Thursday, September 30, 2004

Gearing for the debates, half-listening to NPR talk about the conservatives winning the language war. Effective think tanks vs. less focused universities. The John Kerry windsurfing commercial is really effective, I think, basically fusing the image of Kerry windsurfing w/ the idea of him flip-flopping. How to counter it & join an image of W. with a single concept? Something simple.



Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Drunken blogging at 3 am.

Just got home from seeing my favorite band, Guided by Voices, for the last time here in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, NC, at the nearly famous Cat's Cradle. Wonderful, visceral rockin. May have lost my voice at some point, either while shouting along to My Impression Now, or maybe Buzzards & Dreadful Crows. They didn't play Smothered in Hugs, which saddened me. Did play Echoes Myron, A Salty Salute, Dayton Ohio 19 something & 5, I Am a Tree & Tractor Rape Chain. But nothing off of Propeller. Oh well. Glorious show. Watch me jumpstart. Game of pricks. Queen of cans & jars. I drove a tank. etc. Bob Pollard came out & joined opener Portastatic (as mediocre as usual) on "Never Forget Where You Find Them" from his & Mac's excellent & underrated Go Back Snowball album. Apparently the first live performance of this song.

Have had an unstable & piercing 24 hours. Was unable to sleep last night after first hearing that the young poet Michelle Reeves (a member of the Lucipo listserv) had died, then especially being completely horrified after learning of the details of her death via a link at the Buffalo listserv. She was only 20. Just really unspeakable. She went out for a night swim while visiting her grandparents and was attacked by an alligator. I never met her. Don't know if it's in bad taste to post this information. But for many reasons it's just disturbing, frightening & just straight out tragic & has been eating away. It has made me pray for the first time in a long time, since Kim Sun-il. Actual prayers, for her family & for Leigh & I & for our friends. Couldn't fall asleep until early this morning, around 7. Just can't imagine the fear involved in such a situation. Or how a father & mother can find a way of finding peace with this sort of knowledge.

Don't know how to transition out the above. I finally fell asleep & had a relatively early rise. But then a happy email from Kent Johnson about CD Wright being awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. I'd like to belive that it was her acumen in picking no name poets from the slush pile that nudged her to the winner's circle. Anyway, more than well deserved, especially in light of her & Forrest Gander's terrific work in keeping Lost Roads a terrific press, publishing terrific poets like JL Jacobs, plus getting Frank Stanford's The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You (one of my all time favorite books by one of my all time poetic heroes) back into print in a beautiful edition. Especially in light of Deepstep Come Shining, one of the major achievements of the last x years in poetry.

A short nap this afternoon, some work on a completely new project I'm calling 'Squint.' Then the GBV show. GBV has been my favorite band more or less since I first heard "I am a Scientist" back in, I think, the winter of 93, when I first started school at Green River Community College in Auburn, WA. Green River had (still has?) an amazing rock station, KGRG, that is everything college radio should be. It basically held my hand from Van Halen & Led Zep to Husker Du, GBV, Sebadoh, etc. The Green River cafeteria would have amazing KGRG benefit shows: in my two years there I saw Sleater-Kinney, The Fastbacks, Mudhoney, The Presidents of the USA (way before they had a record deal [they were fun as f]), The Posies, Sunny Day Real Estate. Nirvana played I think the year before I enrolled. So GBV has been a major influence basically my entire adult life. Kept me going in darker hours. A deep aesthetic sense of connection w/ B. Pollard. In grad school I played in a couple of bands: Black Cassette, which me & Adam Clay of Typo fame started up (our only cover, other than a one-time shot at Back in Black during our last show, was GBV's "Red Gas Circle" from Propeller), & Dora Maar with Paul White (poem in the newest Fence, poems coming out in the next Jubilat). I basically tried to be Bob Pollard for a couple years. Narrowly survived. But Alien Lanes is my favorite piece of art ever, above I think even Ronald Johnson's ARK, King Lear, Moby Dick, The White Album, Joseph Cornell's boxes, Allen Grossman's How to Do Things With Tears, Wallace Stevens, Ashbery's Houseboat Days (the other nominees). So I was a bit worried about tonight, about my emotional reaction to my last GBV show. But it felt right.

Disarm the settlers. The new drunk drivers. Are hoisting their flags. We are with you in your anger.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Terrific notes towards a long conversation on Wittgenstein/Piombino/Nietschze over at Dagzine.

(Also a fawn & its mother just walked through our backwoods as I typed the above.)

Thursday, September 23, 2004

In case you're wonder, my favorite poetry book of the last ten years is Allen Grossman's How to Do Things with Tears from New Directions.

Thank you Jordan! A great start to what I hope is a full day of reading & writing.

Picked up Larry Eigner's Areas Lights Heights (edited by Benjamin Friedlander) today. Eigner's criticisms & correspondences. Enjoying the hell out of it. All action it seems; surprising turns not of phrase but of insight.

