Saturday, October 30, 2004

doggedly pedantic
Doing my first ever conference/workshoppy thing tomorrow. Have never been to a poetry conference of any kind in any capacity. The Carrboro Poetry Festival was my first poetry event. You don't get that kind of shit out in Arkansas & southern Missouri very often. Anyway, so North Carolina Writers Conference. I'm doing a class/workshop on closure. Basically using Wallace Stevens as a model for ending poems in a way that doesn't just rely on wisdom/epiphany; so many of his closing lines are in some way gleefully subversive. Some notes:

A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom. Frost
A poem begins in delight and ends in vision. Tost
A poems begins and ends in other poems? Hejinian (implied)

Lyn Hejinian, from “Continuing Against Closure”

Of course completeness has a strong appeal. It can provide emotional satisfaction, and even, as in the case of a job well done, material satisfaction. It can be exhilarating to finish a work of art, for example. It can be a relief, having cleaned up after a strained family dinner party, to stand in the relative silence of one’s restored idiosyncratic order and say: “that’s done!” — these are not words of regret.

And, though there is little evidence of completion and closure to be found in the actual state of things, and though the notion may seem a fiction to an empiricist, still, these fictions can exert cosmic fascination; as theology, even as ideology, they can be compelling. And, though I have termed closure a fiction, the desire for closure can exert real (though in my opinion often disastrous) influence. One sees this for example in relation to contemporary notions of justice.

We may speak of infinite mercy, but justice exists to keep situations finite. And when it is criminal justice that is under discussion, it is taken as a given that the people involved, especially the “victims,” have “right to closure,” and that that right is incontrovertible, proper, “inalienable.”

That the bringing about of closure is often impossible to distinguish from an act of vengeance (as in the carrying out of capital punishment) is, apparently, of no consequence. Which makes a certain sense — closure, by definition, establishes the condition of “no consequence.”

But this means that, if one is committed to consequences (to history, to social responsibility, to the ongoing liveliness of living), one has to be wary, to say the very least, of closure.

If closure is problematic ethically it is untenable semantically, since nothing can restrain meaning, nothing can contain all the implications, ramifications, nuances, and connotations that cascade and proliferate from any and every point in any and every instance of what is or is thought to be.

. . .

Reality is that which is, or can be, shared with other human beings, and it is to be found in spaces of appearance, places where things happen, where things do their thinging.

It is in this context that, though still arguing my case against closure, I can speak in favor of the border, which I would characterize not as a circumscribing margin but as the middle — the intermediary, even interstitial zone that lies between any one country or culture and another, and between any one thing and another.

It’s a zone of alteration, transmutation, a zone of forced forgetting, of confusion, where laws and languages clash, where currency changes value and value changes currency, and where, bumbling along, everyone is a foreigner, Jane to Sam, wolf to donkey, rhapsodist to infant, pigeon to goose.


The unsatisfactory epiphany ending:

Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump
By David Bottoms

Loaded on beer and whiskey, we ride
To the dump in carloads
To turn our headlights across the wasted field,
Freeze the startled eyes of rats against mounds of rubbish.

Shot in the head, they jump only once, lie still
Like dead beer cans.
Shot in the gut or rump, they writhe and try to burrow
Into garbage, hide in old truck tires,
Rusty oil drums, cardboard boxes scattered across the mounds,
Or else drag themselves on forelegs across our beams of light
Toward the darkness at the edge of the dump.

It’s the light they believe kills.
We drink and load again, let them crawl
For all they’re worth into the darkness we’re headed for.


Resists the reimagining of "light" in the "It's the light they believe kills" line, settles for a tepid, vague, typically 'dark' ending: tired notions of darkness are recycled. Solipsistic?

Contrast this to No Possum, No Sop, No Taters (293), where terms (“to join”) are altered & expanded.

The crow looks rusty as he rises up.
Bright is the malice in his eye . . .

One joins him there for company,
But at a distance, in another tree.

"To join" reimagined as an imaginative act: a joining of sight/thought/image and not of physical contact.

Closure not as agent of finality or wisdom in Stevens as often as an agent of aesthetic/thematic balance or imbalance.

Wisdom line vs. Confusion line

From the Collected Stevens:

The ending paradox/conundrum. Holiday in Reality pt. 2 (312). The Snow Man (9). “the importance of the”(201). Sketch of the Ultimate Politician (335). The Creations of Sound (311).

The ending refrain/repetition as mockery of metaphor/wisdom. Gubbinal (85). The Emperor of Ice Cream (64).

The ending non-sequiter. Cy Est Pourtraicte, Madame Ste. Ursule et Les Unze Mille Vierges (21). Ashbery: Wet Casements(28). Prevalence of this in contemporary poetry. More precise use in Stevens, re-framing the location/composition of the speaker and his/her intentions. Ashbery uses it more strictly aesthetically, muting the epiphanic impulse.

The ending doggerel. The Dwarf (208).

The ending grotesque/fairy tale image. Celle Qui Fut Heaulmiette (438). Madame la Fleurie (507).

