Saturday, August 16, 2003


The UPS guy just showed up, looking as he always does, somewhere between a squat version of Patrick Stewart & a shorter David Antin, lugging in his arms the carton of books I acquired at Small Press Distribution (SPD) while I was in Berkeley. I now finally can put together the third part of my three-part “books over a two-week trip” scenario, joining the roster of books acquired while out west below with the list I posted on July 29 of those I took with me to read while I was there and the list I posted August 2nd of books & journals that came in the mail while I was gone.


I will admit that I’ve been spoiled. I had a house for six years just one block from SPD when I last lived in Berkeley & when they moved (after I’d headed east to Chester County, PA), they relocated to within walking distance of where I grew up. Considering the lack of books in my own home when I was a kid, I was incredibly fortunate to find myself in the best city in the United States for locating contemporary poetry. Of course, it wasn’t always that way. I’m old enough to remember when Fred Cody’s bookstore was a tiny place in North Berkeley (there is a Fat Apple’s restaurant there now) & old enough to recall when Peter Howard & Jack Shoemaker started Serendipity Books on Shattuck. Peter still owns Serendipity, though it’s moved since. SPD was originally a part of Serendipity, spun off decades ago & recreated as a non-profit. And Jack took the new book retail operation off to become Sand Dollar in Albany (which closed after Jack went off to run North Point Press, only to become re-emerge in part as Black Oak Books). All of which is to say that I still shop at SPD very much the way I did back in the 1960s at Serendipity, going shelf by shelf, finding little treasures, limiting myself so as not to go over budget. Not all of the books in this list were acquired at SPD, I should note. Some were picked up at Green Apple Books, Cody’s, Modern Times & the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art or were given to me by their authors or editors. But – bottom line – it’s worth the plane ticket to shop at SPD in person.


·         Cunt-Ups, Dodie Bellamy

·         Indictable Suborners, David Bromige

·         Bleeding Optimist, Mary Burger

·         Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy, Carolyn Burke

·         Baffling Means, Clark Coolidge & Philip Guston

·         A Handmade Museum, Brenda Coultas

·         Rules of the House, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa

·         The Cloud of Knowable Things, Elaine Equi

·         Young Robert Duncan: Portrait of the Poet as Homosexual in Society, Ekbert Faas

·         Philip Guston Retrospective, Philip Guston

·         Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Interest, Anselm Hollo

·         Dreaming the Miracle: Three French Prose Poets, Max Jacob, Francis Ponge, Jean Follain

·         Three Poems, Stephen Jonas

·         What is Poetry: Conversations with the American Avant-Garde, Daniel Kane

·         Mirage #4 / Period(ical) #107, edited by Kevin Killian & Dodie Bellamy

·         Margaret & Dusty, Alice Notley

·         Eureka, A Prose Poem, Edgar Allan Poe

·         Present Tense, Stephen Ratcliffe

·         How to Do Things with Words, Joan Retallack

·         The Public World / Syntactically Impermanence, Leslie Scalapino

·         Defoe, Leslie Scalapino

·         Enough, edited by Leslie Scalapino & Rick London

·         Music or Honesty, Rod Smith

·         Little Casino, Gilbert Sorrentino

·         Miss America, Catherine Wagner

·         Goof Book, Philip Whalen

That, for me, is a year’s reading. But it won’t even make a visible difference to the stacks of unread books in my bedroom (which have more or less overwhelmed & buried the bookcase that was set aside for books-still-to-read). And as I type this, the mailman comes by & hands me a copy of Gregg Biglieri’s Reading Keats to Sleep, as beautiful a letterpress “book” as one could imagine. So I sit right down and read it.

Friday, August 15, 2003


The first substantial publication of previously unavailable work by Louis Zukofsky since the private printing of Eighty Flowers shortly after his death in 1978 – as well as hands down the strangest new book by a major modernist in many a year – A Useful Art collects Louis Zukofsky’s writing on design & crafts conducted under the employ of the WPA. Edited by Kenneth Sherwood, with an afterword by John Taggart, A Useful Art contains a 50-page essay on the history of ironwork in America from 1585 to 1856, a second major work on American kitchenware from 1608 to 1875, shorter pieces on chalk, tin & toleware, plus a hodge-podge of radio scripts & research notes on specific items from the smithing traditions as well as on ancillary topics, including carpets & friendship quilts. In short, this is Antiques Roadshow with Louis Zukofsky! Like his other critical writing, it’s both meticulous and quite dry.