From "not forever serious"

If you're willing enough to stop anywhere, anytime, hindsight says, a poem can be like walking down a street and noticing things, extending itself without obscurity or too much effort. The scarcer things at hand, the less spontaneity of course -- combustion, invention, creation may even be impossible. Trying too hard gets you nowhere, you can only do about the best you can . . . While the future is inescapable, near or far in the background or over the horizon, maybe the most a poem can be is a realization of things come to or that come together. At moments.

I'm interested in the possible definition of a poem presented: "maybe the most a poem can be is a realization of things come to or that come together. At moments." First impulse is to try to squeeze in things that don't come to, that don't come together, but then I wonder if that's just being contrary. Plus, if they didn't come together (in the most objective sense) they wouldn't be in the poem. In my recent writing I've been on two kicks: 1) wanting to pull in and articulate & make aesthetically interesting as many possible value systems that I find myself capable of articulating/crafting. 2) pull in speech from as many durations of experience as possible (waking/sleeping/work/sex/reading/all of these as imagined/etc). Pretty basic. Which is (I think) my aim -- to construct a basic, simple model for working with language.

My trip (all three senses of the word) towards self-definition & presence has always seemed to use the tactic of contrast. I'm not going to do this like he did, etc. I'm going to outperform you, and so on. I've been on a bit of a Silliman hunt lately, as Tim Peterson notes ("what's up with camping out on his front lawn, or stealing locks of his hair and running them under a microscope to find the faults therein?") in the comments to the previous post. So the deal is : I find much compelling about a poet's work & yet find myself strongly disagreeing with so much of what the poet says outside of the work (how the poet frames his & others' work). I'm certain it'd be the same case if I exposed myself to a daily dose of Charles Olson's morning thoughts as well. So I'm pretty sure it's not laziness that has drawn my attention/contention so directly on Silliman as of late; I'd like to believe that it's not. Since I do find so much of value I think I have to analyze a little closer the rhetoric/assertions/values presented to see at what point I say I can't stand with this. I can't just reject the entire paradigm out of hand like I can with the New Formalists or some poet with whom none of my aesthetic values or senses of tradition overlap. I find myself drawn to many of the same writers that Silliman is drawn to (I use him as the example because I'm not privy to the daily thoughts of Perelman/Bernstein/Davies/Hejinian/etc.) but come out of those writers with fairly dissimilar views. There's a degree of thrill (or just pettiness) at aiming at the big fish involved as well. The big fish is a pretty polemical one. & there's also opportunity in the argument for a discussion like the one a few posts back re: craft/process/reader/writer in which I found for myself some solid ground in terms of my approach. The contrasting/comparing/arguing clarifies values.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I'm wanting to read more about what actually went on at the Louis Zukofsky 100 bash & less about the gender & race makeup of the participants. Why the hand-wringing? Josh Corey notes the dearth of women & people of color just as an aside (his notes in general on the conference are really really great), but Silliman focuses pretty squarely on the topic. Silliman seems to be wondering--with some distancing of himself from the wondering--if there's a flaw or aspect in Zukofsky (my term "flaw" but I think it fits the possible argument Silliman posits) that has caused this: mentions Celia's domesticity & work in typing up Z's poems. I know Silliman is presenting a possible reading, but the impression I get from my readings is that Louis considered Celia a collaborator: the Catullus translations, Bottom, "A" 24: & not a secretary. A reading that presents her as a near-victim of Louis seems contradictory to the evidence (that I've read [as I've read it]).

But what's most interesting to me about Silliman's possible reading is the possibility raised that Zukofsky's use of numbers & geometric patterns (the cone formula, the five-words-per-line, etc.) is perhaps what's keeping the women away, as opposed to say Gertrude Stein's more I guess organic improvisations, which apparently under this argument are more feminine. When I say this is interesting, I mean I-raise-one-of-my-eyebrows this-is-interesting. Does this reading then suggest that there are masculine & feminine methods?

I'm endlessly interested in analyzing Silliman's psychology, apparently. But it's pretty compelling, as a mini-drama. Today's post is a study it seems in trying to present a view without really standing behind it: the possible reading Silliman presents arises from a cab ride w/ Marjorie Perloff, so the bases are covered by presenting this anecdote & presenting the seed of the reading as a product of MP.

Stop! Workshop time.

I think I'm going to whip out my handy-dandy MFA workshopping skills & treat the post as though it's a Browning-esque monologue:

It's interesting to get inside this monologue. There's a lot of interesting language. There seems to be more than one post here, etc. I wonder if the narrator really is worried about the male-female ratio at the conference, or if there's a certain bowing to long-standing charges that the Language group is a boy's club.

The narrator opens the post "From the perspective of the organizers . . .", saying that the event (which he distances himself from by gently mocking the title) was probably a wild success from the perspective of the organizers. So this frees the narrator from saying the conference was or wasn't a success -- no offending the organizers by saying it's not a success, no being held liable for saying it was a success despite its white-dudeness. Anyway, Perloff is a woman & so is probably an expert on womaninity & assures the speaker that it's not a female trait to stay away from conferences & this assurance can be taken at face value. So it must be Zukofsky's fault. Z is sexist, mostly because he is old (born in 1904). Perloff & the speaker are born later, so they're less prejudiced against females but more prejudiced against old people. (I was born in 1975 so I'm less prejudiced against females & old people but more prejudiced against liberals.)

