Saturday, March 28, 2009



Lisa Jarnot & Ron Silliman

Saturday, April 4
4:00 to 6:00 PM

At the Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery
just North of Houston
New York

(F train to 2nd Ave, 6 to Bleecker )

Segue Reading Series



Friday, March 27, 2009


Photo by Jonathan Williams

Every couple of years, right about this time, I find myself drawn to rereading Spring & All, William Carlos Williams’ 1923 volume of verse linked with critique – today we might say theory – that in almost all respects was not only his first “great book,” but the very best writing of his career. It includes the poems that made him legitimately famous – “The red wheel barrow,” “By the road to the contagious hospital,” “The pure products of America,” and the two poems that I tend to think of as the best he ever wrote – “The rose is obsolete” and “What about all this writing?” The book originally was published in an edition of 300 by Contact Press & basically sank like a stone, never to be heard of again until Harvey Brown published a facsimile edition in 1970, some 47 years later, when it was still the most radical book of poetry I’d ever seen. (Actually, the last time I read this book was just last summer, but it holds up to rereadings the way Lear or Macbeth do. I can’t imagine not seeing something new no matter how many times I read the book.)

The poems are interspersed throughout the critical text. Its first assertion – that the fundamental impulse behind all traditional writing is plagiarism – has always struck me as unassailable, even obvious. But Williams’ second assertion – that what one represents in the poem is the imagination – has always made me feel uneasy. His insistence upon it is central:

(W)e are beginning to discover the truth that in great works of the imagination A CREATIVE FORCE IS SHOWN AT WORK MAKING OBJECTS WHICH ALONE COMPLETE SCIENCE AND ALLOW INTELLIGENCE TO SURVIVE


When in the condition of imaginative suspense only will the writing have reality . . .  – Not to attempt, at that time, to set values upon the word being used, according to presupposed measures, but to write down that which happens at that time –

To perfect the ability to record at the moment when the consciousness is enlarged by the sympathies and the unity of understanding which the imagination gives, to practice skill in recording the force moving, then to know it, in the largeness of its proportions –

It is the presence of a

This is not “fit” but a unification of experience

That is, the imagination is an actual force comparable to electricity or steam, it is not a plaything but a power that has been used from the first to raise the understanding of – it is not necessary to resort to mysticism – In fact it is this which has kept back the knowledge I seek –

The value of the imagination to the writer consists in its ability to make words. Its unique power is to give created forms reality, actual existence

This separates

Writing is not a searching about in the daily experience for apt similes and pretty thoughts and images. I have experienced that to my sorrow. It is not a conscious recording of the day’s experiences “freshly and with the appearance of reality” – This thing is seriously to the development of any ability in a man, it fastens him down, makes him a – It destroys, makes nature an accessory to the particular theory he is following, it blinds him to his world, –

The writer of imagination would find himself released from observing things for the purpose of writing them down later. He would be there to enjoy, to taste, to engage the free world, not a world which he carries like a bag of food, always fearful lest he drop something or someone get more than he.

A word detached from the necessity of recording it, sufficient to itself, removed from him (as it most certainly is) with which he has bitter and delicious relations and from which he is independentmoving at will from one thing to anotheras he pleases, unbound

and the unique proof of this is the work of the imagination not “like” anything but transfused with the same forces which transfuse the earthat least one small part of them.

Nature is the hint to composition not because it is familiar to us and therefore the terms we apply to it have a least common denominator quality which gives them currencybut because it possesses the quality of independent existence, of reality which we feel in ourselves. It is not opposed to art but apposed to it.

I suppose Shakespeare’s familiar aphorism about holding the mirror up to nature has done more harm in stabilizing the copyist tendency of the arts among us than

the mistake in it (though we forget that it is not S. speaking but an imaginative character of his) is to have believed that the reflection of nature is nature. It is not. It is only a sham nature, a “lie.”

Of course S. is the most conspicuous example desirable of the falseness of this very thing.

He holds no mirror up to nature but with his imagination rivals nature’s composition with his own.

