Saturday, January 09, 2010

 

David Antin,
talking on Kathy Acker



Friday, January 08, 2010

 

Every once in awhile, somebody says or writes something so over the top that it makes you stop & ponder what the real content of the message is. Thus, when I see a tweet such as the following by M. Alt., the pseudonym of an apparently Anglo male (big surprise) in Korea, that

Ron Silliman: your blog is a fucking graveyard, you morbid fuck.

I stop to ask myself what it is that I’m doing & why. And this was before yesterday’s note, memorializing Lhasa de Sela & Kenneth Noland, or even the mentions in Tuesday’s linkstream that Don Belton, Jaromir Horec & James Kavanaugh had died. What does it mean that I’ve noted eight deaths in one week?

One thing it invariably means is that I’ve missed some folks. When I read Poets & Writers, I note their lists of the recently departed & always discover a few writers either that I’ve never heard of before, or whose passing managed to skip past my own information resources, mostly because they never received an obit in a medium that touched the net.

I do hear, maybe two or three times per year, some negative comment about my memorializing the passing of poets and other artists whose lives & work I think relevant to the poetics focus of this blog, such as musicians & painters. But for every negative comment, I receive somewhere between 20 & 30 positive ones, including long heartfelt messages from family members of the deceased thanking me for taking the time to note their loved one and put up a few relevant links. That’s a ratio I can certainly live with.

I did not envision doing this when I began this blog back in 2002. I began rather by accident when I noted the passing of Robert Creeley. All I did when the news came from Marfa that he had died was put up a photo and a couple of links, but I noticed very quickly that my readership that week rose something like 40 percent. I was personally too upset by Bob’s passing to write any more right away, and yet people kept coming back to that blog note as if I had done something meaningful. My readership never went back down to its earlier numbers. Obviously this was touching people in a way I had not anticipated.

This forced me to recognize that the nature of my blog had changed somewhat, and was changing still. It was no longer simply me & my opinions, even if that’s all I had wanted it to be. It was becoming more of a community institution, an online zócalo, a web plaza to which people might come for news & information, not simply to hear me on my soapbox preach about the evils of Quietude. That was the point where I began to take adding lists of links to news items related to poetry (& more generally the arts) seriously. And I realized that I needed to cover more than just “my kind” of verse, nor just American, English language or western poetics. Just as the world of poetry is no longer the white male enclave it proclaimed itself to be 50 years ago (the year that The New American Poetry was published containing 39 white males, 1 African-American male & 4 white women), the idea that English language poetry can operate ignorant of the poetries in that language of Africa and/or India is going to seem ludicrous soon enough. Why not acknowledge that right now?

So my sense of this endeavor evolved, and with it the idea of noting significant passings got added to the mix. When you think of the fact that there are – to use the low-end figure – 20,000 publishing poets in the English language, and perhaps that many substantial artists in relevant other media, what you get is a community of some 40,000 adults, about what you might expect of a small city (Wilmington, Delaware or Berkeley, California, for example). When you plot out what 40,000 lives between the ages of 25 & mid-80s might look like on an actuarial table, you would anticipate something close to 800 deaths per year. Fortunately, this community skews quite young. There were only a few hundred such poets in the 1950s, which means that the number now in their 80s is disproportionately small when compared against an “average” community of similar size. My response to M. Alt is that it could be a whole lot worse than what you see here. And in 30, 40, 50 years, it most certainly will be.

As my sense of this blog evolved, I began to do some things differently. Not only did I do some things you might expect more from a community newspaper, such as include memorial notices & links of resources, I began to get some help. Lynn Behrendt does the remarkable job of keeping over 1200 blog addresses current each month and is the person who thought up the addition of collective blogs to that list (which several readers have told me is the best part of it as well). Don Wentworth contributes at least a quarter of the links you read each week. I’ve gradually shifted away from using bots & alerts to gather news to the point where maybe 80 percent of the links you see on the link lists have been sent to me by someone. Including personal friends and colleagues of Vic Chesnutt & Lhasa de Sela who felt they deserved to be acknowledged here.