A possible reading is presented, though it is unclear if it is the speaker's or Perloff's or neither or a hybrid:

One possible reading of this is that the tight-nit family represented in his poems is hardly the valorized ideal Zukofsky himself portrays it as. The wife types the poems, makes possible the careers of husband & son alike. She even finishes LZ’s long poem for him!

& so it's interesting that, in this reading, Louis'working with Celia, his recognizing Celia's gift of "A"-24 as the perfect close for his life-work, is used against him--apparently in this reading one would walk up to Celia & tell her that her choice of aiding & abetting the careers of her husband & son is the wrong choice of values, & perhaps one should have prevented her from making that choice (in order to liberate her & to ensure more female readers for Z).

Ultimately I get the sense the speaker doesn't buy into this potential argument either -- he presents Gertrude Stein as a difficult poet with a larger female following & wonders if it is methodology because it can't be difficulty (Stein is as difficult as Z). (Perhaps a more cogent contrast would be between Zukofsky & some other male modernist who has, or would, draw a larger percentage of women. Duncan? Ashbery?) Maybe we're a bunch of weird people & dudes are more interested in dudes & gals are more interested in gals. I don't know. What's the ratio at Niedecker/HD/Levertov gatherings?

Ultimately, the speaker excuses himself from addressing this issue; he's not the right person. Perhaps Barbara Cole is the right person (she presented a paper, she is a woman).

I don't know, any women want to jump in here & speak for women as a whole?

Let me speak for all men & say I think Zukofsky is perfectly female-friendly -- his last book is about flowers, after all. Women love flowers, etc.

_________end of workshop__________

Curtis Faville, who apparently also reads Silliman's blog with some degree of regularity, also responds:

Oh my.

Has the time finally arrived when we can map out the political correctness of Louis's sexist agenda?

And numbered sections!--now there's a macho touch for you!

Not to speak of Shakespeare!

Let's cut old LZ down to size. Who did he think he was, Catullus redivivus??? Sm*lly l*ttle h*wk-n*sed J*w with no respect for our latter-day Sapphos!

All right, girls, have at him!

Worst of all, a chainsmoker! Did Gertie clean her ashtrays as religiously as the Zukofskys? (Note for later investigation.)

I don't know about you, but I'm becoming mighty uncomfortable with the dearth of disabled native indian participants in these conferences. I think it must be an Islamic plot. Sign the petition below which will be submitted to the Columbia provost. This WILL NOT STAND!

So I think Faville would disagree with Silliman, who is I guess very earnest on this topic. Ron responds:

Well I'm just going to presume for now that people can tell that the blast below is parodic, Curtis, and that you're not half so over-the-top in person. It isn't a question of political correctness. It IS a question of how texts interact with readers (real people, all kinds) in the world, and the consequences that flow from this.

I can't quite get an angle on all this, but it feels off. A rush to agreement (that there's something unsettling about the makeup of attendees at the Z conference) that makes a lot of assumptions (1. it is inherently important that the attendees & presenting be of different genders, age & race [perhaps class? sexual orientation?] 2. it is most likely the product of the poet's work & life that has caused a similarity in the demographics, as opposed to it being a product of where the conference was situated, those involved in organizing it, etc. 3. the lack of mixture [or the success of the homogeneity?] of the attendees is the result of the lack somewhere else [in the poet's life, in his work, some lack of reading skills or values that is apparently shared by a percentage of women who have an interest in Modernist poetry]) on the way to that agreement that overlooks these assumptions, some of which may be of more interest and importance.

Who knows. Maybe everyone would be happier is somebody went out in the parking lot & turned away half the white males so the results would be more even?

I think the paragraph from today's post I'm most interested in is the penultimate one, which seems to be the paragraph that most interests Faville as well:

"Harder to fathom is whether or how LZ’s difficulty in his poetry is, or may be,more “male” in some sense than, say, the uses of difficulty in the poetry & prose of Gertrude Stein. Does Zukofsky’s use of number as a method for inbuilding opacity differ materially from Stein’s more improvisational interventions into linguistic and grammatic surfaces? Is it a question of methodology?"

The unstated but I think implied question at the end is (to fill out the paragraph): "Does Zukofsky's use of number as a method of inbuilding opacity differ materially from Stein's more improvisational interventions into linguistic and grammatic surfaces? Is it a question of methodology? If so, is this what is keeping the women away?"

I don't know how to answer that other than saying I don't really buy the framework: vaguely don't buy it in terms of worry about the makeup of the attendees at one particular conference (as the SABRmetricians would say, "small sample size"), but I especially don't in privileging, as the penultimate paragraph seems to do (at least hypothetically), certain methodologies as symptoms of one gender or another.

