Saturday, May 16, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
Sejal Chad, My Kid, no publisher listed, no location (but
Sejal Chad, “Open” / Café Lemon, no publisher listed, no location (but
Sejal Chad, She Has Two Kids, Kajnay, no location (but
Bob Cobbing, Bob Jubile: Selected Texts, 1944-1990, New River Project,
Phil Davenport, Abóut Everything, Apple Pie Editions,
Meg Hamill, Trillions & Trillions of Heartbeats, Resonant Books,
Geof Huth, A Book of Poems So Small I Cannot Taste Them, ntamo, Helsinki 2008
Geof Huth, Gingerbread, Cy Gist Press, no location given (but
Geof Huth, Longfellow Memoranda, Otoliths, Rockhampton, Australia 2008
Geof Huth, The texT The texT The texT / the sound, pdqb /
Peter Jaeger, Rapid Eye Movement,
Tom Konyves, No Parking, Véhicule Press,
Tom Konyves, OOSOOM (Out of Sight Out of Mind), BookThug, Toronto 2007
Tony Lopez, Covers, Salt,
Estaphin (Stephen Mooney), DCLP, Veer Books,
Wendy Mulford, The Land Between,
Gavin Selerie, Vita Graph: For Bob Dylan at Sixty, Binnacle Press, London 2001
Carol Watts, When Blue Light Falls, Oystercatcher Press,
Raul Zurita, INRI, Translated by William Rowe, Marick Press, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 2009
Books (Poetry Anthologies)
Bob Cobbing & Lawrence
Tony Trehy, editor. Text 2, Bury Metropolitan Borough Council, Bury, UK 2009. Includes Tony Trehy, Phil Davenport, Hester Reeve (HRH, The), Alan Halsey, P. Inman, Allen Fisher, Caroline Bergvall, Carolyn Thompson, Judy Kendall, Tony Lopez, Scott Thurston, Stephen Miller, Jesse Glass, Joe Devlin, James Davies, Carol Watts, Carol Middleton.
Jack Kerouac, Beat Generation, introduction by A.M. Homes, OneWorldClassics, Surrey 2005
Tony Trehy, The Irony of Flatness,
Other Formats & Media
If p then q, Text Festival Issue,
Tom Konyves, VideoPoems, vol. 1 & 2: 1978-2004, 2-DVD set of works by Konyves with Ken Norris, Alex Konyves & Step Dans Fuego Theatre Collective
Labels: Recently Received
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Literature loves its bad boys and girls, from Rimbaud to Kathy Acker, from Edgar Allan Poe to Jack Kerouac, from Jean Rhys to William Burroughs or Gregory Corso to Stephen Rodefer. We expect them to tell us the truth. We expect them to tell us what propriety would otherwise edit out.
I took both Chelsey Minnis’ Poemland and Douglas Rothschild’s Theogony with me to the
Each lets you know instantly that you’re in for an intense & unusual experience. The first poem in Theogony:
Hard at Work
“[S]he told me /Top/ik/, [eminent danger] I heard, [impending disaster]”
– Jean Luc Nancy
i shifted back & forth
all day. i had thought it out.
The reality of disaster over-
took the concept of danger
& became tantamount
in my mind. i was paralyzed
& reacted suddenly & with-
The first work, or page, in Poemland:
This is a cut-down chandelier…
And it is like coughing at the piano before you start playing a terrible waltz…
The past should go away but it never does…
And it is like a swimming pool at the foot of the stairs…
Each poem here might be said to be about tone as much as anything else – Rothschild’s is anxious, Minnis’ whimsical & offbeat. Minnis manages to hold to her tone even in pieces that have darker implications:
This is a present of tiny pretty scissors…
Which you must use to cut your beast hair…
I am a vile baby…
Look, death, I have so much delicious vulture food within my chest cavity…
Likewise, the undercurrent of alarm is maintained by Rothschild – often by the judicious use of linebreaks that appear offhand but prove to be razor sharp – even when the topic appears innocuous:
is it Wittgenstein says? At the end
of the Tractatus? Hovering just above
the edge of the page – the wide, flat
edge? The one on which you write? Or
that which you cannot see, it is not
One might argue that Rothschild’s thesis in Theogony could be reduced to That which is not there is all that is the case. Although the book collects poems from as far back as 1997, it is a volume profoundly “about” the events of September 11, 2001 from the perspective of someone who lived in close proximity to the fallen towers. “
As the F-14’s circle, the possibility
of an oppositional politics has
evaporated. The young people
sit, their heads empty, their can-
dles lit. Their eyes focused on
nothing & their mouths agape
in the headlights’ glare.
One might ask here which headlights, whose headlights? But Rothschild’s point here is the utter vulnerability of the shocked & his despair seems absolute, figured in the mid-word linebreak within candles, the poem itself flickering. Yet Theogony – think of that title for awhile & what Rothschild is intending by appropriating Hesiod – is not all gloom. Thus, for example, “Mysterious Playwrights”:
Even as a Joke:
The real mystery is
why some poets don’t
just leave the play
writing to the play
wrights. Really – ever
read any of August
or Harvey Fierstein’s?
This sounds just like Jack Spicer at his most dyspeptic. Rothschild doesn’t need to name names here to make his point.
In parallel (but opposite) mode, Minnis can let down her guard so that we see what underlies her almost manic surrealism:
I look to the left and right with my eyes and then I swing the sharp thing…
As you rise out of a cloud on a mechanized contraption…
If you open your mouth to start to complain I will fill it with whipped cream…
There is a floating sadness nearby…
This appears directly opposite the poem I quoted above. It’s a love poem, but one predicated on terrible grief, entirely unnamed. Stopping the complaint via whipped cream may seem like the foolery of lovers, but it is precisely the same refusal to name, to confront names, that is at the heart of Rothschild’s Wittgenstein work.