And, I should note, this blog & the arts community it serves is not the whole of my life any more than it is yours. In the past week, the two most significant deaths in my life were of friends whom I have not mentioned here until now. Mark Helwege was a colleague of mine at IBM who was the VP of worldwide sales at Brainware when he died of a heart attack last weekend. John Irwin was a one-time armed robber who made himself into one of the best sociologists of prison life in America. Through his books, his work at San Francisco State & especially his role as the Gandalf of the Prisoners Union in California, John was perhaps the single most influential figure in the prison reform movement in California during the last half of the 20th century.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

 



Lhasa de Sela

1972 2010

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Kenneth Noland

1924 2010

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

 

Sometimes I forget why preppy types irritate me, then I see something just dripping with the ethos of same & suddenly the sensation is entirely fresh again. My current example would be, of all things retro, a newspaper, specifically San Francisco Panorama, published on December 8 by the crowd at McSweeney’s, as a demonstration of how newspapers could survive. Howard Junker was kind enough to send me a copy & my guess would be that his exasperation at this project is not a lot lower than my own.

Panorama is a self-congratulatory conglomeration that, at its best, replicates what you can find in any number of left-of-center magazines put into a high-end broadsheet print format. Underneath the perfect-orthodontia smile of it all, are two fundamental presumptions: Newspapers could be saved if …

They focused on having great content – Stephen King on the world series, Nicholson Baker, John Ashbery, etc. etc. etc.

They took explicit advantage of the broadsheet format, dramatically upping the graphics (hence 14 pages of color comix), giving many of the articles over-the-top illustrations. Panorama does everything but bring Norman Rockwell & Maxfield Parrish back from the dead & I’m surprised the editors didn’t think of that.

Way big ifs…. What the editors demonstrate instead is just why newspapers are dying.

First, they come to a conclusion that no newspaper publisher has made in generations – that newspapers are for people who read.

Second, they give just a whiff of how much it might cost to truly take advantage of the broadsheet format, as format, to put out hundreds of pages of high-impact content on a daily basis. To suggest that it’s prohibitive is an understatement.

Third, there is very little advertising here, which should come as no surprise. But, if you want to show how to save newspapers, you will have to demonstrate how they could become profitable without costing, say, $5 a day to purchase.

There are two real problems with all of this. With one of them, I’m completely sympathetic, since I’m a compulsive reader also. I can remember the days when newspapers had if not great writers, at least good ones with some clue as to style. To see Stanley Fish’ content-free jeremiads in the New York Times is an index of just how far things have fallen. And it is true that a couple of the articles in Panorama demonstrate just how poorly the Bay Area currently is served by the Chronicle, which has failed to fund such reports as the cover piece on cost-overruns and the construction of the new Bay Bridge or why Mendocino’s dependency of the marijuana economy is an ecological disaster.¹

But this fails to address what was the essence of the old style newspaper: the ability to produce content that socially impacted a metropolitan area with a binding, bonding dominant discourse at the lowest possible price. The reason for newsprint has always been about the cost of production, not the graphic potential of the format. Which is why, when the cost of production was undercut by the internet, newsprint no longer carried any advantage.

The reason local consumer businesses felt compelled to advertise had to do with the discourse. Even when a single writer could dominate a single market – the way Herb Caen did San Francisco in the 1950s & ‘60s – costs were kept down by the knowledge that Herb Caen’s three-dot style might fly in SF, but it would be too esoteric even in nearby Modesto, while he would come across as pure country bumpkin – the Sacamenna Kid, as he would have put it – in a burg like New York. Caen’s column ran for 59 years & when he abandoned the Chronicle for the Examiner in the 1950s, the relative fortunes of the two dailies followed suit until Caen was literally traded back like a baseball player. Caen’s 1958 salary of $38,000 would be worth $283,000 now, give or take, a terrific bargain at the time, but I’ll wager that it’s more than his current closest equivalent on The Chron, Jon Carroll, makes today.