I wonder to what degree it is Zukofsky's relative marginality. In my experiences in Arkansas I got the impression that certain major figures took on a degree of gender & racial neutrality & that my fellow students of both genders approached the major figures in somewhat similar fashions -- but the more marginalized figures seemed more defined by sex, race, sexuality. Basically, white guys seemed to be discovering marginalized white guys, white gals seemed to discover marginalized white gals, etc. A tendency, but definitely not a rule. Don't know if this is at play -- that if Zukofsky edges more towards central status, he will draw a wider demographic of readers & scholars.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The newest issue of Mipoesias is availabe online w/ things from Gabe Gudding, Zach Schomburg, Timothy Liu, David Trinidad & others. A nice little mini-interview section. Below is the first call & response from mine. I think I must've been in a bit of a pissy mood when answering these a month or so ago.


Do you have a particular audience in mind when you're writing?

Well, there's a lot of platitudes I could serve up to answer this—I write for me, for an ideal audience, for 'the public at large', for other poets, for future English majors—all of which assume a certain amount of self-knowledge & certitude over the writing act. Which strikes me, in my case, as inaccurate. But writing is also not a mystery; I usually know exactly what I'm doing, or what I want to do. Or, to try to use Jack Spicer's framework, I know what pieces of furniture I'm placing throughout the room for the resident aliens to rearrange into poetry.

I'm aware of audience, hazily. I'm also aware of myself as a reader, & how little patience I have for writers or artists who seem to have too many eyes on the audience (when they should have them on the prize, so to speak). Off & on I think of Bob Dylan's relationship with audience, at least in those earlier years, of his 'going electric' as his big play in the endless power struggle between the artist who wants autonomy & praise and the audience that wants the artist to fulfill its expectations (or to exceed its expectations in ways it expects & approves). Dylan used volume & his own mastery to counter the audience (in response to taunts of "Judas" he turns to his band and sneers "Play fucking loud" right before launching into "Like a Rolling Stone"; he doesn't sneer "play fucking precise"), to force them to grant him autonomy, challenging them to praise his authority. It's an interesting stance. I wonder if a poet can do something similar. Narrative is one option, I guess, for capturing an audience & asserting one's will; perhaps creating a compelling self-myth (Plath, Pound, Frank Stanford) is another. And by self-myth I don't just mean creating an interesting biography, or of dying young and beautiful, but of tying up the work with the life in such a manner that it becomes a kind of allegory, of whatever kind. This is kind of vague to me. But doesn't what we know, or think we know, of Dickinson's life inform the poems, and vice versa? Doesn't it seem to follow in this manner with many poets: Stevens, WCW, Stein, Hughes, Spicer, Bishop? Maybe when people bemoan the fact that so many poets have entered academia, they aren't bemoaning the quality of poetry, because I think by any measure the poetry of the last 40 years has been amazing. Perhaps people are bemoaning the absence of variety in the biographies & trajectories to tie together with the work, thus the lack of myth-like figures (except for the endless parade of poets who are both Prometheus and vulture).

So far none of this has addressed a writer's own relationship as the creator (or at least the catalyst) & first reader of the work. My answer so far seems to assume a one-to-one correspondence between the work and the poet. This is all very vague and off-the-cuff, but I'm trying to present an answer that doesn't make me gag. I think for myself I work best when I don't think of audience as a general plurality, but of a single reader. But I think it's a mistake to only think of a single poem as the only possible currency in this relationship—realistically, from my own experience, any worthwhile relationships I have with a writer's work usually occur in the following units: a book, a 'phase' or period in a writer's work, or in the body of work as a whole. So I'm trying to begin conceptualizing my writing life in these terms, of approaching the above units in a fruitful manner.

When I was a kid I'd go into the woods after the snow & make tracks: first normal tracks, then I'd hop on one foot, or drag a foot, or backtrack and create small mysteries or dramas (why'd the footprints stop at the tree? why aren't there footprints away from the tree and back out of the woods? did Tony climb the tree? did a bear eat 'im?) in case anyone coming in after me was paying attention. That might be a little bit of a precious metaphor, but I think it captures, to a degree, some of my impulses.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

From Ron Silliman's "Wild Form":

WCW: "The perfection of new forms as additions to nature." This axiom, which I once felt close to in my own writing, seems too passive to me now. The relation of the poem to the world is not simply accumulative, any more than it is reflective or expressive. The perfection of new forms as _interventions_ to nature. The purpose of the poem, like that of any act, is to change the world.

I sometimes wonder at how simple my reactions & instincts are -- then I usually tell myself to stay simple (to stay mobile). I am nature. Usually. It's strange at times because I admire Silliman the poet intensely. The intensity weakens w/ S. the manifestor, propagandist, essayist & blogger. In the section from "Complex Sleep" quoted below from last night, I have my own single phrase response to the above passage from Silliman's "Wild Form." But: so: my working model on the relationship between the poet & the poetry is like two atoms simultaneously affecting & altering each other into infinity (and/or tenure). I like the idea of an intervention to nature but wonder at the self-stability implied. Or maybe I'm limited in my reading: "the purpose of the poem, like that of any act, is to change the world." So the poet is implicated in this, right? Maybe that's just assumed. Perhaps it is solipsistic to harp on this. I have wasted my life, etc. One who wants to change the world/word must also be changed by the world/word? So anyway, my revision/response veers towards this (to sound smart?) economy of import/export, etc. & I think my prioritizing of movement over stasis also causes me to revise this unit: "the perfection of forms": I'm not sure how much a perfected form can intervene, can be active. A perfected form seems all dressed up for the museum. It seems almost passive in its stasis (this reveals my definition of perfection as a stable state). Or at least it seems too passive for what I want to do (what do I want to do?).

