September 2009


So I click on the story “Film Festival Says Roman Polanski Arrested” this morning on the New York Times website and get the following. (click to enrage)

I like the fact that AP reporters communicate in tweet language, and go to the internet for news. But I guess I knew that already. Curious what series of accidents gets an chat dialogue into the a news item approved for circulation to the New York Times.

Reminds me that my first experience with the “internet” was hanging out with my friend Jay Szep, who was then just starting to work for Reuters, in Toronto some time in the early 90s, and he logging onto the Reuters system and being able to read unpublished or raw news articles and notes from around the world which he could then refine, add on to, use for his stories, etc. Seemed so wild.

I wish this happened more often, would make a good book project.

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As some of you know, I’ve been researching the history of poetry in Los Angeles for the past two months or so. I haven’t done much more than take out a bunch of poetry books and anthologies from the library and do some web research, but in fact there isn’t much critical writing about the “history” of L.A. Poetry available. I did find a very useful dissertation by the poet and anthologist Bill Mohr which covers a large portion of this story, but it’s quite rough at the moment (I don’t know if he’ll publish it as a book, but it needs revision).

One book, Venice West, by John Arthur Maynard, was very useful for the Beat Era. And in general, my project was inspired by a wonderful art book called Catalogue L.A.: The Making of an Art Capital 1955-1985, which is a documentary chronology of the birth of the visual art culture out here.

I was hoping to publish capsule biographies of these poets with this initial post, but I think that’s going to take longer than I thought. Some of these poets, like Thomas McGrath, are better known for their work elsewhere, but McGrath was important for his time as organizer, editor, and general cultural force for the ten years he lived in Los Angeles. Like many poets in L.A. at the time, he was called to testify before HUAC and lost his job as a result.

Nora May French (the link is to a website that has several bios and all of her poems) will be a new name to most of you. She moved here at the age of seven, in 1888, when the population was roughly 50,000 people. As if in anticipation of the transformations the city would undergo when the movie industry took over, French was very beautiful and a little imbalanced, finally killing herself by ingesting cyanide (after, I think, trying to kill an ex-lover of hers).

Indeed, many poets in Los Angeles died prematurely (especially among the group who hung around Wallace Berman in Venice, as documented in the beautiful book Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle), due to heroin, alchohol abuse, suicide and freak accidents. Our most widely-read poet was, of course, a raging alcoholic.

Probably the most famous death of a poet in Los Angeles was that of Bob Flanagan, who suffered from cystic fibrosis, and who documented his long decline (he did, in fact, live much longer than his doctors had predicted) in his book The Pain Journal and in the film SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. It doesn’t appear that he wrote (or at least published) all that many poems, but I’m still looking into this. I’ve found a few chapbooks and anthology appearances. My favorite writing by him is the great collaboration he did with David Trinidad called A Taste of Honey.

Another figure who is not often considered a “poet” but whose work clearly skids over in that direction is the artist Guy de Cointet (born in France). A recent issue of Artforum contained a large tribute to him by artists such as Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley, much of which can be read online. Most of his writing was of plays or performances (he might be the most representative figure of experimental theater out here, for all I know), but many of his art books are clearly some form of cryptographic poetry. Here are some of the hand-drawn ones in a seemingly Lettrist tradition; most of what I’ve seen in the library has been typeset. (He kind of reminds me of Gaudier-Brzeska in this photograph.)

This list is primarily geared toward “experimental” poets, but of course, such a category is fluid, and I somehow find poets like Nora May French “experimental” to the degree that no one was probably writing poetry in Los Angeles at the time (and she was so weird). As the list moves toward more contemporary figures, it is spotty, as I’m really concerned with poets of the past. But I’m posting this specifically to get some feedback, especially concerning names that I’ve overlooked and possible places I could go to find information about some of the more elusive ones (such as de Cointet, whose books are incredibly expensive and have never been reprinted).

I have yet to go through back issues of Coastlines, Invisible City, etc., but that is next on my agenda. I haven’t gotten my hands on a few anthologies yet, such as Specimen 73, edited by Paul Vangelisti.