The relation of A Useful Art to Zukofsky’s poetry is no doubt oblique – not unlike the relation of Kafka’s Measures to Prevent Accidents in Factories and Farms to the short stories & novels that followed. There are specific lines and phrases in “A” that might be traced back to Zukofsky’s day job – which extended from 1936 into 1939 – yet, as Sherwood notes in his introduction, Zukofsky had written “To my wash-stand” in 1932. What strikes me, skimming through this book for the first time, is how Zukofsky’s famed domesticity, his role as the chronicler of the family, can be seen here as related to the lives of the anonymous artisans & craftspeople whose work passes through our hands with our being barely aware of them. The book’s only obvious failing is that only writings from the last two years of Zukofsky’s job appear to have survived.


A Useful Art, however, is in one sense just the forerunner of a much more important new Zukofsky volume that is due to be published in September, Le Style Apollinaire, edited by Serge Gavronsky. Two sections of Zukofsky’s booklength examination of the French poet were published in Westminster Magazine in 1932, while a French edition (done in collaboration with Rene Taupin) appeared in 1934. That Zukofsky’s “first book” will arrive finally in English some 25 years after the poet’s death underscores all too clearly the problem of resources that progressive literature continues to face.

Thursday, August 14, 2003


The New Brut: I hadn’t expected my comments on the stereotypical representation of langpo in James Meetze’s Quizmo survey to be read as an attack on the New Brutalism, per se. My comment was aimed more at the implication of one sentence in Meetze’s quiz than it was his poetics. Yet of the more than 8,000 words of commentary this generated on Meetze’s site, the weblogs of others – including (but not limited to) Kasey Mohammad,  Catherine Meng, Laurable, Alli Warren, Jim Berhle, Tim Yu & Chris Sullivan – plus Squawkboxes to Kasey’s site & my own, and a discussion on the PoetryEtc list, one recurrent theme was the trope of boxing:


M     Kasey stepping into the ring in his black and white uniform blowing a whistle. The crowds are covering eyes & tossing their popcorn. Barbara Guest comes out holding a sign…. Round 2. The bell’s been rung…. [Meng]

M     (i)n the midst of the warring din…. we have in the one corner the Senior Poet…. In the other, we have the scruffy, sap-filled Byronic spokesman for Poetic Youth. [Mohammad]

M     Do I feel as if he called me out? Of course I do…. [Meetze]


So much for my ability to make what I thought was a relatively simple point: the stereotype – langpos are opposed to emotion – irks me and isn’t supported by looking at the work itself. I don’t think that bellicosity improves international relations (W: take note) & certainly don’t think it does much for poetry.


I picked Fanny Howe’s Gone as my sample of emotion in langpo not because she was a woman – tho in hindsight I should have seen that objection coming – but because I’d just finished reading the book. I was in fact noodling around with the idea of a second blog on Gone to supplement the one I did on May 20 when that line in Quizmo got my attention. I could have, as easily, chosen the work of Barrett Watten (read Plasma / Paralleles / “X” for example) or Clark Coolidge’s more recent Far Out West. Or the work of Bruce Andrews or Charles Bernstein. The emotions – and to some degree the strategies – are different from book to book, but if you can’t hear/see it in each, then it’s really time to contact your executor. I feel that same way about the Diane Ward piece I cited here as well. You don’t need a unifying narrative or figurative frame for each of those phrases in her work to carry an emotional payload. At least I don’t. To require that kind of frame, really to convert the poem into a dramatic monolog, cryptic or otherwise, doesn’t for me engage emotion. If anything, the process contains & constrains emotion within pre-digested categories. Meetze is right when he points to the importance of tone even though I don’t agree with his ear for the specifics.


As for the New Brutalism, I’m really agnostic – I’ve liked the poetry I’ve seen & the people I’ve met who’ve associated themselves with this term, but I haven’t read nearly enough to make generalizations or draw conclusions. As with anything that’s new & emerging, the New Brut’s primary challenge is to differentiate itself from the broad range of other poetries that are currently contending for mindshare. At the moment, I don’t think it’s clear, for example, that NB, so-called, even has differentiation as a goal & Kasey’s admonition against manifestos seems to be implying that he doesn’t think that this is where NB is going.