Anyway, my phrase in "Complex Sleep", in response:

the perfection of verbs as a fulcrum of being

This strikes me as closer to my instincts, w/ the perfection of verbs being more active (if less possible) than a perfection of forms (which seems, as its put in WCW's original formulation, more likely to accumulate [being nouns] than to intervene). The fulcrum aspect is maybe more troubling since fulcrums usually are stable, set, grounded -- but again maybe this just points towards the difficulties involved, & I like the way the mere presence of a fulcrum points towards further movement. Being replaces nature here -- maybe I should think about putting nature back in? "The perfection of verbs as a fulcrum of nature." Seems Darwinistic. Nature slouching towards perfection. Fenellosa: no nouns in nature. I wonder if my phrase dissolves into vagueness -- not that I'm offering it up as an ars poetica but just as another attempt at precise speculatin'. From David Rosenberg I've copped a view of both the poetry & the person as ecosystems, collections of verbs in constant self-revision & sustainment. All this calls for a beer.

Reading through some "Life after L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E" essays over at Ubu, which is absolutely the coolest poetry resource online.

Juliana Spahr writes:

I first read something that was called language writing in a workshop with Robert Kelly in the mid-1980s. I was a sophomore in college but I didn’t really sit down and read it with any thoroughness until I started graduate school. My first semester of graduate school Charles Bernstein taught a seminar with an extensive reading list . . .

A class taught by Robert Kelly while a sophomore in college? How lucky can you get? I guess that makes sense -- I at my bitter hours wonder how people know, coming out of college in their early to mid twenties, to apply to places like Buffalo for grad school, etc. I think I'm just being cranky & self-sorry thinking "how much crap did I have to read & listen to just to get to the point of knowing who Robert Kelly is, let alone getting to take a class from him when a sophomore." No Robert Kellys at Green River Community College, etc etc. Sobs! It may be cranky & self-sorry, but that doesn't stop me from thinking it. Good for Spahr. Time for me to take my working class goggles off & get back to reading & writing while all you fancy pants are out mingling on Bernstein's gazebo!


This is what I wrote tonight:

from Complex Sleep

Clean contentment in that I have never ever feared for my life. A retrieval system for that? As one joins Homer & Whitman roaring in the pines one makes a decision on value. Notes the man : “this sentence did not exist an hour ago but an exactly similar one did.” A century of certain ground. Clean break : I am entirely unconvinced by this art walk : implements & silhouettes : why are they using paint to persuade us that we sprouted forth from the earth? Drunk on the conclusion which is dawn. Shit like this is real; a death rattle, a death threat. & once we entered Bel Air our whole lives were before us, superfluous (but not absurd) : these vibrations were solidly assumed & we were not unlike heaven ourselves : rotating, slipped away. The lion smiles tonight (let sleep melt within us). The hill of ice spread & we both suddenly realized how little value we held for fragments. A nose can grow to be monstrous : how many photographs are published to make this point alone? Like this : my portrait is the proliferation of my ego by new means, in a new mode : an eraser is another instrument : yes, but the contours, the shapes. By over-quoting my sources I have revealed only myself. In time I will sell these discrete sentences as a single unit. It’s of interest only to the extent that it becomes itself (its elf). More precisely, it’s always of interest : the perfection of verbs as a fulcrum of being. My life as a door. No de-centering occurs outside my frame. The ink froze (put it in the boat). A different person wrote the same thing. Of this wall of sound I am only a soft percussion. A certain innocence when I thought maybe I could come up with a new way to sleep, or to get sleep out to people (got to get sleep into their lives). In the idea of a consistent body there are lesions : if such body-stable (centered) idealism is rejected it isn’t to deny bodies or centers or even stables but to allow them to be newly discovered throughout the “night”. To this bring methods & grounds. For I have neither a humanistic nor formal approach to linguistic value I am damned to drift into the main stream of daily living. A found value in an individual’s retreat from individualism and idiosyncratic movements? The night looks like circles.


Some revisings/reframing of a few Charles Bernstein sentences from interviews, & a Juliana Spahr & Silliman sentence or two, sentences that struck me as ones I want to internalize & reject in my own way, which usually comes out as my refuting them in some fashion in a poem somewhere. Lots of this cargo stripping (to use a Ben Lerner term from the current issue of No) in my critically praised first book Invisible Bride, winner of the 2003 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

I just voted for myself for Blogger of the Year. I've been on a roll this year, alternately irreverent, charming & erudite. If Ezra Pound had a blog when he was 15 it'd look a lot like mine.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Grrr. Communication paralysis/extreme introversion. Risky when you let silence speak for you. How about some basic recent things:


Gimme Shelter, the Stones Altamont documentary

Gonna watch:

3 Women, Robert Altman film w/ Spacek & S.Duvall

Listening to:

mostly Richard Buckner & Leonard Cohen

Reading (finished):

Ben Lerner's Lichtenberg Figures, Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, No: a Journal of the Arts (Issue 3), LANGUAGE (Issues 4&5).