Tacked on to the end of this list is a group of writers and artists who I somehow want to claim as Los Angeles poets, either because they lived here for several years (such as Brecht, who can be seen as a sort of analogue for Duchamp in New York, though Brecht really didn’t like it out here for the most part), use a lot of text in their work (such as Ruscha, Pettibon and Ruppersberg, the latter of whom could almost be called a “conceptual writer,” which is useful since much poetry out here now is “conceptual” in nature), or have collaborated with poets and published their own poems, such as Simone Forti, the legendary choreographer.

David Antin, of course, doesn’t live in Los Angeles, but his wife is often considered part of the continuum of the arts up here (at least in Catalogue L.A.), and I can’t help but think his turn toward conceptual performance was influenced by the L.A. art scene. William Poundstone, a digital artist and writer, is kind of the unifiying figure of all the diverse genres represented here, as his work is as influenced by artists like Ruscha as it is by the Oulipo and concrete poetry (as he states in this interview I did with him several years ago).

(Of course, I’d like to claim Morrissey for this list, but that’s really stretching it. But if any of you know of any other Latin American poets who wrote in Los Angeles, let me know!)

Poets
Nora May French (1881-1907)
James Boyer May (1904-1981)
Edwin Rolfe (1909-1954)
Thomas McGrath (1916-1990)
Josephine Ain (1916-2004)
Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)
Henri Coulette (1927-1988)
Bert Meyers (1928-1979)
Robert Crosson (1929-2001)
Stuart Perkoff (1930-1973)
John Thomas (1930-2002)
Jack Hirschman (1933-)
Lewis MacAdams
Leland Hickman (1934-1991)
Guy de Cointet (1934-1983)
Aram Saroyan (1943-)
Paul Vangelisti (1945-)
Wanda Coleman (1946-)
William Poundstone
Will Alexander (1948-)
Douglas Messerli (1946-)
Calvin Bedient
Michelle T. Clinton
Dennis Philips (1951-)
Bob Flanagan (1952-)
Dennis Cooper (1953-)
David Trinidad (1953-)
Harryette Mullen (1953-)
Diane Ward (1956-)
Amy Gerstler (1956-)
Sesshu Foster (1957-)

Figures on the Periphery
Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944)
Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)
George Open (1908-1984)
Gil Orlovitz (1918-1973)
David Antin (1932-)
Simone Forti (1935-)
Ed Ruscha (1937-)
Allen Ruppersberg (1944-)
Raymond Pettibon (1957-)

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[Not to be missed… here’s the invite I got in the email this morning…]

A Thursday night three-fer for those of you who are mid-week and short of breath.

No shallows here. We’re carting the iron lung into the round, and the machine will speak! From the farflung haunts of London, Mexico City and the village by the Bay, it’s positive pressure units all around. Our cabin is your utopeapod.

Sounding it out: Tom Raworth, Kevin Killian & Gabriela Jauregui.

Thursday, September 24 2009 at 8:00pm

@ The Poetic Research Bureau
3702 San Fernando Blvd
Glendale, CA 91206

Doors open at 8:00pm
Reading starts at 8:30pm

$5 donation requested

Tom Raworth has been writing to amuse himself for half-a-century: the random threads from this hedonism have led him this year to China and the North Eastern Tibetan plateau, now to L.A., and to Mexico in November. In Italy two years ago he was awarded the Antonio Delfini Prize for “lifetime career achievement” though he is not yet dead. His Collected Poems was published in 2003 by Carcanet, who will publish a book of poems since that collection in 2010. His Collected Prose appeared from SALT this year. He has occasionally taught in the UK , the USA and South Africa; and has read his work in more than 20 countries. His graphic work has been exhibited in Europe, the USA and South Africa, and he has collaborated with musicians, painters and other poets. His children, grandchildren and a few friends keep him awake.