In a nation that publishes only 8,000 book titles published per year, in which every person in power is straight, white & male, one individual in a single market can have enormous impact. Along the way, Caen coined the word beatnik, popularized hippie & more or less invented The Summer of Love. He also taught readers never to call The City Frisco, although it was popular to refer to it as Baghdad by the Bay.

Since 1950, the population of the US has doubled, and the people in power – at least in the Democratic party – don’t look quite the same as they did a half century ago. But the number of book titles has grown to something over 200,000, suggesting an enormous fragmentation of interests, and it is precisely that phenomenon, the narrow-casting of identity, that has robbed the newspaper of its fundamental reason for being. In 1950, San Francisco was not only the second largest city in California, but easily the dominant metropolis in the Bay Area. San Jose, by comparison, had less than 100,000 residents. Today San Jose has 895,000, eclipsing San Franciso, which continues to have roughly three-quarters of a million. People read Herb Caen just to see if he mentioned their name. If Jon Carroll mentions your name, will anyone even notice?

But Herb Caen was not Mark Twain, let alone John Ashbery. Caen’s work doesn’t date well and it doesn’t have much applicability beyond the market area of the Chron, which barely went east of Berkeley. Today there is no columnist in the United States that has the kind of power Caen had, or Jimmy Breslin in New York or Studs Terkel (not quite the same thing, admittedly) in Chicago – the closest is probably Steve Lopez in Los Angeles, and he’s the last of a dying breed (and not even a true Angelino, having been imported from Philly in 2001 – his column in the Times won’t catch Caen’s record until 2060, at which point Lopez will be 107 – good luck with that).

So there are two functions of a newspaper that would have to be addressed if something like Panorama was to be anything other than a self-serving PR stunt. The first is the social function of the newspaper itself, and the second is the ability to deliver it at the lowest possible cost. The first may not be possible any more, period, and the ability to produce the lowest cost content has fled to the net, and certainly doesn’t lie in upping the production cost per page via high-end snazzy graphics. Panorama manages not to even see the challenge on either count. If The Chronicle represents the tragedy of the American newspaper in the 21st century, Panorama is certainly suitable to represent the farce.

 

¹ These are exactly the sorts of pieces that the Los Angeles Times or Philadelphia Inquirer would run as weeklong series in open competition for a Pulitzer. But they’re run-of-the-mill lead articles for a journal like The Nation.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

 

A clash o’er millions at Poetry

Venture capital for verse

The NY Times
does an obit of its own
on Ruth Lilly

Who reads Poetry?

§

Steven Fama’s
best of everything lists

for 2009
(winner: best “bests” list)

Best book jackets of 2009

Dennis Cooper’s favorites for ‘09

Pierre Joris’ “Boxing Day Favorites”

Why “best of” lists
always fail

§

I saw the best minds of my generation
portrayed by James Franco, Jeff Daniels, Treat Williams
& Mary-Louise Parker

Or cast as a vinyl figurine

Jack Kerouac bobble head doll

Don’t forget Bill Burroughs

Satori in Tangier

More Kerouac tchotchkes for the completist

Dennis McNally on the One Fast Move package
[scroll down]
(reg. req.)

§

Liu Xiaobo’s 11-year sentence

Longing to escape

Authors protest Liu’s jailing

§

Read globally
is the not-so-secret message
of Ray Bianchi’s first rant of the decade

§

Unamuno:
Tragic Sense of Life
(reg. req.)

§

Dubai Shaikh attends poetry contest

§

Chalk one up for the lottery in the UK

§

The poetry boom in Argentina

§

Finding poetry in Chicago

§

What if community is the problem,
not the solution?

§

Talking with Eileen Myles

§

Don Belton has been stabbed to death

Justice for Don Belton

§

Jaromir Horec has died

§

James Kavanaugh is dead

§

Carl Phillips:
gay poets “need not apply”
for Missour laureate

§

Hearing Coolidge’s Crystal Text

§

The day e-book sales surpassed print at Amazon

Playlists will revolutionize publishing

Can e-books save publishing?