But contrary to what Kasey suggests, I don’t think that langpo’s historic problems with the New York School in the 1970s were necessarily inherent in the poetry. Over the years, there’s been a lot of cross-breeding, a process that continues.


I see more positives than negatives to a discussion like this. Kasey’s piece was a reasoned & intelligent essay on the topic of emotion in poetry, generations & positionality. Tim Yu followed with a response that I wish I’d written myself.* Alli’s shorter reply is a work of art in its own right. And James Meetze responded quite credibly by articulating some of what he’s thinking about with regards to his poetry & my own. I actually agree with Meetze on the question of language poetry’s “time” – it’s over. As I first wrote in the intro to In the American Tree in 1984, langpo always was a moment rather than a movement. That is why it is possible to include writers – Howe (either one), Armantrout, Bernadette Mayer, P. Inman, John Mason, Jean Day, Ray Di Palma, Erica Hunt, David Melnick – who are radically dissimilar from one another in terms of their own writing strategies. Indeed, that diversity is one of the key strengths of langpo as a moment. & this no doubt is why I tend to see any definition of langpo that excludes any of the above as really missing the point, or else trying to hijack the phenomenon for some other argument. It’s not historically accurate or intellectually honest to try & read any of these people out of the equation. I suspect that it is just such a narrowing down that Kasey is trying to avoid when he cautions against a New Brutalist manifesto.





* I’m not, I should note, convinced that this conundrum can be reduced to a “difference in sensibilities.” For one thing, langpo as a social phenomenon demonstrated as broad a range in sensibility as one might imagine. I certainly can tell, for example, that somebody who would name his weblog The Brutal Kittens places a value on the ironic superimposition of competing frames. My complaint wasn’t that Meetze has a sense of humor, but rather that that one particular quip was predicated on bad data. And has, as Jim Behrle & others have noted, a history all its own.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003


Somebody today will be this blog’s 50,000th visitor. An exact count is available at the bottom of this page. If it is you, send me an email & tell me who you are.


The sun hasn’t shined more brightly on New York City since the early poems of Frank O’Hara than it does in Jordan Davis’ Million Poems Journal. This is one of those books that let you know almost instantly that you will have to read everything this particular poet ever writes. I’d actually known that I liked Davis’ writing before this, but until I had the book in my hand with its perfect clover green cover, I don’t think I understood just how deeply I felt about his work.


The O’Hara comparison is deliberate. In some ways, Jordan Davis strikes me as being closer as a poet to the late museum administrator than any other writer since FOH stepped in front of the dune buggy on that fateful night in 1966. This isn’t to say that Davis is an O’Hara imitator, however. There have been plenty of those, none to my eye successful. Rather, the secret to O’Hara’s poetry (something he shares with Davis) consists of two specific ingredients: First, you have to be yourself. & this can be the hardest thing in the world to achieve. You can’t, for example, be Frank O’Hara. Second, you have to be able to think rapidly & with great precision. There are lots of fine, even great poets, who can’t do this. Robert Duncan, for example, is someone who moves through his works with enormous deliberation – you can almost feel his mind slowing down the movement of the poem. Not so Davis.


Here is one example, which I’ll follow with a caution:


Jubilee of Evening


These are the killers

Linking arms in a circle

Turning in a circle, singing

“We are all killers, hey”

“We are killers all”


Every girl is a cat

Every dog is a boy

Meet me at the reservoir

And I’ll hold you blurry

Like a camera in the wind


I wish I was a tentacle

Being ground into paper

I wish you were my leader

Rounding the corner, singing

“Evening, evening”


My caution is this: like Lee Ann Brown – another relatively young New York poet who fulfills the two conditions I listed above – it’s difficult to generalize about Jordan Davis’ poetry from any individual example. Because each poem is so different, because Davis’ tendency is toward humor* & since his works generally strike a casual stance, it’s possible to imagine that they’re written quickly or with little attention to craft. This is a charge with which, 45 years ago, O’Hara himself had to deal. Yet in all three instances – O’Hara, Brown & Davis – it’s a charge that never bears up when you actually look at the poems. If they were just “tossed off,” how on earth do they all get to be so well written?