Kevin Killian has written two novels, Shy (1989) and Arctic Summer (1997), a book of memoirs, Bedrooms Have Windows (1990), two books of stories, Little Men (1996) and I Cry Like a Baby (2001) and two books of poetry, Argento Series (2001), and Action Kylie (2008). With Lew Ellingham, Killian has written often on the life and work of the American poet Jack Spicer [1925-65] and with Peter Gizzi has edited My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (2008) for Wesleyan University Press. For the San Francisco Poets Theater Killian has written thirty plays, including Stone Marmalade (1996, with Leslie Scalapino), The American Objectivists (2001, with Brian Kim Stefans), and Often (also 2001, with Barbara Guest). New projects include Screen Tests, an edition of Killian’s film writing, and Impossible Princess, a new fiction collection forthcoming from City Lights Books in November. A new novel Spreadeagle will appear in the spring.

Gabriela Jauregui (b. Mexico City, 1979) is the author of Controlled Decay (Akashic Books/Black Goat Press, 2008). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside and an MA in Comparative Literature from UC Irvine. Her critical, creative and collaborative work has been published in journals and anthologies in the US, Mexico, and Europe, including, most recently in New American Writing, Eje Central, and forthcoming in Mandorla. She is a member of the sur+ publishing collective in Mexico. Gabriela is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at USC and a Soros Fellow. She lives and works in Los Angeles and Mexico City.

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Las ideas verdes descoloridas duermen furiosamente.
Las memorias pegajosas oleaginosas asesinan afablamente.
Los salmos obsoletos futuristas discuten curiosamente.
Los platanos cuadriculados amorfos eructan lateralmente.

Los ateos imbeciles virtuosos excomulgan carismáticamente.
Las sandalias huesudas regordetas analizan frontalmente.
Los susurros manipuladores impotentes ensordecen preferentemente.
Los iglúes chinos teutónicos incuban sabiamente.

Los arbustos inefables irritantes escrutinan discretamente.
Los esclavos contratados autocráticos sindican individualmente.
Los logaritmos ágiles artríticos amplifican silenciosamente.
Las ideas verdes descoloridas duermen furiosamente.

(This is a translation into Spanish of my poem “The Slush of Meaning,” a poem premised on the idea of naturalizing the famous sentence of Noam Chomsky’s that he wrote as an example of a sentence syntactically correct but semantically meaningless. I did the initial translation using Babelfish, but it was refined by Román Luján prior to my reading in Mexico City. You can see Román and I read it at Youtube, about two minutes into this clip.)

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I’ve just put the video of my reading at La Bota in Mexico City up on Youtube.

It was a long reading, partly because a good number of the poems were read in Spanish (such as the rather long one, “We Make,” which was published in Tierra Adentro in Román Luján’s translation). Other poems read in Spanish by Román include “They’re Putting a New Door In” and “The Slush of Meaning” (which I actually translated myself with the help of Babelfish and Román).

There are forty minutes of it on Youtube, but the video actually doesn’t include the last three or four poems I read because the camera ran out of space. The Youtube also doesn’t have the introduction by Jorge Betanzos, most of which wasn’t recorded, but I’m going to put what part of it there is online soon.

Some really nice ambient noise in this recording. La Bota is the same restaurant where the paella party featured in my Facebook photo album took place. Good times.

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Well, this already happened, but for the record, there was a nice poster made for my reading at La Bota, which is the same place where the famous paella party happened in my Facebook photo album (no pics of the reading up yet). Thanks to all who attended!

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I hope David doesn’t mind that I’m posting this to my blog. These are nice events in his backyard, and I don’t expect a torrent of interest from my very few blog readers!

***

Please welcome a good friend and fine poet from Ireland, Maurice Scully, who is visiting California for the first time this month.

Maurice Scully and Brian Kim Stefans will read in the back yard of my home in Silver Lake (address below) at 5.00 pm, Sunday, September 20, 2009. Light foods and drinks, alcoholic and not, will be served.