§

ditch
is one of the most ambitious books
yet published in the Issuu format
(200 pp. of innovative Canadian poetry)

§

The 2009 MLA offsite reading
(unedited zip of 2 audio files: 400MB)

§

Remembering Rachel Wetzsteon

§

Brutus’ poems will survive death

A NY Times “catch-up” obit
on Dennis Brutus

§

Talking with Annie Finch

Annie Finch
on the goddess-centered Avatar

§

Talking with Alan Halsey

§

Ed Baker’s
Stone Girl Epic, vol. 2
vispo ebook

Stone Girl Epic, vol. 5
(being a 283-page poem)

§

Bob Brown’s Words

Al Filreis on Bob Brown

§

Robert Kelly’s
personal history of Brooklyn
(part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4)

§

Talking with Sophie Robinson

§

Charles Olson
gets a conference

§

Pittsburgh’s poetry scene
has suffered 10 years of loss

§

Metasexual poetics

§

“Proper” English

§

The library of dust

§

Long, I slept good

§

Ph.D. in Texts & Technology

§

Tede Matthews Initiative
special events
at Modern Times in SF

Who was Tede & why he matters still

§

Habermas
& the Unfinished Project of Modernity

(reg. req.)

Post-China modernity
won’t include the West

§

Dawn Lundy Martin’s
A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering

§

Jennifer Karmin:
How to write about Africa

§

Linton Kwesi Johnson in Jamaica

§

Han Shan’s Cold Mountain

§

Poetry in the US Senate?

§

The pun in the title of
Alfred “Kip” Yuson’s latest book

§

Prospects of the rare book trade

§

Friday, Jan. 8 @ 7:30 PM
Donna Stonecipher & Zachary Shomburg
at Open Books in Seattle

§

The technology of letters
& end of a year

§

My vomitous blog manifesto

§

The weird book room

§

Australia’s Bush Laureate awards
are down to the finalists

§

Grass’ Stasi file is coming to print

§

Talking with Ben Friedlander

§

How e-books
change reading & writing

What reading does to the mind

UK literacy campaign is dumbing it down

§

TSA bans reading
during international flights

§

The Worst MLA Ever

§

Talking with Anselm Berrigan

§

Rachel Hadas in The New Yorker

§

Invisible flaws too apparent

§

Walter Bargen
has survived his 2-year term
as Missouri’s laureate

§

Willis Barnstone’s New Testament

David Rosenberg’s Bible

§

A live chat with Lydia Davis

§

Herta Müller’s “discontinued people”

§

Mahmoud Darwish’s If I Were Another

§

Learning to accept rejection slips

§

Paul Fry’s course on literary theory

§

Using the typewriter
in the 21st century

The MLA & digital humanities

§

A free whoopie cushion with every book

§

Talking with Emily Warn

§

Connecticut is out looking
for a new poet laureate

§

Bob Stanley
is Sacramento’s laureate

§

The MLA is a gerontocracy

§

Recent changes in testosterone poisoning
in the American novel

§

Robert Frost, taking attendance

§

The path of poetry in Lancaster, PA

§

Jenny Joseph’s Nothing Like Love

§

Samuel Menashe,
concise poet

§

Stanley Moss vs. God

§

CA Conrad’s
Advanced Elvis Course
is the “most interesting” book
Tim Brown
read in ‘09

§

Everything Geof Huth did in 2009

The 176 books of poetry,
8 anthologies, 8 journals
& 16 other poetry-related books
Eileen Tabios read in 2009

§

150 books read in 2009
by Elizabeth J Colen

§

AbeBook’s 2009 year in review

§

Tony Trehy on freedom vs. constraint

§

Faith-based grammar

§

Boog Reader 4
is now online
(with 48 NYC poets,
& 24 DC poets)

§

Nurses & writing

§

Japan’s best selling book in 2009:
1Q84

§

The new Fact-Simile
has a big interview & feature with
Keith & Rosmarie Waldrop
plus other good stuff
(including Dale Smith on Rodrigo Toscano)