He himself becomes “nature” – continuing “its” marvels – if you will

It occurs to me that one could learn all one needs to know of writing just by typing up this book, phrase by phrase, line by line. It occurs to me also that this is the template, in tone if not in exact architecture, for Robert Grenier’s infamous essay “ON SPEECH,” which would appear within the year of the Frontier Press republication.

But what precisely does Williams mean by imagination? Does he intend – I seriously doubt it – the same facility through which a child spins out so many nonsense syllables, as if speech itself were but a game?

The works that come through the imagination do not speak of the world – a belief in the possibility of which proves fatal to all political poetry, also all love poetry, also poetry about dogs and cats. That is because, says Williams, works of art, if they are not a “sham” or “’lie’,” do not speak of the world. Indeed, they do not speak of. Rather they are themselves in the world, on a par with the writer, and with the world itself, not to mention wars, love, cats & dogs. The poem, even if it is a great one, is no better than a dog in that each is real.

The imagination, as defined by Williams, uses words, but is not to be confused with them. Rather, its unique power is to “make words.” It has taken me years, decades in fact, to realize that imagination, as William Carlos Williams employs the term, can only be language. Or more accurately langue, tho not parole. That dimension of language that exists only – and always – as its potential, the entire system & never an instance.

This is what separates

Which makes cats & dogs & the infinite varieties of red. Which determines the exact border between blue and green, which, although it is hard & fast, is in fact different for each one of us, a shade to the left or to the right.

Watching Williams talk of language without a vocabulary for it falls into one of the primary fault lines of modernism, when all of the elements of a linguistic science were starting to come together, but did not yet fully exist. The great tragedy of James Joyce was his reliance on philology, on the 19th century discipline of word roots & origins, with which to mount Finnegan’s Wake. Pound translating from an imaginary Chinese. H.D. in Freud’s care, imagining him as a fellow researcher. Zukofsky’s flirtation with Basic English.

But Williams, like Stein, fundamentally gets it. Though he almost undoubtedly never read a word of Saussure, he writes like someone who has.

What then is imagination?

More to the point, what is it that Williams, in Spring & All, his finest work, is telling us about the role of imagination, of langue, in the poem?

That it is the duty of the poem to make langue visible, perceptible, so vivid you can taste the salt on its surface, can hear its hum. That, he is arguing, is the poem’s only duty.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009




Recently Received


Books (Poetry)

Carrie Olivia Adams, Intervening Absence, Ahsahta Press, Boise 2009

Lisa Birman, For That Return PassageL A Valentine for the United States of America, Hollowdeck Press, Boulder 2008

Abigail Child, CounterClock, Tout Court Editions of Mermaid Tenement Press, New York 2009

Norma Cole, If I’m Asleep, Tout Court Editions of Mermaid Tenement Press, New York 2009

Ben Dollar, FAQ:, Ahsahta Press, Boise 2009

Suzanne Frischkorn, Lit Windowpane, Main Street Rag, Charlotte, NC 2008

Elisabeth Frost, Rumor, Tout Court Editions of Mermaid Tenement Press, New York 2009

Michael Gizzi, New Depths of Deadpan, Burning Deck, Providence 2009

Laura Hinton, Ask Any Mermaid, Tout Court Editions of Mermaid Tenement Press, New York 2009

Rodney Koeneke, Rules for Drinking Forties, Cy Press, Cincinnati 2009

Thomas Meyer, Kintsugi, Punch Press, Buffalo 2009

Robert Sheppard, Warrant Error, Shearsman Books, Exeter 2009

Carolyn Smart, Hooked, Brick Books, London, Ontario 2009

Jeffrey Thomson, Birdwatching in Wartime, Carnegie Mellon UP, Pittsburgh 2009


Books (Other)

Dennis Barone, North Arrow: Stories, Quale Press, Conway, MA 2008

Lee Ann Brown & Tony Torn, Sop Doll: A Jack Tale Noh, Tout Court Editions of Mermaid Tenement Press, New York 2009

Charles Simic, The Renegade: Writings on Poetry and a Few Other Things, George Braziller, New York 2009



American Poet: The Journal of the Academy of American Poets, vol. 36, New York, Spring 2009. Includes Louis Glück, Donald Revell, John Koethe, Linda Bierds, Saskia Hamilton, Roberto Bolaño, Lucille Clifton, Kimberly Johnson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Li Po, Sarah Lindsay, Idra Novey, Ron Silliman, Charlie Smith, Jeffrey Yang, Marilyn Hacker, more.

