Monday, May 16, 2005

Perhaps the single best example of the ways in which the web has emerged as a more powerful publishing solution for progressive arts than traditional print forms is How2, the onsite zine that has evolved from the relatively simple newsletter HOW(ever) originally founded by Kathleen Fraser, Bev Dahlen & Frances Jaffer 22 years ago. Whereas the original publication never grew large enough to warrant perfect binding, the current online zine has evolved into a rich gathering of diverse materials & resources from all over the world. If How2 couldn’t be captured in perfect binding today, that’s because some of its content literally requires the web as a platform.

HOW(ever)’s original project was straightforward enough, to be:

A vehicle for experimentalist poetry – post-modern if you will, to be thought of seriously as an appropriate poetry for women and feminists.

Today, when women make up an absolute majority of post-avant writing, Frances Jaffer’s words sound almost banal. In 1983, these same words represented the jarring coming together of what many had imagined to be radically disjunct vocabularies. HOW(ever) & How2 have an awful lot to do with that transformation. They offer the textbook example of how the right idea, simply done in a modest format, can absolutely change the world. If a future literary historian wants to identify the moment when avant-garde tradition took the leap forward into becoming post-avant – which is to say incorporating that 200-year-old tradition while moving it beyond the elitist presumptions of modernism & toward a sense of formally progressive tradition as community – you could make a very good case for HOW(ever) as the key event.

The present manifestation of this same institution has become one of the two or three richest & most varied resources on the web, not just for women writing “experimentally,” but for all writing, period. The current number, just up, has no less than seven major features in addition to the usual riches one finds in each issue:

  • An in-depth feature on Nicole Brossard, the great Québécois writer, that includes pieces by her in French, translated into English (and one even translated via BabelFish), a discussion with Susan Rudy and Anne-Marie Wheeler, plus four critical pieces.
  • One feature on contemporary Japanese poetry
  • One feature on modern Singapore poetry – I don’t need to stress here, do I, just how rarely we get to read contemporary poetry from Asian countries?
  • Four papers – plus an account by Andrea Brady – from a conference on writing and environment. The papers included here have as their topics the work of Rae Armantrout, Jack Spicer, Madeline Gins & Arakawa, plus migrant poetics in New Zealand.
  • A feature on new media pieces edited by How2 managing editor Redell Olsen. Links for downloading QuickTime, Flash Player or Windows Media Player are all on the introductory page. Troglodyte that I am, the one that interests me most is Brigid Mc Leer’s In Place of a Page, which documents a series of works & thinking about the relation of architecture to writing. This is the one that uses the fewest whizbangs & thus relies the most on its interaction between visuals & language.
  • A pair of pieces on Alice Duer Miller, a member of the Algonquin Round Table who has largely been neglected in recent decades. Miller gets dismissed in part because she was a satirist – read “Why We Oppose Pockets for Women” to get a sense of this side of her work.
  • “The Upside Down Door,” a portfolio of 14 poets, including two of my most favorites, Jenn McCreary & Laura Sims. Also included are Jane Sprague, Rachel Moritz, Corinne Lee, Anne Blonstein, Julia Cohen, Carol Ciavonne, Nicole Mauro, Marianne Morris, Laura Solomon, Claire Barbetti, Jennifer Bartlett & Wendy S. Walters.

Any one of these would qualify the issue as warranting special notice – the issue is, instantly, the best source of materials available in English on Brossard on the web, for example – but together, it’s really overwhelming. Reading something like Bridget-Rose Lee’s “The Last Bus” from the Singapore poetry portfolio is to glimpse into a world that is both very like & very different from my own:

in the event you must die in a crash I want me there, best if you want me too. in the event you prefer another I have been living with this. you’d rather end relations than to mention possibilities. it is hard to love you but harder to not love you because there is no chance. roots grow in this strange familiar way and it is an earthquake every day only you don’t know. how many people part this way I don’t know but they do and death parts pain from forever. so I can’t say when I’ll get to say I love to marry you as even death will fall short of its part. each time I send you away I wait for the time again for you to say you don’t want me to wait anyway. I wave as I’ve waved, don’t need to mind about forever when forever is mine.

Or consider Yoko Isaka’s “Boxed Panthers” from the Japanese portfolio:

The hallway extends to either side
A patient headed for surgery passes by us on a stretcher
“I left it behind. I left one behind. Don’t know where it went. I went
    to the dentist”
The boy sitting on the couch leans on the old man
His small hands are wrapped tight around the small box on his lap
The old man sleeps
In this place, where even the light is bandaged
A woman single-mindedly eating a bag of candy, uninclined to talk
Is on the edge of the couch
    - Is that me
A painting of women crossing from thicket to thicket
Becoming white veils and white trains
Hangs on the wall behind

I once went to go look at the gallows near the gates of the city  back when I was little they would hang people now the gallows still remain but only in form, to signal the city’s enforcement of the peace to foreigners who enter that day I stayed there all night the sun shone brightly on the pedestal the blue paint flying off  like the gray color seeping out the colors of the earth well up from the lump of flesh, neither face nor body as the sun shone I continued to gaze up at the hung man as he slept   everyone but the man was vaguely aware of me sitting on the ground, waiting for him to come back to life
I become a tongue  inner ear   skin  in order to know the subject and learn my position as measured by the subject  it is easy to think of myself as a long series of organs  taking something in and out is accompanied by pleasure  pain and emotion  a spirituality  it is too easy to think of the man as a long drawn-out series of organs   rather the man is a hanging bell  and wishes to be struck  the man would resonate gently on the inside  boaubouarun  boaubouarun  and the colors of the earth well up   impeached by the light that says  Agitator!

The boy looks up this way with the expression of the old man

(What is inside the box)
Inside is a tunnel   very long
Solemnly creaking at the joints

(Is it impossible to exit)
A black panther had babies
The box is packed with them
Their eyes shining, lighting the way

(Is it possible to walk)
Yes, anywhere
However   they get chewed apart
And just the bones remain laying around
The probably lose sight of which, among the many eyeballs,
Is the exit

“I’ve got teeth in here. My teeth”
The boy
Leans on the old man
The old man opens his eyes wide and says
“Any act originating from an innocent place is violent”
The woman with the candy gets up
And enters the painting on the wall
As a bell rings

A distant will   seeps into the ears of the sleeping man
Live,   it may have whispered

Another patient headed for surgery
Passes by us on a stretcher

In addition to the usual news & notes, there are eight books in the issue as well. Of particular interest is Mairéad Byrne’s preview of Open Field, an anthology of Canadian poetry edited by Sina Queyras, which makes me anxious to see this new collection from Persea.