Maurice Scully was born in Dublin in 1952 and spent his childhood between Clare, the Irish-speaking Ring Gaeltacht and Dublin. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, after which he spent some restless decades between Ireland, Italy, Greece and Africa. In a writing career that began in the early ‘70s he has published over a dozen volumes of poetry and taken part in conferences and festivals in the UK & US where his readings are prized as key interpretations of his complex, engaging work. The selection in this volume, made by the poet himself, draws on the extensive ‘Things That Happen’ project (1981—2006), as well as three new books, Several Dances, Humming and Work. A sample of Maurice’s work is at Wild Honey Press: http://www.wildhoneypress.com/BOOKS/livelihood.htm and http://www.wildhoneypress.com/Audio/AUDIOLIST.html

Brian Kim Stefans has published several books of poetry including Free Space Comix (Roof Books, 1998), Gulf (Object Editions, 1998, downloadable at ubu.com) and Angry Penguins (Harry Tankoos, 2000), along with several chapbooks, most recently “What Does It Matter?” (Barque Press). Fashionable Noise: On Digital Poetics, a collection of essays, poetry and interviews, appeared in 2003 from Atelos. His newest books are What Is Said to the Poet Concerning Flowers (Factory School, 2006), collecting over six years of poetry, and Before Starting Over: Selected Writings and Interviews 1994-2005 (Salt, 2006). He is the editor of the /ubu (”slash ubu”) series of e-books at www.ubu.com/ubu and the creator of arras.net, devoted to new media poetry and poetics, where most of his work, including his own series of Arras e-books, can be found.

3020 Effie Street
Los Angeles
CA 90026

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I’m teaching this graduate seminar at UCLA this coming quarter and decided to post the description to my blog since graduate students from other schools in (and outside of, I think) the UC system can take the course if they’d like. I haven’t put together a website yet but the book list is set.

We already have students from a wide variety of backgrounds, and I’m encouraging students to pursue lines of research peculiar to their concentration. We might have guest visits from a few of the artists we will be covering, and I’m hoping the class can form a basis for more cross-departmental collaborations with Design/Media Arts and Information Systems (where Johanna Drucker has recently been hired), as well as with people working in the poetry and arts community at large in Los Angeles (and next, the world… after Berlin, of course).

Drop me an email if you have any questions.

English 257 Poetry in the Age of New Media

“Poetry,” for the purposes of this course, stands for two things: the “poems” themselves, and the social environment of poets, critics, readers, editors, publishers and academics that make up the world of “poetry” today.

Much of the course focuses on the array of new forms and practices that have arisen since the rise of the internet as a cultural force: visual and interactive poetry that utilizes technologies such as Flash and Java; constraint-based poetry that, in the tradition of the French group the Oulipo, executes bizarrely complicated literary forms; “conceptual” poetry that, in the tradition of Duchamp and Warhol, dramatically re-situates language in relationship to “originality” and the author function; poetry in a late-Romantic tradition that seeks to marry lyrical subjectivity with a poetics of process; and an array of poetry forms that work with the content of the internet itself, such as the playful collage poetry of Flarf. Specific artists and writers to be covered include the Canadian poet Christian Bok, the Korean artist collective Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, the conceptual writer Kenneth Goldsmith, the “elliptical” lyricist Susan Wheeler, and the otherwise popular non-fiction science writer William Poundstone.

However, not all of the focus will be on the avant-garde tradition; in fact, much of the “experiment” of poetry in the age of new media has been in the work of critics and publishers who are otherwise not interested in formal poetic experiment. To this end, we will look at online archives – audio, visual, bibliographical – of earlier poetries, poetry blogs that regularly feature criticism (such as “Silliman’s Blog”), the migration of bastions of the poetry world (such as Poetry Chicago) to the web, sites from other countries that have made an impact on American poetry culture (such as Jacket, published out of Sydney), and other evidence of the transformation of how poets are situated in relation to the world at large, and to each other, as a result of digital communications. A side narrative will involve the recent resurgence of the tradition of fine book making by poetry publishers (such as Ugly Duckling Presse) that can be seen as a reaction to digitally-based publishing such as print-on-demand.

This course, while tightly structured thematically in terms of assigned reading, will be quite free-ranging, driven by the students’ interests. Students will be expected, early in the quarter, to decide upon a strand of research they wish to pursue and to create a blog (or other sort of website) on which they will organize their research in the form of links and short blog entries. They will be expected to provide updates to the class periodically. Students can then either decide to write a final term paper or to revise their blog into something that could be “published” as a useful as a resource to researchers in the future.

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