[The poet / programmatoloist John Cayley recently reviewed my book for Mute Magazine, a journal devoted to "culture and politics after the net, published in the UK. There I am, nestled snug as a bug on page 143, second to last -- fame awaits! But sluriously folks, John's been an enthusiastic supporter of mine and I think he hits the mark quite well -- he's the serious theorist of the whole "digital poetry" world conspiracy -- if only getting at one part of the book. Run out and buy it! Or rather, run back in, after you've picked a few daisies and hugged some choice unfortunates, and order it!]
Brian Kim Stefans.
Fashionable Noise: On Digital Poetics.
Berkeley: Atelos, 2003.
(Paperback, ISBN 1-891190-14-8. Available from: SPD, www.spdbooks.org, US$ 12.95 plus delivery)
Fashionable Noise is published in Atelos, a series of specially commissioned projects ‘crossing traditional genre boundaries.’ The book contains six designated works and a couple of ‘appendices,’ all of which can be seen, in some sense, as process-generated, the co-work of Brian Kim Stefans and certain of his digital familiars - demons that drive both him and his media. Stefans mixes theory and poetry seamlessly and apparently effortlessly although, as he readily acknowledges, the burden of work is often shared with generative algorithms. Stefans is a New York-based poet who has engaged new media and its networks from the early days of its emergent hyperhistory. He runs arras.net and is well-known and highly regarded in the field of electronic writing particularly for ‘The Dreamlife of Letters’ (www.ubu.com/contemp/stefans/dream/), ‘a flash piece, organized by alphabetic principles, … credited with trying to exhaust all form of animated web poetry or the kinetics of movie titles.’ (His own apt characterization.)
In the midst of the book’s other pieces - a transcribed IRC dialogue, some ‘Reflections on Cyberpoetry’ that systematically recast T. S. Eliot’s reflections on vers libre, a ‘dos and donts’ of new media practice reworked from William Blake’s ‘Proverbs of Hell,’ more ‘notes on new poetrie,’ and ‘A Poem of Attitudes’ - the main portion of the book consists of ‘Stops and Rebels: a critique of hypertext.’ This chapter, for me, was the book’s demonic heart, one of the most considered and wide-ranging creative and critical treatments of writing in networked and programmable media that I have come across.
‘Demon,’ by the way, is Stefans’ name for operative code, those non-human agents, machine dwellers, who now take some share in cultural production. It is typical of Stefans and typical of serious poetic practice that such a term is slipped into the discourse without immediate explanation, demanding, as it were, both prior and emergent understanding in his readers: that ‘demon’ means ‘program,’ and the word demonstrates, at one and the same time, a geekier, hacker’s or UNIX-literate reader’s sense of the term while also allowing any discussion of the role of code to escape the nerdish gravity of technoscience in its evocation of shared folk-magic artistry. If I call my programs demons (and I plan to do so from now on), different groups of readers may begin to take note of how they behave, and this could be properly subversive, or differently subversive of the properly designated literary corpus - as demons devour and disgorge the illustrious cadavers of ‘genius,’ as demons do.
‘Stops and Rebels’ is constructed around a poem that has been algorithmically collaged from a number of source texts. The bulk of the writing, however, consists of footnotes on the poem, written as if by ‘an over-zealous student.’ Chiefly, the piece is clear discursive prose, but the structure makes it more useful for later reference since individual notes tend to organize around distinct topics: noise and interpretation, carnival and database aesthetics, Language poetry, artificial intelligence, ambient poetics, coding, etc. Labelled as articles, these notes might appear as fragments from a lost or future encyclopaedia of new media poetics. There are far too many such topics to seriously engage in a brief review, but fortunately the book’s title itself gives me one way into its overall concerns.
You know that you are reading a poet when a punning, multiply ambiguous title proves to signify far more than mediaspeak irony, reserve and denigration. ‘Fashionable noise’ seems at first to point to the transient, modish effects of a new ‘big noise’ on the fringes of poetic practice and literary art. These negative or rather challenging connotations would not, I suspect, be entirely disavowed by Stefans, but they are self-contextualized, embedded in a title phrase that bears more and other meanings, including much that is generative and engaged. The two words could, in fact, be set as a one line emblematic poem with the current subtitle promoted to its title. ‘Fashionable’ here is derived from the verb as well as from its frequently foppish noun. It means that the ‘noise’ of digital poetics is programmed, manipulated, ‘fashioned fit’ and shifted so as to work with and influence literary and social convention. ‘[The CP (computer-poem)] starts from noise and algorithm and moves towards convention.’ Noise in this context is far from being mere linguistic waste or excess. It is many things in Stefan’s text: the stuff and matter of language on the cusp of lexical or symbolic meaning, the non- or posthuman aspects of writing with new media, the algorithm itself, and its fragmentary, found, arbitrary, chance-selected sources. This is ‘noise’ as the representation of a downgraded but integral aspect of the entire gamut of linguistic phenomena. Noise gains entitlement in this context because the encompassing world of language is the poet and writer’s proper (if potential) palette - not those few notes plucked out of the soundscape by convention and tradition, but everything from letters to their dreamlife, from noise to silence. Because new media make poetic noise fashionable, it becomes impossible for writers and artists to ignore these admittedly fashionable ways of ‘making it new.’
As with the sense of its ‘demons,’ Fashionable Noise is all but uniquely responsive to both traditional and ‘bleeding edge’ language art practice. As a critique of hypertext begun in 1996, ‘Stops and Rebels’ was way ahead of its time, although it is hard to say what remains of its earlier states. Much of its close analysis of writing in programmable media is still poorly understood even in the most recent critical texts. Besides this, there are few writers like Stefans who are also able to program what they prescribe. This book will help to reconfigure the fashionable literary arcades.
[Keston asked me to post this to FSC, so that it could be "winkle-picked by readers unfamiliar with Andrea's work."]
Andrea Brady gave a reading of work from Vacation of a Lifetime and Cold Calling last night at Queens' College, Cambridge. There was a discussion afterward initiated by Ian Patterson that was one of the most engaging and luminous I've heard in such formal circumstances for a good while. I'll try here to sketch out some of the positions that were defined in dialogue, without attaching the hamper-lock of attributing them to the people who most identified with them or who offered them up for debate.
1. Andrea's work was described as having changed quite substantially between the later pieces in Vacation (such as 'Post Festen e', on which Robin Purves offered some thoughts at the poetry summit) and the new poems in Cold Calling. The difference is manifold. Most obviously, the earlier poems attempt a form of direct political criticism supported by research data and satirised reportage that the later poems do not attempt. Both sets of work were said to be contradictory in the schedules they set up for accommodating and impeding interpretion by turns; and this contradictoriness was said to be a defining feature of the work, leaving the reader sometimes "at home" in a locution and sometimes baffled in the attempt to get there. This point was not extended into a characterisation of the experience of poems as wholes, but was intended as a description of the channel-switching between locutions at the level of individual sentences or groups of sentences. That is, the argument did not propose a synthetic view of the poems as -finally- both inviting and refusing, but only indicated that such a pattern runs across the lines during the act of reading from one to the next; but the synthetic argument was perhaps implicit. This makes for a different experience in reading Vacation than it does in reading CC, since the footholds offered by data-selection and converted newsprint in Vacation become immediately the most obvious points of accommodation (provided we know SUVs are and what Dean and Deluca sells, etc.), whereas the points of accommodation in CC are more often intuitable rather than recognised.
2. Andrea herself suggested that CC is a book of "failures." She said that the poems are limited or even vitiated by their occasional character, which she takes to be essentially negative, in the sense that it amounts implicitly to the proscription of a more extended (possibly a more historical?) form of writing, a form less tied to and closed in by source-moments of private feeling. Against this it was objected that CC was in fact the more seriously political of the two books, for the reasons I'll try to lay out in (3). Andrea views the book as a kind of transition into a more sustained single project: her new and unfinished work of poetic retrieval and conversion of the Gilgamesh epic and other historical material into a long polemical piece addressing the recent wars in the Middle East. The negative term "occasional" seems to connote an absence of -research-; it was not discussed whether the latter is a necessary precondition for avoiding the former, but this seemed more or less implicit in Andrea's account of her own practice.
3. Vacation was criticised for being an ethnology of other people's behaviour from the perspective of a necessarily superior poetic critique. It was suggested that such an ethnology could at best only be of secondary political significance, and at worst amounted to a kind of celebration of inaction. The admission of complicity in that behaviour by the author throughout the book was not judged to be a way out of this problem or proof against the accusation of self-imputed superiority; rather it was suggested that the authorial voice was set up to be an example or paradigm of complicity in order preemptively to subvert the accusation itself. CC was said on the contrary to be a powerfully political text, partly because it avoids that circuit of the author who escapes complicity by virtue of electing to be its paradigm; but also because (and this was not made altogether clear) it approaches a kind of political critique without manifest political content, which was proposed as an ideal limit of what poetry can do when it tries to be polemical. Against this idea it was objected that "realism" in the sense specified by Lukacs would be abandoned entirely at that ideal limit. That is, the attempt to make an accurate and anticipatory picture of social contradictions might need to involve the kinds of data and even the kinds of ethnology said to exist in Vacation, no matter what the risks; and that a poetry from which all that had been expurgated in favour of implication of some kind would be an abdication as well as a refusal.
4. It was suggested that moments of particular criticism in Vacation, for example the polemic against the death penalty, tended to converge into a general critique only at the expense of seeming ironic; that is to say, the individual moments of criticism are not ironic but they take on an unintended irony as soon as their synthesis becomes apparent. This is the subordination of the particular to the general in a specific sense: through being incorporated into a more total polemic (against capitalism), individual moments of polemic (against events in capitalist society) are made to look like irony. This word "irony" was picked up and reused in various ways and in service of various points, without being specified. The original point was perhaps that irony conduces to make contradiction more palatable, by a kind of implicit insistence on the consensus that we all know how bad everything is and how little we can do about it. Irony in this sense is not radical but on the contrary conservative; it makes a show of destabilising language with the result that the most obdurate contradictions are kept out of it. This led to some discussion of more confrontational strategies in poetry that would deprive the reader of the satisfaction of an ironic consensus. The idea of such a strategy was questioned in turn from two perspectives, the historical and the moral. It was asked whether, after a century of art-confrontation, we could really expect any art to be confrontational in an unironic manner. It was also suggested that the ironic voice was more humble and attractive, and that it sought out a kind of amity with the reader that a more confrontational strategy could refuse only at the risk of seeming petulant or merely abrasive. This led to some talk about partial degradation of language (e.g. the satirical or withering detournement of journalese) versus its total degradation, or the attempt at least to produce the latter. It was suggested at this point that irony is in every case defensive of middle class attitudes and interests, and that totally degraded language could at least never be used to that end. What this total degaradation might look or sound like was not discussed, so that the antinomy remained strictly theoretical; but some real possibilities for future practice did seem to be at stake. Barry MacSweeney was mentioned as someone who tried to push his work toward total degradation. This raised the question, which was not uttered and certainly not answered, whether the kind of life necessary to produce totally degraded work might not itself need to be pretty degraded. That isn't an insult to Barry but a recognition of the real difficulties he suffered throughout his life. Which means also that "degradation" in this sense is not (of course) the failure to be pristine but the violent renunciation of the idea that anyone with half a brain and at least that much of a heart could ever even dream that they should be so.
There seems to be no shortage these days of quickie online book reviews since the advent of poetry blogs and the evolution of the "constant critic." So perhaps this is something you've never thought you didn't want to have, but I've folded all of the "little reviews" from 1998-2002 that used to be on arras.net into a single .pdf file. They've been returned to their pristine single-run-on-paragraph form which I think is more truthful to the style of the writing (and thinking) itself. I've deleted that section of the site since it hadn't been added to in years and it was getting musty -- this is a way to just put this set behind me. There are other reviews I just never revised enough to put on the site; some of these are still scattered around the internet, catch them if you can. Arras.net, in the meantime, is going through a wacko-Jacko facelift which you'll see early next year. Click on the Big Mouth -- a giant grenadier Albatrossia pectoralis -- to download:
I recently took out a book of literary criticism authored by a friend of mine that had been published a few years ago. I'm going to leave the friend's name out of this as well as the title of the book, since my point is not to embarrass anyone (or, indeed, to start a series of flames), but I wanted to point out a few problems that I see in the prose in this book, much of which could have been avoided had the book gone through a proper editorial cycle. As the book was published by a small press -- and probably partly financed by the author -- such niceties were most likely unavailable, but I know that I've benefited immensely by hiring -- yes, hiring, since most of my esteemed colleagues are poor and busy -- friends to read my work, especially when I know it's appearing in a small press publication.
The author is explaining why the poetry of Y___ [I’ve decided to delete the proper name after the original posting of this entry] is not better well-known:
Perhaps this was because Y___ (aside from a stint in Boston in which he became the most noteworthy young star to come out of the Stone Soup Poetry Collective spearheaded by Jack Powers in the late 1980s) never seemed to involve himself much in poetry scenes or literary conferences, but has largely chosen to go it alone, or because, valuing love more than fame, he would leave Boston to accompany his lover in his protracted and ultimately unsuccessful struggle with AIDS. Perhaps, even, it’s because the kind of poetry Y___ writes, with just enough in common with the beats [sic] to make it somewhat embarrassing, or worthy of scorn, to the co-editors of the anthology yet perhaps with just a little too much O’Hara-like subtelty [sic] and sensitivity to succeed in the early 90s Nuyorican scene (which admittedly, to my knowledge at least, Y___ never even tried to succeed in), scared many editors off.Now I'm going to play the school-marm and point out what seem to me obvious stylistic infelicities:
1. The parenthetical statement that starts with the word "aside" begins without giving the reader any clue as to the purpose of the digression. We only learn after the close of the parentheses that the digression concerned Y___’s involvement in poetry "scenes."
2. "Never seemed to involve himself much" is a long-winded way of saying "wasn't much involved" -- or if the word "seemed" is important, to whom is he "seeming"?
3. The idea of the "scene" becomes suddenly synonymous with Boston so that -- because his lover obviously did not live in Boston -- leaving Boston curtailed for Y___ any possibility of being involved in a "scene." Consequently -- and forgive me for ignorance of biographical details -- to "accompany" someone in an unsuccessful struggle against AIDS suggests (to me) that the poet died.
4. The second sentence is very garbled. The bit about the "editors" alludes to the author's having worked on an anthology of American poetry, during which process it appears the author had to make a strong argument for the inclusion of Y___’s work (nothing else before this sentence, the third in the essay, suggests that these editors had any problems with the work). This conflates the issue of Y___’s general invisibility in the scene with the co-editors' inability to appreciate the value of his work.
Then, without explanation, there is a digression concerning Y___’s inability (the poet apparently did make it to New York) to succeed with the Nuyoricans -- which the author then declares Y___ probably did not try to do anyway! Why not the Dark Room Collective, the people at the New Criterion or the Moxley circle in Providence?
5. Using both "admittedly" and "to my knowledge at least" is redundant. Or if not, what is the author admitting to -- that the aside on the Nuyoricans was not worth mentioning?
6. Are the "editors" of the last word the same people as the "co-editors" earlier or the larger set, and is creating a feeling of "scorn" in the co-editors the same as creating fear (i.e. "scaring") in the latter group?
7. The second sentence, once you strip away all of the clauses, is: "Perhaps it’s because the kind of poetry Y___ writes... scared many editors off," which to my way of thinking has a problem with tense, but would also have been a great way to provocatively start the sentence, only then to follow up with informative digressions.
8. And finally -- as Ezra Pound scribbled in the margins of the Waste Land as he worked on his famous edits, "DAMN PERHAPSY!"
I'll make a ready confession and say that I feel this way about much of the writing of "The Constant Critic," which I feel errs a bit on the belle-lettrist-meets-grad-school-exile side -- "I do not believe that it is possible to have read too much, but I do think one can have too ready an access to what one has read—and Mr. Bedient subreferences as if his poetry depends upon it" -- in an effort, one presumes, not to sound like a small-press blurb circa 1982-to-now.
Most of my "little reviews" sound like extended blurbs, I know (they are actually first drafts for even shorter, anonymous reviews in trade magazines, hence the nearly uniformly approving tone), but I somehow trust a method of writing, or a prose style, that at least aspires to resemble a contemporary prose style that is in active use -- i.e. what we find in the better rock music and movie review columns -- more than they resemble the Jamesian (what I generously call the digressive excerpt above) or faux-Bloomsbury-ish coterie intimacy (The Constant Critic) that is being experimented with now.
But experimenting, of course, is good, and I only put out these little thoughts with the hope of provoking some discussion about the possibilities of clear critical prose in this time when there is little general understanding of the methods poets are employing in poems and when we lack a central venue where one can find consistently (if not "constantly") responsible criticism. I also wonder if the small press world really finds its limits when it comes to the publishing of prose -- i.e. perhaps the small press world can't handle this next step in constructing an "alternative" to the "mainstream" (or the universities).
Good article by Maureen Dowd about political blogs in the New York Times today -- but no links!
(Check it out -- Maureen and the Madame could almost be sisters!)
In a lame attempt to be hip, pols are posting soggy, foggy, bloggy musings on the Internet. Inspired by Howard Dean's success in fund-raising and mobilizing on the Web, candidates are crowding into the blogosphere — spewing out canned meanderings in a genre invented by unstructured exhibitionists.
It could be amusing if the pols posted unblushing, unedited diaries of what they were really thinking, as real bloggers do. John Kerry would mutter about that hot-dog Dean stealing his New England base, and Dr. Dean would growl about that wimp Kerry aping all his Internet gimmicks. But no such luck.
Instead, we have Travels with Tom, Tom Daschle's new blog recounting his annual August pilgrimage around South Dakota. Trying to sound uninhibited, he says he has "no schedule and no staff" and promises readers "amazing experiences" with "fascinating people."
On Aug. 7, he revealed, "I visited the Orthopedic Institute in Sioux Falls today and was given an informative tour." The next day, "I continue to be impressed with small business people who struggle to offer their employees health insurance."
Bob Graham dubs himself "the original blogger" because he has filled more than 4,000 color-coded, laconic notebooks over the last 30 years with a running diary of his every move, from ingestion of morning cereal to debarkation from a plane. (A typical Graham entry: "3:20 p.m. — Take bus to hotel.")
In the category of "things you never thought you wanted and probably still don't want" is the following .pdf, which contains the writing I've done about Silliman's Blog and related matters over the past weeks.
I haven't put any of the comments in the file, as I have no time for serious editorial work here -- contacting authors, waiting for correx, that type of thing. Formatting this file took long enough, and it still looks like shit. You can read comments by people such as Louis Cabri, Ange Mlinko, Kevin Killian, Henry Gould, Jack Kimball, Kent Johnson, Kimberly Lyons, Robert Kelly, etc., on the right sidebar.
Of course, quotes from blogs that appear in these commentaries (or "screeds") are included. "The Secret Life of Terminals", Rachel Szekely's "libidinal" and "pared-down" reading of "Non," is not included.
This is not an effort to revive the debate; more a way of putting it behind me, us, "them," etc. and perhaps to give people who only read these quickly a chance to see if I'm really insane. Like any writer, I probably feel I've "been misunderstood," but then again I'm willing to think this all a waste of time (and a load of worthless grief) if that's the consensus.
[This entry has been revised since I first posted it yesterday. It's been adjusted to fit your screen.]
