Saturday, August 02, 2003


Books & literary journals that came for me while I was away in California:



§         Writing to be Seen: An Anthology of Later 20th Century Visio-Textual Art, edited by Bob Grumman and Crag Hill, Light and Dust


Books & Chapbooks

§         Spring’s Grave: Le Tombeau du Printemps, Chantal Bizzini, translated by Brad Anderson, Backwoods Broadsides Chaplet Series, No. 77

§         Hamburger, Steve Carll, Tinfish

§         Three Vietnamese Poets, translated by Linh Dinh, Tinfish*

§         Everwhat, Clayton Eshleman, Zasterle

§         ode ode, Michael Farrell, Salt

§         A Cornelia Street Reading, Cliff Fyman, privately published

§         “Fusion,” Jeffrey Jullich, privately published+

§         Hochma and Bina Give Birth,” Jeffrey Jullich, privately published+

§         Sista Tongue, Lisa Linn Kanae, Tinfish

§         Clutch: Hockey Love Letters, Sawako Nakayasu, Tinfish

§         Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture, Lee A. Tonouchi, Tinfish

§         Addenda (For August 15th, Sotère Torregian, Backwoods Broadsides Chaplet Series, No. 76

§         The False Sun Recordings, James Wagner, 3rd Bed



§         Filling Station 027, edited by Natalie Simpson et al.

§         Special Offer 12, edited by Susan M. Schultz, Tinfish



* = a book I already own


+ = these simple manuscripts don’t really have titles,
but are identified by those of their first poems

Friday, August 01, 2003


At 21 Grand, I characterized VOG as being a section of The Alphabet unlike any other in that it was itself "a book of ordinary poems." This generated some speculation amid the bloggers present, so maybe I should unpack that a little, spell out what I was thinking.


Principally that the poems are discrete. They are relatively short & have beginnings, middles & ends. They have enough internal integrity to have their own titles: "Dogs Love Trucks," "Dadaquest," "Spiderduck." Indeed, the one task that remains with VOG is for me to go through the manuscript and edit it down to a final version. This will certainly mean deleting some pieces, and may mean (I'm far less certain of this) reordering the final suite.


When I look at The Alphabet as a whole, I'm struck with what a small proportion of the overall text is given over to beginnings or ends. In so many ways, the work itself is a monument to the middle, to being "in" the poem as if there were no outside or other. More than any other section, VOG seems to me to address the problematics of that.


I also note that, although I used virtually the same words to describe the project before my reading at the Drawing Center in New York in June, again before an audience notably filled with bloggers, the concept of this characterization — "ordinary poems" — was not commented upon. Does this indicate anything about the two communities, either as poets or as bloggers? Is the idea "ordinary poem" NOT problematic in NYC? Are the bloggers of the Bay Area inherently more attuned to the theoretical? And does blogging play a different role in SF than in NYC (SF in this instance starting just north of the Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing, extending up somewhere into the wine country). Is it more constitutive of one community than of the other?


I'm reading books by Drew Gardner, Nada Gordon, John Godfrey & Jordan Davis on my trip & there is no way I would try to generalize that into "one thing," the new new New York School, any more than I would attempt the same with the authors whose books I'm reading from the Bay Area on this trip: Lyn Hejinian, Barbara Guest, Clark Coolidge, Stephen Ratcliffe or Eileen Tabios. The coherence of communities is not, of itself, aesthetic. I might as well link the work of Aloysius Bertrand, Robert Duncan, Ron Johnson & Dan Davidson into a Poetics of the Dead.

Thursday, July 31, 2003


The gallery 21 Grand is a former auto body shop along the northern edge of Oakland's downtown. Whatever exhibit is showing has been temporarily displaced to make room for the more than 60 people who will turn up for the reading I gave with Mary Burger. Looking around as the audience gathers, I'm startled — nearly stunned — at how many different worlds of my poetry have arrived all in one room.


My nephew Daniel and niece Valerie have driven down from Seattle. Tom Marshall & K. Silem Mohammed, who appear to have met only once or twice, have both come up from Santa Cruz. Eileen Tabios has descended from wherever it is she lives in the wine country. Tim Yu is shorter than I had imagined & has a terrific smile. Richard Krech, who published my very first poetry back in 1965, is there in a straw porkpie hat. And of course so many of the poets by whose work I have for so many decades measured & tested my own: David Melnick, Lyn Hejinian, Jean Day, Bob Grenier, Alan Bernheimer, Kit Robinson, Stephen Ratcliffe (looking more windblown than ever) & Stephen Vincent. Kevin Killian sits in the front row & kari edwards introduces herself, as do Stephanie Young & Chris Sullivan. There is one of my saxophone heroes, Larry Ochs, and two flute players, Ahnie Barker & Yana Zimmerman. If I have an imaginary "perfect audience" for a poetry reading (my sons sitting attentive in the first row, Krishna a few rows back with my nephew & niece), this is as close as it will come to ever being real. I realize that I owe curator Michael Cross big-time.


I realize also how these different worlds of poetry inhabit this room at one instant in time, but don't blend into any homogenous thing. One great gift that my blog has given me in the past year has been access to a world of poetry very different from the one I'd previously inhabited. It is, to large measure (a greater one than I'm usually apt to admit) the most active poetry scene going, composed primarily of writers putting out not their 20th or 30th book, but rather their first, second, third.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003


I received this email from Nick Lawrence while I was out west:


Dear Ron,


Here's my response to Louis' post (7/08) on reading allusion, via Bruce Andrews:


Does Bruce Andrews write satire? Or is his a post-satirical satire, in which the conditions underpinning traditional satire no longer obtain —no sense of normative consensus among its audience, perhaps no necessary sense of audience itself; no determinate context for the ridicule in its speech acts; no semantic or syntactic imperatives beyond preserving the most basic allusions to social content.