In “Jubilee of Evening,” for example, we see a poem of the circle dance – we could trace the history of that trope back through Robert Duncan to Blake to antiquity – yet never has this archetypal scene been performed in quite this way. The lethal undertones of the first stanza** are dramatically undercut by the second which combines an notably skewed linguistic comparison – those first two lines are not parallel – followed by a particularly contemporary image of romance.


The third stanza can be read a variety of different ways, depending I think on whether the reader envisions the figure of the leader “rounding” and “singing” as returning thematically to the circle dance of the first stanza & thus generating hardcore closure, or else as carrying the poem to an entirely different third place so that the work functions as a postmodern triptych of distinct moments. Both readings are plausible – this would be a very “teachable” text for that reason – and nothing that I can see in the poem tips the author’s hand here.


Virtually every poem in this book can be read fruitfully this way, yet to very different ends just because the poems are so different – Davis is as unconcerned with creating an all-over effect or signature style as any poet I’ve read – and yet these poems become instantly recognizable. I suspect (understatement) that the title poem to Million Poems Journal, a comic masterpiece that is every bit as good as Corso’s “Marriage” or any like poem by Kenneth Koch, will be Davis’ anthology piece for awhile, yet it’s radically unlike the sculpted & crafted poem above.


Davis has been posting his poetry in various blogs for months now, including at least 738 poems since last September in his Million Poems blog that picks up in some ways where this book ends. That’s 738 poems without any visible evidence of automated text generation procedures such as Google sculpting that might enable any other mere mortal to generate so much text in such a short time. If the poems don’t work as well in the web format, it isn’t so much that the poems haven’t gone through the filtering process of selection for a 92-page collection, such as this book represents, as it is that the rather endless HTML page (with an excessively small font) creates a sense of sameness that is quite different from how individual works negotiate the finite limits of a printed page. It’s in that more defined format that Davis’ different writing strategies really “pop” and grab your attention. Even though, as has been the case for all of the Faux Press volumes, I have some qualms with the actual design of the page in the book itself – the paper is too white & glossy, closer in spirit to Time Magazine than to the buff matte warmth that a printed page can offer. So, happy as I am to see all of those works available, however temporarily, in the endless scroll of the web, what I’m really looking forward to most is Jordan Davis’ next book. And the one after that. And the one after that.





* Albeit with a noir twist that I don’t see in Brown’s poetry.


** I envision a group of Israeli rogue settlers dancing while wearing Uzis strapped to their backs when I read this stanza. This suggests something quite unlike the “carefree” apolitical nature of O’Hara’s first gen NY School poetics.


Tuesday, August 12, 2003


Impressions of the first evening’s reading from The Philly Sound fest at La Tazza 108:


¨       Starting an hour late works well from the perspective of getting through the horrific traffic, a combination of normal Friday Philadelphia traffic hell plus a Bruce Springsteen concert. At the announced starting time, I’m still trying to make my way down to Chestnut Street & have been traveling for 90 minutes to go just 20 miles. But when I finally get to La Tazza at 7:10, there are only six or seven people there. By 8:00, there are 60 and the number keeps growing during the evening. Afterwards, Tom Devaney tells me he counted over 100 in attendance.

¨       Patrick Scanlon has smartly commandeered the Pac-Man machine from which to sell books. I buy Uneveness & The Blood Sonnets by Juliana Spahr & Cut and Shoot, a collaboration by Cathleen Miller & Deborah Richards. I put copies of Secret Swan #14 on the machine to be given out for free. And I wonder if Juliana knows that unevenness is misspelled.

¨       I see Herman Beavers at a table going through a manuscript. Tom Devaney told me earlier in the day that he hoped to induce Beavers to read & I realize now he’s been successful.

¨       On the flip side, Tom shows up to tell me that John Godfrey was unable to get off work in time to make tonight’s reading. I’ve always wanted to read with Godfrey, so this is a major disappointment, especially since I know already that I won’t be able to attend Saturday.