I'm taking a break from this whole shebang as I'm preparing for a trip to Toronto -- waxing the moustachios, loading up the paint gun, that sort of thing -- and the debate's spawned such a variety of forking paths, many of which lead to a defense of Robert Lowell, which, in isolation, raises a lot of issues (as in Steve Evans' poignant "well why don't we write about James Schuyler") that I'm not sure how to proceed or if it even matters.
My point was to argue (grouchily but hoping to make a serious mark) with a set of terms being tossed about on Silliman's Blog (which I view as an effective act of criticism) -- "school of quietude" versus an unnamed something else, the idea of a "third way" as a "death wish", the continued relevance of a battle against the British (except Raworth, of course) and their "dead" meters, the use of an ascertainment of "lineage" as a stand-in for "deep reading," etc. I think of these as strategies of "Balkanization" that are not useful, are blind politics, and seem terribly dated.
Worse (I've just thought of this), these concepts don't really give us tools to look at literatures that are not primarily white, and not primarily American. For example, these lines in the sand don't exist for Australian literature -- though there was a New American-style rebellion in the sixties, it produced very stanzaic poets like John Forbes, Martin Johnson and John Tranter, and radicalism was still tied to some form of Surrealism due, I think, to the Ern Malley incident -- nor does it is exist in Asian American poetry, which I learned when working on Premonitions with Walter Lew.
They do exist in some ways, but it's more complex than saying that Theresa Cha and Gerry Shikatani reflect an interest in big-M "Modernism" that poets like Arthur Sze or David Mura don't immediately seem to have. If the argument is for a thing called "Asian American poetry" -- and I've argued that such a thing might not exist -- but if so, then the universe of that poetry must be incredibly diverse and rich, heterogenous and electric, not just depicted as a rivulet departing from the so called "avant-garde" line. Asian American poetry is not "better" because "we" are no longer just "telling our stories" -- that historical determinism (expressed in one of RS's essays) has always seemed offensive to me, for obvious reasons, but also simple-minded.
What has come out of this debate, to me, is that more poets of the "alternative" current are very astute and willing "deep readers" in a standard (not necessarily "New Critical") sense, and that these methods of deep reading have only been somewhat problematized by the changes of reading tactics advocated by poststructuralism, etc. Certain readings of Silliman's Non have utilized tactics that are not that different than those used for "Skunk Hour," even if the conclusions as to the "content" (or just what side of the political coin one is) are different. And these tactics have been effective, if not getting "us" closer to what "good" writing is without stylistic prescriptions.
But for example: the Battaillian excessive flows of McCaffery's reading of bill bissett in North of Intention, with its stress on the ludic and excess, have rarely if ever been evoked, or if so in the somewhat less rigorous form of polysemia -- which in other terms can simply mean "ambiguity," a word one associates with William Empson. I haven't read Empson, however, so I can't say more. The Brechtian "v-effekt," which Bernstein writes about in "Artifice of Absorption" (Silliman blogs about this, also) is also not being used critically -- so has the critical approaches of Language poets really made their mark? Likewise for Projective Verse: are any of "our" poets really taking a stand against the "verse that print bred"?
I still think that, often, linguo-Marxist strategies of understanding the material of language can be more usefully applied to a "conservative" poem like "Skunk Hour" -- or "Having a Coke with You" -- than can often be applied to "avant-garde" poems, and that these are better poems because of, not in spite of, their narrative attributes and relationship to the history of poetic form. Spatializing the words "Polish Rider," "coke," and "Frick," however effectively done and giving us a sense of language's "materiality" (a term I rarely use myself), does not quite provide us with the meat for a precise hermeneutic strategy that gets us closer to the world.
The poems in Ashbery's Tennis Court Oath or Coolidge's Space have emotional valences that are rarely written about. And pomo reading strategies, in my naive view, were created for reading narrative and "linear" poems and novels -- not to mention plays -- and don't necessarily argue for the need to break away from these forms.
On a more selfish note: I (along with a few others) have been trying for several years (quietly) to come up with a language for describing poems -- in my reviews for Boston Review and Publisher's Weekly, the "little reviews" series on this blog and on arras.net, on Jacket, in Rain Taxi and the St. Mark's Newsletter, etc. -- that try to focus on specific effects in poems in spite of where an author might have gathered his or her experience with language, and to introduce new, mostly non-US American, names into the mix (admittedly mostly Scottish, British and Australian), not to mention a way to describe poems that don't rely on one's knowledge of, and unquestioned reverence for, the esteemed American avant-garde masters. In fact, finding a way to modify these appreciations without causing wild dismay has been another project.
(I'm monolingual -- with the exception of being able to sing most of "Die Ballade Uber die Sexuelle Horigkeit" at the drop of a hat -- and go in fear of translations, but it would be a great thing to see some convincing writing on non-English poetry -- something that makes the work exciting and not merely good for you as a taste of the "other." My only real attempt has been something on Christophe Tarkos in the Little Reviews.)
So it's seemed, reading parts of Silliman's Blog, like a shuttling back to a (golden) stone age to see that someone is actually dissuading readers from reading British poetry (claiming the meters are flat or adherent to a dead heritage -- the "past"), or reading outside of a presumed counter-formation, or railing against a lineage that includes Bryant and Holmes (my American Library 19th Century American Poetry volume is quite fascinating to me, actually), etc., as if that's better for you, one, we, it, and has something to do with the future. I'm probably exaggerating, but I'd like to hear the arguments otherwise, if only just to hear them made fresh again, and thereby reflect favorably back on the entire "avant-garde" project in the US (which methinks, still, was "quiet" compared to the French one -- so there).
Thanks everyone who chimed in about these minor rants, on the poetics list and elsewhere.
Punch Drunk Love was great, by the way.
[Poorly spelled, poorly grammared, rushed thoughts to Louis Cabri's recent posts to the Buffalo Poetics List. I had really meant to deal with Louis' writing about form in Silliman's Non but found what he wrote a bit confusing in the end. You can read his entire post here. I'm just confused about what he means about form in the early part of the email, but I'll leave it for now as I've just rented Punch Drunk Love.]
Just some comments on what Loius had written about Ron's poem a few days back. He is comment on the following from NON:
are often misleading,
subtitles seldom are.
out the driver
in the next car
through my rear view mirror
at a stop light
(one never sees
the lower body),
thin ebony man
with a long white beard,
tricolor rasta cap,
high sharp cheekbones
that cause the eyes to recede.
I decide he's a gentle person.
Rolls of roofing
black cylinders atop the gravel.
There comes a moment
I read my poem when
it is apparent
it is terrible
I'm a fraud,
no one would ever
choose to hear
or to read this,
but then this moment of panic passes. (N/O 60)
"When you read the sentences as discreet units, it's pretty straight-forwardly denotational. But, reading the gaps between these sentences render the sentences completely wild, unpredicted (since the text is so overdetermined with details, it would be impossible to stay in control of their interconnections), unconscious even. Here Silliman reads the "subtitle" of the guy in the car behind him, whose "title" refers to his physical description: "thin ebony man," etc. So, the guy is black, and is advancing on the white narrator, but the "advance" (i.e. suddenly we are no longer in a world of pure, objective-seeming denotation!) is benign ("he's a gentle person"): one can go allegorical here. This "advance" is benign probably because the man is old (eyes receding somewhat) just like the narrator admits of himself (and this ties again to the opening motif of old form). Now the next juxtaposition: how does one account for it? It has to be accounted for. The juxtaposition are not themselves arbitrary: the stanzas/sentences are. The skin color of the older gentleman who is in a car behind the narrator-driver now becomes (and at the same time importantly does _not_ become) the black color of roofing tiles!!? This image's social evaluation is very ambiguous. It is work-to-be-done, of _new_ roofing and of refurbishing - but, is it regentrification, or evidence of upward mobility (whose?), or completely unrelated to housing and instead about industrial expansion (we don't know the narrator's location)? This image becomes the next "title," and its "subtitle" is the following sentence, which seems to carry the emotions the narrator experiences at the sight of the roofing material: self-doubt about his own work-to-be-done as poet. The syntactic wonkiness of the middle phrases of this sentence ("whenever / I read my poem when / it is apparent / it is terrible") mirrors its subject, self-doubt."
When nouns and noun phrases get pared down like this they can often, ironically, become quite riddled with symbolism, and indeed your reading of this slab of NON points to all sorts of correspondences between the sentences and stanzas that are nearly as intricate as what is often said to occur in "Skunk Hour" (or Eliot's Four Quartets, whose language is nearly devoid of adjectives that serve a visual purpose). I've never been much of a symbol guy myself -- the thing is quite often the thing to me, so if the use of the word "ebony" doesn't let me get closer to what it is Ron is seeing -- and my claim here is that he is seeing *less* because he's had to use a quick replacement word to get away from using "black" twice (merely my suspicion, of course) -- well, I guess I just don't see how "ebony" improves upon what it is we're seeing here. [PS: if he's comparing this person to something made of ebony then I'd really be hut and blathered... I write as I move my jaundiced hand across the ivory skin of my girlfriend...]
Take "Fairy decorator" as a contrast -- I never read this as a reference to the decorator's sexuality but I see it now, I always just heard "fairy godmother" and assumed it was a comment on the privileged status of those for whom all things appear to be gifts -- despite the semantic slippage Louis writes about elsewhere, I somehow *see* this a whole lot more. Maybe it's just synaesthesia -- I have a tendency to see color in a lot of phrasing that is technically "colorless". I'm also, like Jeffrey (?), not sure how cheeks make the eyes recede, though I understand this as a painterly flourish -- an unspoken "as if." (Ron often suggested in early interviews that his new sentence prose was an attempt to work into the space of a novel, so I wonder why he doesn't encourage some more novelistic traits in his writing -- wouldn't Nabokov have really tried to nail this visual detail?) But the following observation from a WCW poem (“Catholic Bells”) which just drops out of the sky really impresses me:
grapes still hanging to
the vines along the nearby
Concordia Halle like broken
teeth in the head of an
The very frailty of these words hanging in the stanza (an isolated by me here) suggest these grapes also. (I was raised in Rutherford and never heard of "Concordia Halle" but isn't there a Concordia grape?)
Anyway, curiously, your reading of this stanza goes up against what I thought were some of the prinicples of the New Sentence, which is that the sentences were paratactic and would not be subsumed under a montage type of functionality -- we see the titles, the titles appear on the cab, the man is black, the tiles are black, etc... -- but rather thwarted narrative and syllogistic connections. The line "I decide he's a gentle person." seems to suggest that the poet wants us to play with a cause-and-effect determination here, a game I like. So I guess the new sentence doesn't have to be entirely "paratactic" (I think it works best when there is wavering), but it seems to me that if such an overdtermined matrix of social meanings as you present here were underlying such passages of the New Sentence, then rather than the author permitting a play of meanings for the reader in his or her poem, asking the reader to be creative, the writer is merely making it much harder to see this matrix of meanings by not elaborating the connex.
I don't think this passage is so carefully written as to suggest that -- connections are happy to occur, but you see some counter-charges within the mass -- "ebony" slipping in to show that he author is aware of lexical repeats -- the phrase "Titles are often misleading, subtitles seldom are" seems vague to me (so "President" is misleading because because the person is not actually presiding, but they "Hey you jerk!" under a flurry of Spanish curses is accurate?) -- etc. I like the line about the doubt and the way it comes in after all of this detail from "outside" -- ok, I know it sounds like I'm just harshing on Ron's poetry but it's really just this poem and how it relates to his ideas, especially what he's writing these days.
[Nothing new today... thought I'd post my comment to Jack Kimball on the main part of the blog since I spent more than five minutes writing it. Look at Jack's original post on his blog if you want to see what I'm replying to. I promise to have something original to say or change the subject in the new week!]
Not sure what to say here except you make the poem sound *more*, not less, interesting to me -- was this intentional?
Practically everything I've posted on my blog has some element of the the "grotesque" (Renee French and Werner Herzog, for example) and even "drag" (Kiki & Herb, bits in Denton Welch) about it. These must be among my minor vices, but they are aesthetic strategies (if that doesn't sound too sterile and high-minded) that I care for. (Madame Sosostris is, of course, Wyndham Lewis in drag.)
I'm really not on a mission to make anybody like this poem, certainly not! But I'm amazed at how much ire it's managed to create among those who purport to *dislike* it -- has there been any single poem published by "us" in the last 20 years to so inspire such disgust? And do I need Charles Altieri to tell me when a poem is "dead"?
(The effect of symbolic castration of your last paragraph, heightened by image of three epitaph-wielding men in a triumphant circle bounding, like Matisse cut-outs, around the corpse, is itself rather "grotesque" to me -- is this the way academics have fun?)
I can think of a few books -- Harryette Mullen's Muse and Drudge, Kenny Goldsmith's work, Christian Bok's Eunoia, etc. -- and last but not least Jennifer Moxley's two books -- that always bring out strong opinions, but I can't think of a single *poem* that's done this.
In any case, your approach here is to me very interesting, much more than the approach that takes discernment of "lineage" (not to mention plays of reference and polysemeity) as the main object of critical study.
I must say, though, I also see an anxiety, not so much here but perhaps elsewhere in this discussion, to separate us from the "squares", that is similar to that shown in David Lehman's The Last Avant-Garde, which had its enjoyable moments, but certainly one can see the irony of having such a *square* as Lehman himself trying to convince us that O'Hara was hip because he laughed at the earnestness of Lionel Trilling and crew. (This whole debate seems pretty "square" to me, actually, but square is, I hear, the new hip.)
Yes, I love O'Hara too, and his words about anything echo with me always -- especially about poems being "good for you" and "force feeding" causing "effete" -- but the irony here is that "we" -- this is perhaps the crux of my "lineage" critique" -- are so concerned with poems as PEDAGOGICAL TOOLS that paradoxes such as the presence of the "grotesque" and "hilarity" in the midst of a highly structured poem by a "square" are not recognized anymore.
I don't think of poems as pedagogical tools, and to say they are poison, and words are a virus (to echo William Burroughs), is something like a step in the right direction.
I don't believe anything I read in a poem -- in a way, the poet is more like a movie director, even if we are looking at an "I" -- the actor will always be imperfect and bring in whatever accidental features of his or her personality and physicality into a performance. We might imagine Kinski is to Herzog as Hopkins is to Lowell (regarding the tub-thumping of the rhymes that you mention disliking in your longer post on the blog.) These prisms can be interesting, and seem to me rarely absent.
(This is not "lineage" -- one doesn't look at Kinski's performance in Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars more as a hunchback reprobate to help determine whether Aguirre: Wrath of God is any good.)
It is always a perverse, but hopefully engaging, reflection of an author's "intentions" and "personality" -- the critical line avowed by Eliot, of course, thought the latter worth getting rid of entirely.
Kasey once again puts in the hours on his blog, this time about Lowell's "Skunk Hour." I haven't had time to read the most recent post with any close attention, being trapped by errands and visiting friends from out of town, but I did catch wind of the followng from Steve Evans' Third Factory there:
Though Lowell leaves me cold after numerous dutiful attempts, I'd been following Free Space Comix's recent defense of him with interest and admiration - until I hit the claim about "the tortured, jagged, compressed rhythms" of "Skunk Hour'" being like "punk rock." I'd as soon assent to that statement as vote for Bush in 2004.
...because a formal technique is being employed (in his case the "new sentence," which never, frankly, struck me as radical) hardly spares a poem (such as his tiring, distracted Roof book N/O) from being branded as passive -- about language, about society, about issues of epistemology and genre. What can be more "quietudinous" than a passivity regarding these issues? In comparison, the tortured, jagged, compressed rhythms of Lowell's "The Skunk Hour" come off as punk rock.
The 60 so odd pages of "Non," from N/O, are rather listless and, I say, also tedious. More importantly, though, you will not find any poignant societal perspective there even after twenty pages, compared to which the 8 or so stanzas of "Skunk Hour" are like a 1 minute 30 second burst of - indeed - "negative" energy. Lowell lines up his targets and then takes them down; Silliman drifts along -- in a similar quasi-pastoral mode, paratactically or not -- reminding us periodically of his cred or "lineage" as a post-Marxist, post-structuralist syntactician ("Schizophrenoform"). The landscape is, at least in my view (I am getting a little forceful and final in my statements of quality here, I fear), left much the way he found it.
"The car radio bleats..." (from the "Skunk Hour") has a similar, if not the same, negatively that Adorno emits when writing about popular culture; it’s an uncompromising condemnation, modified by a bad mood. And am I all that wrong in hearing "I am an antrichirst" in the words "I myself am Hell" -- in contrast to various "I's" (mostly exhibited as "eyes") we see below? Drop the 8 stanzas of "Skunk Hour" into "Non" and I'm sure you will see -- like dropping Radiohead's "Morning Bell," one of their sweeter songs, into Eno's “tedious” Thursday Afternoon -- that you will hear compression, negativity, focus, passion, and noise.
If the issue is class and political viewpoint, it's worth remembering that a lot of punk rock bands were 1) populated by upper-middle-class renegades like Joe Strummer, or 2) populated by neo-Nazi skinheads or alluded to Nazi imagery quite careless of politics. (I don't think anyone is saying Lowell is a neo-Nazi, of course.)
The following is from "Non":
Divide wire coat
those with cardboard,
those without, those
wrapped in filmy white paper,
whether the hook is formed
by one metal strand or two, design
of the twist at the base
of the neck
what I like most
about the Albany Public Library
is that it smells
the same as when I was six years old
It's not that
there's a dead cat in the gutter but
that it's been there all week
Little moths under the porchlight,
be with me now
A dog in the distance
to greet the early dusk
the landlady lives at the foot of the stairs
that run down the hill beside the house
so wooded you don't even notice them
the color TV
thru the neighbor's gauze curtain
ice crackles as it melts
nibbling Cracker Jacks from the palm of my hand
the little man in the blue suit salutes
the runner forgets to run,
so is easily forced at second
Is it really a strength of the “new sentence” that a pretty dull observation about the Albany Public Library, conveyed indifferently, rubs up against rather bizarre coinages (or perhaps overheard neologisms) such as “snoodlenook”? Is it right of me to hear the attenuation of syntax that we enjoy in WCW’s “As the cat...” poem in the first stanza here, or one of Marianne Moore’s “precisionist” poems about the structures of animals and shorelines, but with little of the formal elegance (or “precision”)? What is the nature of the irony of “be with me now” in reference to the moths -- just dropping an echo of some other strata of language, some plead to God one might make in the throes of a disaster? Why? (This would be a pretty poor example of the alienation effect, if that's the point.)
(I confess to never having been keen on the "new sentence" as a way to "free the prose writer of character, plot, narrative," etc., as has been so often stated. Some writers free us from genre, others from joining the ranks of the "disappeared." And how priceless would it be to have the stabbing of a 59-year old pederast and ex-kindergarten teacher named Havecourt Quine, once head of the F.C.C. and most recently involved in a gray market scheme to ship infected oysters into the poorer cities of British Columbia, at this very moment in the poem -- the game still playing in the background?)
But most importantly, beyond these sytlistic issues: where is the urgency here? I really do believe that arguments can be made for this sort of poetics of "drift" -- the "Drifted... drifted precitate" section of Pound's Mauberley, in the section in which Mauberley is in exile, echoes through my mind as I write this -- but I'd really like to hear them, especially related to a politics of "critique.")
Compare "the landlady" and "a dog" to the lengths Lowell takes to make his figures specific and of his locale, and you'll see why I think Lowell is much closer to the imagist / Williams aesthetic line than is generally believed (at least in what is now "our" cyber gopherspace). "The Skunk Hour" bears comparison to Williams' "The pure products..." poem -- which I think is perhaps WCW's greatest single poem and perhaps my favorite of our long 20th century.