Poemland is composed of short sequences, mostly seven to ten pages, of works just like the ones quoted here, three to six lines in prose always ending in an ellipsis (even when none is needed). There are maybe a dozen of these sections, each divided by a black page containing the book’s title & half of its universal product code. Theogony is more traditional, broken into seven sections that could have been chapbooks.
Finally, both books end unsatisfactorily, at least to my eye. Neither poet is completely able to carry off their song & dance all the way to the end and the last 20 pages seem to peter out in repetition of what’s gone before. In one way, Minnis gets more faint while Rothschild gets more shrill, sounding finally like a leftwing Glen Beck, with no more political subtlety or nuance than Fox News’ newest wingnut broadcaster.
And this ultimately is the great structural problem of “bad boy (or girl) poetics” – if you carry it on long enough, it just gets sad or pathetic (which is why the ones who fare best die young). Watching, say, “terrible genius” Andrei Codrescu devolve from naughty surrealist to avuncular southerner is like watching a car crash re-enacted in Jello. But at least Codrescu – unlike, say, Charlie Simic – was able to gun the engine for awhile. Minnis & Rothschild are almost certainly at their very best right about now & these are both really excellent books. But it’s much harder to imagine what they’re going to be writing in another 20 years.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Langpo, vidpo, vispo: RS, Tom Konyves, Geof Huth
(Photo by Nancy F. Huth)
Tom Konyves has a mission. The poet, a longtime veteran of the Montreal &
Imagine, if you will, the early days of visual poetry, back when it was still called concrete poetry, if you suddenly had a flood of thousands of participants. Far from ensuring the ongoing evolution of vispo, that kind of early inundation might well have kept it from developing a vocabulary all its own, made it impossible to actually see what the terms and implications might be in developing an art that was, at once, both linguistic & graphic, reduced it to a fad.
Videopoetry, one word or two, has added complications to deal with. First of all, one can begin with almost any definition of the poem, from the most graphic to almost pure sound poetry to the most traditional verse form conceivable. Second: what one adds, when one adds video, can itself differ dramatically from case to case. At one extreme, one might have what is simply a graphic text that employs movement (with or without color). At the other, one might have an elaborate staging of a text, involving actors, special effects, a score. Because video derives historically from film, it brings with it a culture of collaboration that is quite apart from what goes on in most poetry.
Even if you subtract from this category all the videos that are simply documentation of readings – by far the most numerous – the range of what might be done is simply staggering. And the temptation to simply import what has been done elsewhere, in other film contexts, can be overwhelming. Thus Billy Collins’ The Dead is animated by Juan Delcan, neither poem nor cartoon threatening to break any new ground whatsoever. At least the visual is in the same spirit as the text itself. At the other end of the spectrum, many of the videos of Nico Vassilakis attempt to tackle the potential in this new form head on. The role of text, sound, movement and color may all be in play, but Vassilakis approaches them closer to the way Cecil Taylor approaches the piano – as something to be explored, as such. A work like Konyves’ own Sign Language (1985) stakes out a middle ground, using found language principally in signage & graffiti to articulate a vision of life lived on the economic edge. A jazz score underscores the point-of-view as clearly as does the documentary mode employed.
Konyves tells me that he sees this landscape dividing into five major tendencies, although I don’t yet know what those are. He dates his own usage of the term videopoem to 1978, tho notes that Richard Kostelanetz may have been using it as early as 1973. 1973 just also happened to be the year that Frank & Caroline Mouris’ Frank Film won the Oscar for best short subject. If Frank Film isn’t a videopoem, it may only be because the category was still embryonic when it was filmed. It is interesting to think that the ingredients were all there 30-plus years ago & yet videopoetry is still very much in its infancy. But as I noted to Tom, if you trace the history of the prose poem back to Aloysius Bertrand’s Gaspard de la nuit, the videopoem isn’t really so far behind schedule. What it mostly lacks, so far as I can tell, is its Baudelaire – the one individual whose work will force everyone to sit up and take notice.
One reason for this lack might well be an issue that all of these poets – from Collins to Vassilakis – are forced to confront. For videopoetry to exist, the form has to be able to distinguish itself from the gumbo that is intermedia. Or perhaps polymedia would be a more accurate term. Collins’ piece is nothing more than a reading of the piece over which a cartoon has been superimposed. The use of language is more interesting in the pieces by Konyves & Vassilakis, but each imports elements from other media, other worlds. Vassilakis treats his sound track more as a score, and more than a few of his visuals harken back to the heyday of lightshows that accompanied the rock bands of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. One could argue further that his conception of the poem here likewise depends heavily on vispo at least as a starting place. In that regards, Konyves’ use of appropriation & quotation has much in common with some aspects of langpo, some of the
There is of course nothing wrong with inter- or polymedia – but the dynamics of everything in the pot, so to speak, comes at a steep price if what you’re after is the evolution of a particular medium. I’m tempted to return to Baudelaire’s famous letter to Arsene Houssaye which serves as preface to Paris Spleen, written 33 years after Gaspard, and which Baudelaire characterizes as having
neither head nor tail, since, on the contrary, everything in it is both head and tail, alternately and reciprocally.
Thirty-six years after the Mourises’ Frank Film, I have yet to see a work that more completely fit my own sense of what a videopoem might be, tho both Konyves & Vassilakis seem to me to be in the ballpark. In each we can glimpse some aspect of what the medium holds. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds going forward, particularly when the technology takes us away from video as we now know it (e.g. flash poetry), which is as predictable as overcast skies in the North of England.