¨       A man comes up to me & introduces himself as CA Conrad. Other than the mysterious Invisible Adjunct, Conrad is the only other member of the Philadelphia community to take serious advantage of the weblog form. We’ve corresponded via email for months, but never formally met. You can find Craig in this photo, in the back row with his hand on his brow. My travels this summer have convinced me that it’s a serious disadvantage to a scene not to have a solid cluster of poetry bloggers. NY, SF & Boston seem to have gotten it done. San Diego, Washington & Philadelphia all have some catching up to do. [Note to self: think out a regionalism & blogging piece.]

¨       I see several old friends as the reading starts to gather: Kristen Gallagher in town from Buffalo, John Krick with whom I used to work at TSS, Daniel Abd al-Hayy Moore (whom I warn I will misconstrue in my reading, which I later do), possibly the only person in the room who is older than I. I see several of the event’s organizers – Mytili Jagannathan, Frank Sherlock, Magdalena Zurawski (who announces that [1] she is passing up a free ticket to the Springsteen concert to be here and [2] she will be moving to San Francisco shortly). Jules Bykoff comes up to say hello. As does Hassan. As does Prageeta Sharma. So does (tho this is later) Kazim Ali & (later still) Barbara Cole. Someday says that Eileen Myles is coming straight from the airport, but if she made it to the reading I didn’t see here.

¨       At some point, Devaney asks if Eddie Berrigan has arrived &, as if conjured by his name, he’s standing immediately behind Tom. So the event gets under way. Tom & Maggie (nee Magdalena) share the introductions. And Edmund goes first, reading a long dialog entailing multiple entities of dubious ontology: Tepid, Ball, Melty, Science Students, Hallelujah. The work has an urban feel to it, with large doses of humor, but I would hesitate to characterize it as fiction. Rather, Berrigan seems to be finding a space that operates between poetry, theater & fiction without ever being any one of the three. It’s an interesting balancing act & it immediately calls to mind other poets (Nada Gordan, Jen Hofer) who I sometimes think are aiming for this same space beyond genre.

¨       Next up is Beavers, which makes for an amazing contrast. Beavers is every bit as much about genre as Berrigan seems to be about dissolving it. An African-American academic on the high side of 40, Beavers’ poetry mostly employs dramatic monolog combined with black dialect to articulate a space that sounds a little like Al Young with all of the New American allusions of Young’s work drained away. Beavers’ work is technically competent, funny & smart. But it sounds very much like an example of a generation of writing that has already been thoroughly framed by history. I’m most interested in his last works, which are prose poems & a failed (in Beavers’ term) sestina, though they don’t sound different from the earlier pieces.

¨       At the break, Jena Osman asks me how long I intend to read. We’ve all been instructed to do 15 minute sets. Beavers’ reading ran 25, which was still modest compared with Berrigan’s 40. We can already see the Goth band that will soon be playing in the basement rock club carting their instruments & electronics downstairs. “You mean, how long is 15 minutes in my world,” I ask.

¨       I find it hard-to-impossible at readings where I’m on the agenda to really focus & this gets worse the closer I get to my own turn. So it’s really a comment as to how strong a reader & writer Osman is that she breaks through my increasingly self-contained shell. She reads two pieces – actually staying well within the 15 minute mark – one that I think is called “Bowdlerizer,” then a second longer work entitled “The Novel of Nowhere,” a piece inspired, Osman says, by Colin Powell’s comment that “war is not inevitable.” There is a figure named Bosch, although it is never clear whether it is the Gothic painter or the ousted Dominican president who Osman has in mind. This piece is brilliant, exceptionally moving & over far too soon.

¨       I read a version of the same excerpts from VOG that I did at the Drawing Center in New York in June & at 21 Grand in Oakland in July, adding one new piece, “Of Grammatology” – it’s been one that I’ve been undecided on & had even been thinking of excising from VOG, but when I was contemplating that fate this past week, I decided that I liked it & that the long “found” sentence in the middle of such a short prose piece gave it a structure that engaged me – while subtracting several others. As I read, I struggle with the lack of a podium – it takes me forever to get one page out of my hand & onto the table to my side, so that every multipage piece feels disrupted to me as there is an exaggerated stanza between every page. The audience is quieter, more somber & with less laughter, than either of those in NY or Oakland, though I get an enthusiastic round of applause when I’m done. The reading makes me feel grumpy, as if I could see where I wanted to go with it, but with the text always remaining slightly out of focus.