Reading (not finished yet):

Eleni Sikenlianos' The California Poem, Charles Borkuis' Alpha Ruins, Zukofsky's Bottom, Wittgenstein's On Certainty.

Readings coming up:

October 23rd, Desert City Readings Series, Chapel Hill, NC. w/ Aaron McCollough

early Nov., University of Georgia, Athens, GA. w/ Joseph Donahue

November 22nd, Poetry Project, St. Mark's Church, NYC. w/ Joyelle McSweeney

March 3rd, Palm Springs Reading Series, Palm Springs, CA.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Most Wanted: A Gamble in Verse

poems by Jeffrey Encke

‘Dearest Saddam’: New Playing Cards Address ‘Iraq’s Most Wanted’ as Lovers

How do we love the unlovable? Seattle-based poet Jeffrey Encke offers a new, controversial installment in the year-old genre of “Iraq’s Most Wanted” playing card satires, excerpting poems that address Saddam Hussein and his supporting cast as though they were his lovers.

Seattle, WA (PR WEB) September 5, 2004 – “The words with which we conceptualize objects of love and hatred bare a striking resemblance,” says Jeffrey Encke, author of Most Wanted: A Gamble in Verse (Last Tangos, 2004), the latest installment in the year-old genre of “Iraq’s Most Wanted” playing card satires. “The psychological processes of idealization that inhabit the two emotions are analogous, almost interchangeable.”

Encke, a widely published poet and literary scholar, decided last summer, in the wake of the hotly-contested decision to invade Iraq, to write a series of poems to the “most wanted” figures featured in the Department of Defense’s “Deck of Doom,” published April 2003. “I originally conceived of the book as a collection of love poems ironically addressed to war criminals,” he says, “an approach at once satirical and appropriate to my objective of exploring the way human subjectivity dissolves in language imbued with fierce emotion.”

By the time Encke finished the manuscript in March 2004, he found that, instead of love poems, he had rendered a collection of “metaphysical lyrics rooted in a private language of anguish and despair.” With the help of Boston-based writer and graphic designer Vivek Chadaga, he proceeded to develop his own deck of playing cards, excerpting lines from the poems for each. “By presenting the verse on cards, I hoped to emphasize the irony of identifying ethical judgment with gambling.”

The face of each card in the casino-quality, poker-sized deck features a unique design, blending such imagery as DNA autoradiographs, phrenological diagrams, satellite photographs, x-rays, fossils, flora, and hooded figures (including a modified Abu Ghraib abuse photo). The back of each card depicts a reproduction of the author’s hand with the word “matlub,” a rough transliteration of “most wanted,” inscribed in Arabic on his palm.

Most Wanted differs from other species of Iraq’s Most Wanted satires in that it does not take an explicitly partisan view of the Iraq conflict. Instead, alluding to the double meaning of the expression “most wanted,” Encke sets out to explore how objects of love and hatred, whether American, Iraqi, Israeli, or Palestinian, are both in some sense products of human desire.

The US Military’s publication of the officially-designated Personality Identification Playing Cards has given rise to dozens of parodies, most of them targeted at the George W. Bush Administration, among them Bush Cards, the GOP Most Wanted, the Deck of Republican Chickenhawks, and the Bush Regime Card Deck. Such parodies have been particularly popular abroad in France, Russia, and the UK.

Released August 15, 2004, Most Wanted: A Gamble in Verse (ISBN 0-9758578-0-0) is available for purchase from the author’s Website (, as well as in select bookstores. Retail price: $10.

To request a review copy, or to arrange an interview, please contact Jeffrey Encke at his Website or by phone at 206-550-0582.

About the Author

Jeff Encke was born in Pittsburgh in 1971 and raised in Seattle with his three younger brothers and sister. In 2003, he completed his PhD in English at Columbia University, where he had served as writer-in-residence in the Program in Narrative Medicine in 2002. His poetry has appeared in various journals, including American Writing, Barrow Street, Black Warrior Review, Colorado Review, Cream City Review, Octopus, Salt Hill, 3rd Bed, and Quarterly West. Encke has taught creative writing and criticism at both Columbia and Richard Hugo House in Seattle, where he currently resides, and will be delivering a paper on the rhetoric of gambling and war criminality at the University of Western Ontario in October.

Advance Praise
“Encke takes as his titles the Iraqi names on the U.S. Military deck of ‘most wanted’ cards and sets them against lyrics of longing and despair. The result is a willed confusion and questioning in which the elements of the two landscapes, rendered in precise detail (‘black salt,’ ‘oranges exchanged between tongues,’ ‘collars of stone’), overlap and are conjoined. These are fine, visceral, tender, bitter, and truthful poems.”