I am not saying I think "Skunk Hour" is as innovative, as "good," at radical, or productive, etc., just that its author learned his lessons well from the predecessor poem. It's a visionary evocation of an American landscape about which he can say little discursively but whose images -- in the guise of animals, garbage, shitty music, displaced horniness, etc. -- haunts and oppresses him. As I claim in a review -- which I will publish eventually on this blog -- after this you can only go to Ashbery and "Daffy Duck in America" -- a whole-hearted reclamation of the sublime production scale of pop culture in the grand metrics of, indeed, the "tradition." (I word it better there.)
(On a similar note, has anyone noticed, or thought about, how Ashbery's early "Portrait of Little J.A." is a defusing parody of the "confessional" mode, voiced through what I think of as a particularly [male] gay affect of envisioning oneself as the over-sensitive, delicate flower threatened by the violence inherent in heterosexual, suburban "normalcy"? "Normalcy" itself is coinage of Harding's, one of the few presidents that seem to crop up in JA's poems periodically. Anyway, I think the heavy rhymes, the stanzas, the "there I was" Mary Pickford woe-is-me attidue of the poem suggests some camping of the heroic "confessional" mode.)
Lowell's phrase "hermit heiress" is far from obvious -- it's actually an interesting coinage, considering its position in the enjambment. I always wonder, reading this, whether one is prodded to sound out the "h" in "heiress" seeing it come right after "hermit," and where that would take me -- in the language, geographically and classwise -- to do so. I don't find similar changes of speeds in the metrics of, say, Duncan -- the second line of "Skunk Hour" seems the remains of the explosion caused by the blockage of "hermit" the previous line, three words that seem just tripping over each other. This is a sign of the care I feel Lowell takes in his best poems with sound patterning -- a sign of his relationship to Hopkins, who he's written about finely.
I guess my central question is, in these quick notes: which poem is more focused in its "negativity," more attuned to the properties of language, more aware that time, indeed, is precious, and that reading (not to mention writing) should not be a matter of indifference but rather a point-by-point handling of the opportunities and issues it throws up?
(I'm perfectly aware that fifteen volumes more of boring dross has been written about "Skunk Hour" than about "Non," or about Grenier and Antin or Silliman's great other books for that matter, and that some more of the latter needs to be done. My argument is for an approach to poetry that can get past the telegraphing of "lineages" and tell us, with fresh eyes, what in fact the language is doing in a poem -- after all, one of the great claims of the poets who are not of the "quietude" is that there's some sort direct engagement with language as material that other poets are lacking. I'm just not convinced that's true -- we are all prone to sleeping on the job.)
Kasey Mohammed's posted an excellent email by Jeffrey Jullich on his blog lime tree, from which the following excerpt is taken (Jullich is referring to Kasey's notion of "hypocrisy" in a "quietude" writer adopting poses of "negativity"):
You’re imagining a wolf in sheep’s clothing, just because it lopes like a quadruped and eats raw meat under that fluffy tail and baaing;—but what I’m trying to remind you, Kasey, is that that what you’re taking for a wolf may in fact be a creature more like Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves.
Surely, Kasey, put differently, you’d agree rather that self is formed by language. It is, in fact, the long practice of various verbal/writing technologies (and all those technologies’ socially established options) that inform the potential character of any individual so as to result in anything that could be construed as a Quietudist or a Negativist poet. That is to say, there is no Negativist writer without literary Negativism; the former follows out of the latter; it is the precedent of the literary school or movement, in both Q & N cases, that, in our current historical scene at least, is taken up as, up to an extent, an artifice, and out of which then only afterwards can develop gradually, by the process of (labor’s) identification with one’s product (non-alienation), something like a protagonist who can discover him-/herself in that text as in an eldritch mirror, or be so strongly linked with it, with one style, as to be so branded.
Certainly, Jullich is critical of anything that could be considered an "essentialism" in the activities of a poet; his suggestion that there is a habitus (well, that's a word I'm adding, from Bourdieu -- Google it!) in which a poet operates -- a field of prizes, assurances, mores, counter-instinctual behaviors such as the potlatch -- and that the more successful of "us" has a third eye telling him/her where the walls are, is more or less in agreement with mine. (This is not the equivalent of saying that all poets are opportunists in a field of survival of the fittest, only that there is a response to social forces that are far from obvious -- a digression I'd like to avoid for now.)
Though you would think, reading Kasey's and Jeffrey's posts, that I had nothing at all to say on this discussion -- I feel like the son who pointed to the fire only to watch Mom and Dad save the pets and Claude Van Damm video collection to my own neglect, which seems to me just punishment for being a bore -- I think the dialogue there is rather rich and detailed if, at times, weighed down by terms -- sometimes getting too deep into things puts us too far at the back end of Plato's cave, fingering the remote control to electrify the shadows.
But in reference to Silliman's stated support of KSM's views: Kasey is being quite clear in his emphasis on his "two" ways being that of negativity and some presumed "quietudinousness" -- he's talking about a binary metaphysics here, to a degree, suggesting that the "DARK is the absence of LIGHT" dualism stands in contrast to what I think many of us think is a Manichean dualism between the equal forces of LIGHT and DARK (not to mention RED, WHITE, BLUE, etc.). Kent Johnson raises this issue with his comments to Kasey about Pessoa -- hunt around in the comments section -- Pessoa being, one might suggest, the first poet of postmodern "camp" and originator of the avatar -- though a stylistically astute one at that!
Kasey holds this in contrast to an armchair sociology that equates the former binary with political positioning -- not to disparage sociology itself, just to highlight its casual cameo appearances in discussions of poetic history. I'm not sure whether we know anymore what a truly "negative" political position is these days unless it be, as Jullich suggest, that type which adheres to "wildcat" strikes (yes, another lifting from my readings of Debord). Well, I could go on about that, about politics, about wildcats... but it's really not my field. (I did see Walter Mondale once in person, when he came to speak in Rutherford campaigning for Carter.)
I kind of wonder if John Lydon is upset that Thom Yorke is using some of his vocal affects and copping his lyrics in the new Radiohead album, or whether Steve Howe is claiming the guitar riff from "Myxomatosis" is from an early Yes record. But that is neither here nor there. ("Myxomatosis" is the name of a Philip Larkin poem, by the way -- but I still like the album! In fact, I like the poem quite a bit also -- Google it, but don't use my spelling!)
On another note: I’ve been assured by several emails that the Language school has never been in fact “attacked” by the "mainstream" (or "Official Verse Culture") -- that most of the “attacks” came from within our own New American "lineages." Is this true?
I was on a NYFA panel once with Louis Simpson years ago, and he made it clear that he thought Charles Bernstein's poetry was total crud, but even he thought the criticism was quite good, in fact important and provocative, and CB got the grant. I'd like to read one old school "mainstream" poet who has attacked the Language poets, if only to see what terms are being adopted to do so and whether they match up with the "theory" "we" use to describe it. The most I've ever seen is a lame phrase or two like "the school of Stein" -- clearly a diss, but not an "attack."
The question being: has Language theory really complicated things for anyone, like Williams did for Lowell (or Laforgue did for Pound, etc.), or has it just thrown up the chance for membership in a distinctive, supportive, and much more exciting subculture of American poetry? (Ok, casual reductions again... but I'm interested.)
Another note from Hitchens that I copied down for a different purpose yesterday, but by the magic of cut-and-paste appears for you today:
I have a dear friend in Jerusalem…. Nothing in his life, as a Jewish youth in pre-1940 Poland and subsequent survivor of indescribable privations and losses, might be expected to have conditioned him to welcome the disruptive. Yet on some occasions when I have asked him for his impression of events, he has calmly and deliberately replied: “There are some encouraging signs of polarisation.” Nothing flippant inheres in this remark; a long and risky life has persuaded him that only an open conflict of ideas and principles can produce any clarity.
My attempt was to be specific and critical while not turning my objects of study -- the poems themselves -- into elaborated, ossified Hallmark cards, written by the Partridge Family or the digital extras on board the Titanic, though indeed (I haven't seen the anthology in a while, I sold it), I guess it was hard to do. I'm not holding this up as an exquisite piece of critical work, which is why I didn't put it into my "Little Reviews" section of Arras, just, well, more (cannon) fodder for discussion.
The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry
Michael Collier and Stanley Plumly, editors
University Press of New England, 2000)
This anthology represents the middle-ground of major American contemporary poetry, passing by such writers as John Ashbery, A.R. Ammons, or Jorie Graham who, in comparison, are just too “out there,” and going nowhere near New American Poets -- such as Robert Creeley or Gary Snyder -- the “Language” poets, performance poets, nor much that could be taken for “new Formalism” (Jacqueline Osherow is the exception) . For this reason, it is a convenient book, since it gives one a clear way to assess what has happened to the academic/confessional line of Lowell, Plath, and Berryman, the group that replaced, for a certain type of literature, the expat dream of the 20’s with that of angst-ridden domestic “responsibility”, but which was too old for the Beats once they hit the scene (though some tried to latch on) . Initially, one could say that it has simply devolved: the narcissism is still there, with most of these poems being too long about anxieties, “deep sensibilities,” distrust of the world, adultery, pleasant afternoons and vacations, etc., but the formal mastery of the Lowell generation -- with its ties to Eliot’s modernism, Auden’s precociousness, Williams’ directness and prosody, along with Lowell’s background in Latin and Berryman’s syntactical experiments based on readings of Shakespeare, etc. -- are gone. While most of this work is not “confessional” in the strict sense, it is disheartening how few poems rise above the basic frame of the unescapable self in the world, or how, when a different theme is adopted, it is still tied to basic formal tricks -- the piling up of redundant detail as a baroque display of knowledge is one of them -- which renders the work repetitive and mundane. Consequently, even when formal meters are adopted -- as a way out of the too free, often just prosaic, free verse meters -- nothing like the sparkle of the Elizabethans (those to whom Eliot paid homage) breaks through. One hundred poets were invited to select from their own work, eighty-two of whom responded: include several well-known names, such as: Marvin Bell, Stephen Berg, Frank Bidart, Lucille Clifton, editors Michael Collier and Stanley Plumly, Alfred Corn, Deborah Digges, Stuart Dischell, Mark Doty, Rita Dove, Cornelius Eady, Tess Gallagher, Louise Gluck, Linda Gregerson, Maralyn Hacker, Michael S. Harper, Brenda Hillman, Mark Jarman, Galway Kinnell, Li-Young Lee, Philip Levine, the late William Matthews, W.S. Merwin, Robert Pinsky, Alberto Rios, David St. John, Gerald Stern, Mark Strand, James Tate, C. K. Williams and C.D. Wright. Most all of them are either university professors (most of those for whom job status is blank in the brief bios are also professors) or editors of such journals as the Virginia Quarterly or The American Poetry Review. The most interesting pages are probably provided by Louse Gluck -- though not her best work, there is enough of her Rilkean “purity” of expression and her various lineation to satisfy -- and Linda Gregerson, whose tight lines in irregular, Williams-esque tercets often achieve a microtonal variety that lifts them above the pedestrian: “It had almost nothing to do with sex. / The boy / in his corset and farthingale, his head- / voice and his smooth-for-the-duration chin / was not / and never had been simply in our pay. Or / was it some lost logic the regional accent / restores?” (95, “Eyes Like Leeks”). Mark Strand’s “I Will Love the Twenty-First Century” is quite masterful, with it’s quiet, Prufrockian ending -- after the narrator has a Cooleridgean wedding-guest type encounter with a man who foresees a ghostly double for himself in the next century, the poem finds a rich muteness in: “‘Oh,” I said, putting on my hat, ‘Oh’.” William Matthews has probably the two most easily dislikable lines in the book -- “I’ve ended three marriages by divorce / as a man shoots a broken legged horse” (190) , a real derailing of whatever charm Berryman might have possessed -- but triumphs with “Bit Tongue,” with it’s polyglot mish-mash of tonalities and languages, confined within a persona that is pathetic but mildly attractive. Several poets -- like Tate and St. John -- have written much better elsewhere, and look mediocre here; other bits and pieces, such as the first section of Yusef Komunyakaa’s meditation on Whitman and slavery, “Kosmos” -- are quite beautiful. In any case, this is not a book that reflects a “commitment to the future of the nation’s poetry” as its editors profess, so much as a tombstone for its glorious past -- or one of them, at least. It is the type of writing that the workshops are modeled after, which is why this type of poetry is on a downward spiral.
Ron Silliman writes in his most recent post:
I do want to reiterate that anyone who lived through the 1960s will remember that, in politics, the “third way” strategy advocated by Stefans – Walter Mondale was its apotheosis – invariably came out as road kill. While the intentions of a rapprochement may always be noble, in the world of American letters it requires amnesia to imagine it possible. If you’re anywhere on the post-avant spectrum – as Brian clearly is – the idea of rapprochement is virtually a death wish. Kasey, on the other hand, is exactly on target when he suggests that a “17th way” will be possible before a “third one” is.
It's a difference between diving into the abyss of the "new" and exploiting methods that are, indeed, worth exploiting, but are not very original to its practitioners. There is nothing wrong with that, of course -- Shut Up, for example, could not have been written by someone without the ambition, immediate social support and life-strategy (his job, his discipline) of Bruce Andrews. The Language poets could be said to stand in comparison to this earlier period of modernism as Eliot's "Four Quartets" could be said to stand to "The Waste Land" -- a refinement of the earlier form, but also, in a sense, an amelioration of it -- but that, indeed, is cheeky!
Quite obviously, I find nothing wrong with the latter -- nor the Four Quartets -- it's just this idea the Language poets (or the New American poets) are always making noise, always howling in the field, while the "other" tradition has languished quiescent for the past several decades that strikes me as indefensible, or at least obsolete. I am trying to argue for a complete reevaluation of strategies by the "alternative" current in poetry if, indeed, we are to be the "young Americans" (the opposing force to the "School of Quietude" in Poe's mind) -- provocative, recalcitrant, pains in the asses.
The fact that my own writings over the past two weeks cannot be provided a rebuttal because it's impossible to "disentangle... the ad hominem attacks" from what is presumably the good stuff directs us to one obvious point: does Ron expect anyone to read something called "Silliman's Blog" and manage to "disentangle" what is written there from the person we've known (as readers and members of a "community" in which he occupies a position) for several decades as one of the most visible, opinionated -- which I applaud! -- and prolific poets out there? Isn't the point of being matter-of-fact, meat-and-potatoes, about your view of literary culture to force a reply?
The originator of the term "school of quietude" himself was prone to some classic ad hominem attacks, such as the following:
Had [Carlyle] not appeared we might have gone on for yet another century, Emerson-izing in prose, Wordsworth-izing in poetry, and Fourier-izing in philosophy, Wilson-izing in criticism -- Hudson-izing and Tom O'Bedlam-izing in everything.
(I'd also like to know what this "death wish" is? What a strange term! That one will be forgotten, like Hart Crane? That if I renounce God and the "lineage," it means I don't like sex? A truly odd moment in this paragraph...)
I'd also like to know what a political analogy from the sixties, which we all know was a terribly polarized decade, has to do with an analysis of poetical strategies in this century, which seems to me characterized by a sort of tribal attitude of protecting one's peers, of complaining about a "monoculture" but from the vantage of a subculture that, itself, is never questioned in its premises. Ironically (and not insanely) part of the reason I've been critical of Silliman's Blog is that many of the arguments stated there are about, and reflective of, my own reading of American literary culture, but often so limited in its purview, not to mention un-fresh in its terms, that I think they are either incredibly vulnerable to dispute by someone with a truly visionary breadth of knowledge (I'm certainly not saying this is me), or vulnerable to being entirely ignored -- indeed, a "death wish" in itself. If anything, the arguments should be improved by open, and not falsely "objective," disputation, not destroyed.
From this caution I pass to an observation of the late Sir Karl Popper, who could himself be a tyrant in argument but who nonetheless recognized that argument was valuable, indeed essential, for its own sake. It is very seldom, as he noticed, that in debate anyone of two evenly matched antagonists will succeed in actually convincing or "converting" the other. But it is equally seldom that in a properly conducted argument either antagonist will end up holding exactly the same position as that with which he began. Concessions, refinements and adjustments will occur, and each initial position will have undergone modification even if it remains ostensibly the "same." Not even the most apparently glacial "system" is immune to this rule.
As it is, the structure of Silliman's Blog -- which leapfrogs from subject to subject, creating old news out of matter that, at least one day, seemed of central importance -- does not permit for active disputation, which I think is a flaw of blogs in themselves. Ron could write a perfect rebuttal to this very post tomorrow and off I'd be talking about growing avocados in the Andes. We also never know when something was posted, whether it was revised ten times, how long it took to write, or whether the writer is sitting in a hot tub with a laptop and chihuahua or stealing seconds away from a construction job.
I also think that, in this post-war political climate, "we" all have to learn how to be more cunning rhetoricians, more skillful and passionate analysts of ideas, if only because these skills will have to be put to use the next time a large portion of the population is in disagreement with the government. Talking among ourselves in listservs and blogs seems to me out of the question (not that I hope to become next years Daniel Cohn-Bendit -- I just don't want to sit around programming HTML as my only contribution to the discussion.) Isn't anyone insulted by how ignored "we" were leading up to the war?
I don't have time to write today... probably good news for you! But I've hired a stand-in -- one of my staff writers, Robert Lowell, who has recently responded quite positively to literary CPR, has agreed to submit some of his early comments on William Carlos Williams and the Beats to FSC.
Lowell's collected prose is quite short, about 370 pages, and not ambitious at all as a "critical" collection. In fact, they are not unlike blog entries themselves -- informal appreciations of what he felt informed him (though far from "lugubrious"). The parts that I most enjoy are those which depict him changing his mind, and which illustrate for me the humility one poet had before the language, which he recognized as coming from elsewhere, in a sense -- transmissions from the culture in which he lived but felt that, at times, he didn't know. I don't think it was ever in fashion to be entirely candid about one's failures, especially after having won the Pulitzer with a first book.
Lowell's first two short essays on WCW were written in 1947, around the time he published Lord Weary's Castle (the title of which, Ron Silliman claims, told us "all about his literary allegiances"). But his longer, more considered "career assessment"-type essay was written in '62, from which the following quotes are taken:
To explain the full punishment I felt on first reading Williams, I should say a little about what I was studying at the time. A year or so before, I had read some introductory books on the enjoyment of poetry, and was knocked over by the examples in the free-verse sections. When I arrived at college, independent, fearful of advice, and with all the world before me, I began to rummage through the Cambridge bookshops. I found books that must have been looking for a buyer since the student days of Trumbull Stickney: soiled metrical treatises written by obscure English professors in the eighteen-nineties. They were full of glorious things: rising rhythm, falling rhythm, feet with Greek names, stanzas from Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life,” John Drinkwater, and Swinburne. Nothing seemed simpler than meter. I began experiments with an exotic foot, short, long, two shorts, then fell back on iambics. My material now took twice as many words, and I rolled out Spenserian stanzas on Job and Jonah surrounded by recently seen Nantucket scenery. Everything I did was grand, ungrammatical, and had a timeless, hackneyed quality. All this was ended by reading Williams. It was as though some homemade ship, part Spanish galleon, part paddle-wheels, kitchen pots, and elastic bands and worked by hand, had anchored to a filling station.