Barrellhouse, no. 7, no location given. Includes Alex Irvine, Rachel B. Glaser Ben Stein, Michael Czyzniejewski, Matt Bell, Mark Wisniewski, Elissa Matsueda, Greg Hlavaty, Ken Hines, Peter Davis, Alan Michael Parker,  Caroline Knox, Mark McKee, Wade Fletcher, Farid Matuk, Matt Williamson Blake Butler, Sandra Beasley, Laura Ellen Scott, Flavian Mark Lupinetti, Kaethe Schwehn, Kate Angus & Joni Tevis.

Bird Dog, no. 10, Seattle, 2010. Includes C. S. Carrier, Christopher DeWeese, Emily Kendal Frey, Anna Fulford, Anne Gorrick, Jac Jemc, Grant Jenkins , Meghan McNealy, Sara Michas-Martin, Cheryl Pallant , Nicole Pollentier, Sarah Rosenthal, Linda Russo, Andrew Sage, Brandon Shimoda, Maureen Thorson, Emily Toder, Laura Madeline Wiseman, David Wolach, Juliana Spahr, Sarah Rosenthal, Nathan Cordero, Lauren DiCioccio, Vanessa Woods & Larry Bob Phillips

Invisible Ear, no. 3, Northampton, MA 2009. Includes Includes Brian Baldi, Ezekiel Black, Jack Christian, Ari Feld, Lewis Freedman, Anjali Khosla Mullany, Mark Leidner, Edward Mullany, Emily Toder & Lesley Yalen

Ocho, no. 21, Bloomington, IL, Jan. 2009. Guest-edited by Nick Piombino. Includes Laynie Browne, Abigail Child, Joe Elliot, Laura Elrick, Elizabeth Fodaski, Joanna Fuhrman, Anthony Hawley, Drew Gardner, Jessica Grim, Michael Lally, Douglas Messerli, Bill Marsh, Christina Strong & Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino.

Pleiades, 29.1, Warrensburg, MO, 2009. Includes Martha Ronk, Elizabeth Miller, Michael Snediker, John Gallaher, Allison Funk, Diane Wakoski, Ethan Paquin, Seth Abramson, Nancy Kuhl, Philip Metres, Robert Archambeau, Man Martin, Ned Balbo, many more.


Other Formats (Broadsides, DVDs, CDs, etc.)

J. Gordon Faylor & Edward Hopely, Tremblies: (Arcus & Recer), Poem Trees + Squashy, no location given, 2008. Two chapbooks tied together with a long (also old & grungy) string, each of which also contains material in an envelope glued to the inside of the rear cover under the general heading of Verdicts Enclosed. Apparently to be used like the cards in a game of Clue or Cluedo.

Nicole Peyrafitte & Michael Bisio¸ Whisk! Don’t Churn!, Ta’wil Productions, Albany, NY 2009 (CD)

Abe’s Penny: A Micro Magazine, vols. 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.1.3, 1.1.4, postcards with color photos by Tod Seelie on one side, 4-line poems (one may be prose) by Brandon Johnson (probably not the linebacker) on the other


Still a big stack of books
waiting to be noted here


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


The portrait of Marjorie Perloff
by Emma Bee Bernstein
I wrote about yesterday
(click for larger image)