The straightforward ending. The Irish Cliffs of Moher (501). (startles in juxtaposition to other, more subversive Stevensian closures)

A good poem begins in delight and ends in nipples.

Friday, October 29, 2004

I've finally found the precisely correct title for my current manuscript, which is at about 80 pages, and is just missing a couple more pieces to be complete (I think, this time). The title: Sex Hat.

The epigraph doesn't directly reflect the title, but touches on thematic & formal ideas informing the manuscript:

It is not in the forehead but in the back of the head and in the spine that knowledge is kept. For Proteus and Cato and David sit with their backs toward heaven. The overweening feign that they can look forward, but this is the evil of the world, and some call this Mammon and others Progress. But all knowledge that is for the living God is in the rear of remembrance, and as the face of God is tomorrow, no man may look upon it.

This is from Edward Dahlberg's The Flea of Sodom, an increasingly important book for me. A loose description I've internalized of my intentions in writing this ms: some sort of mix between the poetics of Ronald Johnson/Louis Zukofsky and the prose of a Dahlberg or Davenport writing about a Johnson/Zukofsky poetics. Also the ms is very heavy with rock references, or syntactical units lifted from rock lyrics, sort of typical reference points for me, lots of GBV, Beatles, Velvet Underground, the Clean.

Have also started another manuscript, currently titled Squint.

A working epigraph:

And the blood has its strange omniscience.
This is from DH Lawrence's essay on Hawthorne in his Studies in Classic American Literature, which is linked to the right.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Tiny note: glad to see LSU & Amazon let you check out the first couple pages of Invisible Bride.

opening poem

They've got it all scanned in it looks like, so if you've got the time but not the money, use the "search inside this book" feature to read it. Good search terms: Agnes, hostage, wolf, cloud, swan, winter, assassin, beard.
Just voted early. Was still an almost one hour wait, the line curving out of the Carrboro town hall and spilling into the parking lot. A good sign, I think. But Carrboro's weird -- Leigh remembers before we moved out here seeing a Daily Show segment about Carrboro's 'France Appreciation Day'. So as a town it's more liberal than a 30 year old man still living with his parents.

Have gotten some good buys at the used bookstore: Exact Change Yearbook #1 (with CD) for eight bucks, a Boundary 2 special Jack Spicer issue (excellent piece by Jed Rasula) from 1977 for six bucks, Frank Samperi's Letargo for two bucks.

Current spins: the Zombies, Richard Hell, the Band, Devendra Barnhardt, Bonnie Prince Billy, Dream Syndicate.

At some point this decade Octopus #4 will be out. It will be my last issue as co-editor, but it's a good one to bow out on: excellent poems from, among others, Barbara Guest, Standard Schaefer, Sarah Manguso, Eugene Ostashevsky, Michael Heller, Dale Smith, Brandon Downing. A couple of chapters from Aaron Kunin's novel. Two excellent pieces on/around Jack Spicer by John Lowther. The departure is a friendly one; I'm confident Zach will sally forth to great things. Octopus was Zach's idea & I sort of latched on -- by now I think both of us have figured out our own editing tastes & ambitions & it's a good sign that both of our tastes have developed from a vague muddle perhaps early on to more focused desires.

The last thing I want to do, & I'm sure Zach feels the same way, is to be just a general collection of contemporary poetry & poetics, which is what I think Octopus would become if we decided to just carry out some general point of compromise between our divergent aesthetics as opposed to each having the autonomy to present precisely the aesthetic(s) each wants to endorse & promote. Got tired of finishing an issue and waiting about 6 months to see the first signs of it being designed. Plus we're planning a wedding right now & I'm applying to Ph.D.'s etc.

After the new year I'll begin putting out my own little web zine, Fascicle. It's in the planning stages right now. As your classic control freak it'll be healthy to have total autonomy on the editing & design. It'll be lo-fi & pretty ambitious.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Busier than a squirrel in a microwave these days. & my Internet connection isn't working so I have to steal seconds of pleasure from Leigh's laptop.

Amazing weekend even tho I had to sell my body to the coffee trade Friday night & Sunday morning, which means missing out on the fair on Fri night & getting about 3 hours of sleep before opening up the shop on Sunday. Builds character. & this is my last week working there. Thank Pound.

Many thanks to Randall Williams for the great brunch & poetry talk at his log cabin on Sat morn, & many many thanks to Ken Rumble for making the reading possible & for being generous enough to ask me who I wanted to read with & not acting too disappointed when I said Ern McCooluff. Thanks to Todd & Laura Sandvik for the superb Blue Door after-reading reception & reading. & thanks to Mark Bellhorn for giving us a reason to cheer. & thanks to Mookie Wilson & Willie Randolph for having dinner w/ Chris Vitiello & his cousin when Chris was about 13.

Before I nod off, please check out my old bud & Octopus founder & editor Zach Schomburg's blog.

New text-editing gig this week, finishing up work at the coffee shop, GRE on Thursday, teaching a poetry workshop on Sunday. Not gunna be a lot of blogging or even emailing. Sorry, mom.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Back in NC. Been out of the loop lately between throwing a surprise birthday weekend for Leigh two weekends ago (flying in some of our best friends from Arkansas, others driving down from Philly, day-long party out here w/ Rumble, Vitiellos, Sandviks, & more) to going to Arkansas this last week to meet w/ caterers, florists, cake people, music people.