Next, here is Lowell on Williams's idiom. Note the use of the word "exotic," which I think is an accurate way to convey the very alien nature of Williams's use of "speech" in the context of anti-intuitive, quasi "formalist" -- dare I say "futurist" -- lineation:
I have emphasized Williams’s simplicity and nakedness and have no doubt been misleading. His idiom comes from many sources, from speech and reading, both of various kinds; the blend, which is his own invention, is generous and even exotic. Few poets can come near to his wide clarity and dashing rightness with words, his dignity and almost Alexandrian modulations of voice. His short lines often speed up and simplify hugely drawn out and ornate sentence structures. I once typed out his direct but densely observed poem, “The Semblables,” in a single prose paragraph. Not a word or its placing had been changed, but the poem has changed into a piece of smothering, magnificent rhetoric, much more like Faulkner than the original Williams.
I was under the impression that the autobiographical free verse poems of Life Studies were the clearest indication of the effect of the Beats on Lowell's poetry, but the following suggests otherwise. I trust any poet who is honest about their conversions, including those who seem intent on changing their mind if only to keep it alive. The question, then, is how to keep a poem alive -- here's one story (this could almost be a section from Eileen Tabios's excellent, probably utterly forgotten, Black Lightning -- look it up!). I thought "Skunk Hour" was a fantastic poem when growing up and still do:
“Skunk Hour” was begun in mid-August 1957 and finished about a month later. In March of the same year, I had been giving readings on the West Coast, often reading six days a week and sometimes twice on a single day. I was in San Francisco, the era and setting of Allen Ginsberg and all about, very modest poets were waking up prophets. I became sorely aware of bow few poems I had written, and that these few had been finished at the latest three or four years earlier. Their style seemed distant, symbol-ridden, and willfully difficult. I began to paraphrase my Latin quotations, and to add extra syllables to a line to make it clearer and more colloquial. I felt my old poems hid what they were really about, and many times offered a stiff, humorless, and even impenetrable surface. I am no convert to the “beats.” I know well, too, that the best poems are not necessarily poems that read aloud. Many of the greatest poems can only be read to one’s self, for inspiration is no substitute for humor, shock, narrative, and a hypnotic voice, the four musts for oral performance. Still, my own poems seemed like prehistoric monsters dragged down into the bog and death by their ponderous armor. I was reciting what I no longer felt. What influenced me more than San Francisco and reading aloud was that for some time I had been writing prose. I felt that the best style for poetry was none of the many poetic styles in English, but something like the prose of Chekhov or Flaubert. When I returned to my home, I began writing lines in a new style. No poem, however, got finished and soon I left off and tried to forget the whole headache. Suddenly, in August, I was struck by the sadness of writing nothing, and having nothing to write, of having, at least, no language. When I began writing “Skunk Hour,” I felt that most of what I knew about writing was a hindrance.
Lastly, here is Lowell on the "poetry wars." Reading the following gives me the impression that Ron Silliman's contention that the "school of quietude" is performing literary CPR by buttressing the collected Lowell -- they probably are, but who cares? -- can be countered by a contention that Silliman is performing a similar service -- by reviving the "poetry wars" he and other "New Americans" (the values of the Language poets don't seem to play a large role here) are able to don the old Cold War armor and appear rather fresh again. This is just a suspicion, and certainly there is no reason to "care" about this either, but alas I can't get over the nagging feeling that these forms of balkanization are stripping the poetry culture of an ability to think subtly through complex issues.
A seemingly unending war has been going on for as long as I can remember between Williams and his disciples and the principals and disciples of another school of modern poetry. The Beats are on one side, the university poets are on the other. Lately [in the sixties] the gunfire has been hot. With such un likely Williams recruits as Karl Shapiro blasting away, it has become unpleasant to stand in the middle in a position of impartiality.
The war is an old one for me. In the late thirties, I was at Kenyon College to study under John Crowe Ransom. The times hummed with catastrophe and ideological violence, both political and aesthetical. The English departments were clogged with worthy but outworn and backward-looking scholars whose tastes in the moderns were most often superficial, random, and vulgar. Students who wanted to write got little practical help from their professors. They studied the classics as monsters that were slowly losing their fur and feathers and leaking a little sawdust. What one did oneself was all chance and shallowness, and no profession seemed wispier and less needed than that of the poet. My own group, that of Tate and Ransom, was all for the high discipline, for putting on the full armor of the past, for making poetry something that would take a man’s full weight and that would bear his complete intelligence, passion, and subtlety. Almost anything, the Greek and Roman classics, Elizabethan dramatic poetry, seventeenth-century metaphysical verse, old and modern critics, aestheticians and philosophers, could be suppled up and again made necessary. The struggle perhaps centered on making the old metrical forms usable again to express the depths of one’s experience.
For us, Williams was of course part of the revolution that had renewed poetry, but he was a byline. Opinions varied on his work. It was something fresh, secondary, and minor, or it was the best that free verse could do. He was the one writer with the substance, daring, and staying power to make the short free-verse poem something considerable. One was shaken when the radical conservative critic Yvor Winters spoke of Williams’s “By the road to the contagious hospital” as a finer, more lasting piece of craftsmanship than “Gerontion.”
Well, nothing will do for everyone. It’s hard for me to see how I and the younger poets I was close to could at that time have learned much from Williams. It was all we could do to keep alive and follow our own heavy program. That time is gone, and now young poets are perhaps more conscious of the burden and the hardening of this old formalism. Too many poems have been written to rule. They show off their authors’ efforts and mind, but little more. Often the culture seems to have passed them by. And, once more, Dr. Williams is a model and a liberator. What will come, I don’t know. Williams, unlike, say, Marianne Moore, seems to be one of those poets who can be imitated anonymously. His style is almost a common style and even what he claims for it—the American style. Somehow, written without his speed and genius, the results are usually dull, a poem at best well-made but without breath.
I think it's a sign of the even-handedness of "madman" Lowell's approach that he includes this anecdote about Yvor Winters, and it seems to me that Lowell, if anything, hopes only to make this "war" tenable as something of cultural value, were that possible, than to win it! Such a dramatist's flair would be welcome in Silliman's blog. And sad to say, the final line of this excerpt seems to me true of a lot of the writing that RS seems to class under the "school" of plain speech -- few are able to maintain the level of tension that appears in Williams' best work. Silliman may be right that there is a shipwreck occurring, but I'm not sure we are looking at the right shore.
My hope is to gather more thoughts on this "School of Quietude" issue while I may, running up against this logic of the blog, which is to permit spokes of divergent meaning that could distract from a potentially absent core (I like the centripetal / centrifugal dialectic but it has its dangers). However, Ron Silliman asks, on his blog, whether a certain statement of his on "vispo" -- visual poetry, a sort of grab bag descendent of Concrete poetry and, I guess, visual digital stuff -- is what I, in my statement on Lowell, characterized as RS's "famously knee-jerk, even reactionary, positions."
I'm not going to claim that what I wrote was very nice -- it wasn't, of course, and I suppose I could become infamous for being knee-jerk as well -- so I apologize. But one might almost believe that Silliman is the most read critic in our decidedly uncritical America right now (certainly his advertisements of his hit count, a weird tick that other bloggers have picked up, seem to suggest it) along with the most trusted (I don't ever actually read much in terms of criticism of his very content, and he's certainly very selective of what he links to). Anyway, so I poked the growning behemoth, if only to give a little flavor to what I wrote and, more importantly, to keep it honest. Going out on a limb with something a little off-color like that while trying to make a point leaves one vulnerable to being dismissed outright.
Most recently, Ron writes:
One thing that all the works I looked at here have in common is that they’re static – straight JPEG files, no Flash, not even an animated GIF. This I found very liberating. It puts all of the demands of the work right back onto the image itself, rather than trying to distract us with bells & whistles. It also suggests work that, over time, will be able to survive beyond current computing platforms. Anyone who is old enough to have seen “animated” poems written in Harvard Graphics or Ventura Publisher when they were the presentation software programs of the day will recognize the advantage of that. At the very worst, these works can just be scanned into whatever new platform exists ten, fifty or 150 years from now & be good to go, something you can be certain won’t happen with the present generation of animated, sound-augmented writing.
For starters, this assumption that .jpegs and .gifs will be what creators of new computer platforms will want to preserve from old ones, and not Flash and sound files. Why is this? Both formats are simply rows of digits that are then interpreted into something -- an image, a sound, a bit of interactive software -- that is translated by a machine into something more or less comprehensible by the senses and intellect. That one is for a "two-dimensional" image file and the other a "three-dimensional" or time-based digital object should not distract one from the like basis of each.
The second is a sort of purism about the "image itself" apart from the "bells and whistles." Did one ever write, after the first decades of film, that "I like this photograph because, unlike a movie, we are not distracted by the motion of the objects -- they just sit there to be looked at"? Or after listening to a quartet of Beethoven's: "I would have much preferred one stringed instrument as the other three were distracting." Certainly, any Flash artist would want to create works that integrate the separate elements into a whole -- if it fails, that's one thing, but the tool or the motivation itself cannot be blamed. (I've never used sound in my Flash works because I suck at it.)
The third is to compare the trivial experiments in the very nascent stages of a technology -- the animated poems of Harvard Graphics or Ventura Publisher (I haven't seen them, but no doubt these are silent and without interactivity) with poems in Flash. This would be comparable to criticizing cinema based on the films of Muybridge and Edison, or criticizing live motion digital graphics -- the stuff that brings you Titanic and Matrix Reloaded -- based on an anecdote about Max Headroom and early episodes of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Ironically, people love to look at these early incarnations of art in new media -- the retrospective of video work from the 70s that was up at the Whitney two years ago was fantastic, and emulators of early computer platforms are rampant on the internet -- there's even one for the ZX81 (search my blog to find it).
Lastly, it's quite obvious that Flash cannot be "scanned into a new medium" but neither can film -- can you imagine people walking around holding flip-books of Abel Gance's three-screen, 6-hour or so long Napoleon in front of gas lamps? And can visual poetry be "scanned and good to go"? I suppose the assumption is that one prints out a .jpeg, that the paper on which it's printed will last 150 years, and then it can be scanned to reproduce what the original .jpeg looked like. But inkjet inks don't last that long, and cultural memory is even shorter -- who will be around to say you got it right, and who is creating verbal descriptions for this work now? (Needless to say, one can't scan in ballet.)
One thing I always ask, though, when I see "vispo" is not "is it poetry" but, in the most basic sense, "what is it about"? I rarely see discussions of content, of social relevance, of ethics, or even of art history -- as in the use of appropriation to give a discursive element to what might otherwise be a completely non-linguistic creation -- in relation to "vispo." Is it all just tweaking the sign / image divide? Is it's only purpose to make us ask questions of genre? Why have no visual poets tried to occupy the same space in American culture that, say, Andy Warhol did, or try to be as politically relevant and upsetting as the Situationists (or the clowns who made that "Empire Strikes Back" poster with Rumsfeld cast as Darth Vader)?
I think there is content to Miekel And's work, for example, it seems to have some spiritual / ecological dimension -- some relation of the organic component of graphemes that suggests an interest in biodiversity -- and Basinski often incorporates aspects of Greek mythology in his work that seem to suggest a relationship to the paintings of Cy Twombly when drops in tags about the sacking of Troy, etc. There's probably writing on them somewhere but I've not investigated it.
The list of great predecessors -- Finlay, de Campos -- are rich in social and aesthetic dimensions that I've written about elsewhere (my article in Jacket appears here; a better one by Drew Milne appears here). Certainly, the TRG -- Steve McCaffery and bpNichol -- have created a rich discourse around their work that investigates some of the classic concepts familiar from Language poetry and deconstructionism, but with a "pataphysical dimension and modal variety that make reading this work fulfilling in its own right, beyond its use as "theory."
"Content" might be a clumsy word to use when discussing the thematics of what Finlay is doing -- I often use the term "thematics" instead, since, at best, the disparate universe of his works points to some pre-Socratic philosophical landscape (located "here and now" in Scotland, of course) that simply cannot be revealed in material world. His content is the lava of history that flows under our fragile creations -- the Roman coliseum, the Macintosh computer -- and which only reveals itself in moments of terrible conflagration, social "eruptions" in a sense. It's all very scary. But certainly, one might look at his use of charged political symbols, such as the guillotine and the swastika, as some attempt to insure his work is never discussed in purely formal terms -- is it "poetry" or not? -- but rather to throw the focus on these subterranean aspects of his themes. If only for this reason, I've often focused on Finlay's place in the "vispo" universe -- he doesn't let you relax into your prejudices.
Ironically, Ron has chosen a purely aesthetic -- dare I say "quietist" -- stance, and one based on fairly conservative aesthetic positions (the "pure" image released from any sort of social or historical considerations) to discuss, and subtly shout down, the innovations that are being made in poetry using Flash and other new media technologies. His statement are even angled such as to preclude the possibility of such innovations, without a single piece of historical data to justify this preclusion.
I'll be the first to say that there is a lot of pretty clunky stuff being done in Flash, but my sense is that no "tradition" (or shall we say "lineage") in the arts is never as clean as one would like (but who wants it clean?). One needn't throw away the technology after discovering that the technology itself does not provide enough material for the theme of the work -- quite the contrary, this void or emptiness can be a beginning (not to sound too much like Yoda). I'll be happy when Flash works are not "about Flash" or "about interactivity," not to mention when poetry is not "about language" or "about lineage." I hope this doesn't sound prescriptive -- all options seem, to me, open (except, of course, that of being "quiet").
This is in response to something Kasey wrote on his blog, which includes at the moment writing by both him and Michael Magee that is worth reading if you have any interest in this debate:
My sense is: so much as you permit there being "two ways," there will have to -- especially for a good Hegelian -- be a third way. But if one lives in a universe of heterogenous (however provisional) wholes coming in conflict with each other at all points, none with compelling claims to be more ascendant than others (this is, of course, possible), then these "thirds" will always themselves be provisional, and are if anything aids to thinking. (If these "claims" are compelling, then the "third ways" tend to have a revolutionary aspect to them -- as it might have in England when Pound was there -- performing what might be the function of a "second" or "other" way. It's obviously most salient when a language -- such as Italian -- is being used for the first time to peform in fashions usually reserved for other languages, in this example, Latin. We have no such divide right now unless someone were to attempt a poem or novel in Black American English -- far as I know.)
If one were to put on a small books shelf Pierre Guyotat's Eden Eden Eden , Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons and William Burrough's Naked Lunch, then put -- on the other side of the bookshelf -- Robert Lowell's Life Studies, Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology and even -- for kicks -- the collected Robert Frost or the Amy Lowell of "Patterns" -- her exploitation of the idea of "imagism" -- you could probably place most Language poetry somewhere in between. Language poetry often has the reproducibility of form that one associates with the latter writers -- one hits upon something and is able to exploit it for an impressive duration -- with the modernist charge of the former -- desparate acts of creation often involving ephemerality and "failure" -- but in neither case entirely sacrifices a claim to "realism" entirely (at least among the Americans, who can often recuperate their work into a philosophy of pragmatism), nor to a secure position in relation to national norms of discourse (i.e. what is not allowed to be said). I.e. the very functionality of the method seems to preclude there being as negative a charge as might occur in a neo-romantic vein (whether our neo-romantic be Rimbaud, Kafka or Beckett -- and these are hardly Romantics!).
I'm being schematic here (and maybe confusing), but certainly, much of RS's writing will tend toward the side of autobiographical, and more or less dispassionate, social realists than it will on the side of the fiery or oddball, truly "negative" writing of the formal innovators. This doesn't make it "bad" writing -- I'm a fan of much of his work, obviously, just look at /ubu -- but because a formal technique is being employed (in his case the "new sentence," which never, frankly, struck me as radical) hardly spares a poem (such as his tiring, distracted Roof book "N/O") from being branded as passive -- about language, about society, about issues of epistemology and genre. What can be more "quietudinous" than a passivity regarding these issues? In comparison, the tortured, jagged, compressed rhythms of Lowell's "The Skunk Hour" come off as punk rock.
I don't think any Language poet with the exception of Bruce Andrews (and maybe Bernstein and Watten) has taken the project of the evisceration of national social (or linguistic) mores to the same extremes thant the great French tradition (or anti-tradition) of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Lautreamont, Jarry, the Situationists (Guyotat is often identified as one of them), etc. -- not to mention predecessors Rousseau or de Sade. Most Language writing looks quite polite and "healthy" in comparison, at least from this perspective -- the Protestant ethic of the good work done daily in order to "make it new" appears as a subprogram of much of this writing. This is not a statement about American poetry as a whole -- that's more complex -- or all of Language poetry -- the fragmentary nature of Bernstein's early and middle-period writing seems to me attentive to this ethics of failure, of anti-systemicity, in "hot" modernism -- but oddly, someone like Plath occupies a more critical space -- there with Ginsberg and Burroughs -- than one would think. There is an "out on a limb" aspect to what she was trying to do that is impressive to me, and her later method doesn't strike me as less "radical" than that of, say, Rae Armantrout -- quite the contrary, in fact.
When I hear about a truly national debate (or maybe a good essay by Christopher Hitchens) about the unquietudinous-ness of Language poetry then I will be impressed -- so far, it has not happened. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, I just don't understand how one can point to a "lineage" in one's writing as somehow conferring a badge on a writer as being on the good side of a -- presumed, but in my mind quite "imaginary" -- literary divide. To suggest Language poets as somehow sweating in the trenches and other poets not -- categorically -- strikes me as nonsense. And it always seems to involve the rather limited purview of "American" writing -- observing how the two principled, dueling Scots, MacDiarmid and Finlay, came to a rapprochement at the end of the former's career should be illustrative of where the future -- for "us" -- lies. Much of this won't matter: the 1200 pages of The Alphabet will be judged on its own merits as something to read, as will the 60 or so pages of Life Studies. We can only guess why these works will be interesting in the future, one that may not even have room for such concepts as "perfect binding."
(P.S. It's ironic that, in that bit from Duncan, he quotes the end of the Lowell poem about Delmore Schwartz. My favorite ending of a Duncan poem is that one in which some attention to different registers of style in contrapuntal play is demonstrated, and that ends:
A second: a moose painted by Stubbs,
where last year's extravagent antler's
lie on the ground.
The forlorn moosey-faced poem wears
"a little heavy, a little contrived,"
his only beauty to be
It's actually the same kind of compression that Lowell brings in at the end fo the Schwartz poem -- a sudden swerve from the dominant, even heroic, meter into a bathetic, skipping tone, finally focusing on a fine point at the end as if the poem were balanced on a pin, like some geological balancing act out in the Yellowstone Park. Duncan almost seems drunk here himself -- and I like it. Ironically, the climas results in a telescoped image of an animal (or animal part) -- "strong" imagism, a la white chickens, coming to save the day again.
Few poets were more afraid of letting his metrics be taken over by anything as vulgar as social realism or speech as Duncan -- I find so much of him unreadable because of all the gaudy European trappings, the Pound-envy, the loping "stately" rhythms and capitalized Nouns, like he were Philip Sydney and didn't know better, or Mallarme, enriching every detail with "correspondence". I guess I just never believed he had as much access to higher states of knowledge than the rest of us -- I hope it's fair to be suspicious here, since he made some huge claims. In terms of "fear" versus "freedom," I'm not sure that Duncan wins. One is, after all, quite free before the "void" -- it is, after all, the evacuation of meaning that provided some of the bases for the theory of Language writing itself (and that brought Mallarme himself to start slinging words across the page like dice).
When Duncan starts psycho-analyzing his writers -- Spicer is apparently the poet of "death" while he himself was of life, or sex, or whatever, from my dim memory of the Spicer biography -- one must -- as a good iconoclast and heretic -- recoil, as it's clear such oppositional binaries are only intended to create the image of power around the naming creature, ye who sets terms (terms being, in themselves, very useful). Sacrificing this power for the sake of flows, on the one hand, or in service of the dialectic, on the other, seems to me to be imperative -- if that doesn't sound too much like a "spiritual" disposition. But they must at the same time be questioned at all moments if possible -- why not, seems to me the only confirmation of living that is reliable.