– Hermine Meinhard, poetry editor of 3rd Bed and author of Bright Turquoise Umbrella (Tupelo Press, 2004)

“Jeff Encke is going to get us all arrested. He has taken the current war as an opportunity to express an erotic (‘Who brought me to this / this chair / engulfing my child’s body, / to this bent position’) and Christian (‘we speak openly of taboos, / keeping the heads of our enemies closest, / and fresh’) modern love that is eccentric, original, and possibly traitorous. How do we love our enemies? Like lovers? Encke walks a tightrope between empathy and promiscuity, using poetry as a means of addressing love ‘objects’ who have not only become dehumanized, but who have also carried out their own regime of dehumanization. His poems are a primer course on how to stay human in a dark time.”

– Tony Tost, winner of the 2003 Walt Whitman Award from The Academy of American Poets and author of Invisible Bride (Louisiana State University Press, 2002)

“Most Wanted plays an inspired, surprising set of riffs on the bromide 'Make Love, Not War.' Jeff Encke dares us to see the war of the human heart as darker and more disjointed than the war of nations, the love of war as simpler and safer than the love of people, and the power of words as more intricate and uncertain than any military policy. The changing script of love that emerges every time his pack of elliptic fragments is shuffled and a new game of poetic poker is played helps to restore human individuality, vulnerability, and contingency to a world in which we can never wish to imprison whatever it is we most want.”

– Bart Eeckhout, author of Wallace Stevens and the Limits of Reading and Writing (University of Missouri Press, 2002)

Jeffrey Encke
Author, Most Wanted: A Gamble in Verse
Last Tangos Editions
PMB 432
4742 42nd Avenue SW
Seattle, WA 98116-4553
Phone: (206) 550-0582

Rereading The Spoon River Anthology this afternoon. Amazing work, Mr. Masters.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Pleasant serendipity listening to a Robert Creeley lecture from the Naropa audio archives (see Archives link) from 1979 as I alternate between working on my own "Complex Sleep" and reading my way through the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E archives (also see Archives link). Anyway, Creeley brings up the magazine, specifically in reference to a letter from Jackson MacLow concerning a Silliman piece.

Creeley cracks up at MacLow's remark of Silliman: "(most of who's work I admire--tho probably, according to him, for all the wrong reasons)."
Anyway, the Silliman piece (which doesn't actually strike me as absurd) is in issue 7, the MacLow letter is in issue 8.
The recording just ended, so I think I'm going to jump back into a different reading project, Zukofsky's Bottom: on Shakespeare. Page 175. I get obsessed with this book for a week, then have to put it down for a while. In the lecture, which I recommend, Creeley also discusses Zukofsky's "Mantis", the sestina in which he encounters the insect in a subway, where the poor are too buried by the news to have pity. John Taggart discusses this poem at length in his Songs of Degree.
Several other reading projects going on, Olson & Creeley's letters being one, Pound's prose being another. Also picked up Eleni Sikelianos' The California Poem this weekend. I've been looking forward to this book for months.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Happy Birthday Paul White!!!!

photos by Jake Anslin

photo by Rett Peek

Added a gem to the Archive links to the right. Joe Donahue called the Lucipo listserve's attention to an audio archive provided by Naropa. Great audio recordings of readings, lectures, classes going back 30+ years. I'm listening to a Clayton Eshleman lecture right now.

Friday, September 03, 2004

15-16: landscape/maintenance in the trailer court my parents & I lived in. Strictly part time, spending cash. Funnest part was running beside a truck & trailer & throwing on garbage & then riding to the dump once a week.

16-18: Burger King. Drive through/front counter/making sandwiches/closing. Worked too many hours for a high school student because I had to pay a ridiculous amount of money a month ($350) to pay for my truck. Least life affirming work -- everyone who works there is unhappy, customers on average look at you with either disdain or pity.

18: Little Caesar's Pizza. A couple of weeks after high school. Same as above.

18: Farman's Pickles. Summer spent in pickle factory, seasonal work. Summer after high school. 6 am to whenever the trucks were emptied or the next shift arrived at 6 pm. 7 days a week. Did nothing but work but it paid for almost all of community college that year. Job was better than it sounds. Worked outside filling huge fifteen foot near-silos with cucumbers & brine & then fitting tarp & wooden planks. Could occasionally find places in the yard to hide & avoid work for half-hour intervals. Stopped eating pickles for a couple years afterwards.

18-19: Payless Drug Store. Cashier/stock/photo. A good job while going to school, not too physically demanding. Temporarily conquered fear of heights back in the stock room. Best part of job: taking defective merchandise out back to the dumpster once a month & destroying it so transients wouldn't dumpster dive so much (high anxiety manager). Worked with two best friends from high school.

20: Town & Country Grocery. Bagger/meat shop/stocker. Followed my parents back to family homestead in Missouri. Had finished community college, took time off to apply to Missouri schools & save money. 48-52 hours a week, which was fine since I was new to town.

20-23: College of the Ozarks. Cafeteria/tutor/janitor/DJ/mower. Spent 2.5 years including summers at this school, a Christian work college for working class people billed as Hard Work U. Tutoring & DJing were not hard work. Mowing in the summer was, but I got really skinny. Worked a summer as a janitor in the gym, did pull ups each day, got up to 50 something by the end of the summer. Quickly lost these gains. Students work 15 hours a week in the school year (plus two forty hour weeks a semester) and forty hours a week in the summer. Pays for tuition & summer work pays for room & board. No cash though. & the place is run by zealouts & Bill Frist lookalikes.