The sculpted book


Ange Mlinko on Fanny Howe


Poetry in motion at
Ugly Duckling Presse


Hank Lazer
reading (MP3) & talking (MP3)
on Close Listening


The Great Age of Translation


Translating Joe Cocker into English


The French love Faulkner


Susan Stewart
on Umberto Saba


Language is a social object,
not a psychological one


The 2009 Gil Ott Book Award
goes to
The Book of Frank


At Beyond Baroque, April 3,
the life & times of Lew Welch


Adrienne Rich:
rereading LeRoi Jones


The Beats: A Graphic History


Poetry, prophecy & the academy


International Summer School on
Embodied Language Games
& Construction Grammar


Jane Mayhall has died


T.C. Boyle on
Gabriel Garcia Marquez


“The Dissembling Poet:
Seamus Heaney and the Avant-Garde


Eaves of Ass


Twenty Contemporary
New Zealand Poets


Glossing is a Beautiful Thing:
The Past, Present and Future
of Commentary


NY Times catches up
to the Barthelme bio

& the Boston Globe


Another review of Beckett’s letters

& another


The Dictionary of American Regional English


Talking with Alan Moore


April is the cruelest month
with Garrison Keillor everywhere (PDF)

The Line-Up:
Emily, Walt
& the Great Wall of Quietude


A Literary Publishing certification program


Rufo Quintavalle’s Make Nothing Happen


Poetry wars
head to the Northwest


Auggie Kleinzahler’s
“Poet’s Choice”
is himself


Why women read more than men


Comparing the poetry of Mark Strand
to 19th century painting


Writing in dark places


Walter Mosley
introduces a new detective


Meirion Jordan’s Moonrise


If the world of poetry
were reduced
to just 25 books


Nicholas Hughes,
son of Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath,
has committed suicide


Wyndham Lewis & Modernism
Symposium in Victoria, BC

An exhibition of Wyndy’s work


Andrew Motion
on retiring as laureate


20 years of editing Updike


Save the world of books!


Enclosing the commons


The death & life of
great American newspapers


Will NPR save the news?


How to kill the internet


A major source of newsprint
struggles to survive


Battlestar Galactica
has ended


How to build Stonehenge


T.J. Clark comes to Picasso


Women’s Work


Where is the Snow of yesteryear?

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Monday, March 23, 2009


L-R: Lyn Hejinian, Emma Bee Bernstein, RS,
 Susan Bee, Bruce Andrews & Susan Howe,
Tarascon, France, 1988

One of the many pleasures of being in Atlanta Saturday for the marriage of my nephew, Daniel Silliman, to Beth Jarvis was getting to see my half-sister Nancy meet my brother Cliff for the first time ever. Our father, Glenn Sherman Silliman, died in 1965 at the age of 38 from burns suffered in an on-the-job explosion, having had three marriages & leaving behind shards of family everywhere he went. Forty-four years later, we’re still putting the pieces back together.

My father’s nickname was Lucky, which may seem macabre in retrospect, but if he had not walked away from an airplane crash in The Dalles, Oregon in 1947, I would have been an only child. He was in the process of smuggling alcohol from Portland to a dry county in Southeastern Washington, so this wasn’t one of your skid-off-the-runway crashes either. The wings iced up and he ended up in a field staggering around with a broken back. Even in 1965, with third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body, he walked to the ambulance.

Going to & from Atlanta Saturday, I read the latest volume in Belladonna’s Elder Series, entitled simply Emma Bee Bernstein, containing work by the young photographer, who committed suicide while working at the Guggenheim in Venice last December at the age of 23. The volume consists of an introduction by Johanna Drucker, the original introduction written for this book by Emma herself, interviews done jointly by Emma with Nona Willis Aronowitz of the painter Susan Bee, Emma’s mother, and Marjorie Perloff, taken from their work for the forthcoming volume girlDRIVE, documenting a cross-country roadtrip talking with women about the nature of life, art, politics & especially feminism today. Susan Bee has contributed a wonderful essay on Emma & her work, as has Aronowitz. Perloff has an additional note, and there is one as well penned by four members of the Belladonna collective: Emily Beal, HR Hegnauer, Erica Kaufman & Rachel Levitsky. There are photographs by Emma, and of her, as well as collage work throughout by Susan Bee.

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