I've been meaning for some time to offer a more thorough critique of Silliman's blog but haven't had the time. After all, he writes so much, using some terms developed over a few weeks or even months, that I figure one would have to print out at least 30 or so pages worth to give the appearance that I am being comprehensive, moderately impartial, and respectful of the breadth of the work I am considering.
Unfortunately, I don’t find these qualities very visible on his own blog, which is rather famously knee-jerk, even reactionary, in its judgements, and wears its partisanship on its sleeve. This, I gather, is one of the glories of blogs, that it usually contains writing that is off the top of one’s head, a bit raw, and hence more vulnerable to contradiction, open for debate. At least, I think that it is – miles away from the objective tone that is a necessity in academic writing (and that Bourdieu criticized so effectively in such books as the Logic of Practice and Pascalian Meditations, the mastery of which he associated with becoming part of a secular clergy of intellectuals).
But this does leave open the possibility that a blog writer can claim to have written something quickly and hastily and thereby duck the arrows of a critical reader who might question the terms embedded in the judgments found there, not to mention the value system behind it. I fear that part of Silliman’s overabundance of production is to avoid any such critical appraisal, but when I think that, I remind myself that Ron has always been a “good sport” about these sorts of critiques, and in fact invites them, even if he appears a little deaf to their implications.
Conveniently, his most recent post, a very brief one on Robert Lowell, contains in microcosm much of what I distrust about his blog, and indeed about the general trajectory of discussion about this apparent cultural divide in United States poetry. You can read the post in its entirety at his blog; I’ll quote rather liberally however in order to let the resonances of his writing have its own play. He starts:
Whenever I feel too completely dismissive of Robert Lowell, I think of Bob Grenier. Grenier studied with Lowell at Harvard &, I believe, it was Lowell who helped Grenier get into the Writers Workshop at Iowa City even as the triumvirate of Creeley, Zukofsky & Stein were beginning to render Grenier opaque to the Brahmin crowd back in the Bay State.
What is really happening is that there is an assumption that, because the “tradition” or “lineage” to Grenier is beginning to ally himself is occluded, then one could never in fact read his poetry – as if a reader of Grenier’s poetry in the “Bay State” had simply never seen Futurism or Cubism, never saw or read the poetry of Rimbaud, Marinetti or Williams, never read Woolf, Faulkner or Joyce, never heard of Stravinsky or John Cage, etc. (This lineage issue – nothing is more important than protecting the lineage to RS, and nothing more nefarious to BKS -- reappears below.)
Does one say that William Burroughs is an obscure writer because nobody understands his lineage in the Marquis de Sade and Lautreamont? We know this is not true – he’s not an obscure writer but quite famous, and even Asian Americans -- who, by RS's logic, are part of a "class" to which Zukofsky or Lautreamont would presumably also be "opaque" because they don't "tell their stories" -- have read him (and Grenier) with pleasure.
What in fact happens is that one grasps the writing with what one knows; not getting it exactly right is usually quite fine in an appreciation of art, and in fact should be encouraged. Brazilians, after all, have to read also, and we read their poetry without any understanding of their "lineages."
Lastly, Creeley, by many standards, is not such an unusual writer – there’s as much Herrick as Zukofsky in anything he writes, and he is quite conservative in subject matter. Even when he is being more pointillist he fits into some sort of “let it be” vibe that doesn’t strike me as alien to middle class mores – when I last visted Germany, for instance, he was one of the few American poets I saw frequently translated. To wave him around as some influence rendering a poet culturally “opaque” strikes me as absurd. What is “opaque” is his “lineage” in the Objectivist tradition – but so what?
You can still find vestiges of Lowell’s influence, though, in Grenier’s first book, Dusk Road Games: Poems 1960-66, published by Pym-Randall Press of Cambridge, Mass.:
On the lawns before the brown House
on the hill above the city
the wheeled sick sit still in the sunshine –
One hopes it’s not the “transparency” of the language, the old bugbear of Language poets, as if any poem that attempts to record any visual sensation were influenced by Lowell – one could just as easily say it was influenced by Wordsworth or Chaucer. But of course, there is no partisan charge in doing so.
I can hear some Lowell in these lines – there’s a poem of his that starts “Tamed by Milltown, we lie in mother’s bed / the rising sun in [something something, warpaint?] dyes us red.” etc. Well, I can’t remember it. But it’s a poem that attempts to get the ball rolling with an image – we are, after all, all in the “imagist” tradition (I do believe that most American poets are imagists of some sort) – which is very Lowellian, as is the internal rhyme "hill" and "still" right on the crests of the rather heavy rhythm.
Anyway, we could have benefitted here from an understanding of how this poem reflects Lowell and not a hodge-podge of other writers who uses these techniques.
Lowell turns up again as an influence in the “conservative” portion of Hank Lazer’s remarkable Doublespace: Poems 1971-1989, his attempt to bridge the gulf between Le School d’ Quietude & post avant poetics. One of Marjorie Perloff’s first books was her 1973 The Poetic Art of Robert Lowell.
I don’t think one “bridges a gulf” by including one’s early poems (note the time span in the title) and later poems in the same book – one attempts to write differently than one did when younger, but where is the “attempt” in collecting these poems? I’ve never seen Lazer’s book, but my guess is that the “conservative porition” is very different from what I presume is the hip, “avant-garde” half – if so, then has anything been “bridged” -- isn't there, then, a gap created in such a book? Life Studies becomes more of a “bridge” – there is no “conservative” or “avant-garde” portion to that book, but a new style that is a synthesis of his older, Latinate blank-verse and the looser, diaristic manner of his prose.
I’ve had Lowell books on my shelf since I was 16 and I’ve never thrown them away, nor do I keep a "gap" between his books and those of the "avant-garde." I have books by Berryman, Bishop, Jarrell – the entire “school of quietude” – and it’s not rendered me unable to read Debord or the “radical” side of Williams, nor have they ill-prepared me to read Bruce Andrews (anyone seeing my first book will see that influence there) or Lyn Hejinian – who, it must be pointed it, is rather quietudinous in temperment herself.
So I ask again, in respect to the clannishness of Ron, not to mention many Language poets, when considering issues of “linage” – where is this huge “gulf”? Does the publication of Doublespace make Hank Lazar the Jackie Robinson of poetry? Who has he liberated by bridging this "gulf"?
(My second book is called Gulf, and in fact some of what I tried to deal with there is this perceived gap -- but I'll spare you the gory details.)
But what always gets in the way of any possible admiration I might have for Lowell is his poetry. When it was first published in 1946, Lord Weary’s Castle – that title alone tells you everything about literary allegiances –
was read, rightly, as a turn away from any poetics of direct speech, not only anti-Williams & the polyglot circus of Pound’s Cantos, but even anti-Frost & anti-Auden. For the New Critics, the conservative agrarian poets who were at that same moment consolidating their hold on English departments across the United States & beginning to wonder about their legacy, Lowell was an affirmation of their larger program. It didn’t hurt that he was a Lowell, either. By the time he was 30, Lowell had already won the Pulitzer Prize and had a photo spread in Life Magazine.
The poems in this book, many of which are tortured and mannered, are overly determined by Lowell’s background in the classics and his need to see irony in all details of history, but I don’t see how this is “anti” anything – if anything, they are a direct contination of Pound’s imagism in the early Cantos (Lowell’s main attraction for me, in fact, is his sharp eye for detail) not to mention the method of historical “rhymes” (Lowell’s later sonnets -- collected in a book called Notebook -- what does that title tell you of alliegances -- are a “circus” if anything. As there's never been a truly polyglot "post avant garde" American poet, I don't think he needs defense there).
They also reflect the influence of Hart Crane -- a great all-American poet who happily read French poetry, wrote in a highly stylized manner and was even politically correct, being "anti" Eliot even as he was impressed with the form. But he was also "anti-direct speech," presumably -- where do we put him? One of Lowell's best sonnets was about him, and even heroicized his homosexuality -- betrayal of his Brahmin instincts?
Pound, of course, is as "anti-direct speech" as any poet who wrote -- his translation of The Seafarer, for instance, is more impenetrable than the original must have been for the Anglo-Saxons (and, consequently, is a forerunner to some fo the heavy alliterative style of Lord Weary's Castle); outside of Cathay and a handful of haiku-like things, he rarely wrote outside of a very lugubrious "mask" in his early poems, and the most "direct speech" aspect of his Cantos are those sections where he's making fun of blacks and Jews (I'm exaggerating, of course, but it's true that the only time he really gets into "speech" is during the "satirical" parts -- which he had no gift for).
Lord Weary's Castle doesn’t, of course, reflect the influence of Williams, but very few poets did in those days – it was published in 1946, and I don’t think that Williams was appreciated enough at the time to have spurned an antithetical movement (imagining a “poetics of direct speech” to find its roots in WCW, as RS does elsewhere). Lowell's debt to Williams was very apparent by his last book, Day by Day, and he wrote appreciative essays on Paterson and The Desert Music (his buddy, Jarrell, wrote a great essay on WCW for the Selected Poems).
Consequently, suggesting that Lowell was some poster boy for the agrarian Right -- the "larger program" I suppose -- is a bit dishonest, and contradicted by fact. Lowell campaigned for Democratic presidential candidates and was a friend of the Kennedys; he was a conscientious objector in WWII and active as a protester during Vietnam. I wish I could go on about his politics but I don’t know that much about his biography – these are the famous facts -- but, alas, the implication that he was “quiet” and supporting an ascendant Right during these times is not fair, not to mention untrue.
("That he was a Lowell" make these political alliances and activities more, not less, brave, if we are to believe that the Brahmins are as provincial and hidebound as RS would have it. They would have been brave had his name been Seigenthaler, Torres or Tanaka as well.)
Yet Lowell, especially the early Lowell, is seldom a good poet for more than two or three lines at a time, which invariably are buried in larger lugubrious monologs that do little more than show a man unable to actually get to his own writing through his presumptions about “what poetry should be.”
This practice of letting two versions of a poem co-exist even conflicts with the Bourdieuian notion that an author's death is the final period on his or her life's work -- as if an author dies with a sort of purpose, to package the ouevre for history. To leave a poem in two or more final states seems an active contradiction of this sort of vanity (unlike other ways of arranging one's work -- winky winky).
Consequently, when, as Lowell did, a poet changes styles and approaches to writing several times in his or her lifetime – as painter Philip Guston did in his, to point to the most obvious example – it demonstrates a questioning of what poetry (or art) “should be,” not a dogma. My sense, frankly, is that Lowell changed his sense of “what poetry should be” with more frequency then RS has, if that means anything – after all, the New Sentence still hovers over, even justifies, the most recent writings of RS more strongly than Lord Weary’s Castle hovers over or justifies Life Studies or the later, very speech based Day by Day. I guess it’s ok to have “allegiances” and “presumptions” so far as they are the right ones. (My preference, of course, is for skepticism about both issues).
(And what does Ron have against "lugubrious monologs" -- I thought this was the blogger's MO?)
It is precisely that should be, the sense of obligation to a dead aesthetic inherited from a mostly imaginary British Literary Heritage, that I take to be behind David Antin’s famous line “if robert lowell is a poet i don’t want to be a poet,” a sentiment that was virtually universal among the poets I knew in the 1960s & ‘70s.I could go on about my feelings about Antin’s writing about Lowell – I read one of those essays in Kostelanetz’s anthologies years ago and thought it longwinded and misguided – but I’ll have to refrain for time’s sake. Again, though, the “should be” is implicit in nearly everything Ron writes – is it the “should be” we are questioning or the what it “should be”?
RS’s ideas about American literary tradition vs. a “dead” “aesthetic” “inherited” from “Britain” have always been so absurd to me that I don’t feel, for the moment, that I can comment on it without sliding into diatribe. But frankly, only if one believed that culture were produced -- in reading and writing -- entirely by sycophants with no critical acumen would one fear the influence of the productions of a particular country, not to mention time. This sentnece has curious echoes of Donald Rumsfeld in it -- the "Old Europe" business -- or, worse, something out of the Balkans -- we call this strategy of bating prejudices "Balkanization" after all. So I'll let it pass.
Still, in 1964, on a week when Time magazine could have focused on the aftermath & implications of the first Harlem riots of the decade, it chose instead to feature Lowell on its cover.
I’ll reserve my conclusions for later – time's a-wastin' -- further spelling corrections to come...
[I wrote my final column for the Poetry Project Newsletter recently only to discover that Gary and Nada decided to devote the whole issue to writings they got from blogs. So they are taking the column -- which reads like a blog entry anyway -- but also suggested I blog it to keep the concept clean. So here it is, several weeks ahead of time.]
Gary tells me I have all the space in the world this month to write whatever the f*ck I want but actually, I don’t have all that much to write.
Visitors to my blog have probably noticed that I’m basically p*ssed off about everything, including blogs. I’m also p*ssed at Herberto Yepez for stopping his English blog, but really, that’s ok, I wasn’t reading it anyway – I’ve been too p*ssed. (Everything Yepez wrote there was a manifesto of sorts, including his last bit: “This blog is dead” – a sort of blogging degree zero.) And I can’t read the Spanish one because I’m too f*cking stupid.
So Anselm’s the new Ed Friedman.
But the big question is: who will be the next Maureen?
I hope they don’t take the English guy.
(See? I’m blogging…)
Nobody downloaded Arras 5, part II, though 1,249 downloaded part I – what the f*ck does that mean?
Bergvallmania over so soon? Nobody interested in what Alice Becker-Ho has to say these days? (She was Guy Debord’s lover – I lifted a great short article by her on criminal argots online.)
Dagmar Chili Pitas sound too Aryan-Mex for you?
(I will write that intro for the two issues soon, promise; this disparity will be corrected, or my name isn’t Mysterious Billy Smith – “the trigger.”)
Did nobody get to the bottom of the e-mail to see the Bruce Andrews stuff? (Confessions of a spammer…)
(Write to me if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)
I don’t think anything very interesting has been happening in “digital poetry” for the last several months; if there has been, I’ve not been paying attention.
No reports from “E-poetry 2003,” live from West Virginia, though I’m sure, like the Freemasons, they are merely saving their discoveries for future Presidents and renegade Jesuits. (I wasn’t invited to that one, and anyway was in California.)
Will the “poetry” in “E-poetry” ever chance upon John Wieners?
It’s been a wild ride of detourned thises and that’s for those of you paying attention to Circulars (www.arras.net/circulars). Whitehouse.org might be the most radical and prolific of these sites -- their latest headline reads: “The War In Iraq Concluded, President Bush Proudly Honors The First-Ever Recipients Of The "Civilian Warmonger Medal Of Armchair Valor." I got this written to me after posting a link to one of its/their stories:
While you're handing out awards you should give yourself one for "Jackass of the Year". First of all you accuse FOX News of "Obediently chastising anyone who dared voice opinions that were'nt in my f-cking script" and then like the true hypocrite that you are you go and chastise everyone and anyone who disagrees with you? You are oviously a very angry, bitter, hateful, racist, anti-semite, mysogynistic creep who is in desperate need of psychiatric counseling. Your attempts at being humorous do nothing but show your true hateful colors. The only thing that sucks more than the war itself is that you weren't on the receiving end of a cruise missle straight up your rear end." [Etc. etc.]
Of course, I didn’t write any of what was attributed to me – the whitehouse.org story I linked to had a lot of foul epithets in it, and perhaps I should have read it more carefully, but since it was a satire and supposed to be some insanely bigoted map of Dubya’s unconscious, I figured people would understand the perspective and just go elsewhere if they didn’t like it.
Tom Raworth’s poem “Listen Up” – which he tried to have published on the “Poets for the War” website -- is a classic satire in this very mode, though admittedly a thousand times more clever. That poem doesn’t have that juvenile South Park feel of whitehouse.org or The Onion – it’s more classic Archie Bunker (or whomever the English analogue was) meets Jonathan Swift:
Why should we listen to Hans Blix
and all those other foreign pricks:
the faggot French who swallow snails
and kiss the cheeks of other males:
the Germans with their Nazi past
and leather pants and cars that last
longer than ours: the ungrateful Chinks
we let make all our clothes; those finks
should back us in whatever task--
we shouldn't even have to ask:
and as for creepy munchkin Putin...
a slimy asshole -- no disputing!?
Ok, so there’s foul, racist language. But I wonder -- and I really do wonder – why I, who was raised hearing racist epithets tossed my way on every block find this poem hilarious and myself not personally implicated (as speaker or subject) whereas other readers of it might find it “hate mongering.” I read it and think that Tom’s on my side, and I even see whitehouse.org that way – I know I don’t use those words, or think that way, just as I don’t think like Ivan Brunetti in Schizo, but alas, it’s cathartic to witness these extremes.
(Perhaps it’s a form of high anxiety – a language that doesn’t permit violence just seems more frightening to me? Am I just blogging?)
Darren Wershler-Henry covered for me in late April while I was in Cali visiting my sister – haven’t heard from him since returning, but they just lifted the SARS ban on Toronto today, so perhaps I’ll get an email from him soon.
Internecine bloodbath? There was a little of that at Circulars – which may be R.I.P. by the time you read this. Luckily, we have a contract with Haliburton so everyone will look like poets again by the time of your next visit. The infrastructure is intact.
Speaking of whom: can someone tell me why Poets Against the War are so confident that they/it are/is “historic”? Whatever happened to leaving “blanks in the record, I mean for things we didn’t know” (Pound).
What’s historic is the Iraqi National Museum…
It’s a bad word – I never use it.
I’m also pretty down on the internet list poem these days (was I ever up on it?). OK Flarfers anony-mouse, this means you. I think they/we have to get past the list poem, take the “list” and make it “listen” and tweak the poem to work longer than 30 seconds without pooping out. One good image culled from a Google search is worth more than a life’s works (Pound) – but it’s got to be a good image. I thought that was the great challenge in poetry – dichtung = condensare (or: “looping = pooping”).
I guess I feel guilty because “riddled argots” is full of examples of the form… someday I’ll write that intro.
Elizabeth Fraser-Hemerding, the Administrative Assistant in my office, is out getting steel pipes put in her spine. She’s about 30 years older than me, but the fact that she’s getting these installed because of excessive computer work, well…
It was on Elizabeth’s tiny portable television that I first saw the Towers burning…
I’m blogging again…
Just makes me think…
Does the fact that Devendra Banhart looks a lot like Che Guevara (and drives a Diesel van) mean that history really does travel in circles (albeit very short, Latin American ones) and that, soon, the early books of Kit Robinson will look fresh again? (Some of them already do… they’re online at: www.whalecloth.org/.)
Another thing – is there a crisis for “political poetry” and/or “avant-garde poetry” when its response to the war is either the above-mentioned internecine fighting (all forms of debate are good, in my book, but some do get bogged down with rivalry over scholastic details), or when birdhouse-makers and poets are seen as analogous in terms of articulation of cultural values (as in “it could have been birdhouse-makers invited to the White House and the effect would have been the same”), or when those poets most involved in social issues still write in a obscure, however passionate, form of Language poetry that comes across as encrypted messages for cultured insiders than public enactments of truth or vision?
Am I being a booby and picking on my friends?
Vietnam happened already, but so did the Pisan Cantos, n’est pas?
I mean, I like this type of poetry, I wrote it at one time, but I’ve never believed in the inevitability of the descent of language from wholes to fragments – that’s just one trajectory.