Anyway, just read thru a Silliman post a few days back where he says something along the lines of the fertile space being between the period of one sentence and the capital letter of the next. I think he's exactly right & his is a good formulation I think of what I've been trying to communicate to a few others about a large part of the appeal of his poems & Hejinian's in particular. I think it's what first attracted me to Ashbery & Michael Palmer & Tom Raworth when I was an undergrad -- particularly Ashbery.

The distances Ashbery travels between the two coordinates Silliman presents can be taken as a continuation of Whitman's all-embracing impulse : I wish I could track down the poem I was reading before sleep a week or so ago from either Houseboat Days or Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (I gots a two-in-one) : one particular instance of Ashbery's slipperiness was a perfect example of what I've been trying to do as of late. In the poem Ashbery moves from a nice high-romantic abstraction in one sentence to "The custard has settled" in the next. Pretty standard Ashberyian move but I found it particularly moving, the relocation of ambitious thinking away from the mountaintop and into the kitchen.

This one sort of aphoristic sentence that I came up with a few weeks ago -- the sentence is only interested in the durations of experience that produce sentences -- applies here. Ashbery and the more disciplined 'slippery' poets in his wake (Hejinian, Silliman, Scalapino) form paths for me into this field of mining durations and locations of experience that can produce sentences. I think Jordan Davis wrote something months and months ago on Equinimity about younger poets completely mis-appropriating Ashbery as just a collection of gestures & tics (I think maybe my recollection has fused with my own thinkings) : to trot out a horse I've kicked before, when I read a full-length Dean Young collection I grow exhausted because the jumps in syntax, voice & subject matter are all still an extension of one quite limited & fixed personality. John Koethe goes in a more interesting direction though you could argue that he provides much higher ratio of the abstract thinking and a much, much lower ratio of the custard settling.

To alter a term from HD's Notes on Thought & Vision, my favorite Ashberries seem to construct an over-voice which contains conscious, subconscious and abstract thinking. Hejinian & Silliman seem to me to not construct such a singular over-voice but as has been noted by many others, a multiplicity. What I'm basically saying is that both groups (Ash & Hej/Sill) cultivate the space after the period : in my Ashbery the space is cultivated to re- or dis- orientate the location or composition of the over-voice : in my Hej/Sill the space is cultivated to create a new voice from a new location or duration to set in contrast with the others.

A written pointillism? In Josef Albers' book on color theory he mentions how the recognition that the eye, at a distance, will meld yellow & blue into green freed painters from only mixing the colors to create the desired effect. You can't of course read Sunset Debris or Three Poems from a distance but I think memory can stand in for distance here and that can be used to effect.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Am in Arkansas -- nights spent like a rock star, days spent meeting w/ caterers, florists, etc for our wedding. Paul W. begged me to change something cuz he's tired of seeing the same thing on the screen everyday. Exhausted from the pace the last two weeks. Perhaps hit a wall on doing wedding planning today after we had about the exact same conversation with someone about the food at our wedding for the umpteenth time. I asked a caterer while suffering an intense hangover this afternoon if we could bring in a live camel during the cocktail hour, slaughter it, then serve it. Zack W., who rarely has an opportunity to serve h'ors d'orvs, desires to one day serve quarters with peanut butter between them just to see if people are willing to go through the indignity of wiping the pb away for fifty cents. Everyone's wondering how one of us ended up wandering to the confederate graveyard and curling up to a headstone and falling asleep. Bought HD's Notes on Thought & Vision. Adding to the music library: Richard Thompson, Brian Eno, Wreckless Erik, Suicide. Discussed the possibility of training a squirrel to deliver the ring (we're having an outside wedding) while wearing a bow tie. We'd then kill the squirrel and eat it. Also in the works: a concept album of a bunch of us Fayettevillians covering "What a Wonderful World" twenty times, each version in a different celebrity voice. Fayetteville, AR is going to be the Seattle of the celebrity impersonator scene. Cynical careerist impersonators will move here in a year or two hoping to get signed. Also in the planning stage: a movie that consists of just one shot : Abraham carrying Isaac up the mountain for the sacrifice : when Abe sets Isaac down the credits roll. Butch (who's back in town) plans on using this idea for his poems about Dennis the Menace finally killing Mr. Wilson (D the M carrying Mr. Wilson up the mountain . . ) Zack recommends a theatrical version where the audience is on a hayride and follows Abe. I always come back from Arkansas with five good ideas and a limp.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

So according to the newest Newsweek poll, Kerry is up a few point. Amazing. If if the margin of error tilts in Kerry's favor, if the numbers are even close to accurate, the debate basically re-levels the playing field & gives Kerry momentum. I hope he doesn't blow the town hall debate.

Very fascinating to read this piece from National Review.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Terrific performance by Kerry. Actually feel motivated by the Senator, as opposed to just repulsed by Bush. I hope undecideds were watching split-screen.