Taking for a moment the "down" staircase in Louis' typology of allusion, let's murder to dissect a little:


One thing the line "Where's a battered woman — I want to beat her up?" might do is inspire laughter — laughter primarily at the absurdity of substituting the expected exclamation point end-punctuation with a question mark [1], which seems simultaneously to lampoon the misogyny of the remark by calling into question its decisive aggression, and at the same time to ludicrously mimic the "upspeak" intonation associated with Valley Girls [2] in the '80s ("My name is Jessica?"). But the laughter is at best weak, dying away with the acknowledgment that we are, after all, dealing with a form of violence that only in the last few decades has become stigmatized and is, nonetheless, as old as the hills and the bullies that dwell therein. (Can we make jokes about hillbillies, now? [3] Wasn't it pointed out recently that they constitute the last safe butt of ethnic humor in America? Will class continue to subtend race in the variegated terrain of US cultural politics? Why hasn't Baudelaire's title been adopted by current political discourse — is it because "poor-bashing" puts a name to what happens all the time?) Or are we inspired to a fresh series of hollow chuckles by noting that the speech act gets it all wrong: that battered women are almost always intimates of their batterers, that men typically don't need to go looking for women to beat up — silly! — the way they do gay people (though pausing soberly here to acknowledge that lesbians and gays, too, are underacknowledged victims of domestic abuse). Is violence formal? The line has the rhythm of a stand-up joke [4], setup followed by (literal) punchline, but the punchline's botched by the inflection, and silence, punctuated by a few titters [5], greets its delivery — the kind of silence that was reportedly common at sets by so-called postmodern comedians like Andy Kaufman and his ilk, back in the '70s.


The great temptation in reading Andrews is to treat each speech act or micro-sentence as structurally equivalent, as together constituting a conflictual "field" of discourse or overall social horizon. But the method itself negates this assumption; it is, after all, based on a highly selective, obsessively organizational approach to its materials. So reading this line as a "wild" allusion to retrochic seems to me right in its nod to the decontextualization (heightened ambiguity) of the speech act as punchline, but misses the real edge of Andrews' project in Shut Up, which is an all-out war on liberal pieties — the kind that led, via '70s complacency, to the Reaganite '80s. Call it prog-chic — or, as it became a flashpoint in the '90s culture wars, political correctness.




[1] "Questions are wimpoid translations of statements" (165)

[2] "Teenage girls are a race apart" (193)

[3] "everything's a putrified hillbilly spitting up sinecure" (190)

[4] "Why did the Israelis let the Christian militia into the camps?—to impress Jodie Foster" (159)

[5] "Too bad we can't pee out of our nipples" (192)

Tuesday, July 29, 2003


Books I took with me to the west coast.



·         Flemish School, Old Paris, & Night & Its Spells, Aloysius Bertrand

·         Far Out West, Clark Coolidge

·         Culture, Dan Davidson

·         Million Poems Journal, Jordan Davis

·         Letters: Poems 1953-1956, Robert Duncan

·         Drafts 1-38, Toll, Rachel Blau DuPlessis

·         Sugar Pill, Drew Gardner*

·         Push the Mule, John Godfrey

·         V. Imp., Nada Gordon

·         Inventions of Necessity: Selected Poems, Jonathan Greene*

·         Miniatures and Other Poems, Barbara Guest*

·         A Border Comedy, Lyn Hejinian*

·         Slide Rule, Jen Hofer

·         The Shrubberies, Ronald Johnson*

·         SOUND / (system), Stephen Ratcliffe

·         At Andy's, George Stanley*

·         Reproduction of the Empty Flagpole, Eileen Tabios



·         The Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics, Barrett Watten



·         Almost a Gentleman, Pam Rosenthal


Also, I started one additional book I was given while out west, Leslie Scalapino’s Zither & Autobiography. Putting a genre category around Scalapino’s work is normally an activity fraught with peril, but I can report that the “Autobiography” portion of Zither & Autobiography is precisely as advertised. It’s also riveting.


Almost a Gentleman is erotic romance fiction, a genuine bodice ripper. I note today for the first time that I’m thanked in the acknowledgements to both that book & to The Constructivist Moment, about which I’ve written here previously. Can we say range?



* = completed reading while in California.

Monday, July 28, 2003


During the two weeks I was out in California, 1,968 people checked the blog. I take that as some register of the number of individuals (as distinct from either “visits” or “hits”) who drop by the site.


I do want to give a special shout out to the people who have thus far responded to my inquiry as to a working definition of flarf:



Responses added up to 13 pages, single spaced. You can still reply – it’s not like there’s a deadline:


I should note that I’m gathering this with an idea of putting together something, maybe a talk, on the nature of meaning, somewhere down the line. The replies I’ve received to date raise a series of further questions, all interesting – at least to me:


M     Does flarf have a gender orientation?

M     What is the relationship between flarf and subpoetics?

M     Does flarf exist as a public phenomenon or as a coterie discourse? Could it exist the other way around?

M     Is it flarf without Google?

Sunday, July 27, 2003

I'm back.

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