I know that you know that I know that you know that I know who I’m talking about… and it’s not like I put out any Mayakovskian masterpieces during the time of this our last Great Slaughter – just that, well, it makes me think: we were all not afraid of a Dixie-Chicks like burning of the books but, nonetheless, what was there that was done that would have called for it?
(That last clause is a mixture of Lenin and early Ashbery, in case you were wondering…)
Just hope we get something together against the big one: RE-ELECTION. If George W. Bush isn’t utterly humiliated soon then we have little hope for saving face – in “history.” Even Tom Hanks c. 2035 can’t make a bunch of guys riding black Stealth fighters holding joysticks in their crotches dropping laser-guided bombs on scampering SUVs seem heroic. Can you see Vin Diesel (with hair) playing Tommy Franks in this one?
And we’re running out of deserts and pharmaceutical factories to bomb – a luxury of Middle East wars. If “we” got back to Korea, may have to burn the foliage again.
This is probably my last column for this mag – hasta la vista, thanks.
[I didn't actually read this at the "Digital Fever" event yesterday except select sentences and the second to last paragraph. It's very me-oriented as Kenny, Darren, Aaron and Craig were there right next to me so I assumed they's speak for their own projects. I wrote it less than an hour so it's pretty basic.]
My own activities, in regards to “archiving poetry in digital media,” have been at this point three-fold at this point: editing the /ubu section of .pdfs of Kenneth Goldsmith’s ubu.com site, putting up .pdfs of magazine runs, literary criticism and other oddities (such as Bruce Andrew’s political writings) on my own site, arras.net, and posting poems and poetics essays, along with news articles and tasteless political poster art, on Circulars, a site created to provide a means for poets to speak on issues of American involvement as “policing” the world and its rapid approach to adopting a philosophy of exaggerated military prowess to influence world politics.
The /ubu series has so far had one run, and includes both reprints of out-of-print (or, accidentally, simply hard-to-find) books that I gather, through my Spidey sense, will be of some interest to the community -- Kevin Davies first book Pause Button, from 1992, for instance, seemed a natural fit given that his last book Comp. was such a big hit, and Madeline Gins’ book What The President Will Say And Do, with its poignant, mischievous wit, is, besides being a lot more approachable than a lot of her recent work with Arakawa on Reversible Destiny, a great example of taking a perverse prism on social and linguistic realities that is both compelling, utopian in its affect, and directly engaged -- in terms of the apostrophe -- with previous administrations (in her case, Nixon / Ford / Carter).
There are also new titles in that series, of both drama (Richard Foreman, Mac Wellman) and poetry (Jessica Grim, the Scottish poet Peter Manson, whose manuscript, Adjunct: An Undigest, which was floundering in the U.K., inspired the entire series). This kind of range is not often covered by small presses who are not in an economic position to reprint titles that even upon initial publication were entirely marginal; it’s something New Directions could, and did, do in its time, but which doesn’t seem an option for, say, Roof, Edge, or O Books (though they do publish some reprints, just not regularly). The cultural capital that accrues around fine typesetting -- it seems one of the more common features of my "generation" is that we've all done some significant work in Quark, and handful are actually professionally trained (Goldsmith in the visual arts, hence the beautiful cover designs of /ubu) -- goes a long way in giving these maverick publications and air of confidence and importance, not to mention beauty -- the don't look like "small press" books, and though the romance of the samizdat edition is lost in that, there is a slight humor in how good you can make things look even though, until they are printed, they are immaterial.
The .pdfs on arras.net are usually just pet projects that I find interesting, but also take on literary criticism -- I’ve published the entire run of Steve Evans’ Notes to Poetry, a series of e-mail critical writings that caused a stir the year of their circulation, 1998. I’m about to launch Poli Sci: The Political Science Writings of Bruce Andrews. Back in my grad school days, I suspected that this body of work would shed some light on how Andrews thinks his poetry operates in the “world” -- he’s probably the only Political Science writer who actually incorporated his poetry in his conference papers -- as I was impatient with the idea that poets were too light headed and theory-minded to think about anything else effectively but poetry. The thirteen essays I have online, the last written in 1984, are all he wrote for the field he teaches in at Fordham University.
Circulars is a multi-author blog -- several of the stories were posted by Darren Wershler-Henry, who, among other things, digs up incredible items regarding the phenomena of digital resistance (including hacktivism and digital detournement), thus adding a peculiarly anthropological element in what I originally conceived of as a “protest” site of sorts, an announcement board for events, a platform for poets to articulate -- in what I was hoping would be unconventional, but engaging manners -- the anti-war/pacifist movements aspirations, and to collect the unabashedly something -- chatty, caustic, frank, vulnerable -- brand of social critique characteristic of the blogs.
My sense was that -- with the peculiar sets of knowledge that so many different poets had in the community -- whether it be Darren with his digital edge, Scott Pound who is now teaching in Turkey, Carole Mirakove with her eyes on the alternative media lists, her “Mirakove Relays” are a regular feature of the site), Ron Silliman and Rodrigo Toscano with their work in the labor movement, the English poet Keston Sutherland with his Cambridge brand of Marxism, and the various satirists out there like Stephen Vincent with this “Gothic News” items -- we could have a very distinctive site that represented a sort of “alternative Zeitgeist,” a site that gave a lot of the bad news but would also have a propulsive, multi-vectored perspective that, if anything, would reflect an image of an active, not necessarily political, community “mind” at work. I also hoped it would “train” some poets in web phenomena as, after all, a lot of what I came across was quite new to me, too.
Creativity regarding the present political situation is, to my mind, in desperate demand -- there is certainly enough alternative media, talks of direct action protests, etc., but the aspect of pleasure, in creativity, in critique and dissent is lacking, and I somehow think the protest movement (what do we call it now?) will never really grow to incorporate some vital elements without this creative edge to it.
Well, you get the picture...
Basically, what I want to say, in the light of these three activities, is that I don’t like to think of anything on the web as “archiving,” but as some form of activism -- I call it “tele-active” activity, using a term from Lev Manovitch to describe those art works where, for instance, one sits behind their desk in New Jersey and, communicating with a robot arm in Kyoto via the internet, grows a geranium in Japan. My sense is that what we do on the web has to have some sort of dynamism to it -- has to aspire, even if it is only a dream, to alter the avenues of distribution, cultural capital, etc., rather than simply to “make something more available.” I think of the web as a sort of carnival -- to use a word from Bakhtin -- or a sort of heteroglossic text, a la Dostoyevksy’s Brother’s Karamazov or a play of Shakespeare’s, in which many voices are actively, urgently, even opaquely play off or against each other, or even in synch. The end might be the same -- formatting something, running it through Adobe Distiller, putting it online -- but the philosophy (I speculate) leads me to make unusual decisions, or at least, this aspect of carnival makes it interesting to me. Were everyone to start posting beautifully formatted .pdfs online all the time it might just become boring.
I am very much aware that the province of the web is mostly a place for educated, mostly white, mostly middle class, mostly Western, people, but nonetheless I have to believe that what gets out there will some how make it’s way “into the world” via a printer, passed on like the days of yore, and that someone -- just one person is enough, I feel -- will have their perspectives altered (as mine were when I first came upon Ezra Pound’s books in a Jersey City library) because of the distinctively corrosive illuminations of poetry. And it’s amazingly public -- I’ve never received a cease-and-desist order form the Times for a poem I’ve written, a minor incident in the run of internet censorship of “hacktivism” but somewhat alarming for the tradition of United States poetry, which -- fortunately or unfortunately, depends on what you want to do -- can be safely ignored.
[My latest column for the Poetry Project Newsletter... it was edited quite a bit for print, so this is the director's cut.]
Blogaholism continues to claim victims among the unwitting poetry community, with the roster – international, avant-garde, new formalist, new vineyardist, skanky, Spanish and English – ever growing for the fashionable poetaster’s blogroll. Keep one eye on your prose as you dawdle among: Chaxblog (Charles Alexander), For the Health of It (Tom Bell), Equanimity and Million Poems (Jordan Davis), Overlap (Drew Gardner), Ululate (Nada Gordon), HG Poetics (Henry Gould), Lester's Flogspot (Patrick Herron), Pantaloons (Jack Kimball), Ineluctable Maps (Anastasios Kozaitis), Jonathan Mayhew's Blog, Ich Bin Ein Iraqi (Camille Roy), Possum Pouch (Dale Smith), Mike Snider's Formal Blog, Elsewhere (Gary Sullivan), WinePoetics (Eileen Tabios), Laurable Dot Com, The Tijuana Bible of Poetics (Heriberto Yepez), SpokenWORD (Komninos Zervos).
A few of these predated Silliman’s Blog, one or two even Katherine “the blog queen” Parrish’s squish, but several are mere pups. I will spare you the URLs, but a clickable, up-to-date list can be found at Kasey’s limetree (limetree.blogspot.com). Soon, no poet will be able to read holding a piece of paper because of the stealthily deleterious effects of carpal tunnel syndrome, a brand of disease leading to crooked, John Merrick-esque postures that – like a model’s slumped shoulders in the more swish NYC bars or Orson Welles’ citizen’s paunch that seems to have taken hold of the UK’s sound poetry community – will be imitated by any sensible poseur desirous of seeming of the crowd that “took down Language writing” (Vendler).
Like shrooms after April’s swich licóur, metablogs – blogs that respond to the phenomenon of blogs like Spinal Tap to heavy metal – are beginning to sprout. Contact the folks at mainstreampoetry.blogspot.com to partake in the literary sensation that’s sweeping the world: Mainstream Poetry. (So that Fence thing was smoke and mirrors?) Be one of the grant-funded freshwater bass who write: “Once, on a gusty day, they fell in quatrains, / as unbelieveable as dandelion seed's cosmic pendulum.” On a different front is the mischievous (= Canadian) web program that’s taken on a life, and a bit of cultural capital, of its own, called the “Sillibot.” Using the Tjanting author’s daily posts as seeds, this artificial intelligence generates Flarfish text based on a markov chain algorithm (look it up) which it posts, with nonchalant hysteria, to its blog. Unfortunately, the Sillibot’s creator does not want to publicize the URL just yet as it’s still being tweaked – the paradigm shift awaits -- but in the meantime, you can mess yourself creating automatic sestinas, sonnets pantoums and canzones at Finnish Leevi Lehto’s de rigeur “Google Poem” (www.leevilehto.net/google/patterns.asp).
With some trepidation I hope to further the trend with the introduction of another multi-author blog Circulars (arras.net/circulars), which has a mandate to register in persuasive but concise prose the poetry community’s opposition to the US government’s war policy. As the propaganda states:
“CIRCULARS intends to focus some of the disparate energy by poets and literary critics to enunciate a response to U.S. foreign policy, most significantly the move to war with Iraq. CIRCULARS intends to critique and/or augment some conventional modes of expressing political views that are either entirely analytical, ironic or humanistic. These are all valuable approaches, of course, and not unwelcome on CIRCULARS, but our hope is to create a dynamic, persuasive idiom that can work in a public sphere, mingling elements of rhetoric and stylistics associated with the aforementioned modes -- analytical, ironic or humanistic. CIRCULARS is, in this sense, a workshop -- a place to explore strategies.”
By the time you read this, the war may be several weeks old, and my guess is that the site – the joint creation of several authors acting both as editors and writers – will reflect, for now and for the record, changes in the poetry community’s political priorities, sentiments and activities as they occur.
Beehive (beehive.temporalimage.com), edited by Talan Memmott, has just put up their fifth issue, featuring work by Bill Marsh, Juliet Ann Martin, Marianne Shaneen, Millie Niss, Alan Sondheim and others. Good to see names not previously associated with digipo in the mix – Marianne was lugging around a gaffer-taped Bolex on Roebling St. when last I saw her -- but I’m also pleased to see Juliet Ann-Martin, whose “oooxxxooo” (julietmartin.com) was revelatory for its time, grabbing some spotlight. The Iowa Review Web (www.uiowa.edu/~iareview/mainpages/tirwebhome.htm) also has a new issue, featuring a new piece by William Poundstone, “3 Proposals for Bottle Imps,” an interview with Motomichi Nakamura by Yang-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, and my interview with John Cayley, suggestively titled “From Byte to Inscription” (kind of a like a James Bond film, or maybe Justin Bond).
Free stuff? Well, you can try the new /ubu (“slash ubu,” found at ubu.com/ubu) series of e-books, featuring titles by Kevin Davies, Deanna Ferguson, Richard Foreman, Madeline Gins, Jessica Grim, Peter Manson, Michael Scharf, Ron Sillman, Juliana Spahr, Hannah Weiner, Mac Wellman, and Darren Wershler-Henry (sory, a touch of Lisztmania there…). Go to the recently revamped Duration Press (durationpress.com) for even more free e-books by the likes of Patrick Durgin, Rachel Levitsky, Brian Strang, Elizabeth Treadwell, Rick Snyder and Marcella Durand – really just the tip of the rapidly deepening iceberg (er…), countering the forces of ecological entropy that’s rendering even Antarctica’s historical Borchgrevink's hut a pile of stinking guano. Kudos to Jerrold Shiroma for putting together such an amazing site.
For those who don’t go much for reading, there are the digital anti-war bumper stickers at Masturbate for Peace (masturbateforpeace.com), with minimalist offerings such as “Touch Your Sack, Not Iraq,” and “My Bush Doesn’t Declare War!” And if that’s too much for your impoverished lexicalismus, then it doesn’t get much lighter than this page of Japanese Emoticons (club.pep.ne.jp/~hiroette/en/facemarks/index.html), including such classics of the industry as:
“Here you are, the tea.”
“He sends you a kiss with a sound effect.”
Ok, it’s not the Cantos, or even Eistenstein’s Film Sense, but it’s an easy in for those of you who are responding to Eliot Weinberger’s call (arras.net/circulars/archives/000130.html) to learn the names of more Asian poets – I think this one’s called Hiroette.
[Here's the first 20 of the Proverbs of Hell (Dos and Donts), chunky paragraphs of 575 letters each about web poetics, that are appearing on the inFlect site. Someone somewhere on some blog out there, perhaps Jonathan Mayhew, wrote that s/he was thinking of Blake's Proverbs a lot lately -- maybe proverbs are in this belle saison d'enfer. I don't have any new content for the blog today except a little note on the Kiki & Herb show I saw last night at the Knitting Factory, which is forthcoming.]
1. In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. In off-hours at work, visit jodi.org for pro-situ distraction and turux.org for preter-semiotic action in game-world real-time. In hotels at conferences on digital poetics, avoid the theorist who would be five minutes past seed time and has reaped five critical harvests from the postmodern American novel. In the disquieting sempiternality of a north-northeastern winter, enjoy nothing more than the liberation from the ill-effects of prolonged programming and the overripe prose of intelligentsia flame wars. Behave not as if the abs had the shelf-life of your Athlon. In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
2. Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead. Drive your internet app through a cartload of high-res images drugged by the uncompressed plows of B-techno sound loops, and you might chance upon the gold filling of a retired army general in your pasta al dente. Drive your viewer through too many randomized texts masquerading as aleatoric derive, and you shall find a reader with a bad hair life. Drive not at all, but walk blissfully in the carnivalesque bubble malls of suburban psychogeography and mingle with the buxom banes and lustless lux-loves not screened since the time of Neuromancer, Kora in Hell and Paris Spleen. Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
3. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. The road of greater flexibility in method of random access and greater variability in the contract of approach leads to the simplicity of the modemless codex and the finger-panning of the papyrus scroll. The road of suggestive variability is the road to multimedial beauty; the road of arbitrary personalization is the road to unilateral disinterest and the hypertrophy of exchange. Provide the user what she seeks in curious synaesthetic doses and you shall taste the wine of unpassive attention — a little "fort da" never hurt anyone. Fake not the myth of access to palliate tunnel vision. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
4. Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity. But more users have visited Prudence's web page than Exhibitionist's, because Capacity has become the mantra of the Electroconomy Global Theme Park. It is the Artist who pulls abundance out of CPU Incapacity, and it is the Artist who will not be burned by Dot Com Meltdown. Prudence is a maid whose riches are high in concept, high in pragmatist protein, and low in unsaturated Fats of the LAN. Exhibitionist’s saving grace is that she captures more mp3’s than anyone else, and once bandwidth goes the way of Ptolemy’s shell, she will be the coroner that stole the company wreath. Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
5. He who desires but acts not breeds pestilence. She who desires not but acts breeds with him. In a male-ruled programming culture, the hunk of the He damns the shank of the She, and the frank of the We chalks the funk of the Thee, and gender politics returns to square one. We who desire cyberbodies dissembling in cloaks of poly-gendered morphs and reassembling the highways of privilege into voodoo potlatches of counterfeit visions of interest — mean business. Avatars are unacted desires breeding the pestilence of drive-by identities, the essence of Self becoming the flavor of Month on a paratactically arranged grid of interacting IPs. He who desires but acts not breeds pestilence.
6. The cut worm forgives the plow. The cut phone line is not a blow, but trusts in the Manichean humanism of c’est la vie. The Life of Action and the Music of Changes are thwarted by ignorance of the varieties of fundamentalist CPUs and modem’s derangement of tout les sens, but surrender not the vertigoes of concept and the fungoes of multimedia to an ignorance of Variable Means and the fuzzy theses of Medium Conviction. Embrace the machine’s inconstancy as one more version of the violence of inscription on the skein of the page, and succor the weak of memory and the short of processor with “feature” not “bug” predilections. The firm course requires this vow. The cut worm forgives the plow.
7. Dip him in the river who loves water. Dip him in the particle acceleration of virtual subjectivities and phantasmagoric geographies who leaps or laughs for the depths of data, and you shall have a better informed viewer of the Jim Lehrer News Hour, if not a better Rortian empath or Pynchonian philomath. Find the well of electronic water, and dip him in; this well is called scandal, and the chemical equation: those you know, squared. Web space must be Rabelaisian or it will not be at all. Bathe the lights of singular attitude in the solipsistic eddies of plural contradiction and you shall have a mouth wet with Wildean puns and Debordian detournement. Dip him in the river who loves water.
8. A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. So make a new tree for the wise man, a new tree for the fool. The electronic object’s art is expanded tenfold when the same object is variably utile to provide each user discrete, but not exclusive, experiences. Enter the car from the left side, and you are the driver; enter it from the right, and you are a passenger. The electronic object’s art is expanded twentyfold when its contents’ dreams are influenced by the user’s moods, putting fool and wise man in the role of confessor, creator, test animal and personalized drug czar. Feedback is the howl that the fool calls foul and the wise man feed. A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
9. He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star. He whose light gives facts, but whose face no stare, shall never become a namebrand, but also shall not demand a name. Randomized text, unlike randomized sound, does not absorb, though scores the orb, for the ear sips while the eye winks, and the fingers twitch when the retina slips its lines. For he whose source would become a store, use what words have which neither sound nor image nor code have: reticular nuances that subsume their proscriptive sense. To lie is not to deceive; to tell the truth is not entirely reasonable when the truth is for sale, even if this truth be random. He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.