§

Steal these books

§

Campbell McGrath in The New Yorker

§

Talking with Michael Robbins

§

Random sentence generator

§

Tolstoy in Chechnya

§

Blogging & the arts in Malawi

§

Augusta Webster & the monolog

§

Brent Goodman’s
The Brother Swimming Beneath Me

§

On the “necessity” of bad reviews

§

Editor & Publisher
suspends operations,
still hoping for zombiehood

§

Rasskazy:
New Fiction from a New Russia

§

Talking with Mitchell Parry

§

Ten words you need to stop misspelling

§

The lasting influence of
Eleanor Ross Taylor

§

The Carrier’s Address
as a genre of poetry

Brown’s archive of same

Time to revive Christmas chaps?

§

Luis Cernuda’s
Desolation of the Chimera

§

Eric McHenry on
Phil Levine, Katha Pollitt, Mary Jo Bang & Patty Seyburn

§

the world / is no different

§

Women & jealousy in the poetry of Faiz

§

Scarriet’s “brief history of poetry”
ignores 95%
of the New American poetry,
all of the Objectivists

§

Philip K. Dick:
“How to Build a Universe
That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later”
(reg. req.)

§

Reb Livingston’s
Dream Poet Anthology

§

Zadie Smith on how to read fiction

§

Chinese Love Lyrics

§

Talking with Gregory Betts

§

Bad moods yield better texts

§

Writers put Edmonton on map

§

Daniel Nester:
Not inappropriate, just annoying
(scroll down)

§

New Year’s haiku

§

Freud for thought
(hint: that’s how they pronounce
Freud St. in Detroit)

§

John Casteen’s Free Union

§

Alain Badiou:
Handbook of Inaesthetics

§

Is GirlDrive secretly
(or not so secretly)
ageist?

§

12 things that became obsolete
in the last decade

§

The MLA & academic labor

§

Reasons to fuck poetry

§

Talking with David Biespiel

§

mIEKAL aND’s
“alphabets hold sekret”

§

What nouns name

§

Minnesota literary news

§

Rehabbing Chaucer

§

Talking with Wendy Cope

§

Old bards

§

Talking with Edmund White

§

A Queen’s Medal for Don Paterson

§

Lebowski studies

§

The right wing hijacks a genre

§

The next literary superstar:
Abraham Verghese

§

Bruce Sterling:
State of the World 2010

Linh Dinh’s
State of the Union

§

Save Lascaux!

§

Arthur Danto:
“Concerning Mental Pictures”
(reg. req.)

§

Alan Moore’s history
of 25,000 years
of erotic art

§

14 years of mail art
& other collabs
between Reid Wood & Karl Young

§

David Levine has died

A Levine database

§

Jacques Derrida:
The Truth in Painting
(reg. req.)

§

Coming in February:
the medium is tedium

§

John Berger
on reading images
(reg. req.)

§

East of West LA

§

Last week for Wallace Berman
@ Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in NYC

Trippy West Coast Surrealism

Is This Any Kind of Mother for an Orphan Foal?

§

Quietism in painting
finds its perfect expression

§

Schjeldahl on Orozco

§

Daniel Buren:
“The Function of the Studio”
(reg. req.)

§

Rome’s new Maxxi Museum

§

Architecture’s empty stare:
the Dubai Burj

§

Walter Behrendt:
“The Victory of the New Building Style”
(reg. req.)

§

Lynn Behrendt sound files

§

Alvin Curran remembers Maryanne Amacher

§

Frank Wilson on Teachout’s Armstrong

§

From Byron to My Chemical Romance

§

John Lennon in Ann Arbor
for John Sinclair

John & Yoko’s “Mission Accomplished”

§

30 years of Shylock

§

Tom Clark on The White Ribbon

§

Why right-handers sit
to the right of
the movie screen

§

Deleuze, Cinema & National Identity
(reg. req.)

§

Buffy the Cylon?

§

Good without God

§

David Harvey:
reading Capital now
(with links to a 13-video course
on same)

§

Resolved:
to be more radical

§

Reinventing history

§

Readability -
“the single best tech idea of 2009”
says David Pogue

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