20-22: summer off-campus jobs. Dishwasher/condo & hotel cleaner/Burger King. Plan was to spend summers also working off campus so school year could be free (other than the easy 15 hours a week during school). C of O is near Branson, which means a lot of low-end jobs, which then means if something big comes up or you hate a person at your job you can just leave and find the same job somewhere else very quickly. Worked between 15 to 30 hours a week off-campus, depending on my on-campus 40 hour a week job. When mowing lawns on campus, off-campus would be closer to 15. When DJing on campus, a thirty hour a week job wasn't difficult. Note: cleaning motels & condos is the most physically demanding 8 hour shift I've ever worked. Please tip these people when you spend the night somewhere, they really deserve it. & be clean if you can (they get paid by the room).

22-23: Mustard Seed Primitives. Zach Schomburg's family started a candle company so a few of us started working for them. Great job. Maybe 20 hours a week while in school, 40+ after graduating. Got to hire friends at one point for night shifts. Lots of Neutral Milk Hotel, GBV, & Belle & Sebastian. Friendly family environment once the crazy inlaws left. Company moved to Council Bluffs, IA. Spent little over a month in Iowa helping in the transition.

23: Ice cream joint. Forgot the name of the place. Worked full time for a month or two to save extra money before a trip to London. Terrible, demeaning work (small paper hat). I made generous funnel cakes.

23: Cascades Inn. Night auditor. Perfect job at this time in my life -- knew I was going to grad school at Arkansas but needed a temporary job for the summer before. Worked 10 pm to 6 am M-F. About two hours of paper work & cleaning & the rest of the time just had to be near the front desk if folks needed me. Best part: a huge amount of writing & reading done in those extra 6 hours each shift, made big leaps in writing, read almost all of Ashbery, lots of back issues of Cyril Connolly's Horizon that I'd picked up. Worst part: saw a man have a heart attack and die in the lobby minutes after checking in.

24-27: University of Arkansas. Teaching Assistant. Comp I & II, Advanced Comp, Technical Composition, Creative Writing, World Literature. Summers teaching in the TRMP program preparing incoming minority engineering students for their composition courses. Two units a semester, usually 25-30 students. Best job yet by far (easiest & most rewarding & best paying).

24-27: also worked as computer lab monitor, tutor & Writer in the Schools for extra cash. Spent last summer working as a tutor in Arkansas' writing center.

28: traffic counter. Spent last fall, after moving to Chapel Hill, first counting with an electronic device car traffic in intersections for 6 hours a day, then counting by pencil & paper pedestrian & bicycle traffic on sidewalks & trails for 12 hours a day. A great deal of reading occurred in the latter period. Also, ennui & boredom. Worked for tremendously friendly couple.

28: book shipper. Worked three days for an insane woman who sold books from her house. The first day she showed me once how to do the whole process then took a shower & left to do yoga while I tried to learn to do this new job & baby sit her two small children. $6 an hour. Bad experience. One child asked if I was going to be her daddy (the children's father lived with them). The woman decided to deduct about a quarter of my miniscule paycheck because one of the books came back. A bad person w/ no sense of reality.

28-present. Open Eye Cafe. Barista. Average about 4 shifts a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. With tips, hourly wage ranges from 8 to 13 dollars an hour. Small neighborhood of friendly, very left leaning customers. Physically more demanding than it appears, especially when closing (takes on average two hours). Some shifts allow for reading. Allowed to play your own CDs, perhaps the biggest positive. Monthly reading series. Free coffee & treats. Third best job (that pays) that I've had, after TAing & tutoring at U of Arkansas. Wait, Zach's family's candle job was better. A thing I'd forgotten the last few years: customer service is exhausting. People are needy, & expect you to jump at their every whim. Even if they're friendly about. It takes me an hour or so after each shift to re-enter my actual personality, having turned it off to deal with the endless stream of personalities. I'm perhaps too old & arrogant at this point in my life to do this job with enthusiasm. I'm brutally efficient, though.


I'm going to be applying to Ph.D. programs this fall. On the definite list: UNC, Duke, Georgia, Cornell. Maine would be top if they offered a Ph.D. I'm open for suggestions. Looking to research various strains, most likely post-modern. Ronald Johnson, Duncan, Zukofsky, Olson, Taggart & such. Would love to find a way to work on writers like Guy Davenport & Edward Dahlberg, the prose of Olson & Bronk. Hugh Kenner. Friedlander's Simulcast. Yasusada. OuLiPo. Georgia has a huge appeal, between the presence of both Jed Rasula & Brian Henry & the ghost of Hugh Kenner. Over at Goat's Head Soup I apply however so lightly some current theories about holographic models for lit, looking at Paul Mann's The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde. Mostly off-the-cuff, though.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The sentence is only interested in those durations of experience which produce sentences.

A sentence transforms grief into language.

Words were never the truth.