10. Eternity is in love with the productions of time. But productions in time that emerge horizontally stand opposite the indifferent verticality of eternity, though eternity signs the checks and the productions cash them, neither entirely satisfied with this cycle of crisis and redescription but both too winded to resist. Eternity shines not nicely on the digital object, which produces no ruins and whose signature absence is a deictic presence. Contemporaneity shines joyously on the digital object, which shares in its bull market confidence and lemming-like capacity to trust in the blue horizon just beyond the last dot of calm. Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
11. The busy bee has no time for sorrow. The cyberpoet has no time for crying over concepts spilled from prior generations, though sorrows that Means were not always up to Minds and that digitization could not rescue Bob Brown’s poem machine from the seams of time. The conceptual poet has no time for others, and the humanist poet no time for robots; the reptillian poet has time for concepts and humans, but cares more for tending fonts and rollovers. The cyberpoem that doesn't “stare back” the more it is stared at is not a good text, not a good app, and not very polite; the cyberpoem that stares back too sweetly devolves into the nirvana of neurobuddhist hype. The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
12. The hours of folly are measured by the clock, but of wisdom no clock can measure. With faster CPU processing, folly has a field day at increasing rates of speed, while wisdom remains a panoramic hologram on the flight decks of the vistaless future. Algorithmic procedures do not liberate one from the variable strictures of singular prose, and one shall not be “Joycean” through Perl scripts that factor Derridean punscapes and Perecois anagrams with the flick of a switch and the indifference of code. Wisdom sleeps in the aporias of folly; folly dances in the “black gold” of wisdom’s over-sized lederhosen. The hours of folly are measured by the clock, but of wisdom no clock can measure.
13. All wholesome food is caught without a net or a trap. To overload a web poem with tricks puts tears in the reticular tarps that are the cyberpoet’s Walmarts and Bennihanas, and scares the wholesome into memory’s entropic sandboxes to mourn the safe havens and sedate mirrors of an ontologically secure youth. The wholesome of site are not inclined to engage digital fluids, just as the wholesome of sight are unaware of the chiaroscuros and arpeggios of crumpled Fluxus bags. Satisfy those who fear the immaterial, and you have satisfied many; satisfy the digirati, and you are a suitor snoozing beside the streams of Herecleitian lusts. All wholesome food is caught without a net or a trap.
14. Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth. Bring out more numbers, some clam-baked action scripts, some aborted lyric doggerel, old Adobe Horrorshop files and scanned pages from Pound’s Cantos in a year of not having many good ideas for poems. Modular web works can shine with the thousand points of light that their centrifugal, contradictory inspirations shed on the fabled ineffability of the art-object’s ontology. Fear not the updating of a Flash file for the fertile episteme of a brave new context, as meaning is extrinsic to the bit as it is to the 17th semicolon in the first sentence of James’ The Ambassadors. Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth.
15. No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings. But a cyberbird can soar even higher after mastering the aviary of collaboration. The Auteur in the cyberrealm is the White Magician of the pixelated Middle Earth, yet no Auteur thrives without drinking deep in the River of Borrowed Texts, Borrowed Scripts, and Borrowed Sounds. Even Godard had a cameraman, and Welles never wrote an original screenplay. The role of the bureaucrat and producer becomes the glory of the poet and director when the coordination is of artists and the conversation of production, all on the same platform and each following the same hypnogogic thread. No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.
16. A dead body revenges not injuries. A cyberpoem whose scripts are error-prone, whose ani-gifs break, and whose sound files crackle with the whimsy of renegade bits, may thrive like the Spiral Jetty in the memories of its first historians, but will be deemed unfit for the canons of Les Damoiselles D’Avignon. Fault not the cyberpoet who has made one small contribution even if his reputation be bunk, for the capital that seems corrupt today is the capital that was not here yesterday. A dying cyberpoem tells no lies, yet utters nothing but easy truths. A living cyberpoem tells many lies, but its truths are in technicolor, encrusted with entropic salts. A dead body revenges not injuries.
17. The most sublime act is to set another before you. The most sublime cyberpoem is a digital object with the plasticity of a solid (Rubik’s Cube) or a literary object with the complexity of a database (Ryman’s 253). A digital object should be an ordered arrangement of angles and plains (Vorticism), or a disordered arrangement threatening order (Calder’s mobiles), or a disordered arrangement threatening disorder (Tinguely’s Homage), or two or three of the above. What is set before is also set within in the absorptive scans of the seductive screen, thus putting the v-effekt that much further from touch or placing it too close to teach. The most sublime act is to set another before you.
18. If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise. If every poet who faltered at the doors of script persisted at least to the finger foods table, a culture could bloom of the Wonders of Attempt, despite the wilt of the Poverty of Completion. Those who cease, sated with unease, or fail to progress, distressed of will, shall outnumber the wise threefold, though the number of fools not increase. Theme music played at a digital literature awards ceremony cloaks not the fool in cultural capital nor demeans the wise for whom capital is a cultural tool, though both the wise and the fool should be spared the folly of attending. If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.
19. Folly is the cloak of Knavery. But Folly and the Knave click in a synaesthetic embrace free of the Sorry of cultural dictatorship and the Volly of proscriptive dogma in a world where nation is a code word for corporation and citizen a code word for slave. The digital art project that would be a nation is a notion of the ineffable past, as the digital art project dissembling a citizen sans passport and action sans anthem is a premonition of the porous future, not to mention symptom of the schizophrenic Long Now. Knavery is the glory of she who would choose wisely among the fools, as Wisdom is the embarrassment of she who would choose blindly among the followers. Folly is the cloak of Knavery.
20. Shame is Pride's cloke. Cloak not thy shame in bauds of circuit cholesterol lest the projects of those ten years younger stumble in the frailty of your OOP code and limp in the blushes of your crushing guassian blurs. Cake not thy shout in sentences of eternal shit lest your department research your bibliography and discover Shim’s immortal words among Shem’s expendable ibids. Plagiarism is sweet, and the more the merrier, but the cite is minor when the goal is literature, and digital culture, which claims to be the minority, has no patience for authority when there’s no there there and subjectivity has been mired as mirroring some ivied Joe’s dystopic joke. Shame is Pride's cloke.
[I posted this to alienated.net over a year ago and thought I'd repost it here. It's in an appendix of my book Fashionable Noise -- I just sent the final proofs back, it should be off to the printer in a few weeks. It's a spoof on something David Larsen posted to the Buffalo Poetics list in favor of self-published art books, which of course I support, but not as an absolute.]
2001 has seen th exaustion of everything. Most importnt: th exaustion of creativity.
We hav gotn too clevr. It's time to dum down a bit, relax and let th riting on th wal speak for US.
Th previus jenrations hav had ther chance to turn windo-dresng (th spectacl, th social) into revlatry moments, but hav faild. Th cause: th persnl signatur.
Th signatur has lead/led to th lording of specialized nolej ---- about politics, about filosofy, about poetic form ---- over th readr. This has stonewalled th posbility of a new readrship for poetry, and so must stop.
Today, a tecnlojicl storm is rajing, th result of wich wil be th ultmat democratization of poetry.
Therfor, we advocate/advocat th foloing radicl actions in th creation of poems...
1.1 Authr and publishr shal be th same persn, but wil not expend any cost in printng or distribution. Rathr, publishr shal oprate as parasite, and poems shal be created with a mind to extant forms of publishng that hav activ distribution processes in place ---- th internet, th bookstor, th mail ordr catlog. Specialty markets shal be avoidd, as wel as th negativ econmy of th poet/publisher.
2.2 As a corolry to principl 1.1, al poems shal be ritn with a mind to internet publication (even if they not apear ther), since it is th one cost-fre method of distribution availbl, and it is social. "Involvd" poems, not to mention "life works," ar unacceptbl. Al poems must take advantaj of th moment, and ar not constructd for posterity or th used book trade. Th plug may be puld any day on cultur; th poem must be prepared.
3.3 No text in a poem shal be "orijnl"; only th use of FOUND TEXTS shal be permitd. These texts can be editd ---- collaged, erased, reversd ---- but nothing stemng from th inr sanctm of th author's memry and sentmnts is acceptbl.
4.4 As a corolry to principl 3.3, only FOUND IMAGES shal be permitd. As for wethr orijnl imajs by th author's hand ---- childhood drawngs, doodls skechd out during half-concius moments at th ofice ---- qualify as "found" is a matr of particulr instnce. Certnly no drawngs intendd specificly for th work shal be permitd; only intentionl manipulations ((digitizations, filtrs, juxtapositions)).
5.5 In dijitl works, we disuade th use of "sound" unless it is directly linkd to th action of th poem. Loops ar to be avoidd at al costs, as ar clipngs from classicl symfnis and anything that detracts from concentration on th intrface. Of corse, only FOUND SOUND is permitd ---- ripd from CDs, mp3s, and th city streets ---- no orijnl "scors." (In print works, we disuade th use of special papers, special bindngs, and champion only those typs of materials that reflect th specificity of th production jenre ---- se next point.)
6.6 Litry jenres ---- th fable, th lyric, th epic ---- shal be replaced by th jenres of infrmation distribution ---- th newspaper, th e-comerce site, th chat room ---- or games ---- th puzl, th arcade game, role-playng games.
7.7 No abstractions ar permitd ---- "no ideas but in things," but also no incoate conceptul paradigms, no constructivist formalisms, no scolastic digressions or hairsplitting over termnolojy. Al words shal be in color.
8.8 As a corolry to principl 7.7 NO WORKS ABOUT "WRITING" and NO WORKS ABOUT DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY ar permitd. These typs of ritings ar realy translations, undr th gise of disclosur, of th ego into new forms. Th "esthetics of infrmation" is just a slik atemt to translate th sublimity of th cathedral to th computer screen; distnce between vewr and object must be abolishd.
9.9 [Put yr own dogma here. But use it, watevr it is. That's wy this is fun.]
10.10 Th author's name shal not apear on th work. Therfor, we advocate/advocat th use of made up names, especialy those that resembl corprations (such as "YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES"), anmls ("Panda Ber"), or caractrs from works of sience fiction ("Roy Batty").
Th supreme goal is to force th truth out of my words and imajs ---- wich is to say, th INTERFACE. We swer to do so by al th means availbl and at th cost of any good taste and any esthetic considrations.
"Curius" Jorj Wunsch
Dorothy Aschenback "Imagiste"
Jean "Democracy Bulevard" Hancoque
[The interview with John Cayley is finally up at the The Iowa Review Web. A thousand pardons for the klugie title to the piece, but the one the editors had originally given it was something like "Identities at the Level of Letters," a quote of John's from the interview which I liked but which sounded too much like the title of my Flash piece. John's one of the bridges between "print" poetics, coming from both a LangPo and an Asian culture perspective, and "digital" poetry, and he's very eloquent in his responses. The website also includes a free download of his work "riverIsland," which he presented in SUNY Buffalo in 2001 at the Electronic Poetry Festival. Following is the intro to the interview, the rest of which can be found at the link above.]
John Cayley's work goes against the grain of much recent "digital poetry" in that he has resisted the temptation to transfer his attention from Mac-centered freestanding applications to the internet. This has made him appear to be, accurately or not, the standard-bearer of an "old guard," those whose involvement with hypertext and programmable literatures started (as did Cayley's) in the late seventies, using machines with less RAM than your standard floppy disk.
Cayley has also maintained a distinct interest in Asian literatures, most particularly Chinese, even as his programming and multimedial techniques have grown more sophisticated. Though he is clearly concerned with the graphemic "atom" as a unit of meaning and with poststructural approaches to text, the range of metaphors and the particulars of the Chinese sensibility suggest to the viewer of Cayley's work that he does not consider technology the grand leveler of cultural practices that renders differences of geography, history, and language entirely moot. Cayley's particular ambivalence about using Western programming languages to recreate Chinese ideograms on the screen demonstrates an awareness of how the Roman alphabet and Boolean logic which knows no shades between 0 and 1, on and off—are involved in a sub-textual, perhaps colonialist, conspiracy.
The following interview barely scratches the surface of the range of Cayley's work, focusing on his most recent projects and on the distinctive cultural strands that influence his practice. Suffice it to say, Cayley has exploited the "programmaton"—the poetic object that is both literary language and the language of code—in diverse ways that include classic hypertext experiences, non-interactive poems created in real-time, and more elaborate poem-objects such as "riverIsland," which involves 360 degree QuickTime photography, audio, lyric poetry and randomly generated intertexts. Like much of Cayley's work—his digital art, his theory and polemics—"riverIsland" has proven to be a focal point for much discussion and debate among digital poetry aficionados, most recently at a conference on digital poetry held in 2002 at the University of Iowa.
Cayley won the Electronic Literature Organizations's first annual award in digital poetry in 2001. Most recently, he published a lengthy commentary in the Electronic Book Review called "The Code is not the Text (Unless it is the Text)". His website, which is somewhat out of date but where many of his papers and online projects can be found, is shadoof.net.
As Cayley's example proves, the parameters of the exploration into electronic literature are not determined by the functionality of new software or hardware as they enter the market but are guided by artistic vision—he's a true "kid of the book machine," in McCaffery and nichol's phrase—and by a sense of the possible that often pre-exists what a machine is actually capable of doing. The integrity of Cayley's vision is demonstrated not just by the coherent development of his work, but by his never over-reaching into technology for the sake of exploiting some trick, some use of sound, color or code that is meant simply to seduce. This confidence in pulling back, in stripping the "programmaton" to what is most necessary, has given his work a quietness that belies the wide-eyed futurism conspicuous in much "digital poetry," but also allows him to preserve some aspects of the elemental (stone, water, air) aesthetics of Asian art in a decidedly non-elemental medium.
[Here's my forthcoming web column for the Poetry Project Newsletter. Some of it is a report on the Mini-Digi Fest that I organized for the Segue series in November.]
Oct/Nov were very busy, the final event of my two month stint curating, with Gary Sullivan, the Segue reading series at the Bowery Poetry Club being (while the G-man was away in Nashville) the “Mini-Festival of Digital Poetry,” a 7-act roster of poets and poet groups who use computers in the creation andor presentation of work.
Angela Rawlings gave a suave and bountiful reading from her sequences wide slumber for lepidopterists and LOGYoLOGY, the former written from the perspective of a scientist of butterflies and moths, the latter a 'pataphysical investigation of the sciences of the body -- a poem as "Body of Knowledge" (or "BoK") that is growing online at her website (commutiny.net/). The recently unconcussed Loss Pequeño Glazier (epc.buffalo.edu/authors/glazier), perhaps representing the "old school" vibe of the digital aleatoric (a la Jim Rosenberg and John Cayley) and looking rather Kaiser Sose-ish, rendered a comical Dada jig out of Java cribs, regalling the audience with his polylingual splashes and disarming asides.
Noah Wardrip-Fruin (impermanenceagent.com) was both professional in his short intro to the concept of "electronic literature" -- the dos and donts of a digi-critic appearing on illuminated placards behind him -- and mischievous in his algorithmically-created web texts which made hyper-referential narratives out of a browser's daily meanderings. We couldn't get the vocoder working for Patrick Herron (proximate.org), but he gave a strong reading with VJ co-hort Giles Hendrix, who usually presents video work in Subtonic and other dance/lounge places in NYC; a cameo by the Sims ladies added a political bite to the ambient graphics.
Paul Chan (nationalphilistine.com/alternumerics) was the “Take On Me” rock-star of Fouriest fonts; his "self portrait in a font," in which the lower-case letters are phrases from casual conversation and numbers are the names of ex-lovers etc. brought down the house. He's probably back from Iraq by now, where he went in December to do more font-studies and deliver clothes and supplies. Aya Karpinska (technekai.com/aya/) brought back memories of the last half hour of the first Star Trek movie ("I could have had a V'ger!") with her cool navigation of her 3-dimensional Shockwave poem “Contract;” she then took us on a tour of the communal mind of a multi-authored text space (wisely avoiding my own contributions to that hypertextual cerebellum).
The Prize Budget for Boys (prizebudgetforboys.com/) were a cross between SCTV, the TRG, and the fabled anarchrists of EMI, which is to say funny, semiotic, and rude. My favorite bits were the faux-naif translations from American sign language -- "deaf small world is!" -- and the goofy grin on Jason (aka Percival Peabody's) face when reading the AltaVista translations of Osama Bin Laden's poems. A series of hellishly blurry pictures of the festival along with my hideously spelled poster are still online.
In November, I was also handed a nice email from the New York Times demanding I take down my Vaneigem series of nytimes.com detournements from public view, to which I complied because I am not interested in cat-and-mouse games with the authorities. Perhaps I fancy myself a regular Han Solo and likes to fight head-on, but more likely the Vaneigem works are not worth burning the purse for (I don't know any lawyers). But the world hasn’t heard the last of Raoul Vaneigem, or of the New York Times, or… or… You can read all about it at Tom Matrullo’s Commonplaces (tom.weblogs.com/), a blog in the Swiftian spirit that is chock-full of immodest proposals . A great website devoted to illegal art is illegal-art.org/print.
My general tendency, with “digital poetry,” is to shy away from the Flash/Director works because they usually resemble illustrated poetry books (how many successful ones of those can you name?) rather than the conceptual (“interactive,” “hypertextual,” “rhizomic”) art works they claim to be. But a few that I like quite a bit are Thomas Swiss’s “The Narrative You Anticipate You May Yet Produce,” (bailiwick.lib.uiowa.edu/swiss/narrative), Claire Dinsmore’s “The Dazzle as Question” (studiocleo.com/projects/dazzle) and the work of William Poundstone, who has a new thang, “The White Poem,” at ubu.com. (My interview with Poundstone can be found at the Iowa Review Website, which will also be posting my interview with John Cayley some time in January.)
All of these works share a basic quality, which is that the effort it appears to have taken to create them is equal to the effect they create – in a word, not overproduced (the age-old Johnny Mnemonic vs. Alphaville question). The folks at bannerart.org get it right (for me) by stipulating that all submissions conform to the standards – width & height, file size, etc. – published by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (iab.net/standards), thus making a monastic discipline out of corporate coercion (well, it’s better than it sounds), and figuring the artworks, of which many are poems, as parasites in the healthy colon of the transnational polis. Their recent Buy Nothing Day contest, with a grand prize of $0 (USD), shows their heartlessness is in the right cyberspace.
But once again silliness gets the best of me, and my eye candy of the year award goes to the wonderful Bembo’s Zoo (bemboszoo.com), a Flash bestiary made entirely of letterforms (demonstrating, among other things, that photography may have a ways to go before it proves useful to web poets). Oubapo (newhatstories.com/oubapo/), the site of the Oulipo of comix artists, is a nice place to spend a toked up afternoon, but even better are the bits of Atari prose at the Prize Budgies website, most recently “Pac-Mondrian,” a video game in which you are chased by goblins in a loyal reproduction of the Dutch artist’s canonical “Broadway Boogie-Woogie.” The propaganda states: “Each play of the game is an act of devotion. Mondrian's geometric spirituality fuses with his ecstatic physicality when Pac-Mondrian dances around the screen while the Trinity of Boogie Woogie jazz play 'Boogie Woogie Prayer'.” It’s as good as it sounds!
[Here's a short essay I wrote for Keston Sutherland's poetry zine Quid. I still don't have ordering information for this issue but if you are interested in acquiring one please write to me. "Suzanne Dathe, Grenoble, France" is the first name on an anti-war email petition that I received about 30 times over the course of the week leading up to the writing of this article on 10/11/02.]
Suzanne Dathe, Grenoble, France – Can We Win?
