 

Where the film really doesn’t work is in the acting. Snyder – rather like George Lucas – moves the cast about & has them say their lines, but often with no affect whatsoever. So that the only performers who shine through at all are veteran character actors: Jackie Earl Haley’s Rorshach, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian, a cameo by Matt Frewer (Max Headroom himself, this time with pointy ears) as Moloch, the villain befriended by The Comedian shortly before his demise, and Robert Wisden’s caricature of Richard Nixon, with a ski-nose right out of the editorial cartoons. It is really Haley who saves this film as film, and its very best moments are the ones where is he is free of his character’s gauzy, perpetually changing mask.

But I wouldn’t judge the actors here – save maybe for Akerman, who should be an early favorite for next year’s Razzies for that sex scene alone – on the basis of their work here. Hollywood spectacles are notorious for the first-rate actors – think of Natalie Portman in Star Wars or Kate Winslet in Titanic – who come across with all the personality of a sofa. Matthew Goode does his version of Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias as tho he’s channeling David Bowie from The Man Who Fell to Earth, but does this mean he’s as bad as he comes across here? I have no idea. Pretty much everyone but Haley, Morgan, Frewer & Wisden are defeated by the weight of this film’s machinery.

The end result is that Watchmen is like viewing a beautiful train wreck in very slow motion. You can’t quite look away – save for the moments when limbs are being severed, which is a regular enough occurrence. Watchmen may even turn out to be an important film as film for all that it tries to do, but that will never make it a good one.

Still, it has a decent shot at being the Best of the Bloated among this year’s CGI-enhanced action spectacles. With Terminator Salvation, Star Trek (the prequel) & something to do with poor Wolverine of the X-men franchise all in the offing, not to mention the new Transformers, G.I. Joe & good ol’ Harry Potter, we’re in for a lot of special effects, none of which will take place in the writing. Safe scripts, franchise-familiar characters – that’s the name of the game, alas. Snyder at least has taken the riskiest project and done his very best to give us something completely new to look at. It is enough to make you ask of cinema – is that all there is?

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