¨       As he’s leaving (and I’m preparing to), Beavers comes up to me to tell me that my reading was “edgy.” I’m still pondering what that might mean.

¨       Afterwards, I’m driving Krick back to where his own car was parked & he comments that we were the oldest people in the room. This isn’t, strictly speaking, accurate – Abd al-Hayy has a couple of years on me – but it’s close enough. Out of a 100 people, there were maybe 98 who were younger. This makes me contemplate the sometimes problematic continuity of American poetry. This in turn reminds me of one reader’s comment to one of the sillier Quizmo games – Which Michael Palmer book are you?which was “Who is Michael Palmer?”

Monday, August 11, 2003


Inventions of Necessity, Jonathan Greene's 18th book, is a Selected Poems. I've followed his writing at a distance for a long time: Robert Kelly was an important influence for each of us in the 1960s & as I wandered off in my own particular direction in the years since, so did Greene, coming to a poetry that is unique in his (& my) generation.


Greene can be said to write a post-projectivist poem of quiet urgency. Indeed, the adjectives that appear on the book's back cover — "low-keyed," "calm," meditative" — are not inaccurate. But more than any other poet coming, as he has, out of the New American tradition, Greene writes a poem of narrative & expository completeness. Thus, for example, "The Match":


They box, they wrestle,

they call each other names

under their breath —


how else could it be

that two men would embrace

before such a multitude.


Greene's poems are flawless. And while one might expect that a volume that allots just 77 pages to the work of 30 years would be forced to focus almost exclusively on Greene's very best poems, it is evident everywhere in this volume that perfection & closure are important values for him. Which in turn makes me realize how unusual Greene is in this regard, at least among "our kind" of poets.


It's not that Greene is a closet School of Quietude type lurking among the post-avant set. Instead, he virtually alone among the progressive poets born in the 1940s has seen a need for this approach to completion. In some ways, this makes him — although Greene's poetry is more narrative & figural — the closest thing we might have to a "natural" descendant of the poetry of that other high-finish isolato, William Bronk. Greene lacks Bronk's grimness, but shares with Bronk some sense of the poem's responsibility. It's not the same philosophy, but rather an agreement that the poem is finally a philosophic endeavor.


But what it's been making me wonder the most about this morning is why so few post-avant poets share Greene's compulsion for closure. It is one of the School of Quietude's enduring complaints about post-avant poetry in general that the poems, to their eyes, look "like drafts," poorly crafted precisely because they reject closure. &, indeed, there is almost no poem here that, say, Robert Kelly might have written, just because Kelly's poems, even at their most brief, leave room for the open-ended, angular & indeterminate.


So Greene's uniqueness lies not, at least not importantly, in the New York boy having gone off to make a life in Kentucky, although that also was certain to set him apart from his peers, but in his vision for the poem. One might quarrel with Greene's need for completeness, but he makes the case convincingly that, for him at least, this necessity is absolute.

Sunday, August 10, 2003


Why do so many young poets smoke? Given that nearly all the younger writers I know have militant anti-capitalist positions, why do they turn their very own cardiovascular systems over to the most cynical, deadly & addictive strategy the corporations have ever developed? This makes no sense whatsoever.


My first impression of Friday night’s Philly Sound reading at La Tazza 108 is Saturday morning’s splitting headache, the result of all that second-hand smoke.


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Even sillier than it sounds? Poetry magazine’s new editor, Christian Wiman, is interviewed by Chicago Public Radio here & gives new meaning to the term revenant. I wouldn’t want to substitute revenant for School of Quietude (the latter category is far broader), but I just might substitute it for New Formalism.


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On a saner note, I found this somewhat older print interview with Samuel R. Delany.


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There is a very nice review of this blog from Daniel Massei en español. Gracias!


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Since I’ve begun making changes in my blog format, the number of visitors per day has jumped over twenty percent and the number of pages viewed per visit – which had been virtually static since last fall – has also risen by more than ten percent. Supermarkets shuffle their stock periodically because they know that it leads to a predictable spike – 17 percent on average – in “impulse shopping.”

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