(On Carol Mirakove's Poetry)
Some kind of argot –
not entirely given over to the track star at Mineola Prep model – these poems are worked – but nonetheless somewhere in the sprawl of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, jacked-in but running freely through the night that could be day – "muscle a language / monumental / & free" – trying to move forward – avoiding the snipers – scanning the roadside – refiguring the spectacle less as a saturating, unlocatable ethos but as an array of robotic effigies, the divisible choruses of ad agents, secret agent men, agent oranges, and agency debilitators choked up by the nefarious database and becoming Senators – I guess one might suggest she turns it [the language game, or Debord’s "game of war"] into a video game, L.A. freestyle, fusing Flash sprites from this herecleitian noize – but she’s hired the best animators (pals of David Choe), best screenwriters (that would be the poets she’s read and emulated, several including Rod Smith and Heather Fuller from DC days) and her software has pledged strict allegiance to grassroot copyleft principles – the "anxiety of influence" of choice for code writers once known as "hacks" –
[I plug allergens… into the engines… of Audiogalaxy Satelitte… and the repository... from which I stream… one frisson... undivided… with listservs… and Rasputina… for all…] – etc.
Our speech will occasionally be struck by a flying neutrino and the social glue of the lyric will turn into shards – "chewtoy colliding somewhere with dust" – we somehow get back into it, thanking the machinery [melancholy?] of the page, especially Nurse Ratchett’s syndicated tab key (keeping the runaway spaces in check) – high school disciplines including Projectivism (Olson, but I champion Morley) and performance poetry’s post-hip hop [?] "new fusion" [!] yawp, but also Pound’s clear imagistic coins and Bernstein’s sonic dada empurplement – to wrest control and even a momentary classical stasis from a datachick’s tendency to mallarmé one’s way across the white amidst the throes of chance which are really the underlying op sys gone sluriously bonkers –
The heartfelt themes mingle freely with the ironies – the "TV mantis / placing her neck on the guillotine" with the "fuck you I pray / for a big soundtrack" – the rape with the camp – [these are poems from 3 cities, as Carol has informed me in an email: DC, LA, and NY – so there’s something following her everywhere] – we call these… "metastases," in Wilkinson’s sense, the sites of pain that appear in different poems and draw our attention to the borders of the lyrical-corpus-as-somatic-graph as they are limned by acute punkts –
Fake punk bands, two of three eyes on the market, seem to want to say: anyone over 25 looks so old – but we are all over 80 and struggle with a deforming language of impressions, experience, and cultural obsolescence [their omniscence] – that nature’s legs lag behind the further we grow from the Modernist moment and self-creation is more individualized than ever, which is to say the older are farther from youth but closer to the old, sterling Futures shared by a mobilized communal imagination. Now [these are the conversations my friends and I have] there seems a dearth of major dreaming in the follow-up generations, one symptom of which is that they can’t find utopian moments when bringing it down a notch – "devoid of drapes / and bedspreads / the clock’s on pause / the window part of / the outside / eyes the surface / this / just beneath just / beneath " – that New York strategy ["habitus?" asks R. Toscano] of being the darkest, hippest thing on earth though writing about flowers, Sunday morning and loving Jimmy Schuyler – [z.b. I saw Richard Hell at two St. Mark's memorials this month, for Kenneth Koch and John Wieners, which isn’t surprising but might be chaos theory for some with doctoral dividends] – and conveyed through language uncluttered by mannerist elaborations [I’d like that to be the good new magic but I’m waiting for the overture to end… ] – American plain-song, of course, a clean slate for microtonal aesthletics…
[the other folks in my office aren’t talking to me because they see I am reading these poems –
I suppose I always am because they don’t talk to me even when I’m not holding 8.5 x 11 soon to be A4 sheets
– it’s too bad –
– I’d tell them of the mirakove worker and the minus signs that became an em-daschle in my Word autoformat mode…] –
Of course I’d like to mention William Carlos Williams, the poem as a single motion – in Mirakove’s case, perhaps a spill, or a butoh-like abandon in which the body is given over entirely to gravity (Min Tanaka, when asked about his jump: "I didn’t jump, I fell"), but with an electric animé splendor – so that at the finale of "extensity: to Mina Loy" there is that WCW trick of ending a poem with one little pocket of divergent activity ("this was / Icarus falling") quite often closing on a gerund or adverb: "tumbling / seductions / that would also be made / of glass & flower / vengefully." This "leaves them wanting more" but also continues the activity of the poem beyond it, deeper into the pit of the entropic flowerpot or contemplating the emotional and moral elements that have become LIVED because we have shared the wandering – like the camera drawing back at the end of a feature (for instance, Easy Rider, our Fonda-ness enflamed) – something still happening, it’s not strictly death, so why stop the camera now?
I write "an argot" above, meaning I guess those criminal or inner-city languages that surface like pearls in which neologisms and nicknames are pretty much the same thing – "sucktank / abducted weapon / at the stucco" – and reflect some sort of urban verbscape of "snipers," "vixens," – as I suggested earlier (drawing from the same poem "girl in dunes"), Mirakove is hardly a meditative poet in any conventional sense nor a language poet – there are constant and never indifferent negotiations between the will to self and the impositions of the world’s image banks – one can certainly not do without the other (and Carol, that's her name, has long been the snappiest, but also most giddily recombinatory, dresser on the NY scene) – Baudelaire loved artifice as did Oscar Wilde but New York vatics tend toward the newspaper realism of faded black jeans and poems of the catholic self, simply because Dada is everywhere and there is hardly need to dress up when everything’s on the verge of becoming a ready-made
(so you thought – not any longer – though the seventies will be back sooner than you’d like as this year’s budget crisis unfolds – piles of garbage and subway fare hikes, David Bowie kissed on the lips singing "I am a DJ," etc. etc. – probably not as interesting, but yet fodder of an urban apocalypsists imagination, more readymades – )
now that the dot com bust has also revealed to us how uninteresting our fashion sense has been [and how interesting the 20th century can be!] we’ll like that artifice spirit coming back, but with cybernetic tensegrity, grafted to the soft tissue between the bones, a "guttered ballerina," as nothing can be plain anymore – "the 'Nineties' tried your game / And died, there’s nothing in it" (Pound).
Words just sort of drop in in this non-linear lyric writing – no base tone, always ready to spring – Mirakove
it’s so possible to be indifferent, the first thing the fake punk bands do, elevating middle-class indirection to a cardboard socialite platform (an enervated Alex Katz), but there’s something to be said for a poem that won’t suffer indifference after having already rented it kühl loft space deep in its agitant's heart – "it doesn’t pay to not be complex, muting in an ear leaves chained an archived document to affront shellac, she is susceptible to faith" – and in another poem: "you were bored out of long whatevers," or "you distracted your distraction without careless closeness away from that beginning" – it’s hard to start where one is I suppose –
there is nothing natural about this "argot," I think she made it up.
[Here's the second of my St. Mark's Poetry Project Newsletter columns about poetry on the internet. It's not quite as giddy as my first one, and not quite as long, but it's equally as uncomprehensive, if not incomprehendible.
The Mini Festival of Digital Poetry went really well, not a technical hitch in the house. A good turnout, about 50 or so, maybe half poets (or at least whom I recognized) and the rest folks I hadn't seen before. I'll be posting pictures and commentary soon. Paul Chan, who does the alternumerics site (see below) seemed to be the crowd favorite.
My first web column for St. Mark's can be found here.
The Days of Our Blogs
So it didn’t appear in 18-point bold-faced type on the NYTimes website, but "Silliman Has a Blog" has managed to change a few minds – mine, for instance – about the possibilities for this website format, once thought strictly the province of public diarists.
(A "blog" – short for weblog – is a site that is easily maintained via an application one downloads for free — blogger.com has a popular one, but the trend lately has been with movabletype.com, which creates a blog that accepts reader comments among other perks. Minimal HTML knowledge is needed, and each new entry requires merely filling in a field and hitting "publish." If you don’t have a website, you can get free server space at blogspot.com.)
(And "Silliman" is short for "Ron Silliman.")
Silliman’s Blog – yes, that’s what it’s called – is sure to be a big hit; it’s already chock-full of his characteristically elephantine-memoried accounts of the strands, major but mostly minor, of literary influence in American poetry — Actualism, anyone? – not to mention his frank evaluation of the 50 or so books he’s reading by the likes of Tan Lin, Besmilr Brigham, and Anselm Hollo.
Other blogs out there include Katherine "The Blog Queen" Parrish’s squish, Rochesteronian Brendan Barr’s texturl, Torontonian tyro Angela Rawling’s nether, and my narcissistically titled Free Space Comix: The Blog. Lying Motherfucker boasts entries by writers as diverse as Martin Amis, Dr. Seuss and Ernest Hemingway: "Thursday, 21 february 2002: Went to bullfights. Matador a pansy; jumped in with a beachtowel and cocktail umbrella to show Ramon how it was done. Bull makes nice pet: more effective than dog at dissuading missionaries." Raw fun!
Let’s open the mailbag… An announcement from John Tranter that the complete collected poems of Henry J.-M. Levet (1874–1906), translated by Kirby Olson, are now available in translation for the first time ever on Jacket no. 18, news indeed – clicking through, I really liked this stuff, all the seemingly heady allusions of Nerval in sonnets and quatrains and, like his predecessor, an entire ouevre limited to 11 pages of mature poems.
I’m very happy to inform you that it’s not a joke – Ben Friedlander, Jacques Debrot and Kent Johnson did not cook him up over a bottle of Veuve Clichot – and kudos should be aimed at Dehli, New York’s own Kirby Olson for translating him. Rhyming "fiancé" with "ennui" might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Valery Larbaud idolized Levet, and Blaise Cendrars and Phillipe Soupault are said to have taken a major cue from him. I’m sure the detourned posters of Levet in jeans are only a few weeks away, not to mention the movie starring Leonardo.
David Chan’s Alteranumerics – a set of fonts that toss up constellations of Fouriest principles in diagram form with each letter, so that a sentence becomes an outline for a heady, hot utopian daydream — made a recent appearance in Shark, and can be downloaded for free. And stephaniestrickland.com now contains the latest hypertext poem by the author whose name is cleverly embedded in the URL – she’s one of the few with a significant print and hypertext reputation and one to watch!
But the one you will thank me forever for is the Blonk Organ a Flash application that puts you in the driver’s seat of Dutch sound poet Jaap Blonk’s incredible vocal chords, the bizarre things that he does with them, and the many many faces of thwarted semantic desire.
On Carol Mirakove’s Poetry
[Yesterday, I wrote a longish article about da poetry of muh homie Carol Mirakove fo da English poetry newsletter Quid, edited by Keston Sutherland. When I get order-in infomation fo dis issue -- which be devoted ta work of three American women poets, Carol, Heather Fuller and Laura Elrick -- I post it heea on muh blog. I can't give ya da whole article (and fo those of ya wonderin why it's in Ebonics, see below) -- but heea is da first few paragraphs. "Suzanne Dathe, Grenoble, France," by da way, be da first name on an anti-war email petition dat I received about 30 times ova da course of da week leadin up ta da writin of dis article on 10/11/02.]
Some kind of argot –
not entirely given ova ta da track star at Mineola Prep model – these poems is worked – but nonetheless somewheea in da sprawl of William Gibson’s Neuromainecer, jacked-in but runnin freely through da night dat could be day – "muscle a language / monumental / & free" – tryin ta move foward – avoidin da snipers – scannin da roadside – refigurin da spectacle less as a saturatin, unlocatable ethos but as an array of robotic effigies, da divisible choruses of ad agents, secret agent men, agent oranges, and agency debilitators choked up by da nefarious database and becomin Senators – I guess one might suggest she turns it [da language game, or Debord’s "game of war"] inta a video game, L.A. freestyle, fusin Flash sprites from dis heea-cleitian noize – but she’s hired da best animators (pals of David Choe), best screen-writers (dat would be da poets she’s read and emulated, several includin Rod Smith and Heather Fuller from DC days) and her softwis has pledged strict allegiance ta grassroot copyleft principles – da "anxiety of influence" of choice fo code writers once known as "hacks" –
[I plug allergens… inta da engines… of Audiogalaxy Satelitte… and da repository... from which I stream… one frisson... undivided… wit listservs… and Rasputina… fo all…] – etc.
Our speech will occasionally be struck by a flyin neutrino and da social glue of da lyric will turn inta shards – "chewtoy collidin somewheea wit dust" – we somehow get back inta it, thankin da machinery [melancholy?] of da page, espe-cially Nurse Ratchett’s syndicated tab key (keepin da runaway spaces in check) – high skoo disciplines includin Projectivism (Olson, but I champion Morley) and perfomainece poetry’s post-hip hop [?] "new fusion" [!] yawp, but also Pound’s clear imagistic coins and Bernstein’s sonic popsa empurplement – ta wrest control and even a momentary classical stasis from a datachick’s tendency ta mallarmé one’s way across da white amidst da throes of chance which is fo real da underlyin op sys gone sluriously bonkers –
The heartfelt themes minle freely wit da ironies – da "TV mainetis / placin her neck on da guillotine" wit da "fuck ya I pray / fo a big soundtrack" – da rape wit da camp – [these is poems from 3 cities, as Carol has infomed me in an email: DC, LA, and NY – so der’s somethin followin her everywheea] – we call these… "metastases," in Wilkinson’s sense, da sites of pain dat appear in different poems and draw our attention ta da borders of da lyrical-corpus-as-somatic-graph as they is limned by acute punkts –
Fake punk bands, two of three eyes on da market, seem ta want ta say: anyone ova 25 looks so old – but we is all ova 80 and struggle wit a defomin language of impressions, experience, and cultural obsolescence [their omniscence] – dat nature’s legs lag behind da further we grow from da Modernist moment and self-creation be moe individualized than ever, which be ta say da older is farther from yath but closer ta da old, sterlin Futures shisd by a mobilized communal imagination. Now [these is da conversations muh homies and I gots] der seems a dearth of major dreamin in da follow-up generations, one symptom of which be dat they can’t find utopian mo-ments when brinin it down a notch – "devoid of drapes / and bedspreads / da clock’s on pause / da window part of / da outside / eyes da surface / dis / just beneath just / beneath " – dat New York strategy ["habitus?" asks R. Toscano] of bein da darkest, hippest thin on earth though writin about flowers, Sunday morn-in and lovin Jimmuh Schuyler – [z.b. I saw Richard Hell at two St. Mark's memorials dis month, fo Kenneth Koch and John Wieners, which isn’t surprisin but might be chaos theory fo some wit docal dividends] – and conveyed through language un-cluttered by mainenerist elaborations [I’d like dat ta be da crunk new magic but I’m waitin fo da ovature ta end… ] – American plain-song, of course, a clean slate fo micro-tonal aesthletics…
- aww yea foo.
I don't have much mind or time to write anything write now -- so here is the text of my inaugural St. Mark's column on internet poetry, titled "Surfin' Scheherazade":
“Saga on moody doom? No, a gas!” writes Ross (Essay Assessor) Eckler about 2002: A Palindrome Story – whose 2,000+ odd words read the same forwards as backwards. (“2002 is not only a marvel of ingenuity: it is also funny, sexy, and full of surprises,” chimes in Harry Mathews with a more sober assessment.) When the cowards at Spineless Books finally get to producing a print version, you will miss the ability to hyperlink between the appearances of the many characters (with names like Bob, Otto, and Babs – no Nada!), which helps in this brief, convoluted story that includes 3 plot summaries. But unlike James’ The Ambassadors, there are no chapters to print out of order!
The latest thing to fall onto my welcome mat, next to the free daily “Happy Mail” lessons in the Korean language that come out prismatically scrambled in my xenophobic Outlook but for a few shards of English (“field trip / in trouble // feed / ostrich” seems intended for some other Manchurian candidate than myself), the cleverly disguised ads for bootleg Viagra and anti-spam software (disguised as… spam?), and, just today, a website that will help me buy Andy Warhol prints from French auctioneers (the same people that brought us David Bowie’s watercolors, no doubt)…
Anyway, here’s a gorgeous, richly decadent thing called Oculart that might resemble the book cover of a recent edition of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita initially but, to us Flash folks and to anyone willing to surrender during work hours, has an engrossing charm — the best thing since Neverending Story, she said — and the soundtrack, moody and variable at first, happily dies away after a few minutes. As one half expects on a site as visually rich as this – ditto for the various incarnations of Aurelia Harvey’s legendary entropy8.com – the writing is so-so, of the “we planted truth roots on an odd date palm” variety (and I quote) – but I likes anyway. The later sections, like “nake brunch” (is this a rye typo?) and “luxe pattern” are the most writing-heavy, but I somewhat prefer the simpler sections like “cat whisky,” starring a Garboesque feline with a Mannerist neck, because it does… nothing… one just stares at it… clicks around… and scratches. (For fast connections only – the downloads are huge!)
So you like to read? Well, people have been asking me about alienated.net — the postnuke site geared toward chat-room-like discussion about “poetechnology” or anything worth soap-boxing about — which started with a lot of promise a year and a half ago and which we ubu listservers thought would inspire us to work together to create some über-site for visual poetics… this seems like decades ago now, before 9/11, Martha Stewart, the rattling of the small press industry in Canada – Darren Wershler-Henry, creator of and most active contributor to the site, got swamped by the mess, being the engagé editor of Coach House Books – not to mention my shoulder going out with Patrick-Rafter like pains, thus keeping me from typing more than a few monosyllables a day. But the site’s still going – “Now We're Talking Vulva?” reads the title of the latest announcement (I’ll pass on explaining, but it’s an mp3 site!).
In my time of visiting alienated.et, the most active conversation has been one of the more recent – the red hot hunt for the author “Annoya,” a parody of Christian Bök’s Griffin Award winning Eunoia (C$80,000!), the hardcore Oulipian poem that is all the rage north of Loss Glazier. Young ubu starlet Angela Rawlings seemed hot on the trail when last I checked — tattooing clues to her abdomen lest her hard drive crash — but it’s been quieter lately. Steve McCaffery and Gregory Bett’s North American Centre for Interdisciplinary Poetics, while a bit less hip – Archibald Lampman, anyone? – is also kicking, with prose styles ranging from the vertiginously purple to the Perloffian modernisms-r-us and much in between. I’m happy to see Pierre Borduas’ Automatiste “Refus Global” manifesto there myself: “To hell with holy water and the French-Canadian tuque!” Yes, I haaate that tuque!
But I’m afraid of Canadians, so when I want to relax I turn to Tom Raworth’s great “doodles” where you can overhear Jennifer Moxley and Steve Evans as they discuss the fate of the “dominant poetic” over yogurt and muesli, or maybe saunter over to Floating Sushi to test my typing against a Tetris-meets-rebus-like-game-thing (ok, I don’t know how to describe it) that is based on actual street signs from San Francisco (i.e. “juiceit,” “discoland,” etc.). Unless you’ve never flipped on a computer, you’ve probably already heard of Yong Hae Chang Heavy Industries – the best thing to happen to Korea since, well, the Happy Mail – and witnessed in English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese or Korean (your pick) one of this Whitmaniac artist’s fast-downloading, jazz-propelled and highly charismatic Flash pieces that make you want to take to the streets with a bottle of Samantha’s algee drink and fake dreadlocks and shout (in six languages) “I’m not going to take it anymore!” Or: “Let’s LOVE!” Or: “Chet Baker was suicided by society!” Yeah.
So I haven’t hit any sites that could be called “poetry” proper, but I promise that next time, should there be a next time, I will – I just need an angle, friends. It’s no secret that some of the best things on the net are also the stupidest, but there’s nothing worse than stupid poetry, even when recited by a talking vu… by a talking computer (cough). But the great thing about the web is how some really bad ideas – for “art,” for “design” – are just there before you know it, troubling any certainties, should you let them be troubled, about what’s Richter and what’s clutter in this fluctuating world of taste, value and habitas. Maybe not. But I’m approaching a thousand words with this thing, and have to catch a bus to New Jersey. Please do check out the Yong Hae Chang site (now why didn’t I start with that?) – I’ll be more organized next time!